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Lonesome Leash and his wall of sound

One-Man Kaleidoscope

Walt McClements plays an accordion thank you very much. Photo credit: Alleyn Evans

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For me, there's been a particularly distasteful and wrongheaded aspect of the rampant - and cliché - shit-talking aimed at so-called "hipsters" and their music. Just to get the obvious out of the way, there is no such thing as a hipster. It's a made-up thing, and what little semblance of a definition it had has been diluted to the point of utter meaninglessness. As far as music goes, there was a bit of shitty judgment aimed at these hipsters over the past decade or so: sarcastic eye-rolling at a band's use of instruments like ukeleles and accordions.

"Twee affectations," people would say. It got to the point where the inclusion of a non-standard rock instrument in a band would lead to immediate dismissal. Look, there's no need for me to stick up for the accordion, because it's an awesome and versatile instrument, and it always has been. Thankfully, this immensely lame trend has fallen to the wayside, and now we can get back to fighting the real enemy (still the Black Eyed Peas, believe it or not) and continue on in finding new sounds and unique ways of interpreting years and years of strides in popular music.

Walt McClements, formerly a multi-instrumentalist in bands such as Dark Dark Dark and Hurray for the Riff Raff, has struck out on his own with a one-man operation called Lonesome Leash. Armed only with drums (either preprogrammed or live), his voice and an accordion, Lonesome Leash achieves quite a great deal with so little. Despite the pared down setup, Lonesome Leash covers a surprisingly wide range of sounds.

"A few years ago, I found myself in a pretty rigorous touring schedule with other bands," says McClements. "At that point, I was living in New Orleans, and I wasn't there, very much. ... I started to do a stripped-down version of the songs I was writing, a solo project. It started with an accordion and some drum machine, just to flesh out ideas. Because I was gone so much, it just became easier to make shows happen with me, instead of seven people. I did it sporadically, for a year or two, and it wasn't until time freed up that I started being more active with it and turned it into a primary project."

With the rare exception of some instrumental flourishes, Lonesome Leash consists entirely of spare drum sounds and kaleidoscopic accordion. McClements remains a constant, using his confessional lyrics and plaintive voice to guide the interchangeably swooning and prickly instrumentation. Even given his limitations, he manages to find new avenues behind every corner, offering up a wholly different take on both the singer-songwriter trope and the one-man band gimmick.

"Doing it solo, you just have to pay more attention to the craft of a song and the arc of how the song builds," says McClements. "If you have seven people, you always have the ability to build a song up, and to add more texture and complexity. With a smaller palate, I feel like the nice thing for me has been pushing the limit of where I can bring these elements - accordion, some sort of drum sounds. It makes me much more conscious of crafting a tighter unit, as far as songwriting is concerned. ... The accordion has such a wide range, harmonically. I don't really want for a bass, normally. There's so many things going on, so many overtones, that you can really get a wall of sound."

Watching a person be amazing at his or her instrument is always a treat; seeing someone completely own an unreasonably maligned thing like the accordion is another story. Once you've seen a person bring the house down with that instrument, you'll likely throw away childish thoughts about the affectations of real musicians. Just relax and let Lonesome Leash wow you.

LONESOME LEASH, w/ Globelamp, The Raven and the Writing Desk, Eric Freas, 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 10, Northern, 414 ½ E. Fourth Ave., Olympia, $5

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