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Just a pop song

Seattle quartet Hi Crime crafts infectious, delicate indie pop

Finding a hook and a snazzy middle eight is the call of the pop song. Hi Crime answer. Photo credit: Sam McJunkin

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Stiff Records mainstay Wreckless Eric, after the success of his indelible "Whole Wide World," wrote "A Popsong," all about the fear and anxiety of being asked by his label to come up with a hit; as Wreckless Eric says, it's "just a pop song," so why is it so hard to write one with "a snazzy middle eight" that gets you "AM/FM action in the United States?" Turns out, it is incredibly difficult. I'll never get over the astonishment of getting exposed to a new, catchy song -- one where the hooks come off so effortlessly that the song seems to have sprung, fully formed, from the mind of a person very deeply in touch with the way music moves. It's a talent so far from my ability that it's like watching a magic trick, to hear a pop song just brimming with magnetism in every nook and cranny.

One band that certainly seems to have the knack for crafting infectious earworms is Seattle quartet Hi Crime. With the June release of their debut LP, The Kids Still Got It, Hi Crime have established themselves as formidable entrants in the crowded field of indie pop. With featherweight instrumentation and arrangements that invoke not so much a road trip as a sunset gathering of close friends, Hi Crime assembled a collection of songs that maintain an upbeat groove that's offset by a melancholy edge. While the songs tend toward classic structure, there are tunes like "All My Friends," which presents just a few lyrics over the course of its runtime: "All my friends are moving on. Don't you forget about me. By the next holiday, I'll be so much older. Tell me, what did I miss this time?" This simple, heartfelt message is conveyed over five chiming, humming minutes, similar to the Decemberists' recent, plaintive "Once in my Life."

Hi Crime is made up of Brielle Rutledge, Mitch Etter, Cody McCann, and Jesse Botello. Perhaps it's the generally sincerity, the production style, or Rutledge's slight vocal similarity to Tegan and Sara, but something about Hi Crime evokes early ‘00s indie rock. Their lyrical penchant for finding a good turn of phrase and repeating it is reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie's similar tendencies, identifying a pocket of beauty and incanting it until it's burned into the listener's brain. Such is the case with "Japan," which lives in its repeated refrain: "Something inside me is reaching for something inside you." This line, like many on The Kids Still Got It, is suffused with a sense of loneliness. This tenderness is never betrayed by a feeling of surrender; rather, Hi Crime seem to take life's difficulties in stride, finding value and purpose in staying open to every obstacle.

This is the kind of music that's so intimate and confessional that some listeners may balk at the vulnerability required to meet it on its own terms. While I understand the impulse to turn away from Hi Crime's words, it must be restated that their pure craft and ease with a hook provides all the pull needed to keep you listening again and again. Are these "just pop songs," as Wreckless Eric might say? Yes, they are. But to be just a pop song means to be a crystalline distillation of music's potential.

HI CRIME, all ages, w/ Stampz, Vigil and Thieves, Cat Puke, Aylen Trees, 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8, Real Art Tacoma, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, $10,


In Olympia, two international acts will be taking the stage (or concrete floor) of Le Voyeur. First up, there's Wild Animals, an emo pop-punk trio from Spain. They'll be bringing fizzy guitars and Converse sneakers to Olympia Monday, Sept. 10. That following Thursday, Sept. 13, New Zealand duo Hex will showcase their self-described "witch-rock," which introduces a sort of elemental earthiness to the form of noise-rock.

WILD ANIMALS, w/ Pigeon Pit, more TBA, 10 p.m., Sept. 10, $7-$10 suggested donation, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710,

HEX, w/ Teach Me Equals, the Dizzies, 9 p.m., Sept. 13, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, cover TBA, 360.943.5710,

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