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Slutty Hearts drip dark pop

The Portland band is effortlessly cool

Slutty Hearts: Swooning garage rock that's like a prom slow-dance with the baddest kid in school. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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Slutty Hearts' recent EP, Bones in the Snow, opens by referencing Nancy Sinatra. It's a fitting introduction to the Slutty Hearts ethos, which shares some qualities with Sinatra's spooky romanticism. Dark garage pop gems positively drip from the mouths and fingers of Slutty Hearts - devoted exercises in melodicism and attitude.

Like the Violent Femmes (or Seattle's Pillow Army, for that matter), Slutty Hearts' band name tips off the listener with opposing and contradictory terms. Yes, there's an element of sleazy party-hardy energy to their music, but there's just as much swooning vocals and evocative lyrics to counterbalance the danciness.

"Me and Marty Smith, the guitar player, worked at a pizza store," says lead vocalist Marisa Laurelle. "We started hanging out, and he was like, ‘Hey, you sing really good at karaoke. Wanna be in a band?' And I was like, ‘Fuck yeah, I wanna be in a band.' So, then we were in a band. Three years later, we wanted to add some more stuff to it. The band was super DIY and lo-fi, and it was starting to become a problem. We couldn't do as much as we wanted to do, so we got a keyboard player, Cathleen Americh, who also worked at the same pizza shop. We're a band born out of a pizza shop."

With the addition of James Bewley on drums, Slutty Hearts became the band that they are today. Back when the band was a two-hander, Laurelle says, they had a minimalist sound that recalled lo-fi heroes the Moldy Peaches. Now, the Slutty Hearts sound is lush and swimming with reverb and warbling organ. Laurelle, as lead singer, brings an effortless deadpan to the proceedings, which helps once more to transport the listener to the boho '60s cool of the Buffalo Springfield and the aforementioned Nancy Sinatra, as well as the eerie harmonies of the Mamas and the Papas. Also at play is some of the woozy surf-rock of acts like the Growlers, which blends well with the reserved style of those other artists.

"Last year, we got a drummer," says Laurelle, "so that I could stop drumming and just go up and sing and dance. That changed everything. It made us more danceable and more rock 'n' roll, and it really opened up a lot of different sounds for us."

While Bones in the Snow is largely uniform thematically (sex, violence) and musically (swaying beats, ever-present organ), their previous LP, We Learned It By Watching You, shows off the breadth of their range styles. "Shipwreck" is a chugging rave-up adorned with seasick guitars; "Ballad of the Food Stamp Office" is a Doors-esque polka about the pains and uncommon pleasures of being poor; "Goddamn Sun" is a slinky trip to Louisiana blues-rock; and "Red Salt" finds them flirting with dance-punk.

Slutty Hearts are still a relatively young band (in their current formation, anyway), but they seem to come ready with their mission statement intact. Even as they continue to shift and evolve, the constants of those reverby guitars, driving organ, and the cool command of Laurelle's lead vocals lend a sense of purpose and confidence to the music that suggests a band with much more experience.

For a band born in a pizza shop after a fortuitous night of karaoke, Slutty Hearts have seemingly arrived, wrapped in ribbons, just waiting for some passerby to take a closer look. Just watch out, because that dark pop will get you every time.

SLUTTY HEARTS, w/ Vox Mod, Back From Hiatus, 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 21, Bob's Java 2102 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, $5, 253.475.9843

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