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The Angular Backbone of Universe People

No alien telepathy here, as far as we know

Universe People have special powers. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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Even though it's their name, starting with what Universe People (the group) are may be the worst entry point for exploring what Universe People (the band) is. Also known as Cosmic People of Light Powers (catchy), Universe People are a Czech UFO religion that believe they can communicate telepathically with aliens. Like any successful, harmless religion, it is helmed by a magnetic leader (Ivo A. Benda) with unique abilities, secret knowledge of the fate of the world, and apparently a DVD player, given how many times it seems he's watched The Matrix.

Meanwhile, the band that's also called Universe People shares almost none of those traits.

"I really liked the name, and the whole idea of the group was very curious, as well," says Universe People frontwoman Jo Claxton. "I sort of liked the name because it sounds so illogical. When we first started the band, people would say, ‘Do you mean Universal People?' And we'd say, ‘No! It's Universe People!' It's not supposed to make sense."

Rather than being a cult of telepaths, Seattle's Universe People is a band of wiry nerves and wryly deadpan delivery. It took me a couple listens before the Pixies jumped out at me - if the Pixies were just made up of a trio of Kim Deals, all winking humor and playful sexuality, but with that backbone of angular guitar and throbbing bass. Claxton grew up in Australia, but moved to the U.S. 20 years ago, resulting in a receding accent that has a tendency to lend an arch detachment to her vocals.

"We wanted to play these sort of simple, stark, angular songs, but with pretty girl vocals, and trying to do something different with harmonies," says Claxton. "I've always liked music, and I played music in Australia, but this particular idea was more from listening to stuff like LiLiPUT, this Swiss band from the late '70s and '80s, that I hadn't heard when they were around. They sort of slipped through the cracks. But, you know, I've always liked the Slits and the Raincoats - things like that."

Universe People don't flaunt these influences, but they're there if you're looking. Tracks like the bratty "Druids" even recall riot grrrl acts like Le Tigre. After a lineup change - gaining Kimberly Morrison and Min Yee, leaving Claxton as the sole original member - Universe People are readying the release of their sophomore LP, Are Coming to the Dance. The three tracks that have been released, so far, don't reveal a different band, per se, but a more muscular one, perhaps. The starkness that was already on display is even more pronounced.

"I feel like the songs are maybe a little more consistent," says Claxton. "It's been different, singing with (Morrison) and playing with her, but it's been great. Min Yee, who plays in Dreamsalon, usually a bass player, he took over playing drums. ... I think, overall, I have a stronger idea about how to put together these songs, now."

While it's true, yes, that Universe People (the band) do not possess the ability to communicate with our intergalactic overlords (at least, to my knowledge), they are more than capable of doing something that Cosmic People of Light Powers are unable to do for us: they are able to send shivers up your spine and into your brain matter, using little more than three instruments clanging about. Additionally, Nike sneakers - though appreciated - are not mandatory.

UNIVERSE PEOPLE, w/ Service Animal, Low Hums, Battersea, 8 p.m., Saturday, April 5, Bob's Java Jive, 2102 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, $5, 253.572.4020

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