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Ben Roth returns to the Northwest with hazy prog

Bod's musical detours

Music love is, music love is, music love is a "Party Drug." Photo courtesy of Swoon Records

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In some ways, the Tacoma School of the Arts in particular, and Tacoma in general, have a tendency to function as a sort of musical farm league for the country. While this may be a fact shared by other smaller, quirky schools and cities in the U.S., my firsthand experience seems to suggest that Tacoma's underdog status in Washington makes it especially proficient at not only nurturing creativity, but also being just insufferable enough to jettison talent to other parts of our nation.

In the earlier days of SOTA, this seemed profoundly true. Psychedelia, folk and electronic music practically oozed out of the diverse downtown campus, producing much of Tacoma's most exciting music in the mid-2000s. The Dear Records collective assembled the many emerging talents, which included people that would go on to form the New York-dwelling likes of Oberhofer, Widowspeak, Watermelon Sugar, Greenfield and the Silver Dollars. After spending a lot of time in Brooklyn, and on tour with Oberhofer, SOTA alumnus Ben Roth has recently returned to the Northwest to form his own band: Bod.

"When I moved back here, from New York, it was when Oberhofer was recording at Avast! Recording Company, in August of last year," says Roth. "I spent a while out here, and I decided I wanted to stay, at least at the time. I didn't want to go back and pay the outrageous prices of New York. I started jamming with Zach Dimmick, who I've known since high school. He used to play in Slowwave. I believe I talked to our drummer, Jonathan Angle, when he was working at Bluebeard Coffee. I don't remember how it all came about, but eventually the three of us all came together."

Eventually, Lance Umble came on as the bassist (Umble had a connection to Roth through their mutual involvement in another old Tacoma band, Tall Girl), and Bod got to work writing the songs that would end up on their Swoon Records debut EP, Party Drug. Roth has spent time in countless bands in Tacoma, Seattle and New York over the years, so I was intrigued to see what he would create when he was given his druthers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bod sounds a little like Roth's previous musical output. While there is a little bit of the jittery energy that defines Oberhofer, Bod is more firmly rooted in tightly wound indie prog-rock.

"(Touring with Oberhofer) gave me a lot more confidence," says Roth, who adds that he's excited to join Oberhofer again on the road. "It encouraged me to do my own writing, and it helped me to sing in front of an audience, which I had put off but had always wanted to do. Now, I'm a little older and have a little better work ethic. (Laughs.) A little more confidence."

Befitting an album featuring Roth's first major creative output, Party Drug feels like it's crammed with ideas and off-kilter detours. "Gigantor" kicks off the album in a haze, before '70s prog-indebted guitars charge in. Tricky time signatures abound, lending a stop-start dynamic that challenges without taking away from the purely enjoyable drive of the songs. As a frontman, Roth's voice becomes more like just another instrument, awash in reverb as it softens the spikiness of the guitars.

Onstage, on record and in life, Roth is a perfectly affable guy who exudes the excitement of someone who absolutely loves music, and just wants to be involved in any way he can. Even taking a break from Oberhofer, he manages to not only form his own band but also get involved in another (Crater) that's on the rise. Party Drug is a great encapsulation of Roth's attitude: music for music's sake.

BOD, w/ EZTV, Mega Bog, Black Wolf, 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 26, The New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St, Tacoma, $7, 253.572.4020

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