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Tuesday, August 7, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Music

You knew them when: Ten little-known Seattle bands with big potential

Seattle Times staff reporter

On a Wednesday night at the Crocodile Cafe, the rapt crowd is so quiet you can hear singer Matt Menovcik inhaling.

Menovcik and his guitar-piano-cello trio, Saeta, play such intensely, beautifully mournful music, no one in the crowd of 30-40 people wants to miss a moment of it.

Saeta — pronounced, aptly enough "sigh-ata" — is one of the great secrets of Seattle music, and one of the very best of the next wave of rock bands springing up around town. It's still pretty much ground-floor time to get in on these Seattle bands with enormous potential.

In the mid- to late-'90s, quite a few post-grunge bands grew rapidly on the Seattle club scene, then toured nationally. Indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie, Juno and 764-HERO, punkers the Murder City Devils and Zeke, soul-electronic rockers Maktub and folk rockers Pedro the Lion and Damien Jurado, among others, have developed critical notice and audiences beyond Seattle.

This year, several young rock bands have started to blossom, showing the potential to similarly spread their wings and fly far.

Ten relatively unknown bands that collectively represent the next Seattle: Dolour, Raft of Dead Monkeys, Carissa's Wierd (yes, that's how they spell it), Aveo, Kill Sadie, Wonderful, Willow, Rose Thomas, Kinski and Saeta. All, except for one, have released one or two CDs independently, or on tiny, local record labels; they have small but loyal audiences at their shows, little or no radio play and scant record sales.

While some of them remain rough around the edges, these fast-growing young musicians suggest a very ripe future for Seattle music.

Saeta

Four cats slink about the Queen Anne apartment that Menovcik and pianist-backup singer Lesli Wood share; the feline presence is rather appropriate (as singer Menovcik's brooding style suggests the child of Tom Waits and Cat Power's Chan Marshall).

The band's name, they explain, comes from a Miles Davis song (it is a Spanish dirge).

A future on MTV or the Billboard charts is extremely unlikely for Saeta. This is a band exclusively for music aficionados. It weaves elements of classical music (the cellist is a Bach nut), jazz and extremely lo-fi rock, creating mesmerizing arias of almost crushing emotion.

Wood is talkative and outgoing, Menovcik shy and quiet; cellist Bob Smolenski is somewhere between the two.

Wood, the pianist, and Menovcik played in a band in Detroit together before moving to Seattle, and found Smolenski two years ago, through an advertisement. (Trumpet player Angela Dove usually plays with Saeta at live shows.)

The band's newly released second album, "In the Void," is a collection of heartbreaking songs. Written by Menovcik, songs such as "Consolation Prize" are as sad as pound dogs.

Asked if getting club dates when they started was hard, as their music is hard to describe, much less categorize, the three look at each other and laugh. "It's still really hard," says Wood.

Things are starting to pick up, however slowly. After its recent show at the Crocodile, the Belltown club immediately invited Saeta back.

Saeta does have some areas calling for improvement, primarily figuring out the amplification of Menovcik's voice in live shows; the singer himself also has some technique issues to master.

Dolour

Playing a show with Dolour, the band he founded two years ago, Shane Tutmarc spent Saturday night at the new Kirkland Teen Center.

Remarkably enough, he is still a teen himself. "I finished my record right before I turned 19," he says.

That record, "Waiting for a World War," is one of the best local releases of the year. With faint echoes of the "Pet Sounds"-era Beach Boys and the Beatles, Tutmarc's songs are catchy and refreshingly innocent, particularly when he sings "there are no ordinary people."

KEXP-FM 90.3 has been playing songs from "World War," which has helped Dolour land shows at nightclubs Tutmarc isn't old enough to visit when he's not working.

Gangling and enthusiastic, Tutmarc is like a young Jimmy Stewart with a guitar strapped around his neck. He already has big plans for his second album, which he'd like to coat with string arrangements.

Like Saeta, Dolour is very much a diamond-in-the-rough. The live show doesn't come close to matching the album's rich sound, and probably never will until Tutmarc nails down a steady backing band.

Wonderful

Following Dolour at the Kirkland center was another exciting new band: Wonderful.

Like Tutmarc, Wonderful is influenced by the Beach Boys — but even more so. The five-piece band even takes its name from a Beach Boys song — from the unreleased "Smile" album.

The young members of Wonderful, who met at Seattle Pacific University, this week release their first recording, an EP called "Welcome to Wonderful," and play a show Friday at Sit&Spin.

If it's like the show in Kirkland, this will be a terrific brainwash, with waves of keyboard-synthesizer sounds wafting over the audience.

Kinski, Aveo, Carissa's Wierd

These bands will be playing at Bumbershoot. Kinski, just now getting its due after two years of slow going, is an instrumental rock band that plays with the dynamism of a tight jazz combo. "Be Gentle With the Warm Turtles" is Kinski's second album, and first since expanding from a trio to a quartet.

Aveo and Carissa's Wierd are both on Brown Records. Carissa's Wierd is similar in some ways to Saeta; it also has poetic lyrics, sung in a whispery voice over nontraditional rock instruments (piano, accordion, violin), and a nice male-female vocal dynamic. The Carissa's quintet recently released its fine second album, "You Should Be at Home Here."

Aveo (ah-ve-o) is a promising trio that plays jangly epics flavored with haunting melodies. This year-old band, led by the fine singer-guitarist William Wilson, recently released its first album, "Bridge to the Northern Lights."

A raft of others

• Raft of Dead Monkeys, a hard-to-classify band that mixes punk intensity, metal grandeur and indie-rock lyrics, recently released a fine debut CD, "thoroughlev." In its live shows, Raft of Dead Monkeys adds a performance-art visual element, with a pair of nurses in various deadpan poses.

• Kill Sadie, whose founding members recently left Minneapolis and re-formed here, also walks an imaginary tightrope between indie and punk. This six-piece is loud and combustive, but plays with a tempered fury; fans of Juno will like this crew.

• Though Rose Thomas' first album is months away from release, Sub Pop Records is rightly excited about this newcomer. She sings with a classic folk voice and heartfelt sincerity — then cracks the crowd up with her between-song banter; she's also a comedian.

• Willow is another stirring singer-songwriter with room to grow, and dazzling potential. Her second album, "Sweet Dark Demon," has her creating eerily striking images.

• There are at least a dozen other budding rock acts — the Prom, Peter Parker, Fairgrove, etc. — that others would argue deserve mention on this highly subjective list. Which only further supports the idea that the state of local rock music is like one of its bands: Wonderful.

See these artists and learn more about them:

Aveo, www.brownthelabel.com. 8 p.m. tonight (all ages), $8, Paradox Theater, 5510 University Way, 206-524-7677; Bumbershoot, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Carissa's Weird, www.brownthelabel.com. 9 p.m., Aug. 12, Sit & Spin, 2219 Fourth Ave., 206-441-9484; Bumbershoot, Sept. 1 at 10:15 p.m.

Dolour, www.dolour.com. 8 p.m. Aug. 18 (all ages), $6, The Vera Project / Local 46, 2700 First Ave., 206-956-8372.

Kill Sadie, www.killsadie.com. 7 p.m. Aug. 19 (all ages), Graceland, 109 Eastlake Ave. E., 206-381-3094.

Kinski, www.kinski.net. 8 p.m. Aug. 30, $8, Graceland, 109 Eastlake Ave. E., 381-3094; Bumbershoot, Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m.

Raft of Dead Monkeys, www.burnoutrecords.com. Aug. 24, Paradox Theater, 5510 University Way, 206-524-7677.

Saeta, www.smolenski.com/saeta. 9 p.m. Aug. 29, $6, Crocodile Cafe, 2200 Second Ave., 206-441-5611.

Rose Thomas, 9 p.m. Aug. 16, $6, Crocodile Cafe, 2200 Second Ave., 206-441-5611.

Willow, www.willowsmusic.com. Friday, Bitters, 513 N. 36th St., 206-632-0886; Bumbershoot, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.

Wonderful, www.wonderfulmusic.net. 9 p.m. Aug. 10, $7, Sit & Spin, 2219 Fourth Ave., 441-9484.

Tickets for many venues are available at www.ticketweb.com. All shows 21 and older except where noted.

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