I arrived in Seattle at the tail end of the magnificently underrated run of Carissa’s Wierd. Treblezine began just after the band called it quits. But, the legend and legacy of this revered Seattle band still lingered in the overcast skies that hovered over the Puget Sound region. They may not have been as iconic as Jimi or Kurt, as dangerous as the Sonics, or as rocking as Heart, but their stamp left on Seattle was just as indelible. Over the past seven years, I’ve been trying to piece together a complete collection of their music, and let me tell you, it hasn’t been easy. But, Hardly Art has taken out the leg work with They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave, a compilation of the best tracks from one of the best bands the Emerald City has ever had to offer.
Stories from the band’s past seem made up. Founders Mat Brooke and Jenn Ghetto meeting in a Tuscon club, both sharing a love of Jane’s Addiction is something out of a John Hughes movie. The quiet, whispered nature of their songs was a result of having to record in a walk-in closet, afraid to wake up Ghetto’s grandmother. After moving to Seattle, a drunken Isaac Brock climbs in their window and subsequently invites them to tour with Modest Mouse throughout the west coast. Who the hell does this happen to? Carissa’s Wierd, that’s who. But, the aftermath of the band is what is most known by your typical indie rock fan. A friend of mine handed me a plain brown wrapped CD, simply labeled ‘Horses.’ He urged me to listen. That CD was the initial sounds of what would become Band of Horses, formed by Wierd members Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke. Soon, Brooke would leave that band to form Grand Archives. Jenn Ghetto began her project, S, and drummer Sera Cahoone would start her own solo career.
For those of you outside the confines of King County and its environs, you’re in for a treat. The music of Carissa’s Wierd has been long worth waiting for. The sweet and simple strains of the aptly titled “Low Budget Slow Motion Soundtrack for the Leaving Scene” introduce us to the hushed and delicately paired vocals of Ghetto and Brooke, only to be energized by the Stars meets Modest Mouse off-kilter earnest pop of “Die,” a true display of their songwriting prowess. That’s the shortest song title you’ll ever get with the band, as most of them rival most post-rock bands for sheer length and imagery. What remains constant are the beauty, intricacy and honesty of each track included on the compilation. Aching violins pair with jangled guitars and expertly timed (sometimes in a waltz) drums to set a tone that would define them. “One Night Stand” is a perfect example of this stunning combination, in any other later era, a surefire hit. Think Bright Eyes meets Arcade Fire.
The late ’90s and early 2000s were a virtual breeding ground of great bands in Seattle, yet Carissa’s Wierd never quite got the recognition outside of the city that they so richly deserved. Now that the offshoots have become well known, it seems the timing is right for a Carissa’s Wierd revival, a revisit and deeper appreciation of a band that deserved a lot more. On “Die,” Ghetto plaintively and heartbreakingly sings, “I never asked to be here.” Well, I know I’m not the only one thankful for the presence of Carissa’s Wierd.