Reviews of Strange Wilds’ “Subjective Violence,” on Sub Pop, and Grave Babies’ “Holographic Violence, on Hardly Art.

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Strange Wilds, ‘Subjective Concepts’ (Sub Pop) Grave Babies, ‘Holographic Violence’ (Hardly Art)

A couple of years ago, the Baltimore band Roomrunner affixed a sticker to its gloriously grungy “Ideal Cities” album that read “Yes, we’ve heard Nirvana — try harder.” The same could be said for “Subjective Concepts” from Strange Wilds, but given the trio’s hometown (Olympia) and label (Sub Pop) the comparison simply comes with the territory. The unmistakable sound of mosh pits and skate parks, these 11 fuzzy, unfussy songs aren’t as tuneful as Roomrunner’s — much less Nirvana’s — and when mumbly frontman Steven Serna strains too hard, what comes out is decidedly more Dexter Holland from The Offspring than Kurt Cobain. But the energy’s there, and the band knows full well where they came from. Just when you’re about to peg “Oneirophobe” as a “Rape Me” rip with its unaccompanied four-chord intro, the drums crash in and suddenly we’ve got a blistering hardcore punk song. Sub Pop proper’s recent track record with new local bands has been mixed and Strange Wilds aren’t exactly a revelation, but the latest Nirvana-bes? Try harder. (Listen to a track here.)

SP’s sister label Hardly Art, meanwhile, brings us the latest from Seattle dark-wavers Grave Babies, a foursome that parrots the iconic Nirvana font for its T-shirts but doesn’t emulate grunge’s sound so much as its in-your-face, we-do-what-we-want attitude. Like the group’s debut, 2013’s “Crusher,” “Holographic Violence” takes ’80s synthesizers, weirds them up with pitch-shifted vocals, chanted mantras and clanging guitars, then cranks everything to noise complaint-worthy levels. As its punny title suggests, the 11-track album’s doomsday imagery and the band’s whole dour vibe is a bit of a put-on — that’s just their shtick — but without liner notes that’s not entirely clear. The sequencing’s curious, too — the B side bests the A side, but some listeners may already be worn out by song three, the plodding, almost comically dejected-sounding “Try 2 Try.” At the moment, Grave Babies’ noisy navel-gazing is trendier than Strange Wilds’ no-nonsense Northwest rock, but also more polarizing — you’ll know pretty quickly whether it’s your thing or not. (Listen to “Something Awful.”)

Charlie Zaillian: on Twitter @czaillian

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