Singer-songwriter, electronic looper Briana Marela, who plays Barboza Saturday, Aug. 29, is making some of the most original and accessible music in the Northwest, writes freelancer Charlie Zaillian.
There are probably a thousand active bands in Seattle, yet they usually come in two categories: those who would prefer the ‘90s never ended, and those dead set on proving there’s more to the Northwest than Nirvana.
Twenty-five-year-old Briana Marela — playing Barboza on a bill with Icelandic singer-songwriter Jenny Hval Saturday, Aug. 29 — is neither — she just does her own thing. The nine ambient pop songs on the singer-producer’s new LP “All Around Us” are some of the most original yet accessible music being made in the city.
Though she recorded the album in Iceland in 2013 at Sigur Rós’ home studio, Marela is Northwest through-and-through — born in Ballard, raised in Shoreline and schooled in Olympia, at The Evergreen State College.
Briana Marela, Jenny Hval
7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, at Barboza, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $10 advance (206-709-9467 or thebarboza.com).
The oldest of three siblings, she’s been singing and performing since she was a toddler, when her mother put her in a singing group “as sort of a socialization thing,” she says, laughing. “I think she was surprised how much I took to it!”
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As a kid, she adored the Spanish-language love songs her Peruvian father played in the car, citing the simple sincerity of these Latin ballads as a musical influence most listeners wouldn’t catch.
The inimitable Icelandic artist Björk — whose music Marela discovered in high school — is a more obvious comparison. Not that Marela minds.
“She’s definitely a hero,” she admits.
Marela never formally learned an instrument, but she never stopped singing, either. For her senior project, she made her first original recording — a four-song EP she performed live for the class.
“I was amazed at what you could do with a recording,” a wide-eyed Marela remembers. “The way you can shape a song, add all these layers and mystery. That was when I was like, ‘I don’t just want to be a musician. I want to learn how to record.’”
At Evergreen, Marela learned how to construct intricate multitrack recordings using little more than her own voice. She also learned how to make her own custom equipment. Plugging into the indie scene in Olympia, she earned a reputation for stopping punk-rock partyers in their tracks with her immersive soundscapes.
After graduating, she made her debut album, 2012’s “Speak from the Heart,” played local festivals such as Seattle’s Northwest Folklife and began to tour more frequently.
Her connection to Sigur Rós producer Alex Somers came about on one of those tours. Her deal with influential indie label Jagjaguwar, which put out “All Around Us,” happened just as organically, the Indiana label acting on a tip from Marela’s friend Andrew Hall, drummer in the Seattle band Dude York. It could prove to be one of their shrewdest signings.
Like sister cities Reykjavik and Seattle, the pillowy vocals and soaring melodies on the LP are studies in contrasts — city and wilderness; analog and digital; drafty basements and big, resonant concert halls; sweetness and weariness.
Marela’s show Saturday at Barboza might be one of your last chances to experience these intriguing new Seattle sounds in such intimate surroundings.