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H is for Hellgate

Come for the Peaks, Stay for the Valleys


Remember when songs had smart, sometimes abrasive, often obscure lyrics that you could practically taste in your mouth, especially when they were sung by smart, sometimes abrasive women who often played instruments? Remember when I was in high school?

Former Missoulian Jamie Henkensiefken remembers. The sophomore effort from her Seattle-based band, H is for Hellgate, brings new hope of a return to smart rock. Those of us who, years ago, declared Sleater-Kinney the best band in the world can stop living in the past.

The band’s name suggests home to Garden City natives, but this album’s sound takes me home on a whole different level, combining riot-grrrl confessional/declarative vocals with eloquently layered guitar. The tone is confrontational, questioning, at times angry and sad (Henkensiefken’s father and a friend both passed away recently, and she ended a relationship). But each song is beautifully crafted.

Henkensiefken whispers and declaims as compellingly as Liz Phair at her best, but with smarter lyrics: “Thunderbolt” is (apparently) an epistle from the goddess Athena to the Greeks departing Troy. On “Copernicus and Me” correct grammar prevails and lends a chewy freshness to the age-old question: “With whom did you wake up?”

H is for Hellgate plays the Badlander Saturday, May 2, at 9 PM with Rooster Sauce and Ghost. $8.

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