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High Art/Low Art 

by TIM BROSS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "H & lt;/span & old on just a second," Ian Voleck says distractedly "I'm just drawing a picture." It's Sunday and his band, Japanther, is traveling to Vancouver, B.C., for a performance at the Croatian Cultural Center.

"We're just having an erotic drawing session." Drawing penises in "the dirty book." Among an undisclosed number of penis artists he admires, Voleck singles out Jonah Hill's character in Superbad. "That is amazing," he says earnestly, "Really f---ing incredible drawings."

Ian Voleck sings, drums and sometimes plays cassette tapes for Japanther, the self-described "soul-pop-punk-cartoon-experience." Japanther's other half, Matt Reilly, plays the bass and also provides vocals.

It goes without saying that Japanther doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't occupy itself much with the whims of straight-laced America. Beneath the veneer of blithe youthfulness, though, lurks a messily sophisticated sound that falls between Ramones-esque punk and low-fi noise. It's poignant and intense and danceable and fun, a fan promises from Japanther's MySpace page. "River Phoenix" supports the claim. The song's sloppy rollick summons the emotional energy and melodic poppiness of the Cure's "Close to Me" but manages to maintain the quasi-cacophony that defines Japanther's sound. Other jams, like "Cable Babies," nimbly sample various audio clips -- including a joint from NES' Duck Hunt -- coloring those tracks with attitude and character.

"DJ Shadow influenced me a lot," Voleck says of the sampling, referring to the prominent producer who has played a critical role in the development of instrumental hip-hop. Japanther, though, takes it in some un-shadow-like directions. "We recently sampled Police Academy 5," at a show, Voleck says excitedly. "To me, that shit is hilarious." Japanther isn't afraid to sample, isn't afraid to borrow hip-hop techniques that have proven successful. They aren't afraid to experiment or to declare proudly their affinity for "girls groups" of the '60s -- the Supremes, for example. They aren't afraid, because they view the conflation of cultures as a way to carry on that "New York legacy," the concept-punk legacy started by the Ramones.

Continuing that legacy brings them to the Blvd tonight. They've played in town before, and Voleck calls Spokane "a great place to play."

Like his music, Voleck is more intelligent than that first penis-inflected impression suggests. When he's asked to explain his band's name -- a name that could very well be the Asian equivalent of a "cougar" -- he provides an answer that is bereft of silliness or stoner logic. There is an undercurrent of spirituality and an element of intrigue: "I believe every living being has a spirit animal that walks with it," he says.

His sincere, contemplative side does not overstay its welcome, and Voleck soon reverts to dude-mode. "F--k off," he says playfully to someone in the background, then checks out with us. He's gotta go. There's a show to prepare for. And drawings to complete.

Japanther with Dimples and Godbear at the Blvd on Thursday, Sept. 18, at 9 pm. $8. All ages. Visit
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