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Originally published Friday, March 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch

Here come 3 promising up-and-comers

Those who follow Seattle music know about hot young acts like Blue Scholars, Fleet Foxes, the Blakes, Dyme Def, Schoolyard Heroes, etc. But three diamonds-in-the-rough are in Seattle clubs this week: John Tsunam, Lords of the North and Half Light.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Listen up

The soundtrack for this week's NightWatch:

John Tsunam: www.myspace.com/johntsunam

Lords of the North: www.myspace.com/thelordsofthenorth

Half Light: www.myspace.com/halflightseattle

Those who follow Seattle music know about hot young acts like Blue Scholars, Fleet Foxes, the Blakes, Dyme Def, Schoolyard Heroes, etc. — the ones who get play on local radio, coverage from music-oriented publications and shows at the bigger clubs around town.

Perhaps a more interesting challenge is to find talented musicians flying under the radar. You may find them on opening slots headlined by more established acts, or on off-nights at places like the Rendezvous, Funhouse and Lo_Fi.

While these unknowns might not be polished and slick, they have the potential to grow and flourish. It's like getting in on the ground floor of a new company.

Three diamonds-in-the-rough are prowling on the fringes of Seattle clubs this week: John Tsunam, Lords of the North and Half Light.

• Where some rappers roll with the gangsters, Tsunam rolls with the fish — this sushi chef is one of Seattle's most mysterious hip-hop artists. A native of Hawaii, he caught a small wave of interest shortly after coming here. Riding a self-produced disc, he played shows around town three years ago.

Then he disappeared.

He explained his absence from the scene, via e-mail: "I dropped out of recording and shows because I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/Submission Wrestling and I just couldn't split my time between the two and still do them well. Or at least I couldn't give the two the attention they deserve."

He added that he never stopped writing. And now Jason Adams brings back his alter ego with a new John Tsunam CD called "Supremium Rap Jams of a Victorious Champion." Don't be put off by the boastful title — once you listen to the first cut, you realize it's intentionally over the top, a sly commentary of sorts on egomaniacal hip-hoppers.

On the first cut of the CD, "Hello," JT raps that he's anti-self-promotion and hates live shows ... well, not quite. In his e-mail, Adams admitted, "I'm not using this CD as an official release. It's more of a hype builder and so forth. Something to put in a press kit and send off to radio stations and magazines."

We'll see if radio stations connect with the off-center flow of John Tsunam, who is more out to crack wise than throw out gangster posings or pimp mytholizings. ("Listen to this if you ever wished Woody Allen wrote lyrics for Kool G Rap.")

Also on "Hello," he ponders the best method to building a big following: "It's probably best that I should dumb it down a little." And he takes a dig at himself, as he often does, calling himself lazy and deadpanning that his CD "only took 8 years / long as a nose hair."

Some of his raps are leisurely and goofy; others are darker with a fast-flowing, hyped-up delivery.

Even on paranoia-inducing cuts like "Headcase," he can't resist cutting up the body count with a wisecrack: "If you do meet with a bullet / don't let it go to your head." Who knows where this guy is going? He shifts themes and styles casually, seeming like a very spur-of-the-moment dude.

John Tsunam performs at Lo_Fi (9 p.m. Sunday, $5). Also on the bill: rapper Phil in the Blank, beat battler Sentr1c and DJs from Fourth City.

• "Stoner rock," anyone? This is a loose label for bands with a low, dark, looping, down-tuned sound — too powerful to be indie, not fast enough to be metal, a younger stepbrother of grunge.

Just like you don't have to be a gangster to appreciate gangster rap, or a surfer to get into surf rock, it's not an absolute requirement that you be a pothead to dig stoner rock.

It's a growing genre, and Lords of the North is one of its newest members. Just six months ago, the band started "in our drummer James Roche's cat-infested hellhole of a basement," says Patrick Kearney — not the football player, but a local musician who has played with Plan B and Automaton. Tony Tharp is the third member of LOTN.

Given the choice of the two frontiers of stoner rock, Kearney says Lords of the North is "definitely closer to Kyuss than Earth ... I think we sound like some weird child of Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer — dark but still catchy.

"I think actually Wolf Mother and the Sword are good comparisons. They both live in the stoner rock world but still have their own thing going ... "

Lords of the North flashes a good deal of promise on its six-song, self-titled EP. The song "Souls Come Rising" is gritty and crunchy — but also catchy, very Queens of the Stone Age.

A mix by Phil Ek certainly helped the sound.

Lords of the North play Belltown's Rendezvous (10:30 p.m. Saturday, $5).

Note of interest: Kearney learned about the business side of rock as the merchandise man for Sleater-Kinney. "One of the best jobs I had and learned a lot about music and putting on live shows from those ladies and all the awesome bands they toured with like the Black Keys."

• Half Light, which has a Mazzy Star/Cowboy Junkies vibe, plays the Comet Tavern on Wednesday (9 p.m., $6).

Half Light features the vocals of Dayna Loeffler, formerly the Voyager One bass player. She's still in space rock, but a little dreamier now.

The band will be playing an intoxicating new song called "Affected" and other material from its coming CD, "Sleep More, Take More Drugs, Do Whatever We Want."

Well, all right, then.

One of the nice things about flying under the radar: You can call your recording whatever you want, and probably get away with it.

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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