Portugal. The Man, “Sumatran Tiger”

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This is something different.

Great Northwest band (yes, Alaska counts as part of the Pacific Northwest), Portugal. The Man have just released a song in partnership with the National Zoo in Washington, DC. It’s sort of an Earth Day-related song to highlight the plight of the Sumatran Tiger. There are less than 400 in the wild. The twist that makes this an interesting awareness campaign is that just 400 copies of the vinyl were created-using degradable materials. So, just like the tigers, this song too will eventually disappear. They are encouraging listeners to rip copies of the song and share them online to help raise awareness.

And the song? Pretty good, actually. Kind of a laid-back summer vibe to it, with jangly guitars, a leisurely beat, and some lovely, hummable melodies throughout. I guarantee you will want to listen to it more than once.

Hear the song and read more about the tigers, the band, and the zoo here.

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Best New Local Music: Spring 2014

As is nearly always the case in the Pacific Northwest, there are a myriad of bands at the moment vying for your attention. You would think that eventually, the number of new musicians emerging would start to wane-but somehow this region continues to nurture people creating new sounds. Sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming-certainly, not every new band is going to develop into the next…[insert famous local musician here]. At the moment, however, there are a quite a few artists out there who have recently put out outstanding releases. I thought I would highlight a few here for you. You might discover a favorite new band, and the artist might gain some new fans: win-win.

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Gibraltar – The New Century. Bandcamp. Edgy, jittery, pulsating-not usually words one would use to describe a band featuring…piano? Yet, Gibraltar, whose songs often prominently feature a piano, are exactly that-an arty, post-punk band who can veer from moody, aching, skewered ballads to driving, frenetic, pounding rockers. Opening tune, Satisfied, is easily one of the best songs of the year. Gibraltar would be great paired on a bill with The The The Thunder.

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Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors. Bandcamp. Sludge Metal. Stoner Rock. Grungy art-metal post-rock? Whatever genre you wish to label this local band with-they have it perfected. Not usually my thing, somehow this just works for me. Their latest album is heavy, but not claustrophobically so-it does have screaming (a metal requirement these days?), but it also has spooky harmonies and interplaying guitars that would make Alice in Chains and Sigur Ros jealous. Helms Alee have been around for awhile, but I think this is easily their strongest and most approachable work yet. If you are in the mood for something a little heavier, yet with moody atmospherics to it, you should seek this out. I would imagine they are a roaring beast to behold live. Listen to Pinniped for a great example of what they’re all about.

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Iska Dhaaf – Even the Sun Will Burn. Bandcamp. Of all the great new local music, this is the album that is the biggest revelation. Just a duo (Nathan Quiroga and Benjamin Verdoes), these two musicians have created an album that is truly remarkable. “Inspired by Sufi poetry, limitation, and an obsessive preoccupation with writing”, Iska Dhaaf are far from your your run-of-the-mill, generic indie band. Their songs seethe with insight, intelligence, and a mastery of combining disparate elements into a cohesive whole. You can hear moments of surf-rock, goth-punk, Middle Eastern dirges, and winding art-rock. That all sounds great on paper, but who knew that something so intellectualized could have such energy, passion, and life to it? Why would anyone want to ever listen to Vampire Weekend after hearing this?

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Shake Some Action! – Catch the Sun. Bandcamp. Ok-let’s be clear. Shake Some Action! are breaking no new ground with their music. But who cares, when their music is this sunny, upbeat, fun, and joyous? As I’m sure was their intention, the album of the summer has already arrived. Lazy days with a cooler and friends in the park officially have their soundtrack. Definitely for fans of psych/power-pop in the vein of the Posies, Blue Skies for Black Hearts, etc. Great stuff.

Now-go out there and support local music!

Wishbeard: Up & coming local dreampoppers

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I saw that local rising stars, Chastity Belt, were playing an upcoming show at Columbia City Theater, and took a look to see who else was on the bill. Seeing an unfamiliar name, Wishbeard, on the lineup, I clicked on the link to check out their sounds. I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised. They have a mellow, vaguely shoegaze/dreampop vibe about them, with winding guitars, dreamy keyboards, and an eerie brightness to their sound. At times, they remind me of Lemolo, another great, local, dreampop band. And there is just the subtlest edge of post-punk in places, with the opening tune, Strawberry ’79, bringing to mind a less prophetic/intense version of Savages. I can envision some great late night drives around Seattle to their music.

You can hear their debut EP, It’s All Gonna Break, over on bandcamp. And you can check them out live on February 1st at the Columbia City Theater in SE Seattle.

Those seminal sounds

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Ok-this is going to be a flashback post.

Every music fan has a time period, era, or genre of music that they identify with-music from your formative years, your youth, music that got you through a rough patch, whatever.

I certainly had music that I discovered as a kid that changed my perspective about what music could sound like. I remember hearing “The Tide is High” by Blondie on the radio in the car when I was like 5 or 6 and thinking it was sounded so different and fascinating. On a trip to visit relatives on the East Coast in the early 80’s, I remember a cousin who I thought was very cool at the time, was listening to early albums by U2, B-52’s, Talking Heads and R.E.M. I had never heard any of those bands or that kind of music. During high school, I finally started to expand my musical palette a little bit beyond whatever was on the generic radio station. But it wasn’t until I was out of high school and in community college that my true time of musical discovery happened, 1991-1993 to be exact. Right when the whole “alternative” scene was bursting. Not only was I discovering the music that would set the course for the kind of sounds I’d continue to enjoy in the future, but it also coincided with me coming out of my shell, and discovering who I was myself.

Looking back now, these albums seem like pretty basic alternative fare-Alternative Rock 101, you could say.  But for me, these are the albums that I played and played and played-the music that defined (and continues to define) and provided the soundtrack to my life.

What songs, albums, genres shaped you? Leave a comment below, or discuss on my Facebook page.

Smashing Pumpkins – Gish

Pavement – Slanted & Enchanted

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

Ride – Nowhere

Sonic Youth – Dirty

R.E.M. – Automatic for the People

the Breeders – Pod

Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge

Beat Happening – Jamboree

Some Velvet Sidewalk – Avalanche

Pixies – Surfer Rosa and Doolittle

Music Highlights of 2013

2013 was a pretty amazing year for music fans. Great new releases from long established acts like the Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Deerhunter, Superchunk, Throwing Muses. Exciting new bands making their debuts like Savages, Black Hearted Brother. And new releases from bands that are emerging as lifers like Portugal. The Man, Sin Fang, Foals, Best Coast, The Men. I thought I would highlight some of my favorite things, with a focus primarily on Northwest artists.

Favorite video trend

The house party video. Remember Sonic Youth’s video for 100%? I loved it-so wished that I could know those people and hang out with them at that party with Sonic Youth. Well, several musicians this year put out videos featuring similarly over-the-top house parties, among them Father John Misty, Mikal Cronin, and Battleme. Who wouldn’t want to go to one of these house parties filled with interesting people, great music, and colorful setting?

Best concerts

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I was fortunate to see quite a few concerts this year. Not a bad one in the bunch, actually (although I perhaps enjoyed seeing Electric Six at Neumo’s for different reasons than the band intended). Two that stood out from the rest, though, were Mikal Cronin with Shannon and the Clams (both based in the Bay Area), and Battleme with Grizzled Mighty (from Portland and Seattle, respectively). Both shows were at the Tractor Tavern, up in Ballard.

Shannon and the Clams take on punky rockabilly is awfully fun…can’t help thinking they should score a David Lynch or John Waters film.

Mikal Cronin’s live show confirmed that this guy is the real deal-great songwriter and performer. You can not help but be fully engrossed with his band’s show. During Shout It Out and Change, the audience was jumping up and down. Green and Blue, off his first album, was so blisteringly loud and terrifying, it just proved that Cronin can do it all-ferocious, noisy garage rock, and beautiful, summery pop.

Battleme live was a beast. The songs from their self-titled album from 2012 were fleshed out with more guitars, and the new songs from their EP and upcoming album were filled with thumping rhythms and noisy guitar jams. The highlight of their set was Shotgun Song with an expanded intro that built up the tension of the song. It’s pretty awesome to hear about them opening for Metric and Artic Monkeys around the country right now-they deserve all the great exposure they can get.

Grizzled Mighty are a local dynamic duo of guitar, drums, and vocals. Some draw comparisons to the White Stripes-but I find that these guys have a more raucous, bluesier and rawer sound; also slightly less melodic. Live-they bring out two female dancers for their show. With their LBD’s and *very* long hair being whipped all around, you couldn’t help but smile and enjoy this show.

Best NW album

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So, it is just an EP, but Weight on the Brain by Battleme has stuck with me now for several months on regular rotation. Consisting of only four songs, this EP, for me, shows Matt Drenik and his band really tightening up their sound and clarifying what they are all about. They’ve added some mid-90’s guitar crunch to their sound, which makes Drenik’s songs even more engaging than his earlier, sparser indie/electronic musings. This EP has one goal-to rock. It succeeds remarkably well.

Best song by NW artist

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Kladruby Gold-Seahorse Aquarium. Yes, I’m friends with the band. But this is still one of the best songs of the year off of a great album (Lure of the Stars). The guitars sound like they were recorded underwater on a distant planet, the bass rumbles ominously along underneath everything, and the vocals hook you in with their slightly lurid and surreal lyrics. Sounds like nothing else out there. Go listen at their bandcamp page.

Best non-NW album

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This is easy for me. Mikal Cronin-MCII. Probably my favorite album of the last few years. An instant classic-Cronin melds addicting, heartfelt sing-along melodies with a version of garage rock that veers from screaming guitar jams to jangly pop. I can’t really pick a favorite song, as there simply are too many. If forced to choose, though, I’d go with Shout It Out, See It My Way, and Peace of Mind.

Best video

Total Slacker-Sometime’s You Gotta Die. It’s as if the early 90’s never went away. Think Nirvana/Sonic Youth/the Breeders/Dinosaur Jr. melded in a blender…like the actual band members. That would be the bloody, rockin’ mess that is this video. Have to say that I am beyond excited to hear their new album when it comes out in the Spring.

Best new band

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Cumulus. This band sort of came out of nowhere for me.  Their debut album, I Never Meant It To Be Like This, is one of the best albums of the year. It is filled with catchy, guitar-driven indie rock that somehow doesn’t just blend in with the rest of the indie pack. I hope to catch them live in the not-too distant future. I am expecting that when they release a second album, they will be huge stars.

Music event of 2013

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Sub Pop 25th Jubilee. On a Saturday in Georgetown this past July, local mavericks Sub Pop threw a free party for their fans. Turns out they really know how to throw a party. With at least four separate stages w/ old and new Sub Pop acts, booths selling merch, food trucks, the Sub Pop megamart, beer gardens, and non-sponsored side stages-this was a day where music fans could find their local tribe. Gorgeous weather simply perfected an already amazing experience. Fans could hear old favorites like Mudhoney, Built to Spill, TAD, J. Mascis, and Greg Dulli; and newer acts like Shabazz Palaces, METZ, King Tuff, Shearwater, Father John Misty, and Rose Windows. People brought their kids and their dogs. I was complaining a while back to a friend that I didn’t really understand “Con” culture-you know, ComicCon, SciFiCons, etc., and she pointed out that this was the same thing, but for independent music fans. She was totally right. I only wish Sub Pop would do this every year.

The Local Strangers: The Power of Music

I haven’t had the chance to blog about music in the last couple of months due to the business of life. But a chance musical encounter this weekend made me realize I needed to squeeze in time for quick post.

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I spent this past weekend working as an adult sponsor at a Unitarian Universalist youth conference, held down at Camp Cispus, just South of Mt. Rainier. I attend these conferences about twice a year-they are both exhausting and uplifting. This “con” was no exception. And a key highlight for me from the weekend was a 45-minute live concert by the self-described “soulful Americana” Seattle band, The Local Strangers. This band, led by equally engaging vocalists Aubrey and Matt, put out a very solid album last year called Left for Better. I had heard a couple of the songs off of the album online, and in particular had enjoyed the album opener, Mr. Blackberry, but had been hesitant to rush out to see them live. But, clearly, our paths were meant to cross.

Music critics have long written about hearing live music vs. listening to a band on record-something special that can’t be reproduced on record can often occur in a live setting. And that definitely was the case this past Saturday in a small building in the woods of SW Washington. I found seeing the Local Strangers in a live setting to be an exhilarating experience. Not only did they flesh out the songs from their record in a more dynamic way, but the band’s engagement with each other and the audience was…well, refreshing. With humor, frankness, emotional honesty, and a raucous sound, they pulled a whole room full of youth away from other fun activities outside (swing dancing! ultimate frisbee! hair dying!) into that room to dance, sing along, hug, and to be enlivened with the power of music. Sounds schmaltzy-but it’s true. Music has an indescribable powerful quality to it that can deeply enhance the experience of being human.

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Photo courtesy Matt Hart.

Not only were attendees treated to more raucous versions of album tracks like Uptown and Devil and a Stiff Drink, but the band shared some exciting new songs they are prepping for their next studio album, which I thought reflected a deeper, more nuanced, and fuller sound compared to their earlier material. After the show, both Matt and Aubrey stayed after to talk with the youth in a Q&A about their experiences in the music business. They couldn’t have been more approachable or friendly.

You can download several of their releases over on their bandcamp page. I highly encourage that you do so-you’d be supporting a band filled with genuinely nice, creative people who have a bright musical future ahead of them.

LIVE MUSIC: VanFest & Trouble Starts/Kladruby Gold/Keaton Collective

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If you enjoy live music and live in the Seattle area, then this is going to be a great week for you. I want to highlight two events in particular that are worth your time and money.

Friday, August 16

The Trouble Starts (cd release), Kladruby Gold (cd release), and Keaton Collective. Columbia City Theater-8pm. Tickets are $8. Yes, I did have a hand in putting this show together-but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s going to be a phenomenal night for music in Seattle.

Keaton Collective just recently relocated down from Bellingham. They have a timeless, Americana, feel-good, rock sound down pat. If you enjoy artists like Neil Young, Phish, or Wilco-you’ll absolutely fall in love with their sound. Visit their website to hear more of them.

Kladruby Gold are releasing their debut, full-length album, Lure of the Stars, this week. This show (the 2nd of three around the Northwest this week-they’re also playing in Vancouver w/ Keaton Collective and in Portland as part of the International Pop Overthrow festival) will easily be their biggest show to date. They have really focused their efforts in tightening and clarifying their sound. Seahorse Aquarium, the opening song off of the album, might be my favorite song of the year-it gives me the chills. You can find the whole album over on bandcamp for your listening enjoyment.

The Trouble Starts are also releasing a new album, EAST, this week. I shared the single, Glaciers, earlier on this blog. Formerly known as Daniel G Harmann and the Trouble Starts, they’ve simplified their name and also, I think, polished their sound. This album is a real gem-fans of post-rock will gobble it up. Go to their bandcamp page to hear it and order a copy (only 300!).

You can RSVP for the show at the Facebook event page.

Saturday, August 17

VanFest 2013: Featuring Fly Moon Royalty, The Horde and the Harem, Fox and the Law, Dude York, Chastity Belt, and many more. Somehow this festival completely escaped my radar, as I just came across it today. It is being held at Royal Arch Park, on the Renton-Maple Valley Hwy. A lot of great local independent bands playing. Definitely a lower key affair than, say Sasquatch or Bumbershoot. You can buy tickets here. There is always something special about hearing live music outside-you won’t find a better chance to hear Fox and the Law rip through one of their bluesy grunge tunes outdoors than this.

Now-get out there and support your local music scene!!

Hump Day Hummables #4: Sky Cries Mary, Shipwrecked & Every Iceberg is Afire

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There was a time in Seattle in the mid-90’s, when one could imagine it was San Francisco in the Summer of Love, or at least Burning Man. It was the Summer of 1994, and local psychedelic/dance fav’s Sky Cries Mary were just getting set to release their second full-length album, This Timeless Turning. They had already scored a hit on KCMU and the End with the first single off of the album, Every Iceberg is Afire. But they hadn’t really played a lot of the new material from the album to a live audience. So they decided to throw a free cd release party/show at Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill. The weather totally worked in the band’s favor-classic Seattle July weather-70’s and sunny. Already having established themselves as kings and queen of the psychedelic scene, the band had a fairly rabid following at the time. Pretty much every one of those fans turned out for this show.

The band chose for their set to play the songs off the new album from start to finish, and then followed the show with an encore of older favorites. Well, between the naked hippies, the lavish yet surreal band costumes, lead singer Anisa’s soaring soprano, flowers everywhere, body paint, the sunshine, the burning incense, now-legal drugs being not-so secretly toked, and the band’s 60’s psychedelia meets 90’s trance-dance sounds; regardless of whether you bought into the whole jam-band/psychedelic thing-everyone present was transported to some other place and time. The day ended up being one to remember and talked about for years to come.

Two of the more straight-forward, poppier songs of This Timeless Turning are Shipwrecked and Every Iceberg is Afire. Here are the official videos for both of them.

And if you’re interested, go check out the band’s website, it’s loaded with lots of cool pics, and you can listen to all of their albums. Their first album, A Return to the Inner Experience, still stands as their best. The album veers from then-trendy trance sounds to a Rolling Stones cover to psychedelic pop. David Byrne thought they were going to be the next big thing. They certainly were huge in the Northwest, but that didn’t quite happen on a national scale. Either way-if you want some chill, upbeat music-you can’t really go wrong with Sky Cries Mary.

Feeds on Majesty: New self-titled EP

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I found a link to this local group in my e-mail inbox recently. Definitely different than the kind of music I usually listen to. I hadn’t heard of Feeds on Majesty before-lead musician, Travis Gore, is a bassist with the Seattle Symphony. While their music certainly reflects great musical proficiency-their self-titled EP isn’t what I would expect to hear from a performer with a symphony. Instead of coming from a classical, or even baroque, setting-the music reflects an interest in folk, bluegrass, and at times, even ‘slow-core’ musical stylings. The chord changes and rhythms are almost experimental in nature. I can’t say these are songs you’ll be singing in the shower, as most of the songs have an ethereal, surreal quality to them. Much of it very beautiful (The Haunting), and at other times, unsettling (Leaves Turn to Green). All of it unique and interesting, though.

I think fans of Red House Painters, Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, and even Tortoise will find this of interest. You can download the EP over on their bandcamp page.

It looks like the group has a couple of opportunities to catch them live over the next few months as well. They will be playing with their new line-up at the Can Can on August 18th; with the avant-garde contemporary orchestra ‘Scrape’ at the Royal Room on September 8th; and at Benaroya Hall as part of the Day of Music on September 22nd at noon (this is event is FREE too!). I am definitely going to try and catch one of these shows to see them live.

Posse: Prepping new songs

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Posse are a local 3-piece that somehow manage to come across as both fresh and familiar at the same time. Chugging/jangly rhythm guitars, male/female vocal harmonies, surf-rock tinged guitar solos, and a drummer with all the right moves-the band has found that sweet spot between nostalgia and contemporary cool. Fans of Pixies and K records alumni should definitely enjoy Posse.

Check out their self-titled debut album from 2012 over at bandcamp. You can even download the instantly hummable Sarah for free. They have been in the studio as of late, so we should be expecting some new tunes in the next few months.