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!

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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.

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.

The Navins with Mark Pickerel: FREE Show!

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Do you enjoy some good ole’ garage-y powerpop? Then make sure you get over to the Feedback Lounge in West Seattle on Saturday, June 29th. That’s where you’ll find local band, The Navins, who will be playing a *free* show with Mark Pickerel. There is some serious NW-rock pedigree in this line-up: you’ll hear folks who have been in bands such as TAD, Screaming Trees, Truly, Gnome, and Sweet Secrets.

You can hear a few songs by the Navins over on ReverbNation. Definitely for fans of Guided by Voices, the Velvet Underground, the Replacements, etc. Perfect music for a summer BBQ in the backyard with friends.