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!

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 #2: Jessamine, Cellophane

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I find these drizzly, cloudy days in the Pacific Northwest to be the ideal setting for breaking out the Jessamine cd’s from my collection. Jessamine was a band out of sync with the more populist sounds of alternative rock emerging from the Seattle scene in the mid-90’s. Their blend of krautrock, post-rock, and shoegaze set the band apart from everyone else in the region at the time. Certainly, Sky Cries Mary achieved a fair amount of success-but they had a more psychedelic and dance-oriented sound.

Jessamine’s self-titled debut album on Kranky Records is a treasure trove of eerie, haunting sounds that aren’t necessarily disturbing, but certainly not in line with the upbeat or angsty sounds of the time. Their minor college-radio hit Cellophane (KCMU-the precursor to KEXP-used to play the heck out of it) off of the debut album is what originally drew me to the band. The song’s surreal beauty always make me think of an imaginary David Lynch film. Definitely for fans of Slowdive, Can, and Slint.

You can listen to the song over on the youtubes. Read more after the jump.

Several other songs off the debut album also have an otherworldly feel to them (Ordinary Sleep and Secret in particular stand out), but the band was just as interested in pursuing more experimental and improvisational sounds as well as swooning pop songs. One Trick Pony is a great example of this side of their music. They would explore these sounds even further on their next album, Long Arm of Coincidence.

Seeing the band live was always a special experience-the band was so clear about what they were wanting to create, that they were able to take their songs off in exciting new directions. Their keyboardist in particular was always creating fascinating new sounds. The band released three full-length albums and a collection of singles and rarities called Another Fictionalized History. The debut and the singles collection are the places to start if you want to explore their music. All of their releases are well-known for having intricate, creative, and beautiful album artwork. They even put out a single that came with a lock and key. If you are a fan of Stereolab, and enjoy the keyboard aspect of Jessamine, you should check out Fontanelle as well-the keyboardist and lead guitarist’s follow-up project.

The Trouble Starts: Stream new song-Glaciers

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The Trouble Starts, a Seattle-based post-rock band with some Americana flourishes (formerly known as Daniel G. Harmann & the Trouble Starts), have a brand new album, called East, that they have just announced for an August release. You can stream the first single, Glaciers, over at bandcamp. If you were a fan of their last album, Risk, you are sure to enjoy this. The song features a nice buildup that resolves itself at the end with soothing harmonies.

They will be playing a cd-release show at Columbia City Theater on August 16th with Kladruby Gold and Keaton Collective. You don’t want to miss this great lineup. Purchase advance tickets here.