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!

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.