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.

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.

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.

Sundries: Upcoming shows this summer!

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Seattle band Sundries has been on the scene for a couple of years now-playing all over town at a variety of venues. They have released several singles and an EP, All Good Daughters. Lead singer Sadie Ava’s voice at times brings to mind Seattle favorite Carrie Akre. Never Call My Name in particular recalls Akre’s band, Goodness, at times, with its soulful, edgy, chugging indie rock. The band’s sound can veer from off-kilter time signature math rock (Ribbon) to bluesy jams (I Found Perfection). While their songs can vary in style and dynamics, there is always a constant heartbeat that trademarks every Sundries’ song as their own. Head over to their bandcamp page to hear or purchase any of their music.

You would be wise to see them live-and there are many opportunities to do so this summer, as they are playing a variety of shows around town. Next up they will be at the Comet Tavern on July 14th, playing with Muscle and Marrow. I have a feeling they’ve been secretly huddling in a local studio recording new material-so my guess is you might just hear some new tunes this summer.

Exohxo: Stream new EP-Stories and Fictions

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I just came across this local, self-described “chamber pop” band recently. The band appears to be readying the release of their EP, Stories and Fictions, for an early August release. The EP veers from soaring, anthemic indie rockers to quirky, New Wave-y pop to piano-laden instrumentals. Storytellers could easily be confused with an XTC song-certainly not a bad thing. On other songs I can hear traces of Zumpano, Lost Lander, and Arcade Fire. Untitled Song About Cats in particular is a gorgeous track-a great way to end the EP. I could easily see it being included on an indie film soundtrack.

You can stream the entire EP over on their bandcamp page.

Exohxo has a number of shows lined up around Seattle during the summer, including a performance this Saturday, June 22nd at the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon. Never even heard of this event before-bands will be performing all along the course as the race proceeds. How cool is that?

I have a feeling that Stories and Fictions will be very well received in the Seattle music scene. I look forward to watching as the band’s career unfolds.

Kladruby Gold: Album teaser-Lure of the Stars

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If you haven’t heard of Kladruby Gold yet, than you have been missing out. This Seattle-based band has been around for a little while, playing shows around the PNW for a little over a year. They put out an EP, To the Terminal, in 2012, and are getting ready to put out their debut full-length, Lure of the Stars, later this year. You can stream or download three songs off of the album over at their bandcamp page. OBC is a particular favorite of mine for driving with the windows down.

The band has a unique, dynamic sound that draws from a lot of different influences, self-described as “amerigaze”. You could draw comparisons to the National, Pixies, Tom Petty, and edgier New Wave; and Gary, the band’s lead guitarist, used to be in grunge favorites, TAD.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, they are having a mini-NW tour in August to promote Lure of the Stars. They’ll be playing Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. Visit the band’s website for tour dates. Their show in Seattle at Columbia City Theater on August 16th will definitely be one not to miss-they are playing with the Trouble Starts (see my earlier post about their new single) and Keaton Collective.

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.