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.

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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!!

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.