I have lived in Seattle for four years now and this blog is nearly three years old, but this is the first year that I have done a list of my favorite Seattle records. It’ s not like this year was any better for the Seattle music scene than any other, I just paid more attention. The scene here constantly amazes me with its depth and breadth. Of course, there are a few Seattle bands that get a lot of attention nationally and globally, but they are just the tip of the iceberg, and if you ask me, not even the best the city has to offer. If I wasn’t doing this Seattle-centric list, the top five here would be showing up in my other list of favorite albums from the rest of the world. So by design, this gives me the opportunity to tack on an additional 10 records to my year end best of list. You may scratch your head at a few conspicuous absences from the list, but it’s truly a list of my favorite records put out by Seattle bands this year. I’m not trying to be willfully obscure, it’s just what I liked and because of the diverse and deep scene here, this is really just a jumping off point, but if you ask me it’s a pretty great place to start!
1. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground – Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground (Suburban Vinyl)
As debut albums go, actually as all albums go, this record is bloody amazing! It helps to realize that it wasn’t an immaculate conception with Kirk Huffman and Kyle O’Quin having previously been in the band Gatsby’s American Dream. This record could easily have come crashing down in giant mess, from its huge ambitions. But it not only works with its kitchen sink of influences, it surpasses anything to come out of the Pacific Northwest by a mile. This double album, which has not lost it’s sonic impact after all these months, was released back in February in a beautiful gatefold sleeve on three different colors of vinyl and. It sounds like nothing you’ve probably heard this year or last year or the year before that. It’s a hodgepodge of tin pan alley, Beatlesque pop, Zombies harmonies, and baroque strings arrangements, melded into a cohesive sound making these great songs burst forth from the grooves of this amazing record.
2. Turn-ons – Curse (self released)
The Turn-ons are kind of like the godfathers of the Seattle shoegaze scene and they cemented that status with their best and most realized album yet. Curse is their fourth album and it was released as a free download from their web site. It has a beautiful, dramatic and majestic feel that is so rare in records these days. In fact it brings to mind some of the classic shoegaze albums of the early 90’s like the Pale Saints’ In Ribbons, Chapterhouse’s Whirlpool and the first three Revolver eps. The band’s status is quite up in the air with front man Travis Devries having moved to New York. I hope this is not the end of the Turn-ons, but if it is, Curse is the perfect way to remember this great band.
mp3: Cold Boys
3. Hungry Pines – Golden You (Hill City)
It seemed like quite a few Seattle bands upped and quit this year, and Hungry Pines were one those unfortunate casualties. Soon after releasing Golden You, their first album, with no warning the band posted a note on their MySpace page saying they were through. Too bad because they had just released a great guitar record. The twin guitar attack of Irene Barber and Chrysti Harrison had elements of classic rock but with an arty side that brought to mind British guitar bands like Salad and Echobelly. The Hungry pines were forging ahead into very unique territory not quite classic rock, not quite Britpop. It’s too bad this is all we’ll ever have from this very promising band.
mp3: Fancy You
4. Dutchess and the Duke – She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke (Hardly Art)
New Sub Pop subsidiary Hardly Art released some great albums this year but this was my favorite. It’s one of those records that sounds like it was made 40 years ago. With it’s electrified folk feel, it doesn’t really sound like M. Ward or Richard Hawly, but it has an out of time vibe that Ward and Hawly seem to routinely conjure. The Dutchess and the Duke remind me of Dylan around the time he went electric or the Animals, but Jason Jortz’s fiery delivery is augmented with killer harmonies from Kim Morrison. Adding to the record’s authentic vibe is Jortz’s guitar which sounds like it was recorded in a wooden shack at some dusty crossroads. I hope they didn’t sell their souls for this record and make a few more like it.
mp3: Reservoir Park
5. Grand Archives – The Grand Archives (Sup Pop)
I remember disparaging this record earlier this year saying it had a great sound but there just weren’t any memorable songs to it. Clearly I hadn’t spent enough time listening to it. The restless Mat Brook left Band of Horses after their first album to start Grand Archives, and while there are similarities to Band of Horses, Grand Archives have a much more cheery outlook. This is a bright, bright record with horns, whistling, and uplifting harmonies. This year I somehow became a huge Bee Gees fan and this album is a perfect companion to that band’s albums from the 60’s.
mp3: Louis Riel
6. Little Penguins – Offer You This Cape (Self-released)
Turn-ons drummer Will Hallauer gets out from behind his kit and the results are a rich, dark, velvety record that is parts Leonard Cohen, Mick Harvey and Scott Walker. Hallauer has this deep dramatic voice that evokes those comparisons, but the band can really build a wall of noise with layered guitars and keyboard that make these songs rock. My favorite is Get on the Phone Louise which slowly builds into huge Tennesee Williams like climax. I mentioned earlier how the Turn-ons may be through, with the quality of this record as well as forthcomimg ones from Travis Devries and Erik Blood, they may not be missed.
7. Black Nite Crash – Array (Custom Made)
Named for a song off of Ride’s last album you can probably guess what Black Nite Crash sound like. But they actually sound a lot more like Spacemen 3 than Ride, especially on the album openers Revelator and Falling Down. It’s not all dark, aggressive, diving guitars though, Soft Focus and I Want You mine some Jesus and Mary Chain gold that will have you thinking that these guys must be from Scottland. This is the band’s first full length, and it is a promising debut. The songs are good enough to transcend many of their more obvious influences.
mp3: Soft Focus
8. The Girls – Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes, No (Green Noise)
Post punk is alive and well here in the Pac NW, at least in the Girls corner of the city. They seem to get a lot of Cars comparisons, but I think they’re closer to Gary Numan, Buzzcocks, and Ultravox! Singer Shannon Brown sings in an English accent which gives credence to my UK comparisons. Yes, No… is their second album of adrenaline shots straight to the blood stream. The album is like taking speed, you pop it in, you get the rush and it’s over before you know it, except there’s no painful headache aftermath, that is unless you had it turned up too loud!
mp3: Where Wolves Drink
9. Stuporhero – Weightless (Self-released)
Another album on this list that was released as a free download, it’s amazing what you can get for free these days! There aren’t a lot of indiepop bands in Seattle, but Stuporhero are certainly one of them. I’m certainly a fan of quality of quantity anyway, and this their third album is quality. Stuporhero consist of Will and Gen and Chuckles the erm, mannequin. Will and Jen trade bright sunny vocals, play kazoos, horns, as well as guitar and piano and generally create a fun vibe. I’m not sure what Chuckles does. These songs have such a wonderful innocence to them that they could would fit nicely on the Juno soundtrack or maybe a future Wes Anderson movie.
10. Say Hi – The Wishes and the Glitch (Euphobia)
One man band Eric Elbogen upped and left his Brooklyn home and reloacated to Seattle and then went on to write a NW anthem in Northwestern Girls. On The Wishes and the Glitch, Elbogen walks a tightrope of emo, Postal Service and bedroom melancholia to make a record that sounds like he’s lived here his entire life. It’s not really that much different from his four previous records except for the shortened name (formerly Say Hi to Your Mom). Elbogen knows his way around a hooky, moody pop song and this album is full of them.
mp3: Northwestern Girls