Something that has never happened in my life happened this year. I have never lived anywhere where I can honestly say that my top three favorite records of the year came out of the city in which I reside. It’s been an honor, and a delight to live in Seattle this year because I have had the opportunity to see the Intelligence, BOAT and Erik Blood more times than I can count. Usually, if you’re lucky you might get one chance to see your favorite band come through your town for a gig. I have had that opportunity time after time and have tried to take advantage as many times as possible. Every one of those shows was blast, and as good, if not better than their respective records.
There were so many good records that were put out by bands from the Pacific Northwest that it really was an embarrassment of riches. It was tough narrowing this list down to ten, and any of the the honorable mentions at the end of the list were likely on this list at some point during the year. So thanks Seattle and thanks to all these records for making this year pretty darn amazing.
1. Intelligence – Fake Surfers (In the Red)
Smart guy Lars Finberg must be a tortured soul. He can write as good a song as anybody else, but he likes to sabotage his creations with strangeness. Listening to an Intelligence record, you immediately realize all is not right, and that is exactly what makes this band and this album so great. The record is packed with weird sounds, weird songs and inside jokes. That’s probably not a good way to describe my favorite record of the year, but you’ve got to work a little to enjoy it. The Intelligence don’t make records for people who like the obvious. Fake Surfers has just enough of the obvious to draw you in, but it was the strangeness of it that kept me in. A good example of this is the song Warm Tranfers, which sounds like a drunk Dean Martin singing while tied down a couple leagues somewhere in Lake Union. Besides releasing Fake Surfers, this year we got two albums from the Intelligence. I know dyed in the wool lo-fi purists preferred the other album Crepuscule Avec Pacman, which was essentially Finberg by himself at his claustrophobic best, but I thought the wider, more spacious and thought out Fake Surfers was a huge leap forward for the band.
2. BOAT – Setting the Paces (Magic Marker)
Of BOAT’s three albums Setting the Paces is the funnest. It’s like super-sized BOAT containing the same ingredients of the first two records, but just more of it. Add in better songs and better production and you’ve got busting out of their underachiever cocoon. They’re still singing about seemingly strange things like Giant Centipedes, tractor beams, drinking diet cola and sleeping in pajamas that are too small, but the songs and production are so much improved that the record just pops out of your stereo. The choruses are so big and undeniable, I’ve found myself in the car by myself belting them out. Setting the Paces is BOAT, no longer content with the underachiever moniker, laying all out, going for it, and totally succeeding.
3. Erik Blood – The Way We Live (Self-released)
This was nearly my number one for last year, but since it was not officially released until this year I sat on it. The Way We Live definitely has staying power, it has been in constant rotation around here all year and nothing on it has gotten old. Erik Blood was in the Turn-Ons who seem to be on an indefinite hiatus. He always contributed a song or two to each Turn-Ons album, but nothing that really prepared me for this tour de force. Blood is obviously is a fan of a lot of the shoegaze bands that were all the rage in the early 90’s, but he seems to effortlessly add a touch of soul to his songs that put them on some other plane. The final song on the record does something I have never heard before, combining shoegaze with soul into to something that sounds so natural and right. It’s an amazing song and leaves me with shivers up my spine every time I hear it. When was the last time a record did that to you?
4. Charles Leo Gebhardt IV – Unfaithful (GGNZLA)
Charles Leo Gebhardt plays in the Unnatural Helpers, Idle Times and probably a few other bands I don’t know about. He also has a solo gig and Unfaithful was the first fruits of that endeavor. It’s only five songs but every one of them is so good that he makes an impression in a very short amount of time. Unfaithful is pretty straightforward minimalist, low key guitar pop, but the songs have an antique feel to them in a similar vein of Girls that will make you swear you’ve heard them somewhere before.
mp3: King of the Mountain
5. Tea Cozies – Hot Probs (So Hard)
The Tea Cozies are a Seattle band with UK pop sensibilities. The pop charms of Kenickie, Sleeper and Elastica are not lost on this lot. Hot Probs comes smoking out the gate with songs that will have you checking to see where the heck this record was made. Oh, Erik Blood is producing. Heard of him. For a name that is so cute sounding, the Tea Cozies have attitude in spades and the songs to back it up. These ladies (and one guy) rock!
mp3: Like Luca Brasi
6. Visqueen – Message to Garcia (Local 638)
Speaking of Girls that rock, Rachel Flotard is pretty much synonymous with the term. She has had her band Visqueen boxed away in bubble wrap for the last few years while she took care of her ailing father. The bubble wrap is off and Visqueen are back with an album that doesn’t take it’s foot off the accelerator. Even the songs with violin, cello and horns rock like nobody’s business. Back in the 70’s girls screamed for Robin Zander and Cheap Trick. Here in Seattle in the 00’s boys are screaming for Rachel Flotard and Visqueen, or at least they should be.
mp3: Hand Me Down
7. Nightgowns – Sing Something (Self-released)
The Nightgowns who were formerly known as the Elephants sound like they could be on Morr, the German label known for dreamy, electronic pop that you can kind of dance too. Sing Something is chock full of songs that have buzzing, humming, blipping and squelching synthesizers over top of them. More importantly it contains some excellent pop songs done in damp, grey, melodramatic, maudlin fashion. Sing Something will keep you on your toes throughout with it’s slightly sad and slightly punchy songs.
8. Purrs – Amused Confused and More Bad News (Self-released)
I like to think of the Purr’s as Seattle’s resident spaced-out cowboys. Their songs sound part gunslinger blues and part spacey guitar jams. The twin effects-laden guitar attack topped off with Jima’s cool disaffected voice make everything the Purrs do sound drop dead cool. Amused Confused and More Bad News was less immediate than their previous outings, revealing it’s charms only after repeated listens, but in the end it was just as worthy.
mp3: Fear of Flying
9. Dutchess & the Duke – Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art)
This record was kind of like the Purrs record for me. It wasn’t as immediate as their first album, but after repeated listens the onion started to peel. Where She’s the Dutchess took a punk attitude to 60’s folk and re-formed it into something familiar yet foreign, Sunset/Sunrise continues along that trajectory, but delves deeper, embracing it without irony. The songs are slower, but no less engaging, they just take a little longer to get to know. Many bands are mining the 60’s motherload for inspiration, or just plane ripping it off, but the Dutchess and the Duke have taken that same inspiration, run with it, and turned it into something uniquely their own.
10. Naomi Punk – S/T (Self-Released)
Mysterious band, mysterious record. Full of Oh Sees style riffs, but slowed down which gives them a slightly euphoric feel. This is truly blissed out cave stomp rock and roll. Back in the 60’s every Pacific Northwest garage band that was worth its salt did a version of Louie Louie. I would love to hear Naomi Punk’s version. It would likely be slowed way down, like listening to a 45 at 33 rpm. The vocals would be buried so low in the song that you would barely be able to make out the melody and it would sound so huge that it would make your eardrums burst.
Other Seattle/PNW records that got a lot of my attention this year:
Black Whales – Origins | Desolation Wilderness – New Universe | Eat Skull – Wild and Inside | Grand Archives – Keep In Mind Frankenstein | Green Pajamas – Poison In The Russian Room | Hotels – Where Hearts Go Broke | Intelligence – Crepuscule Avec Pacman | Karl Blau – Zebra | Ragedy Anns – ST | Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs | Scraps – ST | Sea Navy – Memory Matches | Spits – IV | Young Fresh Fellows – I Think This Is