The moss has grown another layer over the past year here in the upper left corner of the U.S. and my stack of records from this Pacific Northwest outpost has grown as well. Luckily I have a cool dry place to store them. Here are my favorite records from Seattle for 2015, center justified for your reading comfort.
Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Tenorio Cotobade) Buy | Listen
My favorite album of the year from Seattle or anywhere. If you’ve been reading along this year you probably could have easily guessed that.
Wimps dial up another batch of killer slacker punk rock anthems (if there is such a thing). Their sophomore LP Suitcase sees them getting higher marks in all categories which, given their M.O. is probably exactly the opposite of what they were going for.
Grace Love and the True Loves – Grace Love and the True Loves (Self-Released) Buy | Listen
The great soul revival of 2015 even reached such remote outposts as Seattle and Grace Love and the True Loves debut album was one of the best soul records of the year from any city.
Detective Agency – Now (Discos de Kirlian) Buy | Listen
I’m not sure if Detective Agency would appreciate being called indiepop, but I call ’em like I see ’em and this is some very fine indiepop!
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Style (Matador) Buy | Listen
The career of Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest reminds me of Steven Jones of Babybird. Make a bunch of songs in your bedroom and release them and then find a band to re-record the best ones and voila, instant good record rooted in lo-fi but with some new bright corners.
Ponytime – Rumours 2: The Rumours Are True (S-S) Buy | Listen
Apparently Fleetwood Mac has permeated the garage rock scene of Seattle. I doubt there are any complicated love quadrangles in this band since they’re a duo. They’re more focused on just delivering a bunch of killer jams.
Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home (Hardly Art) Buy | Listen
Chastity Belt got serious on album album number two. Their first LP No Regerts was middle school lo-brow humor compared to Time To Go Home’s more mature and measured sound that is a unique combination of drone and some of that heavier rock from the 90’s for which Seattle is well known.
The older I get the more I think that there should be a new music moratorium every January so that you can catch up on all of the stuff that you missed from the previous year. Yeah, I know that ain’t gonna happen. So here we are. It’s not quite mid-January, and here I am hoisting upon you dear readers one more 2013 list. I promise that this is the last one. It’s kind of a special one because it is my favorite records from my adopted hometown. If I didn’t live in Seattle some of these records would have been in my best albums of the year. Also, if I didn’t live here I probably would have missed some of these since you actually have to live in a local scene to hear the local scene. Here is the best stuff that I discovered through osmosis, going to shows, and reading local blogs and papers. Picking a favorite record from my fair city is like picking a favorite child. I love them all the same, at least that’s what I tell them.
Universe People incorporate the sweetness of Dolly Mixture, the arty obtuseness of Wire, the irreverence of the Fall and humor of the Intelligence onto their debut album. This, in my book, is the perfect elixir.
In a year where major web sites seemed to publish Morrissey’s every move, former Harvey Danger Sean Nelson released his debut solo album that was as literate, sharp and self-deprecating as anything the Mozzer has done in the last 20 years. Throw in some cocktail jazz and some Zombies psychedelia and you have a pretty darn good album.
Formerly known as Evening Meetings, the rechristened Dreamsalon tighten things up a little on Thirteen nights and aren’t afraid to let the hooks fly. Post-punk dourness that is part moody Echo and the Bunnymen and part piss and vinegar of the Fall through the lens of Seattle punk cognoscenti.
One of only two EP’s in this list of records, but well worth checking out. Trevor Dickson is in the Nightgowns, but here he takes a dash of Sinatra, some Joao Gilberto and some northwest ingenuity to come up with Summer Legs, one of the best songs I heard this year.
Four girls from a city with barely a hint of sunshine and marginal wave action d make a timeless glassy sounding surf record. They sound like they’ve been doing this for ages. The guitars shoot the curl and the harmonies flash off the water like rays of sun in your ears.
The debut album from Wimps gives me the impression that they’re punk classicists. Repeat is the classic punk formula of guitar, bass and drum and a healthy sense of humor courtesy of Rachel Ratner’s knack for being able to make life’s disappointments still sound disappointing, but with in an irreverent humorous slant.
Sometimes when a band consistently releases great albums filled with hooky pop people start taking them for granted. Pretend To Be Brave is their fifth album of slightly fractured, eternally hopeful indiepop. BOAT continue to capture my imagination, I wish more people would allow themselves to be swept up into their brightly colored superhero world.
The Purrs deliver again with another hallucinogenic masterpiece. Guitars swoop and dive in and out while singer and bassist Jima takes you on a ride in a derailed monorail to some seedy interstellar locale. The perfect soundtrack to navigating globular clusters.
stream: Purrs – Over and Out
Math and Physics Club – Our Hearts Beat Out Loud (Matinée)
Math and Physics Club have certainly been called twee, but on their third album they veer more towards soft rock and that is no bad thing. Kids these days have a penchant for Paul Simon and Cat Stevens records, and MAPC with their sweet and tender songs evoke those fellows while still keeping their indiepop/twee roots intact.
stream: Math & Physics Club – We Won’t Keep Secrets
Chastity Belt shocked the internet with their band photo that featured singer Julia Shapiro wearing a steak locked over her crotch. Based on last year’s Ponytail single, we already knew that they could be insolent and funny, but could they deliver a full album that sustained that brashness? Chastity Belt seem to not give a shit about anything except making good record,s and they’ve succeeded at that. Fuck everything else.
stream: Chastity Belt – James Dean
Jetman Jet Team – We Will Live The Space Age (Saint Marie)
Erik Blood better watch out, because Jetman Jet Team are coming up fast in his rear view mirror to try and usurp his shoegaze king of Seattle crown. Heavy MBVisms abound, but they also incorporate some of the whiteout techniques of Flying Saucer Attack and even some of that smoke and mirrors hypnotism employed often in 1970’s Germany. This is mind-expanding,tremelo bending, psychotropic miasma.
Poor Neighbors. This was scheduled to come out as a 10″ EP on Manic Pop Records, but the release date unfortunately coincided with the implosion of their record label. Left to their own devices, the band released this as bandcamp virtual record. That’s unfortunate because my record player would have gotten a real thrill playing this record which takes Pavement, REM, Camper Van Beethoven and the Wedding Present throws it into a blender and comes up with best smoothie I ever had.
stream: Neighbors – What You See In Me
We Are Loud Whispers – Suchness (Hardly Art)
Sonya Wescott who you may remember as half of Arthur and Yu made a trans-Pacific album with Ayumu Haitani who resides in Japan. While the obvious parallel is the Postal Service and the electronic blips reinforce that parallel, We Are Loud Whispers are more ear tickling and anthemic. I get the feeling that they’ve got a few Field Mice and St. Etienne records on top of owning everything that Morr records has ever released. Subtle and sublime.
Will the 7-inch single ever go away? Probably not anytime soon, but it seems to be getting pressed up in smaller and smaller batches. This year I saw many single being released in editions of as little as 100 copies. Are there really only about 100 of us left out there that buy these things? As painful as it is to think about it, I know the answer is probably yes. A combination of high postage costs and pressing these things in such tiny quantities makes the price of the average 45 about $10. That’s pretty crazy when you can buy the mp3 version for about $2. There were more than a couple records that I didn’t buy this year because the cost of the record plus postage put the price at or above $2o. Sadly, vinyl has quickly become something for people with a large amount of disposable income. I’m hoping I can make a profit on these things when it’s time for my kids to go to college.
Sugarcrush was thee standout track from the Gruesome’s debut record. So how do you get people to buy the single of a song they may already have? You put a cover of Galaxy 500’s Tugboat captain on the B-side of course. It’s the gentle comedown from the candy head explosion of the A-side.
I love a good split personality between the A and B sides of a single and the Cosines are like the Batman villain Two-Face. One side is sweet and swooning like the Essex Green and the other chugs and drones sorta like Stereolab. A fine debut from this London band.
I wonder if Nü Sensae drummer Daniel Pitout is a fan of the Family Cat, because Come Around could be a direct descendant of River of Diamonds. He probably doesn’t have PJ Harvey penciled in, but perhaps he has one of the Courtneys lined up for backing vocals on his next single.
Dark post apocalyptic wallop from this Berlin group who made an appearance on last year’s countdown. This is only their second single. They like to take their time and for good reason. It takes time to feed angst to this degree.
Weird how I think that I may like this single better than anything that Dee Dee has done in Dum Dum Girls or her hubby Brandon has in Crocodiles. Maybe they should ditch their respective bands and tie the knot musically as well.
Florida’s Cassolette sound like they’re from Boston circa 1991. Combining the Blake Babies and Belly to great effect. Return to Sender will send you to the right address and B-side Ricki Lake gets points for combining mainstream with indiepop culture.
44. Kids on a Crime Spree – Creep the Creeps (Slumberland)
I’m a sucker for songs with hand claps and whistling. This song probably would have charted higher if it had some whistling in it. As it is, Creep the Creeps is a solid 44 with killer hand claps and gigantic riff that should get you clapping along.
I think Verma holds the honor of longest single in this year’s countdown. Stuffing six and a half minutes onto one side of a 45 is a feat in itself, add to it a mean psychedelic maelstrom of a song and you’ve got something that rivals the Hookworms in damaged heavy psych intensity. Watch out for these guys.
The Cali Giraffes have had an album in the can for ages but the stars have not aligned when it comes to actually getting it released. If this single is any indicator (it is) it will be a doozy. We already knew that Kim Warnick was highly gifted in the skills of the pop song and All My Life is simply confirmation. The B-side is just as good with her buddy Mikey Davis on vocals. Somebody release this album!
You know, you subscribe to a 7-inch singles club and you get a bunch of recyclable plastic. You forgo subscribing and the singles club and it starts putting out the good stuff. Luckily Too Pure allows you to buy individual records from their singles club because this Menace Beach record with it’s lazy slacker riff and chorus will have you reaching for your wallet.
Faux Discx has been putting out heavy blissed-out jams for some time now. In fact I’ll pretty much buy whatever they put their name on. Brighton’s Teardrop Factory have got a thing for downer drenched songs and so do I.
Corey is Corey Cunningham of the Terry Malts in case you didn’t know. This record takes Love & Rockets Motorbike and goes off on some fuzzy dovetail tangent from which you will not want to return. Hope your state doesn’t have a helmet law.
38. David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights – Christopher Columbus (Merge)
David Kilgour keeps putting out stellar records. This year the only thing I think he released was this, a glassy ode to the guy who ‘discovered’ America. This strangely sounds like Under the Milkyway by the Church, but with less heroin, which is a good thing.
37. Ketamines – All the Colours of Your Heart (Pleasence)
The Ketamines were on a roll this year, striking a pop vein and mining it to its fullest. This was number one of four singles that you were supposed to collect all of to create a collage from the covers. I only got two of the four, but even though my collage is incomplete All the Colours of Your Heart eases my pain of not having a complete set.
Ah yes, some things go together like Memphis and C-86. Maybe it’s not C-86, but it’s definitely peanut butter and chocolate. Some might call it accidental genius, but the EP that they’ve subsequently released is evidence that that this is no accident.
One of two records on the countdown that contains saxophone. What’s happening here? Karl Blau teams up with Jessica Bonin and Alex Parrish for lo-fi indiepop bliss, that’s what’s happening. Throw in a cover of Lois’s The Second Most Beautiful Girl in the World and you’ve got a hit record (in my mind).
Earlier this year I heard two people in a record store here in Seattle talking about La Luz. The general gist of the conversation was that La Luz were OK but not worthy of the hype they were receiving in town because they were third, fourth, fifth or sixth generation surf pop. No one complains when the next ‘Michael Jordan’ is romping through the NBA do they? La Luz are the next Dick Dale and you should rejoice.
33. Birthday Kiss – Can You Keep a Secret? (Death Party)
This is a classic pop single, precisely winnowing into you conscious whether you want it to or not. It’s not overtly dance oriented like St. Etienne, but it reminds me of them in the way that it slyly hooks you in with it’s chorus. Undeniable.
Hozac are like the record kings of Chicago, fishing bands out of the music meat grinder for the rest of us to enjoy. Rainbow Gun Show are just one more example in a long line of records held together by animal intestines. Actually this fuzzy synth single is sort of a-typical for the label with very little blood noticeable on the surface of this buzzy pop record, but then there is no accounting for taste.
Sea Pinks front man Neil Brogan left his other band Girls Names for which he was the drummer to concentrate full time on the Pinks. So the question is, can they get better? Indeed. This record as limited to 100 copies because you weirdo millennials don’t think you need to buy records anymore. You can own it digitally. Yeah, right. That’s like saying you own the air you breath. Sea Pinks are nearly as precious.
Heathers are from LA so it’s no surprise they effortlessly combine a bit of sparkly jangle of another sunny day (they keep coming), some dusty sadness from being lost in a canyon and unsure of which direction to go, and some androgynous lyrics about your mother’s teenage clothes that keep you on your toes. All the ingredients for a great single and Heathers assemble these rummaged items perfectly.
Vacations are the project of Fungi Girls’ Jacob Bruce and it seems he had a few special songs saved up for this single. This record is like an indie kid’s little helper as it bounces and jangles along in violet inducing languor. Better than Valium.
This record blazes along some futuristic highway the way Xmal Deutschland and Clan of Xymox used to do. If 4AD was half the label that it was, Italy’s Schonwald would be signed to them, but luckily Hozac aren’t beneath donning a little black eyeliner to release this record.
Slowcoaches are obviously influenced by the 90’s indierock aesthetic of Urusei Yatsura , Pavement and Dinosaur Jr and I can’t really claim that they’re breaking any new ground but Thinkers rages into your head with its rumbling bass, fingers on the chalk board guitar squall and singer Heather Perkins’ vitriolic delivery taking me back to a time of unbridled enthusiasm for this kind of thing. Nothing has changed and maybe that’s a good thing.
This was another great year for music coming out of Australia. It’s like Sweden a few years ago, where every week seemed to yield a new band bubbling up with a drop dead good record. Laughing Leaves from Geelong create great 60’s inspired raw garage rock in the vein of early Kinks and Them. Four songs on this 7-inch and they all could’ve been singles.
Go Violets come from Brisbane, Australia. They describe themselves as “bunny rock pool pop” and just plain old surf-rock. Their single Josie is perfect in all things bunny rock, pool pop, and surf rock. In fact, in the history of all three of those genres there has not been a song that has been more bunny, pool and surf at once. It’s got great glistening guitars that sparkle off the water and a chorus that that will make you bounce. I’m thinking of starting up an indiepop surf festival somewhere on the Washington coast this summer and my first invites are Go Violets and La Luz. Might invite some guy bands too, but why ruin it? They’re always so he-man-me-local about getting the best waves.
Could this have been the year that Seattle went pop? Sure, there have been bands here and there with pop leanings, but this was the year that Seattle finally shed it’s flannel, got out of the garage, and didn’t feel like it had to be wooly, bearded and mechanical all the time. Look out old Seattle, the kids don’t care about your hang-ups! Here are my favorite 15 records (album, ep’s and singles) from the Emerald City and environs.
It was pretty cool to see much of Seattle’s music press unanimously agree that Erik Blood’s Touch Screens was a brilliant record. He took his shoegaze leanings, added some electronics, a motorik beat or two and came up with a concept album about pornography. Too bad that recognition seemed to stop at the city limits. Dear rest of the world, you may have missed one of the finest records put out this year. The Lonesome Death of Henry Paris: stream: Touch Screens
Part soul, interstellar hip-hop, and trip-hop, the duo Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White combined to create a record that sounded like little else in Seattle and anywhere else for that matter. It didn’t get as much gushing attention as the Shabazz Palaces album did last year. It should have because it’s a better record. QueenS:
Neighbors’ deft songwriting seemed to effortlessly take their REM and Pavement influences and create a record that could rattle as well as soothe. John in Babeland came out cassette way back in February, luckily I got a download of it because as much as I’ve played it, the cassette wound up all scrunched in a tape deck by now. All United Grocery:
Dark clouds, dark allies, dark dark. Evening Meetings wouldn’t, no couldn’t take place in the light of day nor in any other place. Claustrophobia induced by low pressure and heavy dark clouds and dusk that sets in around 3pm. This time of year in Seattle it’s dark most of the time and in some weird strange way this record turns on the bright lights every time I listen to it. Shimmer Street:
Half Right is the best song to come out of Seattle this year. If I didn’t know any better I would have guessed they moved here from New Zealand and started a PNW Flying Nun shop right here in our midst. Seattle, rejoice! There is a pop band in our midst that breathes kiwi air.
Have you ever been to the beach in Washington? You can actually drive right onto it with your car because nobody’s there. It’s flat, cold and windy no matter when you go, winter, spring, summer or fall. La Luz don’t belong in this surfer’s nightmare. Their surfer’s paradise of an EP had to have been born in warmer climes, but being from Seattle, perhaps long winter day’s indoors, hanging with the ghosts of the Ventures and dreaming of an endless summer did it. Sure As Spring:
The basic sound of Orca Team record hasn’t changed much over their short career. Their bass-driven 50’s surf pop jangle consistently pleases. They’re random output of singles, cassettes and CDr’s has been scattershot. Finally the band has seemed to focus and that concentration makes Restraint feel like a proper record. Its concise songs make quick long lasting impressions.
Posse’s self-titled debut is brazen with amazing pop songs. They have the gritty boy-girl back and forth in their songs and slashing guitar solos that aren’t over the top but just right. You older folk will appreciate their affinity towards Versus. Back in the 90’s during that post Nirvana signing frenzy Posse undoubtedly would have been sitting on piles of cash and big record deal. Oh how times have changed.
Tea Cozies re-materialized after three years in the wilderness with this killer five song EP. It has an air of confidence about it and flare that will have fans of both 90’s Britpop and college rock hopefully reaching for their pocketbooks as well as old albums by the Tuscadero, Blake Babies and Sleeper. Silhouette In A Suitcase: stream: Bang Up
You thought I was kidding about the pop capitol of the world,didn’t you. I wasn’t and Chastity Belt are here to back me up. Their Pony Tail single had the audacity to tell the general NPR listening, latte drinking, Game of Thrones playing male populace of Seattle to cut off their ponytails. What a bunch of punks!
Blooper do saccharin powerpop so well that any cuts inflicted by their killer songs will bleed cherry syrup. Look out for a new 7-inch single from these Ballard popsters early in the new year on Manic Pop! Records.
Tacoma’s Nightgowns, similar to Tea Cozies have been slumbering for a few years, but this EP sees them wide awake and in good form. Slightly bombastic and theatrical, but only slightly, Bonita sounds like that bubble the Flaming Lips use, but instead of it being in a sea of confetti, they are bounding across the high desert, down the cascades and into the Sound.
The Purrs are like the elder statesmen of nothing. They’ve been around for years putting out great records to little recognition. Perennially writing killer songs that are left rotting on the vine so to speak. If anyone ever asks you, yes they do make them use to. Seattle’s Fin records have given the Purrs a new home and this beauty is a taste of their album due next year.
Funny how Seapony’s second album is better than their first and yet last year they were number one in my Seattle albums and now they’re number 14. It might be because Falling was more of the same only better or it might be because I’m capricious. They may have slightly fallen out of fashion, but this record will be considered a Sarah-esque classic in a few years. Too bad it takes obscurity for some people to really appreciate things.
Stephanie sound like they could have been on Factory records back in the early 80’s. They employed Erik Blood to record One Glove, but it sounds like they got Martin Hannett from the grave instead. Stephanie employ sparse, jaggedy steely guitars that are part Magazine and part Durutti Column and a singer that some might say is an acquired taste but they make it work quite well.
La Luz last night at Cairo were all sunny sublime on a rainy night in Seattle. Somehow four girls playing surf rock in a sweaty back room on Capital Hill can make you forget about gray days that contain only eight hours of highly filtered light. Relatively new, the band started in sunnier times last summer, they played with seasoned chops sounding like they just came off tour with Dick Dale. Except unlike Dale they can sing too. Shana Cleveland (formerly of the Curious Mystery) first grabs your attention with both her singing and twangy guitar playing, but drummer Marian Li-Pino (also from the CM) is this band’s secret weapon. Playing the entire set with brushes she seemed to anchor them with her easy style, even though, as she let it be known, she had to pee really badly.
La Luz have a self-released EP called Damp Face out now on cassette and download to get us through the next few months. Let’s hope some enterprising record label sees fit to release some more of their surfy doo-wop in the very near future. In the meantime, if you live in Seattle you can catch them at Hollow Earth Radio on December 8.