The Mossy Ten: Best Seattle Records of 2014

The one complaint I’ve gotten over the years on the Finest Kiss year end lists has been that the pictures haven’t been large enough. So this year will feature bigger images, because let’s face it, nobody reads the comment parts of year end lists. They scroll through them and then shake their heads in disbelief that I left something out. I hope I didn’t, but I probably did. Oh well, here are the ten best things I heard in the city where moss grows year round.

dreamsalon

1. Dreamsalon – Soft Stab (Sweet Rot/Dragnet)
If you are reading a year end list of records and this record is not on it, view that list as suspect. Soft Stab follows last year’s Thirteen Nights and easily surpasses it. It’s punk. It’s post-punk. It’s dark. It’s malcontent. Whatever it is it oozes confidence and style while jarring you with stabs of guitar and Craig Chambers nearly unhinged vocal delivery. This record feels like it could go off the rails at any point, but Dreamsalon have this uncanny ability to take it to the point of destruction and peer into the abyss without actually falling in to the crevasse.

posse

2. Posse – Soft Opening (BADH)
It was kind of surprising to see Posse’s second album get national attention, only because this town is littered with bands that get undeservedly ignored by the rest of the country. The band self-recorded it in their basement and self-released on their own label Beating a Dead Horse. Guitarists Paul Wittman Todd and Sacha Maxim share vocal duties on this compact set of nine sleepy, slightly spacey, Galaxy 500 influenced songs. Whenever something is described as DIY, I think of it as kind of shoddy and amateurish, but Posse make DIY sound lush, professional and relaxed.

Tacocat_LP1

3. Tacocat – NVM (Hardly Art)
NVM is consensus number one record of the year i my house (Though, I think my son would vote for Mario Brothers Theme songs as interpreted by Mannheim Steamroller if it existed), but since I’m the one writing the blog in my household it’s number three with a bullet.  Recorded in the Seattle’s seminal Egg Studios with Conrad Uno, NVM has a wry sense of humor akin to those early Young Fresh Fellow records recorded in the same setting. Bridge To Hawaii may be the first ever seasonal affective disorder anthem and their ode to the monthly bill Crimson Wave is riotously unforgettable, add in the Ramones pop of Alien Girl and the Mexican psychedlia Psychedlic Quicceanera and you’ve only just dipped a toe in the pool of Tacocat’s neon pop world.

lucarne

4. Lucarne – Why the Good Guys Turn Bad (Self-released)
The Seattle band that barely was. Lucarne released a seven song record in the summer and then promptly broke up. Too bad, because their wistful jangle filled indiepop struck a chord with me and anyone who loved the Bus Stop Label…and now their gone just like the label that inspired them.

voxmod

5. Vox Mod – The Great Oscillator (Self-released)
Vox Mod is electronic producer Scot Porter. He doesn’t sing so The Great Oscillator contains a mix of instrumental music and guest vocalists from Seattle. Last year’s SynAesthetic album featured Erik Blood and Palaceer Lazaro of Shabazz Palaces. This time around all of the guests vocalists are female. The opening track Flight of Fancy featuring Iren Barbaric formerly of Hungery Pines and currently of 18 Eyes raises the bar high right from the get-go. Porter maintains quality with his melodic adeptness, inventive arrangements and pacing and guest vocalists.

universepeople

6. Universe People – Are Coming to the Dance (Dragnet)
The only thing that is the same in Universe People since their first album is singer guitarist Jo Claxton, her subversive sense of humor and her jagged guitar licks. Everything else has changed meaning the rhythm section now contains Kimberly Morrison of Dutchess and the Duke and Min Yee of Dreamsalon. Funny enough, I believe all three are former members of the Intelligence. But then who in Seattle isn’t? Dance easily avoids the dreaded sophomore slump and features some of the best Universe People songs to date, namely The Modern Girl and Chemistry.

childbirth

7. Childbirth – It’s a Girl! (Help Yourself)
Some people can’t take a joke. Childbirth doesn’t care, because they’re all about having fun and if you don’t get it then the joke’s on you. Julia Shapiro from Chastity Belt plays guitar and sings, Tacocat’s Bree McKenna plays bass and Pony Time’s Stacy Peck is on drums. The trio’s debut album evokes the feminism, smarts and humor of Le Tigre and Bratomobile. It may be a side project for all three, but don’t let that put you off, these women know how to rock irreverently!

neighbors

8. Neighbors – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (BADH)
Neighbors finally graduated from releasing albums on cassette to the vinyl big leagues and Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? smartly plucks a few highlights from their most recent tour cassette and includes them here. “Do you think moving to Seattle’s gonna get you where you want to be?” Jose Diaz sings on Muscle Girl on Muscle Beach. I don’t know if they’re where they want to be, but I like where they’re at on this record…somewhere between Pavement and the Meat Puppets .

spacedaze

9. Space Daze – Follow My Light Back Home (Beautiful Strange)
Sea Pony took the year off, but the band’s songwriter and guitarist Danny Rowland didn’t. His solo album softly hit the streets back in early summer. It is understated pop in the same vein as Seapony. Some of these songs like Having a Bad Time and Line Up on the Solstice seem to be top shelf quality, so I can only assume what Rowland is saving up for the next Seapony record should knock your socks off. In the meantime this does nicely.

megabog

10. Megabog – Gone Banana (Couple Skate)
Megabog is based around the talents of Erin Birgy. She’s obviously bananas for Kevin Ayers (Besides the title there’s a cover of Lady Rachel included here) and posses a sense of melodrama perhaps only equalled by Dan Bejar and Ariel Pink. Gone Banana is draped with saxophone and spacious guitars that give it a lovable campy quality.

 

Beating a Dead Horse

Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. In the case of Posse, they decided to forego the process of trying to get signed to a record label and started their own. It’s called Beating a Dead Horse Records. The first album that the fledgling label put out was of course their own album. It’s called Soft Opening and it’s their second album. Actually Posse put out their own first record too , but that was two years ago, before BADH.

posse

Soft Opening is nearly perfect. While the trio is based in Seattle, they sound like the wide open dusty roads of the desert that lies on the other side of the Cascades. The songs have a lonely, melancholy and druggy feel to them similar to Acetone and Galaxie 500. The guitars seem to be inspired by Dean Wareham’s watery, lackadaisical sound while the playful boy-girl vocals create some healthy sexual tension. Both Paul Wittmann-Todd and Sacha Maxim play guitar and sing while Jon Salzman is solely relied upon to keep the beat. Posse keep things tight, putting only eight songs on the record. Maybe they thought keeping it short would circumvent short term attention spans in this internet age, but Posse are good enough that they could have snuck another one in and nobody would have hit the skip button.

stream: Posse – Interesting Thing No. 2 (from Soft Opening on BADH)

neighbors

For its second release BADH have just put out Neighbors third album Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? The record’s title made me get out my Raymond Carver books and reminded me of when Paul Kelley and the Messengers named So Much Water, So Close to Home after one of the well known Northwest author’s short stories. Neighbors write songs that straddle Pavement’s Range Life, REM’s Harborcoat and the Meat Puppets’ Up on the Sun. Like those bands, there is more to their sound than what is on the surface. Beneath the psychedelic, country sheen you can hear the influence of Gang of Four, Wire and the Wedding Present. The band smartly pulled the best tracks from last year’s tour only cassette Power Country and included them here. Muscle Girl on Muscle Beach which features some sweet guest vocals from Lexi Lee, and Hot Jack get things off to a rocking start. Muscle Beach . Newer songs Loretta and Heather have a twangy angular feel to them that hints at the band getting better and progressing into new territory. After cassette and download releases it’s nice to see that Neighbors have finally released an album on vinyl for posterity.

Beating a dead horse have a small catalog and don’t seem to be in a hurry to grow fast. It’s more of a means of documenting themselves and their friends. Sounds like a good business plan to me.

stream: Neighbors – Loretta (from Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? on BADH)

Read more about Posse and Neighbors front man José Díaz Rohena.

Best of 2013: Seattle Records

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.
universepeople

Universe People – Go To the Sun (Little Black Cloud)

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.

stream: Universe People – Druids

SeanNelson
Sean Nelson – Make Good Choices (Really Records)

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.

stream: Sean Nelson – Creative Differences

dreamsalon
Dreamsalon – Thirteen Nights (Captcha)

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.

stream: Dreamsalon – In the Air

Trevor
Trevor Dickson – Summer Legs (Swoon)

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.

stream: Trevor Dickson – Summer Legs

laluz
La Luz – It’s Alive (Hardly Art)

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.

stream: La Luz – Big Big Blood

Wimps
Wimps – Repeat (End of Time)

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.

stream: Wimps – Slept in Late

boat
Boat – Pretend To Be Brave (Magic Marker)

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.

stream: BOAT – Interstellar Helen Keller

Purrs
Purrs – The Boy With Astronaut Eyes (Fin)

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

MAPC
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

ChastityBelt
Chastity Belt – No Regerts (Help Yourself)

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

jetmanjetteam

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.

stream: Jetman Jet Team – Deep Space

neighbors
Neighbors – I Love Neighbors (Self-released)

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

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.

stream: We Are Loud Whispers – Western Town

Neighbors Love You With a New Song

neighbors

With each release, Seattle’s Neighbors get better and better. Last year’s John In Babeland grabbed my attention and held it the year long. The band are now readying their next release, an EP prophetically called I Love Neighbors and there’s a lot to love on it. They sort of shed some of their Pavement inspirations and go for a more jangly and noisey sound.

What You See In Me is the rousing scorcher track on it that will singe your hair or possibly cause a cerebral hemorrhage depending on your volume knob setting. It’s a blast like the Wedding Present‘s Brassneck or Boyracer‘s I’ve Got It and It’s Not Worth Having. I would certainly love my neighbors if I heard this blasting out their basement, even if it was at some ungodly hour.

stream: Neighbors – What You See In Me (from I Love Neighbors out in June on Manic Pop! Records)

Pop! Goes Seattle: Best of 2012

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.

erikblood
1. Erik Blood – Touch Screens (Self-relased)

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

theesatisfaction
2. Thee Satisfaction – awE naturalE (Sub Pop)

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

3. Neighbors – John In Babeland (Lost Sound)

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:

Stream: John In Babeland

eveningmeetings
4. Evening Meetings – Evening Meetings (Sweet Rot)

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:

zebrahunt

5. Zebra Hunt – Zebra Hunt (self-released)

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.

Half Right:
stream: Zebra Hunt

laluz
6. La Luz – Damp Face (Self-released)

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:

stream: Damp Face

orcateam

7. Orca Team – Restraint (HHBTM)

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.

Michael:
stream: Restraint

posse
8. Posse – Posse (Self-released)

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.

Hey Suzzane:
stream: Posse

teacozies
9. Tea Cozies – Bang Up (Self-released)

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

chastitybelt

10. Chastity Belt – Dude (self-released)

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!

Ponytail:
stream: Dude

blooper

11. Blooper – Go Away (Self-released)

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.

Secret Song:
stream: Go Away

nightgowns
12. Nightgowns – Bonita (Swoon)

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.

Tomorrow Girl:
stream: Bonita

Purrs

13. Purrs – Rotting On the Vine (Fin)

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.

Rotting On the Vine:
stream: Rotting On the Vine

seapony

14. Seapony – Falling (Hardly Art)

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.

Prove To Me:

stephanie

15. Stephanie – One Glove (Self-released)

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.

Cell 44:
stream: One Glove

Neighbors and the Unseen Power of the Picket Fence

More Seattle goodness, this time from the friendly neighborhood Neighbors who are about to release their second album on Lost Sound Tapes. The easy reference point of Neighbors is Pavement, and I’m sure the band intend it, but their new album John In Babeland is not just paint by numbers. Pavement weren’t created in a vacuum, and Neighbors have more than just one single influence. Since I don’t personally know them I couldn’t tell you what they are, but bands like Firehose, REM, Camper van Beethoven, Neutral Milk Hotel and Hefner all come to mind. John In Babeland is their second album and vastly improves on their first record Puros Exitos, which had some good moments, but was really a young band kind of feeling its way around.

The album is named for their now departed bassist and a sex shop here in Seattle. Besides sex, the album exudes an easy confidence. Its 12 songs are quirky and immediately likable. Sometimes you think they’re punks, sometimes they’re arty smart-asses and other times they give the impression that they’re crusty hippies. Those three things (plus the sex) of course, are the main ingredients of most of the great bands throughout rock history.

mp3: Neighbors – Black Angel (from John in Babeland coming soon on Lost Sound Tapes)

You can hear a few more songs from the album over at Neighbors’ bandcamp page.