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

Best Seattle Records of 2009

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.

mp3: Warm Transfers

mp3: Thank You God For Fixing The Tape Machine


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.

mp3: We Want It, We Want It

mp3: Name Tossers


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?

mp3: To Leave America

mp3: These Days


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.

mp3: Windwalker


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.

mp3: Hands


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.

mp3: Shouldna Started Trouble

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

Das BOAT

Boat and the Nightgowns at the Sunset Tavern, Seattle | 7 August 2009

das BOAT!

BOAT played the Sunset Tavern last night over in Ballard. They totally rocked it. New songs blowing everybody’s mind, confetti everywhere, and a big I-5 highway shield (but no Wedding Present cover).  They passed out shakers for new song God Save The Man Who Isn’t All That Super, which they wrote special for audience shaker participation. We also found out what Dave Crane has been doing every night for the last month (he’s been in his garage creating stage props for their huge October record release gig).  BOAT are back from their self-imposed hiatus of recording their new record Setting the Paces (out end of October on Magic Marker) and taking no prisoners.   The album is easily the band’s best album yet, and since it doesn’t come out for two months,  get a preview of the new songs by getting yourself out of the house and down to a BOAT gig, no excuses!

The other Tacoma band of the evening, Nightgowns were good as well.  They seemed much more comfortable in the cozy confines of the Sunset versus the gigantic EMP Skychurch where I saw them a few weeks back.  BOAT took a few minutes out of their set to wholeheartedly endorse the Nightgowns album Sing Something, and I couldn’t agree with them more.  It’s a sublime underwater new wave experience.

mp3: BOAT – Name Tossers (from Setting the Paces, coming soon on Magic Marker)

Here’s video I shot of another new song, Prince of Tacoma.

…and the BOAT tour dates.

Aug 8 Backspace (All Ages) – Portland, Oregon
Aug 9 TBA (All Ages!) – Redding, CA
Aug 11 Biko’s Garage – Santa Barbara, CA
Aug 12 Silver Factory – Los Angeles, CA
Aug 13 J Dee’s Landing – Palm Springs, CA
Aug 14 The Tin Can – San Diego, CA
Aug 15 Luigi’s Fun Garden – Sacramento, CA
Aug 16 The Hemlock Tavern – San Francisco, CA

EMP All Access

Nightgowns and Makeup Monsters at EMP | 2 July 2009
Nightgowns not wearing nightgowns
The first Thursday of every month the Experience Music Project opens its doors and lets you in for free. The Frank Gehry architected museum that seems to float under the Space Needle is a curiosity that seems to verge on something of a tourist trap. Inside are some interesting tidbits of Pacific Northwest Rock ‘n roll history, some sci-fi memorabilia and and of course the building itself which is interesting to the eye if for no other reason than Mr. Gehryr refuses to build anything using straight lines.  The place was packed, mostly with summer tourists trying to save a few bucks,  but there was a whole bunch of people in the Sky Church part of the museum to see the Nightgowns and Makeup Monsters, both from Tacoma.  The tourists probably outnumbered those to see gig, the line to see the Jim Henson Exhibit snaked through the skychurch, so whether or not they wanted to, families on vacation got their chance to hear the some Fabulous sounds of the Pacific Northwest while they waited to check out some muppets.

The Nightgowns, the headliners, had a tough act to follow. Michael Jackson videos were being projected larger than life on the wall behind the stage while they set up.  Singer, Trevor Dickson, joked that they would be playing a bunch of unreleased MJ songs, so everyone should stick around.  The Nightgowns, formerly known as the Elephants have just released their first album under their new name and it has elements melancholy elements of the 80’s like the darker, earlier OMD songs or current day Say Hi, but it also incorporates some  playfulness that wouldn’t be out of place on an Elephant 6 record.  The band switched up instruments a few times and keyboardist Cody Jones took lead vocals for a couple songs.  The Nightgowns had no trouble filling the enormous Sky Church with their vaguely danceable indie pop.  The album has a few real stand-out songs like Cosmic Clancy and Buoy and those got cheers from the audience, of which many must have made the short 30 minute drive up from Tacoma.  The Nightgowns will be back up to Seattle on 7 August at the Sunset Tavern with fellow Tacoma residents Boat, a double bill not to be missed!

mp3: Nightgowns – Cosmic Clancy (from Sing Something)

Not so scary: Makeup Monster

Openers, the Makeup Monsters are a couple of 17 year old guys that are wise beyond their years as far as pop songs go.  They came in fourth place in this year’s Seattle Sound Off , the annual Northwest battle of the bands for those under 21.  The duo switched instruments often, each taking their turn as front man and drummer.  Their minimalist indie-pop was catchy, but they seemed to get swallowed up by the enormity of the room.  These guys probably would sound great on a side of vinyl, though at this point the Sky Church was a little too big for them, but they do seem to have the building blocks to become something special.

mp3: Makeup Monsters – Calamine (courtesy of Seattle Subsonic

The band have a CD for sale, you can try contacting them through their myspace to get a copy.