Oh Seattle, So Much To Answer For (Favorite Seattle Records of 2011)

I took a year off from doing a favorite Seattle records list due to lazyitis (sorry Seattle). Here’s my top ten records from my fair city for 2011 (sorry Seattle).

1. Seapony – Go With Me (Hardly Art)
Twee is alive and well in Seattle. Seapony kind of came out of nowhere late last year. They put their debut album out on local label Hardly Art, played countless shows around town and generally put the Northwest back on the map when it comes to indiepop.
mp3: Dreaming

2. Charles Leo Gebhardt IV – Begin Again (GGNZLA)
Leo Gebhardt plays guitar in a few Seattle bands, but it’s his solo stuff that really shines. Begin Again was his second release for the enigmatic Seattle label GGNZLA. Begin Again is full of rollicking and playful, Kinks inspired narratives.
mp3: Chapel of Roses

3. BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols (Magic Marker)
BOAT keep delivering hook laden albums sparked with humor and conviction. Like the Young Fresh Fellows before them, these industrious fellows create unforgettable pop right under the city’s collective noses. Dress Like You Idols contains some of the band’s best songs yet.
mp3Forever in Armitron

4. Cute Lepers – Adveture Time (1-2-3-4 Go!)
Adventure Time is Cute Lepers’ third (and best) album. It’s  full of glammy punk rock similar to the Rezillos. Songs full of high fructose corn syrup, actually, no they’re probably full of maple sugar, because they’re sweet and good for you. Hell, just eat them out of the box with a spoon.

5. Emuul – The Drawing of the Line (Digitalis)
This record kind of popped up on my radar from nowhere, or maybe it condensed from a passing cloud. Emuul is the latest moniker of Kyle Iman and The Drawing of the Line is hypnotic music that will put you in a dreamlike state.  Don’t let that fool you, there are pop songs under the gauze of this instrumental electronica.

6. Webelos – Shadow Seasons (self-released)
Shadow Seasons sounds like it could have come out on Teen Beat back in the early 90’s. It’s a quirky little fellow with propulsive bass driven songs. Think Unrest, Eggs and the Monochrom Set.
mp3: If You Choose To Stay

7. Craft Spells – Idle Labor (Captured Tracks)
This record was made in a bedroom in Stockton, California, but by the time it came out Justin Vallesteros had relocated Craft Spells to Seattle.  Idle Labor is heavily influenced by the romantic synthpop of the 80’s. Bouncy, longing pop songs that could make you forget what year it was.
mp3: After the Moment

8. Witch Gardens – Alice, Agatha, Branch, & Christ (self-released)
If ever there was a band meant to be on K records, Witch Gardens is it. This is pure ramshackle pop fun by a band seemingly making it up as they go. I love what they’ve come up with so far which is primarily this cassette.
mp3: Softball Chick

9. Gold Leaves – The Ornament (Hardly Art)
I loved Arthur & You’s In Camera. Sadly, that band seems to be no more, but Grant Olson of the duo returned as Gold Leaves this year and it kind of picks up where Arthur & Yu left off. The Ornament is rich and velvety bringing to mind the cinematic records of Lee Hazelwood.
mp3: The Ornament

10. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground – Introducing (Suburban Home)
Even living in Seattle, you might not have heard about the second album from Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground. Maybe it was the odd choice of a title for album number two. Whatever the case, there was little pomp around its release especially compared to the first one, and I’ve yet to see it in a record store in town. Too bad, because it’s nearly as good as their debut and goes to the same tin pan alley, psychedelia, kaleidoscopic pop well.
mp3: Oh Lord, I Hate You California

Honorable Mentions:

Pony Time – Pony Time (Per Se) | Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop) | Night Beats -Night Beats (Trouble In Mind) | Erik Blood – Music From the Film Center of Gravity (Self-Released) | Consignment – New Low (GGNZLA) | Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Merge) | Green Pajamas – Green Pajama Country (Green Monkey)

All Corners Are Still

Still Corners, Ganglians and Witch Gardens at the Sunset Tavern, Seattle | 1 November 2011

The record that got Still Corners noticed was their Don’t Fall In Love 7-inch on the Great Pop Supplement from last year. It was stark, icy and sounded like it came from a band wise beyond its years. Singer Tessa Murray had a haunting voice that sounded like Julie Cruise and the band sounded like they existed on a diet of Broadcast, Ennio Morricone and Peter Thomas. That record got bought up as fast as they were snatched up by Sub Pop after its release.  Fast forward a year and Still Corners have released their first album Creatures of an Hour on Sub Pop and are in the United States for their first big tour.

The band ably replicated the rich sound of their studio creations at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard Tuesday night. Tessa Murray spent part of her time behind a small keyboard and the rest to the side with just a microphone. Guitarist, main songwriter and sound architect Greg Hughes was off to her right coaxing all kinds of ethereal sounds from his guitar and effects pedals. The highlights of their set were the afore mentioned Don’t Fall In Love and Cuckoo which was another 7-inch single. Both of those songs generate a haunting cacophony that hits just the right nerve in me to generate a wave of euphoria. During those two songs it was as close to as good as Broadcast were when I saw them for the Noise Made By People tour. Broadcast kept it going for their entire show, Still Corners still have a little ways to go. They played a cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s I’m On Fire which was ok, but didn’t seem to quite fit and then played a couple other songs without any drums that veered too close to Cowboy Junkies territory for my taste.
Neither of those two things were showstoppers. Murray is easy on the eyes and commands attention. The band were addept and excelled at making the most of their somewhat quiet songs. Hopefully this is the Still Corners laying the groundwork for a run of impressive future records and shows. They’re off to a good start for this only being their first album.

mp3: Still Corners – Cuckoo (from Creatures of an Hour on Sub Pop)

I thought I like openers the Ganglians, but like Brian Eno thinking about his laundry when he was on stage with Roxy Music, I found myself thinking during their set about how I need to insulate my attic before winter arrives. I also waxed nostalgic about the Alarm. When I was a kid use to hate how they always were dismissed as a lesser U2. I also did some math, calculating that by the 2060’s the Ganglians would be in their 70’s, the 1960’s would be a hundred years in the past and would people still remember what hippies look like in the future.

mp3: Ganglians – Jungle (from Still Living on Lefse)

Seattle’s Witch Gardens played a short set with limited commentary from guitarist Casey Catherwood. It had been a few months since I last saw them, but time has been kind. They still posses ramshackle K-like qualities, but they seemed like they knew what they were doing this time, in a vague sort of way.

Genetic Reengineering

Craft Spells, The Soft Moon and Witch Gardens at Vera Project, Seattle | 3 April 2011

I was ready to title this with some reference to OMD‘s Architecture and Morality or New Order‘s Power Corruption and Lies.  Hell, just look at the cover to Craft Spells album Idle Labor and you get the feeling that it’s an unabashed homage to New Order.  Listen to it and your suspicions are confirmed. It’s full of synthesizers and electronic new wave dance beats.  So my expectations were temporarily dashed when I saw the stage devoid of any keyboards, laptops, or knobs.  Was this the right band?
As Craft Spells came on stage for their record release show a boy with a flower in his hat yelled “Cutest band in Seattle.” They were kind of cute in a cuddly teddy bear way.  Singer and songwriter Justin Vallesteros looked especially cuddly with his pegged jeans, madras shirt and cardigan. The band breezed through a short eight songs set in front of their new hometown (Vallesteros recently relocated the band from Stockton, California).
To tell the truth, it was a bold move to rethink their sound and it worked for the most part.  There were a few bum notes from the lead guitarist playing a hollow body Epiphone, but they didn’t distract too much from the young band’s new funkier and juicier sound.  Nobody else seemed to mind the change either as the songs were all still very danceable. They steered away from playing some of Idle Labor’s moodier numbers keeping things lite and lively.  The audience was enthusiastic and there much dancing ensued.  Vallesteros and his band got a work out too as was evidenced in his breathless between song banter.  Going back and listening to the record and singles after seeing them live there is a definite Orange Juice inspiration on songs like After the Moment and Party Talk. Stripping away the synths, that inspiration was brought to prominence.

mp3: Craft Spells – After The Moment (from Idle Labor, out now on Captured Tracks)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yi3mK9yNC30]

For San Francisco’s the Soft Moon who are label mates of Craft Spells, there were no surprises in store. They stuck with their dark wave / gothic sound.  With the lights out (what self-respecting goth band would have the lights on?) and a big screen video projector behind them providing movement they stormed through their set.  One guy was stationed behind a control console twisting knobs juxtaposed by a live bass player. The rest was left up to front guy Luis Vasquez with his own knobs, a keyboard and a guitar.  Some of the vocals were shouted like a Nitzer Ebb song while others whispered. The guitars whirred by sounding like futuristic magnetic repulsion cars evoking many a Clan of Xymox song. The Soft Moon created a highly stylzed racket, but they could do with a few more memorable songs like Tiny Spiders to go with it.

mp3: The Soft Moon – Tiny Spiders (from The Soft Moon on Captured Tracks)

Seattle DIYr’s Witch Gardens opened the show with their take on pacific northwest style indiepop which included an autoharp.  Made up of a trio of ladies and a boy playing guitar, they were good ramshackle fun. My favorite song of their set was Lifeguard Chick which they introduced as being for people who like to have fun. There is a recorded version of it on their MySpace, but it doesn’t do it justice you’ve gotta see them live.

Here are the upcoming Craft Spells tour dates, all of which (except for 4/09) are with their labelmates Beach Fossils:
04/07 Stony Brook, NY – University Cafe (Stony Brook University)
04/08 Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
04/09 Brooklyn, NY – Glassands (w/ Cloud Nothings, Sundelles)
04/13 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
04/14 Washington, DC – DC9
04/16 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brendas
04/18 Winooski, VT – The Monkey House
04/19 Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa
04/20 Toronto, ON – Parts & Labour
04/21 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
04/22 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
04/24 Cleveland, OH – Happy Dog
04/25 State College, PA – Chronic Town
04/27 Allston, MA – Great Scott
05/01 Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
05/02 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
05/03 Los Angeles, CA – Echo
05/04 Visalia, CA – The Cellar Door
05/05 San Francisco, CA – Slims
05/06 Portland, OR – Star Theater
05/07 Seattle, WA – Chop Suey
05/08 Vancouver, BC – Media Club