by Dave Segal
on Tue, Dec 31, 2013 at 3:23 PM
Here are some of my favorite releases—in no particular order—by local musicians from the last year, with comments quoted from previous write-ups where applicable, because technically we’re still on vacation. I know I overlooked some crucial ones, and I apologize. Thanks for all the great tunes, Seattle. Keep on changing and growing.
After going deeply into the Far East with their Totem trilogy, 2012 Stranger music Genius contenders MMOB majestically return to their natural domain, with powerful results. I wrote about the LP's first two songs—"White Mountain Return" and "Gnomi"—in previous Line Out posts; the rest of Far West conjures a kind of otherworldly yet pastoral vibe, an ultravivid, ritualistic folkadelia that makes your life seem utterly momentous while it's gently roaring through your headspace. This stuff sounds at once forbiddingly Medieval and contemporary—a real deity-tickling triumph.
Midday Veil’s second album proper, The Current, is now beautifying our airspace like an exquisite, alien perfume. Its six robustly vaporous compositions progress with macrocosmic logic and trajectory into deepest outer and inner space. As with MMOB’s Far West, The Current is a soundtrack for mysterious travels, an ominously beautiful, transformative experience. No wonder the brainiacs at the British mag The Wire ranked it in their top 15.
Listening to the eight-track album, I can hear Panabrite honing his melodic chops to an even more delicate and nuanced degree. He's long been a master of suspenseful mood enhancement and fostering a sense of infinite expansiveness—qualities that make him a candidate to work with a film director on an ambitious sci-fi project about extraterrestrials—and those elements blossom further on Xenon District. Here and there, Panabrite drops some subtle beats, adding rare rhythmic punch to his astral ambience (the stretch near the halfway point of side 2 is especially piquant).
“Neon” thrusts you immediately into a bustling nocturnal milieu of alluring female vocals, shimmying 4/4 rhythms, hissing cymbals, and synths that warble “ow.” In patented McMillion fashion, the track combines sly sensuality with undercurrents of chaos. Subverting equilibrium is a daily operation for this cat; nothing is ever straightforward or one-dimensional in a Jon McMillion work. “Painting Computer Pie” crackles into life with subtle granular synthesis and insistent disco kick drums. Soon, though, McMillion threads in all sorts of unusual details in the forefront and the margins, creating a sense of encroaching doom and a magic-mushroom trip gone awry. Almost halfway in, the rhythm shifts into something much trickier, as congas patter and keyboards stridently slant and swirl, while delayed, errant voices dart in the background. This is perhaps McMillion’s most psychedelic cut yet, in a catalog abounding with them.
The perfectly named Seattle wife/husband group Ecstatic Cosmic Union have made a deep impression in their brief existence so far. Keyboardist/vocalist Rena Bussinger and guitarist Aubrey Nehring—both of whom run the Portable Shrines psychedelic-art-music collective—have tapped into a profoundly tranquil vibe on XCU. It's apropos that the first performance happened in a friend's backyard, under a canopy of trees. Ecstatic Cosmic Union's music is in no rush to get where it's going, and the trip it takes you on is just as beautiful and rewarding as the destination. Long may their eerie, hypnotic psychedeliquesence drift.
Jetman Jet Team's debut album, We Will Live the Space Age, doesn't possess the wild abandon of their live shows, but it's aglow with sheer beauty and deft songcraft. Hazily indebted to elite British dream-weavers like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Lush, JJT put a Northwestern spin on shoegaze over 16 transportive tracks. Highlights? "Cosmic Age" captures the narcotic bliss of MBV in billowing midtempo mode, launching dense yet delicate guitar clouds and blurred, yearning vocals. "Deep Space" reveals JJT's ability to nestle ultrasweet melodies within lofty plumes of guitar radiation. "Corrosive" sounds like Can and Rhys Chatham carefreely chugging down the Autobahn. A luscious addition to Seattle's sonic legacy, Space Age is endlessly hummable and coolly sidereal.
Diminished Men have stealthily become one of Seattle's most interesting bands. Mainstays of the city's underground scene, they've released six gripping albums of sublime, mercurial music, to not enough fanfare. The trio's intriguing new album on Alan Bishop's Abduction label, Capnomancy (the title means divination through the examination of smoke), further refines their steely fusion of spy jazz, surf noir, Morricone-esque spaghetti-western gestures, and avant-noise rock. The stormy and chilling leadoff track, "Oblong Trance," is already a contender for song of the year. Live, these guys—drummer Dave Abramson, guitarist Steve Schmitt, and guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Simon Henneman—possess a telepathic facility that's thrilling to watch and hear.
“Sweat” is a relentless 10-minute effusion of robo-disco ecstasy. It just keeps on giving and giving pleasure, like a Moroder-esque marauder with a bleep disorder, bolstered by infinite choir loops and spacey, spine-tingling, Italo-cized signifiers. “Pleasure” is a slow-burbling synth fantasia that’s the aural equivalent of a post-coital reverie.
Oakland transplant Nelson Bean follows up the chthonic, post-industrial foundation-tremblers of Spectral Disorder with an EP of slightly more refined, quasi-danceable electronic music. Covalence is still on the bracingly bleak side, but Bean does let in shafts of light here and there—especially on the mellow, gorgeous “Jaune.” Overall, Covalence exudes a sublime tension and vividly dystopian atmospheres—perfectly capturing the zeitgeist of our ecologically perilous times.
TJ Max is the project of Timm Mason (aka Mood Organ, guitarist with Midday Veil, bassist with Master Musicians of Bukkake) and Jayson Kochan (aka Airport, bassist with Midday Veil). They’ve bust out of the gate with a killer cosmic-disco opus, Wrong to Run. The title track struts into the fashionable discotheque with glittery moon boots and then ascends for spacier, iller realms about halfway in. The weird analog textures start to teem, bleep, and woob and the track gets pretty urgent until the dramatic, consoling coda winds things down. The rest of the disc straddles the line between ominous and hedonistic with masterly dynamic tension. If you want your disco with dashes of interstellar terror, TJ Max will hook you up in style.
NEW WEATHER, New Weather (Butterscotch) The prevalent mode on the debut full-length by New Weather—consisting of the Midget's guitarists/keyboardists/vocalists Amber Rossino and Sean Curley, plus Tomory Dodge—is deep, hypnotic, and exploratory. Imagine Stereolab if they were sponsored by NASA or Italian horror-film masters Goblin if they were more monomaniacally aerodynamic. Closing track “Everything” stands as one of the greatest motorik jams ever to zoom out of the 206. Mastered by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, MGMT, Tame Impala), New Weather is one of the most enthralling releases out of our city this year. Expect even greater things from this trio in 2014.
Noel Brass Jr.—keyboardist for the Seattle soul-jazz trio Afrocop —keeps uploading tracks to Soundcloud on a near daily basis and one of the newest, "Holographic Jargon," may be his best yet. Its eerie, unearthly beauty sounds like the sainted Alice Coltrane jamming with Tonto's Expanding Head Band (the guys partly responsible for the production of Stevie Wonder's best '70s LPs) in 1971... and, well, now I have to change my underwear. It is urgent and key that you keep close tabs on Mr. Brass and also his Afrocop activities.
Kinski's musical trajectory can be viewed as a long, gradual descent from their first few albums' spacey rambling to their post–Don't Climb on and Take the Holy Water output, which plowed a beefier, more torqued, earthbound groove. The Seattle quartet recently released their Kill Rock Stars debut, Cosy Moments, six years after their last full-length. In some ways, it's their most accessible work to date, featuring more of guitarist Chris Martin's pleasantly flat vocals than previously and greater emphasis on speedy punk-rock ramalama. Earlier tendencies to ramble—albeit interestingly—have largely been scaled back to more concise, structured songwriting, and Kinski have come through with some of their catchiest songs ("Throw It Up," "A Little Ticker Tape Never Hurt Anybody," "Conflict Free Diamonds"). They've always killed live, and now Kinski have a bunch of brilliant new tunes to drop on you—including my new favorite, the blissed-out "We Think She's a Nurse."
Irisarri is perhaps best known for his aquatic, atmospheric techno for Ghostly International as the Sight Below, but his ambient material under his own name deserves your scrutiny, too. Inspired by the saga of the Salton Sea in which a river redirected to aid Californian agriculture in the early 20th century resulted in an ecological disaster, The Unintentional Sea captures a gloomy buoyancy and profoundly elegiac beauty through minimal means: susurrant drones, muted orchestral swells, deft glitches. This is some world-class ambient music, right here in our backyard, people.
River Ruined is the new handle for the reclusive Seattle producer Crazy Old Bat (formerly imneye and Wilkidon). In the fall he digitally released a starkly serene ambient-folk album called Indifference & Desire, which is available for free download. The downer vibes are subtle yet strong on this one. Vocals are whispered and withered, mostly subsumed in the arboreal drones. Your frown becomes your umbrella. Fans of Windy & Carl, Grouper, Orcas, and Bark Psychosis' pastoral side should explore. I like very much where this project is going.
Respect also to ROSE WINDOWS, The Sun Dogs (Sub Pop); KID SMPL, Armour (Hush Hush), SECRET COLORS, Days Off (Group Tightener); SLOW YEARSlow Year (Hush Hush); CHANTS, I Feel Like I Feel It (Hush Hush); MUDHONEY, Vanishing Point (Sub Pop).