Best PNW Albums of 2019

It’s time to play that audience favorite, What’s The Best PNW Album of 2019? What do we have for today’s winner, Johnny?

(Silence)

Johnny seems to be, umm, a figment of my imagination. So let’s move on to this year’s contenders for What’s The Best PNW Album of 2019?

As I’ve probably said in the past, I’m not much for picking absolute favorites. So today I’ll present you with some very good albums that came out of the Pacific Northwest in 2019. None of these are being designated as “the best” album of the year, and there are many other releases I could easily include on my list. So buckle up and uncork a tall one.

Group 1

First up is a heavy dose of pure power pop from Seattle’s La Fille. Their latest album, Alright Already, is a primer in just how good power pop can be. Catchy, sweet melodies tempered with a fine steel edge of R&R. Fans of Matthew Sweet should dig this one.

Portland’s Shivas channel a heavy psychedelic/garage vibe on Dark Thoughts. In fact, this album sounds like it was made in 1965, not 2019. Massive reverb, caterwauling from beyond the grave, cascading stacks of mind-bending riffs combine to please your frontal lobe as only 60s rock can.

Tullycraft, hailing from Bellingham, is a local band that made it kinda big. They are recognized as one of the, if not the progenitor of twee pop. This genre combines catchy, poppy melodies with raw, unpolished vocals that lean a bit toward the spoken side. 2019’s The Railway Prince Hotel is an excellent example of what twee can be.

Group 2

Portland’s Minus 5 made a stunning comeback in 2019 after frontman Scott McCaughey’s stroke in late 2018. The indie rockers released Stroke Manor, an album which attempts to suggest the experience of having a stroke. Styles range from poppy to hard rocking and everything inbetween. Be sure to check this one out.

The Seattle-ites, strangely enough hailing from Seattle, pay tribute to legendary ska band the Skatelites. Lovers of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones beware! The music on The Thing! EP is firmly rooted in first wave ska, a relaxed walk through the rocksteady beat. Authentic, extremely well done. Expect more great music from this band in the future.

Local Teen stirs up Portland with their own brand of twee pop/punk on Low Vibrations, Bad Emotions. Picture twee lead vocals with shouted backup vocals, male and female lead singers, horns, fast tempos, a ton of variety. A great band and album, well worth exploring.

Group 3

If it is punk that you seek, look no further than Night Danger by Vancouver’s Alien Boys. Their brand of punk takes elements from early British punk, pop punk, and even a bit of hard rock. The sound is unique and a pleasant alternative to all the soundalike punk groups. Fans of 999 should dig this group.

And if it is a walk in the country that pleases your ear buds, Portland’s Little Sue can soothe your brow with her latest, Gold. Sue has been a fixture in Portland for over 25 years, and Gold displays her excellent songwriting skills, resulting in a modern, original country album that sounds like it’s filled with standards.

Group 4

Do you like your power pop on the rough side? Or perhaps you’re into indie Canadian pop punk? Vancouver’s Pudding just might be the answer to your every desire. Kind of loose or DIY, 2019’s Pop Over takes its title literally, showing where the music will go once pop is no longer. A highly recommended listening experience.

Finally, we round out 2019 with a bit of old timey busking music by Portland’s Lightnin’ Luke. Volume 2 is a raw recording of classic and original blues played by a single person. But the performances never sound small and are packed with excitement as well as fun. Just the thing to scratch your hokum itch.

A ton of superior music comes out of the NW every year. Be sure to explore what’s out there. And don’t forget Everett Public Library’s local music section. It’s well worth the price of admission.

Just Regular Joes

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By the time you are reading this fascinating post, the following statement will not be true: Tonight I am going to see (and hear) The Tripwires, Girl Trouble and the Young Fresh Fellows. While I’ve never even heard of The Tripwires (Seattle power pop super group) and have not seen Girl Trouble live (they’re a garage rock band from Tacoma formed in 1983), I opened for and consequently saw the Young Fresh Fellows in 1986. For those of you who are good at math (rainmen), that’s 30 years ago. This was also the last time I saw them live. I don’t get out a lot.

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Over the years I’ve kept track of the Fellows and have continued to purchase both their albums and those of their side projects, which are actually big name groups. Scott McCaughey often tours with R.E.M. He plays in the Venus 3 with Robyn Hitchcock. He leads another semi-local group called The Minus 5. Guitarist Kurt Bloch led the well-known Seattle punk band The Fastbacks as well as performing with many other local bands. Bassist Jim Sangster formerly played in grange rock (yes, grange not garage) group The Picketts and currently plays in the genius power pop group The Tripwires. Drummer Tad Hutchison, simply the best drummer period, plays with Chris Ballew of The Presidents of The United States of America in a group called simply Chris and Tad.

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The Young Fresh Fellows’ music is sort of a cross between The Kinks and The Sonics, with a touch of early Pink Floyd thrown in. Garage anthems, beautiful pop melodies and dueling psychedelic guitar solos are offset by oddities such as Tad singing a warped version of Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl (January, it was very cold / February, it was still real cold). Their live show is a bundle of energy, top-notch musicianship and humor. Band members are roughly in their fifties, but when Tad puts on a hat that covers his salt and pepper hair he suddenly becomes a 10-year-old boy playing incredible fills. Kurt jumps up and down maniacally and leans into Scott while ripping out psychedelic solos from the depths of H.P. Lovecraft’s mind. Scott is the leader and focal point, providing intricate lyrics delivered with a simple everyman’s voice. And Jim, not to be outdone by Kurt, is a kinetic kewpie doll pounding out the bass, the bass, the bass.

It’s difficult to choose a single song as a favorite, but one that resonates with me is Searchin’ U.S.A. from their Topsy Turvy album.

I’ve been to Pauline’s Café in Bellingham
Jack said he’d be with me in a minute
I asked him for a glass of water
He said, “What for, you want to put some LSD in it?
There’s already speed and marijuana in the hash browns
Pauline always gets a kick out of that crack
And that kind of service brings the customers back

Pauline’s Café, which opened in the 60s, was a legendary diner in Bellingham, barely wide enough to walk through from front to back, simply a counter with barstools. By the 80s the owners were in the autumn of their lives but were full of vinegar and enjoyed messing with the college students. One of Pauline’s strict rules was no dessert until you cleaned your plate. Searchin’ U.S.A. offers up several slices of life that I have experienced (verse 2 begins: Well, I’ve been to the Alderwood Mall…) encased in poppy Americana-esque music.

There are those of us who see the “Seattle sound” as something that existed long before grunge was conceived. The Young Fresh Fellows are the heirs to this wild, dirty, thumping throne of sound born with The Wailers and The Sonics. Check them out and file the experience under Mind Blown!