The Best Albums From The PNW 2019

It’s that time of year once again, time for the annual semi-half-year best albums of the Pacific Northwest take-a-looksee. 2019 has presented us with a surprising number of spectacular albums in our soggy corner of the U.S. and here are just a few you might want to check out for yourself.

TACOCATtacocat-thismessisaplace-cover-

Tacocat is one of the more nationally-recognized Seattle bands these days. Their sound is somewhere in the pop-punk/mainstream-pop quadrant of the genre spectrum. Rich harmonies, a touch of 60s girl pop and sugary gooey goodness all color their latest release, This Mess Is a Place. If you enjoyed their previous release, Lost Time, you’re sure to love this followup.

THE BLACK TONESblack tones

One of the most talked about bands in Seattle, The Black Tones, finally delivered their debut album, Cobain & Cornbread, in 2019. And it is fabulous. The music takes me right back to 1969, but not to my 6-year-old self, more of a me-as-an-adult kinda thing… Anyhow, ferocious use of wah wah, a palpable Hendrix guitar vibe and wide open song structures all hearken back to a day when a bunch of kids squatted in a muddy field in upstate New York. Perhaps most notable is that here we have a band that does not sound like other bands of today. Heavy, fuzzy, riff-driven, filled with lengthy instrumental interludes and then BAM! A traditional old-timey gospel tune. This album has not been released on CD yet, but look for it out in the digital world.

THE HEAD AND THE HEARThead_and_heart_mirage

The Head and the Heart is one of the more popular and active bands currently in Seattle. Classified as indie pop or indie folk, the group spits out catchy hooks that make you sing along on their latest release, Living Mirage. This album, as well as the group’s other recent albums, is heavily produced, resulting in a huge sound that markedly contrasts with the intimacy of their first album. You can hear a variety of their releases, both in CD format and streaming, from Everett Public Library. Just click on the band’s name at the beginning of this paragraph.

ANNIE FORD BANDannie ford

If it’s country you’re looking for, try out At Night by Seattle’s Annie Ford Band. A dash of blues, a smidgen of swing and a veritable dollop of honky tonk combine with an amazing voice (look out Eillen Jewel!) to make a most hearty country stew. Those listeners expecting to hear the contemporary country/pop that tops the charts these days might find themselves disappointed. Old-timey country is Annie Ford’s oeuvre, and you just might come to expect Patsy Cline herself to lasso you a cold tall one while you enjoy these tunes.

It may seem that four magnificent albums are all we’re allotted in a year, but we’ve only seen a scant sliver of 2019’s offerings. Stay tuned for info on more local albums and be sure to check out EPL’s Local Music section. As my grandparents always said, if you don’t keep up with the Joneses the Joneses will keep up with you. Of course, my grandparents never met anyone named Jones. And please do remember, you can pick your friend’s music… but something something something.

Listen Up! May New Music

Collage of album covers with "listen up" written over them

Spring is flying by, and it appears that May is giving us a sneak preview of summer as a makeup gift for all the rain we had over the last few months. The timing is just right, because we just received a batch of new releases that would make a great soundtrack for a night of grilling, hanging out on the deck, or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Place your holds now, and check out the latest at the EPL:

Les Amazones d’Afrique – Republique Amazone (Real World Records, 2017) – Les Amazones are an all-star collective of West African songstresses who have united to create music about feminism and gender equality. Each vocalist brings her own unique style to the table, creating a very satisfying mix of rock, trip-hop, dub, blues, electronic, jazz, West African pop, and traditional music. The overall effect is a very dance-floor-friendly approach to protest music.

Feist – Pleasure (Interscope Records, 2017) – This is an album that covers a lot of ground with ease: at times blues rock with very subtle country undertones and others grinding and almost punk. The pace of the album seems very laid back but deliberate; each track follows its own timeline, building to just the right level of complexity to perfectly complement the vocals. I appreciate the contradictions: gritty and lovely – soft vocals and loud riffs. There’s something about the production, imperfect with the pop and hiss of an old mix tape, that makes it feel very intimate.

Mary J. Blige – Strength of a Woman (Capitol Records, 2017) –  Mary J. Blige brings us a classic breakup album with all the anger, pain, strength, and redemption that you’d expect from such a legendary artist going through some pretty intense pain. Cameos by Kanye West, DJ Khaled, Missy Elliott, and Kaytranada only enrich an already strong offering. As in all her music, Blige shares her struggles through her art and uses the medium to pull herself through life’s trials – in Strength it appears she is, once again, emerging from the test on top.

Wale – Shine (Atlantic Urban, 2017) – a deceptively upbeat release with a summer feel, but behind each track lies a little bit of darkness. Wale seems to be emerging from a period of struggle both with other artists and with himself. The arrival of his newborn daughter seems to be a strong driving force for this change and also a reoccurring theme in his music.

Perfume Genius –No Shape (Matador, 2017) – Mike Hadreas’s latest release is an ecstatic celebration of love. Following similar LGBTQ themes from his previous albums, he delves into the facets of his relationship with musical collaborator and long-time partner, Alan Wyffels. No Shape is a collection of dreamy, dramatic recordings, full of bright highs and turbulent lows that explode with layer upon layer of sound.

Brother Ali – All the Beauty in This Whole Life (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2017) – Veteran Minneapolis MC Brother Ali revisits an old collaborator, Atmosphere producer Ant, for an expansive new collection of beats and rhymes. All the Beauty in This Whole Life touches on familiar themes for Ali, mixing politics, religion, family, race relations, and the artist’s experiences exploring the world all backed by relatively sparse but soulful production.

Jay Som – Everybody Works (Polyvinyl Record Co., 2017) – I have to admit that Jay Som was a bit of an unknown to me. I’d purchased her unofficial debut, Turn Into, last year when her Bandcamp upload of assorted tracks was re-released by Polyvinyl, but it didn’t really register with me. When I first previewed Everybody Works I needed to do a little more research, because I felt like I’d just run into someone I should know – the album had a polished feel of a veteran rocker, full of confidence and sophistication. To my delight, I learned that this was the first ‘official’ release of 22-year-old Melina Duterte – recorded in her bedroom studio and full of the promise of lovely music yet to come. Everybody Works has kind of a soft, sleepy vibe, occasionally amplified by interludes that feel a little bit like 90s alt rock. There’s a lot of depth and variety to Jay Som’s sound, offering a little something for everyone. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Juanes – Mis Planes Son Amarte (Universal Music Latino, 2017) – Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have a soft spot for albums that tell a story – Mis Planes is no exception. In his latest release, Juanes embarks on an audiovisual saga of love and outer space. Follow along as a Colombian astronaut searches for true love; you have the option of just listening to the CD or popping in the bonus disc to enjoy the videos that go with each track. Juanes’s sound is heavily influenced by the traditional music of his native Guasca region of Colombia but it also features layers of different sounds: a little surf rock, a little electronic music, crooner vocals to pull on your heartstrings, and even a little reggae and reggaeton. Pop this in if you’re looking for something with a very tropical, romantic feel to it.

Happy listening, and enjoy the sunshine!

Music For A Lifetime

django-reinhardtThe year: Nineteen-eighty-something. The place: Bellingham. Our protagonist is a handsome young man finishing his studies in music whilst working in the college library. A mile or more from his modest roach-infested home sits the Bellingham Public Library, a bastion of free knowledge. Much to the delight of our hero, the building sports an eclectic vinyl record collection (an ancient form of music media, similar to 8-track tapes) ranging from field recordings of chain gangs to sea chanties of the Hebrides. It is here that he first discovers the music of Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills. And here’s the twist: I was that young man!

It’s true.

Bob WillsSome 30 years later, I still listen to Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills on a semi-daily basis. It’s amazing what an impact these library holdings made on my existence. Throw in Charles Mingus’s Fables of Faubus and Haitian Fight Song and we’ve captured significant musical influences to my later life.

At that time in library collection management, I would wager that audio selection was made to provide people with access to music they’d never find anywhere else (this was before everything imaginable was issued on CD) rather than to provide popular music for listening pleasure. And for me, this was perfect! I loved the Folkways releases of underwater Christmas carols and chants of the Irkutskian mud men. Although I might be misremembering those titles.

When I moved to Everett in 1987, the audio holdings were very similar to those in Bellingham. Perfect! And within a couple of years, a few CDs even joined the collection! It was around this time that music selection processes changed to some extent. Perhaps influenced by the initial lack of offerings on CD, perhaps reflecting a change in library philosophy, popular music entered the library in a big way.

But where I’m going with this ramble is: Bellingham Public Library has influenced my life for over 30 years! I’m so grateful that I was exposed to music that I otherwise did not have access to (no internet, no Pandora, no iTunes, etc). And here at Everett Public Library we try to provide a diverse collection of music that will keep you grateful for the next 30 years.

Wild and woolyOur latest venture is the Local Music collection which currently consists of over 70 titles from a variety of time periods. A good place to start exploring this new collection is the CD Wild and Wooly, a compilation of northwest music stretching from the 50s to the present. Many of its performers might not be familiar names, but they’ve all been essential to the growth of local music. And one of the most important bands found on this album is The Wailers, teenagers (well, they were in the 50s) hailing from Tacoma.

In 1959 The Wailers released the instrumental single Tall Cool One which went on to chart at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other local bands such as the Dave Lewis Trio, The Frantics, The Ventures and The Viceroys (all featured on Wild and Wooly) also focused on instrumentals, joining in The Wailers’ success with hit recordings and sold-out performances. The Wailers’ momentum led to recording an album (The Fabulous Wailers), appearing on American Bandstand and touring the east coast. But there’s no place like home and after returning to the northwest the band started its own record label, Etiquette (which later helped launch The Sonics), and made a ground-breaking recording of Louie, Louie.

And this is just scratching the surface (vinyl humor!) of the amazing Wild and Wooly. Check this one out! Perhaps you’ll find a band or two to put into your life’s playlist for the next 30 years. And stay tuned for more posts on Northwest music.

Bang Your Head With The Sonics

Album collage

“The Seattle of the 1980s, in which Nirvana came to life, was a rainy city of lakes, rusty bridges, and more than a few disaffected . . . teenagers. . . . Jimi Hendrix had grown up in the city in the 1950s but had to go to London to get noticed, and not much happened of note musically in Seattle until Nirvana formed in 1987. . . .”

~ Encyclopoedia Britannica

Wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

Recently at EPL we introduced a Local Music CD collection, and in the months to come I’ll be blogging about music in the Northwest from the 50s to the present (as well as cleaning up my cats’ litter box with pages from the Encyclopoedia Britannica). Suffice to say, music has been a happening thing in Seattle and its environs for many decades, from the days of back-alley jazz clubs to the current national success of groups such as The Presidents of the United States of America and Modest Mouse.

The birth of NW rock and roll was greatly influenced by touring R&B acts like James Brown and his Fabulous Flames. The NW circuit became a popular destination for such acts, and the teens who went on to form bands frequented these shows. This R&B influence combined with raw, energetic, and loose musicianship formed that early Seattle sound. Garage rock at its best.

The Sonics, a group of Tacoma teenagers, best exemplified the sound with screaming lyrics and drum fills approaching the speed of sound. Many of their songs were covers, but delivered with a shiny new reckless abandon. And their originals: The Witch (1964), Psycho (1965), and Strychnine (1965) among others, sound as fresh today as they did 50 years ago. Seriously. Word from the bird.

The group released Here Are the Sonics in 1965, Boom in 1966 and (strangely titled for a third album) Introducing the Sonics also in 1966. And that was pretty much it.  Band members drifted their separate ways, occasionally getting together for reunions. And the band’s name, without any of the original members, kept going into the 80s.

So people lived their lives, sold insurance, raised kids, painted houses, what have you, and FIFTY YEARS LATER!!! (2015) the band released another album, This Is The Sonics. So we got musicians in their late 60s and 70s playing in a band known for its hard-driving, aggressive sound. And it’s their best album yet! No one can rock harder than The Sonics do on This Is The Sonics. Check it out. Spin it. Spin it again. Be amazed that vocalist Jerry Roslie, age 71, sings the best hard rocking garage vocals you will ever in your life hear. Stare into the distance in wonder at the slammin’ guitar riffs, up-in-your-business bass lines, and Einstein-defying drumming.

That’s it, babies. Listen! Glory in the heritage of Northwest music, which is also contemporary Northwest music, which is really way confusing…  Just listen.