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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

What’s New in the Northwest?

By my amazingly accurate calculations, Everett Public Library added 160+ rock and country albums that were released in 2016 to its CD collection. Of those, 15 albums are by Northwest artists. So what’s hoppin’ in America’s upper left-hand corner? Let’s find out, shall we?

thermalsWe’ll start in the southern quadrant of the PNW. Portland has an explosive music scene, and many of the local acts have gained national recognition. One of the more successful PDX bands is indie rockers the Thermals, and their latest album, We Disappear, shows that the success is deserved. Featuring music that’s loud and raw yet still intimate, We Disappear is filled with fun, fuzzy, lo-fi power pop and heavy lyrics touching on the ability of technology to isolate people. If you like energetic and edgy rock, check this one out.

esperanzaAnother Portland success story is bassist, singer and songwriter Esperanza Spalding. No slouch, Spalding has won four Grammy Awards, was Jazz Artist of the year in 2011 and was selected by Obama to play at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 2009. (This elicits an involuntary Wow! from me.) Her latest, 2016’s Emily’s d+evolution, is hard to categorize. Elements of jazz, rock and funk pervade the album, and songs vary wildly in feel and style. The music is poppy yet bizarre. For those living beyond the edge of our musical galaxy, this is an outstanding album.

Other Portland releases include the dreamy folk pop of M. Ward on More Rain, Distortland by garage rockers The Dandy Warhols and the metal stylings of The Body on No One Deserves Happiness.

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Next stop to the north is Seattle.

carseatheadrestCar Seat Headrest began as Will Toledo’s lo-fi recording project, releasing 12 albums on Bandcamp and developing a large online following. He signed a deal with Matador Records in 2015 and just this year began touring with a full band. Teens of Denial, the band’s 2016 release, takes the group in a new direction while retaining Toledo’s strong songwriting and trademark lo-fi sensibility. The music is quite varied from song to song, always staying close to the world of pop, but also exploring post-punk and other quirky genres. The album has been well-received and points to great things yet to come.

7yearbitch7 Year Bitch was an all-female punk band that played from 1990 to 1997, so it might seem odd that they’re included in a review of 2016 releases. Well, a recently-found recording of the group performing at Seattle’s Club Moe in 1996 was released in 2016 as Live at Moe. Fortuitously, this performance came when 7 Year Bitch was at its peak, so the CD is a most excellent listen. Lyrics are filled with social commentary and the music leans toward a riot grrrl/punk aesthetic. If you prefer the raw DIY sound, check this one out.

Other Seattle releases include Beautiful Broken by long-time rockers Heart, Tacocat’s mixture of pop-punk and feminism on Lost Time, the noise rock of So Pitted on Neo and the psychedelic garage rock of Night Beats on Who Sold My Generation.

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 Finally, a short hop on I-5 takes us to Everett.

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In the last two years the Everett music scene has, well, started to exist! A crop of bands are playing shows, releasing albums and having success. 2016 saw the release of two local 3-song EP’s, What Is Crystal Desert? by Crystal Desert and Walking Blind by Tellers (the band formerly known as Preacher’s Wife). Crystal Desert describes itself as post-punk, garage and psychedelic, and this seems fairly accurate. Their music has a mix of influences from the dark side, crunchy guitars, a bit of a heavy sound. Overall their offering is quite enjoyable, and these lads show the potential for better things yet to come. Walking Blind is filled with slow tempos and dramatic vocals, music akin to soundtracks and the stuff found in dreams. Tellers self-describe as dark and heavy with a post-rock influence. Check out both of these groups to see what’s going on in your own town!

And this is just scratching the surface of Northwest rock. Check out our ever-expanding Local Music collection to find some more gems. And yes, we have a New Music display as well! In the immortal words of the Ramones: We want you to check out some groovy CDs from your local library!

Labor and Lumber

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To help commemorate the centennial of the Everett Massacre, we’ve pulled together this list of historical fiction titles. Only Sawdust Empire, by J.D. Howard, deals directly with the bloody events on Everett’s waterfront 100 years ago, but all of these books look at the timber industry and laborers from the 1890s to the present day (with many of them emphasizing the labor struggles of the 1930s).

Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, about an Oregon logging family that continues to work through a bitter strike, is the best-known of these Northwest labor novels. But it’s good to see the recent reprinting of Robert Cantwell’s long out-of-print, Aberdeen-set novel, The Land of Plenty (originally published in 1935). For a mid-century style and take see Roderick Haig-Brown’s 1942 book, Timber, with its detailed accounts of logging work, and his 1949 title On the Highest Hill. Cormac McCarthy fans ought to appreciate Brian Hart’s gritty 2014 novel, Bully of Order about the extremely rough and lawless world of a Northwest coast logging town in the 1890s.

If you like a bit of mystery with your historical fiction, take a look at the award-winning Timber Beasts or Black Drop by S.L. Stoner, or The Big Both Ways by John Straley.

Click here to see a list of all of these titles in the library catalog and to place holds. Or click on a book jacket below to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

For additional fiction focusing on the laboring life, take a look at the titles in this list.

Transplant in a WA Winter Wonderland

Cross Country Ski Tours coverSomehow we’ve managed to stumble into December and the full-blown beginning of winter. As I write this, there’s a rare crust of snow covering the skylight in the Northwest History Room, and I’ve got the space heater going at my desk. This time of year turns my thoughts to home; not my relatively new home out here in the PacNW, but the home and family I left behind in Chicago. This year will be the first year I don’t return for any of the holidays, so my efforts have been aimed at bringing a little bit of home to myself.

What comes first? Well of course the answer is food. Despite my best efforts, I’ve yet to find a source for Polish food out here. I’ve had tasty Russian and Hungarian food, but nothing that tastes like Grandma’s kitchen. On the days when I’m not feeling lazy, I’ve begun trying to make some of my favorites at home. I’ve perfected my fresh Polish sausage recipe and several versions of gołąbki, but have yet to tackle the pierogi. I’m thinking with all this leftover turkey, mushrooms, assorted berries, potatoes, and stuffing, I might have some great fillings to give it a try this week. To help me along the way, I’ve grabbed two great Polish cookbooks from the stacks:

From a Polish Country House Kitchen coverFrom a Polish Country House Kitchen by Anne Applebaum & Danielle Crittenden is a very posh take on Polish cooking. There is a lot of emphasis on fresh, high-quality, farm-raised ingredients. This book is full of lush photographs of caviar canapes, fruit soups, and rich desserts, perfect for helping you select a menu for a dinner party. There are several pierogi recipes to play with and dozens of other dishes to try.

Polish Classic Recipes coverPolish Classic Recipes, by Laura & Peter Zeranski is a humble little book that looks more like something you’d find in grandma’s kitchen. The photos are no less enticing but the presentation is more down-to-earth. It’s comforting to see foods I love being served in the same kinds of Polish crockery that I inherited from my Mom.

I’m looking forward to taking both home to do some heavy winter meal planning.

Another great way of bringing a bit of home out here is getting outside and playing in the cold. Right now I can do that in my own backyard but once the temperatures rise a bit and the snow goes away, I’ll be heading up into the mountains to enjoy the winter wonderland. At home my winter activity of choice was always pond hockey; with the relative lack of safe and reliable natural ice here, I’ve had to pick up some new hobbies. This year there will be a lot of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The EPL has a great variety of books on these sports and where to enjoy them locally. Here are some of my favorites from Mountaineer Books:

CrossCountry Skiing coverCross-Country Skiing, by Steve Hindman. As a book buyer for the EPL, I’ve come to recognize that there are certain publishers that reliably release high-quality books. Mountaineers Books is a great example. This title is a well-respected guide for beginner and more experienced Cross-Country or Nordic skiers. Readers learn about the different kinds of equipment available, as well as different techniques that will come in handy on the trail. The author includes step-by-step photos to help illustrate the different topics being discussed.

Cross-Country Ski Tours: Washington’s North Cascades. This one is an oldie but a goodie. If you’re looking for good recommendations on local trails, this is an excellent resource.

Backcountry Ski and Snowboard coverBackcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes by Martin Volken. While this book probably won’t be in my bag at the end of the day, I thought I’d offer up something for the more-seasoned local readers out there. The routes in this book were vetted and compiled by a seasoned team of backcountry ski and snowboard guides. Routes vary in difficulty from beginner to expert skiers and snowboarders, so be cautious and honest about your skill level if you decide to try some out. Readers are treated to information about elevation, permits needed, directions to the trails, and detailed trail descriptions.

So that’s the plan for this winter – eating great food and getting outside to explore the winter wonderlands of Washington State. A PacNW spin on home away from home.

Explore Washington!

The weather forecast is for a string of beautiful days here in the Pacific Northwest so that means it’s time to get outside and explore our fair state. But, where to go and what to do? Start at the library with one of these guidebooks!

indexCheck out the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to the Pacific Northwest for a good over-view of the area and fantastic pictures and maps that will lead you straight to the best attractions the northwest coast of the USA has to offer. This book will take you street by street  through Pike Place Market, give you details like the hours and a map of the Woodland Park Zoo, help you find a place to stay and most importantly, point you to a good place to eat. It’s also a handy travel size so you can take it along with you.

index (2)If you’re interested in a road trip, I’d recommend The Pacific Northwest’s Best Trips: 33 Amazing Road Trips. This Lonely Planet guide (love them!) features 33 amazing road trips, from 2-day escapes to 2-week adventures and points out good places to eat and sleep. It includes tips on seeing each area like a local, using maps, directions and expert advice. It can help you plan trips focusing on history, food & drink, family trips, or the mountains. I’m dreaming about the three-day wine tour myself.

index (4)Jack McLeod who wrote the North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps will give a free author talk at the main library on Sunday, September 28th at 2 PM. This is an illustrated natural history guide which helps travelers and readers to appreciate the deeper beauty behind the landscape. Organized as a series of stops at eye-catching sites along eighty miles of the highway, this book reveals the geological story of each location. Reserve a copy before the rush!

index (1)When I was a child, our family goal was to try all of the Mexican Restaurants in San Diego. My husband wants to visit all of the major league baseball stadiums if he ever retires. Perhaps you’d like a goal also. Why don’t you search for all of the spectacular waterfalls in Washington State? The Waterfall Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest is your ticket to that adventure. Go see five-star falls such as Snoqualmie or Wallace Falls or discover smaller, closer falls which may be hidden but not after you read this book. Check it out!

index (2)My husband just completed the RAMROD (ride around Mt. Rainier in one Day). It was 175 miles of constant up and down. If you want to see the area from the seat of your bicycle, check out Biking Puget Sound. You’ll find local trails in Everett (our favorite is out to Snohomish along the river because you’re in the country within ten minutes of leaving home) or rides up in the San Juan Islands (steer clear of Mt. Constitution!), or longer rides across the state. Next thing you know, you’ll be signing up for the RAMROD!

index (3)If hiking is more to your liking, we’ve always used the Mountaineer’s Guides. The Day Hiking books will get you out and up to a beautiful alpine lake and then back home in time for dinner. These are the updated Mountaineer books that we all used to break in our hiking boots. Even young children can do a lot of the hikes such as Heather, Elizabeth, or Barclay Lakes. These guides will tell you if hikes are dog-friendly, kid-friendly, easy, historical, or full of wildflowers. Of course, you’ll learn how to drive to the trails and what to look for while on the trails so you don’t get lost.

index (5)There are a number of walks closer to home included in the Take a Walk books by Sue Muller Hacking. The first walk listed is 2-4 miles on Jetty Island just west of Everett. Then there’s Langus Riverfront Park, Spencer Island, Centennial Trail, Howarth Park, Forest Park, and the Lowell Riverfront Trail. This is the book for when you just have half a day and want to explore the local area more deeply. It lists the park amenities and driving directions. Perfect.

index (7)Paddling Washington: Flatwater and Whitewater routes in Washington State and the Inland Northwest is your ticket to a memorable time out on the water. Detailed locator maps and instructions on safety are included, as well as appendices on equipment, map sources and a useful route comparison chart for selecting the right trip level for any paddler. The 112 water routes cover western and eastern Washington, British Columbia, North Idaho and Montana. If you don’t have a boat yourself, you can easily rent one at the University of Washington. Be one of the boys in the boat!

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Get_Asset_Img (1)For other summer activities pick up a free copy of the Everett Parks and Recreation Summer Guide while you’re at the library. We have stacks of them and It lists day camps, aquatics, health and fitness classes, and guided outdoor activities. There’s a fall edition coming out soon.

When we’re not at the library, I hope to see you out on the roads or water or trails. Enjoy!

The Quest

With the holiday season already far in the rear-view mirror, and the joys of summer still months off, I’m deep into winter escapist reading. This season I seem to be drawn to books about people on quests. Whether it’s for healing or wild edibles, each writer I’ve engaged with has taken me along on a fascinating journey of discovery. Here are three titles that will set your mind wandering:

The Mushroom Hunters cover imageThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of Secrets, Eccentrics, and the American Dream  (Langdon Cook)This title is a great fit for foodies, hikers, lovers of the Pacific Northwest, and those who appreciate investigative journalism that takes you deep inside the story. I enjoyed traveling off the beaten path, literally and sometimes legally, with Cook and his group of wild food foraging contacts. This is a good book to pick up if you’re the type of consumer who is interested in where your food comes from and why it costs what it does. I found it remarkable that items that you can find at any upscale market reach the selling table as a result of so many moving (and potentially unreliable) parts.

Fairyland cover imageFairyland: A Memoir of My Father  (Alysia Abbott). In some cases, quests can be taken without traveling at all. In Fairyland, author Alysia Abbott journeys back into her unorthodox childhood using her father’s prodigious journal archive. Abbott’s path twists and turns through the complexities of being raised by an openly gay single father at a time when the nation was only first awakening to the gay rights movement. Along the way the author pulls no punches describing her father as loving though aloof and herself as too self-involved to be able to see that he needed her as much as she needed him. Despite these and other hurdles, this small family managed to create a home in improbable places. While readers are often left with a sense of regret for opportunities lost, the overall tone of the memoir is one of grace and acceptance.

Wild cover imageWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed). Part of my own personal quest this January is to finish this book; I’m currently in the middle of it. Like Alysia Abbott, Cheryl Strayed had an unusual upbringing. After her abusive father exited the picture, her mother barely scraped by raising her small family. When she eventually remarried, the family moved to the wilds of northern Minnesota where they built their own tar-paper cabin and lived off the land. Though this lifestyle may sound difficult, the family was happy. Strayed goes on to marry shortly after high school and seems to have things on track until her mother suddenly dies of lung cancer. Unable to cope with her loss, Strayed spirals out of control and moves out on her own. In order to regain focus after her divorce, she picks up a guide to the Pacific Crest Trail and decides to set off on her own. One part travelogue for the curious traveler, and one part memoir for those working through their own loss, this book has a lot to offer to the questing reader.

The Restless Northwest

The world seems stable and predictable. In our daily life, the ground is solid, rivers flow to the sea, and mountains stay put. What could be more obvious than that?

According to the excellent book The Restless Northwest by Hill Williams, all that stability is just an illusion. Williams describes a world that is in constant motion, with continents being pushed and pulled on an underground sea of molten rock. He describes how this process, and many others, came to form the spectacular and peculiar geology of the Pacific Northwest over millions of years. While grounded in hard science, Williams explains the process in a way we can all understand.

Still in doubt? Well you can actually see the evidence for yourself.  On your next foray into the outside world, look around for all the examples set in stone.  If you are traveling by car, bring along Roadside Geology of Washington by David Alt.  Whether you are on I-5 or I-90 you can find out what all those rocks mean. Roadside Geology is a series of books so you can check out the formations of other states as well.

If you want to get out of the car and get more hands on, check out Hiking Washington’s Geology by Scott Babcock.  Babcock highlights many great hikes in the state and helps you find out what it is you are walking on.

After reading about all the monumental forces that shaped the landscape, I must admit a fondness for the huge ice sheets that slowly covered much of the earth during the many ice ages.  Maybe it comes from reading Robert Frost’s poem Fire and Ice too many times in my youth, but there is something fascinating about a world covered in ice.  If you want to find out what really happened, and could happen again, take a look at The Complete Ice Age.

So, lovers of stability, take heed and learn about the chaotic world all around you while perusing the stacks at the Everett Public Library.

Richard