Realizing a band that you watched as a collection of DIY babies has transformed into a tightknit collective of should-be rock stars is always a slightly jarring, but wonderful, experience. Great Grandpa created one such moment during its February show at Chop Suey in support of Diet Cig. The local alternative indie rock quartet banged out beautifully tangled guitar parts with a heavy rhythmic push as a jumpsuit-clad Alex Menne wailed and warbled with a commanding presence that called to mind Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. It’s not surprising, then, that Great Grandpa is appearing at all three of the major music festivals within the city limits this summer.
The band’s 2017 LP Plastic Cough—one of the best Seattle releases of the past few years—shows off the electricity that makes the group so enticing. A song like “Teen Challenge” can transition from a plodding pulse of a verse to a chorus with sharp cracking-but-still-catchy dynamic vocal shifts that are equal parts sweet and raw. Great Grandpa makes the angular math-punk number “No” feel just as natural as a harmony-heavy acoustic emotional ballad like “All Things Must Behave.” There’s a comfort with the material here that belies a young group that has been active only since 2014. Kids, they grow up so fast these days.
Performing at Upstream, Capitol Hill Block Party, and Bumbershoot
Chong the Nomad
While the top of the EDM world still distressingly feels like a white-dude-only clubhouse, all is not hopeless. You just need to get into tiny local scenes. In Seattle’s case, few up-and-comers radiate the potential of Alda Agustiano, the 22-year-old DJ and producer known as Chong the Nomad.
A musical creator since her early teens, Agustiano’s deep and unique skillset elevates her above her peers. At Cornish College of the Arts she composes chamber music and scored, but before graduating, she diversified her musical palate. Chong the Nomad’s first singles “You’re Really Pretty” and “In Conclusion” have already garnered over 100,000 plays on Spotify. Neither is a high-energy banger, instead relying on artful music texturing for a soothing dance flow.
February saw the release of a debut EP, Love Memo. The six-song collection highlights her avant-garde atmospheric approach to melodicism, leaning heavily on clanging layers and start-and-stop beats (though she does allow things to get dance-bounce funky on the end of “Enchant Me”).
Chong the Nomad creates summer-friendly EDM that carves out a space safely distant from the packs of shirtless electro-bros.
Performing at Sasquatch!, Capitol Hill Block Party, Summer Meltdown
Pro tip: Always be open to giving art a second chance.
Case in point: I despised Michael McKinney and Sergio Mirazo’s old punk band, Boyfriends. It was one of those groups that was constantly put in front of me for a couple years because they were friends with much better local bands. Furthermore, McKinney’s singing and Mirazo’s guitar playing (both intentionally dissonant) were the two worst parts of the group.
Spesh, McKinney and Mirazo’s new band with Morgan Dixon and Brian Yeager, couldn’t be more different. The group’s tunes blend New Wave lushness, post-punk drive, and a sense of psychedelic oddity that never feels like it’s trying too hard to be weird. McKinney now sings with a smooth Britpop swagger (minus the accent), and Mirazo’s guitar lines attack with a precise purpose.
While Spesh has only a few gigs under its belt (including a stellar turn at the Laser Dome opening for Erik Blood last October), it’s hitting the festival scene running. It’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of the Spesh sonic journey before the August release of its debut album, Famous World.
Performing at Upstream and Capitol Hill Block Party
There are more than a few similarities between the brutal worlds of the music industry and the wild. Here’s one: If you want to survive, your best bet is to be able to fend for yourself and evolve fast. That’s no sweat for Seattle R&B singer, songwriter, and producer Parisalexa (aka Paris Alexa Williams).
Her voice hits that modern R&B sweet spot where the tone and delivery create genuine moments of both alluring sexuality and wronged anger. Its deep resonance conveys a strength that provides authoritative heft to her flowing words as they glide over hypnotic beats.
Just two years removed from performing as part of MoPop’s Sound Off! competition (I know… surprise! It’s another über-talented Sound Off! alumnus), Parisalexa is trying to make 2018 her year. In January, she released her debut EP, Bloom, a collection of dreamy, velvety R&B tracks with a sensual ease. But she’s not resting. On June 8 she’ll drop Flexa, a new four-song mixtape which further underscores her ability to evolve and experiment. The production on tracks like “Hard Way” echo with a distant trap influence as her silky voice finds a sharper edge to lyrically cut those who have crossed her.
While Parisalexa might not be Seattle’s R&B queen yet, you can hear her coming for the crown.
Performing at Upstream, Capitol Hill Block Party, and West Seattle Summer Fest
Isn’t that the guy from Cataldo? Or was he in Rocky Votolato’s band? Shelby Earl? Chris Staples? Maybe Hey Marseilles? The answer to all those questions is yes, Matt Batey is that guy. He’s the Seattle music scene’s utility man.
As a professional touring musician, he’s been providing lead guitar and vocal harmonies for myriad artists (often providing a bonus boost of humorous stage banter). He’s just a consummate glue guy that makes Seattle concerts better.
When Batey isn’t helping out other musicians, he’s working on his own music, which he records and performs as Ruler. And with Winning Star Champion—Ruler’s debut LP on Barsuk Records (out May 25)—Batey steals the spotlight. It turns out the lead role suits him just as well as all his supporting parts.
Winning Star Champion delivers the type of polished, intelligent, and catchy indie rock that’s become Barsuk’s trademark—fitting seamlessly alongside labelmates like Nada Surf, Chris Staples, and Death Cab for Cutie. Over bright and unpretentious guitar-rock tracks, Batey sings with the urgent yelp of an underdog (as the chorus of the title track goes, “I’m the winning star champion of fucking up/Like a high-school rebel running out of luck”). During the album’s less-scrappy moments, Batey transitions into melancholy, as on “Get to You,” which reflects on an always-ending relationship. The instrumental backing is bolstered by an all-star cast of Batey’s Seattle music pals, including Michael Lerner (Telekinesis), Eric Anderson (Cataldo), and Eric Howk (Portugal. The Man).
But enough talk about them. For at least one summer, Ruler rules the roost.
Performing at Upstream and Timber! Outdoor Music Festival, The North Face’s Basecamp