CD Reviews: The Week’s Releases

Annie Ford Band, Annie Ford Band (Dec. 20, self-released, Since moving to Seattle and the release of her 2011 demo Dirty Hearts and Broken Dishes, Virginia native Annie Ford has steadily orbited Seattle’s country scene, playing shows with a range of local country artists and bands like Kristen Ward, Ganges River Band, Country Lips, the Swearengens, and Davidson Hart Kingsbery. Her clean, clear vocals—somewhere between Blacklisted-era Neko Case’s and Zooey Deschanel’s—are a fine addition to any bill, not to mention her sharp skills behind an array of instruments, including viola, accordion, banjo, piano, guitar, and clarinet. A like-minded spread of sounds informs this fine debut; its 11 tracks explore an expanse of Western swing, country, Americana, folk, and roots-rock styles. This collection includes her demo’s title track and another of its songs, “Northern Rain,” but Ford’s heartwarming songbird vocals are at their best in ballad mode, particularly on opener “Both Sides” and the tender “My Brother.” Aided by a capable ensemble including Olie Eshleman’s twangtastic, astral-planing pedal steel and Matthew Manges’ restrained harmonies, this release is a great introduction to an artist whose songwriting, as her bio reads, maintains “a deep connection to the inner workings of the heart.” (Fri., Dec. 20, Sunset)

He Whose Ox Is Gored, Nightshade vinyl EP (Dec. 21, Vita Records, Last week, this band made the “Year in Band Names 2013” list on The Onion’s “A.V. Club.” He Whose Ox is Gored do indeed have a righteous name, and now it finally has some righteous wax to go with it. The three-track Nightshade EP combines the two songs from the band’s eponymous (digital-only) 2011 release with “Pyramids on the Horizon” from 2010’s Op Amps II: Into the Ethers. The band labels itself “doom gaze,” but the first thing that came to mind when this EP started playing is Fall of Troy, the post-hardcore Mukilteo band who made a name with noodly, proggy guitar lines. Opener “Nightshade” is sludgy and rattles with gut-rumbling bass, but the guitar takes me right back to F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X. (except maybe slowed down to half speed). Halfway through the atmospheric follow-up, “Charming the Snake,” that Fall of Troy noodling returns. The genre collision is a refreshing take on doom, giving the genre’s typically plodding tempos some forward momentum thanks to the strong melodies. For those not as entrenched in doom metal’s gloom, distinct guitar lines and quicker-paced drumming gives the band a solid hook. The physical record itself is gorgeous—clear, heavyweight vinyl with black splatters. For a backdoor operation at a coffee shop, Vita Records has put out a high-quality product with this reissue, which comes with a foldout poster as well. (Sat., Dec. 21, Chop Suey)

The Physics, Digital Wildlife (out now, self-released, This local hip-hop group’s fourth album is packed with chill beats, and upholds the trio’s claim to be rightfully synonymous with Emerald City rap. (Put another way by our own Kelton Sears, Digital Wildlife is “smooth as hell.”) After working closely with Blue Scholars for years (and touring with them in 2012), it’s only natural that The Physics would absorb some of that duo’s progressive yet laid-back vibe. “Northern Lights” is a prime example; the track starts with light keys and slowly works in cowbell and bass drum, layering over them the smoothest rap flow on the album. But the similarities between the two Seattle groups end there, as Blue Scholars keeps its lyrical focus distinctly local while The Physics ventures into other subjects, like weed. Lots of weed. (See “Higher Learning.”) Other influences are Frank Ocean in the last minutes of “Am I Crazy?” with Alisha Rodney, a dead ringer for “Sweet Life” from Channel Orange. Yet the key factor here is that The Physics distills these sounds and influences into something all its own; unlike Blue Scholars, the members don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, but Wildlife ’s excellent production aesthetic, well-placed samples, and smooth vocals pick up the slack should the question of credibility or irreverence ever come into play. (Sat., Dec. 21, The Crocodile)

Spanish for 100, Six Song EP (out now, self-released, The cover of Spanish for 100’s latest release has “est. 2002” written above the band’s name. It’s the perfect descriptor for Six Song EP. Each track feels like a lost relic of early-2000s indie rock, with clean guitars chugging under soaring melodies. It’s no surprise—Spanish for 100 was very much a part of this movement locally. At the time, KEXP Morning Show DJ John Richards even deemed the group “one of the best up-and-coming bands in Seattle.” Hints of Built to Spill’s Ancient Melodies of the Future hang through the jangling guitar tones, especially in Corey Passons’ vocals. On tracks like “Physicians,” his voice reaches its upper register with ease. “Arches” feels like a Rilo Kiley B-side with its grooving rhythm section and subtle alt-country undertones. This takes us into indie-dad-rock territory—though cooler dad rock, like Wilco or Superchunk, not adult contemporary like Band of Horses. That said, if you’re not listening hard enough, these tracks tend to blend together. All things considered, there are no real risks or departures from older Spanish for 100 material on this EP, but it excels in what it tries to do. Rock out and rock on, but just quietly enough so Baby can fall asleep in the backseat.

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