Donald Trump may be president. And he certainly may have spent his first week in office issuing a blitzkrieg tornado of tumultuous executive orders that have thrown our democracy into crisis. But did you know scientists at two separate universities also just confirmed the existence of, and successfully created, a new form of matter? A new form of matter called time crystals? Time crystals are as cool as they sound—they are structures that “break time symmetry” by constantly oscillating with zero energy input. Pretty wacky stuff. All this is to say that even when the world seems as if it’s crumbling around you, humanity continues to slowly trudge forward—including your local music scene. Here are some great local records from January that helped make swallowing the bitter pill of reality a little easier this month.
Tile Plazas Boundaries
Ambient house is something of a formal paradox. How do you take house music—rhythm-based, bodied, and dance-oriented—and elegantly fuse it with the heady, droning, often rhythmless trappings of ambient music without devolving into sonic mush? It’s a tension the Northwest house and techno scene has been thriving on and trademarking over the past two or three years—a fruitful and exciting regional sound that soaks techno’s harder-edged history in a sylvan, organic ambience befitting the local environs. The locus for most of the activity remains up in Vancouver, B.C., with acts like Pender Street Steppers, Jack J, You’re Me, Bobby Draino/Journeyman Traxx, and D. Tiffany/DJ Zozi cranking out artful fusions just as fit for the dance floor as they are for quiet reflection. Seattle’s Jungle Gym Records, founded just a year and a half ago by a crew of Minneapolis transplants, has done the most for the sound here in town, cranking out in its brief existence an impressive 22 records and tapes that explore similar sonic territory with its own unique, improvisatory bent. While the output has been consistently high-quality, the label prides itself on its tapes’ loosey-goosey, off-the-cuff nature—part of the reason the label’s latest, Tile Plazas’ Boundaries, stands out so much. Produced by core local Jungle Gym member Tyler Losinski, the record is one of the most intentional, polished, and complete-sounding records the collective has released. Most of the record’s eight tracks sit around the 8-minute mark, but none of those eight minutes feel wasted or in vain. “Speak Soft” allows the breathy, repeating synth line in the background ample space to weave a comforting aural tapestry, while the smart, restrained rhythm section, with its demure snare hits and lithebongos, keeps the mood up. The cascading synth echoes on title track “Boundaries” plunge the listener into a similarly meditative headspace, while a nimble, funky acid line anchors things back down on Earth. With all the scary, panic-inducing headlines flying around right now, Boundaries places the listener in a useful but tricky to attain psychological state—alert, limber, ready, relaxed, and centered.
DJ NHK Guy #WARJUKE
Hailing from Fukuoka, Japan, the fairly new-to-Seattle DJ NHK Guy stole the show in a recent opening slot for fellow Japanese juke-experimentalist Foodman. His Technicolor take on the hyperspeed footwork style lit up the Timbre Room, eliciting lots of shimmies and grins from typically dour local crowds. NHK Guy earned it—he’s making some of the most fun music coming out of the city right now. At the beginning of 2017, Chicago producer Slugga issued an open challenge to footwork producers across the net that he named #WARJUKE. The rules were simple: only new tracks, no remixes, and each song must be 150–160 bpm, available free for download, and labeled #WARJUKE on Soundcloud. DJ NHK Guy accepted the challenge and cranked out three incredible, batshit-crazy tunes that sound like Speed Racer break dancing on ’shrooms. “Saikyou Anthem” repurposes triumphant ’80s video-game brass tones, a funk synth-bass line ratcheted up to light speed, and various emotive “UH”s into a kaleidoscopic cartoon dream. “Break Ya Legs” flips a sample of someone repeating the song’s title over a vivid, glitched-out tapestry of elevator-Muzak salsas, breezy ’70s game-show chimes, and overcaffeinated trap avalanches. “Ok Bye” soars thanks to the earwormy chipmunk chorus that glues together the tune’s holding-music-on-speed symphonics—a glorious, uplifting cacophony of rhythm. Plenty of producers worship at the throne of DJ Rashad, the Chicago producer who spearheaded footwork and helped popularize the style worldwide before his death in 2014. While there are imitators galore, DJ NHK Guy manages to home in on the style’s fundamental spirit—its brilliantly goofy, turbo-speed experimentalism—and flip it into something he can proudly call his own. Seattle is lucky to have him.
Neo-shoegazers often zero in on the bright, dreamy, ethereal elements of the genre’s trailblazers like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. As a result, legions of bands are trying to revive the style simply by throwing buckets of reverb and delay on their guitars, cranking their amps up to 11, and plodding out deafening, shimmering drones. What these bands tend to miss is the underlying punk spirit of shoegaze’s forerunners, whose dreamy washes also packed plenty of bite and were far from sleepy. That recognition is what sets apart Seattle newcomers Breeze, a band that thoroughly understands the balance of grit and gloss that makes shoegaze such a potent sound. The band’s debut self-titled tape rattles with scratchy, roughhewn DIY spirit and a songwriting knack to hold all the squalling together. “Speck of Blood,” with its 1:18 run time and aggro-drum assault, is the band at its most impactful, ripping through bright waves of riffery that manage to crush and lift the listener at the same time. The repeating drum buildups in “Kite” maintain a critical tension throughout the opening of the song before the band blows the tune out in the middle with a warm sonic tsunami that rushes out as soon as it rushes in. But there is also plenty of spaciousness and grace on the record as well, the shambling tremolo warbles of “Not Faint” and the chorus-drenched introspection of “On Fire” balancing out the tempest. Breeze, it seems, can also keep it breezy.