Man in Tree was a living tarot card. The image of the quintessentially Northwestern man (lumberjack beard, lumberjack beanie, in a tree), fending off police so he could continue to sit 80 feet off the ground in downtown Seattle was loaded with archetypes for people to devour and interpret however they saw fit. For 25 hours, people turned Cody Lee Miller into a symbol of regional weirdness; a rallying cry for better mental-health services and the dire state of homelessness in Seattle; a sex symbol; a Carhartt fashion model; a defiler of trees; a champion of trees; an icon of American freedom; an icon of American madness; a $20 T-shirt; etc. No matter who you are, the symbol of a bearded man in a very tall tree lobbing apples at police officers is ripe for reflection. None of the musicians who recorded my favorite local records this month got 25-hour live video feeds dedicated to them, but many of them also had me feeling reflective through the virtue of their simple but powerful suggestive imagery. These records might not make you feel the way they made me feel, but guaranteed they will make you feel—a sense of longing, an innate calm, a ping of nostalgia, or the desire to shake your ass. At the very least, all would make excellent $20 T-shirts.
Ings (the performing name of Inge Chiles) is one of the most underrated songwriters in Seattle. Chiles’ genius lies in her subtlety. Few musicians in town manage to do as much with so little. “Dog Physics,” the eponymous track off her 2012 bedroom Bandcamp hit, is a mesmeric master class in dynamic control—lulling listeners into a womby tunnel of light with little more than the powerful intentionality of her voice. It’s a power listeners caught in glimpses, however, as many of the songs on Dog Physics dressed up Chiles’ affective phrasings with jangling twee melodies strummed on ukulele. Recalling the classical poise of vocalists like Feist and Angel Olsen, Chiles’ emotive dynamism is fully given the space it needs on her excellent new EP, Afterthought, and the payoff is certainly noticeable.
The record is both four songs long and four years in the making. Fittingly, each song sounds as though a year’s worth of consideration went into it. Opener “Pick Yourself Up” ekes loads of swagger out of an incredibly minimal palette—whispers, shuffling toms, and muted electric guitar. The negative compositional space many might rush to fill with noise instead becomes its own expressive layer in Chiles’ hands, filling the silence with the volume of her aura. The record’s single, also titled “Afterthought,” takes the Zen-like minimalism of Chiles’ songwriting style to its logical conclusion—a pop song that doubles as a meditation. “I will not be your afterthought/I will not/You gotta go/You gotta go now,” she repeats over and over, slowly adding layers of her own vocal harmonies onto each carefully uttered syllable. Listening to the song, a hymnal ode to self-respect, feels like going through a Japanese tea ceremony. Things slow down around you, your vision enhances, and suddenly all the small details you were too busy to consider start to glow. If you need a mind bath, Ings’ art will take care of you. (Out April 1 at ings.bandcamp.com.)
All Night EP
Seattle is great at moody, dark, punky, and surreal, but musically we don’t produce many straight-up bangers. We’re one of the few cities where most people think you go to a club to watch a DJ instead of dance to one. Enter Heat Records, a relatively new label born of a club night founded by local electronic producer Korma. Formed at the dawn of 2016, each month Heat Records has put out increasingly flammable dance records from unheralded local producers. Recording under the name Ca$h Bandicoot, Paco Mejino’s All Night EP is the label’s third and most ass-shakable record yet. “All Night” lobs an aerobic, work-it-out dance grenade, exploding with the kind of slinky, vogue-ready production that has propelled Le1f and Azealia Banks to hip-hop/club fame. “I be up all night,” the sampled chorus taunts, “poppin’ pills and coppin’ feels.” Cue the sirens.
The three “All Night” remixes that follow flesh out all the dimensions of Mejino’s original mix, truly shedding new light on the layers of influence that make the track so lit. The “RK Remix” teases out the song’s underlying seductive lurch. The “Soffos” remix hones in on the track’s thundering percussiveness; the resultant whirlwind of drums wouldn’t sound out of place with some M.I.A. bars over it. Korma’s remix zeroes in on the song’s structural ingenuity, breaking its rhythms apart and rearranging them into sharper, more angular configurations punctuated by off-the-wall aural detritus like cartoon boinks and gunshots. Mejino’s tune remains a bona-fide banger no matter who serves it up, though—evidence that Korma is assembling a strong, promising team through Heat Records. (heatrecords.bandcamp.com)
Tacoma musician Carlos Garcia dropped four full albums this month on Bandcamp. Taken as a whole, this overwhelming 55-song collection varies wildly, from ambient to lo-fi house and dubbed-out techno mutations to saturated hip-hop beats to moody, Wendy Carlos-style synth voyages and noodly looped guitar studies—sometimes all on one album. Though surprisingly cohesive, as you might expect from a giant content dump like this, 70 percent of the tracks could’ve been cut. Most songs amount to little more than sketches and experiments. But if Garcia had been more discerning in his editing, he could’ve released one excellent, striking album instead of four sprawling ones. For those willing to wade through them, there are some indisputable gems among the enormous collection here.
RedonNorth’s “Cloud Forest” is a funky, subdued dance track with a curiously ominous atmosphere that occasionally lets rays of light poke through the canopy. CharlemagneNemo’s “Detroit” is a sepia-lensed take on that city’s vintage techno sound, thick with dust and time-warped tape. “PepinTheKing,” off the appropriately named Cathedral, puts a Catholic-sounding organ dirge into orbit, the fuzzy, arpeggiated reeds drifting into cerebral, warbling wisps of air. Gods’ “MourningDovely” is a noirish Miami Vice cruise down a moonlit 8-bit highway. Eschewing genre, Garcia’s songs are unified instead by their brainy, cascading fluidity, washing in and out in steady tides of rhythm and tape hiss. When he hits the mark, gorgeous music happens—don’t let the extra fat deter you from the gold nuggets hiding here. (carlosgarcia1.bandcamp.com)
Astro King Phoenix and stanleymarket
Hip-hop heads in Seattle have been hustling hard recently. There are giant, stacked lineups of tenacious local MCs and producers piling into clubs two or three times a week, it seems, often in self-proclaimed collectives. Few names appear more regularly on these bills than Astro King Phoenix, a rapper who, as his name implies, is more than a little cosmically inclined. AKP describes his first release of 2016, the two-track louS oreZ, as a “love death dream.” Sure enough, opening track “Buttered Flies” finds AKP wondering aloud “love love am I getting enough?/Lose faith but the millions will come, breathe hope” before waxing philosophical about abstract symbols like “fluorescent tenders” and “golden spirals.” Behind him, producer stanleymarket pumps out a breezy beat built around a soulful croon sample, dressed up with plenty of left-field textures. The script gets flipped on “Dimensional Halls,” which instead meditates on death with a heavier clattering rhythm and a more reflective, downcast melody as AKP ponders about “closed caskets” and inviting shamans to interdimensional planes. Seattle has plenty of rappers aping on the spacey vibe that local stars Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction helped popularize, but Astro King Phoenix seems genuinely interested in exploring metaphysical concerns and reflecting on what it means to be a tiny human in a giant universe. That honesty and genuine thoughtfulness comes across in his work, and on this offering stanleymarket does an excellent job of translating that energy into a palpably ruminative mood. (astrokingphoenix.bandcamp.com).