Sadie Switchblade will eviscerate your hateful, cis-het ass. “You want the pepper spray first? Or the pocket knife!?” she howls like a volcano on “Targets of Men,” a point she underscores live by performing with a very large blade strapped to her leather utility belt. If punk at its best is about carving out safe space, G.L.O.S.S. took a serrated knife and sliced open something vital in 2015. Short for “Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit,” the Olympia hardcore band blew a crater in the national punk underground in January with the release of its searing five-track demo, which burned with scorching trans/queer manifestos, dive-bomb riffs, and crushing d-beat blasts. In the wake of anti-LGBTQ violence and rapes in Seattle, a recent local G.L.O.S.S. show opened with a street self-defense lesson that taught the crowd how to combat predators and how allies can help to diffuse potentially dangerous situations. When the music got ready to start, the band made sure as shit that the straight white dudes in the crowd (including myself) got the hell out of the way and let everyone else come to the front. Standing at the back of the room and watching the awe-inspiring, joyous chaos G.L.O.S.S. whipped up reminded me why music is so beautiful and important in the first place—music can save your life, and even if it’s not your life, being present for that transcendent communal humanity (and, importantly, making room for and celebrating it) is such an amazing thing to witness.
Jump or Die
No new artist blew me away more this year than DoNormaal, a Ballard rapper whose remarkable debut LP is all about struggling with whether or not she should even do music in the first place (thank God her answer was yes). Christianne Karefa-Johnson’s 13-track sonic journey weaves through her surreal inner worlds, full of spooky apocalyptic visions, fun Technicolor weirdness, and metaphysical musings on life and death. The way Karefa-Johnson relates this world to the listener is what makes her such a standout—she can rhyme like no other, wielding a truly unique sense of rhythm and meter that contains multitudes and conjures brilliant hooks. It’s a skill she’s been honing ever since she started writing poetry as a young girl, a pursuit she followed into college before deciding her melodic sensibilities were pushing against the limits of the medium’s spoken-word confines (hence her uneasy jump to music). Here’s to Karefa-Johnson’s next record, which can’t come soon enough.
Female was something of a national coming-out party for Mackned and the rapidly growing Seattle/L.A. crew he leads, Thraxxhouse. There’s all the bravado you would expect from a statement record like this—boasting about his influence, “stacking money,” and descriptions of smoke-shrouded parties and hangouts—but what makes this record shine are the moments Mackned really lets his guard down and talks about what’s not all that hot. Backed by the gorgeous new-age-gone-trap production of BroBak, Mackned laments his distinctly millennial loneliness (“White Mountains”), his regretted past choices and resulting family issues (“Role Model”), and the existential weight of purpose (“Beach Drive”). Female’s candidness cuts deep, making for some raw, emotional, very real moments few others were able to tap into this year. Thraxxhouse’s mission—to “find yourself completely,” as crew co-founder Key Nyata told
Seattle Weekly last August—is a charge its members seem to take seriously, and if Mackned keeps up the soul searching, we’re in for many more brilliant records to come.
4) Josef Gaard,
The Northwest spent 2015 asserting its own distinct dance scenes, whose unique flavors struck a chord globally: Vancouver, B.C.s breezy, weirdo house scene, defined by the curatorial eye of DIY dance-label powerhouses 1080p and Mood Hut, and Seattle’s hypnotic, biological techno, coalescing around the Denny Triangle’s vital year-and-a-half-old basement lair, Kremwerk. Obsidian Falls is one of the most immersive records to sprout from the soil of this dark, loamy scene, a five-track EP from departing secondnature collective member Josef Gaard.
The record is a subterranean journey through waves of meditative, pulsating thrums, which re-emerge from beneath the surface for skittering, heady trips into fog-laden landscapes echoing with Alpine ambience. Producer Nathan Levenson’s structural ingenuity is the star of the album, building tracks in subtle, unexpected patterns that can submerge you in a trance and crisply snap you back out of it on a dime. Levenson is kicking off 2016 by saying farewell to Seattle and taking his talents to the global center of forward-thinking dance, Berlin. He will be missed.
5) Mount Eerie,
Of the records that had the most direct impact on me this year, listening to Mount Eerie’s gorgeous masterpiece actually got me into hitting up saunas (I went just yesterday). The eponymous 10-minute opening track is one of the most beautiful, contemplative songs that came out in 2015.
In a way only Anacortes master of lo-fi ambience Phil Elverum could, the song begins with the sound of a breath stoking some coals, which revs up into a warm organ drone that underscores our clacking, wooden trip through Elverum’s Zen-like meditations on existence as he sweats in a metaphorical sauna. “I don’t think the world still exists/Only this room in the snow/And the light from the coals/And only this breath,” he chants. There’s a bold stillness in Elverum’s lyrics that detractors have criticized him for, but his staunch attachment to Anacortes, and finding transcendence in the daily minutiae of being a human, is heroic, and perhaps the most articulated it’s ever been on Sauna. As he wrote of the album’s metaphorical sauna, “Inside this deliberate space a transformation occurs.” Lord knows after staring at Facebook and Twitter all year, humanity could spend some time outlining deliberate space to sit down and think for a while.
As its cover suggests, EarthEE sounds like it was written from the perspective of two goddesses looking at our planet from above, riffing on the cultural and environmental devastation humanity has wrought and imagining a utopian future in its stead. If Octavia Butler were a musician, this is the album she’d have written. As Catherine Harris-White muses on “Universal Perspective,” “when we face our biggest fears, the truth appears,” and telling the truth is something this record bravely and eloquently does through the duo’s effortlessly funky cosmic R&B—a tone that turns shamanic on the record’s standout track, the hypnotic, circular “Recognition.”
7) Midday Veil,
As if this record weren’t psychedelic and funky enough, Seattle five-piece Midday Veil enlisted Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic to join them in the studio. They really weren’t messing around when they recorded this thing, and it shows—This Wilderness is the most majestic and towering the band has sounded, and that’s saying something for a group that has been writing 10-minute-plus epics about eternity, esoterica, and the mechanisms of perception for six years now. The band’s past meditations have taken it to dark, broody territory, but some of the most stunning tracks from This Wilderness, like “Babel,” “Empire Is No More” and “I Am the War,” clear out some of that smoke-machine fog, replacing it with a light-up dance floor.
8) Beat Connection,
The four UW guys who form Beat Connection have been churning out glossy, radio-ready hits for five years now—so what do they do when they finally sign to a big label? Write a record about how weird it is to write glossy, radio-ready hits. Product 3 succeeds as both an earworm pop record and a subliminal critique of the commercial pop world it seeks to enter, a trick the group pulls off by writing lyrics that on the surface seem like they’re just about love. “I don’t know what I was hoping for but you gave me something to think about/There was a time when it all made sense but you’re making it all hard to think about,” front man Tom Eddy croons on the cheekily titled tune “Ad Space.” Very sneaky, guys.
9) Mommy Long Legs,
Of all the songs written about the changes Seattle has undergone in the past couple of years, “Assholes” is easily the most fun. Over a scritchy-scratchy rev-up riff, the ladies of Mommy Long Legs declare that “You can take your money, and put it in your asshole!/You can take your condo and put it in your bungalow!” Many a DIY basement party turned legendary this year thanks to the group’s impeccable gang-vox scream-alongs about scrapping by in a world rapidly spiraling out of chill. Somehow, the Assholes EP made it all seem like it was going to be OK—a glitter-strewn party on top of all the garbage.
Protection From Enemies
Not to be confused with the other local WMD making electronic music, Seattle’s Madison Liam Levine put out one of the year’s most underrated local records. The techno album works even if you don’t read Resident Advisor every day thanks to its stunningly crafted ambience, which unfolds in beautiful, sunlit waves throughout the six-track record. “Warmth” and “Incandescence” work just as well on the dance floor as they do while you’re waking up for a cup of coffee in your living room.