The Best Local Records We Heard This April

This month’s best were messy masterpieces for messy times.

If you haven’t noticed, things in general are a bit of a mess right now. But debris and disparate refuse can, in the right hands, serve as a medium for building something exciting and new. Given the political and social climate (as well as the literal climate), it’s perhaps unsurprising that the best local records we heard this April possess a certain scrappy, cobbled-together quality—making the most out of material that at first listen might not seem to fit together, but in the end makes for a unique listening experience. Let’s get to it.

DJ NHK Guy | At Your Door

This new LP from Seattle via Fukuoka electronic producer DJ NHK Guy is by far my favorite local record of the year thus far. His fizzy, hyper-happy #WARJUKE EP made it onto our “best local records” list a few months ago, and At Your Door blows that promising talent up into a masterful, totally original 12-song bonanza that’s hard to stop playing on repeat—mostly because it just makes you feel so good. Every song feels like getting sucked down a wormhole into a sunset-colored leisure dimension. NHK Guy’s very particular style emerges out of a seamless stitch-up of J-Pop, vaporous ’80s muzak tonalities, a rubbery sampling sensibility, and a juked-out, high-BPM rhythmic backbone skittering underneath it all. “NASTU1000,” the album’s lead single, is the most potent tune the producer’s borne out of this alchemy yet, busting out of the gate with crystalline, symphonic chintz, speaker-busting bass, and dizzying, glitched-out breakdowns. He’s not a one-trick pony, though—the record also shines when he slows things down and gets romantic. “BB人” whips out some swoontastic sax and hot-and-heavy snares as a sample croons “Damn, all these beauuuutiful girls, these beauuuutiful girls.” At first the tune might just make you laugh, but there’s a palpable sincerity beneath the goofiness that totally sneaks up on you. The breadth NHK Guy shows on the album—bringing in jungle, trap, and funk without breaking from his core style or ceding his sonic sense of humor—is pretty astounding. Seattle’s been slowly but surely learning how to dance these past few years, but NHK Guy might be the one who finally takes us reluctant introverts over the top.

Pleather | Tether

In Julianne Bell’s profile of the band last week, Pleather vocalist Claire Nelson described her and Andrew McKibben’s songs as “deconstruction sites.” Live, the band absolutely feels that way—abrasive, loud, and replete with ricocheting metallic clangor. It’s all a bit of a mess, but that’s the whole idea. Seattle is too, and the music is meant to reflect Seattle’s truth right now. Whether or not the band would be able to wrangle something cohesive out of that chaotic deconstruction on its debut EP, Tether, seemed up in the air, but Pleather’s wanton effort in destruction and reconstruction has paid off. Tether is a Frankenstein piece of sonic shrapnel—tossing rock, pop, tropicalia, punk, New Wave, and industrial into a blender and serving the resultant smoothie in a sticky Starbucks cup. Leadoff single “Frappucino Love” opens with percussive pounding that sounds like hammers on concrete before shimmering, sunny guitar chords sweep everything up from the dirt and into the clouds. The sugary-sweet whistled chorus and Nelson’s happy-go-lucky cooing makes for some clever juxtaposition with the disorderly din swirling beneath it all—her lyrics about putting on “designer lotion made with me in mind” while she sips Frappucinos and thinks “it’s love” helping to distract from the rapidly changing city around her. The whole album follows in that vein: summery, melodic tunes that could potentially soundtrack montages in Disney movies if they weren’t so damaged and warped by the surrounding, unsettling detritus. It’s some of the most honest music out of Seattle this year—a place that feels so full of potential and promise, yet is harder and harder to live in as its economic hostility toward working-class artists grows.

Sundae Crush | Crushed

Recently relocated to Seattle from Denton, Texas, Sundae Crush has delivered a LP that could easily have been called Hushed. It’s a gentle, quiet, soothing record—the kind of cozy bedroom pop you play underneath the blankets while it rains outside your window, or while you’re picnicking in your backyard on a sunny day. But there’s something a little weirder and fuzzier around the edges of Crushed than there is in its mid-2000s twee forebears. Under its bright and shiny exterior is a lot of sadness and anxiety—truly reflecting the dual meanings of its title. Take “Chat Room Messages,” which begins with the whispered, pared-down whimsy of a lovestruck Belle and Sebastian song before revealing itself as a story about total disappointment. “Hey you don’t know/I read, your chatroom messages,” the song goes, “Okay well never mind/I’m not going to stick around and waste my time.” Over warbling chords and aimless, cheery guitar plucks, “Ice Cream Run” sounds at first like a cutesy, if slightly off-kilter, ode to a chilled-out summer. “The sun is out and the sky is turning pink/I got some In-N-Out and I don’t know what to think.” Suddenly the song turns into a repeated mantra of self-doubt: “I know that it’s true/He doesn’t like you/He doesn’t like you.” That slight, easy-to-miss tinge of darkness and despair turns Sundae Crush’s pleasant, dreamy songcraft into something a lot more intriguing and complex than that of their sonic peers.

Worshiprr | #queerterror

One of Seattle hip-hop’s most interesting new entries comes courtesy of Kadence Arelle Mercy, aka Worshiprr. What makes her record, #queerterror, so interesting is that “hip-hop” probably isn’t even the right word for it. Mercy raps, for sure, but her lyricism is almost closer to a free-form poetry performance than the typical rap bars you’re used to. With lines like “Why would anyone love you?/You’re just sexual currency” ricocheting around eerily stretched-out synthetic chirps, that much is clear. On top of that, her “beats,” all self-produced, throw any sense of form and shape (and sometimes rhythm) completely out the window in favor of an amorphous aural assault. Whirlwinds of aggressive static and electronic shards of bitcrushed samples swirl around in a vortex, at times recalling the musique concrète of Lotic and Rabit. Typical album structures get flipped on their heads here too; multiple songs bleed together within single eight- to nine-minute tracks. There’s something to be said about innovating within an established idiom, but it’s another thing when you’re forging an idiom by yourself—something Mercy has done musically on this record, and which, as a trans artist, is reflected in the album’s very personal lyricism as well. Given its experimental nature, the record does have its hiccups; the thick textures occasionally stretch into drones that can slow the prevailing forward momentum. But for something that takes this many risks, some friction is totally forgivable. Worshiprr’s work will only get more cohesive and articulated from here on out, and with such a strong stylistic and artistic foundation on #queerterror, Mercy’s potential blueprints for the future are exciting.