The Best Local Records We Heard This July

DoNormaal, Shabazz Palaces and Heavy Petting’s new ones have layers upon layers upon layers.

If you’ve been watching any of the new Twin Peaks like I have, you also probably have no idea what the hell is going on. That I’m completely at sea 80 percent of the time during each episode is also why I’ve come to love it so much. In some ways, its resistance to typical logic makes it spoiler-proof. You don’t follow a story so much as you experience and internalize its strange, myriad dimensions. The best local music we heard in July operated on a similar wavelength—that is, one a few frequencies off from the frequency we’re used to. These are records that defy most literal readings, and are all the better for it. Trying to write about these records in particular will probably simplify and sully those myriad dimensions, but words on paper are only 2D anyways, so give me a break here while I give it a shot.


Third Daughter

Before she started rapping, DoNormaal was a spoken-word poet. To write poetry is one thing, but to perform it engagingly out loud is its own skill. The way a word is spoken can imbue it with layers of meaning and nuance before the listener’s mind decodes what the word itself represents. Few rappers harness that power as effectively as DoNormaal, one she brilliantly puts to use on her 19-track sophomore record Third Daughter. “I don’t wanna do anybody wrong I feel thankful the expression’s just off,” she says on opening track “Fraught,” her muttered words purposefully stumbling all over themselves, just out of time with the beat. For the listener, the delivery is disorienting, but by the time you decipher what she’s saying, through the magic of sonic intention, you’ve already absorbed that meaning anyway. Third Daughter is full of moments like this, DoNormaal’s left-field syntactical, tonal, and rhythmic delivery instilling lines with an emotional, communicative tier most other artists don’t even think to (or know how to) access. On “Revenge,” her voice turns to vapor like a trickster spirit calling for “three poison arrows in your back” before admitting “I know these thoughts are sick,” immediately bringing the tone of her voice back down to the material plane. All meta-meaning aside, when it comes down to it she can still write the big melodic hooks: Take “Ego Slave,” which begins with an understated G-funk beat by Luna God. DoNormaal pontificates on the importance of holding one’s spirit high despite a world that “tried to push down too far,” her words sounding like an internal dialogue. By the chorus, she’s turned completely outward: “March on march on!” she raps, “everybody needa step front.” Suddenly backed by triumphant, tremulous guitar, her inner dialogue becomes a manifesto to shout to the masses—one made easy to remember because it just so happens to be catchy as hell (I’ve been whistling the epic melody for weeks now). Third Daughter’s massive track listing and experimental nature might intimidate the casual listener. But unlike James Joyce’s enormous Ulysses, purposefully littered with indecipherable enigmas and structural tricks, DoNormaal’s tricks aren’t out to bamboozle you—they help you clue into something you already instinctually understand. You’ll still have to take the journey to get there, though.

Shabazz Palaces

Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star/Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines

There’s a word folks on Facebook use to describe hokey, moralizing, vapidly “profound” art that “really makes you think”: Banky. A jab at world-famous street artist Banksy (a champion of the genre), art derided as “Banky” generally has a few common targets—the easily swayed masses, the under-read masses, and, above all, the masses who use their iPhones too much. It’s easy to chuckle and toss aside a dumb cartoon featuring a prisoner telling his cellmate—wall full of tick marks—that he’s “counting down the days ’til I’m on social media again.” But the fact is, folks do use their phones a lot. A number of studies from 2017 place the number around three hours per day on average, or about 86 hours per month. On Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines, one of two full-length LPs Shabazz Palaces simultaneously released this month, front man Ishmael Butler puts our smartphones on blast—what he refers to on “Gorgeous Sleeper Cell” as “my glowing phantom limb.” It’s an eerie, visceral image, one I ran through my mind every time I groped for my phone in bed or on the toilet this month. “Watching all the currents enticing my mind/Gluttons for distractions, swiping all the time,” Butler raps wispily on the track. I found myself leaving my phone at home more and more, thoroughly creeped out by that idea of “my glowing phantom limb.” Shabazz Palaces are far from Luddites—their outré hip-hop sounds as if it were crafted using technology that doesn’t exist yet. But their strange, oblong critique of my phone habits landed in a way that so much Banky art on the Internet does not. So what’s the difference? Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines are both concept records about the titular Quazarz, an alien sent to Earth to survey humanity and report back. As Martin Douglas discovered in his extensive Seattle Weekly interview with Butler last month, the mystified rapper, known for his cryptic, metaphysical lyrics, is actually quite concerned about immediate, material issues. Police brutality, capitalism, gentrification, and our relationship with technology all come under Butler’s knife as Quazarz—even when he’s rapping about how he “rode in on a lightwave” and “kissed the queen of Zanzibar.” Banky art fails because it’s often as simplistic as the suckers it hopes to critique. Through the clever frame of Quazarz, Shabazz Palaces manages to transcend the Banky while hurtling headfirst (and far more effectively) into its targets. The music certainly isn’t as immediate as a schlocky cartoon, but the message bores deep into your subconscious and stays there.

Heavy Petting

Rock Plus+

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—it’s tricky in 2017 to make guitar-based music interesting, especially anything you could call “rock music.” The world has heard all the variations on three-chord blues riffs it can handle, folks, show’s (mostly) over—time to move on and try out something new. Heavy Petting seems to be winking at that fact in Rock Plus+, whose title suggests this particular rock has a little something extra extra tossed in. It’s instrumental post-rock, but perhaps it’s also post-post-rock. Whatever it is, it’s undeniably transportive and intriguing to the ear. Guitarist Evan Anderson, bassist Evan Easthope, and drummer Derek Blackstone have conjured a sound that manages to allude to staple Northwest guitar tonalities (Modest Mouse’s quavering, loopy runs; grunge’s crunchy fuzz; Cascadian black metal’s opulent, oppressive darkness) without simply copy-pasting all their influences into a “new” document. Boldly, they’ve chosen not to dress up their music with the random sound effects and left-field samples that bog down most post-rock as well—they let the music speak for itself. The songs’ simply titled tracks, “New One,” “New Three,” and “New Too,” add up to a breezy 20-minute run time, but one that takes repeat listens to fully appreciate—mostly thanks to the constantly shifting structures that veer organically from breezy interludes to emotional asides and crushing riffs. Enjoy it while you can—this record is the band’s last before calling it quits for good.