Seattle Weekly’s editor-in-chief Mark Baumgarten, aka my boss, did a talk at the Seattle Interactive Conference last week with Capitol Hill business and music maven Dave Meinert. In the chat, Meinert mentioned that he thinks Seattle’s underground music scene has lost its edge compared to that of the mythical ’90s. He also admitted he doesn’t really go out to shows anymore unless it’s for business, and that the most exciting contemporary local music he could think of is Hobosexual, a two-dude blues-rock band that sounds exactly like the other three zillion blues-rock bands on planet Earth. Well, there’s the problem. As I quietly shook my fist at the faithless, these are some of the excellent local records I heard this month that I imagined hurling hard physical copies of at Meinert from the audience.
The Internet is overflowing with classic boom-bap throwback records and run-of-the-mill trap albums that, more often than not, do little to innovate in any area—lyrically, tonally, or musically. Take a quick stroll through SoundCloud and you’ll quickly drown in them. Seattle’s hip-hop scene, however, has been putting out some of the most consistently exciting music in town this past year on the strength of its abnormalities. Remember Face, a new project from Nu Era’s Andrew Savoie and Chimaroke Abuachi, put out the latest local hip-hop record that successfully carves out a strange space of its own—one that’s not just unique, but cohesively realized. Their self-titled record’s haunted tone starts out of the gate with the sparse hand-drum-and-snare backing of “And Follow Your Insanity.” The smart, minimal track, with its otherworldly atmosphere and chant-like delivery from Abuachi, feels something like a summoning ritual in a dark cavern. The wispy pianos on “Invaders” start menacing but, halfway through, waft into luminous spectral echoes that give due space to Abuachi and Savoie’s tougher, more involved rhymes. That powerful command of empty space comes to full fruition on album closer “Hey Money,” a nearly beatless track composed of nothing more than an old, reversed vintage accordion sample and the occasional spell-like synth flourish. With its breathy delivery and the suspended-animation backing track, the line “She gonna make me stutter, the way she done up, melt like butter, what up” becomes less of a come-on and more of a strange, supernatural meditation on love’s time-melting properties. This is some weird, wizardly hip-hop. rememberface.bandcamp.com
There are only a few ways you’re going to keep my attention with a guitar anymore, one of which is by playing it like it’s broken. Nail Polish’s songs sound like they’re barely held together, a bunch of tin cans and broken glass strung up with metal wire. During my interview with the punk band a few weeks ago, guitarist Sloane Flashman, bassist/vocalist Aidan Fitzgerald, and drummer/vocalist Gems admitted they’re far from “virtuosos” on their respective instruments; in the end, this actually becomes one of their greatest strengths on their latest record, the Seattle-culture-skewering Authentic Living. The band forgoes show-off solos and instead focuses on subverting expected form and structure, an area most bands working in the “rock” idiom tend to blow out into hypervarnished, self-indulgent, overly earnest snoozers. Nail Polish, by contrast, actually sound like they’re having fun when they play—mostly by consciously working against what the audience thinks is going to happen next. “The Commuter,” a sort of mundane lyrical narration of a nine-to-fiver’s day, zigzags and stumbles all over itself in an exhilarating, nervy mess. The way the bass, guitar, and drums barely communicate with one another, but then in a moment’s notice all turn on a dime into a synchronous crushing two-second riff, makes me grin every time. “Woke Up Too Late” is a raw, guttural bass chug, the same note thwonk’d over and over for a minute and 28 seconds as the drums and guitar wander around groggily, Fitzgerald yelping “WOKE UP TOO LATE! I AM SO UPSET!” Nail Polish can make that one note more interesting than the billion in most noodly 20-minute psych/prog sagas. Take notes, folks—we can be leaner and more efficient in these overbloated times. nailpolish seattle.bandcamp.com
The newest recording from Olympia’s Trans FX sounds like something my parents might’ve made out to in the mid-to-late ’80s. If the lovesick “Time Away” were written back in ’86, there’s absolutely no doubt John Hughes would’ve closed one of his films with it. With a voice somewhere between the beatnik speak/sing of Lou Reed and the “Let’s get out of this town” growl of the Replacements, Trans FX manages to zero in on the gauzy, romantic guitar tones of the era’s proto-shoegazers, neo-psych druggies, and flower punks without waxing grossly nostalgic—a hard trick to pull off. The fuzzy, grainy warble on this record feels too baked-in to be mere shallow tribute. Take the sun-drenched, unfurling chords, breathy swagger, and crackling drum machine on “Highland Ave”: Nothing about it sniffs of lazy 2016 throwback—this is the sound of studied tone and attentive craftsmanship. When the saxophone kicks in on the rollicking, on-the-road, wind-in-your-hair anthem “Channel 1,” you know the band is for real. Like most good things from Olympia, The Clearing has its roots in the city’s thriving and somewhat mysterious underground punk scene, with Trans FX leader Chris McDonnell enlisting Gag’s Scott Young, Milk Music’s Alex Coxen, and Sex Vid/Nudity’s Dave Harvey as session players on the record; it’s easily the prettiest thing any of them has respectively created. This album is lusher than Lush. Out 10/31. Trans-fx.bandcamp.com
As you’ll read in Meagan Angus’ treatise on Samhain this week, fall is the season when the veil between our world and the unseen world is the thinnest. The environment around you and your feelings take on a strange glow. Lots of the music Seattle singer/songwriter Benoît Pioulard writes also has a strange glow—he has a way of submerging his clattering, wooden folk songs in indelible, timeworn, sepia-toned texture baths, as he does on his newest LP The Benoît Pioulard Listening Matter. The album is full of fleeting, minute-long ambient interludes in which that texture bath briefly takes to the forefront, serving as transitions between his traditionally structured, borderline-twee pop songs. While the LP is worth a listen if you can get past its more saccharine, sentimental overtures, it’s the lathe-cut 10˝ that accompanies the deluxe version of the album, the standalone Stanza III, that really shines. Here, as he did in the previous Stanza I and II, Pioulard flexes those ambient muscles to the fullest and lets his masterful tonal craftsmanship breathe deeply. The record, composed of two nine-minute songs, “XIII” and “XIV,” are the perfect soundtrack to this strange, liminal, spirity time of year—whirring, glacial tapestries that sound like the primordial yawn of the planet before it goes to sleep for winter. pioulard.bandcamp.com