10. Channel Surfing – Perry Porter
While he primarily bills himself as a painter (his Bandcamp page has only paintings for sale, no music), Tacoma’s Perry Porter is just as artistically adept as an MC. He packs the canvas that is Channel Surfing with vibrant, clashing colors: the elasticity of his lyricism and delivery, which allows him to seamlessly shift from slow, stoned drawls to nerdy staccato bursts; pop-culture samples (from cartoons to Ric Flair), an upbeat musical palette; a puppy-nipping-at-your-ankles energy; and a through-line narration by a character who sounds like Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It’s a spastic blast that doubles as the best local hip-hop release of the year.
9. Skin – Wild Powwers
While it’s not the band’s intent, the raw rock power of Wild Powwers’ Skin carries the torch for Seattle’s grunge legacy. Driven by Lara Hilgemann’s wailing vocals and Lupe Flores’ thundering drumming, there’s a pervasive snarl to the proceedings as the band rips through heavy jams like “Well, Shit,” “Buff Stuff,” and “Vamping.” The band has the skill to also nail atmospheric slow-burns like “Sad Sap,” but things feel more comfortable when cranked up to 10 — trashing and screaming the night away with abandon.
8. Unearth – Crater
The brilliance of Crater is the way that the electronic pop-rock duo of Ceci Gomez and Kessiah Gordon bridges the distance between personal reflections on connectivity and love with the cold sleekness of the music’s electro throb. When backed with the right synth tone and a beautifully fragile guitar line, lyrics like “How brutal is reality? We fucked right through the agony.” (“Total Slugger”) capture Crater’s spirit of hurt in the digital age without coming off as melodramatic. The group’s melodicism puts it in a class above almost all its electronic peers, making the brooding darkness of Unearth simultaneously distant and alluringly inviting.
7. Berio: Sinfonia; Boulez: Notations I-IV; Ravel: La Valse – Seattle Symphony
Don’t be the type that discounts all orchestral music as stuffy and stodgy. This 2018 release by the Seattle Symphony is wiiiiiiild. Berio’s Sinfonia is a jittering masterpiece that pulsates a Hitchcockian level of psychological tension while still having a sense of humor about it. With help from vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, the orchestra tackles the five-part work with the razor-sharp playing that the piece demands to stay ever on the edge. Movements fluctuate second to second with herky-jerky start-and-stop momentum, a breathy cacophony of whispers and shouts, musical and multilingual literary quotations, patches of unnerving calm, and jump-scare intensity. The similarly chaotic soundscape of Boulez’s Notations I-IV fittingly follows, with Ravel’s La Valse serving as a comparatively serene — while still bustling — way to wrap things up. But make no mistake — Berio is the main event.
6. Love Memo – Chong the Nomad
The aggression-free EDM debut EP from Chong the Nomad (aka Alda Agustiano) instantly vaults her into the upper echelon of Seattle electronic producers. A trained chamber-music composer, she has a knack for layering and texture that make her chill tunes flow with atmospheric ease. Awash with clattering dashes of clanging noise and inviting beats, Love Memo serves as a smooth and swaying mood piece for swooning dance-floor moments — one that flashes the potential of even bigger things to come.
5. The Make It All Show – Skating Polly
On The Make It All Show, Tacoma’s Skating Polly bounces around with an energetic disregard for safety. The family trio, led by stepsisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse, shift between bratty and tender moments while ripping through a collection of punky, grungy ditties with riot-grrrl roots. Whether brooding or sunny, Brad Wood’s polished production helps make each distorted riff and frustrated wail feel huge and unrelenting, allowing the sisters to strut with a swagger that would stomp out any jerks who dare get in their way.
4. You’re a Shooting Star, I’m a Sinking Ship – Whitney Ballen
Whitney Ballen’s nasal whisper wail voice is a dew-covered spiderweb: crystalline and gorgeous, fragile to the world at large but strong in its own scale, capable of ensnaring you and delivering some bite. Bolstered by a stellar backing band providing her a comforting base of tight, driving folk-rock, You’re a Shooting Star, I’m a Sinking Ship finds Ballen hitting her singer/songwriter stride. Her lyricism is nakedly vulnerable — majestic in its personalness, endearing and touching in its utter lack of confidence — and it burns slowly and beautifully as she muses about strained relationships, girls she finds cooler than herself, love that transcends death, and ominous black clouds creeping on the horizon. Get ensnared.
3. The Horizon Just Laughed – Damien Jurado
After venturing to far-off sonic realms with producer Richard Swift (R.I.P) for the Maraqopa album trilogy, Damien Jurado returned to fertile fields of solid ground for The Horizon Just Laughed. On the self-produced record, he displays the composed confidence of a singer/songwriter veteran who knows every inch of his craft inside and out. There’s no sleight of hand, no tricks, just brilliant, richly detailed folk-rooted songs that work equally well with nothing but Jurado’s acoustic guitar and voice — ever-soft with a gruff edge to its finish — or heavy with piano and orchestral accompaniment. The characters Jurado draws with poetic grace radiate emotional depth. Much like curling up with a familiar book, there’s an instant comfort to getting lost in the sweet and sorrowful corners of The Horizon Just Laughed’s songs.
2. Single Rider – Jenn Champion
Jenn Champion’s morph into a dynamic synth-pop performer didn’t come out of the blue, but it’s still stunning how effectively she pulled it off. There was a small taste of her dancy inclinations hidden among the indie rock of her masterful 2014 breakup record Cool Choices (as S) via “Tell Me,” but Single Rider goes all-in. With production guidance from SYML, the album dwells in a dark dance simmer where Champion’s layered vocals act as the light that cuts through the shadows. The album’s lyrics stay true to her bummer songwriting core, with tear-inducing tunes on the distraught feelings caused by separations and crushes, but it’s hard to curl up in a fetal position to soak it in when there are catchy synth swells, banging beats, and even an infusion of some sexy ’80s sax. Besides, glistening tears can be mistaken for face glitter under dark dance-floor lighting anyhow.
1. Be True – Sloucher
The most striking thing about Be True is its nimble ease. Sloucher’s first LP vacillates among a plethora of rock threads from track to track without breaking a sweat — almost as if the quartet is unaware that it shouldn’t be this easy. Propelled by Jay Clancy’s songcraft, the album is a melting pot of ’90s rock in the best possible way: a hardy helping of chunky alt-rock riffs, a dose of dash of playful, “sloppy” slacker riffing, a pinch of gleeful, radio-friendly power pop, and some heavy, distorted noise for spice. But despite calling to mind a myriad of beloved sounds, Sloucher avoids feeling derivative. Instead, Be True feels like a modernized step forward for this brand of Seattle rock.
Something Familiar – Hibou
Famous World – Spesh
Dark Party – Red Ribbon
Twin Fantasy – Car Seat Headrest
1 Time Mirage – Knife Knights
Rhododendron – Valley Maker
Winning Star Champion – Ruler
May Your Kindness Remain – Courtney Marie Andrews
By the Way, I Forgive You – Brandi Carlile
KFG2 – Kung Foo Grip