As awful as 2016 was it was a surprisingly great year for music, in fact it was the music that got me though 2016 at all. Both nationally and locally 2016 was loaded with not just great music, but also music that was exciting, music that sparked my imagination. In past years even the good albums felt a little predictable, but this year’s music was full of surprises that I never expected and that I think will help serve new music moving forward.
As with every year, I love “Best of” lists but I really despise numbered lists, so keep in mind as you look over my 10* favorite albums that aside from Secrets which is my favorite album of all time, this list is in no particular order.
There’s no surprise here, I talked about this album ad nauseum before it was even officially released. I expected this album to be very good, the new songs I’d heard live blew me away and their 2012 debut History Speaks is beyond spectacular, but when I finally heard the album in full I immediately realized that Secrets was one of, if not my favorite album of all time. I’ve been a little self-conscious about making that statement all year because it feels so reactionary, but the honest truth is that even listening to it now I’m still as blown away as I was the first time I heard it, I’m still discovering new amazing moments in the album, and my heart still skips a beat at least once on every song. Secrets takes everything that was really amazing about Deep Sea Diver and plays right into that, its more guitar driven than History Speaks and Jessica Dobson just gets to unleash in her signature sour note style all over the place. With Secrets every member of the band feels integral to its brilliance. I’ve written about this album and this band so much this year and yet I still feel that I haven’t fully captured the entire album as a whole and why it truly deserves to be considered one of the best albums ever recorded.
ALI BELETIC ~ LEGENDS OF THESE LANDS LEFT TO LIVE Any other year this would be the album I talked everyone’s ear off about, and believe me I talked about it to an unhealthy degree, this is one of those albums that gave me everything I wanted in an album beautifully. My only pick of the year not to come out of the Northwest, Ali Beletic wrote and recorded this album while living in America’s Southwest and it sounds that way, Legends… just feels like the dusty earth and arid desert air. Like Deep Sea Diver’s Secrets, Legends… is a guitar and vocals driven album, beginning with Ends of the Earth which has these languid pulls on the guitar, and songs like Stone Fox or Dead Serious that have beautiful blasts of guitar. The album also relies on Beletic’s breathy vocals that often come to rest on these poetic lullaby’s like Walk this Earth. I listened to this album incessantly in 2016 but in particular I had this album on a loop during a long trip from Seattle to Butte, Montana where her landscape(esque) songs howled throughout the hills of Montana to perfection.
KARL BLAU ~ INTRODUCING KARL BLAU After a few years of struggle and perseverance and likely some self-discovery, 2016 was Karl Blau’s year. Many years back while Karl was serving as a recording band member for Laura Veir’s, producer Tucker Martine asked Karl to contribute vocals to a cover of the song That’s How I Got To Memphis, though it didn’t exactly fit with Martine’s Mount Analog project, he did include it as a special collaborative single with the band, and it quickly became Karl’s most requested song. After a trying period in Los Angeles Karl Blau returned to his home in Anacortes, WA and the time finally seemed right, Karl and Tucker collaborated on an album of Nashville (I wouldn’t call them hits) standards? The entire collaboration was a match made in heaven and it came out to total perfection. Karl’s voice is second to none, it so warm and inviting, understanding, and provoking, and on these great American songs it hits you particular hard. The album has so many highlights but they pretty much pinnacle with the nearly 10 minute Link Wray song Fallin’ Rain. It’s only a slight shame that in Karl’s introduction to the world we only get to see a portion of his immense talents. This album was a particular favorite of mine this year camping in the rain.
PONY TIME ~ RUMORS 2: THE RUMORS ARE TRUE The great tragedy of 2016 is that Pony Time totally rocked by bones right out of my body with Rumors 2, and then went on a permanent(ish) hiatus. God, that almost makes me what to cry. Pony Time really brought it with this album, those endlessly thudding drums, the overbearing fuzz and crunch of the guitar, and Luke Beetham’s vocals, so wonderfully reminiscent of Hutch Harris. This band just seemed like they were having so much fun and I loved watching Luke and Stacy Peck interact. The last track on the album is a one-off supergroup called Party Girls where they collaborated with Lisa Prank’s Robin Edwads, and it just rounds out this bouncy, heavy, and amazing album. The real shame is that it felt like this album was going to be big for the band, in the meantime I’ll just hold out hope that Stacy and Luke will play these songs together once again.
BLEACHBEAR ~ COWBOY MOVIE STAR I saw Bleachbear at Neumos late last year and noticed how confident and at ease this band I’d never heard of before seemed to be, especially on the Neumos stage opening for both Sisters and Deep Sea Diver. It was only later I learned that they were just three teenagers; two sisters and a their cousin. Then they sent me their album Cowboy Movie Star and I was left a little speechless, because the songwriting, the instrumentation, the hooks, the little quirks it was all incredibly impressive, partly because yes they are just teenagers but lets face it, this album would sill be on the list even if the it had been released by a trio of 30 year olds. Boy is the song that will really just stab you in the heart, that song puts everything out there and shows off every aspect of the band brilliantly. To be this good this young has me so pumped because I just can’t imagine that they’ve even begun to hit their stride, there is so much more to hear from this band.
CRATER ~ TALK TO ME SO I CAN FALL ASLEEP I’ll be honest, the immediate intro to each song kinds turns me off, it’s like hearing a single piece to a song and just going “uh-nah,” which is totally unfair because when the song begins to build, the electro-pop brilliance of Kessiah Gordon and Ceci Gomez is overwhelming. The album was written in part because of this massive “black hole” file on their computer that contained basically every sound, sample, or clip the pair came across, and the end result is this very deep album full of variety. The electronic sounds are really amazing especially that kind of swoopy sound on Crater Head, and when mixed with the gorgeous vocals it’s like an explosion of color.
ACAPULCO LIPS I like to think of Acapulco Lips as one part Guantanamo Baywatch and one part La Luz, they have the psych-garage-rock sound of the former, with the smooth surf sounds of the latter, the marriage of the two is everything you could ever hope it to be. Acapulco Lips is like this real biting surf rock where the sound is just a little darker, a little more biting, and little scratchier and more lo-fi, like a cool hot Summer day at the beach but maybe like the after-dark night party of that same day. There’s a lot of fun going on in Seattle and why not, it’s a solidly blue city in a solidly blue state in a country that just exposed its red self, lets hoard all the fun, talented, and intelligent people and rock out. Acapulco Lips manages to play with a vintage sound while still bringing an abrasive slash to your ears, Awkward Walz, is so perfect right down to the almost completely washed out vocals.
ERIK BLOOD ~ LOST IN SLOW MOTION Musically, Erik Blood has been all over the map, though he’s probably most notable for having produced Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction, and the Moondoggies, a quick glance at his work will have your head spinning. Much of his music I might call experimental electronic, including some film scores, and I certainly dig it, but often that’s the kind of music I enjoy alone because it’s intended for certain very specific moments. Lost in Slow Motion has it’s experimental moments but like Crater or some of the other really amazing electronic acts in the the PNW, he has plenty of electro-pop excellence. Compared to much of his work Lost In Slow Motion feels very personal, and maybe that is why I connected with it so much, Chase the Clouds, Remove Control, and Out This Way hit particularly hard. Erik recently relocated to LA where I think we can only assume he’ll blow up like crazy, but he’s still here in Seattle often enough that we can proudly call him one of our own. We’re likely in for a rough four years and I am so comforted and glad that Erik Blood exists right now for all of us.
LONESOME SHACK ~ THE SWITCHER I thought that Lonesome Shack’s 2014 release More Primitive was their best release up to that point, it took the simple haunted boogie blues of Ben Todd’s guitar and his tinny vocals as well as Kristian Garrard’s percussion and deepened the sound with bassist Luke Bergman. Then came The Switcher, which has a more sinister quality to it, the album certainly plays right into the haunted part of the band’s name. Bergman’s bass is still present but a little less so than More Primitive, The Switcher feels like a slight return to the bands roots while still pushing their sound forward with lovely and surprising sounds. The Switcher is a little slower than all of its predecessors but I find some really wonderful tones especially on the songs Dirty Traveler and the album’s closer Blood. Two songs on the album come straight from City Man which never had a studio recording but rather was recorded live at Cafe Racer in Seattle, not long before the tragedy that left four dead and another injured. I might be reading too much into things but I felt like including those songs on an album that felt darker and more nightmarish that the band was hinting at something that had to do with that tragedy.
I’ve been a fan of Jess Bonin’s work going back to the Daffodils and Lovers Without Borders and when she released a slower version of Unlucky Son a couple years back I was excited to see what she would put out herself. Sleepy Genes has the surface feeling of being late 90’s bubble gum punk with that distorted guitar the punchy drum sounds, the quick pace and harmonies, it took me right back to school again. There’s more to it than the surface, and what Sleepy Genes has that much of that bubble gum punk lacked is deeply personal blood all over the songs. Jess Bonin’s work whether it be in the art world or in her music mines the depths of her personal life and emotions in a truly meaningful way that many artists are afraid to touch. The mixture of the pop-punk and Bonin’s personal writing is a great juxtaposition, like combining hair metal with deep poetry.
***KITHKIN ~ LIVE FROM THE BANA STAND*** Not officially part of my 10 Best List, I still had to include this album, if for no reason other than to acknowledge how thankful I am that we ever got to hear these really incredible new songs from Kithkin. Banastand Media has been around a while putting out these albums they recorded live, but I don’t think until now any of them have taken on quite the significance as this one with Kithkin. Recorded in the Spring before the band played before their final show this album includes nine songs five of which were new, and for the foreseeable future probably forever, this is how we’ll get to hear them. I felt like including this album officially on the list would insult the other albums which were crafted with a great care and vision. The recording is top notch and the new songs are perhaps some of the bands best, at the end of the day this is just a live album and had the band decided to continue on they certainly would have presented the songs differently.