The best of Seattle music: Jonathan Zwickel marks the biggest events in 2008 in local music.
Let’s take a cue from René Magritte: Ce n’est pas une liste.
This is not a list.
Instead, what follows is a random collection of year-end ruminations and reminiscences on local music, an attempt to cast a glance back at the departing year with the goal of holding onto posterity a few moments more before we charge into 2009. There happen to be 10 items here, but this is no countdown. Hierarchy is so 2008.
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Northwest bands released a heap of worthy albums this year, spanning pretty much every conceivable genre, from b-boy/playboy kitchen sink pop-hop (the Saturday Knights, “Mingle”) to Nintendo-jamming post-rock electro (Truckasauras, “Tea Parties, Guns & Valor”) to flannel-wrapped polygenerational campfire balladry (Fleet Foxes, “Fleet Foxes”).
Other highlights: The Moondoggies, “Don’t Be a Stranger”; the Pica Beats, “Beating Back the Claws of the Cold”; Helms Alee, “Night Terrors”; Jake One, “White Van Music”; Grand Archives, “The Grand Archives”; Head Like a Kite, “There Is Loud Laughter Everywhere”; Hockey, “Mind Chaos”; the Shaky Hands, “Lunglight”; Josh Morrison, “Home”; We Are Golden, “We Are Golden”; Damien Jurado, “Caught in the Trees”; Thee Emergency, “Solid”; Mamiffer, “Hirror Ennifer”; Earth, “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull”; Common Market, “Tobacco Road”; A Gun That Shoots Knives, “The Future of Love”; Wallpaper, “On the Chewing Gum Ground”; Blitzen Trapper, “Furr”; Jaguar Love, “Take Me to the Sea”; and Past Lives, “Strange Symmetry.”
Those last two were especially welcome: Past Lives and Jaguar Love are the results of the beloved Blood Brothers’ 2007 split. They’re fantastic bands and drastically different — Past Lives’ haunting art punk is electrifying onstage, while the Jaguar Love’s glam-rock surrealism resulted in one of the best NW albums of the year.
Civic dysfunction was evident in the city’s bipolar attitudes toward live music. During the summer, Seattle police, the Seattle Fire Department and the state liquor board waged a “War on Nightlife” (as described by venue owners and patrons in Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square) that resulted in arrests and closures but few convictions or improvements.
In October, the Mayor’s Office branded Seattle “City of Music” as Mayor Greg Nickels announced a goodwill initiative to support live music and the music industry in Seattle.
A nice but as-yet-empty gesture: Rents are still too high for musicians to afford, liquor laws remain archaic and dance clubs are exempt from the proposed club-tax exemption (which probably won’t make it past the City Council).
The biggest story to come from Seattle this year was Fleet Foxes, a band of local kids who make gorgeous harmonized pop-folk that is the opposite of rock ‘n’ roll. Not one fawning feature in the national press — of which there were many, including Rolling Stone, Spin and MTV — failed to mention the band’s beardedness.
The quintet spent most of the year touring America and Europe, playing major festivals and 1,000-plus-seat theaters in several U.S. markets. Their eponymous album, released in June on Sub Pop, was hailed as one of the year’s best by many music news sources. The band is working on a follow-up for next year and contemplating reviving the goatee.
In hindsight, 2008 will be remembered as the year Emerald City Soul Club blew up, and I can only hope that doesn’t mean the best dance night in the city has jumped the shark. As the Lo-Fi Gallery busts at the seams the second Saturday of every month, a new version of Soul Club has started at King Cobra on Capitol Hill. Their New Year’s Eve party should be one of the hottest in Seattle.
Before Fleet Foxes, our beloved native phenomenon was Death Cab for Cutie, who released their sixth album, “Narrow Stairs,” in May to much continued acclaim and adoration.
The album followed the blueprint for the meaningful-core music (to borrow a term from blog Hipster Runoff) that DCFC practically invented, but veered into truly radical territory with its first single, “I Will Possess Your Heart.” The song clocked in at a radio-defying eight and a half minutes and stayed interesting for most of them.
If It’s Too Loud You’re Too …
Sub Pop is old! Twenty is an eternity in rock years. If finagling a banner to the top of the Space Needle didn’t prove it in July, their recent signings — all quiet and strummy and appropriate for happy family gatherings — might indicate the venerable indie label’s “maturation.”
The past and present came together in a weird, wonderful way at SP20, this summer’s two-day music festival at Marymoor Park, highlighted by rare performances by the Vaselines, Green River and Beachwood Sparks.
Another concert in another park — Decibel Festival’s shindig at Volunteer Park — was one of the finest outdoor celebrations this city has seen in a long time: debaucherous, self-policed and well-behaved on a gorgeous Indian-summer afternoon. Here’s hoping for a proper follow-up in ’09.
Not everybody made it out of 2008 alive. Seattle band breakups include the Cops, the Trucks, Iceage Cobras, Das Llamas and Pleasureboaters. We lost revered musician John Spalding to cancer — a heavy blow to many veterans of the local music community. And this paper lost Patrick MacDonald, though thankfully he’s just gone into retirement, not the great beyond.
Takin’ It to the Streets
The finest outdoor celebration ever in Seattle came the night of Nov. 4. After Barack Obama’s victory speech ended, thousands of revelers filled city streets and, led by a various ad hoc marching bands, spontaneously paraded to Pike Place.
Strangers hugged, cried and shared booze in the streets, which were shut down for hours. A true once-in-a-lifetime moment, it was no doubt the highlight of a very tumultuous year.
Jonathan Zwickel: firstname.lastname@example.org