However you slice it, the past year has been generally miserable for most of the music industry. But hey, things are looking up. Concerts have resumed, both indoors and outdoors, with a Seattle-centric bang. And really, the steady stream of fresh music from Washington’s array of artists has never stopped.
The depth of Seattle’s talent pool can never be reduced to a single list. But we’ve put together a roundup of a few exceptional local releases that have come out this year through mid-June, offering a look at some of what our region has to offer across genres. Since we’ve already covered stellar new releases from breakout rocker Ayron Jones, veteran songsmith Damien Jurado and buzzy newcomers Enumclaw, we’ll shine this particular spotlight on others.
(Note: Some of these videos contain explicit language.)
Singer/guitarist Sarah Pasillas and her indie rock quartet aren’t exactly newcomers, having solidified themselves as club scene staples, kicking out a couple EPs along the way. But Pasillas and Co. make good on their debut album, trading in shimmery guitar pop with hints of dream rock and a soul-easing jangle, which at times belies lyrics unpacking grief and trauma. Elsewhere, the more melancholic numbers hearken back to rainy-day power pop of the ’90s, occasionally erupting in star-reaching guitar leads that would make My Morning Jacket jealous.
Dark Time Sunshine, “Lore”
Seattle alt-rap staple Onry Ozzborn reignites his partnership with Chicago producer Zavala for their first joint album since 2012. It’s the work of a savvy veteran who hasn’t lost a step — a top-tier lyricist still marching to the left-of-center beat of his own drum track, comfortably flipping abstract tongue-twisters over Zavala’s woozy, head-nodding productions.
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, “I Told You So”
Led by organ virtuoso Delvon Lamarr, this Seattle soul-jazz ensemble is hotter than a heat dome. Laden with steamy pavement pounders and deep-grooving cool-downs that hit like a summer spritz, the instrumental trio’s sophomore album topped Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart upon its February release, knocking off genre heavyweight Norah Jones. Lamarr and guitarist Jimmy James (also of the True Loves) trade off side-winding leads steeped in ’60s funk and soul, forming one of the headiest one-two punches in town.
Dizzi Slick and Keyboard Kid, “Keys to the Trap”
Prolific rapper Dizzi Slick and venerable beatsmith Keyboard Kid form a lethal hometown duo over seven murky, pummeling tracks destined to annihilate car stereos. With a dark and stoic delivery, Slick slow-rides Keyboard’s pavement-rupturing bass lines laced with eerie synths and video game power-ups.
Everardo, “Malo y Bueno”
After cutting his teeth as a Kent teen singing at weddings and local Mexican restaurants, Esgar Everardo Hernandez inked a deal with Rancho Humilde, a leading label shaking up the regional Mexican music world with artists blending corrido — a style of Mexican folk ballads — and American hip-hop aesthetics. Since then, he’s amassed millions of YouTube views leading up to his first full-length for the label, released in January. On “Malo y Bueno,” Everardo’s strong, rich voice rides uncluttered guitar-based compositions with reverberant upright bass, adorned with vivacious accordions at times.
Fretland, “Could Have Loved You”
Snohomish’s promising Americana crew comes into its own on its magnificently tender sophomore album — the second of the pandemic from Hillary Grace Fretland and her namesake band. Trail-dusted folk-country ditties rub weary shoulders with heart-aching ballads like “Love You More,” where Fretland’s foggy-valley vocals will have you weeping in your whiskey. “Could Have Loved You” shows the young band can hold its own among Washington’s estimable lineage of Americana talents.
Highway, “The Way”
After a year of simmering in Seattle’s underground, this multitalented rapper/singer’s output keeps getting stronger. With his dual skill set, Highway’s equally comfortable slow crooning over lonesome, late-night R&B cuts or kicking hazy sing-raps with infectiously nuanced melodies. On “Another Plane,” he carves up a hypnotic beat from hitmaking producer jetsonmade like a vibe-surfing Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix,” his voice smoothly weaving in slow motion with vision and calculation. As Seattle hip-hop continues to heat up and reshape itself, Highway is an artist to watch.
Holly Michelle, “On One” EP
After a stream of singles pingponging between laid-back R&B and frenetic Bay Area-informed raps, the singer/rapper cozies up to her sultry R&B side on this year’s “On One” EP. Over the brisk four-song set, airy beats give her resonant vocals plenty of breathing room, like a decanted fine wine. Another strong contribution to Seattle’s blossoming R&B scene.
Left at London, “t.i.a.p.f.y.h.”
Boundlessly clever songwriter Nat Puff flashes her indie-pop chops and graceful genre-fluiditity across her new seven-track album. Epic 10-minute opener “Pills & Good Advice” is a masterfully ambitious suite, evoking everything from Radiohead to hyperpop, and loaded with twists and turns. The Seattle maverick’s eclectic, high-IQ pop tunes feel both timeless and of-the-moment, thanks to her nuanced, era-spanning attention to songcraft and deftness working with a broad and contemporary sonic palette.
Meridian Odyssey, “Second Wave”
During the pandemic, this crew of hotshot young jazz players retreated to Alaska to crush salmon and record one of the year’s most well-received Seattle jazz records in an airplane hangar. From the dulcet guitar-and-sax-led opening on “NT” to the coolly skittering title track, the quintet — which includes frequent musical accomplices Xavier Lecouturier (drums) and Dylan Hayes (keys) — deftly switches gears, flashing a variety of compelling looks along the modern jazz continuum.
Nathan Nzanga and Matondo, “Mount Nzanga”
Between the release of his poignant, award-winning short film “enough.” and this gleaming new project, rapper/singer/songwriter Nathan Nzanga has been shining bright this year. The young artist with big visions teams up with his producer/rapper brother Matondo for seven kaleidoscopic tracks sealing myriad influences and touch points (see the folky guitar lick coursing through sunny soul-pop/rap fusion “Brightside”) into one airtight sonic package.
Slender Dan, “The Waking Life” EP
With one of the most intriguing debuts this year, the indie electronic duo of Heather Dickson and Patrick Ahern come through with an introductory set of dark, moody and atmospheric tracks for fans of Thom Yorke’s electro experimentations who can’t resist a beguiling melody. Their clean and steely productions come dimly lit and mechanically pulsating, as if written by candlelight from a space station looking down upon Earth.
Spirit Award, “Lunatic House”
The third full-length from Daniel Lyon’s psych-rock project came whirling into a chaotic world this year, just in time for the multi-instrumentalist and his live band to rev up Neumos with a release show on the Capitol Hill hot spot’s reopening night. It’s a dreamy cyclone of reverbed bliss and just a little mania, prancing through fuzzy, synth-kissed rockers.
True Loves, “Sunday Afternoon”
Seattle’s beloved soul-funk brigade comes out swinging on its sizzling sophomore album. With big band pop and swagger, the instrumental octet led by local guitar hero Jimmy James kicks off “Sunday Afternoon” strutting through a handful of saucy tracks with rollicking polyrhythms and punchy horns before briefly easing off the gas with the slinky “Yard Byrds.” It’s music to move to and everything you want from the always-dialed-in True Loves.
Wild Powwers, “What You Wanted”
Few do heavy and harmonic as well as this grunge-indebted trio on its colossal new album, which the band celebrates with a July 29 show at Fremont’s Bar House. Guitarist/singer Lara Hilgemann’s majestic leads shoot through mud-splattered stoner-rock grooves like sunbeams through dark clouds, while bassist Jordan Gomes and hard-pounding drummer/certified taco legend Lupe Flores bring the rhythmic thunder.