As we trudge through this year of impossible gloom (look, it’s been a long summer), one thing has become clearer than our smoke-filled skies. Seattle musicians excel at something our federal government does not: working together.
It’s been a strange six months since live music in Seattle was canceled and although the pandemic has shifted a number of release plans, by and large, the music hasn’t stopped. Particularly, the past few months have seen a rush of all-star team-ups from some of Seattle’s heaviest hitters and a community spirit amid bleak times.
Topping the bill is a new two-song release from Brandi Carlile and Soundgarden, a Record Store Day exclusive that hits shelves Saturday, Sept. 26. Back in 2019, the Americana rocker (this year’s RSD ambassador) and Soundgarden’s surviving members hit Seattle’s fabled London Bridge Studio — a place each cut some of their formative music — to record a pair of Soundgarden songs together. Ostensibly, the headliner here is “Black Hole Sun,” the grunge lords’ most famous tune, which Carlile previously belted with the band to close last year’s Chris Cornell memorial concert in L.A.
But the real reason to stand in a socially distanced line on Saturday is their heavier-than-heavy trod through “Badmotorfinger” album track “Searching With My Good Eye Closed.” Ever wonder what Carlile, who’s become one of pop music’s premier balladeers, would sound like surfing a sludgy, stoner-metal tsunami? Us neither, but it slays.
Speaking of sludge, two of Washington’s noisiest rock titans, Mudhoney and the Melvins, linked up for this summer’s limited-run “White Lazy Boy” EP — an unruly four-song batch, half newbies and half covers, released through Minneapolis noise-rock label Amphetamine Reptile. Superteams don’t always work out (ask the Los Angeles Clippers), but chemistry issues weren’t a concern with this pairing of underground rock greats. Formally withheld from streaming services, this one’s largely for the rock-nerd collectors among us, though their scathing blast through Black Flag’s punk classic “My War” is worth the $5 and dusting off of a CD player (alas, the vinyl run sold out).
“Supergroup” is an overused term, hastily applied to any group comprised of musicians who have also previously been musicians. But considering the firepower involved, the newly formed Cyanide Syndicate is basically the Justice League of local hip-hop. (Or is it more Suicide Squad?) Either way, the group formed by Seattle rap’s absurdist anti-hero Nacho Picasso, Key Nyata and producer Keyboard Kid has been teasing for months one of the most anticipated local releases of the year. The crew’s debut project, which features contributions from Sango, another top Seattle beatsmith, doesn’t have an official title or release date yet. But whenever it arrives, we can confirm it will be worth the wait.
Between all the hometown connections, a number of local favorites have also paired with out-of-towners for full-length albums — from ODESZA’s BRONSON project to Stone Gossard’s forthcoming Painted Shield and indie-rock vet David Bazan reassembling with stadium-sized groove-rockers Lo Tom.
For all these welcome musical pick-me-ups, the real boost has come from seeing how the Seattle music community has rallied together during this pandemic-induced rough stretch. Organized by author/activist Ijeoma Oluo, hip-hop mainstay Gabriel Teodros, Ebony Arunga and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, the Seattle Artist Relief Fund has raised and distributed nearly $1 million and counting to more than 2,000 local artists. Of that pot — which you can still donate to — more than $20,000 came from this summer’s REFILL virtual concert, spearheaded by Seattle rapper Sol, singer-songwriter Ben Zaidi and others.
Elsewhere, Black Fret Seattle, started by longtime local musician Ben London, recently awarded $50,000 in grants to Seattle artists. The recipients are paying it forward by participating in a Nectar Lounge livestream series benefiting various charities.
It’s hard to know what shape the Seattle music community will be in when we get to the other side of this thing. But whenever the smoke clears and the curtain rises, there will be much to celebrate.