The hardest part of my job isn’t the late nights, an inbox impossibly cluttered with news releases or persuading my editor to extend a deadline (for the second time). It’s finding enough space to shine a spotlight on all the deserving new music coming out of our region.
It’s an excellent problem to have, to be sure. For all the economic challenges facing artists (and, really, anyone without a six-figure tech job), especially in Seattle, it’s a welcome sign that our upper left corner of the country continues to be a hotbed for exceptional indie rockers, hip-hop artists, electronic wizards and aural experimenters of all stripes.
This new column aims to highlight the breadth and depth of exciting new music coming from artists and labels in Seattle and across the Pacific Northwest. Every other month, Puget Sounds will round up some of our favorite new releases that we may not have covered elsewhere. Whether it’s a new record from a veteran Northwest act or talented newbies breaking into the scene, we hope you discover something you like.
(Note: Some songs contain explicit language.)
Anna Tivel, “The Question”
With her impeccable new album, the Portland singer-songwriter proves a keen observer of a world in which there’s always an injustice and smoke lingering in the air. The breathy-voiced storyteller’s literary flair brings her vivid folk songs — dressed up with beautiful string arrangements — to life, whether she’s opening a garden window to call to a lover who’s already gone (“Anthony”) or taking listeners to the Mexico border (“Fenceline”) to feel the collision of hope and despair. Tivel headlines Ballard Homestead on May 4, returning this summer at Timber! Outdoor Music Festival.
Barrett Martin Group, “Songs of the Firebird”
Just one year ago, the former Screaming Trees drummer was releasing his sixth solo album hot on the heels of a memoir/travelogue. Now, the grunge lord-turned-progressive jazz experimenter is back at it with another book and coinciding double album “Songs of the Firebird,” due May 10. Meant as aural accompaniment to his collection of short stories, “The Way of the Zen Cowboy,” the sprawling 20-song set of ensemble-geared arrangements impressively doesn’t feel bloated. With help from friends like Peter Buck, Wayne Horvitz and percussionists Thione Diop and Lisette Garcia, its moods and tones shift throughout, from the gritty after-hours funk of “Dark Wing” to the jazz-rock leg-stretcher “Requiem,” featuring Kim Thayil. Martin celebrates with an album/book-release show June 1 at the Royal Room.
Black Ends, “Sellout” EP
It may have been The Black Tones release party, but the recent sold-out Chop Suey show also felt like a coming-out party for this intriguing new band, who impressed with a rambunctiously tousled set. This spring, the trio led by singer/guitarist Nicolle Swims dropped its wiry debut EP, marked by Swims’ frazzling, spiky guitar work and wry vocal delivery. While the title track’s an art-punk ripper, the moody “Maybe When” cools down into a dark and swaggering garage-rock groove. Black Ends is a young band to watch; the next opportunities to do so are coming May 17 at The Valley in Tacoma and May 31 at Southgate Roller Rink.
CarLarans, “RAW HNNY”
With his latest release, this Seattle singer and member of House of Luna — a QTPOC collective promoting safe spaces/empowerment — takes a significant step forward. The uplifting “RAW HNNY” is a more jubilant departure from 2017’s more hip-hop-oriented “Black-N-Gold.” Its soulful synth-pop songs, set to disco and trop-house thumps, practically beg to throw a pool party intended to help you forget about an ex-lover or find a new one. Conversely, slower electro-R&B jams like “Come Over,” dripping with sensuality, are better suited for after you’ve found them. While much of the album’s conducive to feel-good, party vibes, don’t mistake it as frivolous. Lead single “Out Rages” sticks a palm in the face of bigotry without stepping off the dance floor.
Gifted Gab, “Cause & Effect” (Crane City)
It was her bruising lyrical slugfest “Come Correct” with Oakland rapper Blimes that earned this proven Seattle emcee viral fame last year. But on Gifted Gab’s first album since her social-media smash and L.A. relocation — arriving ahead of their joint B.A.G. album due this summer — the rapper/singer embraces her duality, splitting the Antwon Vinson-produced “Cause & Effect” between side A’s bar-shredding assaults and the moody R&B cuts on side B. The second half finds Gab’s sultry singing voice swimming alongside smooth-jazz horns and rock-ballad guitar licks, lovesick one minute and giving sensual blunt-rolling lessons (“He Gon’ Roll”) the next. Still, it’s the front half’s bare-knuckle verses that leave the most lasting impressions, as on the gloves-off “Don’t Push Me” and scratch-happy throwback “AND 1/Hurricane G.”
Jayda G, “Significant Changes”
Since catching considerable buzz overseas on the strength of her exuberant sets, this British Columbia-reared DJ, producer and former environmental-science graduate student is splitting her time between Berlin and Vancouver, where she cut her teeth in the underground dance scene. But it seems the Northwest isn’t far from Jayda Guy’s mind on her irresistibly funky Ninja Tune debut, wielding orca samples on the weeping downtempo interlude, “Orca’s Reprise,” and injecting snippets of a biologist warning of threats to Salish Sea whales on hard-grooving “Missy Knows What’s Up.” Most of “Significant Changes” is far sunnier, pushing Guy’s contemporary spin on Chicago house and disco while admonishing Instagram-scrollers on the dance floor with “Stanley’s Get Down (No Parking on the DF)” — as if one’s hands would be anywhere but in the air when this joyous club-rocker is on the decks.
J’Von, “Dream Surfer”
Quietly released back in March, ultrasmooth Seattle rapper J’Von’s just getting around to giving his dreamy new 10-song set a proper release party May 17 at Barboza. From the chiming chiptune-rap openers “Surf1000” and “Mission Start,” J’Von’s Kweli-evoking flows and nimble phrasing land on lush, neo-soul beats as softly as cat paws on a bearskin rug. From there the rapper/singer dips further into futuristic soul-rap terrain at times, spreading his buttery, low-key melodies over glistening electro-laced productions.
Orville Peck, “Pony” (Sub Pop)
For whatever reason, everybody from Lil Nas X to indie-rock stars Mitski and Mac DeMarco wants to be a cowboy these days. But none wear their dusty-boot swagger quite like Sub Pop’s buzziest new artist, a former B.C. punk who seemingly rode bareback into the indie-music consciousness after realizing his psych-country calling while tripping in Joshua Tree. The masked cowboy crooner’s identity is somewhat of a mystery, but his sweetly haunting baritone and disregard for Music Row conventions are in keeping with outlaw greats like Cash and Willie. Peck’s May 18 Barboza show is sold-out, but the country renegade returns to the Northwest this summer for the startup THING festival in Port Townsend.
Following a string of singles and EPs, Barcelona frontman Brian Fennell fully steps out on his own with his debut solo album. Fennell’s proclivity for hooky anthems is present as ever on gleaming indie-pop songs like new-wavey sprinter “Clean Eyes,” counterbalanced by sullen, synth-heavy tracks like the James Blake-channeling “WDWGILY.” After breaking in a new live band last month at a sold-out Columbia City Theater, SYML moves up to the Neptune on Aug. 17.
Versing, “10000” (Hardly Art)
Having climbed the Seattle rock ranks over the last few years, Versing was scooped up by Hardly Art ahead of their rumbling sophomore full-length. The dynamic quartet’s first effort for the Sub Pop imprint makes good on their new platform, arriving awash in warm, reverberating guitar tones while wielding elements of slacker rock, shoegaze and punk, slotting neatly into none. Barbed guitar leads splash against walls of Sonic Youth-indebted dissonance that never consume singer/guitarist Daniel Salas’ magnificently dour melodies. One of the finest local rock records of the year thus far. Versing celebrates with shows at Sonic Boom Records (May 1) and Chop Suey (May 2).