Editor’s Note: Puget Sounds highlights some of the best new music and music news from around the Pacific Northwest.
Be it plugged-up-canal memes or anti-union propaganda bots, (dis)information travels quickly online. Occasionally, however, the information highway is used for good, as the word is apparently out on Tacoma’s newest — and buzziest — rock band.
Fledgling quartet Enumclaw (yep, like the city) humbly entered the public world in February in the same fashion as many a band has in the post-dial-up age: They put a song on the internet. They even got a nice shoutout in a KEXP blog post — solid score for a Northwest baby band.
But about a month later, frontman Aramis Johnson got a bigger surprise. The singer/guitarist was helping out his friends who own beloved local streetwear shop eTc Tacoma when he learned Pitchfork, arguably the most influential indie-rock publication of the last 20 years, posted a positive review of the song, “Fast N All” — a delightfully ’90s-dreary rock tune with just the right jangle and a hint of shoegaze.
“I thought it was fake at first,” Johnson says. “I was in the room with my homie and I was like, ‘Dude, we’re on Pitchfork.’ They laughed at me and then we all pulled it up on the computer and I was like, ‘Oh [expletive]. Like, this is a thing.’”
Turns out the writer reads KEXP’s blog. By late March, Pitchfork’s kind words grew into a chorus of praise from a handful of other prominent indie outlets, including The Fader, Stereogum and another Pitchfork write-up announcing Enumclaw’s debut EP, “Jimbo Demo,” due April 30.
“Everybody in the band has been super excited about it, just because it’s been a little bit unexpected,” Johnson says. “We thought people would like the stuff and we thought it would do well, but we didn’t think it would catch on this fast. I personally thought I was gonna have to knock on everybody’s door and kinda [promote] myself.”
Despite making their digital debut two months ago, Enumclaw actually formed in July 2019 when Johnson and friends Nathan Cornell (guitar) and Ladaniel Gipson (drums) would hit Tacoma landmark Bob’s Java Jive for Monday night karaoke. Johnson and Cornell, who previously played in an emo band, bonded over a shared love of ’90s rock. (“We both know way too much about Nirvana and Oasis,” says Johnson.)
Since joined by Johnson’s brother Eli Edwards on bass, the crew got a few songs together by last spring — “And then the world shut down,” Johnson says with a chuckle. They’re still yet to play their first show.
While Johnson’s new to singing and playing guitar, he’s a veteran of Tacoma’s thriving hip-hop scene, having co-founded popular underground party series Toe Jam and DJed for Tacoma rappers Bujemane and Ghoulavelii.
“It might not sound like it sonically, but rap is definitely a big influence on what we do,” Johnson says. “I think I write songs kind of like a rapper almost. Not to say my cadences and stuff, but the stuff I want to talk about is. It’s more of a cultural thing than it is sonically.”
On Enumclaw’s second single, “Free Drop Billy,” Johnson’s endearingly frayed melodies ride thick, enveloping bass lines and warm guitar tones that shimmer and gleam like an oil rainbow in a Taco Time parking lot. Across the five-song EP, arriving on Seattle’s Youth Riot Records, Enumclaw’s overcast vibe feels particularly Northwest, the band’s DIY spirit in keeping with the South Sound’s rich indie-rock heritage.
Oh, about the name: The band’s Enumclaw moniker was actually inspired by the city’s elite wrestling squads, which Johnson competed against in high school. “To me, Enumclaw’s like the best. I want to be the best band in the world, so it kinda stemmed from that,” Johnson says. “Besides that, it looks really cool on paper and it sounds pretty cool.”
Beyond the “Jimbo Demo” EP, Enumclaw has another project’s worth of new songs they’ve been demoing while daydreaming of their first show once COVID-19 restrictions loosen.
“My plan — and I’m trying to speak this into the universe — but I’d really like to host our first show at Bob’s Java Jive, kind of as a full circle,” Johnson says.
Better get these guys an agent.
Seattle hip-hop’s been on a bit of a hot streak, a run that continues with another talented local putting pen to label paper. Seattle stalwart Macntaj has inked a multiproject deal with Bloc Star Evolution, a startup label helmed by Northern California rap vet X-Raided who rose to prominence in the ’90s. “Long time coming,” Macntaj said in an interview. “It feels amazing.”
Macntaj first turned heads outside the city back in 2017 with a cameo on a festival-ready track from electronic heavyweight Bassnectar. Over his subsequent solo releases, Macntaj has proved a playful smack-talker, toeing the line with a wink, a street savvy emcee capable of motoring through raceway bars and kicking smooth melodies with an everyman swagger.
The real-life Kwabena Boateng grew up between Seattle and Sacramento, California, a high school dropout who got caught up in the street life before becoming an investment banker by 23, prior to his music career picking up. Although they’re a generation apart, he and his new label boss hail from the same Sacramento neighborhood and share a number of mutual friends. Macntaj said the fact that the Bloc Star team trusted his vision and accepted him as an artist in his own lane made him feel comfortable signing with the Nevada-based label with ties to the Universal Music Group system.
“I’ve been offered deals from labels — these little [expletive] 360 deals,” Macntaj said of wide-ranging contracts that give labels cuts of things like tour revenue and merchandise sales, which once solely belonged to artists. “But this is the first time someone’s offered me a deal [where] I looked them in the eyes and explained my vision and they were able to almost elaborate what I said, also detailing how they can take what I said and make it greater, and I was blown away by that.”
(Note: This video contains explicit lyrics.)
In other signing news, esteemed indie label Anti- has locked in a pair of Seattle sibling bands — soul-jazz funksters High Pulp and trippy offshoot sunking. While High Pulp’s been a fixture on the local club scene (back when there was a club scene), it sounds like sunking, the lesser-known side project from two of its members, was what perked Anti- brass’s ears the most, leading to the package deal.
“We were like, ‘Dude, whatever,’” drummer Bobby Granfelt said of Anti-’s interest in their low-stakes side band. “What the [expletive] else are we doing? What, we can keep putting out tapes in my basement or we can work with a legit-ass record label. So, it was an easy decision.”
The cosmic jazz beat tape project was the result of a 5-year-old recording series inspired by Flying Lotus’ “You’re Dead!” album. Granfelt and keyboardist Antoine Martel chopped and looped improvised drum tracks Granfelt laid down, Martel adding synths and keys, with additional contributions from other Seattle jazz standouts. Soon they had 50 or so short songs, roughly half of which landed on sunking’s self-titled debut in 2019, an engrossing listen that got a little love in The Stranger but didn’t make a huge splash, with the two more focused on High Pulp.
“The whole process of sunking as a whole is sort of an accident,” Granfelt said. “It was completely DIY with no intention of it being anything.”
Sunking’s Anti- debut is slated for fall, with a fresh High Pulp record targeted for early next year.