Homegrown folk-country stars, revived blue-collar punks and red-hot newcomers have delivered impressive new records this year.
Seventeen’s a pretty random number, all right. Such is the problem when you’re trying to pick the 10 best local albums released so far in a still-young 2018. When poring through records from Seattle vets and buzzy up-and-comers that hit physical and digital shelves through the end of May, 10 quickly become 15. Fifteen then become 17 when your editor says you do indeed have room for a couple more.
In an embarrassment of Washington’s sonic riches, there were still many other great records from breakout garage rockers, beatmakers extraordinaire and more that narrowly missed this arbitrarily numbered list. And this is just the first few months of the year.
From homegrown stars to notable newbies, these are the 17 best local records of the year (so far).
Big Bite, self-titled
After kicking around Seattle’s underground for a few years, the nervy post-punks (featuring members of Casual Hex and Versing) hone their raw melodic sound on their rough-and-tumble debut LP. Wiry riffs collide with buzz-saw chords that subside into ’90s alt-rock comedowns, strung together with Matt Berry’s irresistibly drab vocals and Erica Miller’s anchoring bass lines. Proof Seattle punk lives loud in the face of a technopolis death march.
Brandi Carlile, “By the Way, I Forgive You”
Our hometown girl hits a midcareer high with her weighty sixth studio album, tackling death, her struggle adjusting to motherhood and, as the title suggests, forgiveness. With her pen as sharp as ever, the pride of Ravensdale beautifully reconciles a new parent’s sacrifices with the joys on “The Mother,” while orchestral-folk lead single “The Joke” — the most vocally potent of her career — is a resilient pep talk for marginalized youth.
Car Seat Headrest, “Twin Fantasy”
Just when you thought pop culture needed another reboot like a Kanye tweetstorm, garage-rock maestro Will Toledo sails in with an impressive full-band reworking of one of his (many) early bedroom recordings, a concept album about a past relationship. What could’ve been a disappointing choice to follow the success of “Teens of Denial,” feels vital with flurries of scribbling guitars, Toledo’s wry wit and dry-throated yawps. The album could use an editor in spots, but not on the punched-up 13-minute “Beach Life-in-Death,” which just might be Toledo’s magnum opus.
Courtney Marie Andrews, “May Your Kindness Remain”
Carlile’s not the only vocal dynamo with rural King County ties to drop a vocal bombshell this year. This folk-country nomad, formerly of Duvall, unleashes the full emotional force in her golden voice on her soulful follow-up to her 2016 breakout, “Honest Life.” Subconsciously informed by nights belting blues covers in a Fall City bar, Andrews sings with hair-raising abandon over gospel-brushed ditties (“Two Cold Nights in Buffalo”) and the intimate ballads (“Rough Around the Edges”) that have long been her bread and butter.
Damien Jurado, “The Horizon Just Laughed”
The ever evolving songsmith has done it again with an abrupt turn from his Maraqopa trilogy, re-emerging from a dark period with an elegant collection of literary folk songs he self-produced for the first time. Glowingly awash in strings, the lush arrangements and production don’t overpower the acoustic intimacy of songs like “Allocate” and “Over Rainbows and Rainier.” Jurado, who announced he’s leaving Seattle, has described the record as a set of “goodbye songs” (likely in more ways than one) and references to his home state feel sweetly somber, never more so than on “The Last Great Washington State,” the record’s fragile poetic peak.
Fuzz Mutt, “Colorless” EP
After cutting a few demos and singles, this promising young Everett band delivers 22 minutes of garage-punk gold on its delightfully scruffy new five-song EP. Grungy chords give fuzzed-up blasters like the title track and opening shot “The Doubt” welcomed brawn, while “A Quiet End” oozes with a stuck-on-the-couch malaise reminiscent of brat-punk kings Wavves. Slow-down closer, “Lost Things,” sinks even deeper into the sofa (and one’s own head) with dispiritedly catchy vocals and entrancing guitar leads. While Fuzz Mutt’s still finding its place in the Seattle scene, this power trio is definitely one to watch.
Jason McCue, “PANGAEA”
Another concept album about a doomed relationship that, against the odds, manages to feel fresh, thanks to the former Sound Off! winner‘s eccentric melodies with layered pitch-shifting highs delivered with understated gusto and precision. For the most part, the alt-folk wunderkind gets an impressive sound recording to his laptop through a USB mic, dressing up his spindly acoustic songs with occasional synth accents, electric guitar and tastefully warped vocal effects. It’s a promising step forward for an imaginative young songwriter.
JusMoni, “Sweet to Me”
This cerebral headphone escape, from a trusted electro-R&B/soul maven, makes shutting out the outside world easier than hopping in a sensory deprivation tank. It’s hard not to get lost in JusMoni‘s drifting, layered vocals that slowly loop and swirl together over velvety beats like smoke-ring lovers. The 10 meditative tracks from the Black Constellation member play like an aural candlelight massage after a joint and a glass of red.
Kung Foo Grip, “2.K.F.G.”
Perhaps no crew in town blends the many shades of Seattle hip-hop into a colorfully unified package better than Greg Cypher and Eff is H. With an assist from beatmaker Keyboard Kid, “2.K.F.G.” seamlessly weaves together infectiously cool hooks, whimsically bouncy cadences and traces of boom bap. Bass-pounding head-nodders like “Blvck Hollywood” and the murky “Risin’” set up bar-spitting haymaker “Mic Check,” a knockout blow for hip-hop classicists and contemporary trap lovers alike.
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The Moondoggies, “A Love Sleeps Deep”
The “Everett (expletive) kickers” return with their first album in five years, pushing their psych-twang sound deeper into the cosmos on their finest record yet. It’s an expansive slow-burner equally indebted to classic rock greats like the Band and Pink Floyd, with deep-in-the-pocket grooves heavy enough to cause an avalanche on “Easy Coming” and “Match.” Lead songwriter Kevin Murphy gets political without being preachy, finding love in the angry world in which he’s raising his young family. The lyrical heft and subtle ebbs and flows work best over start-to-finish listens, but at the very least, cruise-controlled rocker “Cinders” belongs on every road-trip playlist this summer.
Mount Eerie, “Now Only”
Experimental folk songwriter Phil Elverum continues the bare-all approach he adopted on 2017’s painfully vivid “A Crow Looked at Me,” which documented his grief after the death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée. As his grief evolved, the Anacortes songwriter contemplates posterity and the responsibility of shaping her memory for their young daughter — wider thematic scopes leading to more expansive songs, like the haunting 11-minute rumination “Distortion.” It’s not an easy listen, but you won’t find a more honest artistic expression of human emotion — something worth cherishing in an age of disconnectedness.
Parisalexa, “Bloom” EP
The local buzz around this blossoming (no pun intended) young singer grew even louder after the Sound Off! alum dropped her debut EP in January. On “Bloom,” the 19-year-old mines the relationship turmoil that’s inspired timeless R&B (and really, every genre) cuts since forever, weaving neo-soul cool, woozy alt-R&B and jazz-steeped beats with a grace belying her years. Scrubs, busters or whatever her generation’s calling lame dudes are dismissed with impressive self-assurance on “Deadhead,” while pining for baby-making love on ultrasmooth closing jam “Cross Pollinate.” Already with another release under her belt (the four-track “FLEXA,” which just missed our cutoff), it feels like her best is yet to come.
Perry Porter, “Channel Surfing”
On this solo venture, Perry Porter — one half of recalcitrant duo Sleep Steady — splashes his manic, voice-cracking bars over thickets of trunk-knocking bass, twitchy percussion and eerie synth leads on his latest release. One of the bright spots in Tacoma’s thriving hip-hop scene, the emcee (and talented painter) deals mini trap anthems in short bursts that, like a good punk record, leave you craving more.
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Ruler, “Winning Star Champion”
The only maddening thing about Matt Batey’s impeccable solo debut is that it didn’t come sooner. Last month the veteran Seattle sideman (Cataldo, Rocky Votolato) unveiled this batch of timelessly digestible guitar-pop — seven years in the making — that could have believably been conceived in any of the last three decades. At times, Batey unpacks his anxieties with nuggets of self-effacing humor — “I’m the winning star champion of [expletive] up,” he sings on the title track — endearing himself to listeners. The self-doubting themes and power-pop exuberance of songs like “Petrified” and “Cars and Houses” ought to age well — a testament to Batey’s songwriting, especially in the age of churn-and-burn consumption.
The highly anticipated debut from these beloved locals delivers on the unbridled rawk that has made Thunderpussy one of the best live acts in town (and netted a major-label deal), whether they were trying to or not. Fan favorites like “Speed Queen” and “Thunderpussy” are nearly as hell-raising in headphones as they are in clubs, while booming ballad “Torpedo Love” soars even higher with majestic strings. From there, the Latin rhythms underpinning “UteroTango” and the mystique of closer “Young and Pure” push their ’70s-channeling sound even further.
Travis Thompson, “YOUGOOD?”
One of the toughest things for rappers at any level to pull off is writing strong, earwormy hooks that aren’t cloying. But this Burien emcee makes it look easy on his cohesive new album, produced by fellow Macklemore affiliate Tyler Dopps. With his profile rising, thanks in part to a feature on Mack’s “Corner Store,” Thompson mostly skips the usual fake-it-till-you-make-it bravado, copping to the paralyzing anxiety he dealt with during its creation. It’s mellifluously dark and arrestingly human in moments, but still slaps when the timing’s right (see the hypnotic “Joyride”).
(Note: This video includes explicit language.)
Fourteen years since releasing their last album, Seattle’s blue collar misfit punks return with a rejiggered lineup, still louder and faster than a hundred beer-guzzling chain-saw operators and every bit as dangerous. Led by Blind Marky Felchtone and early-years member Kurt Colfelt, the speed freaks burn through 15 songs — from the Southern fried “On the Road” to tire-screeching “Devil’s Night” — in 20 minutes, leaving a cloud of exhaust in their wake.