Introduction by Matt Ashworth
Artwork by Tim Basaraba
Welcome once more to “41 Bands to Watch,” our annual ritual connecting you — our valued reader — with Seattle’s most exciting underground bands. It’s like the Audubon Society for audiophiles, except we watch bands instead of birds take flight.
Following April 2016’s incarnation of said list, whenever we discovered a band not yet on our radar, we effectively tracked and tagged them, adding that act to a Google document on the Interwebs.
How this happens runs the spectrum of this thing we call life: bands send us their music or invite us to gigs; new artists perform with other local bands we already love; and other people in the music community suggest we check out their latest new discoveries.
Other sources include: projects we read or heard via other great local sources covering new music, of which their are a multitude. To make sure we missed less, we also put out a general cattle call on Facebook in early March and asked some other local bloggers and indie publicists for suggestions.
All told, we mulled all the cattle and all the shows and all the everything, well over 300 bands.
While Warhol may have had a point in that repetition breeds familiarity, repetition makes for a sucky music list. With that in mind, we omitted acts/artists previously appearing in our #41for2015 or #41for2016 editions, including bands who seem to have forgotten that we included them previously (I’m looking at you, Low Hums).
We also skipped all the great local bands you already should know about. Artists who’ve been championed by the mighty and wonderful KEXP, as well as those whose talents have already elevated them to regular appearances on major stages like Sasquatch and Bumbershoot. With this particular list, we’re looking for the bands who will make that leap in the next couple of years.
Throughout a vetting process, debates unfolded, viewpoints were defended and, for the most part, we were able to settle most of our issues in a steel cage, using only foam paddles instead of the usual heavy folding chairs. Ultimately, we had to make some tough choices. Such is the nature of living in one of the most vibrant music cities in the country.
Now, then, we’d like to let you in on the secret and encourage you to watch them with us throughout the remainder of 2017 and beyond.
Alongside each of this year’s artists, we’ve included comments on why we selected them, and — more importantly — some links so you can go listen for yourself.
As always, please share your thoughts on these artists or others you think we should know about in the comments section.
Zelli’s keeping Seattle hip-hop honest, delivering big, booty-shaking beats and vibrant, bravado-filled performances. The fact that local taste-makers are starting to take notice is incredibly refreshing, since this town often takes itself too seriously, musically-speaking. – Matt Ashworth
Featured track: “Solid”
Admission: I’m usually turned off by solo harmonica and acoustic guitar together, but one-woman-band Zelda Starfire’s fast and brutal Hasil Adkins style country punk lifts me to the high heavens. Lo-Fi and human, with short songs with great names like “Chicken Killin” and “Never Drinking Again,” Zelda has personality and style coming out of her ears. – Glenn Smith
Zelda is genius. Was blown away 10 seconds into “Never Drinking Again.” – Jim Toohey
Yep. This kills. – Graham Isaac
Featured track: “Chicken Killin'”
I’m definitely digging on the cool, unique sound of guitar-driver post-punk band Yr Parents, who released their debut album Not Sure Feel Weird back in February and followed it up in April with a split EP with local band Difficult Children called Your Own Good. Our featured track, “Stark Raving Dad,” is all over the place… in a good way. – JT
You probably shouldn’t have to look past the band name to know you should check Tit Nun out; when you do it turns out there’s so much to love. Watch this video of them on Alt Fan Club right now.
The transition from a solo electronic project to a full band one is often rough, but somesurprises has managed it surprisingly well. Natasha El Sergany has been making atmospheric releases under the aforementioned moniker for a while now, but recently added a full band line up to flesh out her sound. Rather than lose the atmosphere, the lineup augments it, with building tension and a solid kraut-rock underpinning that makes their live shows something to see. One of the most promising cross-genre acts in the city today. – GI
Featured track: “mayor skipped town/srs dreams”
Jess Bonin, a long-time fixture in the Pacific Northwest pop-punk scene, has found her groove in Sleepy Genes. For the project, she teamed up with Kelly Sorbel and Scot Michael of Kurly Somthing and A Gun That Shoots Knives; Shauna Rodriguez of the now defunct dance-punk band Shit Machine; and Anna Arvan of I Love You Avalanche and Go Slowpoke. The group’s combination of pop chords, sweet harmonies and toe tapping beats makes for infectious, dance-y pop with that coastal groove and honest lyricism that brings some much needed sunshine to cloudy Seattle days. – Frida Ray
Featured track: “Jumping Overboard”
Shortly after we released our #41for2016 list we heard Sloucher’s debut 7-song EP of gentey, perfectly-executed 90s indie guitar pop. KEXP and The Stranger went nuts, understandably; the band’s likely to have a great H2 2017. – Paul Broderson
Yes. They write very, very good songs. – Lance Sobotka
Featured track: “Certainty”
As someone who’s dedicated himself to Seattle music and published hundreds of podcast interviews with relatively-unknown bands, I was surprised at the number of #41for2017 contenders I’d never heard of before we started. SiLM are such a band… and wound up being one of my favorite discoveries. During the vetting process, I started with “Still Slow Life” and fell in love almost immediately with the sleek, shimmery guitars and pulsing bass. Then, as soon as singer Hannah Honey’s vocals hit my ears, I knew I was hooked…I am a complete sucker for female vocalists. It’s been a few years since the band’s excellent Listen Within album was released, so I’m quite excited to hear what they do as a follow up in the second half of 2017. – The Zim
Featured Track: “Between Two Worlds”
“Rearrange,” the featured track from SHIVERTWINS, a four-piece band who’s Facebook page indicates they recently relocated to Seattle from Alaska, is shimmery 80s post-punk pop new wave like The Church or late-era Jesus and Mary Chain. I’m excited to see what they do from their new home in the Emerald City this year. – MA
Yep. “Rearrange” is a great track. I love the guitar tone, and the way the vocals are mixed in behind the instruments, giving them center stage. “Polly” starts with a similar sound, but then it speeds up and gets noisy, kind of like a heavier Beach Fossils. The lead guitarist is awesome, adding complexity and dimension to the songs and I love the drummer’s style as well. Let’s keep an eye on these guys. – GS
Nada debuted a really cool, interesting song by Roy Rodgers last year called “Acid Reflux.” It was enough to make me curious for more, so I checked out their March release on BIG BLDG RCDS and Blind Blind Tiger, If You Can’t Feel the Markers Then You Better Believe, where I encountered a well-mixed album of thoughtful, reflective tunes. “Pure Gold” is slow and mellow, yet musically complex and with great guitar delivery. The vocals are sparse, employing a “less is more” approach to great result. “Phosphorescent 3” is just gorgeous, with lush melodies that softly swell. This band makes me feel good. – GS
Featured track: “Acid Reflux”
Pleather make intriguing music that’s hard to pigeonhole. The band’s excellent 5 song BandCamp EP is kitchen-sink electro-pop, with weird, fastly-arpeggiated electronic basslines and off-kilter beats giving way to sweet vocals and pleasant guitar lines over soft, new wave synths. At times, Laurie Anderson seems like a sonic reference point, but it never lasts. There’s a lot going on here, and, although the approach and elements seem intentionally disparate, the end result is a relatively poppy and accessible sound. – Jim Toohey
The ascent of Raven Matthews in the Seattle music consciousness has been swift and strange, much like Matthews himself. His last record Disco Christ was a discordant journey through hip-hop, rock, EDM and a pinch of about five other things. His new joint GREYNEON is due out this year. – LS
Oliver Elf Army
The characters that inhabit Oliver Elf Army’s songs are strange and absurd. They wear doubled up bandannas, they knock baked potatoes off of Golden Corral buffet trays, and dictate the delivery of flowers to Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran. They seem to do too many drugs, whether accidentally or on purpose. And they connect us to our own very real human fallibility with a wink and a smile, along with a healthy helping of heaped on drums awash with successive layers of fuzzy guitar haze. Mary and Martin Adams hail themselves as “unmarketable,” which is again another absurd dig, because their music is supremely catchy and accessible. They are beloved in the Everett music scene, and their latest EP, Telescope, is pure “sinister” pop perfection. – Christine Mitchell
In a city with more than its fair share of well-styled punk bands, Nail Polish gets one over simply by being skronky, abrasive, and legitimately weird enough to live up to whatever hype or image is put on them. Probably should have made it in last year, but if you’ve slept or hesitated on this band, get on it. – GI
Moon Darling’s name is fitting; in an era where it’s increasingly hard to tell what a band will sound like from their moniker, Moon Darling play space-looking, romantic pop. Vocals echo, guitars chime like they’re underwater, reverb abounds, but doesn’t overwhelm. It’d be a bit reductive to leave it there, though, as there’s an underlying muscularity that speaks to some garage-psyche influences as well. Light enough to space out to, but grounded enough to keep you from getting lost. Live, the band can alternate sonic emphasis based on the needs of the audience. – GI
Remember when the cool kids were rock’n’rollers? Monsterwatch does, and they have been packing ‘em in clubs throughout the city over the last year. Their single “Tuesday” will please the crowd of music fans who like a short, sweet, stiff punch to the jugular. – LS
I didn’t know I wanted to see Grace Slick sing for a marriage of Mission of Burma and At the Drive In until the first time I saw Mind Beams, who were at the time called something else. Exquisitely technical post punk and prog meets wailingly emotive vocals and dynamic performances from Meredith Myre, who’s crushing it at the front person game. It’ll be great to hear these guys once they have some recordings that do justice to their live show, until then, get yourself to a show and be bewitched by Myre’s performances and hypnotized by guitarist Dustin William’s finger tapping technique and array of pedals. – GI
She has killer stage presence. – JT
Agreed. I fucking quit if they don’t make it. They are an incredible live band. Also I probably wouldn’t quit, I’d just lose all respect for this institution and vote bitterly next year. – LS
It might be an exaggeration to say Seattle’s heavy/loud/punk scene is going through a renaissance, but there’s no shortage of various contortions of loud sounds coming through the pike. Merso both play to and expand Seattle’s hard rock strengths with a behemoth of a debut record, 2016’s Red World on mighty local label Good to Die Records. Classic prog like King Crimson is a solid reference point, so are the swirling expanses of Explosions in the Sky, or the spaced-out post-grunge of ’90s rockers like Hum or Failure. The result is a remarkably self-assured trip into Merso’s tightly crafted other world, perfect for stoned immersion and blacklight staring or intent headphone listening and analysis. – GI
Every year, after the list comes out, within days we hear about another cool Seattle area band that wasn’t on our radar. Last year that band was Merso. – MA
Maklak make heavy, explosive music for deep thinkers, possess an impressive vocal range that oscillates from fragile tones to guttural pain, and somehow still keep their music rooted in pop sensibilities. Live, they use big dynamics and volume to put their audience into a trance like state. One of Seattle’s best-kept secrets. – PB
It’s also worth noting that it takes massive balls to do doom covers of “Angel” by Massive Attack and “Wandering Star” by Portishead. Maklak have done just that… and done it very well. – LS
Featured track: “Angel”
The Malady of Sevendials
Shoegaze has proved a resilient genre in the northwest. Probably shouldn’t be a surprise, given the practicality of the genre when pared with slow drives in the rain or looking out your window on a grey evening. The Malady of Sevendials effectively mine the genre for fresh sounds by paring it with electronics and repetitive riffs for maximum hypnotic effect. These folks are young too, so expect further honings of their sound as time goes on. – GI
There seems to be lots to be discovered from studying this young, seemingly literature-obsessed band (“Sevendials” comes from a Charles Dickens book). The Band in Seattle video on them is really cool. Love the band name. Mysterious, slow, gorgeous, youthful. – GS
We’re late to the party on Mackned. The West Seattle native had a breakout 2016, selling out local clubs, earning praise from Seattle Weekly and the Stranger, and releasing the great Born Rich, a nine song album that expanded the artist’s palette beyond the hip-hop game to include electro-pop and alternative. No clue on whether new music is due from Mackned – we’re not even sure he’s still in the game – but we’ll be spending the back half of 2017 catching up regardless. You might wanna do the same. – MA
Olympia’s Le Grotto carry forward that city’s tradition of producing great, if slightly off-kilter, indie pop bands, with jangly, Kinks-style compositions reverberating with psychedelic surf rock guitar and quavering vocals. Their excellent 9-song eponymous album provides a great scratch for my 90s Indie rock itch. – MA
“Omaha” has a good guitar sound. Like the chorus effect, makes the notes waver just a bit. Great guitar tone overall, bass sounds clean and tight, and the drums are well-played too, adding quite effective cymbal washes. Love the mix. The singer’s voice is well-balanced–not too harsh, not too soft. Kind of a Destroyer feel on the vocals sometimes. – GS
Featured track: “Lucid Dreamer”
Great rebirth for the band formerly known as The West. This is Disco-techno. Excellent stuff. – FR
Fun, upbeat, engaging, and inspiring. Every instrumentalist is great. Positive, loud and awesome. “Sister” starts slow, gets super awesome when the beat kicks in. His vocals remind me of Bowie on “Rock n’ Roll Suicide.” – GS
I love it too. Super catchy, high-energy dance rock. – GI
Moving from South Dakota to Seattle is not a traditional rap story, but neither is Kazadi. He may be fairly new to town, but his Lucid EP is more than enough to properly introduce himself. Lyrically, Kazadi has the steadiness of old school hip hop, with traces of very modern influences. There is as much room for John Lennon and Radiohead name drops and guitar solos as there is for stories about the struggles of the modern day world we live in. There is something genuinely refreshing about Kazadi’s unique style. – Ian Bremner, Old Rookie
Can you say “radio ready?” That’s what you’re in for with J GRGRY and that’s not a bad thing. Joe Gregory aka J GRGRY opted for the almost-acronym of a band name but I’ll take it. The music is sultry, dreamy, danceable and tremendously vulnerable lyrically. Gregory’s track “Cave Birds” gets the most attention from local radio and Spotify mixtapes, but I’d recommend you check out “eFlower” on the Gold Teeth + Glass Eyes EP if you want your eyes to fill with happy tears during a chorus that is chock full of gorgeous pop hooks and love-lorn lyrics. Gregory has Robert Cheek, producer of Band of Horses and Ryan Leyva (aka Johnny Nails) in his backing band. That’s a nice slice of Pacific Northwest royalty right there folks, holding court for Gregory’s vision to come to life. – FR
Local ambient-techno wizard IVVY is the solo project of Madi Levine and I daresay that they have single-handedly transformed our underground electronic scene with their unique and mystical sound, community building ethos and as part of the CTPAK Records crew. IVVY has gone through an elegant and brave transition from WMD, their former moniker and honestly, most bands and music projects don’t rise above and beyond a name change so fluidly but IVVY has not only survived that speed bump, but homed in on their unique sound and visual show that includes the shape shifting electro-visuals of CTPAK Film Crew into a visual-aural experience that is captivating, meditative and sublime. – FR
Local composer and bassist Blake Madden fronts Hotels, a group that delivers catchy retro noir-pop at its finest. Madden has a silky drawl that is part Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields and part Leonard Cohen in delivery. The big band feel of the project is elegantly tailored, right down to color matched outfits on stage. The band’s latest release, Night Showers, hosts a cast of guest vocalists that rank among Seattle’s finest, including Adra Boo of Fly Moon Royalty and Irene Barber, who performs with both Dust Moth and Erik Blood. – FR
Featured track: “Night Showers”
HellerGrave has a unique voice and sound. His songs seem almost deliberately slowed down, giving them a cadence that slowly sinks in to your brain and keeps you coming back to uncover another nuance. Our featured track, “Better Places,” has sweet underlining guitar notes in many places, especially near the three minute mark. Lovely stuff. – JT
Agreed. He has a pathos in his voice that hints at Lanegan/Cohen. Excited to hear more. – MA
Featured track: “Better Places”
Happy Times Sad Times
What I like about this band is the overall delivery. A little raucous, unassuming, silly, even charming. At best they sound like The Pixies. At worst, they still sound a bit amateur. But they’re growing as a band, and I’m excited to see where they develop. Their later BandCamp releases are where to listen. “My New York” is one of my faves, addressing the rapid gentrification and condo proliferation in Seattle in fun, mocking voices. “Kinky” shows the band speeding up and gaining a little more character, and I like them a little more raucous. – GS
I fell in love with this 20 seconds into “Pity Party.” I found some video and they look great live too. – The Zim
Featured track: “Kinky”
Catchy as shit, Friday as fuck. Future Fridays weave an irresistible pop sensibility with incredible production (via Steve Fisk) into one hell of a package. Armed with the exceedingly rare talent of making nearly anything hummable (see “I AM NOT YOU” from their excellent album “From Fun-zo to Done-zo” for proof), they have yet to create anything I don’t like a LOT. – LS
I love what Future Fridays are doing too. The guy/girl back and forth vocals on some of the tracks is especially rad. – TBASA
I interviewed Eric Padget for Nada earlier this year. He’s a huge support to the scene, recording and releasing music for local artists and performing in several bands. This one, which he fronts, makes silly, fun, happy guitar rock reminiscent of early Flaming Lops. Good stuff. – GS .
Featured track: “Dream Big”
Local songwriter Brian Fisher creates songs both meditative and urgent. Clean guitars layer with light synths and Fisher’s vocals. There’s a lot of indie rock out there that tries for what ES are achieving and ends up too precious, or irritating, but here the sounds are realized enough and songs strong enough to bear repeat listens. Both pleasant and a bit anxious – like walking through the rooms of an old apartment as sun breaks through the curtains, but you aren’t quite ready to face it yet. – GI
Great local dream-pop. These guys are the touring band for Vacationeer on occasion too. – FR
Featured track: “Mirage”
I’m pretty sure however I describe Diogenes’ beats will technically, on a genre level, be wrong. So instead, let me tell you a brief anecdote: it was raining, like it often is, and I was riding the bus, like I usually am, and I put on one of Diogenes’ beat tapes. I was going through a rough emotional period, but had no interest in self-serving wallowing. The music that flooded my ears both complimented and lifted me out of my mood; instrumental, sample heavy, and moody, without sinking into muck. Diogenes’ catalog is widely varied, but skill, mood, and an ear for psychedelic flourishes are constant hallmarks. – GI
Love the noisey intro on “N3W4G3″… the vocal sample, how everything’s warbled. Totally scary. Aphex Twin-ish, but less spastic. Takes me way out of my comfort zone. “Herc you lease?” is also cool. “Music to Drive By” is also cool, love the mood. – GS
Featured track: “Herc you lease?”
Devils Hunt Me Down
One of the best live shows Seattle has to offer, Devils Hunt Me Down channel the sounds that made Seattle cool in the early 90s but with their own unique style and passion. DHMD are carving out a spot as one of my favorite Seattle bands. – The Zim
Agreed. Kick-ass melodic rock. Hugely powerful shows. Great band, excellent chops, wickedly good lead singer and they really command a crowd. It’s old-school Seattle rock at it’s best. – FR
Featured track: “Texasaurus”
Choke the Pope
Choke the Pope play a smart, self aware brand of pop-punk/emo revival that manages laughs, feels, and anger without ever feeling self indulgent or whiny. It takes smart lyrics to connect on a raw, visceral level while maintaining awareness of their own privilege, and Choke the Pope match those with quick bursts of energy and infectious hooks. – GI
GI: Oh, and they kill it live too.
“Atmospheric” can mean a lot of things. It can be a lazy descriptor for rock and/or dance bands that simply add a layer of haze to otherwise pedestrian affairs. Other times it’s the only word that can accurately encompass the wide range of sounds and feelings a band evokes. This applies to Cavegreen, who shift between elemental electro-folk, blissed out danceability and building, sky-gazing epics. There’s something very Northwest about they way they use electronics to conjure a connection to nature. Expect big things from them in years to come. – GI
This is my favorite artist on this year’s list. – TBASA
“Avant-garde pop for everybody, filled with romantically gloomy soul voyages” is the best way to describe the windswept ache of Brandon Krebs’ widescreen music. Krebs has been in various groups and projects since he moved to Seattle in 2002, lucking out with some great collaborators. His collectives would play out at various clubs around town like the Sunset, the Tractor, High Dive, or the old Comet, and then would retire. Though recorded on a budget, his January 2017 release Refuge in Exile majestically opens the sound-scape up to many layers of texture, with unusual arrangements and fascinatingly diverse melodies in its chamber-rock elegance. – PB
Featured track: “T.S. Elliot”
The Black Tones
Eva Walker fronts The Black Tones with rare poise and confidence. Tough and experimental, the band blends bare bones garage rock with exotic instrumentation (sitar, for one). The only thing The Black Tones need is more recordings. – LS
Started as a brother/sister duo, looks like they may have added another member. Bluesy garage, with killer vocals. Live they transition pretty seamlessly from almost a capella chants to full bore power pop. – GS
It’s hard to describe the excellently named Beverly Crusher’s music without breaking into onomonopaetic guitar sounds and air guitars; this is excellently shreddy stuff. Cozell Wilson’s lead guitar lines find the sweet spot between blown-out garage and classic metal, while Max and Sam Stiles hold down an alternately charging and swinging rhythm section. Their new EP, Pills Pills Pills has a hooky, sinister edge while still being a complete party starter. Find whatever club or basement these guys are playing next, grab a six pack, and get down there stat. – GI
Featured track: “Pills Pills Pills”
Astro King Phoenix
If Upstream underlined anything about the local scene (besides its impressive ability for counter-programming), it’s that Seattle’s hip hop scene is not only impressive and varied– it’s huge. There are too many DJs and MCs and beatmakers for all of them to be THE one to watch– so watch as many as you can. Astro King Phoenix deserves to be near the top of said watch list, his raps over goldenbeet’s space-syrupy production vascillating between too-cool and bursts of double time energy. On “Buttered Flies” (produced by Stanleymarket) he spends most of his time in the latter mode, demonstrating an impressive versatility. – GI
Among Authors are unapologetic-ally epic and very good at it. – LS
Epic indeed. In the land historically known for grunge guitars, it’s refreshing to find a band use piano as it’s primary instrument.
Epic indeed. In the land historically known for grunge guitars, it’s refreshing to find a band use piano as its primary instrument. Among Authors stand out among the Seattle scene, owing more to the epic, swelling melodies of bands like One Republic or even Radiohead than to the crunchy, angular guitar rock that often catches NadaMucho.com’s attention. Surpassing the band’s lovely, epic instrumentation are the vocals of Ian Ketterer; if his live performances don’t move you, check your pulse. – The Zim
The inspired strangeness of Actionesse is riveting and refreshing. The best bands tend to mix a lot of different things in to their sound and these guys have done just that. A lil bit Faith No More, a dash of Cursive with some Jethro Tull-ish implication (including full frontal flute solos) make for a compelling listen. – PG
I like this a lot. Not sure if I’d call it punk but I’m gonna pretend like it is so I can say for the record that I’ve never heard a better flute solo in a punk song. Sounds theatrical without being nerdy theater people music. – Andy Bookwalter
Love these dudes. They just released a new EP called Fortune and are touring in support of it. – PB