Best Seattle Albums 2008
16. Helms Alee – Night Terror (Hydra Head)
It’s no secret that metal sits at the back of the critical bus in Seattle, and that’s a damn shame, but maybe Helms Alee is less metal and more the kind of ultra-heavy artcore that once dominated basements before somebody decided to call it Grunge. Whatever you call it, Night Terror is a harrowing tour through caves of twisted, howling guitar sludge, sometimes settling into hypnotic jams before breaking out into more brilliant chaos. You will emerge changed.
15. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
These guys got more ink than a Pelican Bay skinhead this year, so I’ll limit my comments to this: don’t be sidetracked by the unfortunate CSNY-style dad-rock revival churning up in this band’s wake. Fleet Foxes is a unique, accomplished collection of warm moods and pleasant surprises that sounds classic without being slavishly retro.
14. The Pica Beats – Beating Back the Claws of the Cold (Hardly Art)
Start with some soothing acoustic guitar ballads, topped with earnest, slightly batty poetry ala The Shins (why yes “bento box” does rhyme nicely with “subway stops”). Add some musty, early 80s synths and drum machines, garnish with recorders, sitars, and sundry other toys. What do you get? I dunno either, but it’s the perfect soundtrack for psychedelic afternoons and those slightly skewed mornings after.
13. The Apple War – Alarm Bell City (Self-released)
The Apple War rides a fine line – their brand of moody, sophisticated, bass-heavy orchestral rock could become sodden and joyless in lesser hands. Thankfully, this record is peppered with tinkling bells, yacht rock harmonies, and other little surprises that elevate them from AOR blandness into a rather special league of their own. The low key numbers (“Sailor”, “The Nothing”) drip with smoky disdain, while elsewhere skittering guitars bring the rock, along with pleasant memories of OK Computer.
12. At The Spine – Vida (Global Seepej)
World-travelling politco-punk Mike Toschi has never been one to stand still, but even so, the expansion of musical range and depth on his band’s new record goes quite a ways beyond what one might expect. At The Spine is still lighting fires under the complacent, but they’ve added some melodic sweetness to help the pill go down. Could it be the influence of new collaborators (ex-Plains and Post-Adolescence members)? Regardless, Toschi’s path always leads somewhere worth travelling.
11. Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs (Atlantic / Barsuk)
I’ve been a loyal Death Cab hater for nearly a decade now, so it really says something that the band has drawn me in with the menacing pulse of the jaw-dropping single “I Will Possess Your Heart” and kept me riveted through most of the other tracks. The arrangements are live and raw, as though the band was just churning through these rockers when Chris Walla hit record. Ben Gibbard is still as precious as ever, but this is as good as Death Cab has ever sounded.
10. The Hands – The Hands (Self-released)
There’s just nothing not to like about this swaggering blast of dirty soul. It’s garage gospel with Flamenco horns and face-melting guitar solos. From throwback classic riffs to howling Cramps-esque freakouts, if you like “fun”, there is a good chance you will enjoy this record.
9. Common Market – Tobacco Road (Massline Media)
Hip hop has inherited the concept album, as rockers no longer know what to do with it. Tobacco Road is a compelling tale of growing up rural poor, moving to the city, and trying to find your path and your place. Ra Scion’s dense, allusive lyrics move from anthemic determination (“Gol’ Dust”) to somber reflection (“Winter Takes All”), anchored and driven by Sbazi’s top-notch beats. Few records really deserve to be called “inspiring” – this is definitely one of ’em.
8. The Riffbrokers – Weight of Line and Intersection (Unsmashable)
The furious woodshedding at the Unsmashable Records compound has paid off in spades. Harvesting the collective sweat flung from the faces of The Doll Test, The Small Change, the I Love Myselfs and the late great Young Sportsmen, husband and wife duo Nick and Heather Millward have fashioned the tightest, sweetest and most exuberant Riffbrokers’ LP to date. Nick snarls and mumbles his way through world-weary tales of back-of-the-van angst that trace a path between the Attractions, the ‘Mats and the Faces. Line and intersection indeed!
7. The Moondoggies – Don’t Be A Stranger (Hardly Art)
New folk rock influenced by the Byrds and the Dead usually sounds like it’s awkwardly trying too hard for that front porch authenticity. The Moondoggies breathe unexpected life into the genre with blistering powerpop guitars and the unearthly keening of singer Kevin Murphy, whose voice lives somewhere between Jason Molina’s place and Gram Parson’s grave. Who knew Sin City was in Everett?
6. H is for Hellgate – Come For the Peaks, Stay For the Valleys (Scissor City)
Songwriter Jamie Henkensiefken welds indie-confessional style songs into aggressive post-punk frames, with a bit of prog for color. From “Blood”, the danceable story of a day gone horribly wrong, to the epic mini-suite “Dusk at Devil’s Tower,” this record surprises and delights in equal measure.
5. These Arms Are Snakes – Tail Swallower and Dove (Suicide Squeeze)
Tail Swallower sounds like the burbling, gritty/glitzy sleaze that Touch and Go brought us in the early 90s, updated with pure post-hardcore of the Blood Brothers / Mars Volta variety. These Arms Are Snakes also dabble in some freaky molten keyboard trance dub stuff that may mess with your inner ear. If this is what the kids are into, we’re all in good hands.
4. Half Light – Sleep More, Take More Drugs, Do Whatever We Want (Self-released)
This band’s Best Kept Secret status is under serious threat, as their impossibly heavy live shows win them a growing legion of converts. Druggy guitars, a cello, spectral female harmonies, a thunderous rhythm section, everything you could need for a classic 4AD-style blissout. Do not listen to Half Light before operating heavy machinery.
3. Jake One – White Van Music (Rhymesayers)
Not all the performers on this extravaganza are locals, but this record may well be the Sub Pop 200 of the Seattle hip hop explosion of the ’00s. Producer Jake One‘s beats are each marvels, from the funky gospel under “The Truth” to the zoned out bounce behind “One Soil”. Add lyrics from such notables at Brother Ali, D. Black, MF Doom and Freeway, and you’ve got one bad-ass historical document.
2. The Whore Moans – Hello From the Radio Wasteland! (Mt. Fuji)
As soon as they rip into the bracing caterwaul of “Nerve Tonic”, it’s clear that The Whore Moans are more than just this year’s snottiest kids in the room. They bring the punk all right, but then witness the garage soul of “Rise and Shine” or their respectable forays into metal, hardcore, classic rock and prog (sometimes all in the same song!) and you’ll start to get the picture. Good humor, sterling songcraft, and an as-yet inexhaustible bag of tricks are these boys’ stock in trade.
1. Head Like a Kite – There Is Loud Laughter Everywhere (Mush)
You could be forgiven for being distracted by the shiny surfaces of Head Like a Kite‘s latest into thinking that this is just another guitar band riding the bleeps and blips bandwagon to wherever the hell it’s headed, but of course you’d be wrong. The songs on Loud Laughter could have been presented on acoustic guitar, accordion, or goddam kazoo and they’d still be wonderful. Luckily, there are no kazoo solos here, just flawless modern pop, heavy on killer hooks and ass-shaking beats.