The year's best local releases.

The Gnome tried not to fall into despair. But the thought of compiling a Top-10 local discs of '99 list left your half-pint scribe feeling like a milkmaiden facing a dried-up fleet of heifers. Then it happened. Using just these knobby little fingers and the plastic case from an old Super Deluxe CD, the Gnome scraped the moss from the shelves and daylighted so many notable discs by Seattle bands that they had to be narrowed down—rather than beefed up—to make a Top 10. Maybe these hometown heroes didn't change the world or even make it to Number One on the virtually meaningless CMJ charts, but these records revealed a real effort on the part of the artists, a combination of witty songcraft and impassioned performance. The payoffs may seem modest, but these discs were the local keepers of '99. That means keep 'em on your shelves, keep 'em in your CD players, keep 'em under your pillow. You betcha!

1. Gardener, New Dawning Time (Naughty Panther/Sub Pop) Led by Seaweed's Aaron Stauffer, this new group pulled off a retro-pop masterpiece, though not enough people noticed. Restrained, artful, and gorgeous.

2. Rusty Willoughby, Rusty Willoughby (Book/Hothouse) Seattle's underground pop (and Flop) legend returned with a downcast solo disc and flaunted an exquisite balance of introspection and pluck.

3. Juno, This is the way it goes and goes and goes (De Soto/Pacifico) This long, long, long-awaited debut brought a guitar-generated buzz that couldn't be ignored.

4. Maktub, Subtle Ways (Jasiri Media Group) A promising, fresh blast of funk that was two hit songs away from impact.

5. Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio, Blackbird (Pacifico) Just when this ex-Silkwormer and his Downer Trio had become, well, a downer, Phelps and friends rocked out anew.

6. Damien Jurado, Rehearsals for Departure (Sub Pop) Gloomy? Sure. But this dour songsmith crafted a lovely record with the brilliant single "Honey Baby."

7. Heather Duby, Post To Wire (Sub Pop) An atmospheric yet tuneful debut that plucked all the right heartstrings, with big production help from Steve Fisk.

8. Five Gears in Reverse, You're Not Asking the Right Questions (Montesano) These ex-Bellinghammers do put the Fab Four's influence to better use than just about any young band on the scene.

9. Little Champions, Pillow (Barsuk) Bratty, buoyant boy-girl vocals and a melodic delivery that varies from vicious to toe-tapping.

10. Red Stars Theory, Life in a Bubble Can Be Beautiful (Touch and Go) A breathtaking, mellower second album.

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