Now That's What We Call Seattle Music 2003!

Laptop indie-pop. Syncopated taints. Robo-punk. Electro-funk. And people yelling over guitars. Seattle Weekly compiles two discs' worth of the year's best local music.

Unless you're taking a shower, waiting at the DMV, or watching a Kevin Smith movie, two and a half hours is not a long time. But you can cram quite a lot into that spacean entire year's worth of great local music, for example. That's what we've attempted to do here. Our reasoning is simple: A musically diverse city deserves to be represented with as much range as it offers. So the Weekly music staff selected our favorite local tracks from 2003 (local, not regional sorry, Olympia). We figured we'd get a decent CD out of it. We got two: 150-plus minutes of blissfully, head-snappingly, all-over-the-place selections that simultaneously serve as a mash note, beginner's guide, r鳵m鬠and travelogue, not to mention a convincing argument for anyone looking for evidence of the city's continuing musical vibrancy. (Proof positive will come in the form of your letters telling us what we missedhint, hint.) And no, the discs aren't for salejust don't try taking them off our iPod. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

DISC ONE (78:56)

1. The Postal Service, "Such Great Heights" (Give Up, Sub Pop) Hipster record shops in New York couldn't keep it in stock, every college party in the United States hammered the thing into the ground, and still we're not sick of the Postal Service's Give Up, the uncontested local album of the year even if half of it did originate in L.A. That means Angeleno beats-and-boinks-meister Jimmy Tamborello and moonlighting Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard did something right, over and over. And the consensus is that they did it no righter than on "Such Great Heights," the disc's first single. The frisky, almost drum and bass-ish beat establishes an urgent tone early, but even the ping-ponging little figure that anchors the song's background sounds relaxed after a while. Tension + serenity = bliss, especially if you + hooks like this one. M.M.

2. United State of Electronica, "Emerald City" (U.S.E., B-side) OK, gotta face the hard truth on this particular entry: If Candlebox had risen from the dead to break out a call-and-response party anthem about how fun it is to gallop around this silly city and its silly neighborhoods, their post-flannel asses would be all over this mix. Luckily, USE resurrected Daft Punk's rump-shaking methodology, not Pearl Jam's, to accomplish something genuinely unforeseeable (and necessary): getting a lion's share of Seattle's notoriously too-cool-to-groove indie brats to uncross their arms, unlock their hips, and gyrate with stupid abandon. If "Emerald City" is their thesis, I can't wait to scour the subpoints. ANDREW BONAZELLI

3. Codebase, "Seek and Destroy" (Style Encoding, Force Inc.) Tonight, Tom Butcher is gonna party like it's 1982. Sleek, laid-back, in no hurry at all, "Seek and Destroy," like the rest of Style Encoding, is travelogue music for a compression chamber lounge circling Jupiter, a neat splicing of Giorgio Moroder's early '80s proto-electro with Detroit techno's more contemplative side. Butcher is a classicist, but there's nothing dated about his approachor at the very least, the chunky, analog-leaning sounds he generates have dated better than most people would have imagined. M.M.

4. Anna Oxygen, "Spectacle" (All Your Faded Things, Cold Crush) A fit of archaic disco clatter. Overlapping, rope- skippin', lady-robo vocals spitting riddles riddled with random equations. An abrupt smash cut into New Order-remix caliber synth bumps. A too-smooth, airy vocal line gently taunting someone about doing the "pom-pom" in front of everyone. This is Ms. Oxygen's "Spectacle," all right. Almost every track on All Your Faded Things unfolds with similar, fragmented energy, employing only a keytar and drum machine to tease your body, and icy melodies, playful, carnivalesque imagery, and a healthy dose of political wherewithal to tease your mind. West Coast 'clash with big-ass brains. A.B.

5. The Blood Brothers, "Cecilia and the Silhouette Saloon" (Burn Piano Island, Burn, ArtistDirect) Our finest, barely legal, skin-and-bones (the over/under on any member is 130 pounds), art-punk quintet unleashed the most visceral primal scream of their still infant career in March. Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney's beat(down) poetry about sex, violence, and social retardation was impressively manic, and "Cecilia" was the apex. Launching with a belch of haunted house keys, it's a giant unlike anything the boys have wrought so far, decomposing into a math-core nightmare, lurching into an unforgettable, black-eye, wail-along bridge ("Where is love now? Ba ba ba ba ba ba!") then erupting into a white noise hissy fit all over again. A.B.

6. A Frames, "Futureworld" (A Frames 2, S-S) "I can see a future world," Erin Sullivan intones (yep, that's the word) midway through the A Frames' brilliant second album. Then, on the bridge, his robo-punk riffs are joined by a skronky free-blowing freak-outa rare moment of chaos on a tightly controlled disc, and one that helps open the song (and album) up a bit. Not that the A Frames need it: They have their sound, sensibility, and sense of humor down cold (yep, that's the word), and monster drummer Lars Finberg completes the group's transformation of clatter into antimatter. "The best rock band in America," raves Slate's Sasha Frere-Jones, and he may be right. M.M.

7. Electric Blanket, "Dodecahedron" (demo, self-released) Like a bad joke administered by your bloated uncle at a holiday dinner table and the knowing kick you get from your half-cousin-twice- removed and the giggle/smirk you suppress afterward, these wisenheimers deal in rapier wit cut with crude punch lines, pointy-toed shoes, and time that doubles in on itself and lasts forever. Why this isn't one of your favorite local bands is completely beyond me. LAURA CASSIDY

8. The Malinks, "Clean Living" (I Can't Shake Last Night, Disaster) Roiling, headfirst-tumbling, power-pop-punk about relationships with yelping vocals and sneaky melody sounds like the easiest thing in the world to get right, and countless bands have proved just how wrong that is. This one doesn't. "I don't like to think, and I don't want to use my hand/I only want to jump and see what happens when I land," vocalist (and Weekly contributor) Chris Lorraine notes on his way to a chorus that sounds like a bridge. That refrain is one of the few places "Clean Living" slows down, which is one reason it works so well: The verses all sound like choruses. M.M.

9. Dawn Clement, "Not Yet" (Hush, Conduit) Shades of scotch-soaked "Lush Life" in the opening give way to an assertive jazz waltz that has Clement incorporating 50 years of piano history into her own sterling voice. The recent Cornish grad makes a huge first impression on her debut disc, which announces her as the most exciting young pianist around here since Aaron Parks. She's more reserved and ruminative than your typical jazz hotshot, with a melancholy sophistication that puts her right in line with greats like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. This elusive track reveals everything that makes her special. MARK D. FEFER

10. Ghidra, "Disclosing Your Eyes" (Strawberry Skinflint, Sol Disk) From a record of full-on intensity, this track comes as a pause for reflection, as saxophonist Wally Shoup explores long tones and lyrical peals and guitarist Bill Horist dabs and scrapes, finally giving way to a burst of distorted cries. This trio embodies the best in Seattle free jazz, with a sure, if shifting, sense of form, and a beautifully melodic way with unconventional sound that comes across most subtly and powerfully on this cut. M.D.F.

11. The Intelligence, "Boredom and Terror" (Boredom and Terror, Omnibus/Dragnet) If you've never had the supreme pleasure of sitting next to a projectile vomiter on JetBlue's red-eye flight from Seattle to New York City in the middle of a flu scare/ media circus, let me tell you, you really learn to appreciate those cute little barf bags. You learn to appreciate the Intelligence's dented, flippant worldview as wellthe turbulent toy-box beats, the backward melodies, the way Lars Finberg's furtive phrases snake down narrow aisles and lash out like inoculating needles. You appreciate the common denominator in Hank Williams, John Lennon, Mark E. Smith, Kurt Cobain, and the kind male flight attendant who shows up with a fresh receptacle every five minutes. L.C.

12. Popular Shapes, "Flattered You're Terrified" (Bikini Style, On/On Switch) Hey kid, you ever see the movie Over the Edge staring a young Matt Dillon? It's about teenage dissent, cul-de-sac domestication, quaaludes, and tube socks. It also has a triumphantly rebellious soundtrack. Although it was made in 1977 as serious social commentary, it didn't get released until 1979, and, because so much of our culturemusical and otherwisewas altered, marred, and disseminated in the gap between those two important years, by the time it reached theaters the film was criminally misunderstood and underappreciated by the masses. Today, it's a cult classic; the kind of movie you watch on a rainy Sunday morning with someone you can't stop kissing. You ask me why I bring this up and I say that the Popular Shapes aurally approximate that world of dissent, domestication, and, if not quaaludes and tube socks, then hydroplaning guitar parts, geometrical bass designs, and oddly acute admonitions. More importantly perhaps, their sound acknowledges all that began with the punk movement of '77 and exalts all that was altered, marred, and disseminated in the years that came after. L.C.

13. The Lights, "Your Boyfriend Has a Pretty Machine" (Beautiful Bird, Bop Tart) If this songhell, the entire albumdoesn't induce a flashback to some dimly lit college dorm room or a crap-brown 1979 Pinto where you heard Pavement for the first time, then clearly you did not smoke enough pot or ride around in enough Pintos in the late '80s/early '90s. The dyspeptic, subverted pop sounds of the Lights embrace the chunk, jangle, and collide of early indie, tie it up around some Rough Trade-style fierceness, and then stand back and ask, "Now which one of you said college rock died when Michael Stipe started wearing dresses?" L.C.

14. The Dipers, "Shake" (How to Plan Successful Parties, Omnibus) Maybe, as writer Rod Smith recently suggested, there's a middle Erin Sullivana guy who splits the difference between the rectilinear brute force of the A Frames and the squall-is-all approach he takes on this track, recorded two years ago but only recently shown the light of day. But we haven't seen him yet, and there's no real hurrythe bipolar approach is plenty entertaining, thank you. "Shake! Shake!" he screams on, um, "Shake"; then he screams it some more. Really? You don't say! M.M.

15. The Pulses, "Enchanted Heavens" (Little Brothers EP, Dirtnap) If I didn't know that the Pulses' frontman Jesse Steinchen and drummer Dave Ramm share an affinity for the Scottish band Teenage Fanclub, I could just put my hunch down to my excellent powers of deduction. Sometimes the simple things sound the bestsee the Wipers, Flipper, direct yes or no replies. Then again some sweet, brief harmonies and a quick hissy-fit guitar solo don't hurt, either. The Pulses manage all of the above in just one minute and 28 seconds. L.C.

16. These Arms Are Snakes,"Drinking From the Necks of the Ones You Love" (This Is Meant to Hurt You, Jade Tree) Much of what folks dig about the Snakes' death rattle stems from their inventive live sets. They kill the house lights, work their own enormodome-in-a-piss-stink-tavern magic with a bedroom strobe, Steve Snere writhes like Iggy, and Ryan Frederiksen, Brian Cook, and Joe Preston pound rigorous doses of prog, metal, and punkthink Mars Volta without the boring-ass noodlinginto velvety cacophony. But when you give the Snakes the headphones treatment, minus the startling visual stimuli, "Drinking" is the hot track, flaunting a taut, rigid, oh-fuck-here-it-comes bridge that collapses into their lone remotely conventional breakdown. It's a molten headbanger's delight. A.B.

17. Himsa "Rain to the Sound of Panic" (Courting Tragedy and Disaster, Prosthetic) Juno frontman Arlie Carstens regularly swore to me that Himsa was the lone band in this burg worthy of carrying on Botch's torch, upholding the honor of mind-bending, dramatic, off-the-chain, intellectual heaviness. It took me a few years to see the (soul-crushing, wrist- slitting opposite of) light, but Himsa is indeed A+ gloomcore. John Pettibone fronts the unit with asphyxiating confidence, and his longhair shredders rip the frets with gruesome crunches and bullet-train solos. By the time "Rain" careens into its final 45-second stretch run, their gruesome urgency just may have you, well, dead, and maybe even merrily decomposing. A.B.

18. DJ Lance Lockarm, "Lose Yrself Fitter" ( lancelockarm/) Mash-up bootlegs combining vocals from song A with music from song B went back underground after making a king-size hipster splash in 2002, but a few great ones (Hi-Fi Hillary's "Re-Work It," Ultra 396's "Beastie Blitz," GHP's "Let the Music Gimme Shelter") did surface, and Seattle audio prankster DJ Lance Lockarm (n頂rian MacDonald) was responsible for one of the best. "Lose Yrself Fitter" combines the vocals from Eminem's biggest hit with music that tenses against them rather than plodding along behind. First, Em is laid over the Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock," giving his scene-setting opening verse and chorus the momentum it deserves; then the Cure's "Primary" ups the tempo and slants the beat, suspending it in midair; finally, Sonic Youth's "Titanium Expos颠brings it back to earth with a rough, hard tumble. Lockarm's ministrations transform the song from a heavyweight champ's entrance theme into a lean and hungry shadowboxing session. M.M.

19. Dead Low Tide, "Navy Buttons" (Dead Low Tide, Tiger Style) Spencer Moody plows through bands like Michael Jackson plows through . . . unique and colorful stage apparel, and Dead Low Tide is easily Moody's most regrettable post-Murder City Devils casualty. In re-establishing switchblade ties with ex-Devils drummer Coady Willis and guitarist Nate Manny, Moody built a likeable, familiar foundation, but the addition of Enemymine/Godheadsilo super-bassist Mike Kunka promised a more vicious, less danceable metal sound, which the quartet fully capitalized on in "Buttons." Moody's never-more-maniacal warning, "Don't step on my good shoes!" should have been the rock mantra of 2003. How'd this bruiser slip under the radar? A.B.

20. The Fire Theft, "Chain" (The Fire Theft, Rykodisc) I should be stripped and flogged on the monorail tracks outside EMP for including a song in this hit parade that repeatedly rhymes "silence" and "violence." So be it. Jeremy Enigk's iron lungs and feverish passion have always compensated for the occasional lyrical misstep. Of all the dense, delicate Sunny Day-goes-Styx tracks on the Fire Theft's debut, the ascending four-chord thunderbolt on "Chain" is absolutely undeniable. It's the album's lone populist standout, complete with a perfectly appropriate Triumphant Guitar Solo, the banana split to offset some pretty damn challenging food for thought. A.B.

21. The Lashes, "Death by Mixtape" (7-inch, Sonic Boom) This song is named after my column, but isn't about my column so much as girls, perhaps a different girl in each of the three verses, which I could verify if I were paying attention to frontman Ben Clark's explanation at Linda's, and not, well, a girl. It could be about Lara Flynn Boyle choking to death on Chicago dogs at Shorty's after listening to Jack Nicholson's "Laker Girl Halftime Hot Tracks: '85-'03" mixtape, and it would still make this list. But seriously folks, that subterranean keyboard hook is killer, and I love it when self-aggrandizing asshole agitators get a little romantic. A.B.

DISC TWO (77:30)

1. Charming Snakes, "Teenage Kut Out" (7-inch, Haunted Horse) Half cover, half hard-earned melancholy inside a post-punk frame (Northern Ireland punk greats the Undertones are directly credited; the first Psychedelic Furs record is all but spiritually channeled; and Scared of Chaka/Broadcast Oblivion/Shins star Dave Hernandez makes a cameo), this song drives you to dig up The Queen Is Dead and then play all those awesome Butthole Surfer "ballads" ad nauseam. The band has taken their own sweet time honing their blistered post-rock/ post-punk sound and so it goes that these days you can't stand in a beer line without hearing some wise guy comment on how Charming Snakes are getting really good. Hearing "Teenage Kut Out," you want only to change the tense; these cats got good. L.C.

2. The Ruby Doe, "Red Letters" ( When a band slams on the brakes and takes a conscious right-angle turn away from its established approach, there's usually a concrete wall waiting to greet them. By lubricating their bludgeoning, tangential math-metal with the soothing balm of hooks and killer, overdriven choruses, the Ruby Doe didn't ram through that obstacle so much as charm it into rubble. The still-unreleased, infectious "Red Letters" got substantial spins on The End, walking the perilous tightrope between unabashed pop and hard-ass garage rock as if it were a 5-foot wide, rock-solid plank. Too long unsung, the Doe's about to get their due. A.B.

3. Crooked Fingers, "Sweet Marie" (Red Devil Dawn, Merge) In which Eric Bachmann abandons the devastated croak of 2000's Crooked Fingers and 2001's Bring on the Snakes in favor of a still creaky but far warmer '60s-esque handmade pop sound. Maybe moving to sunny Seattle from the cold, grey south brought about the change of heart. Or maybe not. Either way, Bachmann still sounds a little melancholy even if the Tijuana-ish brass that surround him don't. It doesn't stop him from cracking a few jokes along the way, either: "Tonight I swear I'm gonna make my stand/With that other boy you call your new man/Way up from the bottom, I'm gonna hit the street/And scare that child so hard, till he's out of your reach/So you and I can meet now while your other love's away/I know you would never cheat with anyone but me." That the sweetness that had gone missing from Bachmann's voice since his last couple albums with the Archers of Loaf has come back, a little, doesn't hurt either. M.M.

4. Heather Duby, "Make Me Some Insomnia" (Come Across the River, Sonic Boom) A dusky cloud of snare and piano clawed by spindly cello fingers, "Insomnia" beautifully showcases the sinister Halloween purr of Duby's voice, tempting us into her rainy, dark-skied world, where "to rely on anyone is just like sinking for the fun of it." Her wistful desire to escape the darkness ("Just to feel like seventeen/ Wasted throwback in between the bricks/ That keep you in places/Take me somewhere far away") and an ominously rising drumbeat give the distinct impression that whatever's haunting Duby is about to turn, throw a frightening shadow, and come after us. NEAL SCHINDLER

5. Vells, "Light on the Right" (Vells, Luckyhorse Industries) Sometimes retro is just knowing what works and not fucking with it. That's the case with this Kinks-y quintet, whose near-perfect debut EP was one of the brightest spots in an already good year for classicist guitar pop. "Give me your hand," Tristan Marcum croons through a layer of gauze as shakers, tambourines, and MVP drummer Jeremiah Green's tom-heavy stomp situate the guitars' sweet crunch. "Prove you're alive and free." For four and one-third minutes, they do. M.M.

6-7. Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, "Freakus Piniatus" + "Philadelphia" (Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet, Ropeadope) Like the creepy critter on the album cover, Skerik's large band is a beast that got back, its multiple horns the lashing limbs of one mad, mindful creature. Opening with a free-form honk-out, the monster shifts into a funk-stomp, with Skerik, Steve Moore, Hans Teuber, Craig Flory, Joe Doria, and Dave Carter not so much stepping up for solos as taking turns adding to the brew. Neither "Freakus Piniatus" nor "Philadelphia" is complete without the other; together, they capture the Owl & Thistle scene at its best. M.D.F.

8. Paul Rucker, "All the Things I Thought I Didn't Want" (History of an Apology, Jackson Street) Beauty and pain are somehow exquisitely balanced in this multilevel track that's like a work song, a fugue, a blues, and a '70s pop tune all at once. Bassist and composer Paul Rucker layers a rubato-y soul-jazz moan from his horns over a bittersweet, cycling groove figure in 7, with Bill Horist strumming out an Adult Contemporary acoustic guitar riff along with some eerier, electric colors. The melodica solo from Jovino Santos Neto adds a perfect tone of aspiration. M.D.F.

9. The Jim Knapp Orchestra, "Kennewick, Man" (Secular Breathing, Origin) A disc of complex, varied compositions from one of Seattle's best-regarded bandleaders launches with this brawny, hard-bop swinger. Drummer Jon Wikan propels the action throughout, creating a rugged foundation for the compact, declarative solos of Rob Davis on tenor and Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. Knapp draws from his players the strength of a big band and the grace of a combo, both of which are beautifully displayed here. A killing track, no bones about it. M.D.F.

10. FCS North, "Prince" (Vocabulary, Luckyhorse Industries) FCS? You hardly know us! But if you care to give it the old college try, we suggest slipping the galloping funktronica of "Prince" through your stacks. This bright, young instrumental quartetthe first word of that moniker is short for "focus," by the waygenerates methodical, lengthy compositions in which avant-jazz recklessness and madcap electronic dance beats plummet happily into one another's prickly arms. Few outfits merge organic foods with canned ham so deftly. "Prince" sets Vocabulary's haunting, curiously erotic tone with an elliptical barrage of live drums and bass. It's an eight-minute snake charmer spiral. Get hypnotized. A.B.

11. Cherrywine, "Dazzlement" (Bright Black, DCide/Babygrande) A decade after making a national splash with the late, great boho-rappers Digable Planets, Ishmael Butler returned with a nasty funk band and a smart debut album that split the difference between early Funkadelic and latter-day Organized Noize (OutKast, Goodie Mob, and the Dungeon Family's production team). "Dazzlement" is a party jam with teeth: "Everybody's so fly," Butler sing-speaks over jittery guitar and icy, snaking keyboards. "Everybody's so thugged out . . . everybody looks so high." There's a self-mocking edge to Butler's voice, though, that simultaneously revels in and looks askance at the proceedings he's describinga rare and welcome critical voice in a genre that seldom questions its own motives. M.M.

12. Jeff Samuel, "Iya" (12-inch, Trapez) Cincinnati transplant Samuel is one of the brightest producers identified with a clubland substyle, microhouse, that isn't exactly starved for talentindeed, it boasts some of the most imaginative dance producers in the world right now. On this recent A-side, as on all his work, simple and playful does the trick. "Iya" maintains the same basic motif throughout, a frisky, clipped little three-note keyboard riff with a gurgling bass note adding even more jaunt to its step. But it's what Samuel does behind it that counts: A juddering little signal tone here, a dewy-eyed melodica countermelody there, scissor-snap hi-hats and crackling glitches sprinkled on the beat like confetti. It figures that Samuel is also a video game sound designerhe knows how to get the most from each sonic element. We want him to be successful and not to quit his day job. M.M.

13. Lusine, "Slapback" (Push EP, Ghostly International) Clacking and popping, curdling and skipping, splintering into microbe-sized splashes before your very ears, the beats on this ultraminimal cut from Jeff McIlwane's latest four-song vinyl slab seem too skinny to fill the speaker conesuntil you turn the volume up and let their funked-up strut seep into your bloodstream. The background noises don't hurt, either: Atmospheric shudders ripple and sway, and when a ghost echo of a synth part sidles in at the two-minute mark, the song opens up without really changing much at all. McIlwain rides it all out over a thick bass undertow every bit as assured as his rhythms are nervous. M.M.

14. Rosie Thomas, "Gradually" (Only With Laughter Can You Win, Sub Pop) What lifts Thomas far above the post-Lilith crowd is the way her powder-soft voice and achingly gentle instrumentation mask a tone of defiance. Listen to "Gradually" once and its piano and chorus of far-off voices could lull you to sleep; listen again and you'll hear a quiet girl asserting herself for the very first time: "All this time you thought I was weak when/I was just pretending." Near the end, she ruminates on the bittersweet future every one of us faces: "I will get older/I will get wiser/I will get slower/I will see clearer." N.S.

15. Death Cab for Cutie, "Tiny Vessels" (Transatlanticism, Barsuk) We end as we began, with Ben Gibbard crooning to us, only instead of being crazy in crush and surrounded by laptop pings and whistles, here he commiserates with Chris Walla's guitars about the emptiness following a one-night stand: "We'll pretend that it meant something so much more/But it was vile, and it was cheap/And you are beautiful/But you don't mean a thing to me." He's not feeling sorry for himself, thoughjust trying not to look back, failing, and attempting to learn from his mistakes. Next time, dude. Next time. M.M.

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