'04 Times 42

From quiet amplifiers to runaway koalas, from the lies of the living dead to circles of hair, Seattle Weekly's music writers pick two CDs' worth of the year's best local tracks.

Edited By Michaelangelo Matos

As years go, 2004 could have been a lot better for living. Between a heartbreaking election and a stomach-turning war, prospects started bleak and got worse. Still, we console ourselves: Even if the Mariners didn't go all the way, at least the Yankees lost the World Series—to the Red Sox, no less. Dubya may still be in office, but he wasn't put there by much—and it is possible to turn that sliver of a difference around in four years (we hope). Oh yeah—and we live in a city with maybe the healthiest music scene in the world, a scene (or scenes) we attempted for the second year in a row to condense into two hours and 38 minutes. The thing is, this isn't nearly as expansive as it might look. For sure, we overlooked plenty—there's no hip-hop, not enough jazz, maybe too much rock. We even swept past the biggest national hit in six years by a local artist. (We're not being snobs here; we just like the song we picked a lot better.) In other words, we'd probably need to fill another CD to cover it all. But we can say for certain that the two we did come up with are a lot of fun—even if the year they came from wasn't.

Michaelangelo Matos

DISC ONE (78:08)

1. The Minus 5, "Lies of the Living Dead" (In Rock, Yep Roc) 2:30 - iTunes. In which Scott McCaughey guns for re- incarnation as an O.G. garage mod—again. And succeeds— again. Crunchy guitar riff, tom-heavy drums, cheesy organ, gee-Wally-what's-that? vocal, try-shaking-it-off chorus, maracas: It's a formula, and boy, does it work. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

2. Modest Mouse, "The View" (Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Epic) 4:11 - iTunes. The song starts with a come-hither whistle; then the menacing guitar kicks in, followed by Isaac Brock's mental-patient vocals. Lyrically, Brock resumes an album-long dilemma: hope or despair? Simply existing is a form of hope ("As life gets longer, awful feels softer/Well, it feels pretty soft to me"); too bad we need despair to keep things interesting ("If life's not beautiful without the pain/Well, I'd just rather never ever even see beauty again"). As Lincoln noted, a house divided against itself cannot stand; "The View," for its part, skips cheerfully down the road to ruin. NEAL SCHINDLER

3. The Lashes, "Ex-Mas (Young in Love)" (The Stupid Stupid EP, Lookout!) 3:14 - iTunes. Part John Mellencamp, part Proclaimers, "Ex-Mas" is an '80s breakup anthem come unstuck in time. The Lashes' muscular pop freshens up the duh-inducing chorus ("It's never been easy to be young and in love, they say"), and the lyric "You can take my pictures down/Put 'em in a scrapbook/Pull them out on bad days/Remembering how we looked" shows real insight; after all, no breakup is really forever. NEAL SCHINDLER

4. Vells, "Hey Hey La La" (Flight From Echo Falls, Imputor?) 3:53. File under: magical realism for urban cynics. Vells' unicorn pop is catchier than any disease indigenous to the land of make-believe. A few nonsense syllables are always the best medicine, like a lavender eye mask for a hangover. Tristan Marcum's dream-weaving tones are haltingly beautiful whether you've heard those hey heys and la las three times or 300. Their trademark one-two-three keyboard shuffle sways like Mr. Sandman on codeine. KATE SILVER

5. The Dead Science, "Ossuary" (Bird Bones in the Bughouse, Absolutely Kosher) 4:47 - iTunes. This is a picture of the bearded lady swinging from the trapeze while the midget and the madman watch from below. In the lower right-hand corner of the frame, the trained lion holds a pose that suggests he is serenading them all; if you could hear him, he would sound like Jeff Buckley covering Edith Piaf. LAURA CASSIDY

6. Shoplifting, "L.O.V.E." (Shoplifting, Kill Rock Stars) 2:48 - iTunes. Talk about my bloody valentine. Love, however you punctuate it, is a heartbreaking and hard-drinking proposition. Shoplifting don't beg, borrow, or steal from the romantics. Instead, they fashion love letters from broken records, detuned licks, and shape-shifting voice clips, all stapled to the chest like a badge of wounded honor. KATE SILVER

7. Smoosh, "Massive Cure" (She Like Electric, Pattern 25) 1:59. Practically world-weary lyrics about finding an oasis from life, an adamant tap dance of a beat, keyboards that sound like they're being run through a remote-control 18-wheeler, and appropriately breathy vocals more charming than any adult singer's "come hither" contrivances. In short, a near-perfect indie-rock song, all in less than two minutes and by artists with at least a couple growth spurts left to go. "Novelty act," my ass. RACHEL DEVITT

8. Dalmatians, "My Little Sister" (Pop/Rock Ruff Drafts, Imputor?) 1:32. Now that's what I call completely (if willfully) retarded! Willful because everything on this electro-punk-whatsit is designed to be that way, from the opening splat-synth accompanied by "Chicken"'s snorted "Huh!" to the false ending (complete with "Balsa" yelling "Psych!" in the background) at 1:09. That's right: a false ending on a minute-and-a-half-long song—one more reason to love it, then. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

9. United State of Electronica, "Open Your Eyes" (United State of Electronica, Mannheim) 3:35. There may be such thing as too much fun, and U.S.E. definitely have the wherewithal to push that button and evaporate us all in a Bikini Atoll of giddiness, but in the meantime they keep the pleasures simple: Safeco Field–sized chant-along verses (attention Mariners: new Ichiro theme song right here), a structure that considers beats and riffs more or less the same beast, Vocoders Vocoders Vocoders. In short: the Ramones for Daft Punk fans. NATE PATRIN

10. The Makers, "Leopard Print Sissy" (Stripped, Kill Rock Stars) 1:57 - iTunes. These guys have long been all about making whatever's beneath those chaps, tights, and/or boot-cut or flared jeans feel inferior, so this song makes perfect sense. The tauntingly simple main chord progression doubles as a graffiti-soaked sounding board for Mike Maker's affected, serpentine threat: "I will break your back, and that's a matter of fact." It's a wah-stuffed cock-rock call-to-arms that somehow works in the 21st century. ANDREW BONAZELLI

11. Ms. Led, "Stigma" (These Things We Say, Fish the Cat) 3:09. Lesli Wood raises a black flag, stomps on a righteous fuzz box, and gives the riot grrrl nation a major gut check. Lady's got the perfect jittery voice for relationship rock (Ms. Led's other forte), but when she trains her enviable hook arsenal on The Issues, watch out. "Stigma" is as unpretentious, pure, and danceable as protest pop got last year, surely as effective as anything from Le Tigre's major-label coming-out misstep, This Island. ANDREW BONAZELLI

12. The Catch, "I-Book" (The Catch, thecatchmusic.com) 3:20. Squelching like Kat Bjelland under a minim of vocal compression, Carly Nicklaus has a love-hate relationship with boys and their toys—call her band Babes in Circuit City. Getting even, the ladies have downloaded software into their strychnine rock and roll, pebbling the amps with sequencer fuzz. "I can break her," Nicklaus mews at her laptopping rival, all the while waiting to strangle the man with his own USB cables. KATE SILVER

13. These Arms Are Snakes, "Angela's Secret" (Oxeneers, or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, Jade Tree) 3:34 - iTunes. Steve Snere's spectrally moaned opening couplet, "Your company rolled you over, Angela/The penguin ate its fish," slides through drummer Erin Tate and bassist Brian Cook's intro like an electric eel on a bed of rubber nails. Once the song's rhythmic fibrillations settle into a tumultuous roll and Ryan Frederikson's Lovecraftian guitar assumes the burden of perversity, Snere endows the slice-of-the-unglamorous-life lyrics with brute force and clarity enough to make antecedents David Yow and Steve Albini seem like poodles. Breakbeats, anger, a half-spoken-word interlude, delay pedals, extra angularity—this song has more going on than a lot of whole albums do. ROD SMITH

14. Blood Brothers, "Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck" (Crimes, V2) 3:14 - iTunes. It opens with a bass riff that could have come from one of those 21st-century garage crypt robbers (or maybe Joy Division). It's fleshed out by a snare-led shuffle with hand claps and shakers inserted seemingly at random. It's almost catchy, even if the guy singing "love, love, love" sounds like a cartoon cat on its menstrual cycle. Fuck it—it is catchy, until about 2:15, when the grinding breakdown—with full-on throat- shredding, vulture-swooping screams— reminds us why they'll never be radio stars. I bet they thought nobody would notice the subliminal trancey pings at the end. Cheeky bastards. JESS HARVELL

15. The New Mexicans, "Ride Your Koala to Freedom" (Chicken Head Talking Diamonds, Stuck Under the Needle) 2:15. The New Mexicans' Rob Hampton doesn't quite roar and doesn't quite shout— his voice is a little more pliant than either verb implies, coming across like a throatier version of the Thermals' Hutch Harris. Alongside him, guitarist Joe Crawford, bassist Jeff Montano, and drummer Creighton Barrett mix up post-hardcore flurry and rigor till it vibrates, hard—nowhere more than on this police-alarm rocker. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

16. Visqueen, "Houston" (Sunset on Dateland, Blue Disguise) 5:38 - iTunes. Veteran bassist Kim Warnick recently retired, but pixie frontlady Rachel Flotard and drummer Ben Hooker are pogoing on. There's nothing punky or spunky about "Houston," Sunset's swan song and Visqueen's most endearing departure yet. Far removed from their signature, hyperactive, three-chords-and-out formula, it's a resonant, militaristic lullaby. Here's hoping that Flotard elaborates on this blueprint in the future. ANDREW BONAZELLI

17. Mylab, "Pop Client" (Mylab, Terminus) 4:41 - iTunes. Both a culmination of Wayne Horvitz's and Tucker Martine's previous work and a sidestep from it, Mylab's debut was one of the year's low-key gems; the opening track exemplified why. The in-the-pocket baritone sax hook opens it up, then lays in the cut while funked-up organ, Monk-ish piano, laptop fizz, sneaking-around guitar, and a swinging horn section on the middle-eight tap-dance around it. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

18. Bill Frisell, "Who Was That Girl?" (Unspeakable, Nonesuch) 4:53 - iTunes. "Who Was That Girl?" has the sunny, slightly bittersweet mood of the Young Rascals' "Groovin'" and the AM-jazz heart of '60s instrumentals like Young-Holt Unlimited's "Soulful Strut." But like the computer-age soul instrumentals of Nightmares on Wax, Frisell's homage is wisely interested in the spirit rather than the precise conventions of its dusty models. The guitarist's subtle licks are augmented and propelled by nicely integrated samples, a sprightly horn arrangement, pure maple strings, and a rhythm designed for strolling in the park, eating cherry Popsicles, and falling in love with strangers. DYLAN HICKS

19. The Fading Collection, "Quiet Amplifier (Emma's Mini Mix)" (Stems, thefadingcollection.com) 4:44. Under all circumstances, beware the words "remix album." Take Stems, reworkings of local trip-hop troupe the Fading Collection's 2003 Interactive Family Radio. Dutifully, I put it on and experienced the following sensations: Um, er, ah, oh, hmm . . . and then zoom, one track from the end, Sarah McCulloch's lost-in-the-forest croon and Matt Frickleton's soothing-menace electronics are given a jolt from fellow locals Emma's Mini. They rework "Quiet Ampli-fier" with such a potent combination of beat-savvy dread and bliss, you'd think it was 1995 again, sonically—only to realize it was 2004 incarnate, moodwise. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

20. IQU, "Loving You" (Sun Q, Sonic Boom) 4:17 - iTunes. 2004 was a great year for remakes—see Ada's "Maps," Brian Wilson's Smile, Shipp/Parker/Brown's The Trio Plays Ware, Liquid Liquid's "Bellhead," and Rocket From the Tombs' "Never Gonna Kill Myself Again." But my favorite of all was this cheeky, airy, unutterably gorgeous version of Minnie Ripperton's hoary chestnut, which Kento Oiwa and Michiko Swiggs transformed into lounge-not-lounge that seems to float in amber. Best move ever: giving the impossibly high lead vocal to a delicately handled theremin. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

21. Plastiq Phantom, "Ticonita Vive Viva" (Plastiq Phantom, Imputor?) 2:50. A tribute to 1992 and the birth of "home-listening electronica." At that point, the distance between Warp's proto-IDM and the more limpid end of Detroit techno was a matter of inches, so you get sizzling 808 hi-hats and feathery synth chords that would sound equally at home on a Carl Craig or early Aphex Twin record. About halfway through, the Phantom drops one of those clonking Boards of Canada–style breakbeats and splinters of Sakamoto-via-Plaid orientalism, which breaks the mood by taking us up to at least 1996. A cul-de-sac— but a lovely one, like a winter lodge on a Venusian moon. JESS HARVELL

22. Lusine, "The Stop" (Serial Hodgepodge, Ghostly International) 4:57 - iTunes. IDM may have died around late 1999 (no complaints here), but it's been partially resurrected thanks to a Frankenstein-infusion from the more body-centric end of electronica. "Lush" isn't a particularly good word for "The Stop"; the way it builds melodic richness from a handful of materials is closer to a Zen garden and is very microhouse. Little Farben-esque nozzle squirts are peppered over skip-and-snap beats that would fit snugly on Akufen's recent Fabric 17 mix. Cotton candy vocals dissolve into synths that bleed into chimes. The whole thing is flotation-tank perfect without totally evap-orating before your ears. JESS HARVELL

DISC TWO (79:39)

1. The Blackouts, "Make No Mistake" (History in Reverse, K; originally released 1979) 4:36 - iTunes. Before Bill Rieflin drummed for Ministry, KMFDM, the Minus 5, or R.E.M., he—along with Erich Werner, Roland Barker, and Mike Davidson—played propulsive, underworld post-punk while dripping with pig's blood and pissing everyone off. Funny, but this approach did nothing to endear the Blackouts to the lame-ass Seattle bar-band scene of the late '70s and early '80s, which was not, alas, listening to Bauhaus or PiL and therefore didn't know that the Blackouts were the local version of their rhythmically clanging, gothic-toned uprising. Big up to Calvin Johnson (who was probably at the pig's blood show) for correcting the errors of yesteryear. LAURA CASSIDY

2. Library Science, "What Time Is Science?" (High Life Honey, Happi Tyme) 4:10 - iTunes. "We're not really a roots-reggae band—it's more like we're using dub technique, but with our own music," Library Science's Andy Arkley told SW this summer, but this song digs a pretty skanking groove. True, you wouldn't mistake the sleepy vocals that seep in halfway through for anything but white dudes from the U.S., and the rhythm is more tentative than most JA-brand dub. But "What Time" is ace wooze nonetheless—no surprise, really, if you've ever tried the weed in this town. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

3. Chromatics, "Monarch" (Plaster Hounds, GSL) 4:30 - iTunes. Lights up on the death disco. Adam Miller's minor-key sonic belches serenade John Lydon's wake with a destabilizing dub waver. Chromatics borrow the beat but not the angst to go with it, instead banging it out in a broom closet while the real instruments beg to come in and play. KATE SILVER

4. Bruno Pronsato, "Vieja a la Luna" (Silver Cities, Orac) 5:43. "Travel to the moon," urges the tune, and in just under six minutes, it shows you how to get there. Turns out there's no cheese in outer space, though there might be some green stuff of a stickier variety: Not just gravity but time itself comes unglued in a series of brittle repetitions and dropouts into silence, as sampled drums melt away their frigid digital crust. An ominous and ever-present low end asks the crucial question: Bass, how high can you go? PHILIP SHERBURNE

5. Jeff Samuel, "Heb.Gbz" (12-inch, Spectral Sounds) 6:34. Microhouse is now an international phenomenon, no longer the preserve of a few pockets of Germans in sleek eyewear. Jeff Samuel is based in Seattle, but for the past few years he's been globe-trotting, leaving footprints on slabs of vinyl across European labels like Trapez and Poker Flat. Despite the unfortunately Autechre-esque title, "Heb.Gbz" is rooted in the funk, albeit a very low-key variety. Samuel marshals those brittle, clickety-clackety microbeats into a swinging approximation of garage (in the N.Y., not U.K., sense.) The bloorp (or is it blurp?) backbeat is just the onomatopoeic icing. JESS HARVELL

6. The Overton Berry Trio, "Hey Jude" (Wheedle's Groove: Seattle's Finest in Funk and Soul 1965–1975, Light in the Attic; originally released 1970) 5:35. Jazz appropriations of mid- to late-period Beatles standards are second in glut only to the first wave of bewigged faux- Liverpudlian bandwagon anthems of '64, but this dinner-club take on the famously overlong nah-nah-nah-nah anthem does a lot with a little: quiet but growly bass, court-stenographer-finger piano that somehow pulls off calm hyperactivity, a tweaked tempo, and sound progression that—shock!—actually calms down before the song ends. NATE PATRIN

7. Ken Stringfellow, "When U Find Someone" (Soft Commands, Yep Roc) 3:52 - iTunes. Great, just what we need—another Beach Boys homage. Except that Stringfellow has more experience mining that particular strip of Americana than most, and from the piano rumble that brings on the chorus and the sweet-voiced Carl Wilson tone of the verses' vocal (not to mention those gorgeous harmonies on the chorus), he's better at it than most, too. No surprise that one line talks about "Playing those records over and over." "Need" is one thing; "can always use" is a whole other. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

8. Laura Veirs and the Tortured Souls, "Rapture" (Carbon Glacier, Nonesuch) 3:06 - iTunes. A lot like the Blondie song of the same name, only Veirs isn't proto-rapping and no one is eating Cadillacs or Lincolns. Instead, Veirs is singing like a broken-winged bird about who's to blame for the euphoric crossing over to the next world. (Hint: It's a toss-up between Kurt Cobain and Monet.) Oh—and here, there are violins. LAURA CASSIDY

9. S, "Falling" (Puking and Crying, Suicide Squeeze) 3:59 - iTunes. Jenn Ghetto may not be in Carissa's Wierd anymore, but she's still plenty odd, and on her first album alone she makes something of it. Here, for example, she exposes the frayed nerves beneath her relatively hushed exterior over nerve-racked guitars, lamenting that she's "disappeared from everyone/Stuck between where I need to go/And where I've gone." Later, she reveals, "I heard you say that I'm stupid/Don't you know that's the only way to hurt me?" Especially when this song shows that she's anything but. MICHAELANGELO MATOS

10. Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, "Oh, My Girl" (Oh, My Girl, Barsuk) 4:38 - iTunes. A few years back, songstress Sykes told SW, "I think everything is kinda sad. When I was a kid, the Monkees' 'I'm a Believer' made me sob." Ah, a girl after my own heart. Even when she's just telling stories about houses or hunters, her truthfulness makes you want to split in half. Add the salty twang of Phil Wandscher's guitar, and you have reason to put yourself back together again. LAURA CASSIDY

11. Climax Golden Twins, "Dead People" (Highly Bred and Sweetly Tempered, North East Indie) 5:04. Usually known for experimental noise explosions and droning sound-art happenings, Climax Golden Twins here flip the script, adopting abandoned memories from the elderly and the forgotten, taping gentle acoustics and disturbing hums on top of them in order to protect the innocents, and then sending them gliding, glissading, and tumbling toward us like ghosts. LAURA CASSIDY

12. Shoup/Makihara/Arnold, "Convergence for Three" (Confluxus, Leo) 4:56. In theory, at least, when improv artists hit the record button on their uncharted wanderings, the results could be interesting. How do they know that they're going somewhere good? How do they know how to get there? Alto saxist Wally Shoup and his cohorts can be trusted to work out well even in practice; there's a blistery, spinning chemistry (alchemy?) that seems to ensure a wonderfully indirect route to "there," and getting to it is, as the saying goes, the good part. LAURA CASSIDY

13. The Beakers, "I'm Crawling" (Four Steps Toward a Cultural Revolution, K; originally released 1980) 2:30 - iTunes. Released in tandem with the Blackouts' compilation, this backward glance at a similarly underappreciated early-'80s entity reveals a mathematical mindfuck of sax skronk, badass bass, and social cynicism. Listening to this collection, you will be totally unsurprised that the band toured with the Gang of Four (though your first guess might be Talking Heads). Completely incidental side note: Although they claim that all members of both bands were, more or less, appropriately ill-mannered and unfriendly at the time, these days, Beakers bassist Frankie Sundsten and aforementioned Blackout Bill Rieflin are a happily married couple. LAURA CASSIDY

14. Factums, "Bomber" (Factums, self-released) 1:39. Because flagrant overuse has lately sullied the good name that art-punk never did a goddamn thing (on purpose, at least) to earn for itself, I'll try not to affix those two words to Factums. But when you've got one awesomely irreverent visual/sound artist with a bass guitar standing next to one of this town's best—if as yet underdiscovered—punk drummers, and they're toying around with an imported Chicagoan and his neat-freak fuzzbox setup, and the result is a mixed-media social commentary sound sculpture addressing ideas of whitewashed white noise, you'll have to excuse me if I slip. If you can't be part of the solution, be part of the problem. LAURA CASSIDY

15. The Intelligence, "Bird Call" (7-inch, S-S) 2:24. The Intelligence research DNA samples, smartening up both no wave's need for deconstruction and punk's penchant for thrill. The result is both covert and callous: Dissonant guitars and Morse code hiccups let it blurt; it's less whistlin' Dixie than coughed-up cacophony, a desperate call to signal the birds backward. KATE SILVER

16. The Cops, "Don't Take It Personal Dave" (Why Kids Go Wrong, Mt. Fuji) 3:01. Old enough to know better, these blues cop the Kinks' most famous guitar lick and coat it with the cough syrup slurp of late-'70s anachronisms Television Personalities, who spent more than one day home from school writing songs in the basement. Nonsense like "I wanna be your inner void" inspires unlikely sing-alongs. A rallying cry for disgraced schoolboys everywhere. KATE SILVER

17. Kane Hodder, "I Think Patrick Swayze Is Sexy" (The Pleasure to Remain So Heartless, Cowboy vs. Sailor) 2:54 - iTunes. Rarely does one hear Cookie Monster hardcore, radio-friendly power-punk, hand-clapped cheerleader chants, and random falsetto pureed into the same song and not think, "Total bullshit." The pop culture–obsessed ADD weirdos of Kane Hodder have crafted a glorious exception in "Patrick," which is definitely about sex—or at least the grotesquerie therein—but not really about the Double Deuce bouncer so much as characters from Harmony Korine's gross-out classic, Gummo. Confounded? Just press play—it'll almost start to make sense. ANDREW BONAZELLI

18. Akimbo, "Circle of Hair" (City of the Stars, Seventh Rule) 3:56. Start with high-tension-wire guitar strains, offset with detuned bass bursts, get totally fucking incoherent for a while, then deliver the coup de grâce. Two and a half minutes into "Circle," frontman Jon Weisnewski delivers what will probably go down as this band's mission statement: "We'll take your white stripes! We'll paint them black!" Probably my favorite lyric of the year and a kick-ass rallying cry for metalheads of all flavors. ANDREW BONAZELLI

19. The Lights, "Mr. Pussy" (Wood and Wire EP, Childstar) 3:43. Look, I know it isn't cool to compare anyone to Pavement, but don't give me three and half minutes of building/burning, loosely tethered mumble-mouthed wise-assing and wild-armed pop coaxing if you don't want me to recall the days of ironic T-shirts and "Summer Babe." LAURA CASSIDY

20. Charming Snakes, "The Tracks That Lead" (three-song EP, self-released) 2:39 A carefully calculated mess of fuzz, metallic chime, and stop-start jangling, "The Tracks That Lead" feels like a forgotten soundtrack tune from a late-'80s feel-good movie about teenagers on a killing spree in downtown Tukwila. The insistent undercover tambourine, rock and roll shimmy, and harmonic twitters provide excellent nervous energy; the nonconformist choreography makes it work. LAURA CASSIDY


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