A Year That Was, and One That Will Be

Seattle may have lost some great musicians in 2008, but reverence for our scene never wavered.

Though Seattle appeared to be abandoning its signature emerald status in favor of something approximating the planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, it was heartening to see how devoted local music fans remained this weekend, even when the only practical transportation was their frozen feet.However, it was unfortunate timing for the Cops, who'd planned on taking an indefinite hiatus after a three-night run of holiday shows at the Sunset. Though they had to cancel their Saturday show entirely (a tentative make-up date is planned for mid-March), they drew impressive crowds Thursday and Friday with a little help from their friends in Kinski, Fall of Troy, the Bad Things, the Whore Moans, and, most impressively to my ears, Widower.The sprawling ensemble includes nearly every member of the Maldives, and is led masterfully by New York City transplant Kevin Large, with vocal assistance from ridiculously charismatic Rickenbacker-wielding bassist Heather Cowan. Drowsy pedal steel and melancholic lyrical leanings drive it into the category of laid-back country rock, but there's nothing pastoral or pedestrian about it. Large's sorrow-steeped voice and guitar playing are gently mesmerizing and evocative of early work by artists like Ryan Adams or the Old 97s, but with a lovely surrealist edge that pulls just a bit of vintage psych into the mix. It sounds instantly classic, and definitely earns Widower the title of Band to Watch in 2009. You can catch them at the Tractor next Tuesday, Dec. 30. And in the spirit of making grand predictions for '09 and pronouncements about '08, here's my requisite best-of list for the end of the year:Best Local Label: Hardly ArtThey win this one hands down. The little imprint that could (Sub Pop is behind their curtain) knocked it out of the park over and over again this year. As if breakout debuts from neo-'60s outfits like The Dutchess and the Duke and the Moondoggies weren't enough, the passionate steam engine powered by the hearts and hands of Nick Heliotis and Sarah Moody snuck up this fall with Beating Back the Claws of the Cold, a disarmingly quixotic and charming little pop record by the Pica Beats. I truly can't wait to hear what they do next.Best Debut Release: Tie: The Moondoggies, Don't Be a Stranger; Helms Alee, Night TerrorSorry, I just can't play favorites on this one. The first contender is essentially Seattle's own version of The Band, but fleshed out with youthful spirit and a gospel soul; the other managed the brilliant feat of melding the Pixies' dynamics with the Melvins' black soul. That's a draw in anyone's book, and both bands deserve the national attention starting to come their way.Biggest Local Trend I'd Like to See Evolve: The insurgence of female-fronted metal and hard-rock bands.No, I'm not kidding; the riot's not over, it just went back underground. Prick up your ears and you'll find detuned divas everywhere. Tacoma's Lozen is poised to do great things (provided double-duty drummer/guitarist/bassist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis can find the time in the wake of Helms Alee's success), as are Witchburn, a new project featuring Hell's Belles vocalist Jamie Nova, and especially the Valkyries, whose long-awaited debut is scheduled to drop in February.Biggest Loss to the City of Angels: Too damn many to name.I know our weather blows, but jeez. This is an unfortunate three-way tie: visual artist Rick Klu (responsible for countless distinctive band T's, show fliers, and murals on club walls), Nectar booking agent Colin Johnson (who single-handedly skyrocketed the Fremont club's quality standards for local and national bookings) and Pleaseeasaur mischief-maker J.P. Hasson, quite possibly the funniest and bravest musical comedian we've ever had.Best Local Import: Ben ChasnyOn the flipside, the Bay Area was kind enough to send us the brainiac behind Six Organs of Admittance. Score one for us!Best Local Release by an Established Artist: Mudhoney, The Lucky OnesYou have to wonder if Sub Pop turning 20 the same year Mudhoney released their best record since 1989 was just a happy coincidence, or if it was the cosmic result of Jonathan Poneman taking them on some wacked-out spiritual journey. Whatever the reasons behind the power and grace of the veteran band's eighth album, it's their audience who are the de facto subject of that title. Keep it coming, guys.Most Heartbreaking Loss: John SpaldingThat LoveLand's stunning debut, The Beautiful Truth, is also its swan song because of Spalding's untimely death at the criminally young age of 33 is a devastating blow to a wide community of musicians and fans. The comfort is watching how quickly that community rallied to raise funds to make sure the record got a proper release, which it will in early '09.rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

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