The 10 Best Local Albums of 2009 . . . So Far

The Lonely H takes us back to the ’70s, Shabazz Palaces is so Digable, and Say Hi has us oohing and aahing.

When a copy of local singer-songwriter Andy Werth's debut LP, Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass, arrived in my office a few months ago, I ignored it at first. But after I was able to give the album my full attention, it stuck with me like shrapnel. Nine other local releases have had a similar effect so far this year (although I didn't ignore them all at first), and along with Werth's album constitute our compilation of the 10 best local releases at the halfway point of 2009 (listed in no particular order):Choklate To Whom It May ConcernWhat's the Buzz? After spending three years between projects, Choklate's latest album is the one that should finally spring her to wider audiences nationwide. With local beat-makers Vitamin D and Jake One tapped to handle the lion's share of production, expectations were naturally high. On To Whom it May Concern, Choklate satisfies her critics. There are more radio-friendly singles on this disc than on her previous album, and songs like "Suns Out," "Hunney's Runnin'," and "Call It Good (Sorry)" make this one of the strongest urban-soul releases of the year.Chances of Making Year-End Top-10 Lists? About 85 percent. There's not much competition locally in the contemporary soul realm, and it's hard to imagine anything else surpassing this project.Say Hi Oohs and AahsWhat's the Buzz? Fans of Eric Elbogen (who creates music under the moniker Say Hi) eagerly awaited his sixth album—and he delivered near-perfection. Now that he's on Barsuk, even more local ears are tuned in to what he has to say. Thankfully for him, Say Hi managed to craft one of the prettiest local records of the year without subscribing to pop wankery or twee instrumentation. By sticking to homemade, lo-fi production, Oohs and Aahs wins for its subtle simplicity and romantic lyricism. "The Stars Just Blink For Us" and "November Was White, December Was Grey" are two of the most cerebral tracks to be created all year.Top-10 Chances? 100 percent. Oohs and Aahs is so solid that there's no way it won't get critical kudos come year's end.Andy Werth Burn the Maps and Bury the CompassWhat's the Buzz? There hardly is any, which is a shame. Werth's debut LP is a quietly powerful yet grossly overlooked album. It harkens back to the days when Billy Joel and Elton John were defining what piano pop truly is, yet Werth updates that formula with horns and jazz. Listen to "Stay Here With You" or "Break Me Down" to get a feel for the way Werth is taking the currently unpopular piano-driven approach and making it cool again.Top-10 Chances? 50 percent—and even that's a stretch. Despite all its impressive arrangements and clever songwriting, Burn the Maps appears to be getting slept on. My guess is it will take Werth at least one more release before Seattle audiences give him the credit he deserves.Shabazz Palaces Shabazz PalacesWhat's the Buzz? While it was a secret a month and a half ago, at this point most people recognize Shabazz Palaces as the alias of Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler. That creates a buzz of its own, despite how hard Ish has worked to keep it on the hush. Shabazz Palaces is a showcase of true artistry. The entire project comes across as a giant "fuck you" to the rap/record industry, with Shabazz sounding like an MC who has been dragged through hell and is now rapping from the heavens. The fact that local production whiz Erik Blood had his paws all over this also helps.Top-10 Chances? About the same as the chances that Digable Planets will get back together: It should happen, but who knows if it will?Khingz From Slaveships to SpaceshipsWhat's the Buzz? Khingz has spent the bulk of the year not promoting the album. But within less than two weeks, almost everyone who's heard this album has given it kudos galore. That's because From Slaveships to Spaceships is one of the boldest and most soul-baring albums this year. What it lacks in high-quality production is easily made up for by courageous rhymes that showcase why Khingz is one of the most visual MCs in Seattle.Top-10 Chances? 85 percent. There will be a shit-ton of local hip-hop releases in the second half of the year, but that shouldn't stop this record from getting its props.Lonely H Concrete ClassWhat's the Buzz? This tender-aged Port Angeles quartet is making a name for itself by creating music that sounds like it's trapped in the classic-rock era of the '70s. Picture a Bob Seger–meets–Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album being produced today by a group of 21-year-olds: That's the vibe Concrete Class invokes. If you stuck this album in a time capsule, 50 years from now nobody would believe it was made in 2009.Top-10 Chances? 90 percent. That these kids are not from Seattle proper might cause some local critics to forget them, but what Lonely H has crafted deserves ample praise.Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band Mt. St. Helens Vietnam BandWhat's the Buzz? Spin and various national blogs have fawned all over this local five-piece since they first emerged less than a year ago. Local press has naturally been critical of their quickly acquired national attention, seeming to hold it against them. But the band's eponymous debut has all the makings of indie-rock gold. With sharp chord changes, songs like "Cheer for Fate," "Albatross Albatross Albatross," and "En Fuego" are catchier than a venus flytrap.Top-10 Chances? Nationally, maybe 70 percent. Locally, 65. It's plenty good, but it might take another album even better than this to stop bratty critics from hating on them.Born Anchors SprezzaturaWhat's the Buzz? This trio focuses on the harder-edged drums/bass/guitar arrangement that's made many a pop-punk band famous. For these gents, the dynamic works because they know how to write a good pop song. Local radio is giving the band's lead single, "Cascading," a lot of love due to its infectious appeal, and their debut album is full of rhythm-heavy songs with post-hardcore sensibilities that easily impress.Top-10 Chances? At least 75 percent. Despite a few snoozers, Sprezzatura is a strong debut album, and the band's sentiment comes through clearly.Fresh Espresso GlamourWhat's the Buzz? Production wunderkind P Smoov of Mad Rad and his partner in rhyme, Rik Rude, have fused astral beats and Andre 3000–type lyrics to create a noteworthy album. It's cocky at times, but the galactic production mixed with the group's working-class reality make this an album worth rooting for.Top-10 Chances? 60 percent. Most critics don't know how to define a project that's as much electro as it is synth-pop and hip-hop. If Glamour suffers from anything, it's from being too adventurous.Champagne Champagne Champagne ChampagneWhat's the Buzz? These party rappers are known for their raucous live shows and carefree antics. On their debut release, Champagne Champagne shows Seattle what electro hip-hop with a punk-rock aesthetic truly sounds like. The rapping is tight, the topics are varied, and the music makes you want to dance and mosh at the same time.Top-10 Chances? 50 percent. Being a download-only release might hurt their chances of being on people's radars come

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