Local Reviews: It's December 2011 and Seattle Sounds Like...

Our take on every local release of the month.


Kyle R. Andrews, Trial by Fire (12/4, self-released, facebook.com/kylerandrewsmusic): Just a man and his acoustic guitar, Trial by Fire is an enveloping record of endearing lyrics and toasty chords. Progressions build and break unexpectedly, guiding the listener along an unexpected path. The effect is nice, if not incredibly unusual. JOE WILLIAMS

Adena Atkins, The Slowest Curve (out now, self-released, adenaatkins.com): Singer/songwriter Atkins, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, has a better-than-average pedigree, and the spacey electronic productions on this EP allow plenty of room for her plaintive introspection. ANDREW GOSPE

Avatar Young Blaze, "I Be on My Bullshit" (out now, self-released, avataryoungblaze.com): Young Blaze found a cool future-hyphy instrumental by Murdah Baby to envenom here. Instead of making a forgettable club banger like many MCs might with a beat like this, Av lays down some vicious gunplay verses, and the result is a well-crafted track. TODD HAMM (Sun., Jan. 15, Nectar)

Avatar Young Blaze, "Streetz Tonight" (out now, self-released, avataryoungblaze.com): An introspective track about life and hesitant love over MPC-god AraabMuzik's syrupy dance beat. The fast/slow, upbeat/skeptical contrast is one that works well for Av, and though the track seems a little rushed, the prospect of more AYB/AM product should have listeners smiling. TH (Sun., Jan. 15, Nectar)

Whitney Ballen, White Feathers, White Linens (12/13, self-released, whitneyballen.com): Everything about Whitney Ballen's debut album is pretty damn cute, from the music-box tinkling at the beginning of "Sea Sea Sea" to her Newsomesque, childlike warble. JULIA MULLEN GORDON (Sun., Dec. 11, Can Can)

Anomie Belle, Machine (out now, self-released, anomiebelle.com:) On trip-hop maven Anomie Belle's new EP (her fifth release), all is not right with the world. The bleak portrait of America presented in the title track is a rallying cry for the 99 percent, and features a verse from socially conscious MC Mr. Lif. JMG (Wed., Dec. 14, Tractor Tavern)

Robb Benson, The Time Slip Demos, (out now, self-released, robbbenson.bandcamp.com): A collection of five under-three-minute recordings, these songs don't stray far from standard power-pop territory, and sound about as rough as one might expect for a release with "demos" in its title. AG

Bitter Roots, "Me and You" (out now, self-released, bitterrootsmusic.com): The new single from a band that bills itself as purveyors of "real honest music" is well-intentioned but could do with a little less formulaic guitar chugging. AG

Sonny Bonoho, "Jus' Met Her Tonight" (out now, self-released, bonoho.com): Our monthly Bonoho finds him recounting a wild night over a clean Trox beat. The rhymes aren't overly clever, but you listen because you want to hear what happens to that wacky Bonoho character. TH (Sun., Dec. 11, Jazzbones)

Chris Brokaw, Stories (out now, Limited Appeal Records, chrisbrokaw.com): Formerly the drummer of the '90s slowcore band Codeine, Brokaw has been releasing solo work since 2002. His latest, a three-song mini-LP, is highlighted by "Point of Egress," which combines an industrial-strength punk riff with some clever wordplay to describe a breakup. KEEGAN HAMILTON (Sun., Jan. 8, Funhouse)

Candy Van, Get in the Van, Kid (out now, Reedco Records, candyvan1.bandcamp.com): Question: In the wake of the nationally publicized Jerry Sandusky child-molestation case, is there anything even remotely funny about releasing an album called Get in the Van, Kid? Answer: No, and the puerile title overshadows some decent garage-rock tunes. AG

* Chev, Charles (out now, self-released, chevy.bandcamp.com): Chev is a natural. His voice is effortlessly cool, and smooth cadences emerge organically from the stories he sows. The beats—from a stable of talented locals—are solemn, laid-back, and nostalgic, and Chev handily weaves them into tales worth hearing. TH

*Carrie Clark & the Lonesome Lovers, Between the Bed Sheets and Turpentine (out now, self-released, carrieclark.bandcamp.com): Part whimsical, circus-inspired folk music, part radiating, anywhere-but-here soul music, Carrie Clark stuns with a 13-song LP that seems to be searching for a place to call home. A mixtape for lost travelers. JW (Fri., Dec. 9, Conor Byrne)

Consignment, New Low (out now, ggnzla, ggnzla.com): These earnest DIY rockers commit every ounce of their beings to celebrating the freedom and excesses of creating lo-fi garage rock. CHRIS KORNELIS

Chris Cornell, Songbook (out now, Universal, chriscornell.com): There's not a lot Chris Cornell can't sing; he has one of the gnarliest voices in rock. But like a lot of live albums, Songbook is uneven, largely because of Cornell's uneven output as an artist. It's a solo acoustic record, so there's not a lot of Soundgarden material. Only "Black Hole Sun" and "Fell on Black Days" make the cut; the latter is a highlight. The Audioslave material is the weakest here, as those songs lack the power of the Soundgarden stuff and also don't possess the melodic movement of his solo output or the pair of Temple of the Dog tracks that appear. The album's brightest spot is John Lennon's "Imagine," which lets Cornell show off both his wail and his warble, as he segues seamlessly into the falsetto parts at the end of each verse. Songbook may not be an ideal career retrospective, but it does shine a light on at least part of what makes Cornell one of the best singers of his generation. DAVE LAKE

Countrycide, The Rise and the Fall (out now, self-released, countrycide.bandcamp.com): Recalling groups like Uncle Tupelo, this Ballard-based four-piece crafts well-rounded alt-country tunes on its debut album. Most important, they have the melodies to match the twang. AG (Fri., Jan. 6, Blue Moon Tavern)

*Robert Deeble, Heart Like Feathers (out now, self-released, robertdeeble.bandcamp.com): Deeble's new record seems limitless, with a feel-good aura permeating each track. It's beautiful music for the sake of beautiful music, and what's better is that it's believable. The self-titled track coos with acoustic guitar beneath supple vocals, absent anything controversial. JW (Thurs., Dec. 8, Columbia City Theater)

DJ Semaj, Painting Jimmy (out now, self-released, djsemaj.bandcamp.com): This jazzy, mainly instrumental full-length bodes well for Tacoma's DJ Semaj. The progressions could be more varied and the change-ups more pronounced, but he definitely knows how to handle a sample, and there are some shining moments, like "Candy Coated Dreams." TH

Dude York, Dewark (out now, self-released, dudeyork.bandcamp.com): It's not every day a band successfully reinterprets Nirvana, but party rockers Dude York do just that on "Assassination," the "Smells Like Teen Spirit"–riffing track on Dewark. It's also their third release this year. Overachievers. JMG (Fri., Dec. 30, Funhouse)

Shelby Earl, Burn the Boats (out now, Local 638 Records, shelbyearl.com): The Seattle treasure plays it safe here with a cohesive batch of mature pub-warmers. But in the absence of risks and outliers—like a stunning single or melodic exploration—it's easy for this one to pass by unceremoniously. CK (Sat., Jan. 14, Columbia City Theater)

Empire of Sleep, Empire of Sleep (out now, City of Trees Music, empireofsleep.com): Crazy Horse and Alice in Chains hang heavy over this guitar-driven gloom-rock record, which sounds like the promising debut of an eager rock band in 1996. CK (Sat., Feb. 11, Slim's Last Chance Chili)

*Lucas Field, Conquest of Happiness (out now, self-released, lucasfield.com): Field's first solo album since splitting with L.A. rock group Low vs Diamond rings with soul-pop feeling from the bopping Rhodes on "Start From Scratch" to the lush drive of "Hold Her Tight"—and is just the kind of soul injection Seattle needs. GWENDOLYN ELLIOTT

*Rachel Flotard and Jon Rauhouse, "Hammered Light" from Luz de Vida (out now, Fort Lowell Records, fortlowell.blogspot.com): Visqueen's Flotard and Rauhouse, the pedal steel player for Neko Case, collaborate on a single, gorgeous track on a benefit album for the January 8 victims of the Tucson shooting that injured congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords—a somber, delicate guitar ballad which showcases Flotard's lilting voice and impressive range. Material this good makes the breakup of Visqueen a little easier to stomach. DL

* Damien Jurado, Nothing Is the News (out now, Secretly Canadian, damienjurado.com): To his inestimable credit, Damien Jurado hasn't shied away from reinventing himself over his decade-and-a-half-long career—from acoustic singer/songwriter to found-sound collagist to electric rock to the studio-rich '60s pop sound of last year's Saint Bartlett. His latest single, off the forthcoming Maraqopa (out in February), finds the Seattle stalwart chasing his muse down another unexpected alley, into swirling, slightly fried psychedelia. Like Saint Bartlett, the song was co-produced with Richard Swift, but it hops about a decade ahead—and some substances sideways—of where that album left off. It's a testament to Jurado's easy, mournful singing voice and his solidity as a songwriter that he can make such stylistic jumps sound immediately like his own. ERIC GRANDY (Fri., Feb. 17, Neptune Theatre)

Ghost Lobby, Ghost Lobby (out now, self- released, ghostlobby.com): Ghost Lobby's new EP serves coffeehouse rock for grown-ups— non-threatening, slightly bland pop-rock with a hint of soul, thanks to the powerful voice of Tara Ellis and her proficient band. DL (Sat., Jan. 28, Skylark)

*Gladiators Eat Fire, Psychedelic Hogwash (out now, self-released, gladiatorseatfire.com): Whirring and clanking like a hardcore band in a washing machine, Gladiators Eat Fire removes any preconceptions that they're just another band that screams. Methodical and experimental, the four-piece fuses math-rock and post-rock to create a powerhouse of stunning mutiny. JW (Sat., Dec. 10, Rendezvous)

The GNU Deal, "The Viaduct" (out now, self-released, thegnudeal.bandcamp.com): A piano and sax-driven tribute to that elevated eyesore of a section of Highway 99 whose days are officially numbered. The sentiment's there, and the beat is smooth, but, like the viaduct, the track wasn't made to last. TH (Fri., Jan. 6, Chop Suey)

The Grizzled Mighty, The Grizzled Mighty (out now, self-released, facebook.com/TheGrizzledMighty): White Stripes comparisons are inevitable when you're a bluesy garage-rock duo with a long-haired woman on drums and a long-haired dude on guitar who slathers his vocals in reverb. White Stripes comparisons are also inevitable when you sound just like the White Stripes. It's not bad, just derivative. DL (Thurs., Dec. 15, Comet Tavern)

*Haunted Horses, Oblivion (out now, self-released, hauntedhorses.bandcamp.com): The pairing of guitarist/vocalist Colin Dawson and drummer Myke Pelly makes experimental music that befits their moniker—spooky and unsettling atmospherics atop muscular, galloping instrumentals. This two-song release contains the clanging, apocalyptic "The Ivory Horn" and the chugging fireball "Star Arcs." ERIN K. THOMPSON (Sat., Dec. 10, Cairo)

The Head and the Heart, iTunes Session (out Now, Sub Pop, subpop.com): Disciples of the band's populist smooth indie are treated to alternate renditions of favorites and a pair of previously unreleased live staples—"When I Fall Asleep" and "Ever Since." Combined, they provide a tidy window into the band's evolving sound. There's an added helping of stomp here absent from their full-length debut, but which has carried the band live. CK (Thurs., Dec. 8, WaMu Theater)

James Howard, Live in Seattle: Volume 1 (out now, Laughing Man Records, jameshowardmusic.com): Howard bounces between alter-calling worship music and covers such as "Pride and Joy" and "House of the Rising Sun." "Stairway to Heaven" is smarting from the snub. CK (Fri., Dec. 16, Vino Bello)

Lizzie Huffman & Her Brother Band, Pretty Old Soul (out now, Suburban Home, suburbanhomerecords.com): With older brother Kirk Huffman (of Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground) and friends providing instrumentation, Huffman's alt-country, reverb-saturated debut is a heartfelt, soulful entry from a young and flowering voice. GE

*Hypatia Lake, Ouroboros (out now, Reverb Records, hypatialake.bandcamp.com): This Seattle concept band takes on a seriously psychedelic '70s air and tackles cosmology and triumph in relation to their fictional lakeside community. Things get pretty weird, but weird in all the right kind of ways. TH

JoJo Jupiter, Space Medicine (out now, self-released, jojojupiter.bandcamp.com): Psychedelic rock is a genre that traditionally requires a rather large band to adequately perform. Not so for Seattle group JoJo Jupiter, which accomplishes the feat with only two members. Their debut makes up for its unimaginative title with plucky, heady rock tracks that hint of a backwoodsy Minus the Bear. CURTIS CARTIER (Sat., Dec. 17, Bogart's Airport Way)

Jupe Jupe, Reduction in Drag (out now, self-released, jupejupemusic.com): If only the burgeoning '80s scene would overtake the enthusiasm for neo-soul and folk-rock in this town, Jupe Jupe would be set. On their second album, they let their New Romantic flag fly, analog synths and all. JMG

King Dude, Love (out now, DAIS Records, king dude.bandcamp.com): With its cavernous washes of reverb and imagery of crosses and Lucifer (the one cheery number is called "Spiders in Her Hair"), TJ Cowgill's second full-length is well suited to these shortest, darkest days of the year. JMG

Kublakai, The Basics 2 (out now, self-released, kublakai.bandcamp.com): The Let Go's Kublakai is a calm-voiced rapper who sounds comfortable over the quality production he has thus far laid out for his solo project, even if the songwriting doesn't always break new ground. TH

LAKE, "Gravel" b/w "Re-grade" (out now, K Records, krecs.com/artists/lake): "Gravel" is the second song on this quirky pop group's 2009 Let's Build a Roof, reworked on the B-side here as "Re-grade" for the Dub Narcotic Disco Plate 7-inch 45 series, overlaid with a whimsical melodica and a hypnotic rhythm far more dreamy and contemplative than the original. GE

*Brad Loomis & the Resonance, Under the August Sky (12/2, self-released, bradloomismusic.com): Labeling Brad Loomis & the Resonance as just "country" is offensive. The Marysville quartet blends fast, rustling drums with soothing harmony and folk flavor, but it's a subtle angst that makes the single "On the Banks of the Ohio" scream replay value. JW (Sat., Feb. 25, Skylark)

Jessica Lynne, Spiritual Cowgirl (out now, self-released, jessica-lynne.com): Though the two share a hair color, Jessica Lynne's brand of country is nothing like that of Seattle standard-bearer Neko Case's. Rather, Lynne, a native of Denmark, trades in the sort of twang Nashville's more commercial kingmakers might endorse, which makes her something of a rarity up north. MIKE SEELY (Sun., Dec. 11, Conor Byrne)

Mystery Ship, Mystery Ship (out now, self-released, mysteryship.com): Mystery Ship sounds like the aftermath of Led Zeppelin, Widespread Panic, and Velvet Revolver staging a sloppy three-way on a beer-soaked dive-bar floor. They make music to viscerally rock out to. If you have other objectives, this might not be the band for you. MS (Sat., Dec. 31, Blue Moon Tavern)

Nice Nate, "Iller Sampler" (out now, self-released, nicenate.bandcamp.com): Local progressive producer and beat maestro Nice Nate shines on this five-track EP, showcasing his expert experimentation with beats, house noise, and party grooves. Smooth tracks with a flow great for driving or warming up Christmas shindigs. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR

Ripynt, The Hurt Locker (out now, self-released, ripynt.bandcamp.com): The production is clean, but, like the lyricism, it does little to make this eight-track EP stand out. The one bright spot here is closer "That Place," where Ripynt puts his common-rapper egotistical front aside, something he doesn't normally seem able to do. TH

* Sandrider, Sandrider (out now, Good to Die Records, sandrider.bandcamp.com): Powerful thrash from two of the guys who make Akimbo awesome and one other guy who regularly kicks ass in The Ruby Doe. Sandrider is heavy but studio-clean and takes you on a voyage through a mythical world on the back of some seriously thunderous acoustics. TH

*Slow Dance, Risk It All (out now, self-released, slowdancemusic.bandcamp.com): SD producer Rudy makes thick, awesome, space-slap instrumentals, and mike-handler Murder Dice spits absurd, left-field rhymes like "I sing from my heart, but I rap from my cock" that are just out-there enough to work. RIA jumps from headbanging party-hop to sludgy cosmic-rap to '80s dance and always keeps the party going. TH

Spanish for 100, "Wallace" b/w "Wanting" (out now, self-released, spanishfor100.com): Old-school indie rock with dueling guitar parts, harmonized vocals, and intricate progressions. "Wallace" is the more rocking side of the seven-inch, bringing to mind Archers of Loaf, while "Wanting" is a slow burn of a ballad featuring a delicate vocal line that builds into a rocking climax. DL (Sat., Dec. 17, Sunset Tavern)

Stres, "Nothing Feels Like Home Anymore" (out now, self-released, stresisit.bandcamp.com): Local producer Josh "Stres" Bolof was inspired by Darlene Love's classic "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" to write a sad-sack holiday carol of his own, which employs humming synths and sleigh bells to create an enveloping atmosphere of pure blue loneliness. Some slowcore sample of Love's pining vocals would fit in perfectly. EKT

*Terri Tarantula, Night of the Leapist (out now, self-released, territarantula.com): Seattle music veteran (she drummed for the Walkabouts and fronted Transmissionary Six) Terri Moeller's second solo release as Terri Tarantula. In the vein of Sam Phillips or Portishead's Beth Gibbons, Moeller's distinctive voice and idiosyncratic phrasing drive the spare, piano-and-drum-machine arrangements. JMG (Fri., Dec. 22, Comet Tavern)

True Dream, The Night Again (out now, 4x4ever Records, TheNightAgain.com): Slinking, cinematic pop with clever post-production from the mind of local musician Danny VanHollebeke. The songwriting is inventive, the structures pleasantly unorthodox. VanHollebeke's voice tends to fit the backdrops best in falsetto, but, as the focus is spread fairly evenly across many elements, the songs hold up well. TH

*Various artists, Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly #26 (out now, self-released, ballofwax.bandcamp.com): Another stellar effort from Ball of Wax guru Levi Fuller that pays tribute to another great Northwest compilation master, Harry Smith and his Anthology of American Folk Music. Local artists like Moondoggie Kevin Murphy, Virgin of the Birds, and Jeremy Burke put a modern spin on these classic tracks, making it a great stocking-stuffer for Americana fans of all ages. MDL

The West, Don't Make a Sound (out now, self-released, bandthewest.com): The West's debut EP consists of four high-energy tunes propelled by active bass lines and some relentless drumming by the Blakes' Bob Husak. The middle two songs—the exhortative "It Was Disco and It's Over" and the entreating, keyboard-driven "Call Me a Liar"—are the best ones. EKT (Thurs., Dec. 8, Comet Tavern)

Zero Down, Looking to Start a Riot (12/16, self-released, myspace.com/zerodownrocks): With a hair-tingling passion plucked right out of the '80s, this album resides somewhere between unshaven, armpit-stain punk, grungy fanboy metal akin to Avenged Sevenfold, and hair-hair-hair metal. JW (Fri., Dec. 16, Sunset Tavern)


Bleached, Searching Through the Past (out now, Suicide Squeeze, facebook.com/hellobleached): This two-song 7-inch featuring sisters Jessica and Jennifer Clavin is a low-fi, energetic, bubbling affair with enough spunk and spark to qualify as dangerous. And danceable. Definitely danceable. JW (Tues., Feb 21, Tractor Tavern)

Adam Cappa, The Rescue (out now, BEC, adam cappa.com): Cappa digs enough of a hole with his three-song EP to give the impression that he has depth, but the empty radio hooks and I-wish-I-was-in-OneRepublic piano trills prove hollow. JW

*Bobby Charles, Bobby Charles re-issue (12/15, Rhino Handmade/Light in the Attic, lightintheattic.net): The high point on this gem from 1972 is "I Must Be in a Good Place Now," which ranks high among the criminally underappreciated singles of its era. Charles never enjoyed even the moderate stardom of, say, Harry Nilsson, but the tunes here share Nilsson's way of being comforting without being gratuitous and catchy without being grating. Put this one on repeat. CK

KJ-52, Collaborations/Behind the Musik/It's Pronounced Five Two (out now, BEC, kj52.com): This triple pack, containing music from 2002 to 2008 by Tampa Christian rapper KJ-52, features clean-cut vocals for those yearning for Eminem without the references to murder, stapling balls, or murder. JW

Tender Forever, Where We Are From (out now, K Records, tenderforever.com): This seven-song LP is Portland-by-way-of-Southern-France laptop musician Melanie Valera's fourth release as Tender Forever. The rhythmic songs are strong rallying cries for independence and perseverance; the chanty title track is a standout. EKT

This Will Destroy You, "Black Dunes" (out now, Suicide Squeeze, facebook.com/thiswilldestroyyou): This bleak and dreamy single from self-titled "doom gazers" This Will Destroy You is holiday hangover–approved. A slow-tempered build with a satisfying climax, it's the perfect soundtrack for your epic walk to the coffeepot when you may or may not still be impaired. It's a gift that keeps on giving, as it also features Holy Other's "Woman in the Dunes" mix as the B-side. MDL

Wolves at the Gate, We Are the Ones (out now, Solid State, wolvesatthegate.com): This album bridges the gap between people who want their faces melted with raw emotion and those who embrace clean vocals, pretty guitar pluckin', and angsty yelling. It's niche metal at best, cautious about pulling listeners in either direction. JW

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