Halloween is supposed to be a happy occasion. Free candy! Titillating costumes! Probable drunkenness! But Halloween in Seattle this year will likely be remembered for a much sadder reason—the closing of Capitol Hill’s cheap clothing/costume mecca Value Village. That potently fragrant monolith of thrift has long stood as a geographical signpost for the neighborhood, a paradoxical paradise of frugality in a sea of overpriced cocktails and condominiums.
But as our cover story this week will tell you, the company that runs the beloved shop isn’t all that it seems. It just goes to show that in this rapidly shifting Seattle landscape, things are rarely as black and white as they sometimes appear.
Coincidentally, our favorite local music from this month all meditates on the sadness and anger that sudden change can induce—and fittingly, all do so with varying degrees of nuance. Let’s get to it.
You’re probably keenly aware that Seattle is in the midst of an identity crisis, thanks to the daily onslaught of web headlines asking some iteration of the same question: IS TECH KILLING SEATTLE’S SOUL? Childbirth has emerged as one of the leading voices in Seattle’s punk landscape by engaging this question with a wink and a nudge, chugging out chunky riffs and crooning coyly about “Tech Bros” and general white male douchery. The jokey approach is incredibly effective—by numbing the sharp edge of the problem with the veil of humor, it’s suddenly easier to swallow—fun even!
One of Seattle’s newest punk groups earnestly attempting to engage with this is Nail Polish, whose debut cassette Abrupt takes the complete opposite approach—all this changing-Seattle shit is stressing them the hell out, and the music sounds just as anxious as they feel. The waves of unease hit right from the get-go with “Daily Basis,” a song that dryly narrates the circuitous nervous breakdowns this constant stream of bad news is causing. “I woke up, and everything was fine/I got dressed, and everything was fine/I walked to work, and everything was OK, OK/AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED!/AND NOW I’M FREAKED OUT!”
To punctuate the feeling, the plunky, solid rhythm driving the song shifts suddenly into manic overdrive—skittering and shambling in an epileptic fit. These herky-jerky convulsions are the bedrock of Nail Polish’s nascent sound, a screechy, updated take on Gang of Four’s deconstructed, art-damaged post-punk applied to Seattle’s modern-day ills. On “Poor Excuse,” a kinetic, noisy dirge against male idiocy, singer/drummer James D. chastises, “Isn’t it pathetic to hear what grown men say? Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” The most direct potshot the group takes is in “Chophouse Row,” named after the glitzy new multi-property development on 11th and Pike that houses an upscale gardening shop, a ritzy artisan creamery, and a doggie day care. “I’m here—to do business/I’m here—pushing six figures a week/And I’m moving to your neighborhood/’Cause I always take what’s mine” the group deadpans before launching into another spasm-spiral.
In contentious climates like these, it’s easy to resort to escapism—the onslaught of throwaway, simplistic punk songs about pizza and getting high can attest to this—but it’s nice to see a local group really digging its heels into the dirt and genuinely pushing back with music that sounds as complex and messy as the issue being confronted. (Out Oct. 30 on Help Yourself Records)
There’s something evocative and ancient about Perils, a peculiar offshoot project from Benoît Pioulard, the operating name for local ambient folk musician Thomas Meluch. Recorded between 2012 and 2013 (but released just last week), the record documents a troubled transitional period for Meluch as he packed up everything and moved to Seattle from the UK. His Perils partner, Ontario guitar droner Kyle Bobby Dunn, had just finished a massive triple-LP album called Infinite Sadness, which, if the name didn’t tip you off, proceeded to induce some infinite sadness in its maker after its completion, leaving him feeling purposeless and adrift.
Playing off their shared malaise, Perils moves at a fittingly languid pace, drifting out of time and space in a gorgeous amniotic haze that serves as a near-constant sonic bedrock on the 10-track record. Out of this bubbling, primordial ambience emerge beautiful, haunted, dust-strewn melodies. The wraithlike “(Dead in the) Creekbed Blues” layers distant, muffled guitar over what might be a liturgical hymn or a magical invocation. Standout track “Flaw” sounds like a druidic funeral on a fog-shrouded beach, complete with guitar screeches that mimic spectral seagulls. Fans of Ô Paon, Wyrd Visions, and Mount Eerie take note: This is some old-growth forest music.
Mommy Long Legs
“Assholes” might be the catchiest song Seattle party-punx Mommy Long Legs have written yet, which is saying something given the hooks on hooks on hooks they delivered on their debut tape Life Rips. Kicking off the revved-up tune with the group’s trademark bratty gang-vox, the band proclaim that “You can take your money and put it in your asshole!” before getting a little more philosophical at the end—musing that “you can take your asshole and put it in your new car and drive into a wormhole, because in the end we’re all alone.” The crushing existential weight of existence has never sounded as fun as this.
Mommy Long Legs’ alchemical punk power enables them to transmute the turds life hands them into base material for catchy punk gold (as they do on “Cat Callers”). The scrappy, sing-along basement jammers the band has built a fledgling DIY empire on are still here (“Weird Girl”), but the Assholes EP also finds the group exploring some new tonal territory on “Haunted Housewives,” which descends into a sweet desert-rock guitar solo and psyched-out minimalist fuzz bass bridge, a welcome departure. If listening to Perils bums you out, follow it up with this new one from Mommy Long Legs and you’ll feel good as new. The only bummer about this EP is that it ends.
This album is smooth as Jif fresh out of the jar. After three years of toiling over the follow up to its acclaimed sophomore album The Palace Garden, Beat Connection has crafted its masterpiece—a sublimely danceable but demure contemporary pop record packed full of supple rhythms and sticky melodies.
The tricky cut-and-paste funk of “Hesitation” and feather-light tabla disco of “Another Go Round” feature some of the group’s most sophisticated songwriting yet. But the real reason I love this record is what lies beneath its glistening surface sheen—a trippy subliminal critique of its own existence. As its title suggests, Product 3 is a self-aware examination of what it means to be a commercially viable pop band. According to producer Reed Juenger, the album is a meditation on “industrial condo sadness,” a phrase the group tossed around during writing and recording to put a name to their feelings of loss and confusion in reaction to Seattle’s rapid overdevelopment.
“We wrote a lot of the songs to be easily consumable—on the surface they masquerade as love songs,” Juenger told Seattle Weekly last month. In reality, upon closer examination, the songs have slightly more nefarious subtextual meanings. “Ad Space” is the most overt bait-and-switch—a glossy tune that lyrically could be about a spurned lover, but in actuality addresses the band’s nervousness over sacrificing artistic integrity for an advertising paycheck. “You can be in a really nice condo, have everything, and still be sad,” Juenger said. “This album is us trying to soundtrack that feeling.”
The band’s critique extends to Product 3’s visuals as well—the cover art is decked out with sterile all-white showroom furniture sporting gaudy blue price tags, and the band’s merch and live show prominently feature emoji-esque icons inspired by the trendy marketing imagery that, Juenger noticed, corporations are using to target millennials. But hey, even if you’re an unrepentant capitalist pig, you can still totally dance to Product 3 blissfully unaware of its hidden message, and that’s completely by design. Kudos to Beat Connection for making an ouroboros pop album—a record that’s actively trying to eat itself. (Anti-Records)