by Greg Roth, with additional contributions from Alicia Kamenick, Timmy Held, and Henry Jake
CNN called 2012 the year of “Meh.”
We beg to differ.
2012 was a great year for music in Seattle. Several Northwest artists, such as Allen Stone, Macklemore, Eclectic Approach, and Father John Misty (to name a few) made appearances on the national television talk show circuit and major music publications, thus shining the spotlight back on Seattle – and demonstrating to the music-loving masses that our region offers up a lot more than just grunge and rock. In 2012, we were reminded just how deep our talent pool is in the Puget Sound area.
Not only did Macklemore and Ryan Lewis tell the industry to kiss off and produce one of the most compelling records of the year, entitled The Heist, they, along with Mary Lambert, may be personally responsible for helping pass the same-sex marriage bill in Washington with the moving single, Same Love. Who says music is no longer a vehicle for social change and breaking down barriers? Not us!
Drinking water from the fire hose…
At SMI, we do our best to cover a wide variety of music. Along with loving the art of discovery and taste-making, we have great reverence for classic artists, whose presence and impact was established before some of the current musicians were just a gleam in their parents’ pants. Be it country, folk, rock, jazz, funk, soul, hip hop or metal, if it’s well-crafted, we’re listening.
Iconic artists such as Glen Campbell, Madonna, Roger Waters, Rush, Neil Young, Billy Idol Glen and Bruce Springsteen visited the Northwest (even though it’s still a mystery why Springsteen played Portland and not Seattle) and we were there to cover them.
Emerging and established local artists, such as Mycle Wastman, Big Wheel Stunt Show, Deep Sea Diver, Reignwolf, Lemolo, The Young Evils, The Grizzled Mighty, and Pickwick dazzled, delighted, and developed their fan bases outside the region. These are definitely artists to watch in 2013.
One of my favorite bands, and all around good guys – Perry Acker, had an epic year. The boys supported several national acts throughout 2012, which included the likes of Paul Rodgers and Blues Traveler. Moreover, they played a brilliant show with Vicci Martinez at the Showbox at The Market this past June. Perry Acker is a band with a very deep talent pool within their ranks. It is going to be fun to watch what they do in the future!
Martinez had a big year herself. She broke out nationally based on the strength of her performance on NBC’s The Voice in 2011, and release of her infectious single Come Along, which featured Cee Lo Green on vocals.
All that Jazz…
Not your mom and dad’s radio…
Untethered from antennae or corporate focus groups, and devoid of bourgeois convention, Jet City Stream launched early last year, with a mission to celebrate Seattle’s rich musical history and everything cool about our city in general. JCS is where the indomitable Shawn Stewart landed after being let go by KMTT (the AAA station which also gave the proverbial finger to longtime fans by flipping to a classic rock format). Stewart brought her magic touch and helped hand-craft playlists of the best music produced by Northwest artists. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame DJ Marco Collins brought his good taste and ears to the station, as well as his passion for all that is Seattle music. If Marco says he wants to play nothing but Nirvana for an hour straight, he is damn well going to do it with no apologies (pun intended)…and we love him for it.
Michael McMorrow’s Synergia Northwest celebrated it’s third birthday in grand fashion at the Paramount Theatre, and like previous years, delivered a transcendent spectacle, featuring the great Alan White, LeRoy Bell, Vici Martinez, Star Anna and a host of others backed by the real star of the show – The Synergia Northwest Orchestra, performing brilliant arrangements of Elton John classics.
Some of the most special coverage we did this year took place inside some intimate living rooms via Seattle Living Room Shows. What was even better was the fact that these shows were streamed live via Melodic Caring Project. Carrie Watt, Kristen Watt, Stephanie and Levi Ware have created a wonderful partnership, putting together shows that feature acts like Luc and The Lovingtons, Blake Noble, Impossible Bird, Cody Beebe and The Crooks, Ben Union, The BGP, Levi Weaver, The Good Hurt, and more. (Check out coverage from those shows here.)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has Heart….
To top it all off, one of Seattle’s greatest musical exports, Heart, was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The same day they were inducted, over on the East Coast, Macklemore performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. That same night out on the left coast, Allen Stone performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Also noteworthy: Garfield High alum and legendary producer Quincy Jones received a lifetime achievement award by the good folks from “The Hall.” It was an epic day for Seattle music indeed!
Covering a lot of ground…
This year’s coverage was our most ambitious yet since launching in 2009. Growing from our humble beginnings, we’ve added several writers and photographers to SMI, covering Pacific Northwest music happenings. (A hearty thanks to you all!)
Anyone would be hard-pressed to come up with a definitive list of the best and the brightest of 2012, but some of our SMI contributors share some of their thoughts on their favorite records and shows from 2012…
Top Album: Fear Fun – Father John Misty
I like Fleet Foxes, so when I heard people talking about a new album by their former drummer, I thought, “Gee, I might like that.” I was not expecting to love it so much. His voice just relaxes into the melodies of the songs, and the songs are just great. The first time I heard the opening lyric to I’m Writing a Novel, I busted out in a huge grin…Love at first listen.
“I ran down the road, pants down to my knees
Screaming ‘Please come help me, that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!’ And I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before.”
Top Concert: Sigur Rós (August 8th – Paramount Theater)
I’ve never been so mesmerized at a concert. I was even leaning forward in my seat a few times, lost in intense concentration. Achingly gorgeous moments, thrilling silences, ecstatic crescendos. When the final song reached its 15-minute climax (double entrendre more or less intended), I erupted in the most spontaneous cheers and applause in a way I don’t think I ever had before. Also, I totally want to go to Iceland now.
Other top concerts:
2012 was surely a great year for music. Determining my favorite album of the year was no easy task, with national artists such as The Magnetic Fields, Hot Chip, Nada Surf, The Shins, M. Ward ,and Seattle artists like Daydream Vacation, The Absolute Monarchs, Allen Stone, and Macklemore all releasing seriously infectious albums. But after some intense soul-searching, I came up with my top national pick and my top Seattle picks.
Steven Ellison, AKA Flying Lotus (or FlyLo, to us hardcore fans), is a genre-bending music producer from Los Angeles. His fourth studio album, Until the Quiet Comes, sits atop my list of Best Albums of 2012. At 29 years old, Ellison has already released some of the most innovative electronic music in years, or arguably ever. Throughout his four studio album, 3 E.P. career, he has shown constant growth while remaining true to his extraordinarily idiosyncratic and widely imitated style. 2010’s Cosmagramma saw Flying Lotus reach a new height of experimental, jazz-influenced electronic music, departing from 2008’s more hip-hop influenced, low-key Los Angeles. Until the Quiet Comes is a somewhat of a genetically enhanced hybrid of its two predecessors. More accessible, more melodic, and more hook-driven, this album expresses a level of maturity not heard on his previous releases, while exuding the signature over-limited kick drum hits and sporadic feel changes that fans all over the world have grown to love.
Recorded exclusively on vintage analog tape, this collection of haunting southern-soul infused acoustic ballads is by far my favorite record to come out of Seattle in 2012. I learned of this album by contributing to the Kickstarter campaign Markel used to fund its production. For my contribution, I received a copy of the CD and admission to the release party held in Markel’s beautiful studio, The Recovery Room. (Read the review here).
This album is the perfect example of the “less is more” approach to songwriting. Most of the tunes consist of no more than 2 to 5 tracks, including guitar and vocals. However, there is some pedal-steel and piano sprinkled in occasionally for good measure. Somber, bittersweet, and downright melancholy at times, this record is capable of summoning up many emotions and demands multiple listens. What is all the more impressive about this album is it was written, recorded, mixed and mastered by Markel himself.
The Shins’ first offering in over half a decade has James Mercer dishing out a fresh fusion of electrified folk, synth-sprinkled pop, and the righteous crackle of rock.
Single Simple Song features hefty doses of Mercer’s falsetto, glittering piano lines, and a thinly veiled nostalgia. No Way Down is an up-tempo ditty propped up by reckless nonchalance, while on Rifle’s Spiral, Mercer shows off some nifty electro-harmonic tricks he picked up from Danger Mouse, à la Broken Bells. On titular track Port of Morrow, bathed in eerie, sinister background vocals, the singer guides us down a rickety path of slime and decay: “A preacher on a stage like a buzzard cries / Out a warning of phony sorrow, he’s trying to get a rise.”
Following The Shins’ departure from Seattle stalwart Sub Pop a few years back, Port of Morrow is the band’s first release on Mercer’s label, Aural Apothecary. Throughout the LP’s remarkably fluid 10 cuts, the Northwest folk rock vets prove that although, as Mercer cautions, “Things can really go rough when you go it alone,” the spark of unique individuality can light the way forward..
Psych-folk Incredible, delicate Hoodoos, an eclectic concept album hatched by Seattle newcomers, Castle Dwellers, offers up richly layered guitar flourishes, impeccably precise time signature shifts, and a cohesive, captivating narrative. Pitting lecherous pagan demons against bellicose European settlers, IDH fleshes out the tension between love and survival amidst visceral percussion, space-echoed electric guitar licks, and harmonies brimming with impassioned sentiment
Opening with the hypnotic ebb and flow of a gently rolling tide, the tempo of Hoodoos Pt. 1 accelerates quickly atop scratchy riffs, crisp snare drums, and foreboding Mellotron effects. Jaunty piano provides the backbone to Give In, as a smoky male howl and piercing female vocals playfully slide past each other. Deconstructed acoustic ditty Distortion Slipway lulls us into a halcyon trance to the tune of intimate finger picking and haunting lyrics: “Everything that’s come and gone / And all the things that linger on / Melt or stay, distortion slip away.”
A poignant account of love lost to wanderlust and claustrophobia, Marylyn channels fellow Seattleites, The Head and the Heart. Anchoring the album’s backend, Super 8 Seattle captures that tender and warming – yet distinctly bittersweet – feeling that follows the close of a warm and idyllic weekend among friends.
Castle Dwellers’ debut offering spins as a blend of tight folk harmonies and cascading, hyper-melodic guitars that is at once exuberantly freewheeling and immaculately polished.
Choice cuts: Marylyn, Hoodoos Pt. 1, Give In
Top Concert – Built To Spill @ The Fillmore
Chandeliers dip and dangle atop SF’s Fillmore Auditorium, as rock vets, Built to Spill, shuffle unassumingly onto the high stage. Since forming Built to Spill almost two decades ago, frontman/singer/songwriter Doug Martsh has dropped jaws to floorboards with intricate, meandering melodies and inconceivably precise riffs. Though he’s already treated us to seven LPs, a blues solo album, and three live records, Martsch is still “amazed by the possibilities of making music.”
Casting aside the linearity of time, the Idaho stalwarts hurl their disciples into a nostalgic fit with 1994’s Reasons. Martsh’s nimble digits blurred the frets with spectral virtuosity, as his right leg pulsed in spastic jolts. Cascading guitar and escalating chord progression on cathartic Carry the Zero served as fortitude for the taunting chide: “You have become what you thought was dumb / a fraction of the sum.”
Whopping bass supplemented cascading guitar on Hindsight, a gem off There Is No Enemy, while the vocalist wailed passionately. Martsh’s bald head vibrated frighteningly in concurrent remorse and recognition while he echoed: “Hindsight’s given me / too much memory.” As pools of sweat sprung off Martsh’s grey sprinkled beard, the harsh stage lights reflected blindingly off his glorious glistening dome.
After splashing some water on their sweat-drenched faces, Built To Spill treated fans to a twenty-minute jam rendition of Conventional Wisdom off You In Reverse. Martsh howled over blistering axes in enlightened wisdom: “Some things you can’t explain / like why were all embracing conventional wisdom in a world that so un-con-ven-tion-al,” drawing out the final syllable before blasting a fundamentally anthemic hook. Enveloping the crowd in his lofty solo, the indie rock icon mourned: “They don’t know they’re wrong / but you know that they never can see that / that’s what makes them strong.”
To the passionate music fans who have supported us from the beginning, or found us recently, we thank you. By supporting us, you support the artists, their music, and the vibrant musical community of the Pacific Northwest.
We hope you had a good year, and that 2013 brings even more mind-blowing and life-altering musical moments. When they happen, we will be right here sharing them with you!