ROCK BLOG: Matt Koch's Top 5 Local Albums of 2016
What a year in local rock!
You know what's dumb about this blog?
No one asked me to write it.
I just randomly signed myself up for selecting the 5 best local albums of the year…
With the year we've had in this scene, that is no small task! It's just a dumb idea I had to kill time as I sit on the can and start to type this on my phone cuz, well, I like bringing awesome local music to people’s attention. It’s just not easy narrowing it down when you live in Seattle, especially this year, but here goes:
(DISCLAIMER 1: This is by no means an all-inclusive list. It’s scratching the surface. I didn’t even listen to all the local records that came out this year, there’s just too many in this town! These were the standouts to me and I think you’ll agree they’re all pretty kickass!)
(DISCLAIMER 2: I included links for you to listen to all these albums for free. If you like what you hear BUY THEIR MUSIC and COME TO THEIR SHOWS! Both these actions will make your life way more awesome and help the bands continue doing this!)
HONORABLE MENTION THAT I CREATED A LOOPHOLE FOR (so I could squeeze another band into the Top 5):
I know, I know... “Matt, you played TWO KICKASS singles off this album this year and Windowpane opened up Pain in the Grass! How is this album, which definitely came out in 2016, not in the top spot, let alone the top 5??”
Wellllll, I got this album at the tail end of 2015. It was hands-down my favorite album of 2015, local or otherwise. And I only got it in November! So it’s certainly not like it doesn’t belong in the top 5. It’s just that 2016 had a lot of awesome local releases and I’ve already introduced THOUSANDS of people to this!
I figured if I could vacate a spot to shed a light on some other up-and-comers in the scene, Windowpane will appreciate it because they always look out for other bands like big brothers, and really make this incredible community feel like a family. Plus, I’ve got a legit technicality to hide behind: it’s a 2015 album to me!
So about the album itself... I guess in a word, umm, I’d have to make one up: TONEGASM!! Mark and Sean do a fantastic job holding down the low end- it’s insane the groove this album has thanks to those two. But they don’t steal the show (except for on Welfare Line, they kinda do on that one. Mark throughout, Sean at the end in particular), smartly leaving plenty of room for Glenn and Tony to serve up some seriously bitchin riffs through their Marshall stacks that create some of the sexiest tones you’ve ever heard come out of a Les Paul. 5 stars all the way around.
I think Windowpane is glad I technicality’d their album to make room for these guys... They’ve shared the stage, and a rehearsal space, together; and Wyatt and Glenn look like each other's spirit animals (it’s the hair!)
This is one of many albums that I didn’t really give a fair shake when I first got it, because I was so damn enamored with the album that I put at number 1 for a lot of the months of this year. Then I saw Wyatt Olney & the Wreckage at Migsfest and holy smokes! These dudes have that “it” factor for sure.
I’ve since listened to the album a lot more (obviously, if I put it on this list), but you really gotta experience them live. You can definitely hear Wyatt’s love for Dimebag in the riffs on the album, but when you see him on stage you can tell he also has that same contagious, energetic, loving spirit that Dime was famous for.
Man I’m glad this is just an EP! Okay, that’s only half true.
When I listen to it, I’m left yearning for a full-length from these crafty Seattle veterans. (One of the first bands Jolene introduced me to when I started working here back in 2010!) But for the sake of this list, I’m glad it’s an EP cuz the top 3 is crowded enough!
These dudes have been bringing raucous, full-force Rock N Roll to the Seattle scene for longer than I’ve been a part of it. I think this EP captures their energy and sound better than any recording they've put out. Bringing it live, and recording a record are two totally different beasts and Klover Jane appears to have tamed both of them. Experience pays off here.
JT and Jeff’s dual-noodling (or doodling, as I’ve taken to calling it), just sounds so smooth and has a great flow to it. Combine that with the power of Rane’s vocals (which will most definitely remind you of Layne Staley), and you’ve got a catchy EP that is A LOT of fun to sing along and headbang to!
Remember how I said I was so enamored with the number 1 album that I couldn’t bring myself to listen to anything else for a lot of the year? Well, this EP was the one exception to that, and for good reason. They combined to make for an epic soundtrack to my Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Road Trip! (SPOILER: If you click that link, my #1 pick will be pretty obvious)
This is an album made by 3 burly bearded badasses from the north end, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. You’re gonna listen to it a lot of times, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s catchy, bluesy, and raw. Hunter’s voice is so smooth at times and so powerful at others. Jacob is a beast on drums, just thunderous and tasty. Nathan is a hell of a bass player and you can hear it all over the album, but the best part is visualizing all the animated faces and mannerisms he exhibits on stage. So like all the other bands on here, you REALLY need to see them live!
It’s kind of a journey album, got a great flow throughout. Ups and downs, long solos, stories about smokin’ doobies with Sasquatch, and a completely epic 11+ minute closer (that’s basically 3 songs in one) about how we’re living in the apocalypse... It’ll make you think, but then you’ll bang your head til you’re unable to fathom anything other than how awesome the music is and how glad you are to be listening to it. At least that was my experience, and I listen to that song on my way home almost every day.
I first saw this bass-and-drums two piece verrrrry early in their existence when they were opening up for Mother Crone at The Mix in Georgetown (RIP). It’s a source of great pride for me. Watching them ascend through the ranks of Seattle royalty has been a real treat, and I brag about “discovering” them early in their career on a regular basis.
Their debut album beautifully captures everything I saw, felt, and loved in that first performance (and countless others since), thanks in large part to legendary producer Billy Anderson. They have this huge, epic, spacey sound, and that can be tricky to properly capture on recording. I don’t know how it all works. Ryan the Beard explained some of the technical stuff to me an hour ago, but I’d sound like an idiot trying to regurgitate it here. It had something to do with frequencies I think. Whatever, it sounds awesome.
I’ll say this about how massive this thing sounds: I ordered it on vinyl so I could hear the completely-staggering-especially-for-a-two-piece amount of depth and nuance better... AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE A RECORD PLAYER! (This is also due to the beautiful OBI limited edition STB Records put it out on.) I seriously cannot wait to give this thing a spin for the first time!
Amy’s voice is both haunting and angelic at the same time. I know that sounds contradictory, but she pulls it off. Side-note: Wouldn’t a haunting angel be classified as a demon? Demons are metal AF! Tight.
Her bass-playing skills are equally impressive. I don’t know where the sweet sound of that Rickenbacker ends and her array of effect pedals begins, and frankly I don’t give a damn. Needless to say, you will not miss the lack of guitar at all. (Although if you’re curious- Curtis from Witch Ripper got bored and added guitar to “Persephone”)
Jon’s drumming is furious but precise, and he never loses the spirit of the holy groove (curveball link haha, love that song!). For a two-piece to sound as big as Year of the Cobra does, both members obivously have to pull their weight. And boy, do they! One thing I love about his style is he knows how to really let a song breathe. His skills are on full display throughout the whole album, but sometimes it’s the notes he doesn’t hit that really set the vibe on this amazing record.
Remember how I just said that stuff about how cool it sounds when Jon doesn’t hit every note? Well, Will from Ten Miles Wide didn’t get that memo! He hits alllll the notes and then some! And I’m not complaining a single bit! That dude is just a straight up monster behind the kit. Like King Kong and Godzilla in one. So fast, so controlled, and perhaps most importantly, it never feels like he’s showing off at the expense of the song.
Even with that smooth-ass segue, the fact that I led off by talking about this album with anything other than frontman Johndus Beckman’s voice seems completely asinine. Will really earned that honor though.
Now, about the guy I introduced my dad to as “the best voice in Seattle” (Note: this is the longest I’ve had to pause in the 1400+ words I’ve typed so far. I’ve been on a real roll thus far, it’s reminiscent of when they prescribed me adderall during my ill-fated attempt at community college… good times.)
How the F do I accurately portray how incredible this dude’s pipes are using only words? I literally string words together for a living, have listened to the album hundreds of times, and I still can’t! That’s why you need to go listen to the album! The biggest thing that jumps out is the emotion behind his voice. It’s palpable, it’s powerful, and it sounds really f---ing cool.
The record is sort of a concept album about an alien takeover filled with weird, hilarious interludes; but there are also some deeply personal lyrics sprinkled in there coming from a man that’s as talented as he is tormented. I’m just glad he has music as an outlet for his demons, which you can keep your evil dramatic mess the hell away from... They’re over it. (That’s a reference to “Gotta Go”, which you really Gotta Go listen to.)
The crazy part about John is that for how amazing his voice is, his guitar playing is equally jaw-dropping. Beautiful and melodic at times, and straight up shreddy, proggy chaos at others. I gotta give Jake Carden on rhythm guitar a lot of love too while we’re on the subject. He brings a real level of fun to their live show, which balances perfectly with John’s intensity.
I’ll put it this way: drummers are usually my favorite to watch at shows. Will is insanely fun to watch because he’s super good, has great hair, AND is left-handed (which makes him even more fun to watch). John is a living local legend. And yet with those two on stage, I still find myself watching Jake the most. That says a lot about his stage presence.
Jake also adds so much to this album, as evidenced on this acoustic in-studio version of “Gotta Go” (filmed by yours truly, what an awesome performance to witness in person!)
...Wow, I just realized I was all like, “Hey everyone, you gotta hear how much Jake adds so much to this record!” and then linked to a non-album version of a song. Haha. Once again, I'm an idiot. But I’m a passionate idiot with great taste in music (and apparently a severe disdain for brevity, editing, or the ‘backspace’ key).
The glue holding all this awesomeness together is Ryan on bass, always holdin’ down the vibe and keeping things flowing. He may not jump out on your first listen, but your first listen will make you wanna listen to it a lot more. Then you'll eventually realize he's always right where he needs to be, shining through at times but mostly providing the perfect foundation for the rest of the band. It’s like he and Will combine to form the bowl for John’s ice cream sundae, and Jake is the cherry on top!
Damn. Now I want a sundae.
And a nap.
This thing went long.
I had fun writing it. Thanks for reading.
Hope to see you at some shows in 2017!!