Best of the Northwest: My Favorite Local Records of 2019

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Best of the Northwest: My Favorite Local Records of 2019

Eva Walker of The Black Tones, whose debut album made us very happy. (photo by Tony Kay)

As is reassuringly consistent and expected, a tassel of great music’s been generated by PNW bands over the last (almost-) 12 months, and we here at Artist Home have been privy to an awful lot of it. 

Below please find my Ten Favorite Northwest Albums of 2019. As always, I’ve opted to acknowledge full-length releases (30+minutes and/or 8+ tracks). I’m as beholden as anyone to a great single or EP, but constructing a full-length release is an art form in and of itself, and any band who does so in this instant-gratification age deserves major props. 

I’m also fully aware  that, despite my best efforts, I did not hear every great PNW long-player released in 2019, so there will inevitably be unintended omissions. (feel free to throw down some friendly suggestions in the comments). Happy New Year, all.

10) Aaron Semer, Cape Disappointment:

It’s easy to take the time-worn singer/songwriter template for granted. Then along comes this great collection of songs from Seattle singer/songwriter Aaron Semer, whose reedy, heartfelt tenor and stunning lyrical storytelling remind you that, sometimes, there’s nothing more timely—or timeless—than one eloquent voice and songs that speak truth to power, protest, and love.

9) Dark Smith, Degressive:

This post-punk quartet (whose single, “Seamstress,” premiered here recently) bashes out epic goth-tinged songs that slingshot between spectral beauty and corrosive power. The resulting sound anchors the immediacy of the band’s visceral, topical lyrics.

8) The Dip, The Dip Delivers!:

Talk about truth in advertising. The Dip upped their game in exhilarating fashion with this sleek, purring Cadillac of a neo-soul album. Singer Tom Eddy’s evolved into one formidable soul belter. 

7) Lemolo, Swansea:

I’ve already extolled the magnificence of Lemolo’s third (and from this corner, best) album at length earlier this year, but suffice it to say it’s one masterfully-constructed full-length work that just gets richer and more transcendentally beautiful with each listen.

6) Guayaba, Guayaba Presents Fantasmagoria:

This Tacoma singer/rapper’s 2016 EP, Black Trash, White Noise, was a terrific cluster of funky, multi-cultural dance tracks that portended great things. Promising as it was, there was no way of predicting how dense, gorgeous, haunting, and unapologetically trippy her first full-length would be. 

5) Sassyblack, Ancient Mahogany Gold:

This region’s greatest gift to afro-pop futurism still navigates that dusky croon around some serious grooves on her latest full-length. What marks Ancient Mahogany Gold as her best yet is its unabashed mission to find redemption, healing, and strength within the beats and melodies. All self-help anthems should be this sensual, smart, and hip-swayingly sexy.

4) Tacocat, This Mess is a Place:

One of Seattle’s most reliable pop bands crafts another winner, with singer Emily Nokes’ deadpan wit adding tartness to the band’s still-irresistible weld of guitar-rock snap, new wave catchiness, and paisley-pop harmonies.

3) Mamiffer, The Brilliant Tabernacle:

Ethereal and dizzying in its expansiveness, The Brilliant Tabernacle finds Vashon-Based duo Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner spearheading a headlong trek into the deepest corners of the forest, with rushes of tribal percussion, stately piano, shimmering vocals, and beguiling beauty weaving their way through the density. No PNW band this year ushered in a more cinematic, immersive sonic journey. 

2) New Age Healers, Debris:

It’s no secret that the PNW has always given great shoegaze. But Seattle’s New Age Healers buttress the classic shoegazer wall of swirling, symphonic guitars with solid hooks and a sense of swaggering cool. Glorious noise perfect for swaying in a packed venue, or cruising the rain-slicked city streets in a black leather jacket.

1) The Black Tones, Cobain and Cornbread:

About three years ago, I caught a last-minute replacement band at the Timber Music Festival. Their hypnotic, grinding guitar rock felt massive and exhilarating, with an arresting, unique female voice at the center that was soulful, confident, and damn near operatic. A lot of ears (mine included) pricked up appreciably that afternoon. 

After three years of ace live shows, said band—The Black Tones—released their debut full-length. It’s an irresistible combination of sludgy guitar thickness, Hendrix-spurred psychedelia, and old-school soul; deceptively simple in execution, but fulsome with groove and power (it helps that The Black Tones enlisted legendary Soundgarden/Nirvana producer Jack Endino to add depth and sledgehammer heaviness to the mix). 

The record includes some of the best, most raggedly right rock songs I’ve heard all year: The joyful stomp of Cedric David’s drums drive the album’s opener, “Ghetto Spaceship,” straight into the stratosphere, and frontwoman  Eva Walker’s thick guitars and mesmerizing vocal delivery turn “Plaid Pants” into the kind of serpentine, elastic psychedelic rock song that you never want to end, even after clocking in at an epic seven minutes. 

Cobain and Cornbread also sports rewarding detours into front-porch gospel singalongs (“Rivers of Jordan”) and an affecting bit of banjo-anchored pop, “Striped Walls,” both of which portend dimensions and nuances well beyond the bad-assed rock the Tones do so well.

The end result feels like something truly special. As I’ve said a million times, it’s a fool’s game to attempt to forecast big things for any band in this fragmented modern music climate, but if any PNW band has the potential to move the world, it’s this one. I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

Tony Kay

Tony Kay