by Evan Welsh
So far this year has been off to a pretty impressive start, especially for ambient, experimental, and electronic music. But there have also been a ton of great releases outside of those genres as well, including some great local (Tacoma, Seattle, Olympia) releases over the past few months, which I’m excited to be able to showcase in a new section of this recommendations list.
It’s my hope that everyone can find something new on this list to love — I believe that everything here is absolutely worth at least a single listen, even if it’s just to give it a try.
There are a lot of albums here, so I’m going to keep each spiel concise. Much love to you all.
If you only listen to one album from the first quarter of 2019:
Xiu Xiu – Girl With Basket of Fruit (Feb. 8)
I’ve written about this album on other platforms and have been gushing over it ever since (and before) its release, so I’ll keep this blurb short.
To me, Girl With Basket of Fruit feels like Xiu Xiu dragging the body of their last, super poppy album, Forget, up to a mountain in the middle of the Amazon to sacrifice it at the altar of a deity unknown to the majority of the world. Everything on this album feels dense and intricately placed, and even though this album can feel crushingly abrasive, there are intense moments of beauty scattered throughout. The lyrics are similarly dichotomous, littered with surreal imagery and potent political commentary. Xiu Xiu just continues to be one of the most interesting groups in the music world, even fourteen albums deep.
I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve listened to this at this point, but it has been the only album released so far this year that I simply can’t keep myself from coming back to, almost like it has its own gravitational pull.
A few great local releases (excerpts from a previously published article in The Puget Sound Trail — http://trail.pugetsound.edu/?p=16722):
1. Old Time Relijun – See Now and Know (Mar. 8)
After a decade-long hiatus, Olympia and K Records experimentalist legends Old Time Relijun have returned with a concise, bright set of songs written out of necessity in response to our troubling times.
Old Time Relijun seem to be working in multiple levels on See Now and Know. They are immediately confronting our current socio-political and economic reality, while also channeling a more transcendent power. The drums and bass provide a steady heartbeat of funk throughout the album that helps keep See Now and Know as recognizably part of our earthly experience. At the same time, the wailing saxophone, grunting vocals and dissonant guitars are played with such fiery spontaneity that it gives the listener an impression that the band might have been momentarily possessed by a powerful muse while recording.
See Now and Know is a 23-minute ball of furious energy, feeling spontaneous and controlled all at once — it’s a ritual performed to banish evil forms from our world and bring forth mystic creatures from some other celestial plane to dance and heal with.
2. Clay Beds – Clay Beds (Released Mar. 29)
It’s easy to get lost in Clay Beds debut, as their music is an encapsulating experience, especially when listening with headphones, which is absolutely my recommended form of listening for this project. The incredible soundscapes on Clay Beds make for some of the coziest 20 minutes of music I’ve heard this year.
Each song on “Clay Beds” is a complex, layered mix of electronic, ambient, hip-hop and dream-pop music that moves through the fog, constructing distinct edges within a perfect grey, pacific-northwestern ambiance.
3. Honey Oat – Honey Oat (Released Mar. 15)
The whole album, although relatively unpredictable in its movements, is immensely bouncy and accessible. Honey Oat never feels pinned down to one thing; the mixture of jazz, hip-hop, funk and the occasional trip into Zimbabwean Shona music influence ensures the album never grows stale and makes relistening incredibly easy. It’s impressive how the duo can manifest such deep, interesting soundscapes with just some drums, keys and vocals.
I do wish that Honey Oat was a bit more expansive, allowing for some of the more dramatic musical shifts to feel more naturally fluid within the context of the album, but those feel like critical nitpicks, especially for a debut full-length. As it stands, Honey Oat’s self-titled album shows sparks of absolute brilliance that I believe will only be sharpened and further mastered as time goes on.
5 more awesome albums that I’ve been spending a lot of my time with, in a sentence or two:
1. Laura Stevenson – The Big Freeze (Mar. 29)
Laura Stevenson, friend of seemingly everyone good in the music industry and (in my opinion) one of the better songwriters of the past decade trades in the poppier, punkier style from her last album, Cocksure, for a much more reflective folk and country-influenced sound. This album is slow and intricate, begging for listeners to dive in and get lost. This is by far Stevenson’s most subtle, intimate album, and I think it just might be her best.
2. The Caretaker – Everywhere at the End of Time Stage 6 (Mar. 14)
Leyland Kirby finishes his time as The Caretaker with an album that encapsulates the feelings of disorientation, fear, and finally, acceptance. This stage and the entire 6-part piece may be one of the most impressive ambient projects of the decade—there is no other musical project, ambient or otherwise, quite like this one. I am planning on writing more about this in the future because the whole of Everywhere at the End of Time deserves some separate recognition.
3. Angel Bat Dawid – The Oracle (Feb. 8)
Released on the consistently incredible International Anthem Recording Co., clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid’s debut of DIY (recorded and mixed by Dawid alone, entirely on her phone) tracks is a spiritual-jazz gem. The Oracle is an artfully constructed guide through Dawid’s experience of blackness via poetry and contemplative free-jazz.
4. Matmos – Plastic Anniversary (Mar. 15)
The legendary American electronic duo takes on our world’s love affair with plastic on their new album, and the result is, not so surprisingly, wonderful. Using only plastic objects for sounds on this album, Matmos create a bright, bouncy, and jittery collection of tracks that showcases far more energy than one might assume from an album commenting on the detrimental effects of its source.
5. Bellows – The Rose Gardener (Feb. 22)
Singer-songwriter Oliver Kalb follows up the fantastic Fist & Palm with an album that feels more entropic, mature, and willing to take musical risks. This album certainly took some time to grow on me — I’m still not entirely convinced everything on this album works perfectly, but all-in-all, Kalb and co. have given us a rewardingly complex record that challenges both pop music and themselves, and feels at times like the shape of bedroom-pop to come.
15 Other great releases that you should give a listen to if you’re willing to trust my taste:
Nicola Cruz – Siku (Jan. 25)
Vorhees – Tracks for Movement (Feb. 1)
(Local) King Sheim – King Sheim (Feb. 5)
SB The Moor – SPIRIT REALM. FINAL (Feb. 7)
Sunwatchers – Illegal Moves (Feb. 22)
(Local) Bruce Leroy – Laura Charles EP (Feb. 25)
(Local) CASTOFF – Rumination EP (Mar. 8)
Duke – Uingizaji Hewa (Mar. 8)
CHAI – PUNK (Mar. 15)
DEAFKIDS – METAPROGRAMAÇÃO (Mar. 15)
Elizabeth Colour Wheel – Nocebo (Mar. 15)
Or Sobre Blau – The Piri Piri Samplers (Mar. 22)
This is Lorelei – The Dirt, The Dancing/The Mall, The Country (Mar. 22)
billy woods – Hiding Places (Mar. 29)
Show Me the Body – Dog Whistle (Mar. 29)