10. Tomorrow - Dave B. and Sango
At times Seattle hip-hop can feel devoid of geographic grounding unless its name-checking familiar locales or cliched touchstones. But you can hear the south end of Seattle in Dave B. and Sango's collaborative album, Tomorrow. Credit Sango's atmospheric production that audibly transports the listener to a lazy gray day in the city via clanging metallic beats and undulating synth lines. Sango further sets the scene's specificity by peppering in samples of the light rail approaching Rainier Beach, rain, and Somali and Vietnamese voices.
This all lays the groundwork for Dave B. to make a substantial leap forward as an MC. While the rapper has been on the rise for years, Tomorrow finds him taking a step away from his more party rap-leaning past to a more personal, reflective lyrical storytelling perspective. He might not be touching on any earth-shaking topics, but the poise he brings to each 3–4 minute reflection on his twentysomthing daily existence makes them all feel fresh. It's all aided by the smooth soulfulness of his sung rap delivery, which calls to mind MCs like Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean without ever seeming derivative. With Sango's help, Dave B. carves out his own Seattle voice on Tomorrow, and it only makes us more excited for what his tomorrows will bring.
9. Duo - Onry Ozzborn
To quote Aesop, "A man is known by the company he keeps." On those grounds, Onry Ozzborn is quite the man. The high-concept album Duo finds the Seattle alternative hip-hop producer and MC reaching into his proverbial Rolodex to create 16 tracks, each featuring different guest vocalists. The result is a wonderfully eclectic record where Ozzborn serves as the cohesive through line.
Each song molds to the style of the guest: things get gritty and dark for P.O.S. on "Turmoil," Kimya Dawson throws in a dash of melancholy quirk while rhyming to the tune of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" on the captivating "Neonerd," Latrell James helps "Stardom" feel like an energetic party track, and things take a sharp turn toward indie rock when Iska Dhaaf's Nathan Quiroga pops up for the airtight "Flee the Colony." All the while, Ozzborn's understated underdog flow and lyrical delivery keeps its edge and finds a way to chameleon itself with each new musical partner. Devoid of dull moments, Duo serves as a testament to the magic of collaboration and Ozzborn's own excellent taste in musical friends. March 2016 Album of the Month
8. Night Showers - Hotels
Hotels (Blake Madden) makes the sort of vintage pop rock that Quentin Tarantino would've thrown onto the Pulp Fiction soundtrack had he came across Night Showers when digging through record crates in 1993 (ignore the time paradox, please). Or perhaps one of the tunes like "Linnette" could be slotted in as the theme for an upcoming James Bond film. Basically, Night Showers oozes a brand of refined cinematic class.
Night Showers is the lushest local record of the year, as each of the album's nine haunting tracks expand well past surf-y guitar roots and become soundscapes flush with alluring trumpet, cello, violin, and vibraphone flairs. Madden delivers all of his lines like an enigmatic smokey lounge singer who's lived more than a few long nights, and guest vocal spots from other Seattle standouts like Adra Boo an Irene Barber only add to the overall mystique. Check into Hotels if you're looking for a memorable night of listening.
7. Lost in Slow Motion - Erik Blood
Some albums evoke feelings. Erik Blood's Lost in Slow Motion is feelings. The acclaimed producer's solo album presents an ethereal blur of an abstract tone painting, rich with emotional colors to mull over for hours on end. Blood and Irene Barber's lovely—intentionally almost indiscernible—vocals swirl through a cloud-soft sonic backdrop of shoegaze psychedelia on a quest for deeper truth and identity. If you're able to make out lines like "All of the vibrations in my heart / All the shinning colors break apart" on "Chase the Clouds," it only adds further layers of meaning to a beautifully mysterious album that finds strength in its open (even, if not obvious) vulnerability.
6. Teens of Denial - Car Seat Headrest
Car Seat Headrest's Teens of Denial is by far the most nationally praised Seattle album of 2016, and it's not terribly difficult to see why. The album crackles with the type of anthemic aggression and confused youthful angst that can be found on landmark rock albums. (There's even a segment of critics that legitimately think it's already one of the best rock albums ever made... which admittedly seems more than a touch overkill.)
Thanks to Will Toledo's segmented songwriting style, there's no shortage of ideas packed onto Teens of Denial. Most songs seem to be the combination of a handful of somewhat disparate parts artfully fused together. When it works, the results can be absolutely stunning. The dynamic and slow-building sing along epic "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" is the best song to come out of Seattle in 2016, and it's not even kind of close. And while there are times when the parts don't mesh, the lyrics get a tad self-important, and things begin to ramble ("The Ballad of Costa Concordia"), there are enough moments of brilliance to fill in the blanks. In Toledo's own words, "I've got a right to be depressed," and we're more than happy to tag along on his discontented ride.
5. Blanco - David Bazan
Even when soaked in electronic sound, the pure aching humanity of David Bazan's lyricism remains undeniable. For Blanco, the singer-songwriter mostly swapped the guitar rock template for keys, synths, and drum machine beats, but the melancholy hasn't faded. "Blanco’s tone becomes crystal clear from the opening notes on 'Both Hands,' as the first noise that greets the listener is synthetic gargle that sounds like someone’s trying to strangle an old computer trying to log onto the internet via a dial-up modem. The notes quickly morph to a piercing and foreboding pulse that overwhelms a glimmering synth layer underneath. ... There’s no wasted motion in the way that he employs the electronic palette... there’s no showiness or flair to the endeavor. This isn’t Bazan just playing with new toys; everything benefits the mood of the songwriting in an almost workmanlike fashion."
"The stories told through song remain as downtrodden as ever on Blanco. It wouldn’t be a Bazan record if it wasn’t a beautifully crafted bummer. His battered worldview tends to resemble that of the pummeled fighter who just won’t stay down." Numbers like "Trouble With Boys" wrench at every fabric of any caring heart. "In lesser hands, Blanco’s songs would seem oppressively somber, but there has always been something about the empathetic way Bazan can sing lines that humanizes the situation. It makes listeners feel like there might be the tiniest kernel of hope hidden in the darkness." May 2016 Album of the Month
4. Golden Age - Chris Staples
There simply isn't another singer-songwriter in Seattle that can match the natural ease of Chris Staples. Golden Age feels as relaxed as an exhaled breath from a porch on humid a summer day. The core of each Staples song sounds like he's softly strumming the chords and singing for friends in a living room, only to have gorgeous and reserved accompaniment to substantialize from the calm void (be it the string swells of "Park Bench" or Ings's vocals for "Times Square"). Even when things get fleshed out to fuller band arrangements on tracks like "Golden Age" or "Dog Blowing a Clarinet," the results end up being equally delightful staccato toe-tapping tunes with memorable melodic leads.
While Staples employs simple, stirring lyrical details to pine for days past on songs like the piano-infused "Always On My Mind" ("Funny how some little thing can just take you back / Some perfume or a pop song, a Penguin paperback"), it never feels like he's stuck in the in the sadness of the olden days. He's always got to push his sound forward to find more golden days in the future.
3. Lost Time - Tacocat
"It’s never been easier to simultaneously love and loathe Seattle. ... Tacocat’s latest LP Lost Time captures this Seattle moment’s mindset. Over the course of 12 blissed out and pissed off pop punk tracks, the quartet celebrates its hometown, decries its faults with feminist zeal, welcomes its inevitable doom, and gets lost in the worlds of the weirdos that make it unique."
On Lost Time, the band maintains its delightfully scatterbrained songwriting with tunes about everything from Capitol Hill gentrification ("I Hate the Weekend") to online trolls ("The Internet") to The X-Files ("Dana Katherine Scully") to menstrual agitation ("FDP"). With Erik Blood behind the production board, the band sounds tighter than ever, adding a level of sleek refinement to tunes like "Talk," with its danceable darkness and hypnotic hand claps.
"Seattle is changing. It’ll keep changing. Hopefully there will always be a place for people like Tacocat to add colorful flair to the city and keep Seattle at least a little bit strange." As Emily Nokesa almost defiantly declares on "I Love Seattle," "Ooohh, beautiful Seattle / Aaaahh, fall into the sea / Earthquake, tsunami / There’s still no place I’d rather be." April 2016 Album of the Month
2. Adult Teen - Lisa Prank
"Lisa Prank’s Adult Teen is a vibrant trapper keeper of an album. It’s a portable little sticker-adorned treasure trove of Lisa Prank’s (aka Robin Edwards) world, packed with hand-scrawled lyrics, a guitar pick or two, sketches of the Blink-182 bunny and her other favorite band logos, crumpled up frustrated journal entries, and detailed notes on the type of chemistry that isn’t taught by a science teacher. Lisa Prank’s first LP delivers a personal and endearing one-woman pop punk outpouring of emotions that should resonate with teens and post-teens alike."
Armed with little more than some crunchy power chords and drum machine beats, Lisa Prank crafts catchy, melodic pop tunes that crystallizes the thought process of hopeless romantic exasperated by the fact real love doesn’t always work like romantic comedy plots. She's not wrong for concluding that "Luv is Dumb." With a balance of lovesick bliss ("I Want to Believe"), heartbroken angst ("Take It All"), and reserved sadness ("Turn It Up"), Adult Teen becomes a "bubbling feeling festival that’s simultaneously fun and cathartic." June 2016 Album of the Month
1. Talk to Me So I Can Fall Asleep - Crater
Escapism was a necessary tool for mental survival at times in 2016, and there was no better digital world to escape to then the one created by Crater on Talk to Me So I Can Fall Asleep. Over the course of eleven tracks, the electronic duo of Ceci Gomez and Kessiah Gordon simultaneously sing like welcoming sirens while keeping listeners at an arms length. "The album is industrial pop for the Internet age. It’s music to listen to while watching people stare at their phone screens."
"The core of Crater’s sound comes from the sleek synthetic electronic sounds that cut at sharp angles and the cold distance Gordon’s manual and digitally sampled drums evoke. Talk to Me So I Can Fall Asleep pulsates with an industrial music edge, with just enough glitchy goth dissonance to keep things discomforting. ... More importantly, the duo has a clear ear for pop." The melodic sensibility Crater displays on tracks like "Crater Head," "Sick Sand World," and "Hardly At All" surpass almost all of its electronic/industrial contemporaries. The hooks jack into a listener's mental wiring and spread like a virus.
"Crater is the musical equivalent of Rachel the replicant from Blade Runner: mechanical but struggling with human emotion, seeming to fight against its own programming to survive, wanting to hold on to a glimmer of hope while deeply pessimistic, captivating with a noir sophistication. A traditional happy ending doesn’t seem to be in the cards, but at least each step along the path to Talk to Me So I Can Fall Asleep’s denouement is a gorgeous one." February 2016 Album of the Month