Ask a musician what they’re listening to lately, and something zealous and earnest, akin to religious fervor, kindles in their eyes. Then ask them to pick a single song—their favorite by a Seattle artist—and the gaze turns horror struck.
Their scandalized reactions are a testament to the fullness and variety of Seattle’s discography. From Jimi Hendrix to Quincy Jones, some of the twentieth century’s most significant musicians had roots here; the grunge ethos and sound, germinated in the Pacific Northwest, disrupted the course of rock and roll. And our contemporary music scene is scrappy and richly eclectic, still largely propelled by independent artists and not-for-profit entities like KEXP.
Of course, we had to ask Seattle artists to do the unthinkable: pick their best-loved songs by other musicians. The result is a beautiful homage to the exceptional variety of Seattle music, from chart-topping country rock to gritty indie hip-hop. Take a listen.
Warren Dunes, “Come Find Me”
As a KEXP producer and one of the instrumentally ambidextrous members of art punk outfit Tres Leches, Alaia D’Alessandro is more deeply embedded in the Seattle music community than most. This bubbly, sweetly wistful indie rock ballad from Warren Dunes’s 2019 EP is a Seattle song she’s had on repeat for years.
Unwound, “Corpse Pose”
Though the ’90s post-hardcore band was technically based in Olympia, we’ll let Ulises Mariscal, also of Tres Leches, get away with this rec because it was his gateway into Washington music—and the band’s dissonant and experimental sound exerted a major influence on Pacific Northwest music of the era.
Smokey Brights, “I Love You But Damn”
What local DJ Alda Agustiano, aka Chong the Nomad, loves about this Smokey Brights song is the vulnerability; the storytelling is tender and deeply personal in a way that she aspires to in her own lyrics. And the title song from the rock band’s 2020 album hits particularly hard in light of the prolonged separation from loved ones and longing for connection that many have felt during the pandemic, she says.
Carissa’s Wierd, “Die”
Carissa’s Wierd, disbanded in 2003, is something of a cult classic among Seattle music people. Peter Verdoes of experimental pop trio Eggshells describes their music as “life-changing.
Sera Cahoone, “Deer Creek Canyon”
Singer, songwriter, and producer Tomo Nakayama loves listening to this song—by one of his oldest friends in the music industry—on long drives around Whidbey, Vashon, and the San Juans. A lively tempo paired with the pensive longing of Cahoone’s lyrics makes it easy to see why it’s the perfect soundtrack to a pastoral pilgrimage.
Marshall Law Band feat. J-Moe Da Bird, “Get Better”
“Did you want us to sing everything?” Ryan Devlin says, laughing, as wife and Smokey Brights bandmate Kim West trills the chorus to Marshall Law Band’s June 2021 single; you just can’t help but sing along to the “thoughtful summer jam.”
Beverly Crusher, “Gimme the Power”
Devlin and West extol the driving, explosive energy that propels this single from punk trio Beverly Crusher.
Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”
No Seattle playlist could be complete without a track from the queen of queer Americana, and West asserts that “The Joke” is one of the most perfectly written songs of all time.
Modest Mouse, “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine”
“The Pacific Northwest indie rock version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ An absolute epic,” says Nakayama.
Tres Leches, “Leaving My Light On”
Jared Cortese of Warren Dunes opines that the 2021 single from Tres Leches is at its best in music video form, the visual elements working in tandem with the song to make something greater than the sum of its parts. He also praises the interplay of D’Alessandro’s and Mariscal’s voices.
Tangerine, “See You There”
Tangerine, a band that got its start in Seattle and has since moved to LA, has an upbeat, highly danceable energy, much like Warren Dunes’s. But Cortese says “See You There,” a jazzier, more subdued ballad, is a refreshing twist on their typical sound.
The Black Tones, “The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)”
This one comes with the weighty endorsement of Cortese and wife/bandmate Julia Massey’s six-year-old son. Massey says that, for her, it’s a motivational song, the sort of tune to buoy the spirits and get the blood pumping.
OG Mambo, “Chando”
Marshall Law Band drummer Matt McAlman knows rhythm—so when he says someone’s beats “go crazy,” you take him at his word. This lead song on OG Mambo’s recent album has distinctive flow, something that McAlman especially admires: artists who “sound like themselves, not like other people.”
IaMcHaMeL, “Against All Odds”
Marshall Law frontman Marshall Hugh says that IaMcHaMeL, who the band has performed with at Fremont Fridays, sows the seeds of compassionate, critical thought with her lyrics while also bringing the “gritty, ambitious” energy he savors in a hip-hop track.
Composite image: photos courtesy Jake Hanson (Warren Dunes), Alysse Gafkjenh (Carlile), Marshall Law Band, Joe Mabel / Flickr CC (Tres Leches), Smokey Brights, Madeline Couture (Wilson)