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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

December 30, 2010 at 6:00 AM

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Best Seattle pop music, 2010: arcs and top ten

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Free download: Matson on Music's "A Very Good Year, 2010" mixtape (tracklist below)

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Note: The top ten list is in no particular order, except the top slot, which is my favorite. Also, please note the freely downloadable "A Very Good Year, 2010" mixtape doesn't include "the best" or even "my favorite" Seattle songs from the past year, but ones I like a lot and feel represent various momentums in town. It includes light swearing.


The story of Seattle music in 2009 was hiphop becoming our city's most exciting scene. In 2010, the story was more experimentalism all around. Guitars made a comeback, hiphop kept pushing boundaries, and electronic music smudged together all types of sounds. Going into 2011, we look forward to albums by Fleet Foxes and Shabazz Palaces, local acts on Sub Pop. They represent a distillation of the city's overarching pop dichotomy as it's developed in recent years: indie folk VS. indie rap.

Those genres have the most momentum, but the in-between space is exciting now, too. Seattle acts are making varied and worthwhile music with computers, synthesizers, and samplers, self-releasing great albums and getting signed to overseas labels. They aren't worrying about what genre their music is.

If there was one individual story that mattered more than others, it was Shabazz Palaces' several extraordinary avant-rap concerts, which started the first day of 2010 at Neumos. The string eventually led to a deal with Sub Pop in September, when Shabazz auteur Ishmael Butler, known as Palaceer Lazaro, suddenly became the biggest star on the label, with a local asterisk: He won a Grammy in 1993 with first-wave jazz-rap group Digable Planets — TLC presented the award; Butler gave the speech — but a lot of people never knew he was from Seattle and played point guard on the Garfield High School basketball team more than 20 years ago.

Lazaro's in-concert technique of building tracks by pecking pads on a sampler while rapping into a microphone was captivating. Kanye West mirrored the style on MTV and SNL, but Lazaro did it better. More of his music depended on it — if he stopped pecking, the architecture would fall apart — and he was also more technical with the form, using it less for show and more the way it made sounds overlap, stutter and drift.

Below are my top ten Seattle albums of 2010. In some cases, I listed two EPs for an act, the rough equivalent of one album.


Various Artists, "The Cold Jungle" (Cairo)

Ten local acts who could all qualify as "house band" at Cairo, a tiny Capitol Hill space that sells clothes, houses a silkscreen studio, and hosts performances. Genres represented: no-wave and chillwave. If those mean nothing to you, there's also blues, garage rock and computer-based head-nod headphone music. All of it is "no rules" in a good way.

Beat Connection, "Surf Noir" (self-released)

Fleet Foxes has a song called "Mykonos," but Seattle college duo Beat Connection actually sounds like the airy, billowing dance music soundtrack to a lost weekend on Greece's "party island." UK label Moshi Moshi is set to re-release an updated version of "Surf Noir" in 2011.

Velella Velella, "Atlantis Massif" (self-released)

Future-funk/indie dance music, fully invested in spreading euphoria. Synthesizers, bass guitar, liberal use of vibraphone and the occasional five-part vocal attack serve strong, rhythm-focused songwriting. Recommended for fans of Beck, though "Atlantis Massif" really sounds nothing like Beck.

THEESatisfaction, "Loves Stevie Wonder: Why We Celebrate Colonialism" and "Transitions" (self-released)

These two EPs include some of Seattle girlfriend jazz-rap duo THEESatisfaction's most straightforward songs to date, and also most psychedelic ones. Collage-style beats underpin super-controlled singing and sharp, hallucinatory rapping.

Truckasauras, "Quarters," (Fourthcity / Journal of Popular Noise)

There is no precedent for Truckasauras' instrumental electro-hop, and that's part of the charm. The other part is that these Seattle-via-Kirkland brothers and childhood friends are great songwriters. Sophomore album "Quarters" emphasizes the melody-focused, composerly bent that sets Truckasauras' work apart from much other electronic and hip hop music, while still reveling in the blips, thuds, and screeching, soaring vintage synthesizers that make up the act's sound.

Past Lives, "Tapestry of Webs," (Suicide Squeeze)

For a town that seems to have forgotten how to rock, Past Lives is crucial. Dark, heavy, deconstructed rock music that draws from surf, punk, dub reggae and "other" — and who ordered the mournful clarinet interlude? Not that I'm complaining. "Tapestry of Webs" is unexpected, high powered art-rock.

Butts, "Butts" and "Number Two" (GGNZLA)

Two-piece punk about doing stuff in Seattle: eating at taco trucks, swimming in Lake Washington, freaking out about your future, smoking cigarettes. Only very smart people should be allowed to act dumb on purpose, and Shannon Perry and Rachel Ratner are smart enough.

OC Notes, "Doo Doo" (self-released)

This is soul music, I know that much. A lot of it is made from pre-existing soul music, disco, rap, funk, etc. But producer/vocalist OC Notes obscures what came from where and then adds percussion from machines and instruments, ending up with music that sounds like soulful thoughts floating around in a brain.

Sun City Girls, "Funeral Mariachi" (Abduction)

The final album of Seattle-originated/partially-dwelling-here group Sun City Girls, capping a 27-year career. Cinema-score pop filtered through various world musics. Beautifully composed, arranged, recorded. There's a lot of piano here, and some haunting ballads.

Damien Jurado, "Saint Bartlett" (Secretly Canadian)

Sad-voiced indie folk that flirts with early rock 'n' roll. Jurado is a vocalist first and foremost, but this album is awash in atmospheric production that elevates the songs — some of his best — to another level, a place where the sound of the song is the same as the song itself. Which is to say they cannot be covered by another band.


Blue Scholars, "Cinemetropolis" (TK)

The Good Sin and 10.4 Rog, "Late" EP (TK)

Linda & Ron's Dad, TK, (TK)

Tay Sean / TH, TK (Cloud Nice / Members Only)

Flexions, TK (TK)

Fleet Foxes, TK (Sub Pop)

Shabazz Palaces, TK (Sub Pop)

THEESatisfaction, "Au Naturale" (TK)

Beat Connection, "Surf Noir" redux (Moshi Moshi)

USF, "The Spray" (TK)


Justin Ripley, "Reducing My Globe" (self-released)

Stephanie, "Ghetto for Flowers" (GGNZLA)

OC Notes, "Innocent to Insolent" (self-released)

Big Spider's Back, "Pyramids at Night" (Cairo)

Jarv Dee, "I Just Wanna" 10.4 Rog remix (Cloud Nice)

Mash Hall, "Sleeping With a Ghost" 10.4 Rog remix (self-released)

The Moondoggies, "Fly Mama Fly" (Hardly Art)

Butts, "Anxious" (GGNZLA)

Partman Parthorse, "Emerald City Dollar Bin" (GGNZLA)

Keyboard Kid, "So Futuristic (Ahead of My Time)" (self-released)

Past Lives, "There is a Light So Bright it Blinds" (Suicide Squeeze)

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