Matson on Music

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

December 31, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Premiere: 'Seattle Party' by Chastity Belt

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Photo by me; art by I Want You

"Seattle Party" by Chastity Belt

Chastity Belt is a band I've been hyped on since hearing their rowdy, primal pop-punk song "James Dean" last spring, about sex and self-esteem. Recently relocated to Seattle from Walla Walla, Wash., they've been playing and recording a lot, with the band Dude York and engineer/musician Jose Diaz, who recorded "Seattle Party." Listen above. Chastity Belt should have the song up for download soon at their bandcamp. I'm feeling Julia Shapiro's sarcastic lyrics:

your tattoos are so deep, they really make me think
and your life is so rough, you've been through so much

SPECIAL NOTE: This blog will not be updated in the foreseeable future. The Seattle Times has exciting developments ahead for arts coverage in print and online. I'll be in the mix. But Matson on Music is closed for business. Please follow me on twitter.

December 31, 2012 at 6:00 AM

'Stop Biting' night at Lo-Fi now an album, mini doc

Art by Specs Wizard

Stop Biting Beatmakers Compilation Vol. 1 (Care Package; download here)

Quiet as it's kept, one of the purest nights of music in the Seattle hip-hop scene happens Tuesdays at the Lo-Fi on Eastlake Avenue, a dark, long, wood-floored building with rapping/breaking in the back room and a bunch of drinking-age dudes (and some women) bobbing their heads to local deejays in the front. The deejays sometimes compete with each other for the best original beat. It's called "Stop Biting," which in rap parlance means don't copy anyone else.

Consider "Stop Biting Beatmakers Compilation Vol. 1" a greatest hits of the front room. The album starts with dusty, '90s-style hip-hop and gets dancier as it goes. Standout tracks are by OCnotes, Specs Wizard, WD4D and Arthur Russell Simmons, and there's a very lovely night-drive type song by Macros toward the end.

Some of these beatmakers/producers/whatever-they're-called got started in punk bands; some are in electronic groups; others have been rapping since 1979. They're an interesting, productive and mostly head-down community. Take a look inside their private studios on an attendant YouTube documentary, linked at

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December 29, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Were you there? 'The Rolling Stones' and Shabazz/THEESat

Not to be "that guy," but if you didn't attend the recent "The Rolling Stones" or Shabazz Palaces/THEESatisfaction concerts, you missed magic. They both started great and finished better. A few words and photos:

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Justin Deary playing Mick Taylor/Ronnie Wood; photos by me
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"The Rolling Stones" exploded the museum aspect of classic rock 'n' roll at the Tractor Tavern's holiday concert Friday, Dec. 22, and made old music feel vital again. The local punk-pedigreed cover band was uncommonly tight and loud and committed to playing the characters of the actual Stones, and the bar was decked out with lighted snowflakes, packed with boozy patrons who maybe didn't know the difference. The best song was "Tumbling Dice" early in the set. But the grandest moment came at the end, when a ton of sweaty people danced on stage, which felt illegal in a good way, and waved goodbye like at the end of SNL. Everyone left when it started to get scary-crowded — except electric guitarist Justin Deary and his dangly earring, who let the screaming audience play his instrument with a candy cane.

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Ishmael Butler hands the microphone to OCnotes

shabazz neptune.jpgAfter a fully-choreographed and musically interwoven set by local rap groups Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction Saturday at the Neptune — kicked off by a stunning new Shabazz song where Ishmael Butler rapped the words "embroidered in flames" — the best moment came at the end, when Butler gave props. He called Stasia Irons in THEESatisfaction a "master lyricist," high praise coming from Butler, then ceremoniously handed his microphone to local singer/rapper/producer OCnotes, for his cool duet with THEESatisfaction, "Icing." It was inspiring to see Butler acknowledge his musical family around town, not just because he put his ego on the side after an hour and half of rapping some of the best-chosen words hip-hop has ever heard — and not to leave out Shabazz's Tendai Maraire, whose mbira solo on "An Echo" was transporting, or THEESat's Catherine Harris-White and her low singing on "Deeper" — but because it hammered home the point that in pulling these Seattle artists together, Butler is giving the city a rich musical moment.

December 28, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Top 40 of 2012, Seattle and beyond

Top 10 of 2012, Seattle and beyond

Storified by · Wed, Dec 26 2012 17:54:03

tame impalaMatsononmusic
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Seattle area pop music had a world-class year in 2012. Our hip-hop scene remained on fire, rock resurged and electronic music hung over everything like a fog. The big story was Capitol Hill rapper Macklemore, who shot to national/international fame with his October album "The Heist," which hovered around the top of the (iTunes) charts on the strength of songs about gay marriage and thrift shops. He didn't make my top ten. But he's in my top 40.

Photo by me

Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange"
Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Ocean wrote musically fluid R&B songs on "Channel Orange" that had a moonlike pull, and nuanced storytelling. Fun fact: Bellingham native Malay produced almost all of them.

THEESatisfaction, "awE naturalE"
Clearly inspired by '70s/'80s soul/jazz but with a digital approach, local duo THEESatisfaction self-produced, sang and rapped a powerful, concise album.

Damien Jurado, "Maraqopa"
The godfather of Seattle's neo-folk movement swerved to the psychedelic side in 2012. His album was stately and spacey.

Naomi Punk, "The Feeling"
All hail the Pacific Northwest rock 'n' roll record of the year: brutal/elegant/ghostly tunes with zero machismo and pulverizing arrangements.

Kendrick Lamar, "good kid, M.A.A.D. City"
A tour de force of rapping/songwriting from a young Compton emcee with a huge heart, and a good ear.

Gucci Mane, "Trap Back"
Legally troubled rapper and self-proclaimed "king of East Atlanta" Gucci Mane tatooed an ice cream cone on his face and went to rehab. Then he released a brilliant street-rap album, with a gothic/gaudy sound everybody copied. So who's crazy now?

Burial, "Street Halo / Kindred" EPs
Like an everlasting coal in the ashes of electronic dance music, South London producer Burial just keeps producing heat, mastering the art of using vocal samples like shadows and drums like subway echoes.

Actress, "RIP"
British ambient/techno producer Actress continued his romance with white noise on "RIP," shading his music into a sibilant singularity.

Tame Impala, "Lonerism"
Sorry for the shorthand, but if you ever wanted trippy-Beatles music with florid drums and a Krautrock influence, here's your dream record. Thank you, Australia.

Flying Lotus, "Until the Quiet Comes"
As hip-hop regains its vision for the future (last held strongly around the turn of the millennium), Los Angeles' Flying Lotus is at the fore, making cosmic, electronic music that slides and slaps.

Giorgio Momurda "Paintings Vol. 2"
Chromatics "Kill For Love"
The xx "Coexist"
Sleigh Bells "Reign of Terror"
Killer Mike "R.A.P. Music"
Stephanie "One Glove"
Lil B "White Flame"
Solange "True"
The Jacka "DJ Fresh Presents the Tonight Show with The Jacka"
Metro Zu "Mink Rug"

Jarv Dee "Dopamine"
Macklemore "The Heist"
Chimurenga Renaissance "Pungwe Mixtape"
Chief Keef "Finally Rich"
Grave Babies "Gothdammit" EP
Erik Blood "Touch Screens"
OC Notes "Moldavite / Pre Future Post Modern Love Songs"
Chastity Belt "[explicit] Chastity Belt"
Nacho Picasso "Exalted / Black Narcissus"

Truckasauras "2012"
Rustie "Essential Mix"
Kingdom Crumbs "Kingdom Crumbs"
Keyboard Kid "Based Treasure"
Future "Pluto"
Nicki Minaj "Roman Reloaded"
Key Nyata "Two Phonkey"
Kung Foo Grip "Indigo Children Tales from the Otha Side"
The Physics "Tomorrow People"
Main Attrakionz "Bossalinis and Fooliyones"

Video of the Year
"Until the Quiet Comes" by Flying Lotus (dir. Khalil Joseph) tied with "Sparkles/Recollections of the Wraith" by Shabazz Palaces (dir. Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes) tied with Frank Ocean on SNL

Producer of the Year
Erik Blood (Stephanie, Crypts, THEESatisfaction, Erik Blood)

New Artist of the Year
Pussy Riot tied with Chief Keef

Radio Station of the Year (for their "indie R&B" channel) tied with Hollow Earth Radio (for their public concert-broadcasts)

Music Article of the Year
"Earl Sweatshirt is Back From the Wildnerness" (The New York Times/Jon Caramanica)

Anticipated for 2013
Hausu album
Shabazz Palaces album
Earl Sweatshirt album
Arthur Russell Simmons album/mixtape
Gunplay "Medellin"
Danny Brown "ODB"

December 27, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Shabazz / THEESat: a history of high-concept Seattle shows

Local rap groups Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction, who play a double bill at the Neptune Theatre Friday, are making some of the most exciting and creative music in their genre right now. Shabazz's "Black Up" album was exalted in The New Yorker; THEESatisfaction is one of NPR's "10 Artists You Should Have Known in 2012."

But here in Seattle, we have another special reason to love them: they do shows jointly with a conceptual edge that the rest of the world doesn't see. And you never know what's going to happen.

In 2011 at Neumos, they blended their sets into a theatrical production structured like a late-night TV show, with Ishmael Butler from Shabazz Palaces playing a combination Johnny Carson/Huey Newton. The year before, they performed a concert-as-ritual-incantation at the Moore, donning custom headdresses (a version is currently on display at the Frye Art Museum).

Will they go the extra mile when they play together again this Friday at the Neptune Theatre?

"It's wa-a-a-ay more than likely," says Butler on the phone, not giving anything else away.

The concert was originally supposed to be a two-night stand for Butler, who was going to perform Saturday with his old, Grammy-winning group Digable Planets. But he says another rapper in the group, Ladybug Mecca, "in all her royal inglory," canceled the show, continuing a string of difficulties between Digable and Mecca that makes Butler feel like Digable is finally finished.

"It's a heartbreaker," he says.

Mecca did not respond to emails asking for her side of the story. Danny Brown is the replacement on Saturday, a hard-rhyming Detroit emcee Butler likes and selected.

"We've been working on getting him out here anyway," says Butler. "It was the logical next step."

For Shabazz, the special-show idea is something of a philosophy. Butler and percussionist/vocalist Tendai Maraire have a song where they chant "was you there tonight?" as if to ask whether you noticed the freshness of their show.

THEESatisfaction also prioritizes the live experience by giving the audience one-off remixes: new beats to existing words.

"I performed with [THEESatisfaction] in Zurich, Munich, Berlin and Fribourg," says Seattle producer/singer-songwriter OCnotes, who joined Shabazz/THEESatisfaction on tour in November. "It was crazy watching them improvise."

Whatever their motivations for stepping it up on stage — perhaps to set themselves apart from other hip hop "artists" who rap over their own CDs? — what really distinguishes Shabazz and THEESatisfaction is their looseness and mental effort, which makes their music similar to jazz, where nothing is set in stone.

December 20, 2012 at 6:00 AM

Local cover band 'The Rolling Stones': not a bunch of lame dads

"The Rolling Stones" (Devin Welch far right); photo by Byron Kalet

"It's almost like we're too young to be doing it," says Devin Welch, founding member of local rock heroes Blood Brothers, about his cover band "The Rolling Stones." "That's what makes it fun and funny. But that also gives it an edge."

Seattle's "Stones" play The Rolling Stones Holiday Party Saturday at the Tractor Tavern, along with Dancer & Prancer, TacocaT and DJ Mike Nipper.

Comprised of Welch and five veteran Seattle players in their 30s, most of the whom come from experimental/punk backgrounds — followers of the Seattle local scene will recognize personnel from Blood Brothers, Shoplifting, Past Lives, Truckasauras, Whalebones and Chromatics — "The Rolling Stones" have a pedigree that is too-cool-for-school. But band is 100% unironic. In concert they do thrilling justice to the source material.

In the "Stones," Welch is Keith Richards; Jordan Blilie is Mick Jagger. He and Welch played together in Blood Brothers and Past Lives, rock bands that took punk music to highflying, unusual places. Welch spent much of his life pointedly not listening to The Rolling Stones, avoiding anything tried-and-true. But his views broadened at some point. He began to appreciate the Stones as "just great two-guitar music ... like Sonic Youth, where there's these elaborately interwoven parts."

Like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, Richards adjusted the tuning on his instrument to get a different sound. So does Welch, who uses an open G tuning.

"We pretty much are just playing either in standard guitar tuning or in open G tuning," he says. "You drop the low E string to D," he explains, "and then you drop the low A string to G, and then you drop the high E string to D."

It's easy to play a good-sounding chord that way. The player can more freely slash around.

"The really signature, mid-period Keith riffs, you really can't play them any other way," he says. "'Brown Sugar,' 'Start Me Up,' and a ton of songs on 'Exile on Main Street' are using that tuning. It's like a bar chord in punk music, in a way. It's a building block."

Welch and Blilie came up the idea for "The Rolling Stones" a few years ago on tour with Past Lives, the idea being that it would be a non-gimmick: play the songs and play them well.

"It's not a bunch of dads trying to do something they could never do," says Welch. "Not that there's anything wrong with dads."

Speaking of dads, where does he go from here? When he's in his 50s or 60s, what type of music will he play?

"Free jazz," he answers.

December 19, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Ishmael Butler on Digable Planets: 'I think it's the end'

Image by Leif Podhajsky / original photo by David Belisle

There are hardly any active rappers/producers who've been successful in different eras, but Seattle's Ishmael Butler is one of them. His old trio Digable Planets won a Grammy back in 1994 for their jazzy song "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)," back when Butler was called Butterfly, joined by rappers Doodlebug and Ladybug Mecca. Now he's Palaceer Lazaro or just Ish in his current duo Shabazz Palaces, which stands on the artistic cutting-edge with a sci-fi/African style. Seattle almost got back-to-back concerts from both acts at the Neptune Theatre Dec. 28 and 29 — which would have been rare and very cool. But at the last minute, Digable Planets canceled.

Butler called me to explain why (see partial, edited transcript below). He said it was Ladybug Mecca's fault for being difficult to work with, and he does not see a future for Digable Planets, calling the situation "a heartbreaker."

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December 18, 2012 at 9:19 AM

Download this: 'Sophisticated Ignorance' by Kung Foo Grip

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Photo by me

"Sophisticated Ignorance" by Kung Foo Grip (download here)

Young, Redmond rap duo Kung Foo Grip is back with some mood-altering, S.A.D. lamp hip-hop. Isn't that what we need in December, when we keep getting ominous blizzard warnings on our phones? "Sophisticated Ignorance" looks ahead to another year on Earth, with lyrics about how good times will be balanced with bad, and large-scale successes depend on groundwork. Emcees Fish and Greg Cypher have always had that energy-drink flow — speedy and furious. But this song is hyper and also patient, smarter, wiser.

December 16, 2012 at 10:43 AM

Bazan / Jurado: God in the building

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David Bazan and Damien Jurado; photos by me

"I'm not into nostalgia," said local singer-songwriter David Bazan Saturday night to a packed house at the Neptune Theatre, the finale of a mostly sold-out U.S. tour organized around his old band Pedro the Lion's 2002 album "Control."

Bazan doesn't play old songs he doesn't believe in. He doesn't play the popular "Promise," for instance, about how God is taking care of you even if it seems like the world is falling apart. He does play "Control," however — a concept album about cheating lovers and murder.

"It's been a trip trying to make this record happen every night," Bazan said. "But tonight it really did."

That was true: "Control" hit emotionally harder and deeper in the churchlike former movie theater than on the album, which was rereleased on vinyl this year.

Highlights included the sarcastic coda, "Rejoice," and an upbeat/deadpanned "Indian Summer." Bazan's distorted electric guitar lines crept like loud napalm, penetrated by his low-tenor singing voice, and his band excelled. Alex Westcoat pounded the drums cleanly; bassist Andy Fitts played synthesizer with his feet.

Bazan played a few newer songs, too, proving he still has it. It all went to further establish him as an underrated God of Pacific Northwest indie rock.

Bazan only sells tens of thousands of copies per album, tops, but he constantly fills big-ish theaters. Chalk it up to good art and faithful followers.

The previous night, Bazan's occasional musical collaborator and friend going back to Shorewood High School, Damien Jurado, filled the immense St. Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill. Like Bazan, Jurado came into the indie rock/singer-songwriter game in the late '90s, discussing evangelical Christianity in lyrics and interviews. And like Bazan, the main themes in his art are doubt, fear, pain and worry.

The pews were crammed and people sat silent on blankets around the pulpit as Jurado played "Medication" from 2000, a ghostly ballad about electroshock therapy and a plea to God for euthanasia, to relieve a distressed brother. If you believed, you could say God was in the building.

December 13, 2012 at 8:41 AM

Nirvana reunion at 12/12/12 concert: surprisingly inoffensive

And now the moment you've all been waiting for, my critical judgment on the Nirvana reunion at the Superstorm Sandy relief concert at Madison Square Garden 12/12/12, which subbed Paul McCartney for Kurt Cobain, next to Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear and Dave Grohl:

Not bad!

Ye olde dudes of rock played a new song, "Cut Me Some Slack," that sounded nothing like Nirvana, but had a bluesy simplicity that kept it at "good clean fun." It never got to "cool." But it never breached "embarrassing" either. And of course the cause was worthy. Check out the Robin Hood Sandy Relief Fund website right here.

December 13, 2012 at 6:00 AM

David Bazan Band plays Pedro the Lion's 'Control'

Photo by JUCO

As local singer-songwriter David Bazan drinks his first of two Manny's pale ales at the Hi-Life in Ballard — the self-imposed limit for the former teetotaler — he talks about how he treats his art like a job. Rather than write at home, he rents a nearby studio, because he gets more done when he feels like he's in an office. He doesn't drink like he used to. And he tours hard, averaging over 200 concerts a year, sacrificing some of his home life in the process.

"We lived over in Poulsbo when our daughter was young, so my wife had friends in Silverdale, at Bangor Naval Base," he said. "And they had that connection, you know: 'My husband's gone.'"

Bazan was part of a wave of inward-looking Pacific Northwest indie rock back in the late '90s/early '00s, with his band Pedro the Lion — still the main reason people know his soft singing voice, which sounds like it's coming through a Pendleton blanket. The era included Death Cab for Cutie, Damien Jurado, Decemberists, Harvey Danger, Modest Mouse, Postal Service, Elliott Smith and Built to Spill. Several of those acts ended up with songs/albums on the pop charts. But Bazan stayed simmering underground, feeding his audience solid solo albums and nonstop concerts.

Now Pedro the Lion's four albums have been remixed, remastered and rereleased on vinyl, and there is a tour specifically devoted to "Control," the popular, especially rocking installment from 2002. The David Bazan Band performs it Saturday at the Neptune Theatre.

Musically, "Control" has stood up well. Bazan's loud guitars and slow songs are what "emo rock" was when people first started using the term, and looking back, emo rock was a good idea: sad guitar ballads doused in distortion. Thematically, the album is a conceptual piece about a man who cheats on his wife, who eventually kills him.

"It's fun to play," says Bazan says of "Control." "I think it's pretty digestible. It's really dark, but sadly it's a darkness that's not out of date."

Recently at the Showbox at the Market, Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie fondly remembered his and Bazan's past together, saying a Pedro the Lion concert in the '90s was the first time he felt he was really part of something.

"Gibbard was in my band for half a year [in 2001]," Bazan says, "He played with us at Bumbershoot with a broken arm."

Does that era seem dead and gone?

"I don't think about it that way," Bazan replied. "Everything comes and goes and morphs. I would never hang my hat on a particular moment. Time tells if someone is really serious about what they're doing."

December 12, 2012 at 4:18 PM

Naomi Punk videos of note: 'The Buzz' and 'Voodoo Trust'

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December 12, 2012 at 6:05 AM

Video with commentary: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on 'Fallon'

I was in Miami, Fla., last week and made a bet with my travel companions. I said we would hear Seattle rapper Macklemore in a restaurant or club. The guy is just everywhere right now. Sure enough, we did: "Thrift Shop" blasted onto the sidewalk from a restaurant on Collins Ave., one of many songs currently endearing him to the nation, boosting his profile and drawing people to his sensational album "The Heist." Macklemore and musical director Ryan Lewis performed "Thrift Shop" on "Fallon" last night. Cool things about the performance: The Roots are Fallon's house band, aka the greatest live band in hip-hop, and played drums and instruments. It's on any rapper's before-I-die list: "Play with ?uestlove" (The Roots' drummer). So check that off. Also Macklemore, ham that he is, broke the fourth wall and got intimate with the crowd, threw t-shirts into the audience, eventually dumped his entire box of merchandise on newly converted fans, who loved it. It showed one of the reasons he's so successful. At every concert, you feel like he's giving you everything.

Check my written profile of Mack and video interview at the Dearborn Goodwill here.

Introductory profile from last year here, where I predicted he would become a pop star.

In a parallel story, local singer and Mack-collaborator Allen Stone played "Leno" the same night (you can find the video via google; listen to Stone/Mack song "Neon Cathedral" here).

December 10, 2012 at 12:33 PM

Art Basel 2012 recap: Millennial art, music everywhere

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Photo by me

After a week of arty beach parties in December, in a place where winter never really happens, Art Basel 2012 is a wrap. For the unfamiliar, that would be Art Basel | Miami Beach, oceanfront sister to the major contemporary art fair in Basel, Switzerland, operating a satellite in Florida since 2002. The annual event was a blast of international art action in convention centers and hotels across Miami. There were hundreds of gallery booths and thousands of artworks. And wherever there was art, there was also fashion and music.

With so much to see and many miles to cover, there can be no unifying Art Basel experience. Everyone has their own story of what it was. And this year there was no news item that rose above the others, no major controversy. One story is that gallerists reported making lots of sales, which could be some kind of positive sign for the industry.

Personally, a few things occurred to me while walking around Art Basel, and riding shuttles/taxis to auxiliary fairs.

One, Millennial artists are obsessed with the 1990s, and Life on the Internet.

Two, Art Basel is (almost) ready to become a music festival.

Feel free to read a bunch of words about those topics below, or click these links to get a general feel:

Art Basel photos: THEESatisfaction and more
Art Basel photos: 'Untitled' art fair, GIF party and more
Art Basel photos: NADA fair

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December 10, 2012 at 11:38 AM

Art Basel photos: NADA fair

Written recap coming soon. See also:

Art Basel photos: 'Untitled' art fair, GIF party and more
Art Basel photos: THEESatisfaction and more

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New Art Dealers Alliance pool party; photos by me

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Art by William Scott

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