Dave’s Northwest Best CDs of 2014

I decided to jump on the bandwagon last minute and give a list of what I encountered in 2014 that I deem absolutely worthy of your consideration. The bands listed here all put out great stuff in this past year. And don’t worry, I know there’s probably a ton of great stuff I missed, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comments, and I’ll try to see and write about as many of them as I can in the coming year.

So let’s get started.

First, the runners up:
The Young Evils False Starts and the Hoot Hoots Colorpunch. Both were good albums, and it’s no slight on them to not quite make the top ten. You should check them out.

And now, here’s my top 10 Seattle/Western Washingting CDs of 2014:

10. BellamaineBellamaine
A little poppy, a little noisy, a little synth-laden at times. Good stuff. “20 to 5” has a big Smashing Pumpkins vibe, a good Pumpkins vibe, back when Billy and the crew were making decent music. I haven’t seen Bellamaine live, but I need to. I love the upbeat nature of their music, but my favorite track is “Built This.” There’s an acoustic guitar, some reverb heavy percussion, a couple vocals. It’s a beautiful track. I’d love to hear it at a bar at 2:00 on a Saturday night. It’s one of those mellow tunes that could close a night, even a wild night, in just the right way.

9. Mutiny MutinyDon’t Quit Your Day Job

There’s a pop sensibility here, but it’s more about the noise. And it’s good noise. The vibe I get reminds me of early Goo Goo Dolls, when Goo Goo Dolls rocked. Hold Me Up was an awesome album, one I still listen to over twenty years after it’s release. Mutiny Mutiny is capable of the same. Don’t Quit Your Day Job is very good. My favorite tune in the more downbeat “Rapture: Fail!” which actually reminds me in bits of Drive Like Jehu.

8. The FraidiesTry Again
I like this band. There are all sorts of English flavors here. The Beatles, Radiohead, Oasis. It’s great, fun, upbeat, happy stuff. That makes it an oddity here, but for me this is infectious. I’m not a dancer. Not. At. All. But “Never Love Again” has me bouncing in my chair and wanting to go upstairs and with this song blaring dance all about the living room. Again, this is another band I haven’t seen, but I will change that in 2015.

7. Ahamefule J. OluoNow I’m Fine
This is jazzy and rockish. It’s grooves. It makes me want to pull my Thelonius Monk records out, but alas, I no longer have a record player. So while I stare at my Monk records, I hope Oluo will take it as a compliment that this will do in the meantime. And yet it is not just jazzy rock. It’s pop. It’s rock with jazzy horns, and perhaps not far from a Radiohead flavor at times, think The National Anthem. I’m talking vibe, feel, emotion here, not that it sounds the same. I’m big on live music, and wow, this stuff would be phenomenal live. Must See. Must See. Big failure on my part for not having seen Oluo perform.

6. The Gods ThemselvesThe Gods Themselves
Heavy, fuzzy, low-end awesomeness. What’s not to like. Black Sabbathy at times, and yet a little grooving. “Pony” reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie, maybe a lost scene from Jackie Brown when Max Cherry takes Jackie back to a bar and there’s some dancing, some drinking, loads sexual tension, some flashing lights. And then is cuts to something else, and you never quite know what really happened when the night wound itself down. Great stuff, and if Tarantino ever uses it in a movie, I take credit for the idea now.

5. The Jesus RehabThe Zoo at Night
These guys are by far the absolute best guitar drum duo in Seattle, maybe the nation. When I removed one band from my book and was looking for a band to replace them, Jesus Rehab came to mind. They had this song about mind readers and a lizard king, and after seeing them live a few times, that song had stuck in my head. So I listened to the CDs of theirs I had, looked online, but could not find the song. It’s a testament to the band that they had sufficiently excellent material that the book did not suffer, but then early in 2014 I went to their CD release show and they played the song I’d been looking for, and there it was on the CD. And it’s a great CD. Listen to it.

4. Julia MasseyA.L.I.T.E.
A positive force in the universe. There’s a reason her music is in my book. It’s fills me with the idea that all is right in the world and brings meaning to Einstein’s equation. A.L.I.T.E. continues this, but sadly, the bass player is moving on to other things in his life so this is the last of what this will be. Julia has assured me she will continue, but the next lineup, the next sound will be new, will be a departure, but still, I have no doubt it will make me feel the same. If you can listen to “The Story of the Earth, So Far” and not feel like you’re floating away on those sounds above those oceans and forests and colors, then you have no soul.

3. Whitney BallenFalls
I discovered Whitney Ballen only because I received a Facebook invite to her CD release. I almost ignored it for not having heard about her before, but I noticed that local notable music critic, Chris Estey, would be attending the gig so I decided to check out her music. In short, I was floored. The song “Torn” is the perfect musical description of being emotionally torn in two, into pieces. If this CD had been released two years ago, “Torn” would definitely made it into The Music Book. The whole sound here is sparse and open , and this allows the listener to really crawl into the individual elements. Beautiful stuff.

2. Into the ColdInto the Cold
I might be delving into December 2013 here, back to a show at the Feedback Lounge where these CDs were given away as part of a benefit for Babes Against Brain Cancer, but that doesn’t matter. If it comes out in December, that’s close enough to count into the following year’s release. That said, there’s nothing at all not to like about Into the Cold, the band and the CD. The group was started by longtime Seattle notable keyboardist Billy Stover. (Remember that Apple commercial that came out for the 2013 holiday season? That was him playing the piano with Cat Power on the vocals. Video embedded below.) Anyway, each song Into the Cold writes is inspired by a painting from local artist Rebecca Miller. They’re haunting paintings and thus haunting songs. The music is like a mixture of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath mainly, though at times I hear bits of Jane’s Addiction and Radiohead too. The killer thing though is the vocals. Led by Katy Cornell, they have lush four part harmonies live and the sounds are beautiful and big and bold. This stuff soars. It’ll punch you in the gut and lovingly stroke your hair at the same time. Katy handled all the vocal harmonies on the recordings, and having recorded once with her a few years ago, I have to say, she has one of the best voices in the city.

1. Furniture GirlsDreams
OK. This is probably no surprise. I’ve been saying for years that Furniture Girls is one of my favorite bands in the city. This CD has only reaffirmed that. There are rockers like “Symply Sid” and “Drool,” ballads like “I See Red,” and from first track to last this is one complete piece of music. Jim Watkins is one of the best bass players in the city, both when holding down the root note or when grooving on something far more complex (give “Drool” a listen). They also have one of my favorite guitar players in Jason Lightfoot. Again, not for flash, though he can tear it up. He’s such a tasteful player, never a wrong note, never too many, never too few. It reminds me of that line in Amadeus where Mozart says of his opera, “There are as many notes as I require, neither more nor less.” And then there’s Stacey Meyer on vocals. She’s such a force, a lion tamer at times, a tender mother at others. These guys should be playing the Showbox or larger. Maybe 2015 will finally be their year. I was going to include “Drool” here, but as I’m in a reflective mood, let’s do “I See Red” and end the year with something beautiful.

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P.S. There are two notable singles I’d like to mention.
Sightseer and Like Lightning did not release CDs in 2014, but they did both release singles that gave us a glimpse of the goodness to come. Keep an eye out for both of these bands in 2015.

Sightseer – “Bitter Blue”

Like Lightning – “Disappear”

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And here’s the aforementioned Apple commercial with Billy Stover on piano. Warning. It’s been known to bring a tear or two to the eyes. Happy New Year!

About davemusic

Dave O’Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. The Music Book, his second novel, was published by Booktrope in September 2014. In addition to writing for Northwest Music Scene, he has also had work published in The Monarch Review and on Slate.com. Visit his website at http://www.daveoleary.net. Photo by Stacy Albright, stacyalbrightimages.com.