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What Music Is

Music isn’t something you own.

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February 18, 2014

Timber! 2014

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Friends! Cascadians! Lend me your ears. Today the countdown to summer begins!

Fresh off of a spectacularly successful winter edition in Leavenworth aptly named Timbrrr!, the fine folks at the Timber Outdoor Music Festival are returning to Carnation this year in July with an additional day and bigger headliners to boot. Set in the heat of summer along the swollen Snoqualmie River, the first iteration of this year’s lineup certainly retains it’s character as a local music festival of note while expanding it’s scope to attract a number of nationally recognized headliners.

Charles Bradley J Mascis Damien Jurado Rocky Votolato Cumulus Grynch The Physics The Commettes BattleMe Smokey Brights Tea Cozies Mikey & Matty The Shivas Lonesome Shack Julia Massey & The 5 Finger Discount … plus more to be announced

This year July 24th, 25th and 26th are the days to walk the trails, construct your tent palace, tickle your toes in the water, and get down with the Screaming Eagle of Soul. Tickets for this budding Northwest summer classic, situated under an hour outside of Seattle, go on sale next Tuesday February 25th at 10am at www.timbermusicfest.com.

February 10, 2014

“We Got the Team” – The Seattle Football Team Song

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Seattle Super Bowl Champion Seahawks have inspired no shortage of musical dedication in the past few years, and 12th Man repped as hard as ever on Youtube this season. Spekulation recently putting the elusive but quotable Marshawn Lynch to a beat in “Bout That Action” was perhaps my favorite of the bunch.

Even reaching back 30 years the Seahawks engendered the sort of fandom that spurred Seattle to song. Digging through the crates I came across an 80′s anthem, replete with a synth-ony, Van Halen inspired riffs, and a confidence in the team that any true 12 identifies with (stream above). Part Monday Night Football intro jingle, part wishful thinking anthem, “We Got the Team” certainly sounds dated, but the sentiment is utterly February 2nd.

From that same time period comes another fan song that’s recently surfaced that is more indicative of the team’s performance at the time. It’s title “It’s Not Nice to Boo” says it all.

Let’s never return to that. Please.

November 8, 2013

Happy 10th Anniversary Mouthfuls

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“In going over these songs to re-learn them for the ‘Mouthfuls’ shows, I was shocked with how quiet I sang them, how naive my playing was, and how slow everything sounds. These are all good things – I wish I could harness that kind of focused, quiet, naive energy again.”

Eric Johnson emailed me this after I sat in front of my computer, wondering what I could possibly say about this record that wasn’t said when it was released in 2003. In a moment that most writers should be ashamed to admit, I decided to maybe sneak in an interview to flesh out my unusually quiet mind. I wanted to steal his words, in order to talk about his words.

But when he responded to my questions, all of a sudden it hit me why I was quiet. Because the record called for it. It always has.

Youth is a war cry- a yell into the void, announcing trepid arrival into the world. It is the throwing of fresh voices to hear what bounces back, what resonates, and what we can be owned and what trembles away. But what we don’t think of often, what we forget as we tumble down the tick-tocking rabbit hole, is the hush of youth.

Mouthfuls is an exquisite, catchy, quiet plea. When I listened to it the first time, I missed that. It whispers secrets in your ear, murmurs treacherous things about love persisting and ending. Then it cleverly wraps all those Rumours era betrayals and hooks in gentleness, and lets them come to you when you’re ready.

It’s an album that respects the deep blue fear and exhilaration of the first time we turn the volume down to hear the voice right in front of us, the voice that is disappearing as they leave on a quiet morning. The hush  when two people touch each other and forego the world. The simmering anger and nervous bruising when the porch door finally swings shut.

It says what it means, and makes you deal with it. Asks you to be brave enough to handle it without  ornament.

Mouthfuls is naïve, yes. And so are you, and so am I, and that’s why it matters. When we scrape off the feedback and the bright lights and let the stillness take us back to when we weren’t so afraid of it.

Fruit Bats will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Mouthfuls at the Neptune on November 14th. Join me, join them; it’s an evening worth celebrating.

To celebrate its anniversary, Jealous Butcher is releasing the album on vinyl for the first time. Each album jacket has been individually watercolored and the vinyl is seafoam green (the color I think this record sounds like).

October 22, 2013

What Music Is

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Probably my mom.

From the title of this piece, you might think I’m going to tell you what music is.

That was misleading. I’m so sorry.

I don’t know.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure that out. It’s something that I can’t create very well, as anyone who has heard my clumsy fingers find their way around a fret board can attest to. It’s something that keeps me up at night, shifting my pulse around like I’m its plaything, making me stare out into the wild quiet of the night like a woman possessed. It has brought me through some hard times, helped me punctuate the good times. It lives on my record shelves, in my pocket, buried under my skin until my skin gives way to eternal earth.

It’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had. We’ve had break ups, like the weeks when I just couldn’t handle any more melody and I left it briefly for a thrilling stint with Radiolab and The Moth. But we always come back together.

But here is what it isn’t.

Music isn’t something you own. I mean, pay for music. Seriously, pay for music. You pay for all that expensive, stupid juice you drink, so fucking pony up for something that will keep you sane during your ridiculous cleanse.

But it’s not yours. It’s also not entirely the artist’s. That is the great mystery of song. Bach died, Elliott Smith died, Kurt Cobain died and also probably got sick of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I bet Marcy Playground is like, “Please don’t make us play ‘Sex and Candy’ again, we write other songs.” But people keep connecting to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Sex and Candy” and XO and Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, which means that the songs have their own lives, which is the most transcendent and magical thing any of us frail mortals could hope for- a creation of flesh that does not exist in the physical world can live beyond our sputtering hearts. You are a caretaker of the song, it is there for you when you need it, but it will spirit away after you are done with it, and you can’t kill it. Not even with a Pitchfork.

That’s the sticky part with this over informed world- we process information so quickly and offer opinions about a millisecond after that. We decide what we like, what we don’t like, and then absorb it into our “personal brand.”

We editorialize and criticize and insert ourselves into something that doesn’t have a form to grab onto. In this world, knowledge is currency. Which often translates into finding a band “first,” listening to them “first,” and then watching their rise in popularity with a wolf’s eyes, waiting for the moment to broadcast your primacy of knowledge.

As we get older, being part of a faceless mass of people becomes a deep, shapeless fear.  We want to fit in, but stand out. Lead, but disappear when we want to.  Technology hasn’t invented this, but it’s made it harder to avoid. How to avoid feeling like what you love has been mass produced and handed to you and a million other drab, grasping hands? How to avoid feeling like the album you listened to when you were spent and wasted and curled up in the bottom of the empty bathtub is also the soundtrack for the sixteen year old at the prom learning to dry hump for the first time.?

You can’t avoid it. Embrace it.

Don’t be afraid to let what you love go and become an entirely different experience for someone you might not like, someone who you may have nothing else in common with. That’s gorgeous and fundamentally human, to share what we love and watch it change without our consent. To allow a song you heard three years ago to explode white hot out of your illusion of control, reaching people with whom you have never had a conversation. How incredible. When I hear words like “bandwagoners” I flinch. Not only because “bandwagoner” isn’t a word, but because it’s so unthinkably silly to judge someone’s relationship to music based on a timeline. I’m a Beatles bandwagoner. My mom was, too, in 1966 when she saw them live in St. Louis along with a million other teenagers losing their goddamn minds. You tell her she loves the Beatles less than someone who saw them play in Hamburg with Pete Best, and she will cut you with a first pressing of Abbey Road. Let me list for you all the bandwagons I’m on:

-Neil Young

-Townes Van Zandt

-Pavement

-Elliott Smith

-The Beach Boys

-Patsy Cline

-Depeche Mode

-Basically anyone who released an album before 2004, because I was pretty occupied with writing fanfiction and listening to Nickel Creek.

-Nickel Creek

I’m so unspeakably bored with the argument that finding a band first makes you a more authentic fan. Or bands that stay right under the nose of success without being sucked up its golden nostrils are somehow more pure.

I’m not here to tell you that your music taste makes you special, because it doesn’t. You didn’t discover anything, you don’t hold it, and you don’t get to keep it. And the fact that I was listening to Lucius’ debut album Wildewoman and feeling dazzling, tragic things about my own life, and then saw that a teenager who tweeted about One Direction not three tweets prior also loves that album, made me just absolutely ecstatic. Who knows what she hears when she listens to the same track? Maybe nothing at all similar to what I do. And just because I’m a huge bummer who spends too much time gazing out rain slicked windows doesn’t mean I’m more legitimate as a music fan.  Maybe I should stop buying into her personal brand and remember that she’s a complex human, and when she holds that trembling sound in her, she’s experiencing something that it is my job to protect as someone who also respects pitch and breath and what it can do to you.

What Music Is:

I still don’t know. But I want more people to let it slip through their ears and their dazed, screen smudging fingers so that we can all find out.

And on your house I wish two million rabid teenagers liking all your favorite, saddest songs, so that you may know what it is like to Truly Love.

September 20, 2013

Tess Henley: Who Are You?

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If you enjoy modern R&B or “popular” music, you do so at a price. So much of it can be seen as a bland prize in a candy machine. It’s as if people who read books about Berry Gordy ended up enjoying Regis Philbin’s act on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire shtick a little too much and now we’re stuck with absolute shit as a result. “Aspiring” vocalist competitions judged by “established” professionals in various rehashed formats for your viewing displeasure.

“Hey Joe, what do you know!? With a voice like that, you’re going to be a STARRRRRRR!”   (Imagine that whoever is saying this is wearing a candy-striped suit with a white top hat and black cane to serve Mr. Monopoly-esque accessories.)

So where does Tess Henley fit into all of this? She doesn’t. Whether she likes that or not really depends on what she’s trying to accomplish as an artist. I can’t say that I’m well-versed in the backgrounds of her Instagram god peers contemporaries but I’m willing to guess that their musical backgrounds are different when compared to Henley’s. Tess began learning the Suzuki Method for piano at age three. She has also won a few songwriting and independent music awards over the last few years. More recently, Henley was featured as the MySpace Artist of the Day. Yes, not only is MySpace still a thing, you can visit the site without your entire computer crashing. Wow, the miracles that can happen when your programming team doesn’t sniff glue on their lunch-breaks.

This video, I dig it. It gives me a vibe similar to Alicia Keys when she first burst onto the mainstream scene more than ten years ago (wow, has it been that long!?!). If you like this song, you might want to go pick up her album High Heels and Sneakers. Could definitely be the title of a sociology dissertation on the dating habits of women in their twenties. I’ve seen many of the tunes performed live at her album release show back in July and I must say, it reminds me of a fun, summertime east coast BBQ.

 

September 18, 2013

Inclusive Track Premiere: Modern Kin – “Abandon”

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Modern Kin, formerly known as the dynamic alt-gospel act Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives, are back with a new album, name and leaner line-up.

Gone are the hints of bucolic folk, the band’s soaring harmonies now rage, ragged edges left raw and exposed. The new album, produced by Janet Weiss (of Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, Wild Flag), is a truer representation of the band than past recordings, highlighting the frenetic energy of singer Drew Grow, who, at his best, is perfectly unhinged, a captivating presence who no matter how close you look or listen, you can’t quite figure out. In a sea of pacifistic soundalikes, Modern Kin is a refreshing death rattle unwilling to go passively. More electric than acoustic, more soul than sound, more brave than bright … Grow and his compatriots offer again exactly what I need from music right now: something that shakes me from my apathy from the inside out, that confronts both what I love and what I loathe and makes me lean in to listen closer.

You can pre-order the new Modern Kin album starting today, but first, you can get an early listen to album opener “Abandon.”

Abandon:

September 16, 2013

Short-Sighted Thoughts: Bumbershoot 2013

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Baroness

By all accounts, whether overheard firsthand on the festival grounds or seen thirdhand (new realm of voyeurism) via your most frequented social media site, Bumbershoot predominantly seen as quite the success. Normally when I go to any music festival, the “genuine enthusiasm:gripe” ratio breaks down to the tune of 7:3. However, the secretive, unscientific, devious inner-thoughts “fan:consumer” ratio is probably split dead even. I can see your soul thru the expression on your visage. Being an observer has its unsaid advantages. For reasons I’d rather not say, Big shout-out to American and Alaskan Airlines! What up!?!? I was unable to attend Saturday’s edition of Bumbershoot. I was as saddened as one can be, flying home from an island getaway on the advent of a highly anticipated college football season. I genuinely wanted Kendrick Lamar to be given the opportunity to make an hour long diss record verbally lambasting every person in attendance at the Key Arena during his set. I also missed my opportunity to become an unofficial, official Seattleite by engaging the music of Heart for the first time in a live concert setting. 30 million albums sold worldwide isn’t enough for me to parachute out of a commercial airliner and come crashing down thru the rafters of The House That Shawn Kemp Built Thirty Years After It Was Originally Built. A few casual observations:

    • Eric Burdon is timeless (and not because he washes his Bill Belichik-like sweatshirts in the Fountain of Youth). On the way to Bumbershoot, I couldn’t help but contemplate how many generations it would take for folks to forget about the music this man has created. Burdon had a huge crowd for his afternoon time slot at the Starbucks stage. As I watched his set, a woman snuck in front of me to catch a better view of the stage. At one point she turned around and said, “I was your age when I first started liking him!” I then told that woman that if she were fishing for compliments, she should look elsewhere.  It was only fitting that a couple of young ruffians unnecessarily destroyed a tree branch within close proximity, while her and I were engaged in age-themed pleasantries. They say at any given moment on this planet, “Hey Jude” is playing somewhere, by someone. I’d argue that anyone that has ever picked up for a guitar knows how to play “House of the Rising Sun.”

 

Eric Burdon

 

  • I stopped and watched Mates of State while they were performing on the Fountain Lawn stage. They were playing a really catchy song that I’d never heard before. I thought it sounded great. I left. I then came back ten minutes later, Mates of State were basically performing the same song but it didn’t sound as good. I left. Eventually I circled back to the Fountain Lawn stage one last time. There Mates of State were, playing the same song as the songs before only it didn’t sound as good as the last song(s).
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  • Bob Mould has always been, “That one guy in that one band that I should probably listen to because I know I like them and a bunch of my friends like them too.” Bob Mould’s set was solid from the perspective of someone who is mostly unfamiliar with the complete body of his work. I noticed that lyrically speaking, Mr. Mould is really into repeating phrases. I don’t see anything wrong with shouting the same thing over and over. You’d be surprised how dense the average music festival goer can be. Every band, on every stage, could shout the same thing over and over and I’m not sure anyone would notice. The only negative of Bob Mould’s set was the media crane that hovering over the crowd in front of the Tune-In stage. It was a bit of an annoyance/eyesore. On the flip-side, it made it easy for media types to review any set that happened on that particular location from the comfort of media room couches. As if crappy music journalism such as this needed to get any worse.
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  •  I saw a young dad sporting a “Metz” shirt as he walked around with his kindergarten-aged son. I have a feeling that this image is something many of you can relate to. If not now then perhaps within the next few years.
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  • The Grizzled Mighty? More like “Microwave Blues,” am I right? Christ, when you’re the sixth best band at what you do in a local market, how do you even get on a festival such as this? “Ex member of” can only take you so far. And this year’s winner for best “Knock-off of a knock-off of a knock-off of a knock-off in the ‘Blues’ category goes to…..The Grizzled Mighty!” *Yawn* *Apathy* *Death*
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  • Tamaryn is too cool for school and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Somewhere between the placid suave of Autolux, Mew’s “Behind the Drapes” and some of the more gossamered qualities of My Bloody Valentine, you’ll find the music of Tamaryn. This was one of those sets that reminded you that marijuana is legal in the state of Washington. I wanted to stick around for the entirety of Tamaryn’s performance but a guy next to me was dancing so terribly that I had to leave. It was either exit stage left or punch a stranger in the throat (in hopes of kickstarting his natural metronome process).
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  • During Ra Ra Riot, was I the only one that witnessed what looked to be a whirling dervish flash mob in the grandstands and floor section of Key Arena?
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  • DJ Girl 6 made me a firm believer in the Jimi Hendrix “Foxy Lady” mashup (also great AC/DC and Trinidad James mashups as well). I started doing the “Land Shark” and couldn’t stop until I left the building. Every time the beat dropped I felt like I was a winner on the “Price is Right” and was beginning a new chapter in my life. My favorite part of the set? It would have to be the 9-year-old boy who was standing with his mother only a handful of paces away from me. Judging by the look on his face, I was pretty sure he was losing his virginity just by witnessing DJ Girl 6 go to work on the tables. The boy’s mother, bless her heart, was fist pumping with an iphone. Ladies and gentlemen, life doesn’t get much better than this.
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  • I wonder how many times the word “dreamscape” has been used in an Alt-J review? They sounded much different than my brain envisioned (going on the opinions of friends and nothing else). Here’s exactly what came to mind when I saw Alt-J: “And the rafters flooded. And Peter Gabriel showed his smile in the arena lights. Muppets danced and Tears for Fears remained only mildly impressed. If Local Natives crafted things much simpler, and as a result became afflicted with a melancholy that never left…” I enjoyed it from a great height.
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  •  Baroness rules live. I don’t think I need to expound on this opinion any further. Shout out to the guy in the viking hat that kept on yelling, “Rays of Pinion!”
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  • While Sol was busy getting the crowd hyped on the Tune-In stage, I couldn’t help but notice that the beer garden had became somewhat of an invasive species near the stage (the same could be said by Fisher Green stage). Sol has really stepped his performance game up since the last time I saw him. Props.
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  • I only saw one song from the Kopecky Family Band, it was fun while it lasted.
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  • Delta Rae = The soundtrack to a cinematic character re-build montage/sequence during a made for television family movie.
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  • Superchunk is one of the most underrated pop bands ever. It’s easy to forget how incredibly catchy this band has always been while never sacrificing their versatility and songwriting ingenuity. Even some of the stone-faced security guards couldn’t help but cracking a smile and nodding their heads to a majority of Superchunk’s set. Who doesn’t love the message behind “Slack Motherfucker”? Maybe I’m just outdated, but how can you expect me to get into bullshit like FIDLAR when this stuff is still around?

 

SUPERCHUNK
August 30, 2013

The Album Hasn’t Changed, But I Have: Transatlanticism Ten Years Later

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When I downloaded Translatlanticism in 2003 I was fifteen, and I did it off Limewire, which was extremely illegal. But I was a teenager and experimenting with danger, and I didn’t have a debit card yet.

I spent all of my sophomore year of high school listening to the album. I went and saw Death Cab for Cutie play with my friend Kaitlin when they stopped in Denver for two nights. I got the big black X’s slapped on my hands, warning bartenders that my still-growing 5’9 frame was not yet legally able to handle alcohol. I ordered soda water with lime and pulled the sleeves of my sweater over my hands so I could feel older.

That’s what this album did for me- it made me want to be older. I listened to it and felt the brutality of “Tiny Vessels” and the flickering optimism in the ashes of “Expo ’86.”  I heard “Title and Registration” and felt a suddenly adult ache deep in my chest, the same way that “We Looked Like Giants” made me think that making out with someone in a car could be teased out into a narrative that spoke to the truest parts of me.

I wanted to be older when I listened to Transatlanticism because the themes are ageless, but the shadowy corners in those songs can only be explored when you’re no longer afraid of the dark. I could see them when I was fifteen, but didn’t know how to cook my own dinner, much less reach into the shifting gray areas and pull out reality.

I remember the first time I listened to the titular track after a little break and heard it as though brand new. I was nineteen, a sophomore in college, and moody. My sadsack self was tucked into Helena, Montana, and I had been steeped in all the ‘90s indie rock I could handle. I was so mad that I was too young to be a part of the ‘90s. It stung that when Pavement was playing shows I was convinced Barney the purple dinosaur was the greatest vocalist of our time.

One cold Montana day I was going through my iPod, and ran across this album. As my finger hovered over it, I realized it was an album from my time. An album that I had taken with me from home. And then I listened to “Transatlanticism” and sat in the shadowy corners, and felt at home in my generation. I made myself Easy Mac that night and listened to the whole album. I felt grown up, and very young, and cracked open by songs that had carried me this far.

Ten years later, I have legally purchased Transatlanticism. I no longer use Limewire, because I’m moral and also so slow with the downloads. I make good dinners for myself, and my mom very rarely has to help.

But it’s almost five in the morning, and I have been awake all night in my grown up apartment with this album on, feeling at home in noise. Feeling just like the fifteen year old with the white wicker headboard, on the edge of understanding the idea of faltering joy, the vastness inside heartbreak, and the unexpected and wild friendship of music. How the album hasn’t changed, but I have. Feeling like a grown up who has understood those things. Feeling grateful that I had this album to bring with me.

 

Death Cab for Cutie will be playing the entirety of Transatlanticism this Sunday at Bumbershoot.

July 9, 2013

Love Songs Don’t Have to Suck

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Look, I get it. It’s summer and everything is burnished and everyone is making out everywhere, and that’s wonderful. Please continue to do this indefinitely.

But, can we just clear something up real quick? Most love songs are just the worst. I say this as a sentimental weenie myself, one who has spent too much time falling in love and about one glass of wine away from writing to Paul Simon to say thanks for the soundtrack to my entirely unique heart, you get me.

But I have to say it: love songs suck. Love does not. When I hear a song about love that doesn’t have some sort of element of the fucked up, or doesn’t sound like it was written by two extraterrestrial teenagers falling in love in space on top of an octagonal drum pad spaceship…I get mad. I can’t quite explain it.

Maybe it’s because every part of love; the falling into it, the careening out of it, the settling down, every part of it is terrifying and wonderful and informative, and I don’t believe that most songs capture it. Mostly because so many love songs seem to written with the emotional charge of filing your tax returns. I’m looking at you, John Mayer. Last time John Mayer came on in a grocery store, I could see the grease on the speakers.

If you’re going to write a song about the most confusing, wonderful, awful part of life, it should sound like you care. It should sound like your brain has been warped by the outlandish magic of it and now you’re an insane person and you were tripping out on the love endorphins at two in the morning and wrote this intense thing that came from a part of you that had just been shocked awake or shattered completely.

If I hear another song about love that sounds like you could switch out the name of your beloved with “chicken sandwich” I am going to start playing guitar again. No one wants that. Write a song about someone you hate! See! There! That level of feeling. I don’t know, maybe try cocaine? Get weird. Love is weird. Out of all the song subjects, love is the one where everything is just inherently crazy, so get there.

Luckily I’ve dismounted from my high horse long enough to put together a playlist of songs that hit it just right. Think of your own! Just a Fun Summertime Activity for when your sunburn is a little too crackly to step outside.

Enjoy summer everyone! Resume your sweaty kisses, once more with feeling.

PS: I put two Ra Ra Riot songs on there because they specifically inspired this playlist. Especially on “Dance With Me” when Wes Miles sings:

Come and dance with me, pretty sweet fool

I wanna be your toy, I wanna be your toy

And yes, that’s why I imagined two alien teenagers in some incandescent geodesic dome on the blurry outer edges of the Milky Way, falling in neon love with each other as asteroids whiz by their outstretched dancing arms. Of which they each have six.

June 25, 2013

PREMIERE: The Flavr Blue – “Hideaway” [video]

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Seattle summer’s are a fickle beast. One day you’re swearing its time to invest in air conditioning and the next you’re digging your sweaters out of storage. (Okay, so you never got a chance to put them in storage, but you folded them real nice in the corner for a few days.)  And if we waited for the weather to comply with our whims, with our want to swim, to drink with friends under starlight and to chase the open road, we’d never leave our apartments. The quintessential Northwest skinny dip starts in a sweater.

Seattle synth-pop trio The Flavr Blue‘s latest, “Hideaway”, matches the mood of the city that made them. Its a song stuck between seasons and emotions. A dreamy down-tempo dance hit, with a hypnotic heartbeat, it is the moon pulling the tide to sea and a lover pushing you away when you want them most.

“Baby I don’t wanna wait” … in Seattle, we say it to the summer sun, we say it to our object of desire … and then we tear off our layers and run to them.

You can see The Flavr Blue at Capitol Hill Block Party on July 27th or at Bumbershoot on August 31st.