A Tip of the Hat – Our 2011 MVPs
Pickwick ::: photo by Christopher Nelson
We had another incredible year here at Sound on the Sound and it was in large part thanks to the following MVPs and, of course, you guys reading this. These were the artists, albums, labels, festivals and well, your dancing, that inspired and impressed us most and these are the people that remind us every day why we wouldn’t trade our local music scene for anywhere else in the world.
MVP Local Live Act: Pickwick
When a friend sent me an mp3 of “When Rosa Speaks” last summer saying he’d found my new favorite band, I wondered what on earth he was thinking. When Josh and Ty said they were going to film a new video series and start with Pickwick, I told them it was their time they were wasting. When Josh asked to book Pickwick for our 30th birthday show, I agreed begrudgingly. And when Pickwick took the tiny stage at The Blue Moon that January night, limbs and instruments and energy over-flowing, I proceeded to kick myself for the rest of 2012 for being so daft. That friend, Josh, Ty, they had been so right, and I had been so, so wrong. And to make up for that error I saw every remaining local Pickwick show of 2011, including the night I had surgery. I never once wished I was anywhere else seeing any other band. Because Jay Cox was right last August, he had found my new favorite local band and as evidenced by sold-out show after sold-out show, one of your favorite new bands too.
Pickwick simply puts on a hell of a show. They defy expectation with their sound, their Star Wars-centered banter, by getting Ballard Ave (and beyond) to dance, and the pipes on Galen Disston. Dark doo-wop and call-and-response songs about death and destruction both physical and spiritual, often inspired by musical heroes of the band (Sam Cooke, Michael Jackson, Richard Swift) — Pickwick writes smart songs and put on performances that manage to appeal to my two month old niece, my nearly 70 year old parents, Seattle’s alt-weeklies and the managers from all over the country who clamored to sign them this summer. On the strength of these shows, hooks for miles, and the broadness of that appeal, Pickwick has gone from opening shows to 30 people to being asked to summer festivals and headlining a sold-out 1,000 person Neptune Theater, in just a year. In 2012, with their first major tours on the horizon and their debut full length to be released (likely on whatever label is lucky enough to be chosen by the band), I foresee the same pattern playing out all over the country … only skipping that whole playing to 30 people in towns they’ve never visited and it happening much, much faster. (abbey)
Charles Bradley ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
MVP National Live Act: Charles Bradley
It’s hard to explain the true affects of a live Charles Bradley performance, much less three in the span of a magnificently hot September week, other than to say I will come back to these different nights of performances as some of the most personally valuable musical moments I’ve ever experienced. Unearthed by Daptone Records and matched with a time-tested soul outfit in an age of copy-and-paste pop, Bradley is a rare breed of performer with a life of loss, “heartaches and pain” behind him to provide a valuable perspective that’s coming from a place of pure love and will for a better world, no bullshit. “Why is it so Hard” chronicles his life story culminating in the tragic death of his brother whom he was living with at the time, and at this point it’s hard not to tear up as Bradley himself seems to do at turns while performing. With glistening eyes he’ll turn around, doff his sparkled stage coat and stun the audience during “Golden Rule” or another upbeat number with a series knee-drops, mic-swings, the occasional worm, and of course some scream-inducing hip-thrusting for the ladies. James Brown would be proud of the hip-thrusts but also the performance as whole I think. Various luminaries have come out of performances claiming this is as close to Otis Redding as we’re likely to see and I’m hard pressed to argue. Though I’m not sure Otis ever danced quite that well. (josh)
Wild Flag ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
MVP Performer (Female): Wild Flag
You have seen a band perform the same songs three nights in a row, what do you want to:
a) never see that band again b) see that band sometime next year c) see that band every night for the foreseeable future.
If you’ve answered c, lucky you, you’ve just enjoyed three nights with Wild Flag.
After three nights with Wild Flag this November, my only wish was for more. Why hadn’t I gone on the entire tour? Why wasn’t this the beginning of the tour, not the end? Wild Flag, despite releasing their debut record this year, are road-warrior veterans with a first class indie and punk pedigree: Sleater-Kinney, The Minders and Helium and with their forces combined, this foursome is unstoppable on stage. Wild Flag are masters of their instruments and craft, not “for girls” (even if this category is gender based), but for anyone. Janet Weiss’ drumming recalls the greats, Carrie Brownstein is an iconic rock vocalist with a knack for writing songs that sound familiar and forward-thinking at the same time, Rebecca Cole’s piano adds a spooky psychedelic edge that elevates the band and Mary Timony is Wild Flag’s not-so-secret weapon, she straight up (yet somehow subtly) shreds with riffs that will be stuck in your brain for months. It was she who I couldn’t keep my eyes off of night after night.
The real joy of watching Wild Flag though is not just the band’s technical chops, but how much fun they seem to be having. The kind of chemistry the band shares on stage isn’t something you can practice. It’s either there or it’s not, and watching Wild Flag you feel like you’re watching four talented friends have the time of their life. And you can’t help but want to join in.
Extra Bonus Points: their cover of Television’s “See No Evil” was my favorite cover of the year.
Emeritus: Kelli Schaefer
Allen Stone ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
MVP Performer (Male): Allen Stone
Allen Stone’s flagrantly funk visage calls Seattle home, and though 2011 is the year he became a cover-boy and prime-time name, he’s been making small moves nationally for years now. Splitting his time between New York, LA and Seattle Stone built up a quality collection of tracks recorded with some soul heavyweights and waited for over a year to release his self-titled second record until the timing was right. Early in the year with the addition of an ace touring band representing as much young personality as Stone himself does the 25-year old Chewelah-bred pastor’s son was able to tour, capitalize, and make it all come together so that when Bumbershoot, City Arts Fest, and then Conan came calling he was prepared. Stone’s thick glasses and northwest-sheik aren’t exactly uniform attire for a classic soul sound, exemplifying that neither is his approach, but the bottom-line is he and his band have no trouble getting entire rooms dancing and the finer sex screaming. In a recent conversation Stone remarked about the new found attention, “It’s crazy. Less than a year ago I was playing the High Dive.” Having to add a second show because your first ever time headlining a 1000 cap room sold out a month of time says it all. Kinda like what happened to our previous winner of this MVP Macklemore did just about this time last year (eventually adding a total of three Showbox shows). (josh)
Read the rest of our MVPs including festival, debut album, 6th man & every writer’s personal MVP of 2011
Slack Fest 2011 ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
MVP Festival: Slack Fest
After a two year hiatus former private party and now one-day festival Slack Fest returned this year to Slime Dog Raceway in fitting fashion. A line-up curated by namesake Don Slack himself meant we were in for a fun time no matter what. Nestled in the center of the raceway we soaked in cloudless summer day and witnessed the rare case of Seattle’s finest rock bands all in one place and take full measure of each other as they shared the flatbed stage that afternoon and evening. It resulted in newcomers showing what they were made of and caused the level of performances to go up as the day went along elevating it out of the usually unsatisfying realm of festival sets. The midday double header of My Goodness and then American Girls made the biggest impression that day, but despite the name not a one of the band’s slacked. Notable fact: At Slime Dog Raceway bonfires get started with flame throwers. Your move Bonnaroo. (josh)
Emeritus: Doe Bay Fest
MVP Debut Local Album: Bryan John Appleby – Fire on the Vine
Bryan John Appleby has the quiet ability to still even the most easily distracted prisoners of the bright digital age, and send them wandering into the rare storybook stanzas he sings – more Whitman than Pecknold, more Thomas Hardy than Head and the Heart.
With Fire on the Vine, he took those charming stories and blew them up as big as the sky. An album with swelling harmonies and lush adornment that floods the room to the rafters, it begins with the whir and click of slides going by, and behaves as a beautiful sort of score to an unidentified slideshow of someone’s, maybe everyone’s, gorgeous and faded memory. (Kathleen, read the rest of her Fire on the Vine review)
MVP Label: Light in the Attic
Hi. My name is Josh, and I’m a comp-aholic. My local dealer’s name is Light in the Attic. I’ve been flirting with her for years, tasting her wares, this and that here and there, but this year I got into the good stuff and have been having trouble controlling myself. Like they did with the original series of comps, the recent reissue series of Wheedle’s Groove seven-inches is restoring a piece of local culture into our memory and giving a young town back a bit of dormant history it’s hungry for. That I’m hungry for. The MOWEST comp does the same for an era of California Soul rich with creativity and it’s own vision of R&B. Ranging from South Korea psych comps, to wider reissues of cult songwriter Michael Hurley’s records, to the Louvin Brothers and Charles ‘Packy’ Axton collections, Light in the Attic’s one criteria seems to be issuing quality music that demands to be heard. These folks are bringing crate-digging to a new level, and I want to kiss them for it. (Josh)
Emeritus: Hardly Art
MVP Blog: Aquarium Drunkard
“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.”
This well worn maxim by Walter Pater scratches at the back of my mind whenever I try to put words to music – pushing me, driving me to try my best to have even the slightest echo of what a song did to me show up in flat words on a page. Sometimes I think it’s futile; why not let music speak for itself? I should just shut up. Every music blogger should just shut up.
You know who changes my mind on that? Justin Gage, of the LA based blog, Aquarium Drunkard. A behemoth of a site, with posts going up several times throughout the day, Gage curates a blog of varying taste, fearless opinion, and well-chosen words. While many music blogs are carbon copies of one another, copying and pasting the same description of the same band, AD champions artists that truly have not been heard before (the first blog to catch the Alabama Shakes), and has expanded since its beginning in 2005 to include boldly designed showcases and sessions. Uncovering music from all genres and time periods (really enjoy his affinity for Slint), Gage constantly reminds me that being a daring music lover is an art form in and of itself. (Kathleen)
MVP 6th Man: Nik Christofferson
The 6th Man award. For those of you that don’t follow sports, the term originates from hardwood and canvas sneakers. I’m playing talking about basketball ladies and gents. The award is usually given to the athlete that gives the greatest contribution to his or her team in a supporting cast role (unless it has been vetoed by commissioner David Stern). In other words the “6th Man Award” is fancy speak for, “Good bench player that might start on a team other than the one they play for.”
Gentle reader, you might not think that sounds like an important role but you’d be wrong. In the world of basketball, a good supporting cast leads to championships. In the world of music, a good supporting cast leads to a good music scene.
Now that you’ve read the most obvious segway in the entire world. Let me tell you about Nik Christofferson and Good to Die Records. If you recognize the Christofferson name, it’s probably because of his Seattle Rock Guy brand/moniker. Mr. Christofferson loves his unique, often angular, pissed-off brand of rock music and this holiday season I am thankful for that. I am of the opinion that this segment of the Seattle music community (punk/hardcore/insert frivolous genre posturing here) is grossly under-served (especially in terms of press/media).
Seattle Rock Guy has been at the forefront of the “Hey everyone, let’s wear all-black, all of the time” music scene since 2009. Some of the best shows I saw this year were Seattle Rock Guy promoted events. If you go to the website, there will often be videos of local bands that I urge you to check out (Grenades, Smooth Sailing). Whether he is officially promoting a show, shooting live videos or taking pictures, Christofferson goes above and beyond in terms of sacrificing his personal time so that others may have the chance to be exposed to music they otherwise might not have heard. These deeds are commendable in themselves, however, that’s not why he wins this year’s Sound on the Sound 6th Man Award.
Remember the importance of a good supporting cast in a good music scene. Is there any better way to support your local music scene than to start a label and release the music of local bands that you believe in? I think not. Good to Die is still in its infancy but the future looks bright. Sandrider finally has the chance to properly release a record they recorded back in 2009. Thank god there’s no expiration date on rock and roll, the record still sounds as the organic vegetables you got from the Ballard Farmer’s Market on Sunday. They have a release show coming up (with Brokaw, another band who rules and so happens to be on Good to Die) that you’ll be reading about on this website. Monogamy Party are one of my favorite local bands to watch live and the track “Pus City” is one of my favorite songs of the year. Last, but certainly not least, The Absolute Monarchs have been making “Bands to Watch” lists since 2010. Yeah, I know Spin magazine is lame as shit and everyone fails to describe this band in a sane manner (Dub punk? Jesus Lizard/Pixies references? Kill yourself. Die slowly.), but I honestly think many Sound on the Sound readers can get behind this form of “ordained” rule.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream I have a dream, where one day, I’ll go to a show SRG show at the Black Lodge and I’ll see many of the faces that I would see at an acoustic show at Columbia City Theater or an “Americana” show at the Tractor. Folkies (and because this is Sound on the Sound, I know there are a trillion of you), step outside Martin induced comfort zone and go witness a show in which you can’t talk over the music being performed. I dare you to watch something that’s exciting to watch. Afterward you can thank Mr. Christofferson. (Phil)
Our Personal MVPs
Abbey’s MVP: Jeff Kuhr and LHS Room 125
When I was a struggling middle school and high school student in the over-crowded, under-funded Seattle Public School system, I was lucky to have a few wonderful teachers. Teachers who took time and attention they were surely not paid for, who went outside curriculum and showed me that while I hated middle and high school, I loved to write and I wasn’t half bad at it. Its these teachers, Ms. Ota, Mr. Halfacre & Mr Ehrich from Washington Middle School and Garfield High School, that I give a silent thanks for every day I’ve had a chance to sit at a computer and write for a living.
In the years and decades that come, students from Lawrence High School (yes, in Lawrence, KS) will be thanking Jeff Kuhr, the inspirational teacher behind the LHS Room 125 Classroom Sessions. I’ve never met Mr. Kuhr or any of his students, but they have doubtlessly been my biggest inspiration in 2011.
To help teach his film and media students, Mr. Kuhr has been inviting in touring musicians as they drive through Kansas to stop and visit his classroom for an interview and acoustic performance. The students come up with thoughtful (and outside of the box) interview questions, film and record interviews and acoustic performances and then edit and publish the videos. Over the last year a number of Pacific Northwest musicians have made stops in Room 125: Damien Jurado, The Head and The Heart, Bryan John Appleby, Kelli Schaefer, Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives and each of them has shared themselves more freely than they ever would in a traditional media setting. Which is what makes what Mr. Kuhr and LHS Room 125 does so special. Not only is Mr. Kuhr giving to his students, they are in turn giving to us. By getting our favorite musicians to open up and by teaching the next generation of videographers, writers and music lovers to pursue what they love most. I, for one, can’t wait to see the wonderful work he inspires and that his students create far outside those classroom walls.
Honorable mention: vinyl
Josh’s MVP: Richard Swift
The many reasons: 1. Maraqopa and his continuing collaboration with Damien Jurado.
2. “Broken Finger Blues.”
3. That my favorite band right now, Pickwick, view’s him as their spirit animal.
4. His production on Gardens and Villa’s self-titled debut record.
5. That my favorite band right now, Pickwick, has been covering his song “Lady Luck” as of late and meeting the challenge.
6. Walt Wolfman.
7. That my favorite band right now, Pickwick, is recording their record with Richard Swift.
Brittney’s MVP: The LP Packaging of Handsome Furs’ Sound Kapital
A healthy slab of marbled orange vinyl packaged in a translucent plastic sleeve with liner notes on one side and an eerie negative image of bare-limbed trees on the other. The glossy cover continues the record’s orange-and-blue theme, and even the diploma-esque MP3 download certificate is a thing of beauty.
Kathleen’s MVP: Seattleites Who Dance At Shows
Dancing at Slack Fest ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
When I moved here, I was warned extensively about people here refusing to do anything but cross their arms and nod genially at the stage, no matter how contagious the beat. This was not good news. This was not good news because I dance, you see. You may not know the kind of spastic flailing I am doing is dance, but it is. And I don’t like to be alone in it.
But you know what, Seattle? You’ve been doing well! You’ve actually been trying. I’ve seen you after a couple drinks, you know. You may be looking at the guitar player with a face that communicates, “You are doing your damndest to make that riff move me, but I’m stronger than you, and your power stance.”
Then your hips start moving. Like during some good old Americana laced folk, and that fiddle finally got into your toes, and you bumped up against me, you sweet, clumsy, dancing Seattleite. And I loved it. How about when you heard Galen Disston wail and all of a sudden your elbow was tapping my ribs, and I wanted so badly to throw my hands around you and in the air, but I didn’t want to throw off your fresh groove. It’s so new, dancing Seattleites. I know it’s new and scary to feel your chill melt from the hot stage lights, but I’m right here beside you, and I want you to know you’ve inspired me more than any songwriter in this town.
You’ve started a revolution. Including that righteous 360-degree spin I saw you do at that Hey Marseilles show. We’ve got moves, Seattle. 2012 is our year – start stretching.