Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.
If you’ve been paying close attention to this space, you are more than likely quite aware that after months of anticipation, Upstream Music Fest + Summit is finally upon us. With over 200 musical acts descending upon Pioneer Square over the weekend -- a good number of them based right here in the Pacific Northwest -- there’s a good chance you may appreciate a handy guide to quite a few of the incredible local bands playing throughout the festival. Tickets for Upstream are still available; don’t miss out on all the fun!
One of the coolest things about Upstream is the amount of guest-curated stages that will be popping up all over Pioneer Square this weekend. Friday night’s acts at AXIS 2 are curated by K Records, who have selected an Olympia supergroup of sorts to open their evening, with a band that includes Lillian Marling of Grass Widow, Charles Waring of Milk Music, and Perennial Records boss Hayes Waring. Grinding guitars and off-kilter rhythms are what you can expect from the set -- and if we’re lucky, even an eleven-minute journey that sounds like Young Marble Giants being thrown feet-first into Dante’s Inferno (“Everything for Baby”) might be thrown into the set list.
If you’re in the market for a live scoring of a visually and emotionally striking stop-motion film to go with your Upstream experience, you’re in luck. From our Local Artist Spotlight on Torrey Pines director Clyde Petersen: “‘How do I tell the story of my mother gone crazy?’ are the words that open the Your Heart Breaks song ‘Torrey Pines,’ the song which serves as the genesis of the film. Set in 1993, when Peterson was twelve years old, the movie is a hallucinatory fever dream of a transgender coming-of-age story, rife with mental illness, frightening body dysmorphia, and a truly weird road trip which includes a stop at a Whitney Houston concert. Petersen, along with Lori Goldston, Jacob Jaffe, and a number of guests, will be bringing their live score of Torrey Pines to Upstream Music Fest in a special screening.”
From our Local Artist Spotlight on So Pitted: “The sound of So Pitted is deeply ingrained in the grey of the Pacific Northwest; the drab and unforgiving concrete, the heavy, overcast skies. Of course, there’s also the dissonant guitars and dense overtones the punk (and grunge) of a certain era were founded on, only (slightly) updated for the harrowing darkness of contemporary times.”
Winsome and wistful, the music of Matt Batey, a journeyman musician in the Seattle music scene, is a flawless fit for Barsuk Records, who just released the debut album of Batey’s Ruler project -- titled Winning Star Champion, deriving from the lyric, “I’m the winning star champion of fucking up” -- and will be featuring Ruler as one of the acts on the label’s curated stage, knocking on their door of their 20-year anniversary.
There is a woozy musicality which augments PARISALEXA’s virtuosic singing about relationships (with both the self and others) and growth. From our Throwaway Style on PARISALEXA, written by Dusty Henry: “At 19-years-old, Parisalexa (aka Paris Alexa Williams) boasts more wisdom than most of us could say we did at her age. It's not just in the way she describes her journey, but the way it's felt on Bloom. Since her performance at the 2016 SoundOff!, Williams' presence has elevated the Seattle scene. Whether it's jumping on tracks with COSMOS and Samurai Del or performing with packed crowds on her own, she's effortlessly stepped up with the prowess of a seasoned professional and elevates any track she appears on. But Bloom is truly something special. Beyond all the truly great work she's already done, this is easily the best thing she's done. And it's clearly just the start of something bigger.”
From our Local Artist Spotlight on Tacocat: “Tacocat’s sound wields a candy knife, brandishing bubblegum punk and scuffed up surf-rock that cuts deep, covering topics including but certainly not limited to mansplaining (‘Men Explain Things to Me’), skinheads (‘This is Anarchy’), what might be the catchiest and best song ever about menstrual blood (‘Crimson Wave’), and the hypothetical earthquake that will one day kill us all (‘I Love Seattle’). In its long history, pop music has long crouched uneasy topics within the Trojan Horse of catchy music, Tacocat accomplishes this feat with biting wit. Listening to the band is like having a Friday night dinner and drinks with friends, rattling off jokes about everything under the sun, especially the annoying stuff that makes reasonable people roll their eyes.”
With his free-floating, ambient-leaning jazz, the music of Noel Brass Jr. serves as a spacey, chill reprieve from the chaos that can surround music lovers in a festival setting. In a KEXP exclusive interview, Brass spoke with Dusty Henry about how he approaches live sets: “Well, I kind of know it’s going to be visiting a lot of different places already so I try not to start off with [something big] immediately. I’m usually just feeling how I’m feeling in that moment with the scene and let it go from there. Every room and every single place you’re gonna play has its own character. You just never know. You can be practicing in your room but you can’t just play the same thing that you’re just practicing for hours. It’s not always gonna work. It might. I’d rather just take it out and you unbox it as it’s happening and let it grow feelers on its own, let it figure itself out. It’s part of the fun, I think. Part of the adventure.”
From our Local Artist Spotlight on Micaiah Sawyer: “Olympia-based singer/songwriter Micaiah Sawyer has the kind of voice that could make buildings crumble and weep. She sings of weary souls and the salvation of love with a goosebump-inducing amount of conviction, which is part of what won her this year’s Sound Off! Competition. You can feel her pain and resignation, her joy and boundless love, her longshot optimism.”
Also, here is what Sawyer said about her upcoming performance at Upstream: “I'll be joined by a band of six outstanding musicians, so attendees can expect a group of music-loving nerds having some seriously contagious fun on stage. It'll be a party!”
The music Olive Jun makes under the Lushloss moniker is a stirring, art-damaged combination of patchwork EDM/hip-hop and lattice-cut and scrambled singer/songwriter ballads. There is a profound emotional resonance exposing itself in its swelling chord progressions, shifts in vocal pitch, and intricate chopwork, a distant longing for a feeling -- understanding or acceptance, perhaps -- heard even in the barely-audible vocals in the first minute of “St. Marco.” Could be a very stirring midpoint for your Upstream experience.
From our Local Artist Spotlight on Special Explosion: “To augment the outward delicacy and powerful, calamitous interiors of the lyrics, To Infinity carries a profound lushness, rife with the interlocking guitars of past efforts (although delivered in a far more melancholy way) and little swaths of tasteful accompaniment. There are swelling strings whizzing by like night traffic on ‘Gladiator,’ a light touch of an keyboard arpeggio on closer "So Long," glockenspiels and drum machines open ‘Going My Way.’ A band describing their sound can often be a ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ sort of scenario, Special Explosion’s descriptor of ‘dreamo’ here is perfectly apt.
To Infinity is a bold leap in sound from where the band was from this defining moment, but the itinerant sadness smothering the album makes for a far more powerful emotional statement, sure to provoke a lot of tears shed in drinks and on wristbands when during their Upstream Music Festival set.”
From our Local Artist Spotlight on Bujemane: “Bujemane raps like a severely hungover friend muttering his way through breakfast conversation. The beats he raps over are dreamy and narcotized, brightly colored synth arpeggios and floating keyboard lines over booming bass. I suppose those are the two primary aesthetic checkpoints of the so-called "mumble-rap" subgenre of hip-hop, increasingly fruitful and derided upon mention because of a limiting descriptor. In Bujemane's case, he's resisting the notion of being a rapper in general, feeling the label is restricting to what he does as an artist and its world is full of politics he declines to engage in.”
From our Local Artist Spotlight on Tiny Vipers: “Once an essential component to the music of Tiny Vipers, Fortino’s voice is used sparingly here, as an incantation to start the album on “Boarding Chiron’s Boat” and as solemn accompaniment on ‘K.I.S.S.’ Yes, its meaning does indeed derive from the acronym ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ In an interview with NPR, Fortino said, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is a term used to remind us that although two people might have arrived at the same correct solution to an engineering problem, there are stupid, messy ways to get there. It wasn't enough to get the correct answer. How many steps did it take you? How scalable is your process? How easy is it for others to follow your work?’
In the grooves of those aforementioned folk records, Fortino’s voice was a woodwind instrument able to form words, thin and angular, occasionally splintering like it had a busted reed. Here [on Laughter], it blankets the background of the songs in which it is featured, bellowing but ultimately inobtrusive.”
There’s nothing like having a good cry on the last evening of a music festival, amongst the surrounding sounds of blaring bass and spiky guitars. This set might be a quiet refuge from the sensory overload of a music festival. From our Local Artist Spotlight on Whitney Ballen: “Whitney Ballen's songs are quiet in a way that both augments and disaffirms the very real (and earth-shattering) emotional wreckage therein. The Issaquah resident's singing voice is a peculiar but deeply affecting instrument. A reedy, high register, like someone found a decades-old folk LP in the woods, buried in foliage, and decided to go home and play it at 45rpm.”
From our Local Artist Spotlight on DJ NHK Guy: “To say the work of DJ NHK Guy (née Jesse Lopez) is a master class in patchwork musical styles would be a broad understatement. Rooted in the high BPM and poly-polyrhythmic mania of footwork, the Seattle-via-Isahaya-via-California DJ/producer cherry picks from a vast array of genres to put color into the florid, textured beats which augment his mixes and flit through his debut full-length, At Your Door -- from R&B and soul to J-pop and 8-bit keyboard music.”
And some words about DJ NHK Guy’s live performance, straight from Lopez himself: “I always make it a point to create a unique set for every show I do and have yet to repeat the same exact set twice. Upstream is no exception, I feel like I've pulled out all the stops to throw together my favorite blends and special flips of my own tracks I've made to date. There will be plenty stuff being played on Sunday night that no one else has heard yet.”
Versatility is a skill in songwriting Tres Leches have in spades. With a sense of cool efficiency, the trio can extend itself from darting in the fast lane of classic rock (“Get Off,” “Fool’s Game”) to dark, post-punk cacophony (“Illumination,” “Good Things”) with a mere flick of the wrist or sure handed drum fill. With their debut full-length somewhere along the horizon, you can expect to be treated to a healthy serving of yet-to-be-released songs, very likely to be every bit as bombastic as the ones on their excellent EP.
Given their affinity for Jeff Buckley and heartsick lyrics about self-absorbed lovers and the downside of having a heart-on-sleeve wardrobe, you’d be forgiven for the mistaken thought that the songs performed by Del Brown and Najamoniq Todd aren’t bringing the highest grade of dance party wherever they go. As evidenced by the songs on their recently released Raise Ya Grades, there are few remedies quite as effective as sweating out heartbreak on the dance floor.
From our Local Artist Spotlight on Kung Foo Grip: “Greg Scott and Eff Is H augment their world, the lives of hardworking musicians who may have gotten into a little dirt in their day, with colorful metaphors and dexterous, interchanging flows. Working entirely with #based producer Keyboard Kid, 2KFG finds the duo fine-tuning their craft over the booming bass running through the undercurrent of sci-fi trap music and classic West Coast boogie.”
And for good measure, a quote from Greg Scott about Kung Foo Grip’s live show: “At Upstream this year, expect the same high energy, sword-slinging, bar-bashing brothers you hear on 2KFG! The only difference would be we will be crashing through the fourth-wall live in person! You’ll be able to see one of the LIVEST shows Seattle hop-hop has to offer direct from us!!”
Lusine (11:00pm; Comedy Underground)
From our Local Artist Spotlight on Lusine: “Jeff McIlwain has shown over the course of nearly two decades that he’s just as adept at creating sweeping, grandiose pop-friendly statements as starkly minimalist house, sometimes binding both sounds in his albums with interconnective tissue to emphasize its potential for cohesion. A sound architect of the highest order, McIlwain is very well-known for meticulous vocal manipulation, rendering the human voice as one of the many elements of his works. Sensorimotor, released in his fifteenth year of being a Seattle resident, is no different. In fact, the seamless patchwork here might be his most focused on the larger narrative of album context.”
Workshops Announced for TUFFEST 2018
Seattle arts collective TUF recently announced their first wave of artists and workshops for TUFFEST 2018, which takes place on Saturday, July 14 at Judkins Park. TUFFEST includes performances by local and national DJs, visual artists, and several workshops going on over the course of the day, and is free and open to all ages. More information on the event can be found right here.
Upstream Music Fest + Summit is back, and this year's full lineup is an embarrassment of riches.