Throwaway Style is a monthly 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, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.
I'm always a little put off by the way most adults evaluate the work of young people; works which are profound and mature are described as the artist being "wise beyond their years." Like we weren't young once. Like we didn't have a pretty good handle on most of the things going on regardless of our level of understanding of such things. Young people are, more often than not, way more perceptive and intuitive than we give them credit for. Which is why I always laugh inside when adults think they're successfully sheltering their children from explicitly adult or emotionally tough situations; or when parents descend into a vortex of them and their kids trying to outsmart each other.
Vancouver singer/songwriter Kylie V – the nom de singer/songwriter of Kylie Van Slyke – has been writing, recording, and performing songs since they were 14 years old, but I would not categorize them as wise beyond their years by any means; I would categorize them as wise. Van Slyke's debut project, titled Lotus Eater, was completed nearly entirely on their own and released in the dying gasps of 2018; low in fidelity but brimming with ambition and the lived-in emotion teenagers sit with much longer and more dutifully than they usually articulate. Contemplative, dreamy folk stunner "Lucy" opens with the line, "I have internalized all my bad feelings," while "Midhaven (demo)" and both parts of "Strathcoma" deal with subjects like astrology, tending to the gardens of your life lest they wilt and die, and early onset existentialism.
The hazy audio quality matches the imaginative, ruminative, and sometimes impressionist detail of their lyrics. It's like wading through one of the past few summers, cloudy with smoke and ash raining from the sky along with the things we think about when we look past the smoke seducing the treetops.
The smoke clears for the crystalline waters of Big Blue, where Van Slyke deepens their songcraft with a collection of stately, tremendously well-crafted folk music made richer by meditative and beautiful lyricism. The album is stark yet comforting, like sitting under the full moon at midnight. Opener "A Story if You Want It" sets the mood of this journey through the sprawl of human emotion; it's a testament to the comfort of love beneath the layers of anxiety and pain, of downcast acoustic guitar and soaring violin. Van Slyke's vulnerable voice glides over the instrumentation as they pledge to meet their love in another life should they die in their sleep, repeating "another life" like they're willing it to come true.
Big Blue carries heavy themes with a light touch; a big lake, majestic and gorgeous and fundamentally overshadowing the depth and dark underneath. The music could be reductively categorized as "indie-folk," the sort of melodic, (mostly) upbeat music with heart-wrenching themes which could be favorably compared to a certain era of Saddle Creek, but I think that description would downplay the expansiveness of the music here. Nominally it is indie-folk music, but if anything, it's the platonic ideal of the form.
Love songs fill many of the grooves of Big Blue, the assertions of devotion and safety and the need for solace, but images and symbol float throughout the album's dreamy atmosphere: golden flowers and leaves, the cathedral underneath their chest. The waves of the water in the distance or sloshing all around the body and mind like the psychic energy of someone under a Pisces sun; the Nine of Pentacles being drawn from a tarot deck, eating from the harvest brought about by hard work.
All the rubbed raw emotion, all the dreamscapes and landscapes being roamed across, all the feelings of longing and anxiety and optimism and apologies make way for "One Fluid Motion," the striking piano ballad which closes Big Blue, an ode to wanting an escape when things get overwhelming and wishing the end of the story could be played out for Van Slyke to see. "Don't drown in your own tears" cuts through the air, a little muffled in delivery but crystal clear in message as the song comes to a close. "You're gonna have a good life."
Come to think of it, one of my least favorite things in any area of thought is when people act like young people don't have anything to say. Even with what I hope will be a long life ahead of them, Kylie V writes with the pathos of an old soul and such a patient eye that illuminates the oceanic depth a teenage songwriter can show you if you allow them.
Slender Dan is an electronic duo based in Seattle. Their newest EP, titled The Waking Life, ironically enough, creates luxurious dreamscapes which draws on styles such as IDM and trip-hop and contains an absolutely gorgeous lullaby ballad titled "Well Accomplished Man." I reached out to Slender Dan co-founder Heather Dickson about The Waking Life, and she offered a mini-track-by-track breakdown of their EP. You'll be able to listen to (and view!) The Waking Life after her thoughts on the EP.
The Waking Life EP and accompanying visual EP is our attempt to experiment with various audio & visual mediums while exploring a number of concepts we’re fascinated with- introspection, the fear of an unlived life, mental health, and the psychedelic experience.
With the footage we shot in and around Seattle, the overlapping presentation of the visual EP is meant to reflect the idea that everyone literally has their own reality and our separate realities all overlap. What we call objective reality is actually just the overlapping section of an 8 billion piece reality Venn diagram.
"Cycle" is about all the different versions of ourselves that we’ve been in the past and even from day to day, and trying to will that version of ourselves into the present moment.
"Fatal Vision" was more of an experiment to see if we could write a song strictly using quotes from the works of Shakespeare. We paired it with an ambiguous beat and ended up really liking the surreal combo.
"Well Accomplished Man" is an attempt to encapsulate the fears we have about not spending our time wisely or accomplishing the things we know we’re capable of (if we only had the motivation to do so). The hard-panned, overlapping lyrics are meant to represent the conflicting and often negative self talk we all experience.
The interlude serves as our homage to DJ Shadow's 1998 album Endtroducing. It’s also our attempt to create a little world to escape in, something to zone out to for a few minutes.
"Secrets We Keep" deals with the idea of mental health and the effects it can have on relationships. There’s often no playbook to study when dealing with the mental health of a partner. This song is an attempt to show how hard that can be, wanting to help but not being able to.
"Through the Door" is about our experiences with psilocybin. We’re big advocates of mushroom use as a learning tool. As Terence McKenna once said “if the words life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”
In the three years since I was given the reins of Throwaway Style, I realized I've yet to write about any bands from Boise. And serendipitously enough, manna appeared in my inbox in the form of the just-released single from Blood Lemon, which features the talents of Built to Spill member Melanie Radford on bass and vocals. "Black-Capped Cry" drew inspiration from a flock of chickadees living near Radford's home to the point where she envisioned these birds with a slowed-down call, droning on and on and on inside of her head. The resulting song is a pounding, semi-truck heavy hard-rock stunner, like Black Mountain stomping through canyons, with lyrics focused on colonization leading to overconsumption leading to climate change and birds crying for help all the livelong day. Blood Lemon's self-titled debut comes out in April. Find shelter and turn the volume up.
The balladry of Seattle singer/songwriter Katie Kuffel contains the sort of lived-in elegance that makes you feel you've been wearing her music all your life without even realizing it. Her new single "Love Language" was also released today, an expansive ballad about the bumps in the road we all encounter in relationships, the fighting and the making up. Augmented by luxurious drums and horn arrangements, Kuffel's soothing voice nestles on the edge of a romantic partnership just long enough to bring it back from the brink of collapse, evoking a self-evident truth: some things are worth the hard times we go through to keep it alive. Kuffel had this to say about "Love Language," you can hear the song below.
'Love Language' is about the moment where you have to choose. Where you're both vulnerable, maybe you've hurt one another, and you have to choose if it's worth coming together again. For me, for this song, the answer was yes, the vulnerability and the openness and the potential for hurt are worth, well, love.
Martin Douglas explores what he refers to as "a moving history of the Microphones" within Phil Elverum's latest full-length project.
The Portland-based artist's new album (recently re-released on Saddle Creek) offers a singular perspective on the concept of losing things, whether it's an ideal or a person.
The Issaquah-based singer/songwriter's debut full-length is an arresting chronicle of when love goes wrong and exploring all the broken pieces left in the harsh realm of a breakup.