Throwaway Style: Warren Dunes Write a Greeting Card to the World on Get Well Soon

Throwaway Style, Local Music, Album Reviews
04/01/2021
Martin Douglas
Photo by Danny Drano

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.


To effectively celebrate one full year in quarantine, my girlfriend and I received our first COVID-19 vaccination on the way home from an 18 (or so)-hour trip to Bellingham. After eating some tasty deli sandwiches from the Skagit Valley Food Co-Op in her car, we made our way to Mt. Vernon Haggen and answered questions about allergies at the lip of the pharmacy desk. The pharmacist administering the vaccine told us they’ve given somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,100 shots in the past handful of weeks.

You don’t need me to tell you how unfathomable the past thirteen months have been; our way of life as humans in society has been changed irrevocably. Not only have we been dealing with a heretofore unimaginable virus setting off a global pandemic, the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetimes, but we’ve also been reckoning with the effects of the longstanding edict known as white supremacy killing off our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones, our families, our ancestors. We’re finally recognizing – as a singular culture instead of a vast network of disparate communities – that our immediate environment as Americans is untenable.

We’re fully aware that death is pretty much everywhere we turn.

Pun rather unwisely intended, the opener of the debut full-length of Warren Dunes is infectious. Kicking off Get Well Soon is a stunner titled “Talking About That Burden,” which builds on top of Dominic Cortese’s rolling drums and the emotional crescendo of Julia Massey’s vocals – the titular encumbrance unspecified but nonetheless felt in the subtext as well as Massey’s catchy yet weighty delivery and the faraway thunder of Jared Cortese’s guitar.

Warren Dunes describe themselves as a “postmodern beach music family band,” as Massey, husband Jared, and brother-in-law Dominic summon a dance party of radical kindness inspired by the rhythms and bright melodies of tropicalia. At shows – and I say this as a firsthand witness – their presence is as gregarious as a hug from your goofiest friend; Massey standing at the front of the stage in her uniform of gold tights and Kevin Durant rookie season jersey, itself a subtle sign of innocence. (The transformation from bright-eyed NBA youngster to nearly sociopathic, infamously thin-skinned multi-time All-Star/MVP began when the Seattle Supersonics were kidnapped by Clay Bennett and taken to the last stand of Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma City.) 

Get Well Soon is described as a “Hallmark card” from the band to all their listeners, acknowledging the patina of stress emerging from the year that was 2020. Not just the pandemic and atrocities happening to people of color everywhere in America, but also being trapped in the grinding gears of late-stage capitalism and a social media echo chamber where hot takes are woefully mistaken as thoughtful discourse. 

“Quit Takin a Side” implores us to be more open-minded and less reactionary; to take two steps back and gain perspective before turning opinions into frivolous battles in an endless culture war. (Not liking pineapple on pizza isn’t all that serious, y’all.) The music shuffles underneath the clarion call of Massey’s vocals. It’s the successive track, “Be Good,” investigates the line between being with someone we want and being with someone we think we deserve through its chorus of “Why would you be good to someone who’s bad to you?”

What would eventually become the group Warren Dunes was borne partly out of having to find a way to sort through grief, as a then-fifteen-year-old Massey suffered the loss of her father to cancer -- eventually forming a band with family brings the concept of Massy exploring her emotions through music brings tragedy full circle back to fulfillment. The often joyous, buoyant sound of this trio feels forged in comfort and unshakable positivity and the message that we’re here together; as evidenced in the short number near the album’s midpoint, “Tether,” and guest Chris Blount’s raps about perseverance on “Cool Mom.” "Count on Me" articulates the emotional thesis of the album in the form of its addictive, sunny pop.

Even under the pressure of that burden, the band’s trajectory is aimed, nearly effortlessly, skyward; the songs on Get Well Soon soar, finding a spot just beneath the clouds on single “Fishbowl” and even when the point of view is burrowed deep within the dunes, like on floating ballad “Song Beneath the Sand.” Occasionally, the optimism the band displays is hard-earned, as they explore an important lesson in bracing through the hard times on “No Mud No Lotus.”

After a year where the most reasonable of us spent the bulk of our time trying to stay safe at home, the world is slowly (though perhaps not slowly enough) opening up to a slightly adjusted way of living; one where most of us are fully aware of the dangers plaguing our society. Get Well Soon is a powerful reminder of what we’ve been through and how togetherness has eased the pain. The notion of community and family, of finding those small reasons to dance through a shifting landscape.


New, News, and Notable

Breaking News: Have ILLFIGHTYOU Broken Up?

It only took them seven years to record the follow-up to their much-ballyhooed self-titled debut, and now, word around the Puget Sound rap scene is that its rowdiest trio is on indefinite hiatus. Khris P and Glenn were interviewed by Andrew Matson – former Seattle Times music journalist and tireless champion of our region’s rap scene – about UglyFrank’s sudden departure from the group, the music they’re making in lieu of promoting the great album they released on Halloween, and their reaction to Enumclaw’s Aramis Johnson saying ILLFIGHTYOU inspired him not to leave Tacoma. Matson’s interview with Khris and Glenn ran yesterday over at Passion of the Weiss. (in the interest of full disclosure, I must add that I have been a proud POW contributor since 2008 and recently stepped down from a 2 ½-year run as  the site’s managing editor.)

Suede Watch: History Repeats

To catalog the ongoing efforts of one of Seattle’s most prolific hip-hop artists, Suede Watch is a recurring “New, News, and Notable” feature. We can’t afford to give AJ Suede the headline for Throwaway Style every time he releases a new project because more or less every month there’s a new project from the adopted son of Seattle. Maybe back in 2018 when Throwaway Style was a weekly column we could have swung it, but definitely not now.

Weaving Picasso-painting rhymes over lush, resplendent beats, Suede’s collaborative EP with L.A. beatmaker the Historian signifies a burrowing into the deep, rich soil, a further rebuke of the systems which damage us, a form of therapy. There are Howard Dean campaign battle cries, Whitewalkers, Sleep Sinatra manifestos, mushroom trips, shit pens, going from auction blocks to Blockchain, supermarket closings, over the counter sleep aids, Tumblr binges, nearly immortal beings having midlife crises, and sending your favorite rapper back to the drawing board. The Historian’s ornate compositions carry Suede’s words to yet another plane; “Thousand Eyes” is widescreen overcast, “High Octane” sounds like sunrise on a summer day, the crying sample which guides closer “Gene of Isis (Genesis)” makes it the highlight of the entire project. As Suede continues to build his body of work, History Repeats makes for a striking stop on the endless train route to greatness in the field of hip-hop.

If you want to listen to History Repeats, buy it on AJ Suede's Bandcamp, because he has asserted it will never be uploaded to DSPs.

Short Takes, Book Version: Dr. Daudi Abe - Emerald Street: A History of Hip-Hop in Seattle

Let me let you in on an intimate fact about me: I’ve rarely in life encountered a bookstore I didn’t throw money at. It takes a special occasion for me to leave a bookstore without clutching something I found and bought. After dinner on Capitol Hill like a month ago, I went into The Elliott Bay Book Company ten or fifteen minutes before closing and a book with a green and black cover jumped out at me. Being as though I moved to Tacoma in 1998, my frame of knowledge regarding Seattle hip-hop has come mostly via old articles and library visits and Crane City’s Instagram Stories. That is, until I found Emerald Street sitting on an Elliott Bay display table.

An exhaustive history of what has been one of the most diverse rap scenes in America for a while, Emerald Street traces not just the history of the art form in the region (there are also multiple references and sections dedicated to Tacoma), but the neighborhoods in the city which incubated the rap scene — Garfield High, Africatown, of course the Central District as a whole — and various conflicts and controversies which jostle in the undercurrent of any music scene (the infamous Teen Dance Ordinance, the dearth of local hip-hop on the radio). Drawing on reporting from The Stranger’s Charles Mudede and our own Larry Mizell Jr., Dr. Abe chronicles over 40 years’ worth of history with a steady, even, and patient hand. Emerald Street serves as an essential document of our city’s rich history in hip-hop culture, and a must-have for anyone who cares to know more or thinks they know everything there is to know.

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