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.
This month marks the return of Martin Douglas’ local music-inspired short fiction series Purging the Treasure Chest, the magical realism of past installments replaced by an almost brutal hyper-realism.
I walked along the endless landscape of Seattle. The hills and trees and rows and rows and rows and rows and rows of tents. No houses to speak of, no buildings to squat in; just tents and shopping carts full of people’s worldly possessions.
Back when I worked at the supermarket, a 30-some-odd-year, soon-to-be-retired grocery veteran once referred to me as an anarchist. I denied it then, but given my brutal, almost militaristic suspicion of all structures of authority and power — not to mention an atomic skepticism of people who actively seek such things — I look back and wonder if Larry was right all along.
The witches and the mall goths took up all the space in the graveyards, so they stopped burying people and began to stack bodies on the edge of town. People who starved to death, young professionals who met their grim fates because they’d rather die than share space with homeless people. (Which, in this environment, is now everybody — including themselves.) There’s no stench yet, but also no false hope that someone will take it upon themselves to honorably dispose of the bodies.
A red sun hovers around in a dark gray sky. Maybe it doesn’t smell like decomposing bodies, all naked as the day they were brought into this brutally unfair world, because it’s hard for the nose to detect anything aside from the odor of smoldering wood from burning trees. Some people, those who are still alive, can’t cope with this new way of life, so they take drugs and party all day and stink up their tents like they’re at a music festival.
“Hey,” someone calls out to me as I walk. “Hey!” I turn around. “Can I give the cat some molly? You know, as a treat?” I shrug and Daryl takes two tablets and laps up a bowl of water our kind, very high stranger has laid out for him.
Oh, the grisly demise of the trust fund kids whose nest eggs were now worthless! I actually feel kind of bad for them; how they are most ridiculed by people who deep down wished to the highest spiritual jurisdiction they could possibly conceive to reap the spoils of generational wealth. As someone who was pushed out the back door of his family with a small fraction of my deceased father’s life insurance claim, I get it. Everybody secretly dreams of being handed the foundational windfall of a comfortable life.
As I continue to drift through the rows and rows of tents, shopping carts and suitcases and wooden crates serving as closets and toolsheds, I think about how we’re all on the same level. I wonder about the well-being of everybody who sold me out for a dollar.
I wish I could say I wasn't an occasionally spiteful person, but the thought makes me smile.
The trees fly past my peripheral vision, the leaves crunch underneath my feet rapidly. The only sounds I can hear are my own panting and golden coins jangling around. Panic and anxiety sprint through the nerves in my body, which I’m obviously no stranger to; there’s no runner’s high for me to bask in.
Daryl’s head pokes from the knapsack strapped to me while the air coming out of my lungs looks like smoke from a steam engine. He’s practically weightless on my body, bouncing alongside the coins, my entry to these disparate worlds I find myself in, with every hard and brisk step I take. All my body can feel are the muscles in my legs straining to continue running as fast as they can and the sledgehammer heartbeat in my chest.
The sun peeks through the gaps of the treetops.
This forest I find myself running top speed through is chilly but stops short of frosty; crows flock by the dozens to begin the voyage south. I glimpse at the golden sky instead of forward, partly distracted and partly hoping I trip on a rock and face whatever it is I’m running from.
How deeply do you believe in spirituality? How faithfully do you subscribe to the maxim that your greatest fears always reveal themselves? I’ve been trying to outrun a form in the shape of myself.
My credo for life is to always strive to be a better person than I was the day before. To be more compassionate, more thoughtful, more observant, more creative, less boastful, less agnostic, less wrathful, less “extra,” more “cool,” more like the person I’ve always wanted to be, less like the person I’ve always been.
I’ve been running away from the looming shadow of all the mistakes I’ve made, times where my words have hurt people without justifiable cause, occasions when I “went along to get along” instead of standing up for myself. Unfortunately, I have a terribly long memory, and things other people have forgotten about long ago exist in a corner office file cabinet in the warehouse of things that truly fucking bother me.
Soon, as always, the shadow catches up with me and turns everything pitch black.
I used to have dreams where my biological mother would beat me to death in public. I’d feel a shockingly familiar fright right before I wake up, the aghast faces of onlookers burning a hole in my brain as it filled up with blood from all the punches.
Daryl was nowhere to be found, nor the stench of freshly extinguished weed that would follow him for yards. I was alone. I felt as alone as the moment in court where I saw the photo of my dad, blood leaking from his forehead from trying to be a tough guy.
Fighting for your life isn’t tough guy shit.
It’s fighting for your life.
It’s funny when you hear punches in the movies and on television, because being punched for real sounds more like a smack. You may hear a thud from someone’s jaw getting broken or the cracking of a nose bone, but it never sounds like that TV punch. I feel the smack of a hard fist and give one back on a hilltop above a crowded patch of trees. More trees sit on a hill above us in the near distance. Fog dirties the sky with a dreary, watery grey.
I can’t see the face of the person occasionally unloading punches to my face, because his fists cover his facial features. When he sends rapid fire blows to my stomach, knocking the wind out of me and into the sky, gusts moving the fog, I’m bent over the side of him.
Something inside of me — an extended period of frustration, a lifetime of pain and near-lifetime of hardship and setbacks, an undefinable fire sign (five of the nine major placements in my birth chart) rage — causes me to roar and throw a punch that breaks the nose of his obscured face. He sends one back that almost cracks my orbital bone; I feel the swelling around my left eye. We trade punches for what feels like eternity, but if you’ve ever been in a fistfight, you’re well aware every ten seconds feels like ten minutes while trying to steal someone else’s will to continue and win.
Our shirts are stained with blood; our faces, knuckles, and teeth too. We’re evenly matched, fully aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses; we’re one in the same, really.
He pushes me in the most brutal ways imaginable. He’s an adversary, but he’s also me.
It’s the end of the year, news is slow, and you’re probably already headlong into the process of excavating the year’s best music through various lists. Therefore, this month’s New, News, and Notable will be entirely dedicated to albums that might have slipped through the cracks of the column or stuff I liked but didn’t really have time to write about. Because while I pride myself on offering you a wide breadth of the music the Pacific Northwest has to offer, I am, alas, only one human. Even still, this short list is not meant to be intended as a full collection of great albums from the region I’ve missed; it is simply, in my humble opinion, the best of the best of what I haven’t already covered (or plan to cover in upcoming features, wink wink).
One of the great local success stories in Seattle this year is Biblioteka finally receiving their props after years on the scene, and it’s all on the strength of their very good debut album Pretty Ugly. One of the year’s standout albums on Freakout Records (always a reliable source if you find yourself short on Seattle bands to listen to), Pretty Ugly is fiercely personal while not sacrificing the band’s penchant for big melodies and upbeat musical backdrops. “Where Did We Go Wrong” was written in the throes of surviving a knife attack after coming home from Goth Night, “Corporate Whore” is the ideal diss track for the pervading young professional culture that continues to choke out Seattle’s art scene. “Tv in My Eye” is an excellent cover of the cult favorite tune from San Jose electronic outfit Los Microwaves, turning what would be referred to today as “coldwave” into a new wave rave-up.
As long as Biblioteka have been on the scene, it’s kind of startling to think this is only their debut full-length. Pretty Ugly bears the confidence of a band who has been together for decades.
Arguably the shining jewel of Vancouver, B.C.’s pretty great indie rock scene is Dumb, whose clever, conversational, observant, and off-beat songwriting style has put them in league with the top bands in the region just below the radar. After albums unpacking the symbolism of the color green and unpacking the late nights and bad trips of nightlife, the band’s third album for Canadian indie rock institution Mint Records widens the lens to offer their reliably wry commentary on the parts of life that fray our already overworked nerves. There’s an aftertaste of what garnered those favorable comparisons to Parquet Courts, but there are also hints of the Specials and a heavy slab of Minutemen-inspired goodness. At 17 tracks and over 40 minutes, it’s perfect for a long drive, going double nickels on the dime.
When Portland’s Maria Maita-Keppeler released her Kill Rock Stars debut Best Wishes in 2020, her immense and still-deepening talents as a songwriter were in clear display. But the thing hidden from plain view on that record displayed in a live performance context (and something Slim Moon noted in my lengthy interview with him and Dr. Portia Sabin) is that her music fucking rips. Heartbreaking poetic beauty notwithstanding, I Just Want to Be Wild For You is packed with the sort of shredders that would send many artists in the well-well-well-worn “singer/songwriter” genre running for their lives: “Pastel Concrete,” both parts of “You Sure Can Kill a Sunday,” “Honey, Have I Lost It All?,” the second-half of “Ex-Wife,” “Where Do You Go.” MAITA’s great second album stops just short of clearing out the coffee shop, a sorely needed kick in the pants for all you open mic types.
It feels as though the word “local supergroup” gets thrown around willy-nilly these days, but if there’s any band in Seattle today that has truly earned that distinction, it’s this startlingly good quartet of hardcore punk hellraisers — staffed by Zack Purtell and Devin Wolf (both of grindcore band Tax Evader, the latter probably even better known as hip-hop producer Wolftone), Maya Marie (blues singer/songwriter par excellence and maybe the best kept secret in Seattle music for the past half-decade running), and Nicolle Swims (frontperson of Black Ends, the undisputed greatest band to come out of Seattle since the top of the decade).
Their name is seemingly an arch reference to the diversity of race and gender represented in the band’s four members. Their early shows swirled with beguiling, borderline hallucinogenic psych-punk weirdness, and even after scaling back to a more traditional hardcore approach, still serves as one of the most thrilling punk bands in the region.
At a brisk and pummeling 19 minutes, RCDC throw elbows like peak Black Flag — a comparison I abso-fucking-lutely do not use lightly — rallying against the ever-slow decay of America democracy’s two-party system, the pitiful state of our country’s healthcare system, police (naturally), the death march of late-stage capitalism, the military industrial complex, the insidious apathy and mediocrity of the rich. Speckled with a couple slyly clever vintage audio snippets, the sonically and emotionally violent United States of Amnesia is a stark reminder that money, nor the government, nor the purported good intentions of the dominant class will save us. We need to save our fucking selves.
After the startling creativity of their excellent 2018 debut Amorfo, the fact that Tres Leches’ second album came and went without nearly as much fanfare is a disappointment bordering on criminal. And I am as much to blame for that as anybody. The truth remains in favor of the songwriting duo of Ulises Mariscal and Alaia D’Alessandro (the latter also a member of KEXP’s video team), who make up the nucleus of one of (still) one of Seattle’s most dynamic, talented, and blessedly unpredictable bands. Still darting between tempos (“Nieve”), languages (“Tiempos”), and a combination of the two (“Leaving My Light On”), Fòsil finds the band saluting all the kids who were sent to corner as bad kids and decrying fascist-supporting law enforcement. “Two Fifty,” the band’s emphatic and daring “fuck you” to music festival talent buyers, speaks immensely to both D’Alessandro’s charisma and penchant for righteous dissent.
For all its gifts as a music community, Seattle is still chock full of vapid dream-pop bullshit and recycled rock clichés; thankfully we have a band like Tres Leches willing to push the envelope. They’re a band we should most certainly stop taking for granted.