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Fundamentals (self-released)


Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces was quoted calling Porter Ray "the golden child" a couple years ago, before the 26-year-old Seattle native had released any music publicly. After three 2013 mixtapes—aptly titled BLK GLD, WHT GLD, and RSE GLD—and a Butler-assisted deal inked with Sub Pop, his first release of 2014, Fundamentals, feels/sounds like he's actualizing that assertion.

True to its title, Fundamentals showcases Ray's dexterous, old-school lyricism over hazy, soulful, '90s-rooted hiphop production. The topics covered stay fairly basic—women, weed, drink, and Seattle-hood-centric nostalgia both good and bad—but are delivered in a smooth tenor (so smooth, you almost don't notice how many times he mentions female genitalia) and the natural manner that comes with actually experiencing (instead of just glorifying) the things one is rapping about. And though the guy has clearly seen some shit—"A bullet turned my brother into a picture on the wall/So I crumble up the chronic, split the Swisher, let it fall," he says in "Ruthie Dean," recounting his younger brother's 2010 murder at the hands of a man still serving prison time for it—the album has an inspirational and admirable underlying positivity to it.

The album runs a bit long at 17 tracks (especially if the listener can't get used to Ray's distinctive, slightly nasal voice), but the longer, five-plus-minute songs are balanced out with plenty of two-minute ones, and the features from his mostly unknown associates (Cam the Mac, Nate Jack, $plurge Moolah) are welcome additions rather than detractions. The phoned-in interlude stories by his friend D-Bleeze, apparently "live from federal custody," are a bonus personal touch. Front to back, Fundamentals is, to stick with the theme, a way-solid "golden age" hiphop record. MIKE RAMOS


Swollen (End of Time)


Even the drums on Swollen sound like 1989, with guitars and saxophone thick and distanced like chiming church bells. It is a slab of raw and wicked things, and wailing. After a litany of singles and cassettes, Swollen is Stickers' first LP—a skronk of noise hailing from the netherworlds of post-punk.

The vocals are atonal, like Surfer Rosa–era Frank Black when he didn't feel like singing, and wounded, as on "Sacajawea," the album's centerpiece—one of the only songs with audible discernible words—or on the opener, "Swollen Future," shouting, "Your wound goes deeper than mine." This is a band that plays to their strengths, most notably the saxophone that squeaks around all the breaks, sounding more like a lead guitar feeding back, filled with chorus and reverb like sour jelly. Bands with a kitsch instrument tend to suffer the "Jethro Tull fate" ("that-band-with-the-flute" fate), but simply categorizing them as "that band with a saxophone" would be a mistake. Though the similarities and same-tempo-ness of the songs does wear thin halfway through side two, songs like "(Swoon)," a relatively quiet track, take a break from the perpetually buzzy and upbeat record as a whole and help Swollen out immensely.

Stickers are familiar enough with their influences that I doubt they even think about it. They just play what they like in the way that expresses what they're feeling: a lot of frustration, from the sound of it, turning it into something constructive, fun. Thank goodness. Isn't that the point of being in a band in the first place? ERIC WILLIGER


The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again (self-released)


"Here stands the asshole/Who dreamt of shitting gold... Time will tell, fortunes unfold/May I be, and stand amongst the bold." Those are lyrics from the new Murder City Devils song "Pale Disguise." Wait, a NEW Murder City Devils song? Weren't they a band a MILLION years ago?

The Murder City Devils were the boldest of the bold in late-'90s Seattle. Back when Penny & Perk was still a video-game arcade, right next to a tiny taco shack called Bimbo's Bitchin' Burrito Kitchen on the old 500 block of Pine Street. Formed in 1996, they released three albums and an EP before disbanding in 2001. Aside from seemingly never-ending praise by a past Stranger music editor (whose name rhymed with Dashleen Filson), the Devils never received much national critical acclaim—in fact, one reviewer at Pitchfork called them "phony prophets of urban apocalypse," and another writer, on the same site, called their album R.I.P. a "tiring, sloppy failure." But do Murder City Devils fans care? HELLLL NO. When the band reunited at the Capitol Hill Block Party in 2006, I talked to people who came from as far away as Iowa, Florida, and even Hawaii. Devils fans are rabid dogs.

With The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again, fans should be ecstatic. The band's recorded sound is better than ever before—the guitars are sharp, clean, and organized—and singer Spencer Moody's rage, his screams and howls, have turned into dirty, more digestible growls. The spooky organ accents are even joined by a motherfucking saxophone on the almost-mellow melodic last song, "Don't Worry." And while White Ghost will probably never sell a trillion copies, they've definitely shit another nugget of pure gold. KELLY O recommended