Not to sound all chamber of commerce–y, but given more time and space, one could probably write a hefty tome about all the great releases that came out of Seattle in 2010. However, with a little over a thousand words to summarize what we perceive to be the summit of last year's sonic creations, this survey must suffice. So let's get opinionating...
AFCGT, AFCGT (Sub Pop; www.subpop.com): Along with Wolf Eyes, AFCGT are the rudest, most boisterous bastards of the largely well-behaved Sub Pop roster. But AFCGT apply these ornery traits with a refined acumen that evinces the members' vaunted pedigrees in A Frames and Climax Golden Twins. There's a methodical madness to their three-guitar attack strategy that harks back to Sub Pop's golden age of pugilistic thunder, without merely regurgitating it. Heavy noise rock has a tendency to be ponderous, but AFCGT understand that slashing dynamics and unexpected tangents into confounding weirdness keep tedium well out of earshot. While each contingent is great on its own, A Frames and Climax Golden Twins conjure an even more demonic brand of magic together.
Brother Raven, VSS-30 (Digitalis; www.digitalisindustries.com): This duo sets its analog-synth controls for the heart of the moon. Lunar tone clusters coalesce into sublime symphonies for people who like to chill out to peak-time Iannis Xenakis and Vangelis LPs. It's the sound of healing crystals exploding, delicately.
Various artists, The Cold Jungle (Cairo; www.cairocollection.blogspot.com): A candid snapshot of Seattle's musical-misfit underground, The Cold Jungle flaunts the DIYthehellnot stylings of Wet Paint DMM, U.S.F., Flexions, Love Tan, Witch Gardens, and five others. The common bond? A predilection for idiosyncratic sonic exploration and unconventional songcraft that still retains a semblance of "pop" structure. The hunger and vitality here offer much hope for the scene's near future.
Ill Cosby, The Powerful EP (Car Crash Set; www.carcrashset.com): One of Seattle's electronic-music MVPs (label boss, DJ, webcaster, promoter, knowledge dispenser on blogs), Ill Cosby shows he possesses skills in the studio, too. The Powerful EP radiates an understated ominousness, coming off at once like a creepy sort of processional and compelling illbient exotica. The four accompanying remixes add further interesting facets to its already rich source material. The even more sinister "Hold On Dub" should darken up Gaspar Noé's next film. One hopes that Cosby can squeeze in more production work amid all his other crucial duties in 2011.
The Intelligence, Males (In the Red; www.intheredrecords.com): The lineups may change with alarming frequency, but as long as Lars Finberg (author of the funniest tour diary ever, by the way) guides this ship, the Intelligence will be worth your beleaguered attention span. Luckily for you, Finberg and company get right to the point with their tuneful, wiry garage rock, bringing you laughs, insights, and instantly catchy songs that stingingly prick up your ears and coax upward the corners of your mouth. Males is the Intelligence's most diverse and adventurous album yet—a rare feat for a rock group this far into its existence.
Lesbian, Stratospheria Cubensis (Important; www.importantrecords.com): Brainy metal and sinewy psych rock reach their apex in Lesbian. Their debut full-length for the prestigious experimental-music imprint Important storms the gates and then twists the iron into crazily filigreed shapes. High IQ meets high impact, and mentally acute metal mayhem ensues.
Master Musicians of Bukkake, Totem 2 (Important; www.importantrecords.com): This large ensemble of talented freaks has honed its ravenous ethnodelic chops into sublime frequencies suitable to score that impossible sequel to The Holy Mountain. Totem 2 delves profoundly into the mystic, plowing eastward into Turkish psychedelia, Buddhist temple rituals, hymns to obscure gods, and your root chakra. No one here gets out unenlightened.
Jon McMillion, Jon McMillion LP (Nuearth Kitchen; www.nuearthkitchen.com): McMillion's debut full-length fulfilled this maverick producer's considerable potential displayed on his two earlier 12s for Orac Records. As Shabazz Palaces do with hiphop, McMillion takes tech-house to very unusual spaces, revivifying familiar tropes into fascinating new expressions of rhythm and texture, through both organic (live instrumentation, his own voice) and synthetic (Ableton Live) means. Jon McMillion LP is that rare work that combines technical innovation with deep emotional resonance. It's a world-class production all around.
Midday Veil, Eyes All Around (Translinguistic Other; www.translinguisticother.com): Spearheaded by the Portable Shrines crew (for which Midday Veil vocalist/guitarist Emily Pothast and keyboardist David Golightly work part-time), psych rock is gathering momentum in Seattle. Midday Veil have played a crucial role in that development with their riveting multimedia live shows and curatorship of the Escalator Fest; this stellar debut album proper solidifies their importance. Eyes All Around is one of those "take you on a journey" recordings; it's a sensational round trip that's both exceptionally harrowing and blissful, mystical and earthy, cerebral and sensual. Mind expansion rarely is this sexy.
OC Notes, Dap Confuser (www.ocnotes.bandcamp.com/album/dap-confuser): There's been some chatter to the effect that OC Notes will be to 2011 what Shabazz Palaces were to the last two years: 206 hiphop's primo innovative force. Dap Confuser, OC's collab with Fresh Espresso's Rik Rude, confirms such speculation. It finds OC expanding rhythmic parameters and generating a vividly space-trekkin' aura not unlike George Clinton and some of the headiest house producers have done. Here be an excess of soul and ambitious studio technique.
Shabazz Palaces, "Barksdale Corners" (www.iwantyoumagazine.com): Those fiending for more Shabazz Palaces music in the wake of their first two awe-inspiring 2009 EPs had to make do with this song on a split 7-inch that came with local avant-art zine I Want You. Thankfully, "Barksdale Corners" delivers more of that lean, incisive hiphop that's suffused in Shabazz's uniquely menacing and intelligent mystique. Here, they manage the tricky feat of sounding both blunted and ready to pounce. Bonus points for the Last Poets homage.
Sun City Girls, Funeral Mariachi (Abduction; www.suncitygirls.com/abduction): These underground-music legends' final LP is one of their most straightforward and beautiful releases in their 30-year lifespan. A tribute to their late drummer Charles Gocher, Funeral Mariachi retains a bit of the band's notorious prankishness (see "Ben's Radio"), but it mostly trades in a sort of somber, spiritual songcraft that owes as much to Ennio Morricone as it does to Robbie Basho and Syd Barrett. Sun City Girls bow out with impeccable grace.
THEESatisfaction, Transitions, Sista Ya Been on My Mind, Alpha My Alpha, THEESatisfaction Loves Stevie Wonder (www.theesatisfaction.bandcamp.com): THEESatisfaction had an ultraprolific 2010, and it was hard to find a dull moment among this frenzied output. All of these digital releases abound with concise tracks that sound like a glorious futuristic fusion of hiphop and R&B that deftly steers wide of both genres' clichés. Catherine "Cat Satisfaction" Harris-White and "Thee" Stasia Irons radiate warmth and wit with casual panache over Afro-eccentric productions that exhibit supreme crate-digger knowledge, forging tunes tailored for advanced 21st-century ears. THEESatisfaction engender pure noncorny joy in sound.
Truckasauras, Quarters (Journal of Popular Noise/Fourthcity; www.fourthcity.net): The Truck come correct with their strongest batch of cuts to date. Pitchfork once dubbed them "the future of techno," but in actuality, these dudes are really "just" creating boomin', analog-ical electro funk for geeky hedonists. Which ultimately makes for a better party soundtrack than the future of techno.