The Best of 2009

A Noncomprehensive, Highly Subjective List of the Year's Best Local Musical Happenings, Offered in No Particular Order

The Best of 2009

Rabid Child Images


Seattle Hiphop's "Third Wave"

You'll never go broke betting on Charles Mudede to say something contentious, but in this case his coinage—a grand unifying "wave" theory of Seattle hiphop that runs from Mix to Black Anger to Blue Scholars to Mad Rad—is solid like white gold. And the so-called third wave—typified by Obama-era postracial amity, a playful party-rocking attitude, and a fondness for concept albums and acts—got impressively busy this year, with scene-cementing releases and performances from the likes of THEESatisfaction, Helladope, Champagne Champagne, They Live!, Fresh Espresso (and the aforementioned Mad Rad), and more. Surf's up. EG

The Emergence of Portable Shrines

Spearheaded by Darlene Nordyke and Aubrey Nehring, the Portable Shrines collective became a focal point and catalyst for the city's psych-rock scene in 2009, booking several of the year's most audacious bills and inaugurating the Escalator festival in September, a two-night extravaganza that has potential to rival the long-running Terrastock. With their keen eyes for poster design and highly attuned ears for the peak-time, mind-­expanding sounds of both local and national acts, this promotion company raises hopes that Seattle's headiest heads will receive the audio-visual massaging they've been craving for years. DS

Mad Rad's Mad Antics

Speaking of the so-called third wave... no Best of 2009 wrap-up would be complete without a mention of Seattle's most scandalous music-scene fiasco of the year (sorry, Abodox art heist). Way back at the beginning of the year, members of Mad Rad got into a late-night tussle with Neumos security that ended in bloody blows (to the bouncers) and the arrests of Buffalo Madonna, DJ Darwin, and P Smoov. Mad Rad were not only swiftly banned from Neumos but blackballed at a cabal of Seattle clubs including the Showbox, the War Room, Chop Suey, and others. The members of Mad Rad were eventually found NOT GUILTY! and have since played the War Room (introduced by incoming mayor Mike McGinn no less!), although other clubs have been slower to welcome them back. Their average live performance is only slightly less scandalous. EG

Shabazz Palaces' Afro-Eccentric Hiphop

The emergence this year of Shabazz Palaces marked the stunning return to form of Digable Planets' Ishmael Butler. Let's hear it for Grammy Award winners not resting on their laurels and instead pushing themselves into vibrant new territory. On that note, all praises to Seattle's Erik Blood, whose production on Shabazz Palaces' two CDs, coupled with his own stellar solo album, The Way We Live, showed his astounding range and skill as a producer and musician. DS

Throw Me the Statue's Creaturesque

Amazon gave it the number-one spot on its list of "Top 100 Outstanding Albums of '09 You Might Have Missed," but if you read The Stranger last year, you would have been hard-pressed not to notice this album, one of if not the finest pop-rock records to come out of Seattle all year. Scott Reitherman's sighing, sentimental lyrics are just shy of too clever, and the band's delicate but still lively arrangements give his songs a gentle but irresistible pull. Throw Me the Statue are a soft-spoken band, and this album is certainly on the subtler side of Seattle's indie-rock spectrum, but it's well worth another listen if you haven't yet felt its admittedly slow-­burning but ultimately undeniable charms. EG

New Blood at KEXP

In 2009, Alex Ruder got a regular time slot on KEXP (Saturdays 1:00–6:00 a.m.) and Larry Mizell Jr. took over as Street Sounds host on Sundays 6:00–9:00 p.m., considerably improving the station. Ruder brings much-needed knowledge of several electronic-­music genres to the influential outlet (he ably hosted the Decibel-centric version of Audioasis in September), as well as an avid appreciation for rock and hiphop's weirder specimens. Mizell (who's also The Stranger's hiphop columnist and MC for They Live! and Cancer Rising) is one of the most well-­connected figures in Seattle's hiphop community, a savvy critic, and a fantastic communicator. 206 rap is in good hands—and vocal cords—with this cat. DS

New Breeds in the Musicquarium

A welcome development in 2009 was the Triple Door's opening up of its DJ policy in the Musicquarium, thanks to Leif Engberg and Scott Giampino. Adding house (Duende), techno (Off the Deep End), midtempo-­electronica (125), dance-punk (Near Dark), and world-music (Kwassa Kwassa) selectors to the weekly and monthly schedule has spiced up this ritzy space and brought in some folks who ordinarily might not venture downtown for these underground sounds. DS

A Glut of Great Reunion Shows

The year 2009 was another good one for music nostalgists (but not as good as 1994—man, that was a good year). Seattle saw tour stops from such reunited bands as My Bloody Valentine (loud!), Pixies (loud/quiet/loud!), Sunny Day Real Estate (sad!), the Jesus Lizard (mad!), and perennial local reuniters Murder City Devils (drunk!). Sure, Pavement are getting back together (and playing Sasquatch!) in the coming year, but I'm already starting to feel a little wistful for this one. EG

My Bloody Valentine's Monumentally Loud Live Sound

Speaking of My Bloody Valentine—what? What were you saying? Sorry, I can't hear you, there's still this ringing in my ears... MBV promised to be the loudest thing to hit town since the last time they played Seattle (1992), and holy shit, did they really live up to it on epic set closer "You Made Me Realise," whose rightfully infamous instrumental bridge was an 18-minute-long psychoactive wall of magenta noise with bass that rattled your bones and threatened to collapse your lungs, and treble that sounded like a jet taking off from your chest in painfully slow motion. (The earplugs—they do nothing!) Heavenly. EG

Sublime Frequencies' Continued Mining of World-Music Gold

With releases in 2009 by Group Doueh, Group Bombino, and Omar Souleyman, plus the Siamese Soul comp, Sublime Frequencies remains the foremost purveyor of vital global audio. Led by former Sun City Girls member Alan Bishop, SF simply digs deeper and with greater acuity for edgy sounds than do other labels of its ilk—and it does it with eye-­snagging packaging and an absence of reverent, snoozeworthy liner notes. Combing northern Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia with its usual unerring ear for riveting, novel music, Sublime Frequencies brought another sirocco of fresh weirdness in 2009. Long may its operatives continue to rack up frequent-flyer miles. DS

Light in the Attic's Continued Excavation of Out-of-Print Classics

We are blessed to have both Sublime Frequencies and Light in the Attic rescuing from obscurity classic works that deserve broad dissemination. This year, LITA did Nobel-level footwork to bring us Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson, Rodriguez's Coming from Reality, Monks' Black Monk Time and The Early Years: 1964–1965, Betty Davis's Nasty Gal and Is It Love or Desire, while also overseeing the new Wheedle's Groove record, Kearney Barton. LITA's quality control and loving care for packaging rank among the finest in the record biz. This company continues to be a godsend for discerning collectors everywhere. DS

The Rising Tide of "Chillwave"

As Levi Fuller observed in a recent Line Out comment, in 2009, the mainstream music world had Susan Boyle as its dominant phenomenon, while the indie world had "chillwave"—a warm flurry of beachy, breezy, nostalgia-driven, soft-synth and sample-based summertime albums from such acts as, nationally, Neon Indian, Memory Tapes, and Washed Out, and, locally, U.S.F., Big Spider's Back, and Secret Colors. (Animal Collective's list-topping Merriweather Post Pavilion fits into this vague zeitgeist as well.) The world can have its overwrought "Wild Horses" covers, I'll take Neon Indian jamming over Todd Rundgren in a pirated copy of Ableton with all plug-ins set to "glo-fi." No, seriously. EG

The Best Decibel Festival Yet

Decibel Festival had another amazing year, broadening its menu into dubstep and increasing its reach across the city's venues with showcases at Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Church of Bass, Triple Door, and Little Red Studio. Beyond those developments, Decibel also hosted loads of fantastic performances, including those by Frank Bretschneider, Robert Hood, Echospace, Bruno Pronsato, Dave Aju, Martyn, Move D, Reagenz, Christina Vantzou, Nosaj Thing, Benga, Alter Ego, and Gaslamp Killer. The latter's show at Volunteer Park was the best DJ set I saw in 2009—a wild, genre-spanning spree of awesome tracks whose unlikely juxtapositions somehow worked like the most potent charm imaginable. DS

The Return of the Crocodile

Venues will always come and go in this town—King Cobra, we hardly knew thee—but the sudden loss of the Crocodile in late 2007 left a hole in not only Belltown's best bar strip but also in Seattle's living rock 'n' roll history. So it was a welcome return when the new Crocodile opened its doors in March of this year. The cozy back bar was gone (as was the diner), but the showroom was bigger (and pole-free), the bathrooms and everything else fancier (for better or worse), and an attached Via Tribunali was added to serve pizzas to hungry show-goers. It may not be the historic dive you remember, but it's great to have the Croc back. EG

One-Man Future-Bass-Music Catalyst Ill Cosby

As host of the Glitch.FM netcast Cosby Show Nights, boss of the Car Crash Set label, and as a diverse, skillful producer himself, Cos spent 2009 grinding like a multitasking master, bringing the open-eared listener the next-level beat-centric science via many channels. Bonus: His comments on Line Out rank among the most astute on the intrawebs. DS

Made Like a Tree's Deep DJ Excursions

Throughout 2009, the Made Like a Tree crew's Struggle and D'jeronimo further established themselves as two of Seattle's most knowledgeable and technically tight DJs, and their website, www.madelikeatree.blogspot­ .com, has become a font of fantastic podcasts—including those by Kris Moon, Dave Aju, Jon McMillion, and DJ Alternegro—that rival many of the best on the web. DS

Trouble Dicso's World-Class Disco

Some people would have you believe Seattle is still a grungy, blue-collar, meat 'n' potatoes rock town—and sometimes I even believe it—but don't let the beards fool you. Seattle's long had a steady pumping dance pulse, and the good folks behind Trouble Dicso (Line Out contributor Terry Miller and Rong Records founder Ben Cook) have for the latter half of 2009 been tapping into it to bring some major international DJ talent to town—JD Twitch of Optimo, Eric Duncan of Still Going/Rub-n-Tug, and more. Like Emerald City Soul Club before them, Trouble Dicso is a night of top-notch dance music (in this case, primarily nu and classic disco) curated by devoted experts; unlike ECSC's nights, Trouble Dicso is for now woefully underattended—get in on this night while there's still ample room to cut a shag rug, and you'll have bragging rights when it inevitably blows up to uncomfortably crowded. EG

PSST! Check out The Stranger's New and Improved THINGS TO DO calendar.
It has a complete calendar of what's happening in Seattle's Music Scene.

Comments (22) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
it's all about shabazz. it's no 3rd wave or chillwave, darkwave maybe, but fa sho the best seattle music of 2009. and definitely new blood at kexp is a plus. dj alex is great, lar is aces, and sharlese got her own show, too. the station is better than it was, and it was good.
Posted by andrewmatson on December 23, 2009 at 1:36 PM · Report this
Sharlese is totally a tower of power at KEXP. She reps DIY bands that would never have a chance of getting airplay any other way on that station. I dont think i would listen to KEXP if she didnt work there.
Posted by your heart breaks on December 23, 2009 at 1:56 PM · Report this
Kristen Blush 3
Kristen Blush's Best of '09: Camping with Kelly O at Sasquatch!! (And the mime. Duh.)
Posted by Kristen Blush on December 23, 2009 at 2:00 PM · Report this
Sorry about leaving out Sharlese. I haven't heard her on the air, but I will seek out her time slots.
Posted by Dave Segal on December 23, 2009 at 3:15 PM · Report this
Rabid Child Images 5
it would be cool if you could give me credit for the photo of mad rad.
Posted by Rabid Child Images on December 23, 2009 at 3:25 PM · Report this
Rabid Child Images 6
oh my friend just told me that you guys gave me credit in the printed edition. good lookin out.
Posted by Rabid Child Images on December 23, 2009 at 3:35 PM · Report this
Best music happening in Seattle right now is Fresh Espresso. Now with big man Trent from Head Like a Kite playing live drums, Espresso is a you gotta go see. I can't wait to hear their next release already.
Posted by Soother on December 24, 2009 at 12:16 PM · Report this
DJ Shani's another great new late-night reg over at KEXP - Dave, I think you would dig her sets.
Posted by Levislade on December 24, 2009 at 3:01 PM · Report this
The metal scene explosion kept alive by Studio Seven and ElCo. El Corazon brought Pig Destroyer out for a one-off show that was brutally spectacular, plus Gojira, Meshuggah, Testament, Suffocation...everyone came through. And KEXP gave it a nod by adding their own metal show, 'Search and Destroy'. Still the only scene where you can hang out with the band members afterward and there's no 'holier than thou' baloney.
Posted by Don't Ignore The Metal on December 26, 2009 at 11:15 AM · Report this
Grant Brissey, Emeritus 10
@ Rabid Tyler: That was my bad, and it has been fixed.
Posted by Grant Brissey, Emeritus on December 26, 2009 at 12:50 PM · Report this
I do like Street Sounds, but I almost feel that listening to it is like listening to Audioasis - the hip-hop edition every week. It's almost like pulling teeth to hear something on the show from outside of the west coast.
Posted by j.lee on December 26, 2009 at 2:28 PM · Report this
Larry Mizell, Jr. 12
just last week i played:
slick rick
de la
mos def
lil wayne
mf doom
jay electronica
diamond district

just sayin
Posted by Larry Mizell, Jr. on December 26, 2009 at 7:27 PM · Report this
I love how once again The Stranger only recognizes every genre except Metal, Rock & True Punk.... What about bands in the area that kill it every time they perform? example: ZEKE, The Supersuckers, The Spittin' Cobras, Himsa, 3 inches of Blood, Neon Nights, The Greatest Hits, All Bets on Death & a slew of other Seattle acts. This list really is subjective huh? especially if you like to wear tight girls jeans, 90's cartigans, your moms glasses & have a stupid child molester looking mustache with an even dumber asymetrical haircut. Bring back the rock! no wonder I stopped reading your rag.
Posted by You have no musical taste on December 26, 2009 at 7:54 PM · Report this
14 *OR* -- thanks guys for the shout out!~ :-)
Posted by madelikeatree on December 27, 2009 at 9:26 PM · Report this
All I read was garbage, where is the real Seattle music scene. And fuck hipsters
Posted by RTUS on December 28, 2009 at 5:25 PM · Report this
What about the emergence of the vera project as a great place for touring music. I've seen a ton of great shows there this last year.
Posted by 2009post on December 29, 2009 at 11:23 AM · Report this
d rock 17
ruder rules. no doubt about it.
Posted by d rock http://www.13th-Grade.COM on December 29, 2009 at 1:53 PM · Report this
I think Helladope, Fresh Espresso, and MadRad wins this year. Period.
Posted by blakediamond on December 30, 2009 at 6:51 PM · Report this
Fresh expresso music video being featured this v day at the opening of TAPIOH,QA. Tons of other great local music videos and film will be featured,,stay tuned-
Posted by WALKMAN on January 1, 2010 at 12:58 AM · Report this
Antics does not equal talent.
Posted by killmenow on January 1, 2010 at 12:49 PM · Report this
IvarS 21
How come you never write anything about Peter Frampton? He totally rocks, still. Frampton Comes Alive is like, the best album ever.
Posted by IvarS on January 4, 2010 at 1:36 PM · Report this
That the Musicquarium has expanded its music to DJ, techno, house etc, is good. But on nights with bands in the showroom that play music unrelated to that, it'd be nice if they didn't play it until after the showroom is open. :)
Posted by Jiff on January 15, 2010 at 8:49 AM · Report this

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