What Music Did to Us in 2012
Starring Wimps! Chastity Belt! Wussy! KEXP’s El Sonido! The Promise Ring! Against Me! And Selena Gomez?!
by Emily Nokes
To think about what music did to me in 2012, to try to conjure my most resonating memories is difficult, because honestly, it all resonates. How could it not? While music and I have been going steady since I was a teenager, 2012 was the year we finally went all the way—the year music consumed me entirely in a wonderful tsunami of work, pleasure, and pastime. But my favorite memory could be from Sasquatch!, when, just as I was thinking I couldn't possibly watch another band that looked and sounded like Urban Outfitters, the sweetness of THEESatisfaction wafted across a field of neon garbage people and saved me from a sun-induced freak-out.
Although, Capitol Hill Block Party is up there in the "holy shit, so fun" resonation bin. That whole weekend was an exhilarating speedboat ride through Nü Sensae's abrasive grunge, Pony Time's catchy bass-based punk, and Silly Goose's take on Blink-182 "classics"—with everything from Grimes to Thee Oh Sees in between. There's also the time Bumbershoot impressed me (Mudhoney, elephant ears), confused me (Skrillex, teens), irritated me (Jane's Addiction), but then impressed me again (Shishkaberry's!), all in one delightfully exhausting weekend. And who could forget the heart-shaped grease stain left by the last Pizza Fest?
Then there's the time I saw Stephanie cast their swirly synth waves over a packed audience at Cairo, a venue so intimate it felt like watching something magical happening in a stranger's living room. That same evening, I caught Tender Hips at the Rendezvous and couldn't believe how great it was (though I was so incredibly stoned at the time, my epiphany may or may not be legit). The glorious ending to this night of wonder was definitely the DJ set of pure pop junk food and subsequent dance party that broke out, because sometimes the only thing you need in this world is Beyoncé.
Wait, though. Watching Ty Segall give everyone permission to crowd surf at Neumos (after security hauled a surfer out the door) was a fantastic memory, because sometimes you're with the best people and when Ty starts playing a Bad Company song, you just fucking go with it.
What else? Every time I saw Wimps or Chastity Belt, two new bands that blow me away. Or the first time I listened to Mtns, in the privacy of my own ears, over and over again.
But with the shiny and happy, there is the inevitable bittersweet. Losing one of my favorite venues this year to condo jerks was the worst. When I think about the Funhouse, I think about owner Brian Foss's kindness over the years and how that bar, that terrifying clown-headed crazy punk bar, was the first place I felt confident to stand on a stage and be a musician, because you can just do that. You can just play music in front of people if you really want to! You can watch music, write music, or even write ABOUT music (so I'm told), and let it fill your life with opinions and friends and happiness and more. Music did that to me.
by Dave Segal
My most momentous musical moment of 2012 is also my fuzziest. (Who doesn't like a juicy paradox?) It's unseemly for adults to make a big (or)deal celebrating birthdays, but for one's 50th, slack should be cut. Friends arranged for the Comet Tavern to host my golden-jubilee blowout and booked some of my favorite local acts (the psychedelic, cosmically inclined Stenskogen, Panabrite, Particle Being Ensemble, and Noise-A-Tron) and DJs (Explorateur and Mamma Casserole). Explorateur earned extra credit by baking dozens of special cupcakes; all were consumed with haste. That my birthday is April 20 just added more THC to the 420-fueled vibe.
About a hundred folks showed up. Ambient-music synth master Panabrite and skilled stoner-rock warriors Noise-A-Tron played their usual great sets and Explorateur and Mamma dropped their usual hot, obscure cuts, and everything seemed to be going smoothly, and... whoa. Time. Began. To. Slow. Way. The. Fuck. Down. I've never been a big partaker of pot, and whatever strain was in those cupcakes started to work its mind-altering juju on me. This was more like a mushroom trip during which your senses went on a roller-coaster ride of euphoria and trepidation—but mostly the former.
Then Stenskogen—a rarely seen/heard supergroup—took the stage in their white robes, launching the crowd into the ionosphere of drone worshipfulness. I'm an agnostic, but hearing Stenskogen under the influence almost convinced me of the existence of a higher power. Sweet Jesus, I was peaking and awash in the seemingly eternal flux of expertly massaged synth and guitar tones.
The beauty of this music and night damn near left me speechless. Then Mamma Casserole called me up to the mic... to give a speech. Oh, shit. This was the last thing I wanted to do. But there was no way I could back out. I trudged to the sound booth and said things into the microphone (what's a microphone?), things at which someone who prides himself on being articulate immediately cringed—just the most sentimental, banal words of gratitude, devoid of all wit. How embarrassing. I apologize to anyone there expecting masterly oratory. I was baked like I'd never been baked.
Then came Particle Being Ensemble. Consisting of members of Brain Fruit and Rose Windows, with Master Musicians of Bukkake's Randall Dunn on organ, PBE made their live debut with a spectacular bang. The highlight was a roof- and consciousness-raising cover of Can's transcendent epic "Halleluwah." It was incredibly generous of PBE, with hardly any preparation, to manifest one of the greatest tracks by my favorite band. The extraordinary music and communal goodwill in the Comet that night made turning 50 in public only slightly mortifying.
by David Schmader
The best rock show in 2012 was the June performance by Wussy at Barboza. As I wrote in my preview, "Cincinnati's Wussy is a rock band that'll remind you on the deepest level why you love rock bands... The band's dense layering of roaring guitar, lyrical imagery, and gorgeous, ever-present melody adds up to unusually strong songs that feel like something new and meaningful in the antiquated tradition of rock 'n' roll." Live, Wussy trusted the brilliant construction of their songs and rocked out with noisy abandon. It was wonderful, and I could've listened to them play for hours. Instead, Wussy was signaled to stop after just more than an hour, so the upstairs Neumos show could begin.
After the truncated show, I was e-mailing with a new acquaintance and fellow Wussy fan, to whom I mentioned my desire to one day be rich enough to hire the band to play a full three-hour set. This fellow fan—Edgar is his name, and he's a lawyer here in Seattle—revealed his secret. "I gave them a bunch of money last year, which is how they were able to do their West Coast tour," wrote Edgar in his e-mail. "It was kind of a funny, semi-theater-related thing. A friend who is on the board of [a local theater organization] was bugging me about joining—'C'mon man, its only five thousand bucks!' And I was watching some Wussy video on YouTube late at work one night after reading one of his e-mails, and it just hit me that I could send some money to Wussy, 'cause I love them with all my heart and they need it a lot more than the [local arts organization] does. So I looked up their booking agent and e-mailed him and offered to buy the band round-trip plane tickets out here so they could play Seattle. I figured they'd bounce around and do a couple of shows in other Northwest towns, too. What they decided to do instead was use the money to rent a van and do a big loop tour of the whole West Coast. Best arts contribution I've ever made, hands down, even if it isn't tax-deductible."
Amazing rock plus evidence of man's inventive generosity equals best show of the year.
by Anna Minard
This year, music waved at me. It said, What took you so long? And I said, I'm sorry, I don't know. Just take me with you. And so it did. For the first time in my life, I went to Capitol Hill Block Party, where, crushed between hundreds of torsos and limbs at all times, I heard Fresh Espresso rap people into a frenzy of waving hands and spastically nodding heads. I watched Hot Bodies in Motion send smile waves and crane-kick a beach ball over a crowd of bright-faced teens. Someone whispered a secret in my ear while Lemolo wove and cast out their strange net of feelings, and we both cried a little. And then Neko Case had the most entertaining laugh attack while her beardo band soldiered on, and the audience shrieked with delight, and I couldn't stop writing down everything she said.
In 2012, I went out to shows in clubs and got that entrancing feeling of music playing my bones and guts, of reverberating spine and pulsing lungs, of being part of the music because bodies change the acoustics of a space, so you're all changing the music and each other. I felt the Dirty Projectors' strange floating harmonies and Animal Collective's whales-in-space noises pass through me. I saw Regina Spektor torture a roomful of people by not playing hits until her encore, and I saw Alanis Morissette jam on harmonica solos and play practically every single track off Jagged Little Pill and seem totally happy about it, the audience screaming every word back to her, and my 13-year-old self fainting over and over again.
I listened to albums I'd never heard or never heard of week after week, and sometimes they were awful and crazy and loud. But sometimes they made me want to call my parents and ask them about the '60s, or made me accidentally dance on the street and then laugh, or made me look out the window and cry and cry. Complete strangers mailed me CDs they thought I'd like, and friends made me mixes. This year, music made the world bigger and newer and richer, and I'm never losing it again.
by Paul Constant
I spent a lot of this year waiting for Mitt Romney. I attended Romney's victory rally in Des Moines back in the beginning of January, I got in line early for Romney's Bellevue morning rally in March, I sat through the Republican National Convention in August, and I streamed countless Romney appearances live on my computer all year long. Besides Romney himself, the one unifying theme of all these appearances was the song "Born Free" by Kid Rock. It played at least once every time Romney left the stage, and often several times before and after his speech, too.
The only thing you need to know about Kid Rock's "Born Free" is that it's a dickless Bob Seger rip-off. It's not as good as Andy Williams's epic self-esteem anthem "Born Free." Hell, it's not even as good as M.I.A.'s monotonous clanger of a "Born Free." I must've heard Kid Rock's "Born Free" well over a hundred times this year. It's such an obvious song, with its droning verses and its whining chorus and its simplistic lyrics: "And I'm not good at long good-byes/But look down deep into my eyes/I was born free." I came to equate the song with waiting, with purgatory. It was the elevator music of American politics.
Then something weird happened: "Born Free" took my brain hostage. First, it was stuck in my head on an endless loop. Then, I found myself singing it in moments when I was alone. (It's a dark day when you realize you were just singing "Free, like a river raging/Strong as the wind I'm facing/Chasing dreams and racing Father Time" like you really mean it.) And finally, I started listening to it just because I missed it, because the "Born Free"–shaped hole in my heart needed filling.
It didn't last. The two July weeks that I loved "Born Free" were, I think, a kind of musical Stockholm syndrome that's an occupational hazard for roadies and corporate radio DJs. Now that all that is over, I associate "Born Free" with the same elemental, liver-deep disgust I feel for Romney. But it's still there, as familiar as the sound of my own breath. I think of "Born Free" like a pebble, tucked into one of the folds of my brain. It will never, ever go away. Kid Rock is a part of me now.
by Bethany Jean Clement
Last Christmas, Santa brought my sweetheart and me a record player. Santa is kind of a cheapskate—it is the less expensive of the two crummy record players they had at Urban Outfitters on Broadway. The brand name, stamped on the red fuzz lining the inner lid, is, ridiculously, HYPE™. The sound that comes out of its tinny little built-in speakers (two! Stereo!) would make Dave Segal and Mike Nipper cry. But we love this record player. The fact that it's more like a toy than a turntable takes the pressure off. HYPE™ doesn't mind scratches; it likes to play whatever the people lying on the carpet listening to it want. One day, we found an Opera Treasure Series album—The Merry Widow, as performed by the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra—wedged upright in the front lawn, as if it'd been hurled down from the sky. We took it inside, wiped it off, and put it on; it's very warped, but one side plays just fine. The overture makes you feel like you're in a Disney cartoon, and opera in German lends an international flavor to a Sunday morning.
The albums collected in 2012—34 total—are all scavenged or bargain-bin. There's the Ray Charles album, Brother Ray Is at It Again!, found upstairs in the production department at The Stranger, sitting in a corner covered in dust (it's marked "Promotional Copy, NOT FOR SALE," but it's way older than The Stranger, so who knows where it came from). Brent Amaker and the Rodeo's Please Stand By somehow ended up in a pile of detritus on the interns' desk. Yoink! (It's good, too: We bought another copy to give to a friend.) Also requisitioned from the office, also great: The Pharmacy's Dig Your Grave. And the bins at Everyday Music have been a trove of treasure: Purple Rain, The Motown Story Volume Five, David Bowie's David Live, the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany's, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Martin, Count Basie, Herbie Hancock, Jimi Hendrix, all just a dollar or three each (cheapskate Santa would totally approve). We have a record by a band called Human Sexual Response; don't know where it came from, don't feel obligated to listen to it until the moment seems right. Now playing at our place: The Ventures' Christmas Album. Thanks, Santa!
by Cienna Madrid
I grew up a lonely liberal in conservative Idaho. When I was 13, my nearest neighbors were religious fundamentalists whose teenage daughter, my closest friend, was forbade the heathen luxury of pants. These were people who left a plate of cookies and Bibles on our doorstep after hearing me sing Tom Waits lyrics. They were infinitely friendly and totally unhateable. They were part of the majority in our neighborhood; my mixed-race Democrat family was the minority.
I found that the best way to rebel against their brand of subversive nutbaggery—to make it clear that I would eat their cookies (in pants!) but eschew their Bibles—was to embrace the weird. Like wearing my dad's silk shirts as belted dresses (with pants!) or writing one-act plays about buying and selling Chinese organs on the black market. But mostly, I expressed myself through music. I shit on the "mainstream" pop music of my junior-high peers (No Doubt at school, Veggie Tales from my home-schooled fundamentalist friends) in favor of Warren Zevon, They Might Be Giants, Talking Heads, and Frank Zappa.
These groups never made me popular with anyone but my parents, but they did their job: They made me feel unique.
Fast-forward 15 years to my life in liberal Seattle, where nobody gives a shit about my taste in music or if I wear maternity jeans nonstop because elastic waistbands really complement my figure. It is in this accepting climate that I've had to face a horrible truth: I am not unique. I dearly love pop music. Some of it good (kisses, Robyn!), but for the most part, the vapider the better. Selena Gomez is my heart's delight. The way she sings "I, I love you like a love song, baby/I, I love you like a love song, baby/I, I love you like a love song, baby/And I keep hitting re-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat" makes me actually hit re-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat. I listen to this delightful garbage at work, on my walk home, and on runs. I hum it in my dreams.
I know, I know: Stop the presses! Woman discovers love of mainstream music! But I also discovered my fondness for Krab™, so, you know, it's been a year chock-full of unsurprising surprises.
by Megan Seling
On August 4, one of the hottest days of the year, I saw New York posi-pop punk band Latterman play to a small and very sweaty crowd in a windowless hall in Olympia; on August 27, I watched Swedish noisemakers Refused give the most goddamn bodacious performance I've ever witnessed at the Vogue Theater in Vancouver, BC; and on September 2, my heart was carried away by the Promise Ring—and Davey von Bohlen's lisp—at Bumbershoot. All three memories are especially notable because they star three bands that broke up long ago, three bands I never thought I'd have the chance to see live.
But the moment that will cling to my heart for the rest of my life, the show I'm certain I will someday tell my kids about (or the neighborhood kids, should I never procreate), is seeing Against Me! at El Corazón on September 6. It was the first time the band came through town since singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, and even before Against Me! took the stage, the energy in the room—the air so hot and damp that condensation was dripping from the ceiling and down the walls—was an exuberant celebration of courage, strength, and being punk as fuck.
Grace, with thick eyeliner, pronounced cheekbones, and long hair, worked the stage with inspirational fearlessness—finally being able to be the person she always knew she was.
It wasn't just an incredible rock show, it was a powerful coming out party—Grace showed everyone in that room the freedom she gained by being true to herself, and the crowd rewarded her bravery with more than an hour of singing along, stage diving, and screams of "We love you!"
Whenever I need a reminder that humanity isn't completely shitty, I remember that night. So thanks for that, Laura Jane Grace, Against Me!, and everyone else in that amazing room.
by Brendan Kiley
The first time I heard the KEXP El Sonido show was on some Monday night earlier this year—Mondays are rough days at the paper, deadline-wise, and I was, as usual, beat. I came home, turned on the lights and the radio, and poured a glass of wine. I don't remember what was playing, but something about it resonated in my guts with those melodies, rhythms, and flavors that you can hear in almost any Latin music, whether it's hiphop, traditional, or metal. I've been a fan of contemporary Latin music—I'm not talking about the top-40 crooners, though they have their place—since I lived in Spain for a year right out of college, in a smallish town called Manresa, about an hour's train ride from Barcelona, in the barest foothills of the Pyrenees.
Friends there would take my girlfriend and I to Basque separatist punk-rock shows, make us tapes and CDs of Manu Chao and Cuban hiphop—generally steeping us in the Euro/African/Native American spices that make Latino music. DJ Chilly, a white boy from rural Montana who's lived in Seattle for many years, started KEXP's El Sonido in May of 2011. He was spurred to start it by his own interests—including exposure to Mexican music through his Mexican wife—but was especially moved when he would show up to familiar clubs hosting Latin music and see hordes of new people. (I had a similar experience years ago when I went to see Café Tacuba at a normally lily-white venue and was delighted to find it temporarily transformed into a giddy, energetic little corner of Latin America.) Seattle needs a show like El Sonido, and it has been the soundtrack to my Monday nights all damn year. Viva/visca KEXP!