This week, our music critics have picked the best holiday and non-holiday music alike, ranging from a sexy R&B group's final performance and the resurgence of a much beloved soul revival night to Charles Mudede's favorite wintertime moment of joy and an elaborately decorated, winter-themed dance party. Check out these shows and more on our music calendar, or if you'd like to keep decking the halls, get on over to our fully stacked holiday calendar, where you'll find a list of strictly holiday-themed concerts.
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The Music of "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
Because the Royal Room does the music of Charlie Brown every year, I every year have to write this love poem to the core tune, "Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental)," of this masterpiece of American culture. It is, I think, one of the most beautiful pieces of jazz ever composed. Listening to it is like watching falling snow through a window. The room is warm, something is roasting in the oven, and outside, the flakes are falling faintly through the universe and upon the trees, the hedges, the water gutters, the telephone poles, and the rooftops of a thousand apartment buildings. This is where you want to be forever. This is Vince Guaraldi's "Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental)." It opens with a trembling bass, like someone coming out of the cold, stamping their feet, brushing the snow off their shoulders, hanging their winter coat, rubbing and blowing on numb fingers, and entering the living room where there is a window, watching the flakes falling faintly upon all the buildings and the living. CHARLES MUDEDE
Neurosis, Yob, Sumac
Against all odds, former Oakland hardcore punks Neurosis have carved out a unique niche in the often-repetitive annals of heavy rock: using unsettling sounds for an uplifting effect. Ask a Neurosis fan, many of whom tattoo the band’s artwork on their bodies, and they may tell you that the band’s music has an almost healing quality. By incorporating atmospheric synthesizers, cyclical song structures, esoteric aesthetics, and the sounds of both folk and sludge, the band’s taken the sound of street-level reality and elevated it to an almost spiritual plane. Their new album is called Fires Within Fires, and those titular flames refer more to a cleansing blaze than a scorched earth policy. Neurosis haven’t played Seattle in years. It’s a momentous enough occasion that this time they’re bringing fellow positivism-by-decibels disciples YOB, usually a headlining act themselves, as main support. JOSEPH SCHAFER
Sara Gazarek: Home For The Holidays
Last time I caught Sara Gazarek here in town, at the Triple Door, I thought I knew what she was about: warm, elegant jazz vocals caught up in ever-novel and stimulating arrangements. Boy was I wrong! She was all about warm, elegant jazz vocals caught up in ever-novel and stimulating arrangements, but she sang high, she sang low, she sang heartbreak, she held notes for mystifying lifetimes. She dropped beats, added intros, swirled songs into medleys, blew notes out like candles, and let them die away like sustain-pedaled tones from Josh Nelson’s piano. Her new album with Nelson, Dream in the Blue, is this year’s best album. Gazarek is already the best, and she just keeps getting better. ANDREW HAMLIN
Punk Rock Flea Market with The Fe Fi Fo Fums, The Solvents, and the Bucharest Drinking Team
Flea markets are cool! I never would have groveled before Jack Kirby’s The Eternals or Turok: Son of Stone without those comic books up for grabs out at the Curling Club. The Fe Fi Fo Fums wanna boom, they wanna boom-boom, they wanna garage band, basically, but the singer sounds like Jonathan Richman trying to sound like Mick Jagger. Score! Solvents sounds like two brave souls channeling T. Rex to make sense of fellating Jesus. Bucharest Drinking Team: Bashing Balkans back from break! ANDREW HAMLIN
The Sounds, Zipper Club, My Jerusalem
Swedish indie rockers The Sounds, fresh off a hugely successful European tour, will return to Seattle for a night of Scandinavian pop and American-influenced dance-rock. They'll be joined by Zipper Club and My Jerusalem.
Gregg Belisle-Chi and Tyrant Lizard CD Release Show
In Chemical Clock, trumpeter Ray Larsen helps the Seattle quartet to merge flamboyant jazz fusion and avant-garde funk in ways that recall Ornette Coleman’s Of Human Feeling, Hendry Threadgill’s weirdly angled yet graceful experiments, and Miles Davis’s electric era. Tyrant Lizard—Larsen’s trio with guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi and bassist Carmen Rothwell—scales back Chemical Clock’s volatility into a starkly beautiful, meditatively melodic approach that recalls Bill Frisell’s gentle stateliness and some of ECM Records’ hushed solemnity from the label’s peak decades (the 1970s and ’80s), and even Miles’s Aura. Tonight, Tyrant Lizard celebrate the release of their enchanting self-titled debut album. DAVE SEGAL
Sera Cahoone, Jenn Champion
Sera Cahoone’s innate language is that of heartbreak, of knowing what you have in this life is perfect, or as perfect as humans can access, and there’s no way it could ever last. No matter how many fairy circles you happen upon or gentle brooks lapping at your Chaco-nestled feet, this love will end, and in that finale lies your inevitable destruction. The soft, throaty Cahoone will bandage your wounds while examining her own fault lines, drawing attention to each facet of surface tension. We could all be better, we could all be more pure and good, and Cahoone’s willowy, honest attempt to understand human nature uncovers more than you thought of your own experiences at first blush. KIM SELLING
The Blind Shake, Seminars, Topless, Dry T-Shirt Contest
For more than a decade, Minneapolis-based garage/noise-rock band the Blind Shake have been fine-tuning their driving blend of traditional 1960s garage-punk Stooges-isms and surf beats through a modern rock lens. Their most recent release, Celebrate Your Worth, has a more varied sound than previous records, still trailblazing with fierce drive, but with a few more mellow/sinister jams thrown into the mix. The band’s self-described “extraterrestrial backyard surf party” is unmissable for its vigorous live energy. Local trio Seminars play a mid-tempo, riff-intensive style of noisy punk falling somewhere between Fugazi and Hot Snakes. Seminars classify their songs as “bangers” and “butt-shakers,” and they deliver solidly on both. Also on the bill are locals Topless (who at least contain a female member) and the unfortunately named all-dude band Dry T-Shirt Contest. BRITTNIE FULLER
Daniel Menche, Cameron Shafii, Project Metamorphosis
Portland noise-music veteran Daniel Menche’s career has been a testament to the power of controlled sonic chaos as an agent of annihilating transcendence. Making you feel obliterated is Menche’s standard operating procedure, and he’s a reliable professional at that important task. Check out this year’s Cave Canem for one of Menche’s most sublime drone releases. Cameron Shafii—who runs the excellent experimental-electronic label Ge-stell (CoH, Sote)—is an Iranian producer from San Francisco whose work seemingly radiates out of the highest strata of physics and mathematics. As with the output of Iannis Xenakis, Conlon Nancarrow, and Ryoji Ikeda, Shafii’s piano- and computer-based compositions can take on harsh, disjunctive qualities, but sometimes clouds of beautiful drone and melody waft through his complex sound edifices. From what I’ve heard, Shafii is an electroacoustic wizard whose performances will keep you riveted even as they’re whiplashing your expectations. Expect some music tonight from a forthcoming collab with the great Scald Rougish (aka Chris Douglas, aka O.S.T.). DAVE SEGAL
Capitalism is a helluva of a drug, huh? Wringing profits from children, especially those special cherubs who resemble third cousins of Justin Bieber and were lucky enough to have a less-pageant-ready sibling to teach them Ableton, has always been an age-old American custom, only now it’s tied to the veritable cash landslide that is the intangible cyber echelon of “social media influencers.” From what I can tell, the baby-faced cabal of DigiTour Winter artists, namely Blake Gray, Baby Ariel, Weston Koury, Nathan Triska, and Mark Thomas, are all about ready to Scrooge McDuck through some new school coin, thanks to their adorably populist YouTube accounts and Snapchat followings. Just typing this blurb makes me feel old, tired, and confused as to the source and legitimacy of talent present, and I’m only 27. KIM SELLING
How The Light Gets In: A Celebration of Leonard Cohen
In sustained periods of great loss, we require people who are uniquely adept at converting the depths of our pain into something honest and communicable, so that we may still know ourselves despite unrelenting tragedy. When the loss in question is one of those translators, we must unite in piecing together their treatises with the hope of better understanding how to carry on. Leonard Cohen was an unmatched poet and songwriter, but most of all he deciphered and then mirrored every angle of humanity in equally soft and jagged shades. I know I owe him much of my life, and I am grateful to him for dispelling many of my own personal darknesses with his generous body of work. Similarly depressed iconic local musicians, including Ben Gibbard, Kimya Dawson, Tomo Nakayama, and The Stranger’s own Sean Nelson, will gather before the warm pews of Town Hall to share their own interpretations of Cohen’s legacy. As in everything, through the cracks, a little light, perhaps. KIM SELLING
Studio 4/4: Dubfire
Iranian American DJ/producer Ali “Dubfire” Shirazinia came to worldwide fame and clubland respect via the Deep Dish duo, who remixed tracks by Madonna, Depeche Mode, and a little rock band called the Rolling Stones. (They transformed the latter’s “Saint of Me” into an irrepressible, bass-heavy house-music spiritual.) As Dubfire, Shirazinia has continued to travel the globe in service of detonating dance floors with house and techno tracks from the likes of Plastikman, Mika Vainio, Pearson Sound, and Sleep Archive. He manages to find the selections that balance challenging tonal palettes with irresistible rhythms, which has been Studio 4/4’s hallmark since the weekly event’s origins. DAVE SEGAL
Fly Moon Royalty's Last Dance (Final Performance)
If you know anyone who's still whining about how "Waaaaah, no one ever dances in Seattle," then you need to shut them up by getting their ass to this Fly Moon Royalty show, stat. Not only does the duo—Adra Boo and Action Jackson—sometimes come equipped with their own back-up dancers, but their smooth and sexy electro-flavored R&B tunes gets just about every butt shaking. Even me, a person who always says "I don't dance! I'm a terrible dancer!" It's true, I am, but when it comes to Fly Moon Royalty, all bets are off—I will shake my ass proudly and, as Boo sings, "If you don't like me, then tough titty." MEGAN SELING
Hibou, Fauna Shade, Great Spiders, Chris Cheveyo
Feather-light and sugar-glazed, the music of Hibou (21-year-old Seattle musician and ex-Craft Spells drummer Peter Michel) acts like a washcloth dipped in ice water and gently placed on your forehead. His forthcoming self-titled album on Barsuk sounds like a blend of proto-shoegaze bliss merchants Cocteau Twins and the Cure at their non-gloomiest, but recast for millennials. Hibou proves that sighs matter. DAVE SEGAL
Manatee Commune On Ice!
So what’s the deal with this show? Manatee Commune is a guy named Grant Eadie from Bellingham who makes pillowy electronic music that is both relaxing and easy to dance to—this much we know. And sure, he boasts a heck of a chilled-out vibe, but “on ice”? This part of the billing is a bit misleading: There will be no ice choreography, no Disney skate balleting. The event page, however, describes the experience as dancing “inside of a snow globe with 1,000 of your closest friends.” Now that sounds like fun! An elaborately decorated, winter-themed dance party with the Manatee man on the decks (and guitar, violin, etc.), along with some imported California talent in Yppah? I’d say strap on your best snowman costume and try not to melt! TODD HAMM
The Royal Room Five Year Anniversary
Celebrate five whole years of the Royal Room's contributions to the local jazz and experimental music scenes with a free show starring the talents of Painting the Town Red: Johnaye Kendrick Sings the Music of Billie Holiday, Jessica Lurie, and The Royal We, featuring Skerik and Evan Flory-Barnes.
Shakey Blankets with Guests
On first brush, local country outfit Shakey Blankets’ obvious fondness for Waylon Jennings and George Jones telegraphs a competent cover set, albeit one performed with pretty nice vintage amps. Singer and guitarist Gavin Tierney’s songs slot in so well with the classics, though, that it would take a listener with pretty encyclopedic knowledge of the classics to spot the differences. That is, of course, before lead guitarist Matty Pruett starts overdubbing songs with odd pedal-driven atmospherics and loops. Shakey don’t bring the noise every set, but that’s part of the fun: Every show packs a surprise. This time that surprise is the rest of the lineup. As of this writing, the supporting acts are undecided. JOSEPH SCHAFER
Talcum Christmas Soul Dance
What a nice holiday gift! Those super-obsessive northern soul DJs from Emerald City Soul Club are making a comeback appearance on Capitol Hill for the first Talcum party since January 2015. People who love to move to the grooves of rare soul 45s (original pressings only, of course) should get their toned asses to Chop Suey and sweat away the toxins of this cursed year. Selectors include George Gell, Gene Balk, and The Stranger’s own ribald-humor machine Mike Nipper—three of the most knowledgeable and passionate American ambassadors of this uplifting music. DAVE SEGAL
Christmas Day Compline Choir
What is it about choral music that makes me feel like a ball of sound-light is breaking out of my chest, piercing my loneliness with the pure power of its melodic force? Why does a soprano's voice seem to clean the air of impurities? How do I explain the visceral thrill I experience when I hear a tenor's high F note ripple through a soprano's steel-beam E as the whole chorus joins for the first time in the Voices of Ascension's version of Josquin des Prez's "Ave Maria"? The overflowing tenor, the power of all four vocal ranges straining to sing the Latin word for "solemn" in the most joyous, melodic way possible, seems to acknowledge the intensity of the struggle to enjoy life despite the fact that every ounce of joy obscures a pound of pain. I'm not religious, I don't read Latin, I didn't grow up with a love of group singing, but, for some reason, as an adult, whenever I hear classical choral music, my senses feel sharpened and soothed at the same time. When I confessed my newfound love of choral music to one of my friends, she told me about the Compline Service at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, a performance she occasionally attends, which happens every Sunday evening. We went together one Sunday—admittedly a little stoned—and lay out on a blanket near the altar (a surprising but common practice among regulars) and looked up at the spare concrete walls. My friend and I got there around 9 p.m., and at precisely 9:30 p.m. the all-male chorus shuffled into the room quietly, their robes ruffling behind them, and opened their books and began to sing. In that moment I discovered the singular pleasure of imagining the sound waves of interwoven human voices soaring up the timber pillars that support the church's vaulted ceilings and bouncing around the reredos and the rose window as all that glass blushed pink, then orange, and then dark blue as the sun sank behind the Olympics. It was the first time I'd ever accessed the spiritual by way of some religious practice. Something about the combination of the architecture, the fellowship, and the music gave me a little peek into the ineffable. RICH SMITH