Derek Erdman
The Blow Helped Me Remember What Albums Are For

by Paul Constant

A song can do many things. A song can make you laugh, or feel like you're dying. A song can introduce you to a new concept. But here's what a song can't do: A single song is unable to introduce an idea and then follow that idea through a whole series of transformations. A song can introduce a mood, but a single song can't sustain a mood. That's where albums come in: A good album is a prism through which we can find new patterns and hidden meanings. Every good album feels like an exploration.

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This was a terrible year for albums for me. My method of adopting new music atrophied. I excavated some albums for the perfect little buttons of pop hiding inside, and then I threw the rest away because it bored me. I happened across music on lurid blogs and hoovered them into my library a single track at a time.

In fact, the only album that grabbed my brain and made it pay attention in 2013 was the Blow's The Blow. It demands to be listened to as an album. It's a variational trip through a certain futuristic sound, a bleeping, blooping computerized coldness, with Khaela Maricich's warm voice sliding all over its glassy surface. The lyrics reflect this science-fictional affect:

They say that atoms never die

They just exchange

And what you see that makes up me

Will one day take some other shape

And by this method we become

To be something we don't approve of

But right now what we are is

Just right.

You see? It starts with an abstract, science-class sense of wonder and it wanders through death and takes a left turn into something romantic and young and, well, just right. Despite all the time travel and the spaceships, The Blow is a personal album, with some striking imagery:

They say you are what you eat

And I was starved for attention,

I ate every eyeball that aimed my direction.

And some outright demands for love:

You keep choosing me

And I'll keep choosing you.

What the Blow have achieved with this album isn't something that could be achieved with one ambitious single. It's too big for that, a wide-screen thriller with a scope that sends us out into the coldness of the universe to see strange faces and do battle with hungry tendrils, pulling us back to Earth just in time for the big romantic conclusion. When it's over, I want to stand up and cheer. Instead, I just lean forward and push play and listen to the whole goddamned thing all over again.

Bedroom Shows, Pants-Vibrating Shows, and the Best New Year's Resolution Ever

by Bethany Jean Clement

Last January 1, I made a New Year's resolution: See more live music, any and all kinds. Best resolution ever.

The first show I saw in 2013 was a ferryboat ride away, in a bedroom in Poulsbo on a cold night. It was the cozy and dim bedroom of Meagan Grandall of Lemolo—the feeling was lulling and unified, like being in a benign cult. I took off my boots and sat on the bed. It was a fundraiser for her friend's dog, who had cancer but came to the show and lay on the carpet and wagged his tail anyway ($1,600 was raised for his vet bills).

I saw White Murder at the Black Lodge, which was loud enough to vibrate your pants and not cozy in the slightest, with two fierce lead singers moshing their way off of and back onto the stage, such as the stage was, and zero sick dogs. It was like a good slap across the face. When I went next door to the Victory Lounge for an eardrum break, a two-piece grind/sludge outfit from Missoula called Lb.! immediately started playing and, inconceivably, were pretty much as loud.

I saw the Old Lady Choir at Pastor Kaleb's 14th annual nondenominational-in-the-extreme Easter service at the Century Ballroom. The sun was shining outside, the windows were open, and the spring was springing; everyone wore fancy hats and drank champagne. The Old Lady Choir was young people dressed up as old ladies—a whole choir of them—motley but marvelous. I carried a basket full of croissants and gave them away. The pope showed up.

I saw a band from Cuba at Club Sur—I regret horribly that I can't remember their name, but they had approximately 27 members, and coming onstage they all marched around the room playing drums, and the lead singer had impossibly white teeth. And the dancers! Some of the best ever, plus a few stiff couples trying out their moves from salsa class for contrast.

I saw the burning punk-soul hurricane that is Jail Weddings at the Comet—they were so wildly loud they blew a fuse, leaving the band and the crowd screaming in the dark. The power was restored except, for some reason, the stage lights; the glitter that the backup singers threw by the handful glimmered in the dim, people slam-danced, and a shirtless man spent a while writhing on his back to the music on the filthy, filthy floor.

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I saw MVP—that stands for Michael Jackson Versus Prince—play an extremely crowd-pleasing show at the Hard Rock Cafe. I saw the jazz band Industrial Revelation play such a stellar set at the Royal Room, the old people seated in the front got mad at the young people who got up to dance for blocking their view. I saw Brazil Novo play bossa nova at Vito's on a recent cold night—with a rum drink, it was exactly right. I'm forgetting some, and I'm out of room. Thank you, music, for what you did to me in 2013. I love you, too.

Fancy-Person Sasquatch! Kinda Blows

by Anna Minard

Wooooo-hooooooo!!!! This summer, I went to my first-ever Sasquatch! music festival. First-ever music festival, really. (I spent my early 20s knitting and watching DVDs from the library.) So I'm a late bloomer, so what? I'm fixing it now!

I was so so so so excited—to camp in a muddy field, to bring along a friend who had gone to many Sasquatch!es and could show me the ropes, to go on a road trip, to have a pony keg full of good local beer in the trunk, and to have backstage passes that would surely be super-glamorous.

Um, it turns out when you go to a music festival for work, it's different than when you go with six of your best friends on college break. So is that backstage area, which is just a corral of people for whom a music festival is also just another workday.

But I was ready to drink it all in! Immediately upon arriving, we were surrounded by conventionally attractive young people in revealing, neon, stretchy, college-branded, and/or racist costuming. Flower headbands were all the rage. So was being passed-out drunk at 10 in the morning. The conventionally attractive young people seemed much more interested in mind-altering experiences than in music, which was happening all around us but was not what the crowds were buzzing about. The neon/titty/headband/headdress parade got exhausting after a day.

But we soldiered on! And there was some unsullied wonderfulness: the grown woman who grinned and flashed the Jumbotron, twice. Tig Notaro's stunningly perfect comedy set. The sound of college bros' early-morning duet of Katy Perry's "Firework."

I was so psyched to show off this backstage access I'd acquired via my accidentally hip employment. But my friend and I would go behind the chain-link fence, and... there'd be piles of weird swag, like vodka-branded lanyards. A bunch of people in inappropriate sunglasses looking into the distance, bored. We even got to stand onstage, but once the tech guy muttered, "Imagine if I came to your office and just stood around," we felt like jerks.

My friend started looking sorta mournful. Fair enough: Apparently, it's a million times more fun to go drink in a muddy field and listen to music with your friends when you're not special, and you're not at work—you're just you.

Otherwise, you think you're so fucking cool, but you're just addicted to real bathrooms and standing in line for casserole behind the Dirty Projectors. No thanks, fancy world!

2013 Was the Year of Shockingly Great Shows by Old Musicians

by Dave Segal

So many of the best performances I saw this year were by artists who should be writing their wills: Morton Subotnick, the Zombies, Silver Apples, Goblin, the Orb, Thomas Fehlmann, Death, Larry Coryell, and Ginger Baker. Plus, reports of Seattle performances by Prince, Patti Smith, and Pere Ubu were almost unanimously ecstatic.

This state of affairs goes against the conventional wisdom that musicians peak in their 20s and 30s and then drastically decline in the studio and onstage. Furthermore, the hoary axiom about reunions inevitably sucking also rang false, as the Detroit proto-punk group Death incinerated Chop Suey in November with some of the fieriest rock ever heard from fiftysomething dreadlocked African American dudes. It was overwhelmingly touching to see these musicians revel in the adulation that eluded them when they were in their 1970s prime. Sweet vindication!

At this year's Decibel Festival, Thomas Fehlmann—both solo and with ambient-dub legends the Orb—proved that geezers who look like tenured economics profs can finesse irresistibly lithe and danceable sounds from a laptop and effects boxes with the best of the whippersnappers. That he was dancing like a suave mofo to his own sublime music till 6 a.m. gave one hope for one's own twilight years.

Jazz-fusion oldsters Larry Coryell and Ginger Baker delivered better-than- expected sets at Jazz Alley. In their 70s now, the virtuoso guitarist and former Cream drummer may have slowed a bit, but their technique remains unsurpassable. Silver Apples (75-year-old Simeon Coxe) hauled his vintage, custom-made gear from New York to play the first annual Hypnotikon: Seattle Psych Fest and made it sound like his way-ahead-of-its-time 1968 output. The Triple Door audience flipped. English band the Zombies pulled off similar time-defying stunts at Bumbershoot, rendering their classic baroque psych-pop material with startling charm and verve.

Making their American live debut, Italian prog-disco/horror-film-soundtrack legends Goblin packed Neumos and generated the sort of blood-red, chthonic atmosphere that some fans had been waiting nearly 40 years to experience. Band members were so overjoyed, too, they took several selfies of themselves onstage.

Finally, one of the godfathers of electronic music, Morton Subotnick, dazzled a surprisingly middling Town Hall crowd in November. The 80-year-old master of the Buchla synthesizer—accompanied by video artist Lillevan—disoriented and delighted with an abstract-expressionist array of alien, insectoid tones. Afterward, musicians a third of Subotnick's age were awestruck. Age against the machine in 2013.

The Year I Decided to Quit Clownin' on Juggalos

by Kelly O

I've been messing with the Insane Clown Posse since 1996, when I lived in Detroit. The first time I ever laid eyes on "Juggalos"—aka superfans of the "horrorcore" genre—I threw some leftover cooked potatoes at them. I remember looking out my apartment window with my roommate and laughing at the line of people in face paint waiting to get into the ICP show, "Look at THOSE NUMBNUTS!" we laughed. "They're dressed as SCARY CLOWWWNS!" And then we threw potatoes at them. They looked sad after our attack. I mean, what were they doing wrong? KISS fans dressed like KISS, and nobody picked on them.

In 2010, ICP released "Miracles"—a religious-ish song with unintentionally hilarious lyrics about the workings of magnets ("Fucking magnets, how do they work?") and other mystifying "magic." The internet lost its collective mind. It was more acceptable than ever to make fun of ICP and their meme-worthy fans—snarky comments attached to Juggalo fan photos flooded the web, and journalists flocked to Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, to the Gathering, ICP's annual music-festival-slash-Juggalo-family-reunion. I was one of those people. A music writer and I went and looked for the most demented fans—and the photos I took made everyone look their absolute white-trashiest.

Fast-forward to 2013: ICP were set to play two nights in Seattle, where they claimed they hadn't been allowed to visit for many years because venues "hate their fans." "What the hell," I thought, "I'm gonna get the real dudes on the phone and interview them!" I talked to Joe Bruce, aka "Violent J," and we eventually got on the topic of the Gathering and the Juggalo bond. "[The Gathering is] the exact opposite of being alone," he said. "I think when everybody goes home—especially the Juggalos, when they're back at home—a lot of them have to be alone. Outside the Gathering, it's not the most popular thing in this country to be a Juggalo." He knew it's not popular to like ICP. Damnit! DUDE KNOWS! He's completely aware that his fans are perceived as "losers," but he's still 110 percent non-ironically proud of the community he created—a ragtag family of thousands of outcasts.

Now it's almost 2014, and ICP are going strong (as evidenced in season two of their TV comedy show Insane Clown Posse Theater). You or I might not like the music or the fans, but what gives us supreme judgment power to shit all over it? Bullies take a crap on things they don't understand. Even in the "cool" world of music, there's room for a little humanity. Live and let live. And, for Christ's sake, put down the fucking potatoes.

Nine Inch Nails Blew My Mind (and Taught Me a Lesson About Making Assumptions)

by David Schmader

"Every day is Halloween with Nine Inch Nails." Throughout the '90s and early '00s, this was my standard line on the art of Trent Reznor, from which I'd always felt an odd distance. I appreciated the drama and power of the music, but lyrically and visually, NIN could come off as cartoonish as a cohort of Marilyn Manson—a musical sideshow act with a mandatory horror theme that I was perfectly justified in ignoring in favor of artists boasting more than one mood.

But then came 2008, when NIN's instrumental soundscape Ghosts I–IV was released and taught me a lesson about dismissing Trent Reznor. Stark, beautiful, complex, and complete, Ghosts I–IV introduced me to the Reznor that friends of mine had loved for years—the master showman with serious artistic ambitions and the talent to make good on them.

This past year, Nine Inch Nails released their eighth album, Hesitation Marks, and embarked on another of their highly ambitious, technically complex arena tours. When a NIN-loving friend offered me a ticket to the show at KeyArena, I took him up on it. I'd heard impressive things about the set's antagonistically interactive lighting grid, which apparently swung down low enough to shove the band around the stage. I'd also just spent a month finally getting to know the music of the NIN-inspiring Big Black, and I was excited to hear what Reznor's strain of aggressive techno rock would sound like live.

And so I got myself to KeyArena on a rainy November night, ready for my high-tech, aggro-man, "every day is Halloween" sonic pummeling, and for the first half-hour of the set, this is just what I got. The roar blasting out of the show's 7.5 tons of speakers (!) was so nuanced, you didn't need earplugs, and the stage tech was astounding, involving three humongous screens (two LED, one video) that sliced up the stage into various dreamscapes on which the all-male band bashed out their angst. It was impressive, and exactly what I expected.

Then, about 40 minutes in, something happened. As the LED panels coalesced to form a translucent screen between the audience and the band, two new figures appeared onstage. One was Lisa Fischer, a Grammy-winning R&B singer who regularly tours with the Rolling Stones. The other was Sharlotte Gibson, another accomplished professional who regularly appears with the house band on American Idol. Together, these two thirtysomething-or-up, African American women sang backup and danced occasionally and turned this aggressive pummelfest into something else entirely.

Vocally, Fischer and Gibson added a ton of power to the band, turning "Sanctified" into techno-gospel and bringing an intoxicating human element to the patented NIN roar. But their mere presence onstage felt game-changing. Swaying in the space between Reznor's command center and guitarist Robin Finck's stage-left freak-out zone, Fischer and Gibson and their bodily responses to the music changed the entire atmosphere of the room. No longer was KeyArena an aggro wank den, and no longer was NIN locked into its mandatory Halloween horror. By having Fischer and Gibson join him in his existential screams, Reznor turned Nine Inch Nails into living, breathing music for everyone, more powerful than ever. It was an amazing thing to behold.

How Industrial Revelation Got Me into Jazz—a Year Early

by Emily Nokes

This was a fairly swell year in terms of my live-show enjoyment. I hit the festivals pretty hard: My very first Decibel was an ear-opening experience that helped me better appreciate those mysterious electronic realms, I beat my own personal record for most Shishkaberry's eaten at Bumbershoot, and I bravely camped at Sasquatch! the weekend after Daft Punk's Random Access Memories came out (the entire campground was up all night to get lucky, up all night to get lucky, up all night to get lucky). Block Party was a neon fun blur of pot smoke and teens in under-butt-showing shorts; Pickathon was a tie-dyed fun blur of pot smoke and teens in under-butt-showing shorts.

I was spoiled rotten with top-notch rock, punk, and rap shows, from Chastity Belt and Wimps to Porter Ray and Gifted Gab to touring bands like Bleached and Nü Sensae. But that was all to be expected. What I didn't expect was to end up at the Royal Room in Columbia City.

Someone once told me that the year I turn 30 would be the year that I start buying jazz records. I was skeptical of this statement because (a) What? and (b) I am currently 29 and have been, for the most part, unintentionally distanced from jazz. Fast-forward to a few months ago.

The Royal Room was sold out, and even though we had tickets, it was standing-room-only. Barstools, tables, higher tables, benches—every single seat was taken by a party mix of people. Young hip-seeming kids, (very) old people dressed to the nines, exuberant funky-glasses-wearing adults, a person in a beret looking like the sort of person who wears a beret—they were all there! And they were all there to see the self-described garage-jazz quartet Industrial Revelation.

It was hard to know where to focus once IR were on the stage. The band—Evan Flory-Barnes on upright bass, Josh Rawlings on keyboard, D'Vonne Lewis on drums, and Ahamefule J. Oluo on trumpet—was spilling talent all over the place. The kind of talent that's hard to describe without a cop-out string of positive adjectives (amazing!)—but it wasn't just their individual chops that had the audience hooting, whistling, seat-dancing, or otherwise completely smitten. Each song was like a conversation with a group of really smart and funny people—everyone takes turns telling brilliant stories, but no one is talking over the others or blabbing too long because everyone is fully engaged. Sure, Rawlings can masterfully play two keyboards at once before jumping onto his stool and smashing out a piano solo, and Oluo plays trumpet like the charismatic lead singer of a rock band, but even the slower and more classic-jazz-sounding songs had a fresh energy I really wasn't expecting. Later, I bought a few albums' worth of their MP3s. It's not exactly a record, but then again, I'm not 30 yet, either. recommended