Lisa Prank & Seattle's Little Helpers, "All I Want for Christmas (Is to Be with You)" (Father/Daughter). I feel about Christmas music how Steve Bannon deals with personal hygiene: fuck it, fuck all of it (except for a very few exceptions). So it's with heaping amounts of skepticism and downright bah-humbug-osity that I approach this ditty by singer/songwriter/guitarist Lisa Prank (Stranger contributor Robin Edwards) and Tacocat/Childbirth/Who Is She? bassist Bree McKenna and Dogbreth drummer Tristan Jemsek. The Softies-like "All I Want for Christmas (Is to Be with You)" tickles that nostalgic yearning for the sort of rudimentary, cute indie-pop that filled the K Records catalog back in the '80s. To get this grumpy old man to listen to a romance-related holiday song all the way through thrice is a major accomplishment. It doesn't hurt that the song's main riff echoes the Move's "Do Ya." You can find "All I Want for Christmas" on the Gimme What I Want EP.
Total Control, "Laughing at the System 2" (ALTER/Big Love). Sure, this track from Australian group Total Control's recent EP Laughing at the System sounds like something John Peel would've been caning on the BBC in 1978, but no matter. Its tensile, angular angst sounds like a perfect merger of Wire's brainy meta-punk and the Fall's (and A Frames') churning, dyspeptic rock. It's naïve to believe that rock music has any rebellious agency anymore, especially as 2017 prepares to die an ignominious death, but "Laughing at the System 2" gives one the illusion that it still does.
Medicine, "Machine Inna Garden" (Drawing Room). America's greatest shoegaze* band is still going strong. 2.0 Extraneous is a late-career stunner from mastermind Brad Laner and vocalist Shannon Lee. "Machine Inna Garden" is a glitched-out dub-funk anomaly that sounds like My Bloody Valentine collaborating with Matmos at Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark Studios. Toward the song's end, an over-saturated guitar part surfaces, sounding like a hundred bee hives exploding and harking back to Medicine's groundbreaking Shot Forth Self Living and The Buried Life LPs. This track and the rest of Extraneous 2.0 prove that Laner and Lee continue to innovate at a point in their career trajectories when most artists are stagnating or declining.
*Though they were lumped in with the movement thanks in part to releasing on Creation Records during the subgenre's '90s heyday, Medicine transcend shoegazedom.
Arjan Miranda, "Endlessly" (The Wild Unknown). Portland-based dude from Black Mountain goes solo, enlists some of Seattle's most inspired musicians (Earth/Master Musicians of Bukkake's Don McGreevy, ex-Rose Windows' Nils Peterson, Golden Retriever's Jonathan Sielaff, with Randall Dunn producing), and crafts a wispy, widescreen ballad that flutters the clouds with the majestic grace of Deserter's Songs/All Is Dream-era Mercury Rev and the serene gravity of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Stellar as a motherfucker, "Endlessly" is the zenith of Miranda's latest album, Spiritual America.
Smith, "Walk with Me" (self-released). I know it's asking a lot from you, especially during the holidays, but I am urging you to care about a Seattle electronic-music producer named Smith (*James Bond voice* Charlie Smith). He's got a spanking-new cassette/Bandcamp release, Modular Mandala, that's as interesting as that title sounds. Assisted by Beth Fleenor (clarinet), Art Brown (saxophones), and Cody Rahn (drums), Smith endeavors to create synth-based songs that seek fresh ways to express melody and rhythm. I'm happy to report that at this important task, he succeeds at a very high rate. "Walk with Me"'s percussive timbres hint at Jon Hassell and Midori Takada appreciation, the melody captures a hazy intrigue, and the beats splutter with swift, unconventional logic. If the words "the Black Dog" and "Warp Records" resonate with you, you will probably want to check out Smith's anomalous oddities on Modular Mandala.
Noteworthy December 22 album releases: Gucci Mane, El Gato the Human Glacier (Atlantic); N.E.R.D., No One Ever Really Dies (Columbia); Jeezy, Pressure (Def Jam); Runt, Positions of Power (La Vida Es un Mus Discos); Hack the Mainframe, Disorders of Consciousness (Pee).