01 Terror/Cactus, Impulsos (self-released)
Seattle—nay, America—doesn’t have many groups that sound like Terror/Cactus, a trio who wear masks onstage and produce songs that merge cumbia, left-field electronic music, and surf-rock. Argentina-born multi-instrumentalist Martín Selasco aggressively embraced his South American roots after “President” Trump denigrated Latin people in his campaign speeches; Impulsos might be one of the few great things that that asshole’s inspired. The album displays Terror/Cactus’ deft way with unconventional percussion and string-instrument textures and mongrelized rhythms that combine North and South American styles with panache. The group call their music “digital folklore,” a descriptor as apt as it is interesting.
02 Norm Chambers, Idea Region (Muzan Editions)
If there’s one thing you can count on in this fickle world, it’s that synth magus Norm Chambers will release a lot of music and all of it will be contoured to make your body and head feel much lighter and better than it did before you clapped ears to it. Go to Chambers’s Bandcamp and revel in his deep-sea/deep-space ambient-music excursions. Idea Region leans toward the former approach, while also conjuring the sort of organ tones that transport you to a 17th-century European cathedral. This is cosmic synth music that evokes both earthly nature and celestial bodies—an efficient vehicle for peacing out.
03 Newaxeyes, Black Fax (Important)
For the last four years, I’ve considered Newaxeyes to be Seattle’s most interesting band, so it was heartening to see the fourpiece release their debut album on one of the world’s foremost experimental-music labels, Important. Produced by the renowned Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth, Mandy soundtrack), Black Fax refines Newaxeyes’ turbulent, spontaneous live sets into tracks that patiently evolve, build suspense, and glimmer with strange beauty. My initial impression of it last year—“an 11-track confluence of brooding rock majesty and chthonic, abstract-electronic expressionism”—still holds. Black Fax exists in a cliché-free zone.
04 Aos, Violent Light (secondnature)
A key member of local techno crew secondnature, Aos (aka Kayla Waldorf) keeps improving, both live and on record. Her third release, Violent Light, finds Waldorf unleashing three swift minimal-techno tracks (plus a solid remix of one by Berlin-via-Seattle producer Fugal) that whoosh over vast tracts of space with utmost poise and subtly psychedelic textures and percussion accents. If I still DJed techno, I’d play Aos’s fluid, compelling jams at the penultimate juncture before peak time. They prime the pump for climaxes with utmost skill.
05 Knife Knights, 1 Time Mirage (Sub Pop)
Innovative Shabazz Palaces producers—and Stranger Geniuses—Ishmael Butler and Erik Blood branch off from the mothership and indulge in some extracurricular activities that include hiphop, sure, but also neo-R&B, dream-pop, and abstract-electronic curveballs. Knife Knights' 1 Time Mirage is a baffling fusion of live-band telepathy and laptop sorcery, with male and female vocals and rapping infiltrating the sonic tapestry with low-key eeriness. It’s one of those albums that take at least a half dozen listens to click, but when it does, it’ll resonate profoundly and for a long time.
06 somesurprises, “Alt” (Doom Trip)
somesurprises' metamorphosis from guitarist/vocalist Natasha El-Sergany's solo project to a quartet with guitarist Josh Medina (Medina/Walsh), bassist Emma Danner (Red Ribbon), and drummer Nico Sophiea (Dangerknife) culminates with this three-song EP. Gradually shifting away from the diaphanous Mazzy Star-isms of their 2017 tape Serious Dreams, somesurprises both brighten up their guitar tones and production values and beef up their rhythms. Alt carries the band into their special aura of blissed-out space-rock and with the epic title track, transcendent krautrock with those Klaus Dinger-blessed motorik beats. Hazy hypnosis at its finest.
07 Tres Leches, Amorfo (self-released)
A threepiece group who all play guitar, bass, drums, and some keyboards, Tres Leches inject the sort of Spanglish lyrical approach and unpredictable galvanics that powered early Pixies records like Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa. In Tres Leches' capable hands, rock sounds like it's back in its restless adolescent phase, where decorum and conventions get slashed with gleeful impunity, where melody and dissonance collide and spark into multiple thrills per minute. Amorfo (which is Spanish for "shapeless") represents the beginning strides of a band that's destined to make major waves, and although all three members shine powerfully, Tres Leches' breakout star may be Alaia D'Alessandro, who possesses that indomitable badassitude that dwells in musicians such as Joan Jett and Kim Deal.
08 Chong the Nomad, Love Memo (Crane City Music)
Over the last five years, Seattle's become a hotbed of queer, non-male hiphop, and relative newcomer Chong the Nomad (aka Alda Agustiano) stands as one of the scene's potential superstars. However, her vinyl debut, the Love Memo EP, isn't strictly hiphop, but rather a hybrid of that genre, neo-R&B, and edgy EDM. Chong the Nomad's productions display a rare combo of emotive melodies and weird atmospheres while maintaining an off-kilter funkiness. In a feature I wrote about Agustiano, I described the seven tracks here as "more low-lit joints for intimate encounters than raucous club bangers," but I sense that she could deviate from this steez and surprise all with her next release. I can't wait to see where Chong the Nomad goes next.
09 Bloom Offering, Episodes (Helen Scarsdale Agency)
For the last few years, Bloom Offering (aka Nicole Carr) has been polishing her pitiless synthwave and doomy techno to a coal-black sheen with gigs opening for major underground figures such as Molly Nilsson, Boy Harsher, and the Body. While her live sets have a daunting, take-no-shit aura to them, Bloom Offering's latest album, Episodes, finds Carr easing back on the hostility (save for the awesome, prowling "Out 2 Get U") while emphasizing beautifully bruised melodies and a more subdued, sensual singing style. Episodes is a refreshing gust of baleful air in Seattle's underground-electronic ecosphere.
10 Specswizard, Unfollow (self-released)
MC/producer Specswizard has been teaching advanced courses at the old school since before you were born. His latest subliminal, ill missive, Unfollow, continues to burnish his rep as the city's foremost hiphop elder statesman, a master of chill braggadocio and weirdly funky productions. EP highlight "Rap Flow Stain" is a boast track—of which there are countless—but none has sounded as sonically and lyrically distinctive as this one. The track epitomizes Specs's uncanny ability to keep your head nodding while wondering where he scared up all these brilliantly odd sonic sources and alchemized them into the stuff of supremely blunted hiphop dreams. And on the mic, Specs is a master of concision and derision.