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Epica, Lacuna Coil, Insomnium, Elantris
While a majority of their melodic power metal contemporaries rely heavily on Tolkien-esque fantasy imagery (à la Blind Guardian and Rhapsody), Dutch band Epica’s lyrics read more like a self-help book than anything, with titles like Design Your Universe, Stay the Course, and Banish Your Illusion. To get a fair idea of what they sound like, imagine this: Whitesnake hire Evanescence singer Amy Lee and master of the metal guitar solo Yngwie Malmsteen to create the ultimate in over-the-top, cheese-tastic, shredding power ballads. Show up early for Insomnium, as they are one of the best current bands playing melodic death metal.
Mac DeMarco with The Garden
Mac DeMarco has become one of the most recognizable figures in modern indie rock, and his ascendance says a lot about where the music is headed. In terms of sound (laid-back, tuneful, retro) and personality (nonchalant, candid, goofy), DeMarco is the antithesis of the buttoned-up Ben Gibbard types who typified indie in the previous decade. One need only delve into the fine print on festival bills—or read the local music listings—to find young bands that cop DeMarco’s style. Few, though, can match his ear for songwriting. DeMarco stays ensconced in his comfort zone on his latest record, This Old Dog, but you can’t fault him too much when being himself has gotten him so far.
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit with Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
To describe Alabama native Jason Isbell as a thoughtful, progressive country artist does a disservice to the genre, since he’s hardly alone in that regard, but the former Drive-By Trucker has become as much of a standard-bearer as Steve Earle or Johnny Cash. Granted, Isbell’s music has also been categorized as roots rock and Southern rock, but he seems less concerned with labels than those who bestow him with awards, like the Grammy he won for best Americana album in 2016. On his sixth studio recording, The Nashville Sound, Isbell sings about white privilege (“White Man’s World”) and a “son of a bitch” of a year (“Hope the High Road”), subjects his peers have tackled, but rarely with the same degree of eloquence or conviction.
Masta Ace, Wake Self, Mr. Hi-Def, DJ Element
Larry Mizell Jr. calls Masta Ace "the only rapper who was actually on 'The Symphony' that people younger than me still fuck with." He'll be joined by Wake Self, Mr. Hi-Def, and DJ Element.
Stiff Little Fingers, Death By Unga Bunga, Toecutter
There ain’t nobody who could argue that Stiff Little Fingers were not one of the greats of the original 1970s UK punk groups, ’cause tho’ from Belfast, they were there in 1977 and they’re still at it. So they’ve been a group in some shape or form for 40 years, and they’re STILL making the rounds and releasing albums? Right, I’ll bet the set list will be a good slice across their well-loved catalog and thus ripe for anthemic punk sing-alongs. Oh, make extra sure you get there in time for the first group, Death by Unga Bunga, as they’re a fuckin’ killer power-pop band.
Star Trek Beyond Live
The Seattle Symphony will take on the cultural phenomenon that is Star Trek with a performance of Star Trek Beyond, in a chance for the audience to relive the magic of the film in high-definition on a giant screen amid its unforgettable score.
TOPS with She-Devils
TOPS’s latest record, Sugar at the Gate, topped Gorilla vs. Bear’s list of best albums of 2017 so far, and for good reason. TOPS make Lynchian indie rock that could easily land them an appearance on Twin Peaks: The Return, due to their low, relaxing guitars and lead vocalist Jane Penny’s quavering voice. Penny’s vocals shift from hushed whispers to sharp, loud declarations, and at times the guitars change to disco-inspired riffs, making each track sound uniquely its own. TOPS’s live show will be a concoction of all of this, shaping their set to be a perfect storm of dicey indie rock.
I caught Fleet Foxes at Outside Lands a few weeks ago, and I have thought about their performance almost every day since. A giant interpretative dance circle of about 100 people formed in the crowd during “White Winter Hymnal,” which was beyond anything I was ever expecting to see. Although that may not happen at the Paramount, it will be just as beautiful of a show under that venue’s chandeliers. Fleet Foxes’ return has been long-awaited, and their latest album, Crack-Up, proves that they’re still the pros at expansive indie folk that they were when their debut album dropped in 2008.
Live in the Laser Dome: Zen Mother with Sound Cipher
If you go to only one Laser Dome event this year… you need to rearrange your priorities. But seriously, this pairing of two of Seattle’s most intriguing bands is essential. Zen Mother—who recently executed a live soundtrack to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain at Northwest Film Forum—create apocalyptic yet tuneful rock that reflects their love of post-punk iconoclasts This Heat and sinister avant-gardist Igor Wakhévitch. Sound Cipher consist of sax maniac Skerik, Master Musicians of Bukkake bassist Timm Mason, and Primus drummer Tim Alexander, and their February debut show at the Sunset was a revelation. Channeling some of krautrock’s darkest inclinations (e.g., Faust, CAN, Cluster), the feral funk of Miles Davis’s electric era, and even Porter Ricks’s dubwise techno, Sound Cipher offer an amalgam of improvised music that’s potent and disorienting.
VENOM, INC. Bloodstained Earth Tour with Goatwhore, Toxic Holocaust, The Convalescence, Noctium
Goatwhore, Toxic Holocaust, the Convalescence, and Noctium are all progressive metal and thrash groups who are well-equipped to support the MASSIVE heaviness of the undisputed KINGS of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal: Venom Inc. Venom Inc. are, in fact, one of two current ex-Venom bands, so the “Inc.” is included for legal reasons. Original Venom guitarsonist Mantas and drummer Abaddon are in this group, playing alongside Demolition Man on bass. Heads can argue which is the TRUE Venom, but GOD DAMN, Venom Inc. fucking shred!
Black Nite Crash, Blackpool Astronomy, New Age Healers
Black Nite Crash boast a sleek, slightly smoothed take on the garage tradition, tough songs with hanging-tough lyrics, studied cool menace in the singing, guitar noise for ambience, but not early Jesus and Mary Chain earache level, served on a bed of crisp snare pops. New Age Healers, with a new album out called Where the Tragic Happens, switch up the same game, playing it smoother here, up-the-static there, isolation of parts to the point where it sounds like guitar, drums, and vocals haven’t spoken in some time. They stay together for the sake of the stereo.
Deerhoof, Christina Schneider’s Genius Grant, Mayya and the Revolutionary Hell Yeah!
You’re either on Satomi Matsuzaki’s wavelength or you’re not. It’s not that the Deerhoof bassist can’t sing, it’s that she goes where her voice leads her (a strategy she shares with avant-pop improvisers like Yoko Ono and Damo Suzuki). Japanese segues into English into… French? Esperanto? On the Bay Area quartet’s kaleidoscopic new album, The Magic, she shares vocal duties with Greg Saunier, John Dieterich, and Ed Rodriguez, whose punk energy complements her more outré tendencies. Jazz funk, glam rock, and angular proto-punk converge as if they were always meant to go together (three of the songs were written for HBO’s recently canceled Vinyl). If Cibo Matto and the Stooges cut a record together in the New Mexican desert, as Deerhoof did, it just might resemble this one.
Seemingly overnight, Glass Animals became a massive pop juggernaut, with scores of fans screaming their buzzy hit-list lyrics. Their multilayered indie rock appeals to many, as they attempt to pull in more than just their own sonic history on their latest album, How to Be A Human Being.
Photay, Bardo:Basho, Hanssen
Making dance music that’s fun but not corny or cloying is a task where few succeed. Photay (producer Evan Shornstein) masters this delicate balance on standout debut LP Onism, released last month on Astro Nautico. Sonically at least, the album has little in common with the weighty philosophical concept for which it’s named—it’s a breezy blend of percussive house, slippery digital funk, creative beat work, and tasteful sound-design filigrees. Its highlights recall the likes of Todd Terje or Kornél Kovács, two producers who take a similarly genre-agnostic approach to crafting dance-floor gems.
Saint Mesa with Courtship
Young artist Saint Mesa is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer from Mission Viejo who takes much of their inspiration from the natural world. They'll be joined by Los Angeles duo Courtship.
Susan Pascal Quartet with Bill Anschell, Chuck Deardorf, and Matt Jorgensen
Here is a confession I must make: I'm not big into jazz guitar. Indeed, I have never bought a record by a band led by a jazz guitarist, even by one of the big names in jazz history, like Charlie Christian or Django Reinhardt. Why? Because I can't help feeling that the real home for this instrument is the blues. But what breaks this dumb feeling in me every time is when a jazz guitarist performs with a jazz vibraphonist. Those wondrous, vaporous, Venusian sounds of the vibraphone seem to magically transform the licks and picks of the guitar into something that's utterly necessary and meaningful to the jazz home. For example, when Susan Pascal, Seattle's great vibraphonist, plays with Milo Petersen, a local jazz guitarist and educator, I honestly fall in love with an instrument that does almost nothing for me on all other occasions. Pascal, an artist who really knows her instrument and handles her sticks in the way that all masterful vibraphonists do (like wands casting warm spells), also frequently performs with Bill Anschell, an established and very productive pianist.
Following Flying Lotus, Tokimonsta is arguably the second-biggest name to come out of the Los Angeles beat scene, due to her acute ability to straddle underground and mainstream sounds. She is the first woman to sign to FlyLo’s Brainfeeder label, where she’s currently prepping her fifth studio album, Lune Rouge, for an October release. She recently released the album’s first single “Don’t Call Me,” with Yua-provided vocals. When not performing covers of Mariah Carey songs and doing remixes for Lil Uzi Vert, Tokimonsta is a road warrior thanks to her preternatural gift for taking any party to the next level.
An Evening with Leslie Odom, Jr.
Grammy-winner Leslie Odom, Jr. is an acclaimed singer and dancer who has found mainstream recognition through his star turn as Aaron Burr in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.
SZA, Smino, Ravyn Lenae
On Ctrl, Solána Rowe, aka SZA, longs to be a “normal girl,” but there’s a reason why her Top Dawg debut has attracted nearly as much attention as labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Between her records, EPs, and guest appearances, the St. Louis–born artist has also collaborated with Rihanna, Chance the Rapper, and Pharrell Williams. Spirited and seductive, Ctrl is the musical equivalent of HBO’s Insecure. Like Issa Rae, SZA cuts through the crap—“I’ve had enough of shitty dudes”—when it comes to modern love with a woozy vibrato that splits the difference between Amy Winehouse and P.M. Dawn’s Prince Be.
Weeed with Kukulkån
Evidence continues to stream in that Bainbridge Island’s WEEED are becoming this region’s most impressive psych-rock group challenging Fungal Abyss. The latest proof occurred on September 3 during the trio’s set at Northwest Psych Fest, at which they erected monuments to lysergic excess and decorated them with tendrils of dense guitar plumage. It was an aptly explosive climax to the three-day event, not least because it prompted a friend to compare WEEED to Wishbone Ash and Amon Düül II. WEEED are supporting their new album, META, which reveals their transcendental-folk and spacey dimensions.