Locals Only: Best Releases of 2018

A guide to my favorite local releases of the year

December 20, 2018

Supported by Rainier Beer

Ranking music is hard. Sure, I like some of it more than others, but one day my favorite album might be from Jenn Champion, while the next it’s from Damien Jurado, and on many days it was from Car Seat Headrest. So any rankings I put together will eventually be untrue. I know this because I did it recently and already disagree with myself.

To make matters more complicated the PNW really came off the top rope this year with a ton of amazing releases from artists we have known and enjoyed for years as well as artists we are just getting acquainted with. There was so much next level work released that it wouldn’t be fair to artists or us fans of local music to simply leave it at a tidy list of ten albums.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR.

So below you will find a list of my favorite full length albums, EPs, and mixtapes. Every now and then I will note when a release is something we should have made a bigger deal about. Those are the gems I felt flew under the radar this year.

Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

It was recently brought to my attention (thanks Ben) that some outlets have omitted this because it is technically a reworking/release of an album that Car Seat Headrest frontman Will Toledo released on bandcamp in 2011. SO WHAT? The band took something that was already great and somehow made it better. That should be celebrated. This is clever, wide open soul baring at its best. Also, how often do you hear a 13+ minute song that you don’t want to end? Almost never, but “Beach Life-in-Death” did that.

Jenn Champion – Single Rider

A perfect album. Single Rider does this thing where it makes you somehow want to dance, cry, feel sad and hopeful all at the same time. This album doesn’t have one track I’d skip and is probably the thing I recommended people listen to more than anything else this year. If you need it or not just lift yourself up a bit today by listening to the song “Coming For You” and knowing that someone out there has your back.

Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed

It should be mentioned that Damien Jurado is my favorite songwriter. Ever. Period. Having said that, The Horizon Just Laughed hit me harder than anything else this legend has released since Maraqopa came out. Full of extremely thoughtful and clever lyrics, this album seems to have become a goodbye/love letter to a place Jurado (who moved to California this year) had called home since he was a child. It’s a conversation with people and places that you will find some new meaning in every time you listen to it.

“Mr. Allan Sherman, I am writing from the future
Where the people never look you in the eye
And there is no need to talk, and the
Sidewalks they walk for you
I know everything and yet no one at all”

You ever see someone do something really great and also know that they haven’t even scratched the surface of what they are capable of? That was how I felt about SLUFF from Naked Giants this year. Bring me the raw, fuzzy, fun rock music, but make it sound classic at the same time, and smart, but I need to be able to scream-sing along to it. Thanks dudes.

Crater – Unearth

The first time I heard this album I thought “Well, it’s not going to get much better than that” and each time I hear the song “All That’s Mine” I remember that it’s one of the best songs I heard all year.

Sloucher – Be True

Since the release of Certainty a couple of years ago this album is something I have been very excited about. Part indie pop, part slack grunge this album is just lovely in so many ways. “Up and Down” is for sure one of my favorite songs of the year and every other gem on this album is going to have a lot of people paying close attention to Sloucher moving forward.

Ruler – Winning Star Champion

This is an album we have been waiting a very long time for. About six years ago I was invited to be a guest on Locals Only and the first song I played was a demo of “Keep Moving” and now all these years later that same song is part of an incredible indie pop/rock masterpiece.

The Moondoggies – A Love Sleeps Deep

Five years felt like a long time to wait for a new album from The Moondoggies, but the Everett natives made certain the wait was worth it. The album starts with the amazing line “Lost my head there for a spell” and then weaves through an Americana/grunge fever dream with long jam tracks you never want to end.

Cumulus – Comfort World

Speaking of worth the wait… After taking five years since releasing I Never Meant It To Be Like This Alexandra Niedzialkowski put us all on notice that Cumulus was back with the timely standalone single “Retreat.” Shortly after that Cumulus released something beautiful in Comfort World.

Unlikely Friends – Crooked Numbers

This is a thing we should have made a bigger deal out of when it was released. Crooked Numbers feels like the realest times in your life. “Broken Again” is a perfect indie pop ballad and the lyrics on “King Of The Last Calls” will make you feel just fine about ignoring your problems. It’s not ideal, but sometimes we all need to do it for a minute. Having the right soundtrack is key.

Thunderpussy – Thunderpussy

Powerful. That’s the word to describe everything about this Seattle rock band. That applies to their debut self-titled album as well. Soaring vocals, epic guitars, LOUD drums (and one of the best live performances you’ll ever see). The highly anticipated debut album from Thunderpussy is a sign that rock n’ roll is doing just fine.

Parisalexa – Bloom and FLEXA

If I was going to bet all of my money on one artist to blow up from Seattle in the next year it would probably have to be Parisalexa. Based on the 2018 she just had that doesn’t feel like much of a gamble. Just look to her two amazing releases Bloom and FLEXA or simply listen to the tracks “Ballin” or “Like Me Better” for the evidence.

Valley Maker – Rhododendron

This album moves in ways I didn’t expect after loving the 2015 Valley Maker release When I Was A Child and I can’t get enough of it. To call it a folk album would just be lazy. Those singer songwriter roots are there for sure, but Rhododendron occupies a much larger and ambitious space while still staying completely beautiful.

Skating Polly – The Make It All Show

This is a thing we should have made a bigger deal out of around Seattle. We should all be talking about Skating Polly, the Oklahoma band that decided to move and call Tacoma home years ago. Skating Polly delivered a pop punk masterpiece in The Make It All Show, an album full of perfect songs like “Queen For A Day” and “Hollywood Factory.”

Spirit Award – Muted Crowd

Looking for a soundtrack to your 3am trip in the cemetery? Spirit Award has you covered with their dark psych album Muted Crowd. Seriously, just play “Dark Night Of The Soul” over any episode of American Horror Story and it totally works. These songs are somehow just as catchy as they are haunting and I can’t wait to watch what this trio does next. Oh yeah, and “Supreme Truth” was one of the best songs released this year.

Whitney Ballen – You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship

Every week on Locals Only I ask my guests which local albums they can’t stop listening to. I’m not sure anything came up more than this one from Whitney Ballen in 2018. Brutal honesty is the theme here. Sometimes when you’re down you just want to ride that sorrow a little bit deeper. You’re A Shooting Star, I’m A Sinking Ship will take you to that place and then some.

Jason McCue – Pangea

The former Sound Off! champion and PA transfer turned heads again in 2018 with the release of Pangea. Jason McCue is one of those people who seems like he’s good at everything and makes it all look easy.  These songs are an example of that. The album is wild and weird and smart and deep and emotional and fun. If you really want to be blown away watch this dude play them live and see how effortless he makes the complicated guitar work look. It’s not fair.

Tellers – SHOOK

From singer songwriter folk vibes to more progressive Americana rock tracks that will actually make you headbang, the debut full length album from Everett band Tellers covered a lot of ground. To take it a step further I saw Tellers perform these songs live a number of times this year and found myself thinking “wait, is this actually a psych band?” Regardless of the sonic theme on any given track, the level of storytelling throughout this album is top notch.

Smokey Brights – Come To Terms EP and Different Windows EP

Listen up because Smokey Brights have some stuff they need to say. Love, political issues, social commentary. These two perfect EPs from Smokey Brights are about as efficient as you’re going to get at combining important messages with catchy songs. Have I mentioned that I think Smokey Brights are the best band in Seattle?

Chong The Nomad – Love Memo EP

2018 was certainly the year that people around Seattle found out about Chong The Nomad (Alda Agustiano), but the rest of the world isn’t going to be far behind. These six tracks are such a lovely place to get lost. It sounds like what I would want to hear while coasting through space. I think Agustiano just found the launch button.

Say Hi – Caterpillar Centipede

When the news dropped that Eric Elbogen was bringing Say Hi out of retirement I rejoiced. I know I wasn’t the only one. According to Elbogen we can all thank Centaur David Bowie for visiting him in his dreams one night and inspiring him to raise Say Hi from the ashes. No vampire songs this time. Just really good, smart, guitar heavy pop songs. Don’t worry, it’s still weird though.

Kevin Sur and Andrew Joslyn – The Love Between

It was so exciting to have a completely different reason to talk to and about Kevin Sur this year. The guy behind Artist Home events like Timber! Fest, Timbrrr! Fest, Chomp and teamed up with Seattle’s music wizard (that would be Andrew Joslyn) to create something completely beautiful. There is an incredibly personal and genuine quality to Sur’s voice and lyrics that should make anybody who listens stop and say “WOW!” as he draws you into something gorgeous and emotional. “Oh Marie” made me want to run and tell my wife how much I love her.

Brothers From Another – I Can Dunk

In all of the projects they have released, Brothers From Another have never let me down. Their I Can Dunk Ep is no different. These dudes said “run and catch feelings like Randy Moss.” That’s just genius! With some help from friends like Sol, Mista DC and Laza, BFA did what they always do by releasing a fun bunch of Seattle hiphop classics.

Red Ribbon – Dark Party

I should start by saying that “Overdrive” has become one of my favorite songs of the year. You ever see that scene in a movie where someone takes drugs at a party and then wanders the poorly lit red tinted halls of people slow motion dancing out of their minds? That’s “Overdrive” and it’s so cool. The rest of Dark Party travels in and out of that place in ways that are both lighter and more haunting. The more I listen to this album the more it becomes one of my favorites of the year.

Cold Soda – Cold Soda

This one might sound familiar. Seattle band Cave Singers sort of rotated 90 degrees, added their buddy Jeff Alvarez and called the band Cold Soda. There are for sure some elements to this new project that make you think Cave Singers. The vocals from Peter Quirk are still very much that dudes vocals, but these riff loaded rock tracks are something else of their own. It’s very cool and very good and I look forward to watching both projects move forward.

I Will Keep Your Ghost – Options

After stepping back for a few years to work on the configuration of the band it was so great to see Everett group I Will Keep Your Ghost return with some very good new songs in 2018. Now a three piece, IWKYG cover some dark ground on the topics of the loss of a past relationship, regret and death through some catchy synth and guitar driven pop songs. Ever wonder want to give someone the middle finger in a song? Just listen to "1964."

Kris Orlowski + Budo – Astronauts, Divided

I get excited anytime Kris Orlowski tells me he has new music on the way. When I heard that Orlowski was teaming up with local producer Budo I wasn’t sure what to expect. The finished product sounds HUGE and finds Orlowski track by track pouring his classic sounding vocals over a very diverse sonic landscape. Bless these two for finding each other.

Snuff Redux – Denim American

I love these songs more and more each time I listen to them. “The French Press” and “Country” are as good as anything that came out this year. From song to song I wonder what decade these songs are from and it’s so rad.

Mista DC – Sorry We Lost You

The hype around Mista DC is apparently very real as we found out on his new album Sorry We Lost You. These seven tracks were just released in the last few weeks and they are an eclectic collection that are overflowing with the warm tone and texture of his voice. If these beautiful songs are a sign of what’s to come from Mista DC then we are all in for a treat.

Oliver Elf Army – EP3

Oliver Elf Army returned in 2018 with punchy pop punk that’s always fun and always at least a little weird. Three tracks with plenty of attitude from the trio out of Everett who have become known for catchy ballads. EP3 does not disappoint.

Point Of Arches – Vestigial

This was hands down the most pleasant surprise of 2018. A relatively new band in the Seattle music community, Point Of Arches released their debut EP Vestigial and it is one of those things we should have made a bigger deal out of. I would go as far as to call it sexy. You will dance. You will sing along to every song.

Zachary Warnes - GD

Zachary Warnes of Lonely Mountain Lovers steps out for his debut solo album and it is very good. Change is hard and that is an important thing to acknowledge every now and then. This guy is leading by example. These are beautiful coming of age songs that many people can relate to. "Do you feel so alone, like the world's closing in on you?"

Kilcid Band – The Good Get Gone EP

Possibly the catchiest song out of the Seattle area this year and for sure one of the best music videos. The title track from The Good Get Gone EP has been stuck in my head since I first heard it. I just want more from this band.

Wild Powwers – Skin

Loud Seattle grunge is not dead and Wild Powwers proved it with their latest album Skin. In fact, Wild Powwers might be the band to thank for that. Sometimes you see a band live and they blow your mind with their loud high energy performance and then you listen to the album and realize that energy didn’t really translate to the studio. On Skin Wild Powwers will never be accused of such a thing.

Tres Leches – Amorfo

These songs keep you guessing. Just when you think you’ve got Tres Leches figured out they head in a different direction. Tagging them with a single genre would be dishonest. I don’t care what language it’s in, good music is good and I hope Tres Leches keep playing it for us for a long time.

Abraham – Half A Three Piece Suit EP, Empty Strollers EP, Stuck In A Rare Form EP

Abraham became a new favorite of mine in 2018 and they released three great EPs. One on 3/3, one on 6/6, and one on 9/9. I like easy to remember almost as much as I like good music and good music this is. I could pick any song from this collection as a standout and be happy about it, but “29 or 99” just really spoke to me this year.

Timothy Robert Graham – SPEAK

The album SPEAK just left me wanting to hear more from TRG. The song “Scaring The Children” is catchy and full of infectious riffs. The track accomplishes a lot in less than two minutes and would make the album worth mention all by its own. The rest of the album has a similar impact in different ways. I LOVE singing along to “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” and you can’t make me stop.

Locals Only is supported by Rainier Beer