As much as 2018 was a good year for Seattle’s established music names – shout-out to Brandi Carlile for “By The Way, I Forgive You” and its six (!) Grammy nominations – it’s been surprisingly phenomenal for fresh voices and indie artists on the rise. Bear with me as I get sentimental; here are ten underground gems from Seattle artists in 2018.
Marlowe (L’Orange & Solemn Brigham) – Marlowe
Marlowe is the break-out album from a new duo of Seattle-based beatsmith L’Orange, and North Carolina-based rapper, Solemn Brigham. L’Orange is known for his nostalgia-soaked tracks, looping obscure vintage radio finds like an old-school crate-digger. Over those, Solemn Brigham raps conscious lyrics with that easy-yet-aggressive flow reminiscent of Kendrick’s early mixtape days.
Red Ribbon – Dark Party
Red Ribbon’s Dark Party is aptly named. While melancholic and cynical, the release is unexpectedly upbeat and fun to dance to, achieving a combination of dark and light that is often-attempted by musicians but rarely well-executed. Each song on Dark Party is a new psychedelic, trance-world, accented with new age flute, droning, and reverb-y guitar. Like a spiritual guide, Emma Danner’s soothing, slow-simmering vocals lead the listener through.
ParisAlexa – Bloom
ParisAlexa’s Bloom captures her rise on the Seattle scene. After many appearances at local events over the last few years, ParisAlexa has a sizable and devoted following of fans and critics alike, including the covetable support of KEXP, who recorded her in a live session in April. Bloom is a coming of age portrait, depicting ParisAlexa in a raw, sensual state, claiming her newfound womanhood. And it’s saturated with the echoes of neo-soul artists like Bilal, Erykah Badu, and pop singers like Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey.
Rat Queen – Worthless
Born of the quirky, colorful musings of two best friends, Jeff Tapia and Daniel Derosiers, Rat Queen’s “Worthless” is all about quick and twisted little ditties that pack a juicy pop-punk punch. Tapia’s growling and dominating vocals match Derosiers’ playful energy on drums, turning what could’ve been a just-for-fun party album into something anthemic: the chronicles of twenty-something punks and misfits just getting by in a changing city.
Bad Luck – Four
If noise-jazz could be your thing, brace yourself. Bad Luck, the tenor-drums duo featuring Neil Welch and Chris Icasiano, is an explosive, dynamic organism of sound experimentation. With a mic-ed sax, Welch creates wide swathes of atmospheric sound that converse with Icasiano’s energetic and impressive percussion. Four is (you guessed it) their fourth release since 2009.
Leeni – Lovefool
Leeni, also known as Prom Queen, is a wizard synth-pop producer and singer-songwriter who made national news a few years back for her clever mash up of the themes from ’90s TV show Twin Peaks and Netflix hit Stranger Things. Leeni’s 2018 release, Lovefool, is akin to that mash-up; one moment dark and brooding, the next bright and manic. Creating dreamy mirages of ’80s synth and ethereal singing, Lovefool gets lost in lush, velvety soundscapes.
Steve Tresler and Ingrid Jensen – Invisible Sounds: For Kenny Wheeler
Though largely unknown outside of the area, Seattle has a rich legacy with jazz music and education. Our high school jazz bands consistently win the prestigious Essentially Ellington contest, and we have been home to jazz musicians like Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson. Local saxophonist and teacher Steve Tresler teamed up notable Canadian jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen to record Invisible Sounds as a tribute to jazz music legend Kenny Wheeler, who passed away quietly in 2014. The album is a spirited, expansive, and gorgeous merging of two of the most powerful Pacific Northwestern voices in jazz.
Chemical Clock – Plastic Reality
Plastic Reality will be the final release from Chemical Clock, a experimental jazz group made up of local avant-garde, jazz, and funk musicians who met during their time in the University of Washington’s music program. Their third album, Plastic Reality, is chock full of manic synth patterns and angular melodies that build into thunderheads of sound. It’s a triumphant culmination of a decade making boundary-pushing music together.
Thunderpussy – Thunderpussy
Thunderpussy’s self-titled full-length is a glam rock firestorm. In some ways, the band picks up where artists like Heart left off, as a self-possessed all-women rock group that oozes sensuality, musicianship, and sheer power on their own terms. They put on a hell of a live show, too.
Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
The brainchild of Will Toledo, Car Seat Headrest is probably the biggest artist on this list. 2018’s Twin Fantasy is a completely re-recorded version of an album he put out in 2011 and follows 2016’s Teens of Denial, which was named one of Rolling Stone’s 50 best albums of 2016. Twin Fantasy doesn’t disappoint either; Toledo has maintained the self-deprecating awkwardness that makes him so relatable and revelational as a indie rock singer-songwriter.