2018’s Best Washington Albums

Washington albums you need to hear

written by Ben Salmon

Bill Frisell, Music IS | Seattle

Guitar genius Bill Frisell spends so much of his time playing in combos, collaborating with others and fusing disparate genres that it can be easy to forget he is one of the most skilled and inventive six-string slingers on Earth. Even on Music IS—his first solo guitar album inyears—he isn’t exactly showy. Instead, Frisell plays a handful of original compositions with incredible feel and agility, sometimes accompanied by a looped recording of himself. From top to bottom, Music IS is consistently confident and inventive, lovely and lighter than air.

Bad Luck, Four | Seattle

On the “about” page of Bad Luck’s Facebook profile, the Seattle duo’s genre is listed, simply, as “music.” More telling is this phrase under “band interests”: “trying to not get kicked out of jazz clubs.” Saxophonist Neil Welch and percussionist Chris Icasiano met a decade ago at jazz school, then spent years playing traditional free jazz. But for Four, the two recorded with Randall Dunn (producer of murky acts like Sunn O))) andEarth) and explored a more compact form. What came out is heavy, dark electro-jazz that’s both strident and thrilling.

Big Bite, Big Bite | Seattle

Other styles have made inroads, but ultimately, Seattle is known for its guitars. The city’s musical history hums with the sound of six strummed strings, from Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain to FleetFoxes. Add to that list up-and-comers Big Bite, whose self-titled 2018 album is a bracing blast of grimy pop-rock that sounds like a cross between seminal Northwest punks the Wipers and grunge faves Dinosaur Jr. On Big Bite, drums thunder, guitars shiver and churn, and melodies snarl through the din. The results are glorious … and best played loud.

Brandi Carlile, By The Way, I Forgive You | Seattle

For more than a decade, Brandi Carlile has been one of the region’s finest songwriters, fiercest performers and fastest rising stars. She has a handful of solid albums to her name and a sizable, intensely loyal fan base behind her. And she’s not done. By The Way, I Forgive You is Carlile’s best collection of songs yet, performed with deep conviction and pristinely recorded. It’s like a trip into the center of Carlile’s soul and back—and what an incredible trip that is.

Mount Eerie, Now Only | Anacortes

Phil Elverum was already indie-folk-rock royalty, but his 2017 album, A Crow Looked At Me—a harrowingly honest meditation on death recorded after Elverum’s wife succumbed to cancer—is one of the 21st century’s most affecting works of art. Now Only continues that album’s basic theme, with Elverumuns pooling raw streams of consciousness, accompanied mostly by acoustic guitar and little else. But where Crow was a self-contained grey-world of devastation, on Now Only, you can hear bits of light and hope beginning to flicker.

Perry Porter, Channel Surfing | Tacoma

In recent years, a wave of young rappers has significantly expanded the range of acceptable vocal styles in mainstream hip-hop. Gone are the days of only scowling MCs—in their place are squeaky voices, speak-singing and wobbly melodies. Washington’s representative in this movement is Tacoma’sPerry Porter, who fills his excellent Channel Surfing LP with sly vocal gymnastics and a selection of fresh, left-of-center beats. Like his vocal antecedent Danny Brown, Porter is proof you can be engaging and hard-hitting at the same time.

Water Monster, Tensus | Spokane

Max Harnishfeger may be best known around Spokane as a member of popular local party-rockin’ supergroup Super Sparkle, but his best work of 2018 is under his electronic alias, Water Monster. On Tensus, he performs every sound you hear except for some electric guitar, which may be why the album’s slinky, sparkly grooves sound so seamless. Across ten tracks, Harnishfeger crafts an experience that’s tense and beautiful by pairing rumbling synths with digital soul and melodies that soar.

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