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Local musicians served up lively albums in 2023

Something for just about any music fan

Singer-songwriter Octavia McAloon’s album "Skybound" was one of the notable local releases in 2023
Singer-songwriter Octavia McAloon’s album "Skybound" was one of the notable local releases in 2023
By Jesse Stanton CDN Contributor

I’ve never cared much for the idea of setting musicians into competition with each other or trying to rank them. 

It’s bad enough when you compare music in the same basic genre, but what does it even mean to try to say that a particular metal album is better than a particular jazz album? 

So rather than try to create a “Top 10,” I’ve gathered 10 notable local releases of 2023 across a range of styles, with the hope that there should be something here for just about any music fan. I’ve even compiled all of them I could find into a Spotify playlist

Local albums that brought joy

Oh, to be a bug for just one moment,” by Bird Senses Danger, was the local album that brought me the most joy this year. Crammed to bursting with hooks and surprises, this group followed firmly in the weird guitar pop tradition of groups like XTC, Pavement or the New Pornographers, with plenty of modern flourishes as well. Unfortunately, they broke up before the album’s release, making this the one entry on this list where you can’t go hear the songs performed live. 

For more guitar-based pop like this, try the self-titled debut by True Stars, the great series of singles by Spine Readers, soon to be compiled into an album, or the EP worth of singles by Checker Bloom. 

If you like your rock music just a little more straight-ahead, you’re going to want to give Pure Halcyon’s “Nothing Set In Stone” a spin. Their fusion of classic and alternative rock ought to appeal to rock fans of many different generations. They even unleash one song you would have to call a power ballad.

For more like this try Full Color Dream’s “Blooey,” The Stillvettas’ “Greatest Hits So Far,” The Toadmortons’ “Susschord,” or the brand new album by Phantom Headlights

Garage punk

It’s not exactly punk, but in that general realm I greatly enjoyed Cat Valley’s EP “Bingo Queen.” Their blend of garage punk with sweet harmonies and tight musicianship has tightened up considerably over the past few years and evolved into a distinctive and powerful sound. This EP is a perfect showcase of that, and their album release show at Make.Shift was also one of my favorite live shows of the year. 


For more like this, check out straight-ahead punk from Proud Failures on “The Show Must Go Wrong,” Pig Earth’s “Exit Wound,” Lint’s shoegazey post-breakup EP “Channel Fever,” Fog Bodies’ “Subterranean” EP, The Wyrds’ “Moving Lips Just To Please.”

Metal

Dryland’s “A Weekend In the Swamp” is a clear pick for me as my favorite metal album of the year, with its gigantic riffs, and vocals that manage to be intelligible and intense. It also sounds incredible on the level of production and recording. (A trend I’ve noticed: metal bands pay way more attention than anyone else to this aspect.)

To be completely honest, my tastes in metal are somewhat narrow. Truer metal fans than I are going to want to try Melancholia’s ultra-bleak “Book of Ruination,” or the similarly devastating “Anti-Access World Domination” by Maldisdeun. If you like some power metal and acoustic touches, try the “Ascencion” EP by Inpathos. If you’re looking for something more in a hardcore vein, check out the relentless Mem//Brane demo, or the split single featuring Paperclip. For more of a prog/math rock influence, there’s Triacs’ EP “Terrastall.

Country

I might be fudging just a little bit by including Sons of Rainier on this list, but since their main singer and songwriter, Devin Champlin, is from here, I’m going to include their album “Take Me Anywhere” as my pick for country and Americana fans this year. If you saw them at Boundary or the Stringband Jamboree, you know how entrancing their relaxed country grooves and gorgeous melodies can be. 

In a similar alternative-country vein Cascade Cody’s “Where the Fork Veers Left” is also great. 

photo  Octavia McAloon’s music combines intricate guitar fingerpicking with choral and classical influences. (Photo courtesy of Cullen Gray)  

Singer-songwriter

The category of acoustic singer-songwriter was one of the most crowded this year, with a lot of great releases. For this column, I want to single out one with a truly unique sound. I didn’t fully pick up on Octavia McAloon’s “Skybound” when it first came out, but it has really grown on me. Her music combines intricate guitar fingerpicking with choral and classical influences you don’t typically hear in the singer-songwriter scene.

I also particularly enjoyed Simon Llewelyn Evans’ “Something Real,” and the “Blessings & Close Calls” EP by Jay Irwin & The GP Sunsets. There’s a huge variety to check out under this heading, from the slightly more ethereal sounds of Aaron Guest’s “Guest,” the classic sweetness of Tad Kroenig’s “Baby Birch,” the bluesy side of Pete Ruble’s “Postcards,” or the lo-fi folk punk of De-Esser’s “Tame,” and the melancholy indie-folk of Aching Pine. Then there’s Tim Mechling’s “The Vandal Hands of Man,” which somehow manages to incorporate all of the above. 

Folk/rock

For something based more on classic folk/rock styles, check out Free Harmony’s first LP of originals, or Myron Brown’s “Rock Star” EP.

Hip-hop/rap

On the hip-hop side of things, “Been Dusty,” by rapper Ca$h McClane and producer OG Neeks, would be my pick as the must-hear local release of the year. It’s packed with clever wordplay, jokes, classic-sounding gospel and jazz samples, and a couple great features by other local MCs to keep you on your toes.

photo  OG Neeks’, left, and Ca$h Mcclane’s album “Been Dusty” is packed with clever wordplay, jokes, classic-sounding gospel and jazz samples. (Photo courtesy of Scott Starkovich)  

For more like this try: Estimate and OG Neeks’ “Bright Ideas,” Mostafa’s “nvmnd,” the Soundcloud singles by Neffy3600, or producer fantompower’s latest collection of lo-fi hip-hop instrumentals. 

Willdabeast had an incredibly busy year, releasing all sorts of collaborations and remixes and even starting a label. At the core of it all, though, was their own LP “Superhighway Afterglow,” an excellent showcase of their unpredictable, horn-driven electronic sound.

For more like this try: the “broken trance” singles by Emma Ecstasy or dubstep from #raccune.

Cool recordings

I also want to mention a few cool recordings that don’t fit well into any of the above categories. The Unknowns do a blend of pop, jazz and folk, and their EP “Uninvited” even stretches to include tango and blues, all tied together with exquisite vocal harmonies. They share a drummer, but hardly anything else, with the avant-garde compositions and adventurous improv of Mantrio, who put out “Upon This Earth.”

I haven’t had time to really deeply listen to Rebekah Hood-Sava’s brand new album, “Journey,” since it just came out a few days ago, but my first impression is that it’s a fascinating blend of classical and modern sounds created entirely on the cello using loops and layers. 

Finally, I’ll wrap up by reminding you of two other albums I’ve already written about recently. Fans of intricate, gorgeous acoustic Celtic music need to make sure they’ve checked out “Dear Ruin” by Gallowglass. Likewise, jazz fans who’ve missed out on the Jerry Steinhilber Trio’s “Four Suites” ought to remedy that oversight immediately. 

I had a lot of fun checking out all the local releases this year and I hope you did too! Let me know your favorites.


JESSE’S PICKS

The Hip at Zeeks Pizza
7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, Zeeks Pizza
The Hip do danceable disco, funk and pop covers, and they’ll be partying it up on Thursday, Jan. 4 at Zeeks Pizza.  That space has become a great home for live music, offering a more relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere to go with reliably excellent performers. Will there be confused Canadians in the house who think this group has something to do with The Tragically Hip? Time will tell.

The Shin-Dig ft. Forest Ray, County Rose, Go-Go Dancers
6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5, The Blue Room
The Blue Room has something unusual for their first show of the year. On Friday, Jan. 5, they’re bringing in the twangy jams of Forest Ray and local country/Americana group County Rose for an event they’re calling The Shin-Dig. What makes it a shindig? How about go-go dancers from Unique Technique Dance Studio on stage “in the style of Coyote Ugly.” That’s something we don’t see much around here. 

Yellacatt at The Shakedown
7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7, The Shakedown
Electro-pop diva Yellacatt comes to the Shakedown on Sunday, Jan. 7. Expect deep electronic beats, soulful vocals, mythological/feminist lyrics and some wild visuals.


LIVE MUSIC LISTINGS

Tuesday, Dec. 26

  • Aslan: 8 p.m., Jazz Night
  • Culture Cafe: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • Menace: 7 p.m.,  Invitational Blues Jam

Wednesday, Dec. 27

  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Open Mic
  • Rockfish: 6 p.m., Janette West (jazz/R&B)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m. Odd Mood Jam Band

Thursday, Dec. 28

  • Admiralty Lounge: 7 p.m., Chuck and Carr (acoustic covers)
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., High Peak Trio (jazz/funk)
  • Brown Lantern: 8:30 p.m., Open Mic
  • Farmstrong: 6 p.m., Tom Buenger
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Bluegrass Jam
  • Thirsty Badger: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • That’s What I Like: 6 p.m., J.P. Falcon and Friends (folk/rock)
  • Wild Buffalo: 8:30 p.m., Fruition (roots rock/Americana)
  • Zeeks: 7 p.m., Red Means Go (rock)

Friday, Dec. 29

  • Amendment 21: 7 p.m., Michael Dayvid
  • Aslan: 7 p.m., The Problem (jazz)
  • Beach at Birch Bay: 6 p.m., Saltwater Cowboys
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., Thomas Harris Quartet (jazz)
  • Blue Room: 8 p.m., General Mojos, GLYF, Tryin’
  • Buxton’s: 7 p.m., The Enthusiasts, Biz Point, Nautilus
  • Corner Taphouse (Fairhaven): 7 p.m., Tenderpile’s Smile Aisle (jazz)
  • El Rey: 10:30 p.m., The Takers (hard rock covers)
  • Fireside: 7 p.m., Naughty Blokes Trio
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., John Swanke, Sam Baribault
  • Lighthouse Grill: 6 p.m., Walt Burkett
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., The D’vas
  • Stones Thrown: 6 p.m., David Donohue (folk)
  • Ramble Tamble: 8 p.m., Shady Groove (acoustic Dead/bluegrass)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., The Polish Ambassador (electronic)

Saturday, Dec. 30

  • Beach at Birch Bay: 6 p.m., TBA
  • Blue Room: 8 p.m., Pure Halcyon, The Cosmic Neighborhood, Slowfall (rock)
  • Birdsview: 6 p.m., Zach Michaud
  • Conway Muse: 8 p.m., Stardrums & Lady Keys
  • DownTime Taps: 7 p.m., J.P. Falcon
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Tim Mechling, Hannah Wyatt, Tad Kroening, Emma Watson, Philip Hofmann (singer-songwriters)
  • Lighthouse Grill: 6 p.m., David Feingold
  • Main Street: 8:30 p.m., AntiShock (alt-rock covers)
  • Rockfish: 7:30 p.m., The Dunton Sisters (bluegrass/country)
  • Shakedown: 9 p.m., Dancifer, Ten Thousand Chariots
  • Skagit Cellars: 5 p.m., Mike Hopkins
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Ryan Sandholm (acoustic rock covers)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Tenderpile’s Smile Aisle (jazz)
  • Waterfront: 9 p.m., Crüd Güns, Boxcutter PNW, Proud Failures, Disaster Queen (punk)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., Voyager, Neon Shadows (’80s rock covers)

Sunday, Dec. 31

  • Beach at Birch Bay: 5:30 p.m., Jack Benson Band (classic rock/blues)
  • Boundary: 10 p.m., North Sound Soul
  • Chair 9: 9 p.m., Trabin
  • Conway Muse: 9 p.m., Stacy Jones Band
  • Hotel Leo: 7:30 p.m., March Fourth Marching Band, The Cosmic Neighborhood, The Problem
  • Kulshan: 5 p.m. Tenderpile’s Smile Aisle (jazz)
  • Lincoln Theatre: 7:30 p.m., Eden ft. Savanna Woods, Lazy Acres
  • Lighthouse Grill: 6 p.m., Marvin Johnson Trio
  • Main Street: 9 p.m., The Shannanagins (classic rock)
  • Maple Hall (La Conner): 8 p.m., Chris Eger Band (blues/rock)
  • Old Edison: 8 p.m., Ron Bailey & The Tangents
  • Stone’s Throw: 7 p.m., Badd Dogg Blues, 10 p.m., Jeffrey, Michael, & John
  • Storia Cucina: 10 p.m., Cardova (funk/R&B)
  • Swinomish Casino: 8 p.m.,  Marshall Charloff & Purple XPerience (Prince tribute)
  • Twin Sisters: 9:30 p.m., Spaceband (R&B/hip-hop covers)
  • Van Zandt Hall: 9 p.m., BandZandt (classic rock ‘n’ roll)
  • Wild Buffalo: 8:30 p.m., Skiitour (electronic)

Monday, Jan. 1

  • Kulshan: 6 p.m., The Problem (jazz)

Tuesday, Jan. 2

  • Aslan: 8 p.m., Jazz Night
  • Culture Cafe: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • Menace: 7 p.m.,  Invitational Blues Jam

Wednesday, Jan. 3

  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Open Mic
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., One Lane Bridge

Thursday, Jan. 4

  • Admiralty Lounge: 7 p.m., David Donohue (folk)
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., High Peak Trio (jazz/funk)
  • Brown Lantern: 8:30 p.m., Open Mic
  • Farmstrong: 6 p.m., Ireland Woods & Samuel Harris
    Greene’s Corner: 6 p.m., Michael Dayvid
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Jazz Jam
  • Thirsty Badger: 7 p.m., Open Mic
  • That’s What I Like: 6 p.m, J.P. Falcon and Friends (folk/rock)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., Collins Beach, Madrona, Triacs (rock)
  • Zeeks: 7 p.m., The Hip (disco/funk/pop)

Friday, Jan. 5

  • Admiralty Lounge: 7 p.m., J.P. Falcon
  • Aslan: 7 p.m., BJ Block Trio (jazz/funk)
  • Bistro at Shuksan: 5 p.m., Thomas Harris Quartet (jazz)
  • Blue Room: 8 p.m., Forest Ray, County Rose (country)
  • Corner Taphouse: 7 p.m., Song Wranglers (acoustic Americana)
  • Fireside: 7 p.m., Tenderpile’s Smile Aisle (jazz)
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Kazmyn, Lily Potter, Izzy Rae Jones, Diana Fay
  • Shakedown: 9 p.m., PaperHeart, Marla Hooch (alt rock covers)
  • Skagit Cellars: 6 p.m., Jayden Oscar
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Chuck and Carr (acoustic covers)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., High Mountain String Band (bluegrass)
  • Vault: 7 p.m., Louis Ledford & Norah McLaughlin (folk)
  • WinkWink: 7 p.m., DJ MD, Leafs (experimental bass/dubstep)
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., Given Peace, DJ Feral Cat b2b Obezdat, Cat Passidy, Syren (electronic)

Saturday, Jan. 6

  • Conway Muse: 8 p.m., Joe Cook Blues Band
  • Honey Moon: 8 p.m., Lucas Warford
  • Ramble Tamble: 7 p.m.,  Spider Cult, Villain Acrylic, Cowboy Guts (folk/punk)
  • Rockfish: 7:30 p.m., Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method
  • Shakedown: 9 p.m., Melancholia, Slow End, Slag Hive (metal/hardcore)
  • Skylark’s: 8 p.m., Whitewing (blues/soul)
  • Stones Throw: 6 p.m., Naughty Blokes Trio
  • Wild Buffalo: 9 p.m., Korra The Kid b2b Mirin Doja, Lotus Drops, Perpetual Motion, Syren (electronic)

Sunday, Jan. 7

  • Kulshan: 5 p.m., Cardova (funk/R&B)
  • Main Street: 6 p.m., Open Mic
  • Paws for A Beer: 2 p.m., Michael Dayvid
  • Shakedown: 9 p.m., Yellacatt, guests (electro-pop) 

Before heading out to listen to live music, check with individual venues to make sure the event is still taking place as scheduled. 

The Beat Goes On is published online Tuesdays and in print Fridays. Email: jsbhammusic@gmail.com or Twitter: @JSBhamMusic.

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