If you think about artists who have come from the Pacific Northwest, you might immediately think about the legacy of grunge music in the 90s from artists such as Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Pearl Jam. Outside of grunge, there is little remembered from Seattle, Portland, or Boise. Well-renowned artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Fleet Foxes, Ray Charles, Heart, and Bing Crosby, as well as hundreds of new up-and-comers on the scene. The Pacific Northwest is full of amazing artists that can sometimes go underappreciated. This week, we list off some of our favorites from the place we call home.
ANGELA: HANNAH SIGLIN
I recently discovered Hannah at a show in Moscow, ID at One World Café. I saw a poster for her concert and looked her up on Spotify. I can easily say her album was one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Her haunting, string-lead backing perfectly compliments her folksy, down-to-earth lyricism. One of the tests I put the artists I listen to through is whether or not they sound the same live as they do on their albums, and Hannah definitely does. After hearing her songs on Spotify and in person, I’d say my two favorites are Noah and I Smell Rain. No matter what type of music you typically prefer, I’d highly recommend checking her out.
ASHLYN: NAKED GIANTS
I’ve really loved Naked Giants for a long time, but I didn’t know they were from Seattle until fairly recently. If you’re a fan of psychedelic alternative rock, these are the guys for you. Each song feels like a unique experience that transports you into a different world.
More of a rock person? Go listen to Twist, Green Fuzz, and Easy Eating.
More into indie? Turns Blue (literally the best coming-of-age movie song), Take A Chance, and Slow Dance II.
These guys kill it every time and consistently bring it with their energy. For Seattle bands and the long history they have with rock groups, I’d say Naked Giants stand out amongst the crowd.
GAVIN: MODEST MOUSE
Modest Mouse is my favorite band. They represent Issaquah, WA which (in my opinion) is so sick to see especially when I was a kid growing up in the Seattle area. Their music is so unlike any other PNW band from the 90’s/early 2000’s. They have such an amazing and unique discography that sets them apart from everyone else.
DAVIS: QUINCY JONES
Although he wasn’t born in the PNW, he and his family moved to Bremerton in the early 40s so that his father could work in the wartime shipbuilding industry. Jones graduated from Garfield High and began his musical career by learning the trumpet and playing alongside his friends.
I learned about Quincy Jones when I was stumbling through my parent’s old records. I thought I had heard the name before, so I threw the record on the table and sat back to listen. I still have the You’ve Got it Bad, Girl album on vinyl because of how much I loved it. He was the one who introduced me to Jazz and Soul.
ISAK: DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
Death Cab For Cutie is a band for me that can act like a time machine whenever I listen to them. Their sound has a certain comforting nostalgia to me that takes me to a positive state of mind. It is crazy to me that I am only now realizing that their origins are from Bellingham, WA. I myself, have never been to Bellingham but from what I hear, it’s a great place to live. I could have chosen another grunge band however, I think this band’s sound encompasses the sound of the PNW in today’s world. Whenever I listen to them, I want to go on an adventure and discover more of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Some notable songs I recommend: Northern Lights, Crooked Teeth, The Ghosts of Beverly Drive, and I Will Follow You into the Dark.
CHLOE: MOTHER LOVE BONE
I absolutely love Mother Love Bone. Grunge music is so important to Seattle and the PNW as a whole. My dad was a huge fan of them, and was actually friends with a couple of the members. He even ended up naming me after one of their songs: Chloe Dancer. Mother Love Bone is such a special part of my relationship with my dad which is why they are easily one of my favorites.
The sound of the Northwest has changed tremendously in an incredibly short amount of time. Giants such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, wrote the textbook definition of the “Seattle sound” in the 90s, with a sound and lyrics that oozed grime, grunge, anger, frustration, and darkness. Yet, this sound that is still synonymous with the concrete jungle of Seattle and that was once ubiquitous throughout the Northwest, became replaced in little more than a decade with a new movement headed by artists such as Modest Mouse and The Head And The Heart that revolved not around drugs, homelessness, and dark, rain-filled nights, but rather beanies, trees, and kombucha. Despite this disparity, the commonality that still ties these movements together is the environment that inspired them. Lemolo splits the middle between these two opposites, embodying the wonder and beauty of the Pacific Northwest through her music while masterfully uniting these two potent forces. Through her lyrics, Lomolo crafts remarkably human storylines that range from dark to rejoiceful, while her musical backdrops of spacey keyboards and atmospheric guitar playing (the keys to her Dreampop influence) instill vivid imagery of the mysticism of the Northwest in the listener, particularly when paired with her airy, layered, and complexly-harmonized vocals. In particular, her latest album, Swansea, is inextricable with the sound and smell of the Puget Sound on a cloudy winter day, which will forever be a memory that I associate with childhood and home. I have far more to write about Lemolo and all that she represents through her music to contain in this single post. Perhaps it would be best to write a review sometime…
DANIEL: BATHTUB TOASTERS
Bathtub Toasters is a new and upcoming band from Pullman, they are quite literally the greatest band on the planet, let alone the PNW. Their music is simply ballsy, some can say that it even helped Waldo find himself. If you haven’t heard of Bathtub Toasters yet (or seen them live), then I cannot recommend enough that you listen to some Bathtub Toasters.
(If you’re interested in knowing more about Bathtub Toasters and the Pullman music scene, we did an interview with them in December!)
ZEKE: RAMONA XAVIER
Portland’s Ramona Xavier has released music under many different names over the years. Though several of her other aliases have been successful, none have reached the legendary, industry-altering status of Macintosh Plus. It was under this name that she changed the trajectory of electronic music on December 9th, 2011, when she released an album titled Floral Shoppe. The confusing, bright pink cover perfectly reflects the bizarre nature of the music contained: a disorienting collage of slowed, distorted 80s samples and synths.
It sounded unlike any music released before. The album immediately spread like wildfire online, being used as the shining example of a new genre deemed “vaporwave”.
Though many non-EDM fans will have never heard of the genre, it’s undeniable the impact it had on the greater music scene, contributing greatly to a revival of 80s sounds that infiltrated even pop music. If you were chronically online between 2016 and 2018, it was impossible to escape Macintosh Plus’s リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー (long name, I know) whose Diana Ross It’s Your Move sample has become the stuff of legends. Floral Shoppe became the template for Vaporwave, Synthwave, and related genres as the golden standard for niche internet electronic music. The album’s aesthetic still echoes throughout releases from labels like Midwest Collective, Geometric Lullaby, and Evergreen Prefecture, and its sounds and images have been parodied endlessly online.
Images of Greek statues, palm trees, VHS static, bright colors, cartoons, and 80s computer graphics remain rampant in internet design. “Slowed and reverbed” music is a direct effect of vaporwave. Even the notorious “sad boy Bart Simpson” graphic you always see in YouTube thumbnails comes from the genre. Floral Shoppe also created ripples leading to the creation of subgenres such as slushwave, mallsoft, deathdream, eccojams, future funk, utopian virtual, and hundreds of others. You may never be exposed to these, but they personify the incredible effects that a single barely-promoted internet album created.
I cannot overstate the massive impact Ramona Xavier has had on the world of music. You may have never heard of her, but you have definitely experienced the shockwaves of her projects in releases from The Weeknd, Oneohtrix Point Never, Grimes, or Flume. It’s no surprise the cassette release of Floral Shoppe can reach prices in the thousands. Online music retailer Discogs had to ban sales of the album because of how widely fakes were being produced, and its 2017 vinyl pressing received orders in quantities that created months of delays and backlogs for the label. Vaporwave is often hailed as the first musical genre born entirely online and has become closely attached to meme culture as a result. Floral Shoppe embodies an auditory equivalent of Pepe the frog; not often known by name to the general public but absolutely everywhere once you start paying attention.
Ramona Xavier proves that just a single album can spur the birth of an entire genre of music, and give life to an almost unimaginable amount of releases, labels, festivals, communities, and artwork. I truly believe that without Macintosh Plus’s Floral Shoppe, the landscape of modern music and internet culture would be very different.
As Pitchfork states in their (8.8) review of the album, “The thing about growing up in the heyday of internet file-sharing is that for all the isolation it instilled, it was easy to forget that there really was a person on the other end of the screen. We were separated, but connected, in the same paradoxical way that makes Xavier’s masterpiece as personal as a diary and as universal as a meme. Floral Shoppe is no longer just hers, it belongs to an entire generation.”
As I’m sure many of my fellow Music Directors and DJs will agree, Macklemore is one of the most successful independent artists of our time and easily the best in the Pacific Northwest. He has released well-loved hits such as Can’t Hold Us (feat. Ray Dalton) and Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz). Macklemore has won a Grammy, gained 24 Million monthly listeners on Spotify, and over 13.2 Billion streams. I can remember when he dropped his album The Heist in 2012, I was in fourth grade and that shit was the bomb! Every school dance has played his music since and that’s a pretty cool memory to share with almost everyone our age.
When people think about the bastions of rap, one of the last places they would think to mention is the Pacific Northwest. Thus, it’s fitting that perennially underrated Portland, OR rapper Aminé is often one of the last people that the general public thinks of as a great PNW artist. I gravitated toward his music after I heard the song Caroline from his debut album GoodForYou at a party in high school. The catchy hooks mixed with the fun production on this album were part of what made me latch on. From there, his next two projects ONEPOINTFIVE and Limbo continue to build on his work and flesh him out more as an established rapper. While his newest project TWOPOINTFIVE may have been a small step in the wrong direction in my opinion, I am excited to see if he drops anything new in the coming years.
PETAR: THE SOFTIES
The Softies are a 90’s Portland Twee Pop duo consisting of Rose Melberg and Jen Sbragia. I first found The Softies while typing random words into Spotify and looking through strangers’ playlists. This led me to find a playlist that included artists like Belle and Sebastian, The Softies, Kitty Craft, Dear Nora, The Shermans, The Sundays, and Tiger Trap. The Softies perfectly encapsulate the melancholic feeling of being lovesick in an incredibly comforting way. With gentle soft spoken lyrics about love over cozy guitar riffs, The Softies’ music is reminiscent of a perfectly warm hug during the winter. Lines like “You’re everything good I hope that I might be, I hope he sees half of what I see…“, make one feel like they’re the main character of a 2000s Indie Rom-com waiting for a change in life. For those interested in giving The Softies a chance, I’d direct them to their 1995 album, It’s Love. Listening to the album is like sitting in the rain, surrounded by daffodils, enjoying one’s own company.