No one seems to be able to stop talking about Kendrick Lamar this year, and while we are no different from the rest in that regard, we've naturally made the effort, as usual, to put together an Albums of the Year list that is typically unconventional and probably features quite...

When listening to so much post-rave, R&B-indebted bass music, one can't help but detect a certain critical distance. It's like they can't get the power and force of the gravel landslide sub-bass and jerking, jittering trap rhythms to jive with the stories of seduction, temptation, malaise, and emptiness the vocals...

Natasha Kmeto
A couple years ago, I asked Decibel's founder Sean Horton how he manages to make an appearance at every single one (or almost every one) of the showcases during Decibel Festival. His advice was simple: "Don't drink, don't do drugs, don't eat, DON'T STOP!" While this may indeed work for Sean (is he a robot?!), I am but a mere human and had to abandon at least one of his key tenets (I'll let you use your imagination as to which ones). Overall, I felt like my Decibel Festival 2014 experience was less cohesive than in past years, but that may have just been due to my own headspace; I had a hard time settling for just one showcase each night, so ended up show-hopping far more than I ever have at Decibel. Here are a few of the performances & showcases that stood out. Natasha Kmeto @ EMP Sky Church for the Opening Gala; Photography by +Russ
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To pay proper homage to the musical grandness of 2013 and to usher in the new year 2014, we've once again decided to call upon our tastemaker friends to compile their favorite up-and-comers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Here, James Scheall, Cameron McCreery, and Katherine Humphreys of Seattle's stylish boutique shop and venue Cairo throw out their wide-ranging picks for Seattle bands to watch. Those who are interested in the Portland scene can also check out the list compiled by the innovative nightclub, Holocene, here.
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Cock & Swan __ soundcloud.com/cockandswan

Cock & Swan’s Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss are a couple of weirdos making beautifully intricate, often kaleidoscopic pop music. Layers of analog synths and bass guitar provide a hazy, warped framework for Hungerford’s subtle, dreamy vocals to build on. Their 2013 LP, Secret Angles, sounds like something you’d find under a stack of scratched-up Boards of Canada and Broadcast CDs, in the best way. Trippy in the least annoying way possible. - CAMERON MCCREERY

Black Hat __ blackhat.bandcamp.com/album/covalence-ep

Nelson Bean's music as Black Hat exists somewhere in the strange, hazy middle-ground between dance music and noise. Harsh drums and lurching bass give way to droning synths and eerily beautiful melodies in a constant vortex of sound. There is a definite darkness to Black Hat’s music, but it’s more than just a gothy occult obsession; there is a very natural, very real darkness at work here, one that will draw you in and never let go. Hypnotic head nods 'til the end. - CAMERON MCCREERY

La Luz __ laluz.bandcamp.com

Melancholic oohs and ahhs drift sweetly from rain to the Puget Sound, sung by the harmonious spirits of La Luz, who are taking the foggy beaches and rainy side-streets of Seattle by storm. Not only can they hang ten with their epic surf rock shredder tracks, but they've somehow have perfected the balance of drifter sadness and hilarious campiness. Not to mention, they totally survived an insane car accident and have bounced back like it’s no one’s business. Pick up their cassette via Burger or their LP via Hardly Art. - KATHERINE HUMPHREYS
Natasha Kmeto Interview Photography by Patti Miller
Mystics throughout the ages have sought to express the relationship between birth, death, and time through all manner of ritual and philosophy. In Qabballah, we have the Supernal Mother Binah, who crystallizes Force into Form, thus making us subject to time and decay. In the ancient Greek religions, we have the story of Demeter, whose periodic descent into and return from Hades signifies the cycle of birth and death. And in astrological terms, we have the Saturn Return, which signifies the recurring point where the God of Time returns to the position he held on our chart when we were born. This last concept has worked its way into the modern Western lexicon to the point of cliché, but it serves the purpose of illustrating a point in our lives -- which happens around every 27 to 30 years -- when we are seemingly forced by some unseen hand into a state of brutal self-reflection. It is the mid-life crisis; the night journey; the start of C.G. Jung's path to individuation. Regardless of what we call it, this is an ordeal that most people are at least tangentially familiar with. Some event, possibly innocuous at first, becomes the source of friction that challenges us to engage our assumptions about who we are and what we are doing, so that we might make better use of our time on Earth. Now in her late 20s, Portland electronic musician Natasha Kmeto has felt the impact of her own Saturn Return and emerged from it all the better. Though not explicitly dedicated to the topic, her latest album, Crisis, is a highly personal record about love, loss, and longing that marks a maturation point in Kmeto's musical career. It has also lifted her from the status of popular local artist to internationally-renowned R&B singer and electronic music producer.
"It was my career that facilitated me traveling more and starting to experience different things in my mind, [so] that I kind of realized that the trajectory I was on was not the one that I wanted to be on. I kind of did a 180 and had to get really honest with myself and figure out what I wanted, because I wasn’t happy." - Natasha Kmeto
MusicfestNW 2013 began for me like every other MusicfestNW experience. I consistently respect the festival's curatorial efforts, which always yield at least a handful of acts I am excited about, and an even larger smattering that I don't exactly care for but greatly approve of from an objective standpoint. This year, however, I decided to take it preeeeeetty easy, both because I've seen many of the bands in the recent past and because I wanted to save myself for the rest of the September festival whirlwind (Decibel Festival and TBA Festival are still on the horizon). The positive news to report is that I saw no filler acts at this year's MusicfestNW. Every act I saw was fantastic... but here are my top three.

Royal Canoe

It seems that every other year, I find an indie pop band that I instantly fall in love with. I need not hear an entire record to know these folks resonate with me; I need only the first track to sense familiarity. In 2009, that band was Nurses; in 2011, it was Gardens & Villa. 2013's candidate for "band I'm going to pimp out to all my friends" is Royal Canoe. The six-piece Winnipeg-based band traveled across the country to play an opening MusicfestNW slot for !!!, and despite the fact that very few people in the crowd seemed to know who they were, Royal Canoe were instant crowd-pleasers and dance-insinuators. They rolled through tracks almost exclusively from their recent LP, Today We're Believers, with one exception: the ridiculously sex-groovy "Summersweat" from their 2012 EP. Twas a set full of falsettos balanced by deep mutated vocal effects, and topped off by -- not one, but four -- vocalists harmonizing or shouting gang vocals as necessary. Also notable were the double drummers, one of which triggered numerous sounds on an electronic drum pad, and a series of sick ass synths that sprang awesome leads like unstoppable leaks. Royal Canoe are the first indie pop band I've seen in a while who truly seem like they are doing something irreplaceable. Their set is something wholly and bizarrely themselves, and unparalleled. As if in response to my bitching just the day before about the fact that live shows rarely wow me anymore, in Royal Canoe swooped, to uphold my high expectations for them. I'm only sad that even with all my proselytizing, I failed to rouse up much interest from my friends, who were busy with other MusicfestNW events. They missed out. Learn more about Royal Canoe in my interview with them.