Some of the more well-received albums of 2008 have come from the rainy, bike-loving confines of the Pacific Northwest - a trusty bastion for indie rock and insanely innovative pop. When bands from the two meccas of the Pacific Northwest - Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington - emerge onto the national scene, it is hard not to take notice of the region's widespread influence. Five albums, in particular, made all the difference in 2008, cementing the Pacific Northwest's legacy as a musical innovator.
Always at the forefront of the evolving music scene, the Pacific Northwest has celebrated a long, decorated history of influential musicians. The region has provided us with legendary musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. Today, bands like Death Cab For Cutie, The Decemberists and The Shins have defined the region's sound, signaling the evolution from the grunge, garage rock of the 90's into the ever popular indie rock of today.
As Northwest music continues to evolve - albeit into a heap of flannel-draped, nerdy eyeglass-wearing indie rock - its influence continues to grow. Northwest bands of 2008 are breaking free from indie rock stereotypes, pushing boundaries while making sure to take the time to properly spazz out along the way. Blame the less than optimal climate or the delicious beer - whatever it is, the Pacific Northwest cultivates a sound that made serious imprints in the musical landscape of 2008. --Michael Lopez
The Portland, Oregon band is quickly garnering all kinds of attention for their indie rock drenched with folk-inspired lyrics. Blitzen Trapper carries the tradition that Death Cab For Cutie started of writing smart lyrics infused with melancholy and a hint of tenderness. Furr is an album influenced by 60's rock with just the right amount of country twang, creating a unique mixture that resonates with fans both old and new. Some fans of the band even go as far as to declare lead singer Eric Earley 2008's answer to Bob Dylan.
The Helio Sequence
Keep Your Eyes Ahead
For only having two members, Portland's The Helio Sequence produces a sound that is larger than their somewhat simple resources. Keep Your Eyes Ahead displays the band's trademark indie rock drenched in electronic influences. Gone is their harmonica sounds of old, replaced with cascading drums and simple lyrics stretched to amazingly complex meanings. The band was on the forefront of the new Northwest sound back around the year 2000 and have yet to slow things down, constantly turning indie rock - not to mention pop music - on its ear.
The perfect barometer for what a truly unique Northwest band can be, Starfucker meshes electronic sythns with oddball speeches from the turn of the century, while still managing to inject lyrics into seemingly simple song structures. That simplicity, however, is lost in the vast complexity of the band's idea of popular music. Drum beats, jangly guitars and lo-fi synths fill the bulk of the decadent album. There is no one simple genre to define Starfucker's sound, something I am sure the band strives to accomplish.
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Boy Eats Drum Machine
(Tender Loving Empire)
Boy Eats Drum Machine is a perfect example of the alternate direction Northwest music is heading into. Unlike the indie rock pioneers before him, Jon Ragel - the brainchild behind Boy Eats Drum Machine - chooses to forgo the traditional route of a Northwest band. He plays synthesizer, guitar and saxophone - all while singing and doing his thing on the turntables. The result is an album that breezes past indie rock, opening up a whole new sound for Northwest bands to emulate - a task that is easier said than done. However, Ragel's vocals still smack of bearded, Northwest rock - the perfect compliment to his ruthless, off-the-wall pop sound.
Ah yes, the Northwest darlings of 2008. The Seattle-based band has enjoyed a banner year, quickly rising to prominence with their unique folk, rock and indie sound. They reached astronomical success when their self-titled debut was released in early June, earning staggering marks from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and even The Guardian. Fleet Foxes kicked in the door of traditional indie rock, making their success in 2008 seem like a piece of cake, even though the band labored through their early career to make it to where they find themselves today. However, its hard not to hear that ease when listening to the band's impressive debut, thus making it all the more mesmerizing. It is far too presumptuous to label an album as a classic 6 months after its release, but Fleet Foxes comes as close as anything has in recent years.