THE EMERALD CITY has long beckoned to music lovers. From the electric bliss of Jimi Hendrix to the unique baritone vocals of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the Seattle sound is rooted deep in creativity, innovation, and, simply put, something that’s indisputably authentic.
Check out the Sounds by the Sound series, which features live performances and stories from Seattle’s legendary music scene, to get a sense of the kind of musical evolution at work in the Emerald City. And get to know the artists below, all of whom deserve a spot on your playlist.
1. Bell Witch
The doom metal duo Bell Witch are made up of only a bass player and drummer, but they make some of the most intense and dramatic heavy music around. Pitchfork reported last year that the group writes each of its songs from the perspective of a ghost. Put on their crushing, yet beautiful, records and that detail suddenly sounds just right.
2. Shabazz Palaces
Macklemore might be Seattle’s hip hop hometown hero, but there’s long been a thriving hip hop scene in the city. Shabazz Palaces is the project of Ishmael Butler, formerly of the famed trio Digable Planets. The eclectic nature of the team’s music got them the sidebar of being one of the few hip hop acts signed to local powerhouse label Sub Pop Records.
This band makes the kind of garage rock sensitive people yearn for. A lovable trio (sisters Marika and Miro Justad and guitarist Toby Kuhn) make up this group — a latter-day, upbeat Mazzy Star with a hard edge.
4. Sunny Day Real Estate
Most people know that early ‘90s Seattle introduced the world to the leaders of the grunge movement. But that wasn’t the only genre led by a Seattle band. In any conversation about best emo albums of all time, if Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate doesn’t come up, consider that list invalid. A friend who played in bands at the same time, on a different coast, once told me that when he heard SDRE for the first time, it was a revelation. The music, which we now take for granted as representative of the emo genre, was at the time startlingly new.
With three seminal albums out on Sub Pop before disbanding in 2001, members of SDRE went on to join acts like Foo Fighters and the lesser-known The Fire Theft. A highly anticipated reunion tour a few years ago packed venues all over the world — cementing their royal legacy.
5. Pearl Jam
Born out of the thriving grunge scene in the early ‘90s, Pearl Jam is more than a band. It’s a cultural phenomenon. If you grew up during their heyday, even if you weren’t a fan, their presence permeated your daily life.
For me, there are two Pearl Jams: The band playing from the car radio on a grey, suburban day whose sound matched my own youthful frame of mind, and then the group I rediscovered as a young adult. Upon a deeper listen, I’ve come to love how this band’s songs masterfully examine sad, almost tragic lives through a lens of compassion. There’s redemption in this music, in a way the band’s major rival and contemporary — Nirvana — simply wasn’t interested in.
6. The Flavr Blue
The Flavr Blue is effortless chill in band form. Hollis Wong-Wear has one of the most versatile voices in music right now. And the group has range. “No Remedy” starts off with a sexy Blade Runner vibe, while “Pretty Girl” is a delightful, laid-back electro RnB jam. Ideal for blasting as you cruise down the 5, or for “sippin’ Rossi out the bottle in the moonlight” at a hip party in Capitol Hill.
7. The Head And The Heart
You’ve probably already heard this modern Americana / alt country act, whether you know it or not. Their music has been featured in TV shows like Chuck, How I Met Your Mother, and New Girl. The band appeared as themselves in the pilot episode of Cameron Crowe’s new Showtime series Roadies. Their music sits alongside peers like Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons — luscious, easy going, heart on your sleeve.
8. The Cave Singers
While Seattle may be forever associated with the grunge music of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, in recent years a love of all things folk and Americana has taken root. The Cave Singers are part Tennessee, part Pacific Northwest — a unique blend that’s going to be hard to resist tapping your foot to.
9. Mount Eerie
This project got its start about an hour and a half’s drive from Seattle in the beautiful town of Anacortes, WA. Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie is his moniker) has been one of the most quietly prolific indie artists of the century, putting out at least 11 studio albums (including with his former group, The Microphones) since 1999. Formerly a student at Evergreen State in Olympia, his music is often a meditation on living in the moment, with much of it written about his surroundings and life in Washington State. Ranging from minimalist folk to black metal, Elverum is always trying something new, but always making it his own.
10. Brothers from Another
While to me their music is reminiscent of vintage LA lowrider hip hop, these kids are very much a product of the now. They met through Little League and Myspace (remember that?). With songs like “Day Drink” and “Blame It on My Youth,” the rap is sweet and fun loving. The trio innocently relish in reminding listeners that they were born in ‘92.
This isn’t your typical lazy, hazy dream pop — Peter Michel and his band even had the chutzpah to remix Big Freedia. They handle multiple moods well, from the slightly down, grey tunes of “Eleanor” to the more comforting, upbeat “Dissolve.”
12. Beat Connection
Serving equally well as a soundtrack to a living room conversation with friends as it would a night out dancing, Beat Connection make the perfect soundtrack to the brief but beautiful sunshine of a Seattle summer. Fusing the rhythms and bright melodies of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” with modern day UK dance like Hot Chip, they just want to make you feel the beat.
About the Author
Andrew Elijah and Anne Hoffman
Andrew Elijah is a musician, therapist, and writer currently living in the Philadelphia area, and not necessarily in that order. He loves to discover new music and new old music, and write about it when he gets the chance. If he had to choose, his favorite film would be Alien, and his favorite musician/band would be whatever Mark Kozelek related project he happens to be listening to at the time.
Anne Hoffman is a writer and radio producer who lives in Oakland, California. Her favorite genres of music are country and hip hop. She is officially through being cool. Follow her work here: anne-hoffman.squarespace.com.