The sessions I picked for 2015 are the ones I kept going back too, got obsessed with, or left the studio sweaty and feeling awesome. Some caught me totally off guard, like The Dø. I didn’t shoot that one - it just landed on my editing desk and it blew me away. Others I had a feeling would be special, like when King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard came in with 9 or so people in the band and wanted to do a 15-minute psych jam. It was also pretty amazing (and dangerous) when Viet Cong (a.k.a. Goofy Buddies) played so hard there was broken lightbulbs raining down on my head. Good times, I’ll miss that little room.
Coming from a jazz background myself, I found Nels Cline & Julian Lage’s music to be fantastic! These guys can play and in a way that most people are unfamiliar with—Improvisational gold.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones may have been on my list last year as well. There’s nothing quite like that little man pouring out his soul like a freight train. I love Paul’s voice and his band is SO tight!
I chose Mac DeMarco’s song “Still Together” because I can’t remember laughing so hard during a session. The guitar solo especially at the end had me in stitches. And despite all the hilarity, Mac’s voice is great!
Two Gallants performance of “Some Trouble” shows how well they can rock it with just two people, but that is absolutely why I enjoyed “Katy Kruelly”. It’s always refreshing to see a hard rocking group take a step back to play something just as meaningful in a different way. Putting on an acoustic guitar and singing that song got me.
“Primrose Green” from Ryley Walker was easily my favorite song from his set. Ryley is a talented guitar player and has a quality to his voice that reminds me of Nick Drake. The bright notes and drone of his guitar had me completely relaxed in the midst of a busy summer.
Hands down, METZ was my favorite session of the year. I had the privilege of turning down the lights and filming the unrelenting raw rock of this band. There’s nothing I love more than the volume and energy of good music and this was it for me. And when they had finished and the dust had settled, I got to edit this amazing session in a tasteful black and white. I loved that entire session and I’ve watched it countless times since then. That drummer is a monster!
I have to admit, I wasn’t as familiar with their music before they came in, but it didn’t disappoint. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard was everything I needed to hear when they came in. I could listen to this session on repeat. The jam is so addicting!
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to film on the top of the Space Needle and in the top of the Smith Tower. This being said, it seemed fitting to add another Seattle monument to that list: Pike’s Place Market. It was so much fun to be up there and film some classic Seattle musicians play for KEXP. The super-group Raw Power was the only choice to perform up there, and I’m grateful to have been there for it.
In the heart of Summer, I was able to go to Pickathon for KEXP. One of the many performances we filmed out in the woods was Israel Nash. I have to dedicate this one to our engineer and audio editor Matt Ogaz: this session sounded absolutely incredible! This is the sound he managed to pull from these amazing musicians in the middle of the woods with only a put-put generator to power everything. Well done!
I was talking to a coworker the other day about Ought’s song “Beautiful Blue Sky” and he came to a pretty accurate conclusion: This song is probably one of the best songs released this year. I couldn’t agree more, this song pulls something out of you - an emotional reaction that you can’t put your finger on. The repetition drives it home and even live, it captured me.
Scott Holpainen, full-time video producer:
CaspianSounds like flying over beautiful Icelandic landscapes then crashing into an erupting volcano.
METZ:Unrelenting pummeling of your hear holes never felt so good.
Raw Power:How did this happen? Seattle rock royalty playing Stooges covers on the crown jewel of Seattle to benefit KEXP.
Capsula:Capsula gets on my top 10 just by showing up. Incredible band, lovely people.
Algiers:There are moments when I stop breathing in during these sessions. This was one of them. Ran into these guys in Poland. Super cool human beings.
Lautari:Reminds me of Tom Waits' Big Time backing band.
Mac DeMarco:Mac comes back. Gets a top 10 placement automatically.
A Place to Bury Strangers:Beautiful noise paired with nightmarishly intense projections.
Daniel Lanois:Filmed at Robert Land studios. A rare chance to experience a true musical genius. Be sure to check out the Whiplash drumming of Kyle Crane. Unbelievable.
Jeff the Brotherhood:Duuuuude... They played a cover of "Satori Part II". Ya know, from that Japanese psychedelic group Travelin' Flower Band. Duuuuude.
Jim Beckmann, senior video producer:
Samaris:Easily my favorite session of the year because no other seemed so otherworldly. The low backlighting helped create a moody ambience, but it was the band's entrancing performance that mystified and evoked the darkest romantic corners of Iceland.
Mammút:Another of our Iceland favorites, who like Samaris, were able to come to Seattle to perform. We've recorded Mammút pretty much every year since our first time at Iceland Airwaves back in 2009. On stage, the band is always terrific and Kata is like a woman possessed, and they didn't let our very small studio space confine their epic performance.
Sutari:We were fortunate to visit Poland this year for the terrific OFF Festival in Katowice. We knew almost nothing about the music there, other than what we could find on YouTube, and we were amazed at the quality and variety of the performances we saw and recorded. Too many stand out: Coals, Lautari, Hańba!, Olo Walicki Kaszebe II... but the one that stunned me most was the avant-kitchen-folk of Sutari, a trio of young women who reinterpret polyphonic folk songs primarily of their female ancestors, weaving their own instrumentation and vocals seemless... oh, and one of them "plays" a bowl of water!
Another off-kilter take on traditional folk: Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha blew me away with their hedonistic “ethno-chaos”. Crazy and undeniably groovy.
A Place to Bury Strangers:
Strobes for video? Not so great. But when they're used to actually shred guitars? radical. Also, we need more projectors for our sessions.
Speaking of killer lighting and a shredding performance: METZ returned to KEXP this year to tear it up, and Luke captured the session brilliantly.
Controversial name aside, this band is incredible and they're super-nice people to boot. And you're not going to see a more unbridled, passionate performance as their near-15 minute rendition of "Death". Words can't describe.
I didn't know much about these guys but really loved the songs I'd been hearing on their debut. Considering their focus on American traditional black music and particularly on the racial history and injustice in America, I figured that their session would be intense and thought provoking, which it was, but the tragic slaughter in Charleston, South Carolina, had just occurred before they arrived and lead singer Frank channeled his hurt and sorrow into a devastating rendition of "Games":
Ought:I love this band, their songs, and the influences they proudly wear on their sleeves, and I had expected a more darkly brooding attitude about them when they finally arrived at our studio, but the guys in Ought were surprisingly fun and dynamic. Lead singer Tim Darcy kept losing his headphones, causing him to break his more stoic delivery by exchanging laughs with drummer Tim Keen. I tried to cut around some of that, but had to include a bit because that's just the way these band is. They don't take themselves too seriously.
All members of the live version of El Vy had some history with the KEXP studio - Matt Berninger with The National, Brent Knopf with both Menomena and Ramona Falls, Andy Stack with Wye Oak and Matt Sheehy with Lost Lander - all knew of the starry black backdrop that made our room memorable. So, when they arrived for one of the final sessions ever recorded in that room (we've since moved to a whole new studio!), they paid homage in the most unbelievable way... they covered themselves with with dots and became part of the room itself! It was humbling to those of us who worked for years in that room and developed that look to see a band of such amazing performers full embrace it. All we can say is "thank you" to the band and to the many listeners, viewers, supporters, and volunteers who made the KEXP live room iconic.
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For the rest of the year, we'll be spotlighting our KEXP DJs Top Albums of 2015. Click here to check out other lists from our DJs, staff, volunteers, and interns, and click here to see the Top 90.3 Albums of 2015, as voted on by KEXP listeners!
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