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June West

June West, a singer and songwriter from Missoula, recently released her self-titled full-length debut.

Is there any kind of Missoula band that isn't DIY? In a year where the city had more options than ever regarding touring bands, there was still a steady stream of full albums that local artists recorded mostly here in town and promoted themselves at gigs in breweries, in alternative venues, basement bars or Bandcamp links, or any way they could reach a sympathetic audience that wants to hear homemade music.

Here's a look back at the albums that caught our ears in 2018. 

To track down a physical copy, call up your local shops Rockin' Rudy's and Ear Candy to see if they have it in stock. Otherwise, check the Bandcamp links.

Bombshell Nightlight, "Placid Lake"

On his (mostly solo) bedroom recording project, Jon Cardiello of Missoula conjures up quarter-life alienation, isolation and loss of loved ones with atmospheric backgrounds: synths, piano, guitar and bass and drums. With its  insular arrangements, quiet mood and Cardiello's vocal style, the album makes for great piece of homegrown post-punk that evokes the solitude of its surroundings. (Cory Walsh)

Format: CD, streaming, digital download.

Catnyp, "More Tales of Mystery and  Imagination from the Crypt of the Black Cat (Opus 4)

Henderson Shatner digs deep into his love of '70s Bowie and McCartney and his distaste for current politics (plus some love songs) on this collection of originals. Shatner, who played in the London music scene for awhile, enlisted locals here to flesh out his return to recording. (CW)

Format: CD, streaming.

Marshall Dorothy Granger, “Small Deaths”

Another first solo release, at least under his own name, Granger’s “Small Deaths” moved away from Dorothy’s out-there electronica and toward Americana, with pedal steel, clean-tone electric guitar and violin (from Jenny Fawcett) leading tracks like “Carsick,” written about Granger’s anxiety in the months following the 2016 election.

Granger touches modern life most eloquently through the music — when bubbling electronic touches overtake the acoustic “Settings,” it’s the sonic equivalent of checking your phone for a (any) notification to avoid spiraling into anxiety while trying to fall asleep. (Peter Friesen)

Format: Digital download and streaming.

Fuuls, "It's A Secret"

Classic garage-pop with plenty of hooks and a great singer and a tight rhythm section. What more do you want? This EP only has three tracks, so you probably want to hear more. (CW)

Format: Digital download.

Go Hibiki, “At Home in the Dark World”

Pop-punkers Go Hibiki released their first full-length record this year, with dual guitarists/singers Ethan Uhl and Elizabeth Taillon, drummer Alasdair Lyon and bassist Rob Cave.

The album follows a sonic structure Uhl dreamed up before recording — where the first half kicks off with major-key instrumentals and more angry/depressed lyrics, and the back half follows a darker sound and more optimistic lyrics, spliced by acoustic midpoint “An Ending Scene,” which deftly weaves both ideas together.

The concept is followed through with solid production — double-tracked guitars, banjo and backing vocals that bring “At Home in the Dark World,” to life. (PF)

Format: Digital download, cassette and streaming.

Hermina Jean Harold’s first solo release (after the breakup of her previous band Butter) lives up to its name, the aural equivalent of that patch of fresh blacktop that sticks to your shoes during an August heat wave, when you’re on your way from one iced drink to the next.

Harold covers breakups with aching aplomb, surgically incised lines like “Hi’s” chorus of  “Were you calling just to say hi?/was there something else on your mind?” hits where it hurts for those ever struggling with a clean break from an ex.

Her backing band deserves props — especially bassist Ryan Scott, who fills in the loping, countrified rhythms of Harold’s songs with excellent melodic touches, and violinist Jenny Fawcett floats over the top of most tracks, adding vocal harmonies here and there. (PF)

Format: Digital download and streaming.

Motorhome, "Magnets"

The group, many of whom played in indie-rock bands back in the 1990s, look back to the era, when that genre often meant loud and sometimes noisy guitars complemented by pop songwriters' approach to melody. The dual guitar attack, plus male and female vocalists (and vibraphone!) give their debut album variety, and it feels less like a band eager to impress a bar crowd, than friends enjoying playing for playing's sake. (CW)

Format: Vinyl, CD.

Norwell, “There is Nothing That Cannot Happen to Someone”

“Electronic Pop” are words rarely used to describe bands in Missoula — especially without qualifiers like “1980s-influenced.” So Brady Schwertfeger’s project (with Max Dutcher, Jon Filkins and James Riach) that recalls modern indie electronica like the XX or Hundred Waters, gets a mention here, if for no other reason than it’s a rarity in this town.

But it doesn’t just take a unique sound – Schwertfeger and Dutcher’s production has depth, from the wheeze and rattle of the drums on “Lofi” to the analog hiss that permeates the record, giving even the coldest electronic section a hint of warmth, like burrowing deeper under the covers when you wake up to rain. (PF)

Format: Digital download, cassette, CD and streaming.

Pale People, “Absent Friends”

There’s this thing, sometimes, when you listen to music, where you just get pure, strange joy in the idea that this song, this album, even exists. That three dudes who love Shakespeare, Godzilla and table-top gaming came together to make music about it, and it rocks.

Pale People can’t seem to slow down, releasing four albums in three years stuffed full of musical-theater style tracks made by Kurt Skrivseth (bass), Austin Graef (drums) and Mack Gilcrest (lead vocals, piano), along with friends they got to play trumpet, violin, woodwinds and the saw.

Here’s hoping the trio is putting on a full-on musical by the end of next year. There’s no reason these guys couldn’t weave together Godzilla and the Titanic into one production, right? (PF)

Format: Digital download, CD, streaming.

Protest Kids, "We Have the Technology"

This is power-pop for grownups who love hooks and harmonies as much as they crave an escape from anxiety, aging, sometimes in the form of humor. Songwriter-guitarist John Brownell and company have played together going back decades in Oblio Joes and more recently in Secret Powers, so the album has the unforced camaraderie of old friends playing in basement. Also throw in songs about transgender identity, science-fiction experiments, and bonding with in-laws, and you'll see that Brownell songs have the kind of lyrics you'll want to revisit more than once. (CW)

Format: Vinyl, CD, digital download.

Rotgut Whines, "Over a Dead Man's Things"

This two-piece prefers the term "soul and roll," which is more accurate than filing them alongside other guitar-drums duos like the Black Keys who (initially at least) were blues-based. Vocalist/guitarist Evan Manuel has more of a soul thing going on, and his guitar has rough edges like the blues, but he and drummer/back-up singer Andrew Murphy definitely are not playing trad blues progressions.

On these 12 originals, they keep the energy level high, probably why they got picked to play the side stage at Travelers' Rest Festival this past year alongside the touring bands. (CW)

Format: CD, streaming, digital download.

June West, "June West"

West's debut full-length showcases her vocal skills, as she finds a soulful middle ground between desert country and folk, and soul and R&B. The songwriting, meanwhile, veers from heartbreak to overcoming in a roundly positive view of the world. (CW)

Format: Digital download, streaming.

Archival releases

Who Killed Society?, "Before Everything Got Broken"

This album brings to the surface an unreleased EP by what was probably Missoula's first punk band, Who Killed Society? The original tape consists of seven short, rough and angry punk songs that sound even more fascinating knowing that they came from a bunch of young kids in western Montana, circa 1981, when finding underground music required assistance from the U.S. Postal Service and print magazines.

Adding to the historical interest: It was recorded by Steve Albini, a Hellgate High School graduate who went on to engineer albums by the Pixies ("Surfer Rosa," "Doolittle") and Nirvana ("In Utero") among many others. (CW)

Format: Available on vinyl via Pearl Jam's website.

The Frantics, "Birth"

In the late 1960s, a group of Montana dudes over in Billings headed out West to join the original-era psychedelic rock scene. This album, recorded in 1968 and never released until this year, is dipped in the neon sounds of the era: fuzz-pedal guitar, pastoral folk melodies, trippy lyrics (see "Sweet Mary"), heavy grooves and weird sound experiments.

The re-release comes courtesy of Lost Sounds Montana, a nonprofit that seeks to preserve Treasure State music history. (CW)

Format: For vinyl, check with your local shops. Nor-Va-Jak Music is selling the album as a digital download with a pdf booklet, available at superoldies.com/norvajak/CDs/frantics/frantics.html.

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.

Arts and entertainment