Throwaway Style: Tomo Nakayama Creates a Wallflower Opus with Pieces of Sky

Tomo Nakayama

Photo by Bebe Labree

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.

I can remember a few years ago I sat down with my laptop with the intention of creating a spreadsheet of local artists in Seattle I wanted to keep track of (yeah, I’m a pretty wild and crazy guy). It didn’t take long before I came to an incredibly obvious yet still startling conclusion — there’s a shit ton of bands in this city. That’s why they pay me the big bucks, folks — for my immense musical insight. But bear with me a second. Seattle’s massive arts and music scene is part of what makes our city so exciting. There’s always something to discover, always a band you can be going out to watch, and also scenes that are constantly changing. If you think back to 10 years ago, there was a surge of excitement around the city’s folk scene. But music here also moves fast and suddenly new waves of artists with totally different sounds come rushing in and it becomes harder and harder to keep track of the artists you’ve loved with the new ones you’re falling in love with.

That sounds maybe pessimistic or maybe shallow, but I think it comes from a good place filled with good intentions of wanting to engage with new art. I can only speak for myself in that regard and I feel a little self-conscious putting that out there, but I like to think others go through the same thing. How do you make time for the artists you already love while still giving the attention to a new wave of emerging artists?

All this to say, I think I’ve taken Tomo Nakayama for granted.

When music journalists say things like “this artist is a fixture in Seattle music,” there’s probably no one right now who fits that title better than Nakayama. Emerging on the scene in 2007 with his chamber pop outfit Grand Hallway, he’s continued to be a constant presence in the city both with the group and as a solo performer. He’s supported a number of other local favorites too like Sera Cahoone, Gold Leaves, and Sunny Day Real Estate’s Jeremy Enigk. You’ve maybe even seen him serenading travelers at the Sea-Tac airport where he regularly busks. It seems no matter where you go, you’re going to run into him and his music at some point. Tomorrow he’ll release his sophomore solo LP, Pieces of Sky, via his own imprint Rice Belly Music. It’s an album that flips everything I thought I knew about Nakayama’s music. All this time I thought we were all watching him, but really he was watching us.


Much of the album is inspired by his time at Sea-Tac, singing in the terminals but also observing the travelers coming and going. It’s a wallflower opus, internalizing the feelings of people he may never know while infusing his own perspectives on who they might be while also revealing bits of who he is. Not to throw out some even more academic, insightful music journalism terms, but this album is stupid gorgeous. It’s a quiet, layered work that may be some of his finest songwriting to date. The way he sings in a hushed tone, you can easily imagine Nakayama sitting off to the side by himself silently taking note of the room around him. His finger picked acoustic guitar under swaths of synthesizer hums, swooning string arrangements, and even the occasional pulse of a drum machine merge together seamlessly. It’s the sound of comfort and serenity. When he sings on the title track, “Lately seems like the world’s on fire, lately feels like the truth don’t matter,” the words hit harder maybe than they ever have before. And not just the words themselves, but how Nakayama sings them. He’s a searcher, taking in the world and trying to come up with answers. When I do that, I usually just end up ranting to my dog and binge watching some shitty cooking show. When Nakayama seeks out answers, he orchestrates a beautiful masterwork.

Listening to Pieces of Sky feels like the right words you need to hear from an old friend. With Nakayama’s presence so felt in this city, he fills that role aptly of someone you can always count on when things look bad. It’s an album that calms the soul. It makes me thankful for Nakayama and the excellent work he’s consistently put out over the last decade. It makes me want to talk to friends I haven’t reached out to in a long time and revisit records collecting dust on my shelf. It may be hard to keep track of all the amazing talent that this city produces, but sometimes it’s good for the heart to slow down and take in a work by someone you’ve long appreciated. Pieces of Sky is one of those works.


New and News

Upstream Music Fest Announces 2018 Dates

Back in May, Pioneer Square played host to the inaugural Upstream Music Fest + Summit. It was three days packed with killer Northwest music and national acts as well as amazing keynotes from local legends and industry professionals. If you made it out to the fest, you know just how exciting it was — I think I still have whiplash from all the bands I saw. Now the fest is marking its return to Pioneer Square on June 1-3, 2018. Details will be trickling out soon, but stay tuned for artist submissions opening in November as well as information on tickets. In the meantime, revisit this year’s highlights on the KEXP Blog here and below.


Seattle Producer Mario Casalini Shares “Cornered,” featuring DoNormaal and RVN

Producer Mario Casalini is a secret weapon in Seattle hip-hop. His prolific output of mixtape and loose tracks on Soundcloud is astounding on its own, along with the work he continues to do with local MCs DoNormaal and RVN. Now all three are uniting again on Casalini’s latest single “Cornered” from his upcoming project Goldtooth Squarepants (contender for album name of the year?). The raging rhythms and impeccably orchestrated tension in the beat alone makes this one of his most exciting tracks yet, taken to the next level with DoNormaal and RVN sounding meaner than ever. Check it out below.


Darto Share New Music Video for “No Self”

Earlier in the summer, Darto released the first single “I Am” from their upcoming LP, Human Giving. The album’s out tomorrow, but the band is offering one more sample from the LP in the form of a music video from the track “No Self.” Much like “I Am,” it’s a sonic departure from their noisier previous work and still continues to be overwhelmingly excellent. Directed by the band’s own Gordon De Los Santos, the video is a hypnotic venture into the dark of the woods with some truly stunning visual work by the band. If the recent finale of Twin Peaks has you missing some great PNW surrealism, this video might just fill that void. Stay tuned for an interview with the band coming up soon on this very blog!


Live and Loud: This Week’s Recommended Local Shows

Sept. 8: Darto Album Release with Casual Hex, Big Bite




Sept. 8: Tomo Nakayama Album Release with Led to Sea, Mr. And Mrs. Muffins




Sept. 9: Haunted Horses Tape Release with CHARMS, YourYoungBody




Sept. 11: Heatwarmer Album Release with Baby Gramps, PETS



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