On April 3, Caltrop will release ten million years and eight minutes, its second album, and first in nearly four years. That sort of gap between albums is rare in an era of constant content streams, but it actually suits Caltrop; in its own unhurried way, the Chapel Hill foursome has used the lengthy interval to sharpen its approach and add new elements.
By no measure is ten million years a departure from the template set by World Class, the band’s heavy debut platter of Sabbath sludge and Zeppelin sprawl. It’s just that the band is reaching farther and with more confidence. The 13-minute “Perihelion” is a fitting centerpiece, as it works its way through all of Caltrop’s strengths. Cloudy psychedelic breaks give way to blues-metal thunder, and nimble guitar lines crack against rumbling low-end. The best moment, though, is its least characteristic: the gently propulsive, folk-informed section beginning at the 2:20 mark, where guitar leads dart like flies in summer air and the band sings together, quietly at first, but with growing resolve.
The long and deliberate “Perihelion” isn’t entirely indicative of ten million years, though. The album also boasts Caltrop’s most righteous hard rock in songs like the brilliant “Ancient” and anthemic “Form and Abandon.”
Caltrop might’ve taken its time preparing ten million years, but it was worth the wait. It will be available via Holidays for Quince April 3.
Kickin Grass, this is your life: Saturday night in Durham, Kickin Grass celebrated 10 years together in front of a large crowd and in the elegant and recently refurbished Carolina Theatre. That’s a long way from the band’s humble beginnings as a backing band for The Apple Chill Cloggers, though Kickin Grass did a fine job of making their timeline’s ends meet.
The evening served as a reflection on the group’s many miles spent on the road, albums released and members who have come and gone. Many stories were told, from early jam sessions taking place in an old school bus on 13 acres of property in Harnett County to realizing a potential new member was perfect based on an observation related to eating moose tongue.
Oh, there was music, too. Kickin Grass carefully selected songs from each of its three albums, as well as several from an untitled future release. In continuing with the group’s congenial family atmosphere, the band brought back several former members to take place in the celebration. Ben Walters, Kyra Moore and Matt Hooper all sat in with their old friends. What’s more, The Apple Chill Cloggers joined on several numbers as Kickin Grass provided accompaniment, just as they had when the band first began.
Toward the end of the nearly two-hour show, the band took a moment to reflect on a difficult past few years. All members, past and present, joined together in an original gospel number, “The Morning Train.” The pretty hymn was dedicated to the memory of Scott Dawson (the brother of mandolin player Jamie Dawson), plus Jay T. Mullins (father of long-time band supporter Jeff Mullins) and Ristin Cooks (wife of Bassist Patrick Walsh).
The entire show was recorded for a future release, but the band graciously allowed the posting of “The Morning Train” as a dedication to their lost love ones.
In the last few years, N.C. State's student radio station WKNC 88.1 FM has become one of the most reliable champions of local music in the Triangle. Their steady stream of N.C. talent—during regular blocks of programming as well as their Local Lunch and Local Beat segments—is a vital resource to area artists. Their annual Double Barrel Benefit has become an extension of that mission, a two-night celebration that exposes local bands to audiences that might otherwise remain ignorant. The lineup for this year's event, which takes place Feb. 3 and 4 at Raleigh's Pour House, continues that tradition. (Here's the Facebook event.)
The first night is heavy on quality talent, if a little off-balance stylistically. Revitalized Durham "acousti-core" heroes The Future Kings of Nowhere headline. Shayne Miel, who is back at it after a long battle with lymphoma, leads his band through explosive acoustic-punk love ballads and newer, more mature rock songs with near endless vigor and charm. (Take that proclamation with a grain of salt: I sometimes work for the label that's releasing the band's new EP.) Dreamy folk trio Birds and Arrows and experimental outfit Organos are a well-suited pair in the middle of the bill. MAKE opens the night and is among the better metal bands in the Triangle, patiently unleashing ominous tones in the doom tradition, but they don't make much sense as a lead-in to the tuneful fare that will follow. Still, it will likely be worth a laugh watching college rock devotees cope with MAKE's volume.
Night two, on the other hand, is one of the best bills Double Barrel has ever put together. The Kingsbury Manx headline, and their immaculately crafted chamber pop is one of the Triangle's truly under-appreciated treasures. Live, their chemistry as an ensemble is wowing. Garage rock spark plug Gross Ghost, whose forthcoming debut LP Brer Rabbit is a burst of relentless momentum, rev things up the middle of the night alongside Boone's Naked Gods, who liven Wilco's weirdo folk with slanted and enchanted indie rock energy. The opener here may well steal the show: Raleigh's Heads on Sticks have quickly become one of the area's most thrilling live acts. David Mueller, bassist for psych-rock heavyweights Birds of Avalon, leads his outfit through darkly distorted dance-rock that's scary-good fun. On Saturday, the dance party may well trump the rock show.
Chris Malarkey, a 13-year member of the staff at Raleigh’s Pour House Music Hall, has signed on to help book acts at the Lincoln Theatre. A local music fixture, Malarkey has been the sole booking agent at the Pour House for about five years.
“It’s a bigger level,” Malarkey says of the move. The Pour House lists its capacity as 350, while the Lincoln holds 800. “It just opens up a lot of different avenues as far as the bands that I can book. The bands that I booked at the Pour House, I can take two bands that draw 300 people and put them together, and that makes a room that holds 800 look great. I can also start working with bands that I’ve always wanted to work with. I spent a lot of time growing talent at the Pour House. Some of it’s outgrown the Pour House, and now I can book them at the Lincoln.”
Eric Mullen, owner of the Pour House, will take over booking duties in Malarkey’s absence. He’s not worried about the transition; he handled the talent buying on his own before he brought Malarkey on board.
“No replacement—he isn’t replaceable,” Mullen said of Malarkey on Thursday. “I’ll go back to doing all the booking just like before and the show will go on.”
Early yesterday afternoon, I reached out to Raleigh singer-songwriter and former Six String Drag leader Kenny Roby with a few questions about his Kickstarter campaign, which he'd launched just a few hours before. I'm a proponent of artists funding projects through Kickstarter, but still, I sometimes get flustered by artists who ask for and promise the moon in exchange for a little financial boost. Roby's campaign was especially intriguing, then, as he was asking for a mere $2,000 and offering actually interesting content (like the download of an unheard song) for as little as $2. His most expensive offering, at $500, included a house concert. Going with Kickstarter and staying humble often don't go hand in hand, but Roby managed it.
The strategy worked, too: In less than 24 hours, fans had funded the recording of Roby's next album in full. With more than 13 days left on the clock, Roby and his new band are already $127 past their goal. And that's a good thing: The one finished track I've heard is a keeper, pairing Roby's familiar sense for strong images and his comfortably polished country tone with the more impressionistic side of current indie rock acts. Think The National, but more delicate. Below, Roby talks about his Kickstarter strategy and the shift required for a songwriter once funded by big labels to ask his fans for help.
Chris Malarkey, the former booking agent at Raleigh’s The Pour House Music Hall and a local music fixture, is moving on from his post after 13 years with the venue. Malarkey joined the space in 1999, begging his way into part-time gigs as a way to break into the live music business.
“I was a big music fan, an old Dead Head, so I thought it would be a good way to get in to doing something I love,” Malarkey remembers. “A friend of mine was bartending there. I told [owner] Eric [Mullen] I’d put up posters, whatever type of promo stuff I could do for a few bucks and some free tickets. It kind of snowballed into what I was doing at the end.”
Malarkey’s ties to the regional jam band scene made him extremely valuable to the club, which fills a large part of its calendar with such acts. He grew from a source of knowledge into a valuable part of their team, taking over as the venue’s sole booking agent by 2007.
“He was good at it because he knows more about music in his right thumb than most people know total,” Mullen says of Malarkey. “I simply taught him the business side of things, and he just took off from there.”
Malarkey is married with two kids, and he says it was difficult to work the other jobs necessary to support his family while giving The Pour House all the time it needed. He’s currently looking into new opportunities, and while he declined to discuss the possibilities, he was adamant that his experience at the venue will be invaluable moving forward.
“I learned to balance between booking with your heart and booking as a business,” Malarkey says. “I think there’s two distinct schools of people in this business. I know one person in this town who books solely with their heart and has to eat crow all the time. I know other people who book solely as a business, and it’s feast or famine. What I did, and what I did for myself, I learned a balance between the two. I booked what I like, but I booked smartly, knowing that for better or worse it is a business.”
For updates on who takes over booking duties at The Pour House and where Malarkey takes his experience, check back with Scan.
Last year’s inaugural Bull City Metal Fest saw sets by some of the best heavy music in the Triangle, from Jenks Miller’s widely praised brainchild Horseback to blues-metal blacksmiths Caltrop. The second is now scheduled to happen Feb. 3-4 at Durham’s Casbah, and it promises a continuation of this theme. With such diverse bands aboard as Braveyoung and The Body (hard to list them separately, considering 2011’s excellent split), Asheville’s Shadow of the Destroyer and Bitter Resolve, there’s little pattern beyond this: It’s heavy, it’s good and it’s all on the same weekend.
“I tend to always define things more liberally, and I think it’s one of the highlights of not only the fest, but our local metal scene,” says Steve Gardner, fest organizer and Casbah talent buyer. And while this inclusive approach may have cost him the participation of a certain death metal band (they only play with bands of the same sub-genre), he’s happy that he can showcase exciting, ever-splintering niches within the heavy music world.
“Other regions in the country are known for specific types of metal,” he says, mentioning Savannah’s long history with sludge. He says the Triangle, as a relative newcomer to the heavy game, hasn’t yet crystallized to this degree. As such, there’s enough variety to keep metalheads interested, but it’s not so specialized or compartmentalized as to scare off curious newcomers. With only two repeat acts (MAKE and Hog), the upped ante of headliners Black Tusk and the aforementioned Braveyoung/The Body pairing and more bands to be announced, this already sounds like a good excuse to grab your earplugs and head for Durham.
It’s notable that, at least until now, Corrosion of Conformity has never released a self-titled album. Over its almost 30-year history, the band has been a revolving door of membership. Only guitarist Woody Weatherman has never left the band. But older and wiser and returned to its founding trio of Weatherman, bassist/singer Mike Dean and drummer Reed Mullin, COC appears to have decided how its legacy should be remembered.
Corrosion of Conformity is the band’s ninth album (counting 1987’s brief Technocracy) and its most wide-ranging, too. Here, the band discards nothing from its past, creating a new context in which the idea of separating the band into distinct “eras” feels pointless. Songs like “Leeches” rage with a speed and intensity unseen since this lineup’s last venture together, 1985’s Animosity. “River of Stone,” meanwhile, favorably recalls the band at its Sabbath-worshipping, arena-metal peaks. “The Doom” pulls together both poles, and the bluesy meander “El Lamento De Las Cabras” stakes out a new one.
Despite the success of 1991’s Dean-less Blind and the surprising return to form of 2005’s Mullin-less In The Arms of God, it’s no real gamble to say Corrosion of Conformity is at its best when Dean, Mullin and Weatherman are together. Hindsight is 20/20. But with this comeback, it looks like COC’s vision of the future is pretty sharp, too.
Corrosion of Conformity will be available via Candlelight Feb. 28.
Crooked Fingers, Mount Moriah
Friday, Jan. 6
Technically, Crooked Fingers Friday night stop at Raleigh’s Kings was not a hometown show. It has been 15 years since leader Eric Bachmann left Chapel Hill and 14 since Archers of Loaf, the now-legendary indie rock outfit he leads once more, ended their initial run. In that time Bachmann has landed in D.C., Seattle, Atlanta, Denver and Taiwan. For the last year, he has resided in Athens, Ga. Still, even if Crooked Fingers don't belong to the Triangle, the rapt crowd at this weekend's show embraced the band like a homegrown treasure.
Crooked Fingers feed on the same barely contained intensity that makes the Archers such an incredible force; in both cases, it springs from Bachmann's mighty presence. By necessity, the Fingers have survived on rotating line-ups, but you wouldn’t know it by the tight, professional ensemble that showed up Friday. They moved easily from post-rock inflected piano ballads and acoustic-led confessionals and to sophisticated art rock with wowing efficiency, laying down a backdrop for Bachmann to leave his mark.
His songs were restrained, but he was not. He attacked his electric guitar during the breaks on tender odes, adding a tasteful but powerful layer of grit. He laid into the mic in tense assaults, instilling tender croons with the vigor of punk-rock shouts. His songs are shaped in the patient vein of acts such as The National and Richard Buckner, but live, Bachmann approaches them with the same unhinged gravitas that defined the Archers. The crowd at Kings seemed acutely aware of this, headbanging to clanging piano chimes.
Bachmann and his band were at their best in the encore. “She Toes the Line,” perhaps the best song on 2011’s LP Breaks in the Armor, became a cataclysmic march with Bachmann shouting his defiant proclamations to the rafters. Best of all was the tender rendition of “Chumming the Ocean” that ended the night. The fearful ode drifted forth on the bittersweet waltz of Bachmann's piano, graced by the brittle but beautiful croon of guitarist Liz Durrett.
Mount Moriah was typically sublime in the opening slot, testing out an adjusted line-up that will accompany them on a month-long U.S. tour. They ripped through an impassioned set that matched Crooked Fingers intensity. Jenks Miller's guitar lines wove their way through the band's lush folk-rock, as Heather McEntire exercised her razor sharp pipes with devastating results.