On June 12, Durham's sociopolitical firebrand rock outfit Red Collar will release its second LP, Welcome Home, the followup to 2009’s Pilgrim. And though the band doesn’t play as regularly as it did around Pilgrim time, the three-year wait for Welcome Home comes from a desire to get this record right rather than a lack of time or commitment.
As guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Jason Kutchma puts it, the new album is the result of two years of hard work: “If we were pressed we could've released an OK EP at the end of 2010. There were a few disappointing stops and starts and lags along the way but to me it gave us some perspective. We scratched a few songs and then wrote a few more. Some are the better ones on the album.”
Kutchma credits his solo project (which recently brought in a backing band) with helping him concentrate on song structure, vocal delivery and melody in general. Drummer Jonathan Truesdale worked “relentlessly on his tone” with producer Scotty Sandwich (who not only runs Death to False Hope Records, but also bears a Red Collar tattoo on one wrist). And Red Collar even went with a label which first burned the band—at least in its music blog incarnation. If the road to Welcome Home sounds like anything, it sounds like relentless self-improvement.
“We've known Will [Miller] from Tiny Engines for a few years,” says Kutchma of Red Collar’s new label. “How we met Will and became friends is, I suppose, typical Red Collar. He runs the blog Sound As Language, which said Pilgrim was pretty mediocre.” But Miller came to see the band in Charleston, posted a glowing review and the ensuing friendship led to the deal. Though Miller told Kutchma he disagreed with the reviewer’s take on Pilgrim, it may have been a fortuitous case of negative press. “
Had the album review not been written I would have never heard from so many people how great the band was live,” Miller says. “And I probably would not have come out for the show at all.”
“I’m a major let down,” I Was Totally Destroying It’s Rachel Hirsh sings with sugary confusion on “My Internal Din,” the band’s newly released single. “I don’t know what went wrong.”
That makes two of us. The song (streaming over at Alternative Press) is the first offering from the Chapel Hill outfit’s forthcoming fourth LP, Vexations. It marks a new low point in a stunning and frustrating decline for what was, until recently, one of the Triangle’s very best pop-rock outfits. If the single is par for the course, it’s likely the title will be quite accurate.
The Alternative Press write-up christens IWTDI as “electrorockers,” and the synthetic side of the band shows through here more than ever before. A simplistic and abrasive synthesizer loop opens the song as Hirsh describes the noise in her head as “pots and pans in stereo.” Honestly, that would be better than what we get here. Riffs chug sleepily, picking up the simple beat. The drums are simpler still and pushed so far back in the mix that the song barely has a pulse. Hirsh, once a dynamic singer uniting visceral punk emotion with a fetching pop sweetness, takes no such risks here, settling for a lifeless bubblegum coo.
What happened? A few years ago this group was a live wire, uniting kinetic indie rock riffs a la Superchunk with cutting, hyper-catchy synth lines. James Hepler was a beast behind the kit, imbuing their fetching pop with a tectonic heft few of their peers could match. Last year’s Preludes was worse, but never this bad. At least its whitewashed stadium pop managed to be likable even if it was rarely memorable.
Vexations is due via Portland's Greyday Records on Aug. 21, which gives you six months to ponder this song’s scant rewards. Album art and tracklist are below.
2. Hello, Salty Ghost
3. Follow You
4. The Prisoner
5. Move So Slowly
6. My Internal Din
7. Save Your Life
8. Dust Up / New Perpetuum Mobile
9. Blood On Film
10. Give Them What They Want
11. Outside Blinds
12. Seasonal Low
Friday, Feb. 24
When Other Lives opened with “As I Lay My Head Down” at Local 506 Friday night, it felt like a revival. Jesse Tabish ignited his little five-piece folk orchestra to drive out the devil. Percussion from Josh Onstott and Colby Owens thundered, thumping the packed crowd in the chest. And this was just the beginning: As Other Lives rolled on through their set, nearly 20 instruments were introduced for Tabish’s parables and down-trodden testimonies.
During the climax of the slow builder “Weather,” the group beat on anything they could find; as if by moved by the spirit, Jonathon Mooney lifted a rusted-out trumpet for a dissonant solo. Mooney introduced minor key trotter “Dust Bowl III” by dragging a bow across a xylophone. And when Tabish sang “Just as the wind blows,” he motioned his hand clear and straight, suggesting the Oklahoma expanses the band calls home.
“We didn’t expect any of this,” said a humble Tabish to the full room. “We played here five years ago for three people."
“It was a graveyard,” Mooney answered.
Tonight was anything but: Other Lives mesmerized a congregation of folks who had traveled from as far off as Georgia. “Fucking amazing,” someone in the crowd yelled as Other Lives closed out a set of new songs that included every band member doubling up on instruments. At one point, Jenny Hsu was tapping on her cello with drum sticks while Tabish struck a hotel service bell.
During the encore, Tabish was alone with his keyboard for a hushed “Black Tables.” For the first time during the show, he closed his eyes while everyone in the room looked up to him. “Thank you guys for being here,” he said, smiling/ “I can’t thank you guys enough.”
Harmonized “Ahhs” sounded like the beginning of “Amen.”
Thursday night at Durham's Casbah, as the natives watched the Blue Devils beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee, a very modest crowd turned out for the double bill of Dexter Romweber and John Howie, despite a cheap $7 cover. It's hard to believe that two artists who tour both domestically and internationally to large crowds and rave reviews sometimes do not receive the same love from folks in the Triangle. Granted they both play a fair amount in the area, but, after having seen both a good deal recently, it seems clear that their local reception is nowhere near where it belongs.
Both have contributed so much over the years while representing the area. But they don't seem to care about crowd size or the reaction they receive, so why should I? Well, beause it just ain't right.
Also, confidential to young local musicians playing rock ’n’ roll or country: The next time these two play out, show up. Take notes.
Chapel Hill's Trekky Records is known as much for being a mutual admiration society as it is a proper business entity. For the first time in its history, the Trekky crew is assembling and releasing a mixtape to showcase their history. The compilation, Amalgam, will showcase tunes from the many acts they've nurtured through creation and supported in production.
The tracklist is a grab-bag of singles from throughout its more than 10-year history, including two tracks from the upcoming Lost in the Trees and Midtown Dickens records and one unreleased song from the apparently no-longer-on-indefinite-hiatus Vibrant Green.
To celebrate the March 6 release, label owners Will Hackney and Martin Anderson have put together a show March 2 at the Nightlight. Butterflies, Phil Cook & His Feat, Vibrant Green and DJ Steph Russ will be there to ring in the occasion as well as a special set from a surprise guest band.
As for who that guest might be, the Trekky boys just wouldn't say. So, either we all gang together and storm the Trekky homebase demanding to know, OR we take it on faith that Hackney and Martin have booked someone swell. Given that they've proved trustworthy to deliver record after record of creatively curated local jams, this may be an occasion to choose peace over pillaging. Oh, the patience of diplomacy.
The Brickside Festival, Duke University's spring music celebration, might not appeal to your average college kid, but it's shaping up to be a music nerd's wet dream. The initial lineup for the March 24 event included blissed-out garage star Kurt Vile in addition to Supreme Dicks, Tanlines and The Postelles. Today, the festival added three more names that should make a small number of people very excited—and will likely floor any uninitiated attendees.
The Gunn-Truscinski Duo, the stellar pairing of hypnotic blues guitarist Steve Gunn and gifted percussionist John Truscinski, will play alongside Royal Baths and Mark Kozelek, known for leading both Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters. The Gunn-Truscinski Duo, who laid down one of the best day party sets at last year's Hopscotch Music Festival, find spacey avenues within the structure of a traditional blues duo, somehow melding cymbal crashes and elliptical riffs to create a gorgeous wash of sound. Royal Baths just released their second LP, Better Luck Next Life, which adds a darkly distorted veneer to psych rock a la Velvet Underground, creating twisted garage gems that are as menacing as they are catchy. Kozelek's solo work is an oddball treat, sometimes dominated by gorgeous acoustic folk covers that come from left-field places: His 2001 LP What's Next to the Moon is all AC/DC covers.
The festival is presented by WXDU, Duke Coffeehouse, College Concert Series and Major Attractions. All the acts announced so far will play at the Coffeehouse, but more bands and venues are set to be unveiled. It's perfectly possible that the rest of the festival will hew to more traditional college crowd-pleasers. For now, though, let the nerds rejoice!
The last time 9th Wonder played with an R. Kelly sample, he landed a song, “Threat,” on Jay-Z’s The Black Album. This time, over the R. Kelly and Public Announcement track “Honey Love,” we get the same chopped-up formula, but with Jamla Records queen-b-girl, Rapsody, doing the rhyming honors. "Right Now" doesn't necessarily showcase Rapsody “Castor Troy-ing” anyone, but she stalks around on this song like she’s planning something unforgettable. Maybe she’s just warming up before the release of her Kobe Bryant-inspired EP, The Black Mamba, which will be released today, Feb. 24—that is, unless Jeremy Lin vetoes it.
Even if he does, we’ll take Rapsody’s face over Kobe’s any day. We’re a college basketball state and the Charlotte Bobcats are 4-27. We could care less about the pros. We’ll spread Rapsody’s Raleigh honey-love around until a honey badger tries to stop us.
Not too long ago, Chapel Hill's Lost in the Trees were one of the largest groups in town. They still are, but these days it has less to do with membership and more about the national recognition Ari Picker has received for his beautifully heartbreaking songs. A few years ago, the band rolled with a revolving line-up that usually hit somewhere in the low teens, complete with a five-or-six piece string section. At that juncture, the joy of Lost in the Trees' shows was the all-consuming swell their numbers allowed them and the thrill of watching them barely hold it together.
Tuesday at Local 506 in an impromptu tune-up for one of the biggest tours in their young career, Lost in the Trees numbered just six, down a cellist from the touring line-up for their last album. Things change, and in this case it is most definitely for the better.
Playing most of their songs with a cello, a violin, drums, keys and acoustic and electric guitar, the band stepped into songs from their upcoming third LP A Church that Fits Our Needs, showing themselves to be a precise and experimental chamber rock band reaching new heights of fractured emotionalism. Like All Alone in an Empty House, reissued in 2010 by Anti- Records, the new songs still revolve around the suicide of Picker's mother, but the music here is even darker than before. The re-tooled ensemble was perfect for the new vibe, filling the songs with both menace and empathy.
Tight string fills sliced through during the intense moments and relented into a gorgeous swell during the tender parts. Gorgeous, haunting female harmonies lent them a new sense of mysterious macabre. Best of all was Picker, a frontman whose transfixing presence comes from the intensity he brings to each song.
Devastating and intricate, all of the songs hit their mark, but "This Dead Bird Is Beautiful" was a cut above. Picker started the song by himself, singing softly and picking his guitar, trembling with feeling. "Don't you say she was weak," he sang, "I'll carry her. Because she breathed I breathe." The band joined in gradually, contorting strings and guitar into an evil, inhuman squall before transitioning into lush orchestral folk backdrop. It was a stunning performance that managed to express both the bitter and soothing elements of healing.
Lost in the Trees start their tour on March 11 in England and return to the Triangle on April 20 at Cat's Cradle.
It's impossible to listen to The Storm (streaming here), the tight, well-produced psych-rock debut from Raleigh-based recording project Cocoon, without thinking of another band — one that no longer exists. Josh Pope, the man behind the Cocoon moniker, was once the frontman of The Light Pines, a band that rode a similar sound to the brink of national recognition before breaking up last summer.
The comparison is obvious: One, this record sounds an awful lot like The Light Pines. Two, Pope initially posted the EP to Bandcamp as the Pines before switching the name to Cocoon. The Independent caught up with Pope to ask him about his new project, the name change and his plans for the future.
Independent Weekly: Tell me about how Cocoon came about. When did you start working on these new songs?
Josh Pope: After The Light Pines broke up in July of last year, I took the rest of the year off from writing music. I got the urge to start writing again about a month and a half ago, and these songs are what I've done thus far.
You first posted the EP under the Light Pines moniker. Why did you change it?
When I initially posted the songs it hadn't even occurred to me to change the band name. Once they were posted there were some objections from former members of the band about me releasing new music as "The Light Pines." I was never that attached to the name, so I pulled the songs off Bandcamp, came up with another name and re-posted the songs.
Did you record these songs on your own? Tell me about the process.
Yes. These songs are me sitting in my house writing and recording. My songwriting process is best described as prompt-based. Just like a creative writer who may use a prompt as a starting point for a story, I'll take a drumbeat, a melody, a bass line, a lyric, a guitar hook, anything that has caught my imagination, and start writing from there.
The EP is layered much in the same way that the Light Pines' stuff was, but it's much more rhythmic, the appeal of each element coming more from the groove than the texture. Were you going for a more rhythmic sound here?
No. In fact, I was self-conscious about these new songs lacking a rhythmic feel! There was a definite plan with The Light Pines to make the music rhythm based. I think my lack of experience at the time with engineering and recording music ultimately obscured that rhythmic agenda. There was a tendency to compensate for poor sonic fidelity by just adding more and more shit on to the track and with all that information and texture, the rhythm and groove were often lost. These new songs have a lot more space in terms of arrangement — there is still some layering — but for the most part, the tracks are less dense. I think this allows for the rhythm to come across clearer. I'm a bass player. I'm always going for a rhythmic sound.
Your narratives on these songs are a bit more concrete than the ones you released with The Light Pines. Where is that coming from?
When I first started writing music, everything I wrote was love songs—very "heart on my sleeve," literal lyrics. I wrote this way until The Light Pines. The Light Pines was a deliberate attempt at abstraction, to get away from writing about my personal emotions and experiences. Lyrically, Cocoon seems to be falling somewhere in between the two.
You've said online that you have more music on the way. When and what should we expect?
I'm writing a lot and feel very inspired at the moment. As I finish new songs, I will post them on Bandcamp. I don't really have a goal or timeline for future releases, but I would say 3–4 songs a month seems like a reasonable projection.
Do you plan to turn Cocoon into a full band, or will it remain a recording project?
To be determined.
This is going to be a big year for Lost in the Trees. They are about to release one of the Triangle's most anticipated 2012 LPs, the dramatic and emotionally fractured A Church That Fits Our Needs, on March 20. As with any group preparing to launch what could be the breakthrough of their career, the Chapel Hill folk orchestra is preparing an extensive tour. Tonight at Local 506, you can witness their impromptu tune-up.
This afternoon the band announced that they will open for Islands, giving hometown fans a chance to catch them before they hit the road in March. The tour will lead them through two dates in the U.K. before a whirlwind trek across the U.S. and two dates in Canada. The last show will be April 20 at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, the Triangle release party for the new record.
Chances to see Lost in the Trees in such an intimate setting are becoming more and more rare, so show up early. They've made a habit of filling the much-larger venues. Even on short notice, the 506 is likely to be packed.