In his acceptance speech at this year's Grammy Awards—at which he took home the trophy for Best New Artist—Bon Iver's Justin Vernon spoke to the mixed feelings he had about accepting the award. "There's so much talent here on this stage," he said from the stage, "and there's a lot of talent that's not here tonight." It's an admirable stance, taking your big moment to point out that there are other artists at least as deserving that will never see that limelight. With his new Chigliak imprint, Vernon is using his power within the industry to expose some of those talents to the world.
The first gem Vernon has chosen to uncover is Amateur Love, a little-known electro-pop outfit that hailed from his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis. Chigliak will reissue the band's one and only LP, 2003's It's All Aquatic, on vinyl and digital formats May 22. The band, which featured Phil and Brad Cook (Megafaun) and Brian Moen (Peter Wolf Crier), was lead by area songwriter Josh Scott, whose writing had a big impact on Vernon.
"Josh Scott was the ambassador of my heart for many years," Vernon writes in an announcement of the reissue. "While both songwriters in Eau Claire, we were close friends and admired each other’s music."
The music, exemplified by the single "Con/A Sewer/Cat" (streaming below), is a low-key but nevertheless propulsive wash of sparkling synths, jaunty dance beats and strung-out effects. Scott's delivery and writing unite the lounge-y travails of late-night piano ballads with the abstract musings of '90s indie rock. Nights shift without warning from all-consuming revels to drunken sadness as Scott's high, nasally voice becomes more and more agitated. It's an intoxicating mix, one Phil Cook is glad to see get a second life.
"I'm excited to have it on vinyl," Phil said via email. "It's a fun record. It's the only record I can listen to as a bystander and enjoy the shit out of it every time. That's rare for an artist, but I think the music just came from a different place."
Roscoe Holcomb and John Cohen—two names so entwined into the history of folk music that it's tough to overstate their importance. Hailing from Daisy, Ken., Holcomb was a coal miner who also sang with the accompaniment of banjo, harmonica and guitar, unleashing a piercing falsetto that is seen as a definitive example of the "the high lonesome sound" of Appalachia. John Cohen is a producer and filmmaker who has become famous for discovering many hidden gems of traditional American music, including Holcomb, who he introduced to the world in his 1963 documentary The High Lonesome Sound.
Tonight in Durham, attendees will have a chance to get closer to both legends. Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies will host a screening of Cohen's Roscoe Holcomb from Daisy, Kentucky. The film incorporates extra footage that Cohen had of Holcomb, who died in 1981. For those with even the most passing interest in folk music's foundations, this should prove an informative and entertaining treat.
The 7 p.m. screening will also feature pre- and post-screening refreshments. More info at cdsporch.org
Before releasing their first full-length last year, Whatever Brains had marked their evolution from flash-bang scuzz-punk into warped and weird post-punk pranksters across a series of singles and limited releases. So when that first long-player was finally released, barely more than eight months ago, there was an already-deep well of experience from which to draw. And so it did. Snotty punk reminiscent of the band's early days, knotty, Fall-informed post-punk and keyboard-fueled visions of melted new-wave all had their say. The Brains threw all their ideas on the platter, and somehow most of it stuck.
The band's second self-titled album, due out next month, doesn't stray so far from its center. Shorter than its predecessor by four tracks and five minutes, No. 2 is a more concentrated effort sonically as well, focusing on the tightly wound and twisted guitar riffs of Rich Ivey and Will Evans. It could be a pragmatic decision as much as an aesthetic one, as keyboardist Hank Shore left for college in Chicago shortly after recording this album's basic tracks. But it's Shore's keys that give vital depth and color to standout tracks like the anxious Spits-gone-psych "Marquee Warfare" and the frantic "Drink the Salt." Where Shore features less prominently (or not at all), the Brains have gathered some of their strongest and most intoxicating riffs to date. "I'm Going Martin" offers a particularly striking example, its mutant surf riff twisting around Ivey's snotty slur while drummer Evan Williams and bassist Matt Watson keep the rhythm locked into an insistent, driving pulse.
With the LP so focused, though, Whatever Brains risk losing the sense of daring offered by some of the first LP's more dramatic detours. That's never the case on the band's new 7-inch EP, prepared as a Record Store Day bonus for local fans only. The A-side finds the band covering hardcore heroes Double Negative ("Looking at the Rats") and new-wave weirdos Wall of Voodoo ("Can't Make Love"), each performed reverently without sacrificing the Brains' own character. On the flip, a noisy demo version of the LP1 rager "Shelves" is countered by Waumiss' slowed-down and spaced-out remix of the same album's "You're Melting."
Friday, March 16
"Elton! Elton! Elton!" The chant rang through Raleigh's PNC Arena at earsplitting volume, 20,000 mostly middle-aged fans begging, pleading for one of pop music's most enduring icons to return to the stage. They didn't have to wait for long. After a few short minutes, Sir Elton John returned to the cushy leather chair in front of his shimmering grand piano. Bedecked in a black suit with a long jacket bedazzled with the Hindu god Shiva, he gave a rehearsed but genuine spiel about how great and receptive the audience had been. He then turned and began patiently twinkling through one of the most famous piano parts in the pop canon.
"Your Song," the aging star's first smash hit, was as hypnotic as ever, with John breathing charming life into Bernie Taupin's deservedly overplayed words about fresh, blissfully awkward love. His seven-piece band slowly trickled back onto the stage, already changed into their relaxed post-show attire. Lush synthetic horns and gauzy cello enhanced the song's beauty until they were lost amid the screaming of the enraptured crowd. After the song concluded, John turned to his audience and said, "That's your song. Thank you."
It was a moving moment in a show filled with more magic than one would expect from a 64-year-old, even if he is known as Captain Fantastic. But like all of Friday night's greatest moments, it occurred with the audience at a fever pitch. More than any performer I've ever seen, John lives and dies by the energy level of his audience. During the show's laundry list of enduring hits, John was often brilliant, willing his aged hands through intricate piano lines, finding refreshingly gritty power in his road-worn voice.
He kick-started the performance with three songs from the 1973 mega-hit Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, rewarding fans who showed up on time and hurrying stragglers into their seats. Up first was enduring bar-rock anthem "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." It rushed in on its lovably ham-fisted riff, John re-channeling Jerry Lee Lewis and attacking his keys with boozy aggression. Without stopping to catch a breath, the band jumped into "Bennie and the Jets," John's bouncing piano part covered-up in the technicolor glam of synths and strings. Underrated disco jam "Grey Seal" followed, John's chords tangling gleefully with sparkling riffs as the propulsive rhythm rocketed forth with kinetic exuberance. The crowd roared its approval, and John's legendary reputation was one with his present.
Unfortunately, not everything in the two-hour-plus set lived up to this high standard. When John approached his newer—and, for the most part, slower—songs, he faltered. Confronted with the unfamiliar and overwrought Civil War ballad "Gone to Shiloh" (from 2010's The Union), the crowd's enthusiasm diminished and took with it John's energy. He lazily picked through simplistic patterns and gave little life to the song's heavy-handed words. The band failed to provide any intrigue, settling for blasé string swells and limp guitar atmospherics.
John has clearly not tired of playing to adoring stadium crowds, but his vigor fades the moment they return to their seats. Next time, Elton, just play the hits. It's what the people want, and it's what you need.
After the flood of releases that preceded it, Horseback's 10-month lull has been a dramatic pause. But Half Blood, the long-awaited follow-up to 2009's The Invisible Mountain, has finally been announced, "set for a Spring 2012 release via Relapse Records." No specific date has been set, but at least it's something.
In the meantime, the Chapel Hill outfit helmed by Jenks Miller has assembled two new tracks for a limited edition 7-inch, which is streaming now [see below], thanks to the heavy-centric blog OMG Vinyl.
The A-side, "On the Eclipse," features Miller's now-signature guitar meanders and scorched shriek, suggesting something descended from The Invisible Mountain, and a possible hint of Half Blood. But the song also incorporates a Crazy Horse boogie in its dominant riff, bolstered by organ swells and acoustic-guitar twang.
The B-side, "Broken Orb," is a more abstract offering. Long slabs of guitar-and-organ drone aren't new tricks for Horseback, but the bright electronics and playful drumming that cuts through the fog certainly are.
Individually, these tracks offer two distinct takes on Horseback's ever-evolving sound. But taken together, the tracks' collision of organ-driven prog-rock and charred-black metal draws a clear line to 2010's excellent split 10-inch with Voltigeurs.
"On the Eclipse" b/w "Broken Orb" will be released next month in a one-time pressing of 500 copies—150 on "black shadow" and 350 on "white mist"—via Brutal Panda Records. It's available for pre-order here.
Last Friday at Raleigh's Berkeley Cafe, five mostly new local hardcore bands took to the stage to raise money to help LA grindcore musician Sergio Amalfitano cover his daughter's medical expenses. The altruism was a warm touch, but with Greensboro's Torch Runner serving as the most veteran band on the bill, the gig was representative of a surge of new bands that formed nigh simultaneously—and in part because Raleigh scene titans Stripmines kinda-maybe-almost broke up. Of the bill's five bands, three featured members of Stripmines.
Earlier this month the band released its excellent LP debut, Crimes of Dispassion, and plans are materializing for a summer tour, but still, Stripmines' future is uncertain.
Stripmines formed around drummer Ira Rogers and guitarist Jeff Young. Rogers knew Matt LaVallee as the drummer of Cross Laws, then Devour. At first, LaVallee planned to play bass in Stripmines, but picked up the microphone when Alex Taylor joined the band.
A year after its first gig in November 2009, the band released the five-song EP Sympathy Rations. By then, Stripmines had established its blunt-force aesthetic. Musically, the band favored sudden but deliberate shifts in rhythm, while Young's guitar skewered open spaces with unexpected barbs. It made for a volatile mix, and LaVallee's vocal invective, delivered with a dry, throaty bellow, was the finishing touch.
The EP's reception was appropriately rabid. Maximum Rocknroll, punk rock's rag of record, named Sympathy Rations its "Record of the Week" in May 2011.
But while Sympathy Rations demonstrated the band's power, the EP's dry production didn't capture the bigger, more explosive sound the band wanted for the LP. Stripmines began recording Crimes of Dispassion in May at Music Mania Recording Studio in Snow Camp, N.C. "We spent a lot of time leading up, preparing for the record," Young says.
The band continued to tighten its playing, writing increasingly more volatile and complex songs. Meanwhile, LaVallee channeled a series of obstacles in his personal life into his lyrics.
"It's like, 'Holy shit. How am I going to incorporate my lyrics into that song and match that level of intensity?'" LaVallee asks, rhetorically. "I think I did, but it meant, like, 'I'm gonna match that level of intensity, but I'm going to have to sit down and think about this and try to write lyrics that are as intense as the music they wrote.' And after a while, if you're not in a good place, that is going to wear on you. And it kind of did."
By the time the recording wrapped in October 2011, LaVallee had had enough. Art was imitating life. "You really have to write from the heart," he says. "And from the heart, in my case, at that point in time, was not a good place to be in."
Without formally announcing it, Stripmines played what was supposed to be LaVallee's last show in October, then entered an unofficial hiatus to look for a new singer.
Sorry State Records, the Carrboro-based label that released Sympathy Rations and had agreed to release Crimes, was supportive of the band's decision. "Obviously it's a lot better if a band is active and playing shows," label owner Daniel Lupton says. "Despite all the internet promotion and everything, the best way for people to hear a band is from them playing shows."
But, he adds, "I care about them more as people than as a band."
Replacing LaVallee, though, proved difficult. "No one was really biting," Taylor admits. "On some message boards where I'd blindly posted 'Hey, we need a new singer,' I heard a couple answers from some people that it's not so much that people don't want to do it, it's just that it's really big shoes to fill. I never thought about it until I heard it from several people."
And if Sympathy Rations was intimidating, Crimes is outright terrifying.
As soon as "Hate Crime" tears through its opening cloud of feedback, the album builds momentum from precise playing and unexpected shifts in direction, and offers little reprieve from its assault. Musically, the band is at its tightest and most bold. And at the front of the maelstrom, LaVallee steers political and personal, without drawing a clear line between the two.
Without LaVallee, Stripmines' remaining trio found new outlets. Taylor joined Old Painless, Abuse. and Lung Matter; Young plays with Taylor in Lung Matter as well as nascent bands Last Words and Violent Outbursts; Rogers started promoting hardcore shows in Raleigh and recently joined the powerviolence trio Mad Dog. The hiatus was a productive period for the band's members, and for the local scene, but with Crimes of Dispassion's release looming, the uncertainty was frustrating.
Eventually, LaVallee agreed to rejoin the band for a handful of spring gigs and the summer tour in support of Crimes, including this Sunday's album release show at Kings. For Stripmines, though, it's just delaying the inevitable. They've opened talks with Jordan Noe, whose vocals already lead Greensboro grinders Priapus, but nothing's official. One way or another, though, Stripmines will continue. Of this, its members are confident. "The three of us still want to be an active band," Taylor says. "Records, shows, tours, that's our main objective."
Young agrees: "That's what we want. We want blisters."
The new Raleigh punk band Infección runs the risk of an overcrowded résumé: Its four members can count Double Negative, Whatever Brains, Brain F≠, Devour, Logic Problem, Grids, Street Sharks, Cross Laws and Crossed Eyes as relevant experience.
But with only one show and a raw three-song practice space video to its name, the quartet of guitarist Daniel Lupton, bassist Rich Ivey, drummer Bobby Michaud and singer David Mirabedini already has differentiated itself from its members’ other activities.
“While there's still a lot of hardcore in the mix, it's much more garagey and catchy,” Lupton told me via e-mail. “We also do a sweet Kinks cover.”
Indeed, the band’s ringing, low-distortion riffs and jittery rhythms offer a crisp post-punk edge, in line with bands like England’s Shitty Limits, Denmark’s Cola Freaks and especially Spain’s Sudor.
The band’s European leanings and sharp, mostly midtempo songs stand out in a local scene facing no shortage of crushingly heavy and blindingly fast hardcore. But even among its European contemporaries, Infección is a stand-out.
Mirabedini, who writes and sings en Español, has a keen ear for rhythm, and springboards easily into hooks — most notably on the band’s best (recorded) song, “Mentiras.” Meanwhile, Lupton’s guitar clangs like Joy Division’s Bernard Sumner’s with none of the chilly gauze, and Ivey cuts cunning countermelodies that poke through the guitar’s treble din. Michaud is left with plenty of space to muscle the band forward with a precise backbeat, offering bold cymbal splashes for emphasis.
You can catch Infección at two upcoming shows: March 13 at All Day Records, with Charlotte bruisers Nö Pöwer, and April 9 at Kings alongside Chicago’s Raw Nerve and Divine Right, and fellow locals Double Negative and Pure Scum.
Mouse Mock, who has owned Chapel Hill music venue The Cave since 2000, has confirmed that the storied bar is up for sale. On Feb. 27 an ad appeared on online classified site Craigslist announcing that ownership would entertain "serious inquiries and qualified buyers."
Mock, who had been a part of the rich community surrounding the Cave for decades, bought the venue to maintain its tradition, but he also had other ideas in mind. A videographer at heart, Mock hoped to have the Cave double as a studio for public access TV shows. In the early days, he succeeded in putting together a few such programs together, including Band Delirium and Live @ the Cave. He had always planned to sell the venue by 2010 to pursue his art full-time, but the recent economic downturn and the lack of a willing successor made him hold on to it a little longer.
"My goal of selling The Cave in 2010 didn't happen," Mock says. "I am about to hit 12 years, and it's just time to go. I want to make that transition now, and that's why I'm selling it."
Mock says he's in no serious rush and has no plans to unload The Cave to the first or wealthiest bidder. He's had people offer him large sums for the venue in the past, but he has held off because he wants to pass it on to someone who will maintain its role in the community.
Touted as Chapel Hill's oldest tavern, The Cave has been open for 43 years and serves as a starting point for newcomers to the independent music scene. It was a key venue during the town's rise to indie rock fame in the '90s and has since prided itself on providing new bands with early gigs. The faux-rock ceilings make for a charmingly grungy setting, and the tight spaces have made their rock shows famously sweaty affairs.
Below, you can read the Craigslist ad in full and also view an episode of "Live @ the Cave."
"Franklin St Bar - Unique - $65000 (Chapel Hill)
More than 40 years of beers! Chapel Hill's oldest bar with 43 years on West Franklin St. This establishment has changed hands very few times over the years and we're looking for the right person to continue the tradition. Sporting a unique decor and "underground" location, this authentic tavern atmosphere would be impossible to duplicate today. Live music venue with amazing history and excellent sound system. If you're looking for the real deal, this could be it. Serious inquiries and qualified buyers only."
Raleigh's Gray Young—whose first record was praised by this paper and second record was panned—is raising funds via Kickstarter to record its third LP. This Friday, with 11 days left to reach its $5,000 goal, the band will play Slim's in Raleigh to raise awareness for its fundraising push.
"It's a free show because it's all about thanking the people who have contributed and trying to raise awareness to the people who don't know about it," says guitarist and vocalist Chas McKeown. There will be a computer at the show for people who want to contribute to the Kickstarter. Mostly, he says, it'll be free rock and roll—donations optional. The yet-unnamed, yet-unwritten record will be self-released, much like debut album Firmament. Gray Young wouldn't go into detail on its relationship with 307 Knox Records, which released sophomore LP Staysail.
"So we basically figured $10,000 is what we are needing to get everything done," McKeown says of the entire recording and production process, plus PR. The Kickstarter campaign aims to fund half this amount. As of Tuesday afternoon, the band had raised $2,572.
"I was apprehensive about doing it, but I've come to see it as a way to bring people into the process with us and less of us asking people for money," McKeown says. "It's more of a way to simultaneously pre-order a record while investing in it."
The band posted a new video Sunday, featuring demo track "Dead Air" (below). In a symbolic hint, a tugboat pushes a container ship toward its destination.
Perhaps you could say the tugboat is giving the container ship a kickstart. Eh? Eh?
Of the many underrated musical treasures in the Triangle, perhaps no other band lives up to the title like Durham's Hiss Golden Messenger. The spiritual musings of singer M.C. Taylor shape some of North Carolina's very best new songs, and their varied folk-rock represents a near perfect balance of intellectual stimulation and breezy accessibility. Despite all this, the band's releases exist mainly in obscurity; the recent LP Poor Moon was offered with a small pressing of 500 copies on Paradise of Bachelors.
Now, it seems the limelight may have finally caught Taylor. On April 17, left-of-center-music champion Tompkin Square will reissue Poor Moon on CD. In addition, they're planning a limited edition 7-inch for Record Store Day on April 21. The single will pair Poor Moon standout "Jesus Shot Me in the Head" with the unreleased song "Jesus Dub." Paired with an upcoming second vinyl pressing via Paradise of Bachelors, this excellent album will soon be more available than ever. In addition, Uncut Magazine named the British reissue of Hiss Golden Messenger's last LP, From Country Hai East Cotton, one of last year's best.
Fleshed out on record by multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch and a revolving door of talented musicians that include members of the Black Twig Pickers, Poor Moon combines myriad styles from the guitar-based end of the Great American Songbook into a lush and mercurial backdrop. Banjo picking gives way to funky guitar solos, which quickly give way to blistering blues rock. The words are better still, bravely exploring spirituality with brutal honesty and beautiful metaphors. This is good news for the 500 people that didn't get there first.