They say in times of crisis, a person's true colors reveal themselves more brilliantly than ever. That certainly seems the case for Dan Melchior and his wife, Letha Rodman-Melchior, local musicians (he fronts and she plays bass for Dan Melchior Und Das Menace) who, since Letha was diagnosed with melanoma and breast cancer in 2010, have battled the diseases tenaciously and continued to pursue their artistic endeavors.
The latest output from the Melchiors is the debut of a new band, Lloyd Pack, which finds Dan and Letha joined by Russell Walker of the English post-punk band The Pheromoans. The trio's four-song Know Your Lloyd Pack EP will be released in an edition of 300 7-inch records by the reliable lo-fi imprint Siltbreeze (which released Assemblage Blues, one of Melchior's 2010 LPs). The famously sardonic Melchior has taken an introspective turn on his most recent solo songs, but in its announcement of the new EP, Siltbreeze promises the characteristic snark. "Its drollery is of the highest Anglo-Saxon order," the label claims.
As his wife has undergone a battery of tests and treatments, Melchior, a famously prolific art-rocker, has issued a deluge of releases, including a 12-inch EP and a brilliant, introspective new LP, The Backward Path, this year alone. He's also stacked canvases with his abstract paintings and collages.
Since Letha's diagnosis, benefit concerts have been organized, records and paintings have been sold; Northern Spy, the New York-based record label which released The Backward Path and last year's Catbirds & Cardinals, even offered to donate all proceeds from the new album's sales to help fund Letha's treatments.
Still, as the couple revealed in Jordan Lawrence's feature story on Sept. 26, the battle rages on. "We still need help," Melchior said. "It's kind of difficult to be asking people for things all the time, but it's just a position that you're put in when you don't really have any health care." Siltbreeze has also promised to donate a portion of all sales of the Lloyd Pack EP to fund Letha's continued treatment. Donations also can be made at melchiorfund.blogspot.com.Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly linked to a poem not written by Dan Melchior.
The music of Chapel Hill's Le Weekend is marked by stark contrast: moments of catchiest pop abandon give way to noisy freak outs. To this point, it's been a balance that the trio has struggled to maintain. The transitions between its disparate elements sometimes get a bit too jarring. But the magic y/ear—the group's third album, which will be unveiled at an Oct. 19 CD release party at Durham's Pinhook—smooths the edges, allowing Le Weekend's parts to add up to their optimum sum.
This time out, moments of polite tunefulness build gradually to aggressive conclusions. These catharses cover an exciting range, from psych-blasted distortion to prog-inspired polyrhythms. The build from instrumental intro "Ask me about my weekend" to "Heroic cutlets" is particularly effective. An ethereal mix of synthesizers and spacey sound effects opens things up before an elegant guitar riff emerges. By the end of the intro, the guitar has shifted into a tenacious indie rock lick akin to Archers of Loaf. The song balances these moments of aggressive bravado with fetching melodies.
Defying the odds, Le Weekend nails every transition. Below, you can check out "Your past lies," another highlight from the magic y/ear.
At first blush, the video for "Take a Chance," the new single from Durham MC Shirlette Ammons, seems quite simple. A colorful blue and purple screen announces that there is breaking news. The bulletin: "Shirlette and Anansi find their Bentley mode." Shirlette sits making hilariously serious faces at a news desk as a monitor shows her and a young girl — Anansi — wandering about town. Without digging deeper, it seems slight but cute, a funny clip for a funny song with a stomping, up-tempo beat.
But "Take a Chance" is the lead single for Twilight for Gladys Bentley, Ammons' solo debut and also a loosely conceptual tribute to the black blues singer of the title. Getting her start in New York speakeasies during the '20s, Bentley wore men's tuxedos and did growling, raunchy renditions of the day's popular songs. An open lesbian, she would flirt shamelessly with the women in the audience. Overall, she made a brave, confrontational spectacle. But in the '50s, she bent to society's disapproval, taking a husband and wearing dresses.
In the video, a news ticker fills you in on these details, holding Bentley up as both an ideal of a free-living lifestyle and a warning against allowing yourself to conform as she did. As Shirlette —herself an openly lesbian musician —raps, the text rolls beneath her. "Bentley still stands as a renegade," it reads, "who took great risks in her music and her life. People like Bentley chose to be themselves at a time when it was life-threatening."
Shirlette's lyrics concern her scrap to make it as an artist. She talks about living in a small apartment and begging friends to listen to her demos. At the end of every request comes the refrain: "Don't even ask, homie/ Just take a chance, homie." In this context, Bentley serves as a reminder of those who have struggled bravely for social change.
Shirlette will offer a preview of Twilight for Gladys Bentley with a show at Durham's Pinhook on Sept. 21. A CD sampler of tracks from the album will be available to anyone who pre-orders the album that night. Humble Tripe and DJ Play Play join her on the $7 bill. Music starts at 10 p.m.
The past few months have been an exciting time for Hiss Golden Messenger, the Durham-based recording project of M.C. Taylor. Last year’s excellent and sedately funky folk-rock trove, Poor Moon, saw a CD reissue via the venerable imprint Tompkins Square. Taylor also contributed to a compilation honoring folk legend Michael Chapman and shared the stage with him in Durham. With recording under way for HGM’s Poor Moon follow-up, the outfit is offering yet another 2012 highlight.
Paradise of Bachelors, the Durham-based label that first unveiled Poor Moon, is releasing a split 7-inch from HGM and Elephant Micah, the somber and seductive songwriting outlet of Indiana’s Joe O’Connell. The single, called Hiss Golden Messenger Plays Elephant Micah Plays Hiss Golden Messenger, finds each outfit covering one of the other’s songs. Elephant Micah offers an ethereal and elegiac take on Poor Moon's “Balthazar’s Song,” while Taylor takes on O’Connell’s “My Cousin’s King,” filling it with reassuring warmth via acoustic guitar and mandolin. You can stream both covers below.
By his admission, Brian Cruse isn’t adamant about much. But there was one thing upon which he insisted: “I was like, ‘My next band’s going to be called Black Zinfandel. I hope everybody’s cool with that because that’s the one thing I insist on,’” he says. “And I have a feeling that that name’s the only reason anybody cares about us—because it gets a few chuckles.”
The moniker does elicit a few laughs, suggesting middle-aged women sipping stained wine by a pool. But the handle is hardly the only reason anybody cares about Black Zinfandel. Singer-guitarist Cruse, bassist Seth Beard and drummer Evan Williams all bring strong backgrounds with unconventional punk to the new outfit. Cruse and Williams played together in Grass Widow—not to be confused, each of them will remind you, with the San Francisco post-punk trio—before Williams picked up the sticks for Whatever Brains. Cruse took a break from bands, save a few one-offs. Beard played drums in Logic Problem and Antibubbles, and a few other short-lived indie rock and hardcore ensembles.
So far, Black Zinfandel is a low-stress, maybe-kinda-punk band. “I consider it punk rock, and it sounds like punk rock,” explains Cruse, “but I don’t know if the punks will think it sounds like punk rock.”
Most of Black Zinfandel’s plans are still in the maybe stage. They’d like to add a fourth member, but logistical barriers have already led to the departures of two guitarists, Lucius Cyrus (of The Static Minds) and Nicole Story (ex-Lazy Janes). They plan to incorporate some visual elements and instrument swapping into the set. Cruse doesn’t play drums but promises some “Moe Tucker, standing-up shit.”
It’s fitting that Black Zinfandel will play its first show on a bill with two other bands whose punk credentials feel more like guilt-by-association. Tuesday at Slim’s, the trio will share the stage with the local band Infección and Sweden’s Terrible Feelings. Infección’s jittery, clean-toned songs borrow as much from pop and post-punk as they do from obscure European hardcore bands. Terrible Feelings released their debut LP, Shadows, through the Canadian punk label Deranged Records, but they play driving pop full of dark themes and ringing hooks in the vein of Masshysteri.
Somewhere in that broadly defined vision of punk, there’s room for Black Zinfandel—even if nobody, band included, can tell exactly where just yet. “That’s the worst question you could ever be asked: ‘What do you sound like?’ or ‘What kind of music do you play?’” Cruse says, with a laugh. “If you can answer that, you suck.”
Unless you’re an aspiring emcee looking for some quick beats to rhyme over, it might be hard to wrap your dollar bills around any legitimate hip-hop producer’s instrumental releases. Many of us don’t have any use for background boom-bap without vocals, anyway. But in 9th Wonder’s case—where many of his devoted followers pride themselves on collecting all of 9th’s jams, be they popular, unreleased or leaked—he’s now cashing in on an audience that views his work as classic compositions that mark a prestigious era in post-J. Dilla producer adoration.
Earlier this week, 9th released his 40-track beat tape, Tutankhamen, which features several of his classic soul-sampled beats as well as previously unheard ones. The tracklisting reads like a computer-generated printout of generic titles, or a compilation of Twitter hashtags—“HoneyBeeChopSoul,” “JoyJoyJoy,” and “AscensionHaSoul." That could be 9th’s way of encouraging rappers to re-title the jams should they choose to use the beats for their own songs.
You might notice, however, that unlike most of the material that Jamla has released over the years, Tutankhamen isn't free. It comes with a price tag of $9.99. Free doesn’t last forever, and now Jamla Records has shifted its focus from gratis .zip files to a record label with a business model and the potential for its artists to earn a cool penny. Previous instrumental albums from 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records production team, The Soul Council, include Eric G’s Stars & Lights, Ka$h’s The Jamla Files and Khrysis’ more recent, Funkwhatuheard LP.
Between these four beat adventures, there’s a couple of hours of heavy warm-up listening until May 29 , when Jamla emcee Big Remo throws his street-friendly conversation on top of The Soul Council’s newer creations for his sophomore album, Sleepwalkers. If Jamla Records can stay in full-stride, then it’s quite possible that 9th Wonder—as NC’s hip-hop King Tut—can help everyone on his team gild their bottom lines.
May 13th is UNC's graduation date, which makes it an appropriate day for the UNC Beat Making Lab to release its free compilation. These 13 tracks—which draw samples from a wide variety of North Carolina acts—represent the final project from a course on beat-making taught by The Beast emcee Pierce Freelon and Chapel Hill producer extraordinaire Stephen Levitin— better-known in music circles as the Apple Juice Kid. While the compilation will be free, there's currently an Indiegogo campaign set up to send Freelon and Apple Juice to Goma, DR Congo, this summer, where they'll teach the same course at the Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF). They will also build and leave a beat studio. This fits within the mission of ARTVSM, a socially conscious art-and-activism company run by the two.
After the jump, read our conversation with Freelon and Apple Juice about the UNC Beat Making Lab and their international aspirations. And while you're here, you may as well hit play on Sup Doodle's "It Doesn't Hurt a Bit," a track from the upcoming compilation.
"The first words I ever learned/ Were 'Mommy' and 'Daddy' and 'heartbreak!'" Jason Kutchma roars at the onset of "American Me," the first single from Red Collar's new LP Welcome Home — due June 12 via Tiny Engines. The outsized Durham punk band has long mined the fractured ends of romantic ideals, but that line and the song that contains it express the band's unique brand of defiant heartbreak as well as anything they've ever released. Check it out now over at Alternative Press.
That's good news for Red Collar fans who have waited since the band's 2010 album Pilgrim for new material. Most of those songs had either been previously released or part of the band's live set for at least a couple years. In other words, a truly new Red Collar song has been long overdue, and this searing jam is just what the doctor ordered.
The song rushes to life on strident, angular guitars, Kutchma and fellow axe man Mike Jackson daring each other to up the ante with each new prickling solo or crushing riff. It swells incessantly until the moments when it crashes into silence, but it springs back to life without losing an iota of momentum. Kutchma plays up the gravel in his voice, taking on the role of the beaten-down working man without letting the pressure break him. "I ain't got a name/ Ain't got no crown/ It holds me back/ Holds me down!" he shouts out during a lull in the storm. It's a powerful anthem, one that indignantly espouses hard work even as it laments a lack of opportunity. With economic woes pressing hard — both in the music industry and everywhere else — "American Me" is a perfect fit for its time.
Red Collar will celebrate Welcome Home's release a little early with a party at Durham's Motorco Music Hall. The May 19 show will feature local math rock outfit Maple Stave as well as Signals Midwest and Restorations. Advance copies of the record will also be available.
In other news, Lost Chance Records announced today that it will release Pastoral, Kutchma's solo debut, in July. Credited to JKutchma & the Five Fifths, the LP sees him conquering various folk-rock forms with the same confident bravado he showcases with Red Collar.
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."
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.