All hail the power of competition. How it drives us to be better than we could ever be without it. Residing in towns separated by a scant 11 miles, Duke Performances and Carolina Performing Arts may not possess the same fierce rivalry as their hardwood counterparts, but their pursuits of excellence have escalated along similar trajectories. CPA, the annual performance series at UNC-Chapel HIll, has raised the stakes once more with its 2013-14 season.
Running from September to April, the slate begins with one of the program's most exciting performances to date. Psych-funk legend George Clinton will lead his famed Parliament Funkadelic and reunite with saxophone wiz Maceo Parker, whose brash and nimble blasts graced Parliament's essential '70s run as well as the most excellent stretch in James Brown's catalog. If that doesn't excite you, I recommend you just give up on this music thing all together.
The rest of the schedule doesn't fizzle. Wynton Marsalis, arguably the most revered trumpeter of our time, will lead the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a celebration of gospel. Time-tested songwriters Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt will provide an evening of acoustic intimacy. Chinese piano sensation Lang Lang will perform, as will András Schiff, renowned for his renderings of Bach classics. He'll play the composer's Golberg Variations. Banjo pioneer Bela Fleck, a frequent CPA performer, will pair with clawhammer specialist Aigail Washburn. Wendy Whelan, something of a superstar in modern ballet, highlights the season's crowded dance crop.
At this point, it’s safe to say Superchunk is back and won’t be leaving us again anytime soon. With 2010’s comeback album Majesty Shredding, the veteran indie rockers proved they could still deliver the goods. But when the quartet issues its hashtag-ready 10th album, I Hate Music, on August 20, they’ll prove that those same goods have never been better.
Potentially the band’s fullest and most overtly pop album, I Hate Music marries indie-rock crunch to arena-rock gloss, big hooks to punk urgency, and ringing chords to jagged leads. Supported by clear, punchy production, the album’s 11 songs give clear nods to Superchunk’s varied influences, from the Misfits to Bananarama, and ultimately shows how well those disparate sounds have coalesced into Superchunk’s own.
Billed as a “dark twin” to Majesty Shredding, I Hate Music concerns itself more with heavier things. “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” gives the album its title with the opening troll: “I hate music/ What is it worth?/ Can’t bring anyone back to this earth.” But in its touring band narrative and titular reference to the Skatalites founder who died of cancer at 42, the song bridges its Sloan-worthy effervescence with self-doubt—that is, why dedicate one’s life to entertainment? “Staying Home” brews an anthem for homebodies, its sprint-speed blast and sing-along melody evoke early Dag Nasty.
Superchunk has never shied from adopting the character of resigned romantics. There’s the hangdog hangover of “Driveway to Driveway” and the unlucky long-distance lover of “Detroit Has A Skyline.” As is their wont, Superchunk’s songwriting sets a firm foundation for the soaring hooks above.
If anything, I Hate Music only shows this older, wiser Chunk hasn’t lost its verve.
That bodes well for stamina, which Superchunk will need as it tours both coasts behind I Hate Music in August and September, including a six-gig run with Spider Bags. Unfortunately, founding bassist Laura Ballance won’t be with the band. Disclosing her struggle with hearing loss on the groups’s website, Ballance wrote, “It's not because I hate music. And it's not because I am too old. You know, that thing about if it's too loud you are too old? That keeps running through my head, dammit.” She’ll be replaced on tour by Jason Narducy, the former Verbow frontman and current bassist for Bob Mould.
“For clarity, let me add, I have not quit the band,” Ballance adds. “I am really excited to have recorded this new album with Superchunk, and I look forward to making more.”
Full dates are below. They’ll be at Cat’s Cradle on August 24.
Birds and Arrows’ recent guest spot on WUNC-FM’s “The State of Things” found husband-and-wife Pete and Andrea Connolly joined on banjo by Kyra Moore—but notably without longtime cellist Josh Starmer, who recently departed the band after four years.
Starmer joined Birds and Arrows in 2009 and recorded 2011’s We’re Gonna Run and 2013’s Coyotes with them. Earlier this month, the band sent a letter to its email list in which Starmer explained his decision to devote more time to his research work at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“While I’m extremely lucky to have played with Pete and Andrea, music is only one part of me,” Starmer wrote. “The other part of me can’t sleep at night because of science. It probably sounds insane, but I love that half just as much as the music half. I get excited both by new songs and by new statistical methodologies. And as much as I would love to keep playing in Birds and Arrows, I knew from the start that there would be a time where I could no longer balance these two sides of me.”
Starmer hasn’t cut ties completely. “We’ve already agreed that I’ll be helping out with special shows,” he added.
Although the Connollys are now back to their duo core, they’re seeking out other collaborative possibilities. “We are really looking forward to having different musicians sit in with us throughout the summer,” Andrea notes.
The first such instance is Thursday, May 23, at Casbah in Durham, where they’ll be joined not only by Moore on banjo and fiddle, but also Jon Shain on bass and Nathan Golub on pedal steel. Adron opens the 9 p.m. show; admission is $5-7.
Long one of the Triangle's more popular young bands, Mandolin Orange is now taking a big step toward the national spotlight. In an announcement earlier this week via CMT Edge—the country TV station's online sounding board for alternative Americana—the Carrboro folk duo revealed that This Side of Jordan, the group's third album, will be released by Yep Roc Records, the N.C. label that claims such stalwarts as Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock. The album drops on Aug. 6. Lead single "House of Stone" is currently streaming here.
Arriving on the scene with the 2010 debut, Quiet Little Room, Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz began as an intimate, stripped-back folk pair with hypnotic melodies and earnest wordplay. But Quiet Little Room's confines soon became too limiting. 2011's double-wide follow-up, Haste Make/Half Hearted Stranger, split the difference, setting aside one disc for the duo's standard acoustic prettiness, while using the other as an opportunity to expand into meditative folk-rock graced by patient bass lines, shimmers of electric guitar and unobtrusive drumming.
"House of Stone" finds Mandolin Orange becoming more comfortable with this full-band approach. The song starts with wisps of fiddle and calm picking, recalling the group's bare-bones beginnings. Skittering drums enter soon thereafter, joined by subdued bass and rich electric fills. The sound grows more robust as the tune progresses. Marlin and Frantz's harmonies find devils and dreams grappling for metaphorical space as her fiddle melts into tender guitar melodies. It's the most beautiful sound the band has yet to create.
A new digital series from PBS will shed some national light on one of the Triangle's more unique music initiatives.
In the fall of 2011, local producer Apple Juice Kid, otherwise known as Stephen Levitin, began teaching a class at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Called the Beat Making Lab, the course equipped college students with the skills and know how to produce high-quality hip-hop beats. In the spring, Mark Katz, the music professor who helped create the class and taught alongside Apple Juice, wasn't able to participate, so Pierce Freelon, a hip-hop scholar as well as the MC for Durham's jazz-and-hip-hop-bridging The Beast, stepped in to take his place. After releasing a compilation of beats from the Lab's students—all of which sampled music from N.C.-based artists—Apple Juice and Freelon took a more ambitious step: They traveled to Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to set up another lab in collaboration with the non-profit Yole!Africa.
The success of those projects will be extended with Beat Making Lab, a weekly web series produced by PBS Digital Studios. New episodes will be uploaded every Wednesday to the Beat Making Lab YouTube channel. The 20-week series chronicles Freelon and Apple Juice's efforts in the Congo as well as similar two-week initiatives in Panama, Senegal and Fiji.
Per a press release:
During the month of May, Beat Making Lab will partner with Global Health organization Intrahealth and Speak Up Africa to set up all-female workshops in Dakar, Senegal. These sessions will showcase the talent of seven female MCs, singers and producers who, through their music, aim to spotlight various health issues in Africa.
Beginning in June, the real-time series will feature episodes from Suva, Fiji.
The first episode of Beat Making Lab is streaming above.
About a month ago, the INDY asked Ashlie White, the founder of Pet-Tich-Eye, why it was so important for the project's initial Kickstarter campaign to succeed. Pet-Tich-Eye was set up to foster collaboration between Triangle musicians, visual artists and community organizations. Its first endeavor is a 10-song compilation featuring one-off trios of local musicians, each contributing one song, paired with 10 pieces of original art and photos of each recording session.
The Kickstarter campaign sought $14,000 to defray the large debt—at least $12,482 plus the cost of 10 days in the studio—that White incurred during the album's creation. As with all Kickstarters, if Pet-Tich-Eye failed to reach its goal by the end of its 40-day campaign, it would receive nothing. The campaign also functioned as a de facto pre-order for the Record Store Day release; donating $30 for the vinyl LP and art book was the only way to purchase the collection outside of a record store.
But for White, Pet-Tich-Eye's Kickstarter success was crucial not because of the impact failure would have on her finances. "It will prove that people want this," she explained.
On Sunday, White got the confirmation she was looking for. With about seven hours to go, Pet-Tich-Eye achieved its goal, with donations totaling $14,499 before it was all over. The outpouring of support down the stretch was impressive. A week ago, the campaign had yet to break $7,000, but with the help of tickets to a collaborative chef dinner featuring some of the area's brightest culinary minds and a powerful push of donations, White and her cohorts got the money they needed—as well as the public affirmation that White was hoping for.
"What I hope this campaign achieved was more than just raise money to pay off a debt incurred to create the first release," White wrote in a Kickstarter update published shortly after Pet-Tich-Eye reached its goal. "I hope it raised awareness about this project and the vision we have for future collaborations and partnerships within the community."
Featuring members of Bon Iver, The Rosebuds, Megafaun and others, Pet-Tich-Eye will be available in local record stores on April 20. Motorco Music Hall will host a release show that night that will include a few of the album's collaborators recreating their contributions. The exact line-up has yet to be announced.
Listen up, Earthlings: Valient Thorr, the Venusian (by way of Raleigh) prophets of boogie-metal, are back. On June 18, the denim-vested headbangers will release their sixth album, Our Own Masters, a 12-track platter recorded in Athens, Ga. by Harvey Milk drummer Kyle Spence. That’s the backpatch-ready cover art above.
If Valient Thorr has proven anything across its catalog, it’s consistency. The band’s blend of classic thrash, punk tempos and New Wave of British Heavy Metal solos provides a perfect complement to the allegorical tales frontdude Valient Himself turns into gruff shout-alongs. Naturally, it’s even better on stage.
There’ll be plenty of opportunity to succumb to the Thorr’s mosh-bait when the band hits the road (as is their wont) for a month-long tour beginning June 12 in Charlotte and winding back to Raleigh for a July 6 gig at Kings.
And now, a directive from the self-proclaimed rock ‘n’ roll saviors from Venus: “Get ready. Get everyone ready ... Spread it, share it, push it to the brink of explosion, let it take a breath and then push it over the edge! Today is it. Now is when we shall act. Give them a reminder. We are OUR OWN MASTERS. See you all soon.”
If there’s such a thing as a lucky break, this might count: In February, Fidelitorium Recordings, Mitch Easter’s Kernersville studio, offered a free weekend of recording with Easter at the helm to “somebody awesome.” That somebody had to respond to a Facebook post requesting a description of “who you are and what you want to do and an mp3 of your current idea or something you've done in the past.”
The winner is Carrboro’s Henbrain, a self-proclaimed “post-metal, psychedelic rock band with two basses and female vocals.”
“Their bass-heavy organ freak out prog rock demo just made our jaws drop when we hit play,” The Fidelitorium posted in its announcement. “We can't really explain what they sound like but if you imagine Yes in 1969 with Grace Slick on vocals that will get you pretty close.”
For a band whose recording catalog seems only to include a handful of raw demos, and whose layered, retro-leaning sound indeed favors lush production, this studio opportunity would seem especially fortuitous. “We sent in our songs, waited with our fingers crossed and screamed like little girls when we got the news,” singer Erika Libero told the Indy.
For the less-lucky, have hope; Fidelitorium has promised a second contest this Fall.
Three clicks are all it takes for a musician to sign up and sell a song on ReverbNation. Now the Durham based music-marketing platform is making it just as easy for artists to donate to charity, too. Music For Good, a new e-commerce spinoff of the site, allows musicians to sell songs directly to their fan base while directing half the proceeds to a nonprofit of their choice.
Pre-approved charities include those working toward clean water, funding cancer research, righting injustice and poverty and spreading music education. UNC-Chapel Hill’s own Beat Making Lab, which fosters music creation internationally, is one of the partners, along with charities such as Oxfam America, Every Mother Counts, The Fender Music Foundation and Zac Brown’s Camp Southern Ground.
Music for Good is a 24-hour, 365-day stop for fans to engage with artists in making a difference. An eight-week beta launch just before Christmas resulted in more than 50,000 bands around the world signing up for the service. The platform-wide kickoff promises a big impact given that the main service reps a directory of more than 2.7 million musicians.
When Tess Mangum Ocaña left The ArtsCenter last December after a 10-year tenure there, many wondered if she’d land on her feet in a way that allowed her to stay in the Triangle and maintain her stellar track record as a music programmer.
Wonder no more: As Downtown Durham Inc.’s new special events coordinator, Ocaña is already at work planning a summer music series for the CCB Plaza. The series, to begin May 9, will run Thursdays through August from 7–8:30 p.m. and feature “live, free music that reflects Durham’s funky, cool diversity, and all entirely local bands,” Ocaña says.
“[Downtown Durham Inc.] really wants the best stuff. Fortunately there’s not a shortage to choose from … from blues to bluegrass to soul to Cajun,” she says. She’s still working out the booking details and raising funds, but she expects to announce the lineup in late March. In the meantime, anyone who wants to get their name in the hopper, either as a performer or event sponsor, can reach out to Ocaña at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’ve been checking out a lot of bands that were not really appropriate or feasible for The ArtsCenter, bands that I really never had an opportunity to book over there. This really does give me an opportunity to shine a spotlight,” Ocaña says.
Although she’s still, in her words, “hustling,” to make up for full-time employment through various part-time contracts, the Downtown Durham, Inc. gig represents a special homecoming for Ocaña.
“I live about two miles from downtown,” she says. “And now, living in Durham, and programming in Durham and for Durham, it’s really fulfilling.”