Monday, April 30, 2012

Boykiller (Tir Na Nog, Raleigh, 4/19/12)

Another Local Beer Local Band night, another revelation.

The bill was Flesh Wounds, Boykiller, and Fan Modine.  Flesh Wounds, with members of the Moaners, Last Year's Men, and Future Kings of Nowhere, play very garage-y, screaming trash rock in the oldest of skools.  Nothing too original, but very high energy, and fun.  Fan Modine has been around awhile, though it's the first time I've seen them.  They didn't light my world on fire, very well made and played indie pop... I'll have to see'em again to make up my mind.  

Boykiller was the revelation.  Boykiller is Theresa Stone (ex-Organos, North Elementary), Ginger Wagg (ex-Veelee), and Catherine Steele (ex-Animal Alphabet).  This trio has a ragged, fun, stripped-down sound,  driven by keyboards (Catherine), drums (Ginger), and ukelele and/or guitar (Theresa).  Theresa is usually up front singing, but they all chime in with harmonies at times, or pick up a second guitar now and then.

What makes them interesting is that there's a sort of melancholic poppiness, and a serrated edge. Despite the fuzz and fun in the live show, there's a bittersweet undercurrent.  They remind me of '90s great Cub, who were bubblegum on the surface, but had a lot more depth than that -- as do Boykiller.  And sort of like that band at times (probably moreso), they sing unapologetically about sex, love, and heartbreak.  Oh yeah, and pornography.  Can't forget the pornography.  They closed with a hilarious medley of Let's Talk About Sex and What's Your Fantasy ("Lick-lick-lick-lick you from your head to your TOES...").

Two of their songs on Bandcamp pretty much give you the idea of what they're about.  Get Get is them gettin' Ludacris in their own white girl, punky way ("You just wanna get get, you just wanna get get... naked naked naked all the time!").  Funny and fun stuff.  Then Double Feature's beautiful and sad harmonies go in a completely different direction.  And I LOVE the banner.  It doesn't merely say "BOYKILLER".  It says "BOYKILLER BANNER!".  They took the time to sew in the word "banner".  That also reminded me of another (obscure and long dead) band they have a bit in common with, The Furies, who did a great song called Arts and Crafts!  So they're artsy, crafty, AND sexy!  I mean, check out those Sugarbaker dresses.  Seriously.
Boykiller play next at the Casbah in Durham, Friday, May 4th, with Twelve Thousand Armies and Little Bull Lee.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

T0W3RS - If All We Have Is Time (DiggUp Tapes)

T0W3RS began as a solo project of Derek Torres (ex-Soft Company, etc.).  I was intrigued early on.  Before seeing them play some months ago, I checked 'em out online, and it surprised me that their recent EP prominently featured a cover from another local band, Summertime (by Lonnie Walker).  Kind of a gutsy (foolish?) move by an upstart local.  But I had been wearing out my copy of These Times, Old Times, Lonnie Walker's debut, so I'm curious: "What are these guys going to do with it?  And more to the point, why?"

My answer was immediate.  They were paying respects to fellow travellers, yet somehow simultaneously breaking totally new ground.  See, Lonnie Walker is a pretty rootsy, twangy band.  While still exerting a little twang, T0W3RS turned the song completely on end... into an electronic, slow-dance apparition of its former self.  Then there was another song, OUR5!, an Animal Collective-inspired rave-up released in support of the Occupy movement.  It had nary a string in earshot, but plenty of rolling keys, beeps, and a steady kick drum.  Okay.  I was interested.

Now, after giving their debut full-length, If All We Have Is Time, a few listens... well, let's just say I'm still interested.

...Time starts with the slow plucking of electric guitar and Torres' plaintive wail on Swim In, bemoaning an obviously dysfunctional relationship ("Your love's like a drain or a hole in boat / I should be swimmin'").  It's a brief, dark intro, which somehow jumps seemlessly into the upbeat pop bliss of eee!  This song realizes the meld of geetar & electronic hinted at by the earlier EP.  It's driven by jaunty acoustic strumming, echo-y electric, and knocking drumsticks.  But there's so much more clatter, warped static-y noises, and vocal cleverness that it goes way beyond relying on a pop hook.  And, really, how can you NOT love a song called eee!?

Over & Ov'r then detours us towards a darker, slower side of T0W3RS.  It's an unexpected, albeit welcome, development; one which sets the tone for the album.  The mournful waltz is punctuated mid-song by the swell of nightmarish organ that calls to mind some tripped out, mid-70s, midnight movie.  It's a bluesy, shadowy number with lyrics full of bite and spite ("Oh, you've got me tonight / that's when I act like I gave a fuck about you / and your kind...").  Next is Scout/, which begins with simple, sustained piano keys, but is buoyed when the gentle electric beat kicks in.  We get the feeling Torres is lifting out of a fog., a feeling accentuated by segueing into the (slightly) more up-tempo The Cardinal/The Finch, which continues the sparse piano and drums before sweet lilting vocals begin to pull us back into the sunlight.  

Before going much further, I should mention Torres' voice.  It's a great voice, but not in a typical way.  More in the way that Robert Pollard's voice is great... just the way he uses it.  A similar range to Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), and perhaps in the way it's mixed, explaining some of the Animal Collective comparisons.  But there's a vocal cleverness in the way he uses lyrics and sounds; from wordplay like "so keep what you make-k-K/your capital" ("you're capital"?), to simple breaths and croaks at just the right times.  It's one of the highlights of the band.  And although most of the album's vocals are Derek's, the addition of female vocals to the band really adds something to the sound, and the live show. 

Another highlight of T0W3RS is that the songs are always moving. By that I mean something is always going on, at every turn of every song.  Beyond the main song structures, under the surface, in the background, are surprising little tweaks and touches.  It's easy to throw a bunch of sounds together and call yourself "experimental".  Making it all flow together is the tricky part, a trick T0W3RS has mastered.  Even the quiet, slow songs, or parts of songs, are never boring.  Again, this is something captured well by the full band.  Multiple, varied instrumentation and voices come and go to great, restless effect, making for a very fun live show.

But back to the LP.  Each song sounds like a movement, progressing into the next.  After exiting the fog, we get to, appropriately, Big Sky (which, although they do cover Kate Bush live, is NOT the Bush song of that name).  Reverb-laden guitar and thumping drums make you almost see the distance and space.  The title cut then continues into the more optimistic bent, spare piano and strumming building to the realization that "If all we have is time, then we'd be allright".  Darla picks it back up, with a jumpy guitar line invoking Texas blues.  This most upbeat song on the album is followed by perhaps the simplest, quietest number, Logan.  While it may sound like the album is a bit of a roller coaster (and maybe it is), every hill and valley work together.  Darla and Logan, for instance, share a penchant for Deep Southern musical roots.  Logan is almost country, plucking it's way through Georgia, Austin, and back to Carolina, and "hoping for someone to soothe my heartache".  But then it's back on the coaster for the closer, the psychedelic (and again, a little Southern) rocker, The Seams, The Tangles & The Sum of My Brain.

T0W3RS is nothing if not diverse.  Influences are all over the place.  There's the afore-mentioned southern rock, blues, and electronic/experimental.  But I also hear a bit of 70's arena rock... can't really place it... Emerson, Lake, and Palmer?   But they rarely wear them on their sleeves.  There are just too many ingredients going into the pot to come out sounding like anything but, well T0W3RS.  Though this was recorded largely before the band took shape, props to the what has now become a great live band (Sam Logan, Karen Blanco, Jacki Lee Huntington, Zeke Krautwurst), and to the production by Logan.

T0W3RS play at Kings Barcade in Raleigh Friday, April 27th, to celebrate the release of If All We Have Is Time on DiggUp Tapes.  They're playing with Lonnie Walker (also great, see here), and Coastal Vision (who I haven't seen, but if the bill is any indicator...).  Plus, it's FREE!  You can put your money towards getting the LP.  It's worth it.

PS:  Derek's got a thing for math, numbers, punctuation, etc. (or should that be #s/punctuation/3TC?).  He and Robert Schneider, apparently.  Thus the band name and some of the song titles.  So no, not a bunch of typos above.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Organos - Concha

Durham's Organos is the brainchild of Maria Albani, member of Schooner and co-creator Minus Sound Research, an outlet for local musical artists to express their visual side. In keeping with that idea, Maria did the cover art for the new album, Concha, which appears to be some sort of goose/squid/phoenix rising out of the side of a woman. Whatever it is, it's very organic (no pun intended), like Concha.

Organos shows that you can do a lot with a little. Theirs is a pretty minimal sound, heavy on bass and many percussive instruments and noises. On the opener, First Night, Albani's mid-register voice is accompanied by high harmonies and breathy vocalizations. Guitar is more-or-less an accent.

That's the pattern for many of the songs. Nevertheless, the sound is still full, even on the basically a capella second cut, the very sweet Side Girl, in which only finger-snaps and wood-claps accompany vocals. Maybe the minimalism fills up the space because it's simply not what's expected. Off-kilter notes and harmonies, chaotic feedback, and minor keys abound on songs like the dark but emboldening Same Eyes.

The theme of inspiration and encouragement, often in the face of doubt, runs through that song and others. It'll Never Come begins with admonishments like "Hanging out in bars, aren't you too old / keep on messing up, haven't you been told", but quickly dismisses such nonsense with a forward-looking message, urging the listener to take chances. Sometimes you just need to light a fire. Fits and Fears returns (briefly) to doubt and insecurity, the atypical vocals sounding like a record speeding up and slowing down, perfectly capturing the theme of the song.

The closer, At the End of the Ride, stakes out more conventional folk territory on what is generally a pretty unconventional collection. With its quietly picked guitar, tinklings from a xylophone, and spare harmonies, it is both sad and beautiful. Despite the palpable sense of loss, however, it's yet another tale of moving on -- despite it all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gross Ghost - Brer Rabbit (Grip Tapes)

Spring has sprung, and local releases are popping out like the ubiquitous tree pollen. So I'm gonna use the next few blog entries to give my humble opinion of a few of them.

Let's start with Carrboro's Gross Ghost. What started as Mike Dillon (Spader, Old Bricks), roommate Tre Acklen, and a tape machine, has grown into a full-fledged band. Their new album, Brer Rabbit (on Grip Tapes), lives up to its namesake. It hides a sharp edge behind a veneer of breeziness, luring us into a thorny patch that, thankfully, Gross Ghost has no problem navigating.

From the beginning, on Architect, Dillon's vocals darkly echo like a plugged-in Donovan in front of a wall of guitars. The feel from the get-go is one of summer, but in a contemplative, end-of-the-day kind of way. The second song, Leslie is a real highlight. It's very "beachy" the way he the name is wailed in a high 5 or 6 syllables... but then you hit the briars, when it's followed by "feels like I'm watching you but no one's watching me".

Up next is maybe the best cut on the album, Meltdown. It's a soaring melody that starts with "Giving up on you today" and proceeds through falling chords that sing of "every boy, every girl, having meltdowns". The song captures the feeling of a meltdown, but in an oh-so-sweet way. Right about now, the guitars are getting about as dense as a Built to Spill/Jesus and Mary Chain mash-up (see Hopscotch lineup!).

Rabbit gets even poppier with Lurker (is there a stalker theme going here?), complete with clap-clap-claps, before heading down a dark alley or two with the gutsy jazz/pop/zen meld of Lazy Little Walk, and the Hurdy-Gurdy-esque Soft Focus.

There are a couple of pop-punk "singles" -- driving bass, slightly snarly vocals -- on songs like Devious (which definitely owes a debt to the Descendents) and Sooner or Later, great songs on their own. That's how, to me, the band struck me live: garage-y fun punk. But that's normal for a band's live alter-ego. The strength the Gross Ghost, however, and of Brer Rabbit , comes when it merges that sense of pop with odder, darker elements... something it does very well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Hive Dwellers (Kings, Raleigh 4/2/12)

The Hive Dwellers is Calvin Johnson's latest band, he of K Records, Beat Happening, and Halo Benders fame. As much of a fan of his prior work as I've been, I'd never seen him live with any of his bands. What I saw was very entertaining, and probably (a bit like that deep baritone of a voice) a bit of an acquired taste to anyone unfamiliar with Johnson.

I don't know if his persona with this band reflects his usual stage antics, but what I saw and heard was part slam poet, part jazzbo/beatnik, part nightclub chanteuse, and a little Tai Chi. Funny, and fun (how could that combination NOT be?).

His songs are humorous, sometimes sweet stories. Highlights included Sitting Alone at the Movies, and Get In. The latter is an anthem for the disaffected, in which Calvin proceeds to rattle off an endless series of insulting names -- some reaching NC-17 depths -- for oddballs, minorities, geeks, and various outcasts. It's a bit cringe-worthy (in the way that David Cross's comedy can be), but the point is made. If you are weird, OWN IT! BE who you are, and make no apologies. And when all these "outcasts" are come together, they pretty much add up to... well... everybody (or at least 99%). Get in!

The audience was smaller than your usual Kings crowd (it was a Monday night), but very appreciative. So was Calvin, who seemed to enjoy the intimacy, and chatted with those in attendance throughout the show, and after.

On his guitar was an inscription from a fan reading "Calvin, you're kind of amazing!". You know what, they were right!

Lilac Shadows EP Release Show, w/ Jenny Besetzt & Airstrip (Kings, Raleigh, 3/31/12)

This was a show to celebrate the release of Lilac Shadows' Madness EP. But before they played, two other pretty good locals opened. I hadn't heard of Jenny Besetzt, and since they were playing first, I thought they were some wet-behind-the-ears kids. Plus, there was their stripped-down Facebook, and a Vimeo "teaser" with a couple of atmospheric song segments, and a bio merely stating that "Jenny Besetzt is about transcendence over those who see the world as only earthly and finite."

Well, they quickly let you know that they're no novices. They're a very tight and dynamic band... atmospheric and jumpy at the same time. A lot of rapid-fire electric strumming along with breezy vocals and keyboards (and a great light show) made for an upbeat start to the night (and some great pictures). Apparently, they have been playing around some -- for about a year or so -- and are from over in Greensboro. Go see'em!

Jenny Besetzt...

Airstrip was up next, a relatively new band led by Matt Park (ex-Veelee). Veelee was a duo, and this band perhaps has a similar sound, but it's more fleshed out as one would expect. You can recognize Matt's songrwriting style from Veelee. It's dark, with an abrupt edge, and he at times sounds like Thurston Moore or Neil Young. Dual guitars, you'd expect, would be very trebly. But Airsrtip has a heavy sound for an "indie/guitar" band. There's much emphasis on rhythm, with bass and drums driving many of the songs. Even the guitar is played kinda low and thudding, although there are some surfy accents, and Tre Acklen (also of Gross Ghost) even makes use of an 12-string electric.

Airstrip describes their music as "Nightmare Pop".

Yeah. That fits.


So after a dark middle set, the hosts of the party, Lilac Shadows, brought back the light show (literally and figuratively). The music moved back into similar territory as JB as well. This band shares at least 3 members w/ T0W3RS (Derek Torres, Sam Logan, Karen Blanco), and you'd expect some similarities, sound-wise. But whereas T0W3RS is more Derek's gig, this is Sam's. And where T0W3RS is more aggressive and staccato, Lilac Shadows is smooth and impressionistic. They play a kind of a soaring guitar pop with a synth/electronic edge. They can momentarily drift into droning, Velvet Underground-like instrumental mantras -- unafraid to stretch a song -- before reining it in to a galloping, rolling pop.

Lilac Shadows have a slight late '80s-early '90s British feel (as did JB). Railway Children, Woodentops... a little bit o' shoegaze, and a lot of quiet-loud-quiet. And again, great light show... made for great photos.

Lilac Shadows...

Here's a video of Lilac Shadows doing Fever Pitch.

Oh yeah, forgot. Dave Mueller (Heads on Sticks) DJ'd between bands, and was great. Nice use of 'Fess (not that Professor Longhair is ever out of place).