Album Review: Can't Kids - Brushes Touches Tongues

Full disclosure: I’ve always sort of been a fan boy of Can’t Kids co-founder Adam Cullum. From his heart-on-sleeve solo recordings in Falling off a Building to his multi-instrumental prowess and role as the energetic center of the literary-folk/pop group Magnetic Flowers, I’ve always considered him one of the scene’s finest assets. Whether you love or hate what he is doing on stage, it’s hard to deny the passion and instrumental power of his performances. And now, we have Can’t Kids.

The band was born as a duo, with Cullum and Jessica Oliver bashing out poppy tunes at deafening levels in the house they shared. The two frequently shared vocals and seem to (at least initially) take turns playing drums or guitar. White Stripes comparisons quickly followed, which is something the two found puzzling when I talked to Cullum back in July. At first I shared their confusion, but the more I’ve listened to this debut, though, I think there might be some logic behind the linkage, and it gets to the heart of what makes both groups tick.

We tend to think of The White Stripes as this primal blues-based monster, with the high octane riffs of songs like “Seven Nation Army” or “Fell in Love with a Girl” being exemplars of their muscular ferociousness. But this is also a group who made the largely marimba-based Get Behind Me Satan and featured such twee pop ballads as “We’re Going to be Friends” and “I Want to be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart.” These odd contradictions—of Son House and Burt Bacharach, The Sex Pistols and Belle & Sebastian—are actually what seem to capture the group the best.

Similarly with Can’t Kids, the initial reaction always seems to come from their loudest, most heavy-edged moments. The group’s sound seems frequently inspired by the pounding and propulsive electric guitars of 90s indie rockers like Modest Mouse or Pavement, with pounding drums and meandering, electric guitar riffs that often seem nearly unhinged. Correspondingly, there are maniacal shouts and misanthropic observations that also mark the best of Modest Mouse: see Oliver’s inflamed howl of “I wanna see this city burn/I wanna be Sheeeer-man!” on “Stab/Grab”  or  Cullum’s snarling, irony-tinged pronouncement that “If I had a nickel for every person that I hate/I could buy a fancy rifle and blow us all away” on “Dimes,” a line that’s a pretty direct rip from MM’s “Cowboy Dan.” They also, albeit less frequently, employ the sardonic non-sequesters of Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus (“Stab/Grab” is probably the best example).

But the group is also pulling from another set of less fearsome indie rock traditions—the literary grandiose-ness of something like “Ghost Killah” seems more Neutral Milk Hotel or Decemberists than anything else, and the frequent borrowing of commercial hooks (“maybe it’s Maybelline,” “line in shambles?/Try Campbell’s!”) or pointedly high-octane pop song structures (“It’s Yrs” or “Happy Hippie Songs”) seem to create similar sorts of contradictions that allowed The White Stripes to thrive.

The two members that Oliver and Cullum chose to add to the group emphasizes this odd dichotomy. (Formerly?) hardcore bassist Henry Thomas was brought into the fold to add a pummeling low end which frequently adds to the menace and mania of the sound, while cellist Amy Cuthbertson brings an obvious beauty and chamber-pop vibe to the proceedings. Of course, in a fitting irony, often times Thomas’ bass line propels a poppy tune like “It’s Yrs” and Cuthbertson provides a strong sense of foreboding with her dark string parts. So, either way, a sense of difference and discontinuity seems to be emphasized.

Still, for all that comparison does in fleshing out the conceptual appeal of the band, what really sells it is the obvious chemistry between Oliver and Cullum. The sense of friendship and community apparent from much of the lyrics, from inside jokes and a shared past to a sense of honesty and love among true partners, is evident from even a cursory experience with these tunes. In addition, their shared vocals, equal parts hooky melodies and shouted glee, have an infectious power that is one of the best illustrations of a band enjoying making music so much that you have no choice but to like it too.

If you can’t tell, this record gets two pretty damn big thumbs up from Jasper!

Can't Kids - Brushes Touches Tongues is available at Fork & Spoon records, here.

Show Preview: Free Times Music Crawl

 

Every year Columbia’s (rather under-appreciated) alt. weekly puts on a locals-centered music festival designed to illustrate just how much music gets made around these parts. This year, the crawl spans 2 days, features 41 bands, and takes place across 6 stages—all of which means any reasonably interested music fan is gonna have a hard time not finding some local music to blow their socks off. With so many options though, how does one choose where to be and when? Well, this week’s Free Times has provided extensive coverage to give you a feel for the bands here, but we thought we’d also tell you what Jasper recommends…

 

Friday Night: Arts & Draughts at the Columbia Museum of Art

 

This is the easy night, since none of the bands overlap. However, Jasper would like to HIGHLY recommend coming out tonight for the following reasons: 1) Arts & Draughts is always a good time—good beer on tap, the Bone-In BBQ food truck will be there, and you are supporting our thoroughly awesome art museum, 2) Jasper’s editor-in-chief is giving a unique perspectives tour of the museum’s permanent collection tour (see previous blog here), and 3) these bands are just awesome.  The night kicks off at 7 pm with a great buzz band out of Denver, CO, The Lumineers, who remind us of The Head and the Heart mixed with Mumford & Sons.

 

Listen to the Lumineers here.

 

Following them up are Columbia’s own Say Brother, who play amped-up blues and country tunes with punk rock fervor.

 

Listen to Say Brother here.

 

Mac Leaphart and his Ragged Company take the stage at 9 pm, and Leaphart’s songs are written with the poignancy and humor of John Prine, but this a band that takes it cues from Gram Parsons and The Rolling Stones.

 

Listen to Mac Leaphart here.

 

And, most, importantly, South Carolina’s most badass musical duo closes the show, Charleston’s Shovels & Rope. I could go on for pages about Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, the husband-and-wife team who power through their amazing songs with minimal accompaniment in a way that is simply breathtaking. Seriously, you only need to hear Ms. Hearst’s voice once live to be forever taken with the band’s music.

 

Listen to Shovels and Rope here.

 

 

Saturday Night: Free Times Music Crawl, the Main Event

 

Alright, where to begin? First off, it is worth noting that the stages are set up roughly to accommodate a music fan’s particular interests. Wet Willie’s features R&B and Hip-Hop acts (including joke rappers Sweet Vans, who might actually appeal more to the indie rock crowd), Flying Saucer has mainly bluegrass/alt. country bands (with Myrtle Beach’s new wave-ish Octopus Jones being the odd man out), and Art Bar, Kelly’s, and the Tin Roof are the primary rock stages, with each venue having a pretty thorough mix of acts. Jasper always has a difficult time getting down to Wet Willie’s at these events despite best intentions, largely because the distance between that stage and the rest of the venues eats up valuable time. Anyway, let’s get down to the schedule:

 

7:10-7:40pm – Pinna (Kelly’s)

 

Even if you are the kind of person who hates jam bands, this is still an act worth checking out. Lead guitarist and singer George Fetner (who has a degree in music composition from USC) is one of the town’s most gifted guitar players, and he and his band mates, more than most jam bands, actually engage and surprise their listeners with their adventurous improvisational forays.

 

7:30-8:00pm – Those Lavender Whales (Art Bar-indoors)

 

A quirky indie pop act who don’t quite sound like anyone else, this is a group also worth checking out because they run Fork & Spoon records, one of the most admirable record label/collectives in town.

 

Check out Those Lavender Whales here.

8:10-8:40pm – Ye Mighty! (Kelly’s)

 

Although it might seem silly to call a band “buzz worthy” within the confines of a local scene, it’s easy to call Ye Mighty! just that. Featuring the wonderful vocals of Beth Dickerson and a cast of well-known scene members backing her up, the group plays swirling post-punk that threatens to burst into full-blown anthems.

8:40-9:10pm – Marshall Brown (Tin Roof)

 

Brown is a singer/songwriter whose music is absolutely drenched in 60s and 70s psychedelia, mixed with a bit of the bedroom pop eclecticism that sprouted up in the 90s. Even in a town with a music scene as diverse and quirky as Columbia’s, Brown stands out for forging his own, singular path.

 

Here's some Marshall Brown

 

9:20-9:50pm – Fayth Hope (Wet Willie’s)

 

Hope makes music in the neo-soul tradition, which means an earthy mix of soul and R&B with a decidedly retro feel. She has a gorgeous voice, and the advance tracks from her forthcoming LP are positively tantalizing.

 

9:30-10:00pm – Death Becomes Even the Maiden (Art Bar – indoors)

 

This overlaps a bit with Hope, and could not be more different, but Jasper is also equally excited to see the heavy, complex post-rock of DBETM again as well—although, full disclosure, guitarist Heyward Sims is our design editor. Even if he wasn’t, though, it would be hard not to champion dark, propulsive tunes and formidable chops.

 

Listen to DBETM here.

 

10:10-10:40pm – Elonzo (Kelly’s)

 

A Rock Hill family band with a definite Southern vibe, these guys make dreamy, grandiose indie folk-pop with a hint of Americana. This is the kind of music that tends to disarm even the most cynical of us with its buoyant, cathartic musical releases into the stratosphere.

 

10:50-11:20pm – The Unawares (Flying Saucer)

 

Jasper has previously reviewed the band’s new record  here, and we are psyched to see some of these new songs played in action.

 

11:00-Midnight – Magnetic Flowers (Art Bar outdoors)

 

Kinetic, literary indie folk/rock at its finest.  Built around three songwriters, four singers, and the dizzying keyboard parts of Adam Cullum, the band’s well-layered sound and penchant for capturing the unvarnished truth about their generation (for better or worse) in their lyrics makes them one of the scene’s most powerful acts.

 

12:10-12:40am – Junior Astronomers (Kelly’s)

 

Built upon the ferocity and dynamics of emo, Charlotte’s Junior Astronomers can credit their success to incorporating classic rock arrangements and energetic, prog-like guitar parts. That, and the unfettered passion of lead singer Terrrence Richard’s vocals and on-stage charisma.

 

Here's some Junior Astronomers.

 

1:00-1:45am – The Restoration (Art Bar – indoors)

 

This is where we are closing out the night (unless John Wesley Satterfield is still playing over at Kelly’s). The Restoration are one of our favorite bands in the city. Their 19th century concept is heartfelt  and authentic, the stories are told with complexity and death, and Daniel Machado and Adam Corbett just write great songs. This ambitious, chamber pop-meets-old-time folk band deserves to be a national name—and we here in the Capitol City should just count ourselves lucky that they happen to sprout up here, and are willing to share with us their tunes in the wee hours of Sunday morning…

 

And it's The Restoration

 

-- Kyle Petersen is the Music Editor of Jasper -- The Word on  Columbia Arts

Columbia IS a music town! There - we said it.

Magnetic Flowers

Despite what people may tell you, most weekends in this town have so many opportunities for good live music, sometimes you are forced into a tough decision.

 

Case in point is this Saturday, when indie folk and rock fans have the opportunity to catch Say Brother, Kemp Ridley, and Ned Durrett & the Kindley Gents at The White Mule, or head over to the Art Bar for Magnetic Flowers, Elonzo, Sea Wolf Mutiny, and Famous Thieves. And while we have some serious love for the folks over at The White Mule, we’d tend to recommend the Art Bar show.

 

First off, headliners Magnetic Flowers are teetering on the edge of an extended hiatus/break-up, so it’s hard to say how many more times you are going to get to see these guys—and they have been one of the most exciting bands in Columbia over the last few years, with an energetic live show and some highly literate indie-folk-pop songwriting married to hyper-melodic and complex arrangements that throw keyboards, guitars, and an onslaught of separate vocal parts on the wall to see what sticks. Their last record, 2009’s What We Talk About When We Talk About What We Talk About, featured a delightfully cathartic re-working of “I’ll Fly Away,” a tune that riffed on the form of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and such literary-informed song titles like “Southern Baptist Gothic” and “Books and Bad Poetry.” Hear Southern Baptist Gothic here. Plus, one of the most achingly beautiful songs about growing up Jasper has ever heard. Listen to Northern Lights here.

 

And even if that isn’t enough, they are supported by the Rock Hill band Elonzo, whose dreamy brand of indie folk takes a laidback, front porch-meets-chamber music approach to its subtly Southern songcraft, and Sea Wolf Mutiny, a darker, more prog-influenced folk-rock outfit whose mix of influences include The Decemberists, Flaming Lips, Band of Horses, and Mumford & Sons, for starters. Jasper doesn’t know Famous Thieves well yet but, in company like this, it’s probably safe to assume you are going to have 4 awesome bands for a cover of $5—just one of many examples this weekend that prove that Columbia is, in fact, a music town!

- Kyle Petersen

 Elonzo

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Jasper Magazine - The WORD on Columbia Arts

debuts in print on September 15th, 2011