In Jasper No. 3, Vol. 4: Young Bands on the Brink -- Death of Paris

"In a music scene largely characterized by indie rock bands playing on the fringes of mainstream interest, Death of Paris sticks out a bit like a sore thumb. And it’s not because they are corporate or moneyed—if anything, the group is the most DIY act in town. It’s because they so clearly want it more. “'We just look at the band as more as a job,' say multi-instrumentalist/synth maestro Blake Arambula, who founded the band with singer Jayna Doyle in July of 2009. “We have a good time and have fun with it, but it’s something we work at every single day.' ...”

For the full story and photos, check out the magazine starting on page 12 below:

In Jasper Vol. 3, No. 3: Young Bands on the Brink -- Stagbriar

"There are certain assumptions you are going to make about a band that calls its first album Quasi-Hymns, Murder-Ballads, and Tales of How the Hero Died, but perhaps the most accurate one for Stagbriar, an indie folk-rock band led by brother-and-sister duo Alex and Emily McCollum, is that they are nothing if not artistically ambitious. The album opens with, true to its title, a murder ballad of sorts. But, aside from that, it is probably not what you are expecting. ..." -Kyle Petersen For the full story and photos, check out the magazine starting on page 15 below:

Jasper Goes to Hopscotch: Day 1

 

This is Jasper’s 2nd year at Hopscotch, a three-day music festival in Raleigh that features an extraordinarily eclectic lineup of over 170 acts scattered at 14 venues in the downtown area. With a pointed inclusion of everything from folk singers, country bands, and indie pop  to hip-hop, avante garde jazz, and death metal, the festival demonstrates a breadth and depth of selection that is quite simply astonishing. This festival also seamlessly blends a significant amount of North Carolina acts in with a wide-ranging group of national and international acts as well. Starting to see why it’s called hopscotch?

While we covered the festival last year a bit in Vol. 2 No. 002 in the context of Columbia’s festival scene, this time around we just want to give you a taste of what the whirlwind experience of Hopscotch is like. So…here we go!

(Note: I (Kyle Petersen) am using the “I” here, although staff photographer Jonathan Sharpe was along for most of the shenanigans as well. Check out a slide show of some of his photos from the day at the bottom of the post!)

I kicked things off at 8:30pm on Thursday with Nathan Bowles (Black Twig Pickers, Pelt), a plaintive banjo player from Blacksburg, Virginia. (The first day’s line-up doesn’t get going until the evening, giving folks time to get off from work. Friday and Saturday are a different story.) Bowles actually has a stronger background in drums and percussion in indie and progressive rock bands, but picked up the banjo a few years ago and has become quite devoted to it, mixing the traditional clawhammer style with a strong progressive bent. Playing a mix of originals and covers, Bowles created a warm, nuanced sound that meandered easily through the attentive crowd in Fletcher Opera Theater, a 600-seat venue where every seat in the house feels intimate. (Fletcher is part of a larger performing arts triumvirate that includes Memorial Auditorium and the Kennedy Theater, making it one of the hotspots of Hopscotch.)

Next I bumped over to The Kingsbury Manx right next door at Memorial, a cavernous 2,000 seater that allows festival goers to really stretch out and for the bands to get seriously loud. A Chapel Hill indie rock cult favorite, KM mixes neo psych and folk with luxurious power pop, and live their is a laidback joy to their performance, with an assured confidence that gives their intricate, occasionally delicate songs a bit of a swagger. Their set left me feeling like, in another world, KM could be as big and as critically lauded as Wilco.

After KM, I sauntered back over to Fletcher, where the Chicago-based singer/songwriter Angel Olsen was running a bit late. I didn’t mind, though, since as soon as she started playing you probably could have knocked me over with a feather. Olsen rose to prominence (as far as I know) from her role in Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Cairo Gang, where she contributed some pretty otherwordly vocals, but I really wasn’t prepared for her vocal presence here. The inadequate comparisons I could come up with are to people like Antony Hegarty or Joanna Newsom, but neither does justice to the aching, sighing swoon that Olsen employs, moving in and away from the microphone so much and so skillfully that her distance from it was almost an integral part of the song. What she sang about was nearly as enchanting, reflecting on the nature of love and relationships with steely, sad-eyed lenses. This was a set to remember.

Sylvan Esso, a surprising collaboration between Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath and Megafaun’s Nick Sanborn, was pulsating next door (this was the first moment where I was really, really glad I brought earplugs), and I was able to catch the last few songs of their set as well. Their music feel like something that shouldn’t work--electronic dance music backing up free-form freak-folk songs in lieu of any other instrumentation--and yet somehow it does. It also seems like odd music to play live, but Meath and Sanborn were giving it their all, uninhibitedly dancing and swaying to the idiosyncratic beats and baffling choruses as if they’ve found their very own pop nirvana. And maybe they have.

After that I made my way over to the Irish bar Tir Na Nog, located a few blocks away from the glamour of those auditorium spaces, where it shares a block with the Pour House Music Hall and is right  around the corner from Slim’s and The Hive @ Busy Bee; these four clubs form the other hotspot of Hopscotching set-hopping. Despite that fact, I was sitting tight at Tir Na Nog, though, for two of my favorite alt. country bands, both of whom happen to be from Raleigh.

The Backsliders were up first, a group that was a big part of the wave of 1990s alt. country acts that made it seem like the genre was going to be a much bigger force in the music world than it is today. Although some would argue that The Backsliders were one of the best of the lot, they didn’t have as much success as Whiskeytown or Old 97’s, and they disbanded in ‘99, and only recently reunited for a few live gigs. Led by Chip Robinson, still full of as much (maybe more?) piss and vinegar and rock and roll energy as ever, The Backsliders blasted through a set of their classics as if it were 1996 instead of 2013. The original lineup all looked pretty stoked to be playing again, as lead guitarist Steve Howell provided effusive, blistering solos and keyboardist Greg Rice favorably channeled Benmont Tench and Garth Hudson.  Special highlight: Robinson invited up BJ Barham (of American Aquarium) to help him out with “Abe Lincoln,” a tune that AA recorded on their last album and that, last year at Hopscotch, Barham invited Robinson to join AA to sing on.

American Aquarium were up next, and clearly were feeding off the energy the Backsliders left on stage. The last couple of times I’ve caught them in Columbia, they’ve felt a little rougher after coming off hard stretches on the road--here, they were polished and poised, and gave the hometown crowd every little bit of awesomeness that their songs have got. Barham’s vocals, which many of the band’s detractors take issue with, were in particularly fine form. I also got front row seat’s to the Whit Wright experience, where the young multi-instrumentalist spent some heavy time on the lap steel before rotating back in the pedal steel guitar.

The last stop of the night was at the Lincoln Theater, a great mid-sized rock club where Kurt Vile & the Violators were a little late getting on stage, allowing me to catch most of their set as well. While I’m a fan of Vile’s work, particularly this year’s Wakin on a Pretty Day, I was hoping for a bit more guitar fireworks than I actually got. Live he pretty much sticks to the unhurried, spacious 70s rock sound filtered through 90s slacker indie rock vibe that he’s always gone for. His acoustic guitar work, just like on record, is what keeps you going here, as he wanders through his laconic songs not unlike J. Mascis does when he straps on an acoustic.

All in all, an excellent first evening, although disturbingly tiring given the onslaught of day parties and outdoor headliners that awaits us over the next two days...

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.