Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hopscotch Highlight: Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen will perform on Thursday, Sept. 4
at Fletcher Opera Hall
Hopscotch is a weekend filled with a diverse array of musicians, you can hop around the city to find some of the most talented DJs playing blocks away from some of the most revered indie-rock icons and singer-songwriters. It's a festival for fans of all varieties of music, which makes it easy to stick to whatever sort of genre you've got a particular hankering for. I for one like to check out a bit of everything, it makes for a truly unique festival experience that can't be reproduced, or at least hasn't thus far. I'm sure you've been able to tell that by these previous previews I've been tossing around on the blog. Sylvan Esso provides pulsating beats with folk-infused poppy vocal stylings while Morning Brigade brings a grandiose blend of folk rock. However, few artists on the Hopscotch bill contain the captivating nature of Chicago's Angel Olsen.

Olsen has been featured alongside artists like Bonnie "Prince" Billy and rather than paling in comparison to the prolific songwriter, she instead nearly stole the spotlight. Olsen's trademark warble has a way of drawing listeners in to her powerful songwriting. She made her full length debut last year with Half Way Home, an album that's filled with intensely personal tracks that are brought to the listener with the utmost trust and sincerity. With a powerful vocal presence and minimalistic acoustic backing, Olsen lays down heart wrenching tracks that delve into dark corners of her past. "I watched from far away as the ambulances came and started dressing for school," Olsen sings on the crippling "Lonely Universe." Lines like these convey the brutality and beauty in her simplistic style.

"Even if it's personal to me in my life in the moment, it's possible it can be relevant to someone else at another moment, so why hold back," Olsen told ChicagoMusic earlier this year. It displays the unabashed songwriting approach that Olsen takes, she teeters the line of comforting content and difficult material. This style places Olsen heads above the pack of standard singer-songwriters that are currently making music, combining her beautiful lyricism with her evocative vocals makes for a heart-wrenching listening experience.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hopscotch Highlight: Jamaican Queens

Jamaican Queens perform on Saturday, Sept. 6
at The Hive at Busy Bee
It's hard to believe that there's under a week left until Hopscotch, but alas we're inching closer and closer. It's been difficult to quell my excitement for the festival, but now that we're six days away I can begin to truly geek out over how fantastic next weekend is going to be. Although the lineup has undergone a slew of changes, it's still as strong as before with some devastatingly awesome lineup additions happening at the last minute. While the past two Hopscotch Highlights have focused on local artists, this last one will shine the light upon an act from Detroit that's been on my radar for quite some time now.

Jamaican Queens are another group (much like Sylvan Esso) that's been crafting fantastic pop tunes with a strong electronic footing. Many critics have penned the trio as a "trap-pop" group due to their southern hip-hop influence in their production styles, but tossing labels aside it's clear that this band is fixated on deviating from the norm and producing an incomparable sound. With influences ranging from pop stars like Drake to dancehall to punk, Jamaican Queens serve as an amalgamation of various styles that comes out as banging pop gems.

Songwriter Ryan Spencer describes the group's sound as "abrasive pop," citing their bleak Detroit surroundings as an influence for their somber and twisted lyrical content. "Living in a really bleak city like Detroit makes it easy to dwell in depression," Spencer claims. "But that’s kind of my best way to write songs, by being like cripplingly depressed." But despite calling a bankrupt city home, Spencer and the rest of Jamaican Queens embrace their surroundings, as it allows them to do what they do best, craft these infectious pop tunes that are tinged with dark undertones.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Show Preview: Laura Reed w/ Chit Nasty Band

Laura Reed performs at The Pour House
in Raleigh, NC on Friday, August 23
Laura Reed's music is like a conglomeration of many different musical styles. One can feel the vast array of influences oozing from her music, the structure follows that of a typical singer-songwriter but as she's grown as an artist these songs have received far more pomp and fanfare. The South African born songwriter cut her teeth in the North Carolina based band Deep Pocket, an act with a similar soulful base much like her current output. Deep Pocket received a fair bit of attention, they performed at Shakori Hills and played quite a few high profile shows. However, none of the work with Deep Pocket amounts to the magnitude of Laura Reed's new solo excursions.

Reed hooked up with Nashville based producer Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum) and suddenly her music flourished. Worley connected Reed with the Grammy Award-winning songwriter Shannon Sanders (India.Arie, John Legend) and the two began working on Reeds forthcoming solo album The Awakening. The album couldn't be more aptly titled, as working with Sanders has given Reed's music the boost that it needed to reach the masses. Reed's quintessential messages of hope, unity and inspiration are still found in bunches, but the songs pack a heavier punch. The Awakening's lead single "Wake Up" is the perfect example of this, the song is filled with vibrant rhythms, robust melodies and a constant, snapping drumbeat that compels listeners to tap a foot, nod their head or let loose in uninhibited dance.

That's the sort of honesty that's being conveyed through Reed's music, it's an innate desire to spread joy. Reed has recently been opening for acts like India.Arie, Miguel and Anthony Hamilton, but this Friday night she'll be tearing down The Pour House with her rambunctious take on soulful R&B. The Chit Nasty Band will be opening the show, another funky, groove-driven band that promises to bring a vivacious live set. The show begins at 10:00 pm and tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Album Review: "As For Martinton" by Manna Frost Trio

As For Martinton was released on July 30 and is
available on Manna Frost Trio's Bandcamp
Manna Frost Trio are a band that's likely to take you by surprise. When I first listened to the band I'm not quite sure of what I expected, but I can guarantee you that it wasn't this. The Manna Frost Trio is an amorphous project that seems to straddle between the one-man band of Stacy Harden and an array of talented Carrboro area musicians. Though the band may not actually be a trio--Harden records these tracks by himself--nobody here is arguing semantics when they pull off their sound as brilliantly as they do. As For Martinton grasps the listeners attention from the opening note to the closing croons, with gorgeous folk rock roots guiding the band along the way.

The album opens with the wistful "Waste I Will,"a track that feels like a conglomeration of Dawes and Fleet Foxes, the track is fueled by its strong, passionate lyrical content but has been built upon a shuffling foundation of fingerpicked guitars and effervescent percussion. "How could I be lonesome here?/There's only time to waste, and waste I will," the words have the capacity to seep into your core while you find yourself mesmerized by the rich harmonies that fill the album. As For Martinton is filled with plaintive lyricism that's brightened by fantastic harmonies, making for an experience that's just as emotionally fulfilling as it is aurally.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hopscotch Highlight: Morning Brigade

Morning Brigade will perform at Deep South The Bar
on Friday, Sept. 6 at 12:00 am
Last week's piece on Sylvan Esso marked the first Hopscotch Highlight for this year's festival, it focused attention on a band that's still in its infancy but has covered an astounding amount of ground in the year that they've been together. This week's spotlight shines on a band in quite the similar situation. Morning Brigade is a bright young act based out of Chapel Hill that has blossomed from humble beginnings into a full blown sextet that straddles the fine line between simplistic structure and grandiose embellishments.

The band is comprised mostly of UNC students, ranging from a freshly graduated keyboardist to a handful of upperclassmen from various backgrounds. However, one would never know that this band has only been together for a few years, they're a passionate crew of musicians that have achieved a cohesiveness that takes years for many folks to craft.

Songwriter and vocalist Peter Vance constructs literary folk tunes that produce vivid images of the worlds inside of and around us. There's an equal amount of focus on internal struggles as there is on the beauty of nature and the hope for change. Tracks like "Rough Patch" equate eternal hardships with a patch of pesky weeds and a broken heart with a neglected garden. Vance's songwriting has an intrinsic quality about it that makes it easy to relate to, it's all filled with clearly personal moments but they've been shrouded with enough mystery for listeners to create their own interpretations. Just the way Vance intended. The songs are straightforward, driven by acoustic instrumentation and rooted in earthy undertones.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Album Review: "Devil In Here" by Jack The Radio

Jack The Radio will celebrate the release of
"Devil In Here" on Fri. Aug 9 w/ Martha Ann Motel
at The Pour House
For Jack The Radio's third full-length release the band has deviated from their normal. While they're best known for southern-blend of blues driven indie rock, Devil In Here finds the band stripping back the distortion in favor of accentuating the subtleties with a live acoustic performance.

The group added three string players and mic'd up Amplified Art in downtown Raleigh to record two nights of sold-out performances, the result is Devil In Here alongside a live DVD. For a band that so frequently relies on their gritty background, Devil In Here is a refreshing take on a formulaic approach for the band.

Toning down the distortion allows the lyricism and instrumentation to actually take the forefront, rather than the visceral rhythms. A typical Jack The Radio experience is highlighted by their in your face roots rock, but when you forego those hefty sounds you're leaving yourself quite vulnerable. Some of this vulnerability pays off in bunches, tracks that are JTR staples like "Strange" and "Read My Eyes" feel like they were almost made to be acoustic jams. But these are also tracks that have very defined vocal melodies, they've got powerful refrains that have a knack for lingering in your head long after the song has left your ears. On that hand, Devil In Here works to a tee. However, the problem with the album is that all of these songs don't contain memorable melodies, and this aforementioned vulnerability leaves the band feeling a bit lacking.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Album Review: "Blanko Basnet" by Blanko Basnet

Blanko Basnet will be celebrating their
album release at The Pinhook in Durham this Friday
with Speedy Ortiz & Organos
The joys of following your local music scene most certainly come in bunches. Sometimes you get to see a band's gradual ascent to stardom and you can become incredibly attached to these artists and the work that they produce. Other times you see bands fall by the wayside--for some reason or another--sometimes it's a break-up and others just take hiatuses to focus on separate projects. It's kind of like when you're young and your parents split up, you love them both equally but you naturally gravitate to the one that does cooler shit with you.

That's the way I feel about the current situation with Hammer No More The Fingers. Hammer has long been a favorite local band of mine, they were one of the first local acts I really got into, I booked them for a local festival, I traveled to see them, I learned the songs by heart. It was fantastic to feel a connection with a band like that, but as time has passed on Hammer has begun to oversaturate the market a bit. Black Shark and the Pink Worm EP were both fantastic releases, but it began to feel like a lot of the same music on a different day. Is it still awesome? Definitely. But there's definitely a yearning for some innovation and that's what Blanko Basnet feels like.

Blanko Basnet is the new project from Joe Hall of Hammer No More The Fingers and it's got enough of the vintage Hammer sounds to make it feel familiar whilst exploring vastly different sonic territories. While some tracks definitely feel like they have the typical Hammer bounce to them, there's enough of a dynamic switch that Blanko feels entirely new. The songs feel more explorative, there's much more jagged chord changes and spastic rhythmic switch-ups that keep things interesting for the listener. Hall's melodies typically follow the centric guitar lines but the tracks are in a constant state of flux, so by the time you've become attached to a particular section you find yourself humming along to an entirely new rhythm.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ears to the Ground: "End of the Road" by Bridges

Bridges will be performing at Slim's on Friday
Aug. 9 w/ The Missionaries
Bedroom pop is a loose term that gets tossed around a lot lately. Couldn't anything be bedroom pop if you're getting down to semantics? All you really need is some basic equipment and a condenser mic to create your own blend of lo-fi tunes, but to me the term follows a more rigid outline. It's music with a pop foundation that you can lose yourself inside of. It's music with introspective leanings that you just want to curl up and immerse yourself in. Enter Bridges.

Bridges is the pseudonym for the solo efforts of Brian Franklin and the project couldn't be more aptly titled. The songs that comprise Bridges' upcoming debut album Glassmask are like aural bridges into the psyche of Franklin. Throughout the past few months Bridges have slowly rolled out a handful of singles from the album, providing a solid outline of the albums aesthetics. Tracks like "Tonight" and "Never Loved You" both glide along with sharp drumbeats, simplistic progressions and pop-leaning vocal melodies. Think of a less frenetic version of Ghostt Bllonde and you'd be pretty on par. "Tonight" displays manic depressive tendencies with a tinge of desperation through an awfully catchy refrain that would feel cheesy if it weren't so heartfelt. "I don't wanna die, I don't wanna die/But I don't wanna be alive, wanna be alive tonight."

Meanwhile cuts like "Never Loved You" are brimming with nervous energy and an earnest approach to lyricism that can be found through the entirety of Glass Mask. Franklin shamelessly bemoans of being "hysterical" and having "too much wine" while continuing with juxtaposed lyrics that try to justify to listeners and himself just how over this failed relationship is.

Today we're debuting the third single from Glassmask, the triumphant album closer "End of the Road." "End of the Road" continues along with the same timespan references that are found in "Never Loved You", Franklin continually draws back to "8 months ago"which is a subtle detail that adds an immense amount of personality to the songs. "End of the Road" builds upon a driving drumbeat and spacey, atmospheric instrumentation, but lyrically the song represents the feeling of closure. Both to the album and to the clearly therapeutic sessions of songwriting and rebuilding. "If you want it to hurt," croons Franklin "you should have done it eight months ago. 'Cause now I'm a stone."

Bridges feels like an extension to Franklin's self and Glassmask is simply the thin veil that he can hide behind to convey his innermost thoughts and feelings. But projects like Bridges are one of the reasons that music remains so interesting to me, songs like those found on Glassmask can provide a window for listeners to peer through and connect with a songwriter's sentiments. Is the music groundbreaking? No, but it comes from a place of sincerity and music like that simply can't be replicated.

You can check out Bridges' live show at Slim's in Raleigh this Friday when they open up for Virginia's The Missionaries. But first take a listen to their brand new single "End of the Road."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hopscotch Highlight: Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso (Durham, NC) performs on Thursday, Sept. 5
at 10:00 at Memorial Auditorium
We're creeping awfully close to the most wonderful time of the year for fans of North Carolina's rich music scene. This year's Hopscotch boasts the most impressive lineup yet, a feat that the festival continues to pull off with each passing year. September is drawing near and that means that for three full days downtown Raleigh will be home to one of the most brilliantly orchestrated music marathons of the year. When the lineup was released I went through and did my annual rundown of bands on the bill, taking note of the new locals that I was unfamiliar with. Last year this method allowed me to find one of my favorite bands of the year with Jenny Besetzt and surely enough this year produced the same results.

When I stumbled upon Sylvan Esso the band had yet to release any music, but when I saw that the group was comprised of Nick Sanborn of Megafaun collaborating with Amelia Randall Meath of Mountain Man I knew that this would be a truly special project. But I had no idea that the duo would produce songs that left me absolutely floored at their seemingly effortless take on a truly innovative sound. Sylvan Esso brilliantly blends skittering, pulsating beats with twee-folk inspired melodies to create a unique blend of mesmerizing timbres.

When it came time to plan out my first Hopscotch Highlight it was a no-brainer, it had to be Sylvan Esso. The duo coincidentally enough made their live debut at last year's Hopscotch during Sanborn's Made of Oaks set at The Pour House. Made of Oaks is Sanborn's "beautifully sad instrumental hip-hop" project whose sound serves as the aural foundation for Sylvan Esso's groundbreaking tracks.