Monday, December 30, 2013

The Bottom String's Top 10 North Carolina Albums of 2013

10. Magpie Feast - Out of the Womb
While Magpie Feast has long flown under the radar, albums like Out of the Womb do their damndest to make sure that that doesn't last much longer. Out of the Womb is by far Magpie Feast's most polished and fully realized effort to date, it's filled with rich contemporary explorations of traditional music staples.

Each song fits comfortably within the leak between your standard folk rock and old-time blues, providing a foot-stomping rhythm to drive these tightly packed songs. Luscious viola lines flesh out Matthew Southern's simplistic melodies, weaving together a deftly painted picture of vibrant images. With equal parts Devendra Banhart and Jack White, Magpie Feast combines two age-old genres to make for a fresh and invigorating sound. Out of the Womb provides a brief glimpse at the potential this band contains.

9. Gross Ghost - Public Housing
With a new label and a new line-up, Gross Ghost came out of the gate strong with the lead-up to Public Housing. A spot at Hopscotch's main stage thrust the band into the local limelight and their stellar sophomore release cemented their spot there. Public Housing feels like a natural extension on Gross Ghost's previous work, it explores all of the pitfalls of your mid-twenties ranging from love and loss to the constant sting of uncertainty.

However, Mike Dillon and company approach the unknown with a steady garage rock swagger, bringing memorable hooks and headstrong rhythms that nestle snugly in the listener's head. Public Housing is one of those records that beckons a repeat listen, the minute that "Hair of the Dog" fades out you find yourself jumping right back to "Seeds," struggling to pull yourself from the infinite loop of heartache and redemption.

8. Mount Moriah - Miracle Temple
Mount Moriah has long been a staple of the North Carolina music scene, but their Merge Records debut thrust the band to new heights. Miracle Temple finds the band brimming with a steady sense of personality and determination. Few things have changed sonically since their self-titled release, but from the opening notes of "Younger Days" it's clear that Heather McEntire is one of those musicians that lives with songs in her heart.

Every track on Miracle Temple seems to have a stamp of unfiltered personality hidden within the lyricism. Whether you're bouncing and singing along to tracks like "Bright Lights" and "Rosemary" or taking in the slow-build of tracks like "Swannanoa" and "Telling the Hour," you're most certainly soaking in the gorgeous intricacies that line this record. Between McEntire's sultry vocals and Jenks Miller's meticulously crafted guitar work, it's hard not to fall in love with a record like Miracle Temple.

7. Peter Lamb and The Wolves - Humble Pie
Peter Lamb and The Wolves opened up the doors to North Carolina jazz music for this unenlightened music journalist. A few years ago I caught the band at Shakori after heavy recommendations, but the release of their sophomore album Humble Pie turned me into a die-hard fan. Humble Pie is filled with both standards and originals, but each track feels remarkably fresh. Peter Lamb and The Wolves take New Orleans style swing-jazz to a new level, bringing some of the areas finest musicians together for a raucous take on one of the most vibrant genres.

Tracks on Humble Pie toe the line between exploratory jams and intricately structured songs. Top all of that off with Mark Wells' guttural and soulful vocal stylings and you've got an all-star jazz group that knows how to get folks moving. Whether it be stand-out classics like "That Mellow Saxophone" (which is anything but mellow) or zany originals like "Mixing in My Bowl," it's hard not to move and groove to the fine sounds of Peter Lamb and The Wolves.

6. Mipso - Dark Holler Pop
Mipso began as a group of college students moonlighting as musicians, but with the release of Dark Holler Pop marks the first full-time effort from this young band. The difference that a bit of time makes is astounding, as Dark Holler Pop feels like the beginning of something truly special.

While Mipso's previous release Long, Long Gone was an impressive debut, Dark Holler Pop seamlessly combines elements of classic bluegrass with contemporary folk-rock to create an infectious sound that caters to both traditionalists and young fans of acoustic music. Tracks like "A Couple Acres Greener" display this sentiment perfectly, the structure follows that of your standard bluegrass tune while the content finds the narrator torn between Sunday mornings and Friday nights. Dark Holler Pop explores mortality, religion and Southern aesthetics with an acoustic pop sheen that makes even the darkest of thoughts a palatable, downright enjoyable listen.

5. Bombadil - Metrics of Affection
I'll never forget the moment I fell in love with Bombadil, as the band took the stage at Fletcher Opera Hall at Hopscotch 2011 I knew that they would immediately become one of my favorite acts in the state. Since their valiant return to the scene they've proved that their untimely hiatus served as a stepping stone for the band, pushing them forward to unimaginable musical territories like those found on Metrics of Affection.

Through pseudo-rap verses/spoken word pieces and fanciful pop gems, Bombadil touches upon the importance of friends and family, the struggle of letting go of lost love and everything that makes up your day-to-day routine. Metrics of Affection serves as a brilliant soundtrack for your days, as Bombadil's lyrical excellence digs deep into the listener and makes you question the way you're living your life. But it's not all weighty songs of introspective self-reflection, tracks like "Angeline" bring along infectious melodies and vibrant harmonies to lose yourself in. Through quirky word play and fantastic instrumentation, Bombadil has crafted yet another whimsical album that fans to fall in love with them all over again.

4. Hiss Golden Messenger - Haw
M.C. Taylor has swiftly become one of North Carolina's finest songwriters, receiving as much acclaim from international outlets as he does local. When listening to Haw there's little room to speculate why that happens, Hiss Golden Messenger is quite frankly one of the best acts to call North Carolina home in recent memory. On Haw, Taylor meshes the political and the personal into one amorphous entity that shouts of creatures with forked-tongue and local landmarks with equal amounts of passion and sincerity.

Haw is a trip into the very fiber of Southern living, through the rich imagery and mystical instrumentation Taylor has crafted an album that emits images of front porch swings and backyard bonfires. "I've Got A Name for the Newborn Child," bounces along with nonchalance but underneath its simplicity lies a song that's oozing with personality and purpose. Haw takes me back to an afternoon in spring, soaking in the mild sun rays and brisk breeze without a care in the world but the tender tones that fill my eardrums. M.C. Taylor has the ability to silence a room with the pluck of a string, and when you listen to Haw you immediately know why.

3. The Dead Tongues - Desert
The return of Ryan Gustafson is arguably my favorite part of 2013. The standout songwriter may only have two full-lengths under his belt as a solo artist, but they're both some of the finest albums crafted by a North Carolina songwriter since I've began following the scene. Gustafson garnered heavy praise with his debut album Donkey back in 2009, so when he made his return with The Dead Tongues this year the fans and critics lined up with unbridled anticipation.

Somehow Gustafson lived up to all of those lofty expectations with Desert, an album that tackles lofty topics like depression and unrest with a hopeful sense of determination. From the opening lines of "Call Out To Me" it's clear that the four years in between albums was well worth the wait, as every track on Desert is a crucial piece of the larger scheme afoot. Whether it be a three-minute pop song or an expansive track like "Milestone," Desert has the ability to speak to the listener through Gustafson's unabashed honesty and sincerity. Desert marks the welcomed return of one of the area's most talented songwriters, let's just hope we don't have to wait four more years for another release.

2. Ryan Sheffield and the Highhills - Telescope
Albums like Telescope are what keep me interested in the ever-changing local music scene. Everyone goes into an album with some sort of expectation crafted, whether it be from the artwork or the band name, there's a certain image in your mind of what this art is going to be. I'm not quite sure what I expected from Ryan Sheffield and the Highhills, perhaps it was another notch in the increasing indie-folk belt. But what I got was far from that. The minute that "The Waves" took over my stereo I was overcome with a sense of excitement that I've not had in a long time when it comes to local music. There's no front when it comes to Sheffield lyrics and that's what makes it all so fantastic.

Telescopes takes a microscopic look at some of life's most ambitious aspects and gives it a playful, yet powerful spin. Whether Sheffield is singing of our relative unimportance in "Infinitesimal," the woes of touring in "Road to Montreal" or the folk-rock standard of lost love in "Postcards," the listener is guaranteed to receive an inimitable take on life's ups and downs. While Sheffield's lyrical excellence is enough to draw you in, the robust instrumentation is what keeps you hooked. Soaring horns perfectly compliment the simplistic acoustic foundation of these songs, and as Sheffield's voice slowly rises to a shout it's enough to send shivers down your spine. Telescope is one of those rare albums that draws you in to the very core of a songwriter while not being the sad-sack trope that many songwriters lean on. Telescope is a mesmerizing debut from a band that I'm incredibly excited to see more of in the future. Let's just hope that they make it out to the Triangle soon.

1. Virgins Family Band - Honeylion
The minute I heard Honeylion I knew that it was likely to take the spot as my favorite album of the year. Few bands have left me as breathless as Virgins Family Band upon first listen, they're one of the most unique bands to have come upon the North Carolina scene in years. Combining elements of grandiose indie folk, subdued psychedelic rock and breathy jazz vocals, Virgins Family Band are an amalgamation of contemporary and classic rock. With awe-inspiring harmonies and rattling percussion, Virgins Family Band has plenty to love, but their excellence lies in their restraint. It'd be easy to come out strong from the gate with barn-burning tracks like "Lily Molusco," but throughout the entirety of Honeylion the band follows a natural ebb and flow that draws the listener in to focus on the intricacies that make up these brilliant songs.

The slow build of album opener "Moon Breath" gives a good idea as to the pacing of the album, it begins with hushed tones and gradually builds to explosive percussion and rambling guitar lines before slowly settling back into a soft close. Tracks seamlessly flow together to craft a lush piece of work in which individual tracks serve as both a crucial piece to the puzzle and a stellar piece of standalone work. Honeylion is at once smooth and immense, perfectly straddling the line between calming and invigorating. Since the release of Honeylion Virgins Family Band has continued trucking along, dealing with lineup changes along the way and rolling with everything that comes their way. 2014 holds nothing but promise for this young group, and I for one can't wait to see where the band goes from here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Chic and More Set for Moogfest 2014

Moogfest 2014 will take place from April 23-27 of 2014
throughout 10 venues
Up until 2013, Moogfest had become a bit of a staple for downtown Asheville. For three years the electronic based festival brought a wide variety of acts to the town under the Moog banner, but when it was announced that AC Entertainment's contract with the festival wasn't renewed the festival's future was in doubt. Shortly after details of AC Entertainment's new festival, Mountain Oasis, came about, the Moog family reassured folks that Moogfest wasn't going anywhere. After a bit of restructuring, it was announced that Moogfest would be returning to Asheville for the week of April 23-27. The now five-day event has blossomed to massive proportions that include some of the most influential names in electronic music history. This morning Moogfest announced the initial lineup for their 2014 festival, including some of the pioneers of dance music like Kraftwerk (performing 3 separate 3-D sets throughout the fest), Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers' Chic.

While this eclectic array of dance icons head up the lineup, some of the most exciting parts of this lineup are buried within the details. Not only will Avey Tare (of Animal Collective)'s Slasher Flicks be performing, but so will Chaz Bundick's Les Sins, RJD2, Gaslamp Killer, Dan Deacon, Darkstar, Laurie Anderson, Wolf Eyes and much more. While the initial lineup alone is enough to warrant the $200 ticket for the week's musical festivities, there's still over 70 bands left to be announced.

Each night will also feature showcases from a wide variety of labels and curators like DFA Recods, Fool's Gold, Warp Records and even Hopscotch Music Festival. But music isn't the only thing that this promising new installment of Moogfest has going for it. Throughout the days there will be immersive conversation, exhibitions, film screenings and even engineering sessions for those with enough cash. Visionaries like Giorgio Moroder, Laurie Anderson and Cliff Martinez will join others for panels, discussions and presentations throughout the days.

The set-up of Moogfest allows for folks to choose between just seeing the panels and conferences, checking out the music, or both for separate ticket packages. For a full week pass (day + night) admission is $299 while you can check out the day's festivities for $249 or the night for $199. Those with larger pockets also may be interested in the slew of VIP packages that the festival offers, including a standard VIP deal ($499), an Engineer VIP deal (you can build your own synth and get all of the VIP offerings for $1,000) or a Legacy VIP deal ($10,000 for your own Moog Voyager XL, transportation to and from the airport, dinner with Keith Emerson, hotel accommodations AND the previous package offers). However, those without buckets of cash to spend on festivals will be able to partake in the free street festival or the Tech Expo and Job Fair and visit an electronic instrument pop-up shop.

Tickets for Moogfest can be purchased at the festival's website, where you can check out the full lineup thus far. Check below for the initial lineup announcement:


Friday, December 13, 2013

Show Preview: Brazos w/ Ski Lodge & Cat Be Damned

Brazos performs at Local 506 on Saturday, Dec. 14
w/ Ski Lodge and Cat Be Damned
Another week, another internal struggle of "how the hell do I go to see all of these shows?" It's become a bit of a regular strife here in the Triangle, especially when you've got to choose between stellar locals and a regularly rotating cast of touring acts. One of this weekend's standout shows combines a bit of both, bringing Austin, Tex. based Brazos to the Local 506 along with Ski Lodge and local indie folk-rockers Cat Be Damned.

Brazos' most recent full-length Salt Water was one of the sleeper albums of the year. You may not find it on a slew of year-end lists, but it's a damn shame that you won't. Salt Water was released back in May on Dead Oceans and is washed in moments of blissful musical release. Songwriter Martin Crane crafts immersive art-pop album that feels like an enriching journey through one man's innermost thoughts. Pulsing guitar riffs are countered brilliantly by wispy, slow-brooding ballads that bounce along with a steady determination.

Ski Lodge brings along bright, cheerful indie pop as well, but strays further away from the melodic tendencies that Brazos does. Ski Lodge is the rhythmically focused counterpoint to Brazos, while Martin Crane builds his intricate tracks around his lush melodies, Ski Lodge's tracks are all abound with toe-tapping and head-bobbing rhythms that beckons for a sun-soaked summer day. Shimmering guitar lines and simplistic drum beats may define the vibes of these tracks, but songwriter Andrew Marr fills these songs with darker, introspective lyrics to make for an interesting dichotomy between the elements that make up these songs. Half of you wants to unwaveringly bounce along to the cheerful rhythms, but your head gets lost in the deeply personal lyricism.

Opening up the evening will be local act Cat Be Damned, well sort of local. Though the members are split throughout Virginia and North Carolina, Cat Be Damned has found quite the niche for themselves within the area. Lately the band has been frequenting house shows throughout the Triangle, but their first show at the Local 506 hopes to give the band a bit more acclaim. Songwriter Erik Phillips draws melodic tendencies from acts like Modest Mouse and Built To Spill, eliciting reminders of early-90s indie rock under the veil of dynamic folk-rock sounds. These jangly tunes fit quaintly in between the lines of lyrically focused folk rock and aggressive college rock. Cat Be Damned is an excellent reason to make it out to the 506 early for this fantastic night of music.

Tickets for the show are available at Local 506's website. The doors open at 8:30 pm and the show starts at 9:00 pm. Admission is $8 in advance, $9 at the door.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ghostt Bllonde Signs to Negative Fun Records

Ghostt Bllonde at WKNC's DBB 10 Day Party
Since around this time last year I've been touting the word of Ghostt Bllonde. What was once the project that rose from the ashes of Coastal Vision has swiftly snowballed into one of the region's most exciting new acts. Marc Kuzio's frantic, angst-ridden lyrics have resonated with countless listeners across the state, turning Ghostt Bllonde's shows into sing-along laden outings that are liable to get crazy quick. It's hard to imagine how a band can keep gathering so much steam, but Ghostt Bllonde is clearly determined to do just that. Earlier this morning it was announced that Ghostt Bllonde would be joining the Negative Fun roster in 2014 for multiple releases with the Raleigh/New Hampshire based label.

Negative Fun garnered a lot of local attention after their Hopscotch Day Party at Legends this year, and since then they've been following a similar trajectory to Ghostt Bllonde by putting on free First Friday events at Legends to help gain local visibility. The opening installment of their Let Feedback Ring series actually featured Ghostt Bllonde as the headliner, which should have been the first indication that something special could come to fruition between the two parties.

Throughout 2014 Ghostt Bllonde will release a handful of singles and demos which will lead up to their second full-length, currently slated for a late 2014 release. However, the footwork leading up to this full-length sounds equally enthralling, releases include a 7" split for a part of Negative Fun's Home and Home series (one side from North Carolina, one from New Hampshire) and an EP of demos on Negative Fun's new tape label imprint Antiquated Technology (run by Negative Fun's Chris DeFusco and local journalist/musician Corbie Hill).

To celebrate this slew of good news, Ghostt Bllonde will be headlining a stellar night at Kings Barcade on Friday, Jan. 3 with Hammer No More The Fingers and Museum Mouth. This three act lineup serves as an excellent start to the new year, giving local fans an even mix of one of the areas most revered local indie-rock acts and two quickly rising newcomers. It's hard to believe that a year ago the band was debuting their staple track "Love is Loathing"on The Bottom String and now they're already prepping for their second full-length, but when you're filled with that much unbridled energy it's gotta go somewhere!

Show Review: The Love Language and Sylan Esso

The two-night winter formal at Kings Barcade featured two very loved Triangle bands, The Love Language of Merge Records and Trekky Records artist Sylvan Esso. Both nights sold out, with only a handful released at the door night-of that went well before doors opened. I went out Friday night, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and First Friday activities beforehand. Making my way to Kings, I saw dapper men on bicycles headed the same direction alongside women in party dresses. Although not required, formal wear was encouraged for the show. And, let's be honest, it made the prom photo booth that much more fun, and drinking champagne a little more appropriate. 

Sylvan Esso kicked things off with instant energy. Balloons bounced around the heads of the audience, everyone bumping them around trying not to let them hit the ground. So, there was the occasional dive to save one. Adorable, fun and easy to dance to, the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd showed the band a ton of love. With only two songs available on hard copy, I was glad to see more of Sylvan Esso's repertoire. And while I enjoyed some songs more than others, there were not "filler" tracks or ones that were by any means subpar. Vocalist Amelia Meath, wearing an all-black pantsuit with a cropped black and gold jacket, led the crowd in arm pumps and dance moves, all while showcasing her vocal range and fluidity between styles. Nick Sanborn backed her up with beats, loops and other effects. Sanborn's exaggerated twists and turns made the layering fun to watch. They've got a solid, consistent sound and clearly have a good time doing it. 

In between sets I made the customary run down to Neptunes, where an additional dance party was inevitably going on. We also had our prom photo taken at the door of Kings. The photographer positioned us in the corny, wonderfully awkward traditional prom poses that I'm sure will all give us a good laugh to go through. 

The Love Language took the stage, and it was definitely the most intense Love Language show I've ever been to. The band performed strong with genuine excitement for the night, and the crowd jumped, danced, moshed (what?!) and crowd surfed (semi-successfully). The new songs took off like wildfire to those who were and weren't familiar with them. They sprinkled in some slow songs, because what would prom be without some swaying around and twirling? But of course, the old sing-a-longs are always the most fun. Everyone was hype on the music, each other, the general prom night contagion of excitement and Stu McLamb's "Spring Break Forever!" shouts between songs. After an incredible encore featuring “Blue Angel,” a favorite off of 2010’s “Libraries,” that isn’t often played live, the sweaty crowd dispersed outside to cool off before heading back in for Trekky’s DJ Sweet William.

As is essential to any good party, Kings was a great host with festive d├ęcor and endless PBR. The energy was palpitating all night, and made for the best prom.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Show Preview: The Love Language and Sylvan Esso

Kings Barcade is hosting a Winter Formal presented by Trekky Records on Friday, December 6 and Saturday, December 7, featuring local artists The Love Language and Sylvan Esso. If you head out for either night, make sure to dress up and wear your fanciest dancing shoes – there will be an official Winter Formal photo booth and dance party following the show with DJ Sweet William (OG Trekky Will Hackney) spinning some tunes.

Sylvan Esso is a Durham two-piece made up of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn. Meath’s feminine voice dances over pulsing electronic beats and bass lines, all of which are looped and layered throughout the songs. Sanborn is also the bassist of Megafaun, so seeing the genre differences and what he's capable of in both is an interesting thing to keep in mind when listening. Their debut 12” was released in July on Trekky Records, featuring “Hey Mami” and “Play it Right.” Since, they’ve played Hopscotch, have been remixed by Broken Social Scene’s Charles Spearin, and have toured with the likes of Volcano Choir, Man Man and Minor Alps. 

The Love Language is another Triangle favorite. The band had their second Merge Records release in July with Ruby Red, a strong follow-up to 2010’s Libraries, that includes just as many catchy tracks as before.  Tight as ever, they’re known for putting on fun shows with rich harmonies among each instrument. The live show translates their rock side much more explicitly than the album, so look forward to a slight twist to what you’ve been playing on your stereo.

Doors open at 9:00pm and the music starts at 10:00pm. The show is $12 in advance and $14 at the door. Tickets and more information is available at kingsbarcade.com