Tuesday, December 23, 2014

20 Favorite North Carolina Albums of 2014

It seems as if with each passing year the creative output of North Carolina increases with unfathomable speed. It's an exciting time to be a local music fan, and one of the things I've always struggled with is narrowing my "best albums of the year list" down to 10. So why not 20?! One thing I've seen recently though and admired was the format of NPR's best of list, an alphabetical catalogue of the publication's favorite releases. No race to the top, no questions of whose album is THE BEST (but seriously, TL;DR though), just a lengthy account of the albums we're most excited about here. It was a very eclectic year for North Carolina acts. Hiss Golden Messenger's Lateness of Dancers brought more international attention to our rich folk roots, while Sylvan Esso's self-titled album showcased some of the versatility and innovation that can be found within our state's music scene. Regardless of your preferred genre, there's no doubting that from Wilmington to Asheville and everywhere in between, 2014 was a great year for music.

Ancient Cities - Ancient Cities
Ancient Cities are one of those bands that you hear for the first time and wonder where they've been hiding at. It's everything you could really want from an indie-folk group, slow churning ballads, minimalistic anthems and a serious desire to hum along to words you don't even know yet. Ancient Cities tracks feel simultaneously vintage, steeped in 60s psych-pop brilliance, and fresh and exciting, mostly because it's hard to really pinpoint an act that's doing what Ancient Cities is sonically. As "Ostinato in D Major" bleeds into "Edie Sedgewick" morphing from a soaring, simplistic horn solo into a dynamic pop track that bounces along with vibrant melodies, you begin to realize that Ancient Cities seem to know exactly what they're doing here and that you crave much, much more of it.

Astro Cowboy -

Eastern North Carolina was putting in work this year. A scene has erupted in the area that feels like transmuted takes on surf rock, all taken into vastly different sonic territories. The sounds of Zack Mexico started out as stoner-psych surf and have morphed into something vaguely reminiscent of Frank Zappa. Eastern North Carolina acts have a sense of uninhibited exploration, and that's what makes acts like Astro Cowboy so exciting. Hedonism Colosseum is a collection of pop-punk inspired tracks that provides a keen, self aware glimpse into teenage life once more. Frustrations over pale skin and loneliness just sound great when belted out atop swift power chords and brisk drumbeats. There's a lot more to Hedonism Colosseum though then what's glaring on first listen. Much like the aforementioned Zack Mexico, it feels like Astro Cowboy are beginning to carve out their corner of the scene and morph into a truly unique and exciting outfit.
Listen to "White Shoes"

Bo White - Millenial Tombs
If awards were given out for the most versatile musicians in the state then Bo White would take the trophy year in and year out. Whether he's contributing guitar lines and vocals to the wily pop outfit Yardwork or conducting modern day masterpieces under his own name, you're likely to find yourself lost in unforgettable melodies and enveloping sonic soundscapes. On Millenial Tombs, Bo White seamlessly slides between a wide array of genres but still makes a phenomenally cohesive and personal album. While he's toying with funky bass lines, mesmerizing string sections or spacey synths he's also crafting intensely personal and creative lyrics like those founds in "Patient," a track that narrates life in a hospital bed and maintaining positivity. Millenial Tombs displays much of Bo White's breadth while still making it clear that he hasn't even touched the surface of his musical explorations. White effortlessly makes grandiose pop music that's both clever and emotional and that's something to get excited about.
Listen to "Patient"

Caleb Caudle - Paint Another Layer on My Heart
Frankly, this record feels like the Caleb Caudle album we've all wanted for quite some time now. Not to discredit any of Caudle's previous releases, but Paint Another Layer on My Heart feels like a true, unfiltered look behind the curtains into the life of a touring musician. Caudle's subject matter frequently tackles the tropes of life on the road, but does so in a manner that's so sincere that it feels unique. Caudle flexes his songwriting prowess here by making the layman listener connect with the life of a full-time musician that's living the bulk of their life out on the road, traveling from city to city, missing loved ones and fawning over days gone by. Paint Another Layer on My Heart, is an incredible glimpse into the life of a songwriter, but it's also an album filled with catchy, well-writen songs, which is reason enough to check it out in my book.
Listen to "Trade All The Lights"

The Collection - Ars Moriendi
Back in 2011, The Collection was an act that took my world by storm. Their EP was placed right in the midst of our favorite albums of the year, and since that last release the band has only continued to hone their craft. The Collection has begun to fill the hole that Lost in the Trees left in the orchestral folk area of North Carolina's music scene. David Wimbish's songwriting continues to sit at the forefront of these tracks, his voice welling with the rise of the band's extravagant instrumentation. Ars Moriendi has found the band gaining national foothold as well, the release premiered on AV Club and since then they've toured across the country with The Oh Hellos, selling out at highly esteemed venues like The Troubador in California. Ars Moriendi is only the beginning for this incredibly talented collection of musicians, their songs will continue to become more and more grandiose, delving into musical territories that have yet to be tread upon. But for now it's enough to sit back and soak in the beauty of this incredible artist.
Listen to "The Gown of Green"

Crowdsource - Bit Rot Blues EP
From the moment I heard that Phil Torres had ended Baobab and was producing electronic music I felt an intense swing in emotions in a very brief period. Baobab was one of the most invigorating local acts in recent memory, so it's natural to mourn the loss of that creative output. But the second I realized that this meant I'd now be able to dance to Torres' tunes I was sold. And dance I have, as Bit Rot Blues compiles four brief but brilliant displays of production wizardry. Combining densely packed, house-inspired beats with obscure vocal samples, Torres builds an immense wall of sound that weaves in and out of maximalistic tendencies while still proving to be concise and infectious. I'm genuinely excited to hear the direction that Crowdsource takes musically, as the possibilities are damn near infinite given the genres being tackled on Bit Rot Blues. All I know is I'll be shamelessly dancing my ass off to it.
Listen to "Gone Up"

Floating Action - Body Questions
Seth Kauffman is quite possibly one of the state's most under appreciated talents, but strangely enough I feel as if he prefers it that way. Though he's received co-signs from artists like Jim James and Dan Auerbach, Kauffman has flown safely under the radar within the North Carolina music scene and in the process has crafted an already impressive array of widely explorative albums. Just seeing the sheer difference in the first two tracks on Body Questions gives a solid glance as to Kauffman's array of songwriting skills. "Taking Me A Little While" is a great bit of self-critical indie rock while "Unrevenged" delves into pseudo-R&B inspired folk rock that piques the listener's interests with bright melodies countered by dark, yet occasionally quirky subject matter. "You've got a special arrow just to shoot at me/That's so gangster and so true," croons Kauffman, shortly before he laments on his fixation on not leaving these acts "unrevenged," unable to pull away from a desire to make things right while his words push him away from that goal. Body Questions delves into some unexpected sonic territory that will make each listen through an exciting experience to find new quirks or lines to fall in love with.
Listen to "Unrevenged"

Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness of Dancers
It was only a matter of time before people started catching on to M.C. Taylor's unabashedly honest folk-rock, but few could have expected that Lateness of Dancers would be the massive album it turned out to be. Echoes of Van Morrison are abound with lush arrangements that are centered around some seriously compelling grooves. Taylor performs vocal acrobatics but does so with humility, he's got rhythmically compelling melodies that flesh out his already stellar lyrics. Lateness of Dancers is the perfect album for the fall, it's wrapped in warm tones and rustic themes. Whether Taylor is singing of looking back or moving forward, Lateness of Dancers is always a richly introspective listening experience that's best served with a warm beverage and a desire to completely lose yourself within an album.
Listen to "Mahogany Dread"

Jack Carter and The Armory - Billy The Kid
The sounds that emanate from Jack Carter and The Armory remind me fondly of the sounds of Nathan Asher and The Infantry, and it's not just because of the similarity in names. It's because they both share the same sort of intensity, they're both vocalists who don't seem to be shouting out these lyrics for show, but because they need it. Billy The Kid contains the same since of urgency, it's an album that provides excellent pacing but mostly excels when it's being propelled at you with tenacity. Tracks like the opener "King of Michigan" roll in slowly and in turn unravel into pieces of Americana-driven excellence, however when Carter's drawl turns to a shout on tracks like "Smith & the West End" or tumbles into a growl on "Blind, I" as he scathingly sings of life in the Arab Spring and the struggles that many experience that go unnoticed. Carter tackles some lofty topics on Billy The Kid, but it's done with passion and frankly that's all you need to evoke emotion amongst your listeners. And when listening to Billy The Kid, it's phenomenally easy to become entrenched in these songs, so that doesn't hurt either.
Listen to "Smith & The West End"

Last Year's Men - Underwhelmed
Last Year's Men display all of their snark and swagger within the title of their highly anticipated sophomore full-length Underwhelmed. After being propelled to local stardom with 2010's Sunny Down Snuff, the boys of Last Year's Men seemed to fall to the wayside. Their hype and momentum didn't go anywhere, but the four year wait between albums is a bit strange for locals. Perhaps it was due to mounting pressures, making sure that the album wouldn't live up to it's titular phrase, or perhaps they just enjoyed the various other projects they'd been involved in more than buckling down on Last Year's Men. Either way, whatever they did in the four-year period worked wonders, because the second that I heard the lead single "By The Way," I knew this was going to be an excellent album. Last Year's Men bring more no-frills garage rock that proves to be one of the most accessible releases of the year. Do you like guitars? Do you like songs about love and self-loathing? Big fan of brief, punctual tracks that linger in your head for days? Check out Underwhelmed and you'll be anything but.
Listen to "By The Way"

Lilac Shadows - No Dark/No Light
Lilac Shadows have had one of their biggest and most interesting years to date with 2014. The band released their most fully realized record to date, but shortly thereafter their live show reflected none of this new expansive nature. Not to throw any shade at the band's live line-up, but a lineup change prevented these tracks from being fleshed out live as one would expect, so instead the band has driven towards a more aggressive psych sound as opposed to the dreamy soundscapes found on No Dark/No Light. No Dark/No Light is an excellent record that finds the band pushing their own musical boundaries. There's simultaneously more grit and pomp than there was before, the group has broadened their musical horizons as opposed to digging into a niche as local acts are wont to do. Tracks like "Tunnels," "Tsunami," and "No Dark/No Light" are wonderful examples of this fact, each one boasts a bit of its own sound, whether that be a continuously chugging bass line that drives the song, a particularly expansive vocal melody that's washed in reverb or an energetic guitar riff that fleshes out the drones of synths. Lilac Shadows have found themselves on the path to something incredible on No Dark/No Light, and having heard what's come next I've got to say that you're all in for a treat.
Listen to "No Dark/No Light"

Lost in the Tress - Past Life
When it comes to North Carolina artists with a pronounced and compelling career path, it's hard to find one better than Lost in the Trees. From the beginning their songs were focused on ornate arrangements and heart-wrenching lyrics, not much has changed in that department. However, the tools have shifted in incredibly exciting ways on Past Life. Transforming from an orchestral folk band into art-rock excellence, Lost in the Trees' brilliantly woven stories are projected upon a bed of synths, electric guitars and gorgeous atmospheric harmonies. Some serious grooves are hiding within some of these songs though, the bassline on "Lady in White", the subtle swing in "Night Walking," and that unforgettable guitar riff from "Past Life." With Lost in the Trees recent ending, Past Life serves as a grandiose swan song for this monumental local artist.
Listen to "Past Life"

Spider Bags - Frozen Letter
When Shake My Head was first released I knew that Spider Bags would be a band I'd grow to love immensely. When Frozen Letter came out that thought was confirmed. Though it'd be easy to pigeonhole them as a garage rock band, there's so much more to love about Spider Bags, the subtly infused southern-rock tinge, Dan McGee's effortless drawl mixed with snarling intensity. Whether they're rocking frenetic shouts of love infused with paranoia on "Chem Trails"or musing on a spider that's crawling across the wall like on "Japanese Vacation," they're doing so with an infectious intensity that beckons the listener to bounce and shout along. Spider Bags are crafting some of the most exciting and energetic music in the Triangle, and lately it's seemed like the rest of the nation as started to pick up on their brilliance as well. Needless to say I'm thrilled about what's to come from this band.
Listen to "Chem Trails"

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso
Little is left to be said about Sylvan Esso that hasn't already been covered a million times before. This powerhouse duo has erupted throughout their short lifespan, from humble Hopscotch day party beginnings to sold out dates across the nation, late night television spots, and spots in commercials. But the buzz band status hasn't changed how incredible this music is, intricately arranged tracks are driven by slowly churning bass lines, screaming snares and sharp hi-hats. The instrumentation is literally only half of what you can fall in love with about this band, Amelia Meath's inimitable vocal stylings are what really push Sylvan Esso towards the forefront. Simplistic productions serve as the backdrop for Meath's vocal acrobatics that range from a soft croon to hearty shouts and passionate wails. From top to bottom this album is damn near perfect, and by the time the closer "Come Down" is winding this brilliant debut down, you've finally had time to process just how unique and wonderful this dance-pop duo is and how ridiculously exciting it is to see where they go from here.
Liten to "H.S.K.T."

Seeing an artist grow as much as we've seen from T0W3RS is one of the main reasons I love music as much as I do. When I first stumbled upon T0W3RS' day party set at an overcrowded Busy Bee at Hopsotch many years ago I was compelled by how forward-thinking this simplistic indie-pop music was. There were hints of Animal Collective, surely, but there was tons of originality involved as well. Syncopated rhythms took a backdrop to Torres' vividly defined melodies, even with a full band of musicians the focus primarily shifted towards the powerful lyrical nature of T0W3RS music. Stripped of a backing band, T0W3RS has turned everyone's expectations upside down once more by releasing arguably the best album of the year with TL;DR. Torres has seamlessly made the transition from indie-rock figurehead to electronic pop icon in North Carolina, adopting an androgynous stage persona to bring these rich, downtrodden pop songs to life. From album opener "Cups" onwards, Torres releases every innermost thought and feeling, whether that be frustration over lost friends and loves, breaking down emotional barriers or simply raising a toast to curiosity, Torres is doing so with unabashed honesty. I'd say TL;DR feels like Torres' magnum opus, but that would insinuate that there's not limitless talent hiding inside of his mind, which is frankly just incorrect.
Listen to "Cups"

Tashi Dorji - Tashi Dorji
One of the things that I love most about this scene is the sheer diversity. Acts like Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba have grown to call North Carolina home despite how different their music is from others in the area. The same can be said for Tashi Dorji, a mind-bending guitarist from Asheville by way of Bhutan. Dorji has been in Asheville for the past 14 years and has steadily been releasing a wide array of incredibly compelling music composed entirely with a guitar. Dorji pushes the limitations of this stringed instrument by dabbling in some truly perplexing rhythms and melodies, making his instrument sing in a manner that others could only dream. Hell, I couldn't even dream up the sounds that are found on Tashi Dorji, an album that compiles work from throughout his career along with a few other unreleased tracks to create a compendium of Dorji's incredible songs. No doubt this self-titled effort can be a difficult listen for those that haven't delved into more abstract or avant garde pieces of music, but for those that can appreciate the art of blank space, honing in on what's not there and pinpointing the brilliancy found in what is, oh you'll thoroughly enjoy Tashi Dorji's work.
Listen to "Improvisation I"

The Tender Fruit - The Darkness Comes 
From the opening track of The Darkness Comes, it's clear that Christy Smith's songwriting prowess is ever increasing. As Smith's delicate falsetto glides over a track filled with minimal instrumentation, it's apparent that The Darkness Comes will be filled with heartbreaking moments of beauty and pain that have morphed together into one conflicting entity of bittersweet glory. "We never, never, never really let go do we? We never, never, never really can" croons Smith, her voice cracking along with the words to tug at your heart strings. Whereas Lateness of Dancers serves as that perfect fall album to sit down and slip away into the ethos, The Darkness Comes is the fall record filled with introspective tracks for the lonesome homebody looking for solidarity in their sadness. Not to say that The Darkness Comes can be pigeonholed so easily, but much of the subject matter finds itself pretty conducive to these situations. "Tried My Best" is a song that confidently echoes these statements as Smith sings of how "All of my nights are cold now/my covers are small and lean/Though I do sleep here all alone/At least I sleep long and deep." It's a record that finds Smith and her listeners becoming comfortable with that impending darkness, boasting a wide range of rustic southern imagery and personal sentiments that gets southern folks like myself right in the feels.
Listen to "Weighted Down"

The Tills - Howlin'
If I had to pick and MVP for North Carolina's music scene in 2014, it'd most definitely be Phuzz Records. The outlet that's been responsible for much of Winston-Salem's recent revival brought an incredible festival to the city with Phuzz Phest 2014, but they also helped two of the state's finest records reach the masses. While T0W3RS may have received the bulk of the attention, let's not forget how incredible Asheville's The Tills' Howlin' is. Howlin' is a well polished piece of rock n' roll excellence, the songs have an excellent core with driving rhythms and sharp lyricism, but the swagger is what makes The Tills so great. Whether vocalist Harry Harrison is pulling out a smooth falsetto as he ponders over a meaningless future on tracks like "Gee Golly" or shouting out his frustrations over ex-lovers in "Who Wants You", he's doing so with an exuberant sense of purpose. Howlin' is an excellently produced record, which in a period of a lo-fi craze is really something to celebrate. If you're looking for an excellent, albeit brief, excursion into something a bit more punk than you'd usually tackle then Howlin' is a fantastic place to start.
Listen to "Gee Golly"

Wesley Wolfe - Numbskull
One of the things that I love the most about Wesley Wolfe is that you're always guaranteed to have a record that's accessible, catchy, and personal. It's hard to make all of that mesh together, it'd be easy for an artist like Wesley Wolfe to delve into some piddly sonic explorations, but instead he's set on making concise pop tracks. Which he does phenomenally well. Numbskull is Wolfe's first album in 3 years and it certainly doesn't disappoint, from the get-go he's pulling out all the stops with introspective songs whose melodies wiggle their way in long before the lyrics. As you find yourself singing along to "Cloud Cuckoo" you realize how damn sad it gets, but you can't help but bounce and sway along regardless. "Give me back my heart/Keep my time and keep my thoughts/But give me back my heart, give me back my hopeless heart," Wolfe sings in a tone that feels numbed to the words, fumbling out of his mouth in a lackadaisical manner. Numbskull is made all the more impressive when you account for the fact that everything that wasn't mastering and artwork for the actual album was handled by Wolfe, the writing, the instrumentation, the recording, all Wolfe. He's the DIY king of the Triangle and I'll be damned if he hasn't made another brilliant piece of work on his own.
Listen to "Cloud Cuckoo"

Zack Mexico - Run out of Money and Die
Aside from very obviously winning the "Album Title of the Year" award, Zack Mexico made a damn fine collection of songs as well. Whether you're reveling in the expansive pot-smoking anthem "Reputation," wondering what the hell is going on in "Reed Frost," or losing yourself in the vastness of "Lucy," you're most definitely vibing throughout it all. Zack Mexico is a band that operates on their own frequencies, that's probably why someone allegedly whipped their dick out mid-set at The Kosher Hut a few weeks ago. Zack Mexico isn't a band that's afraid to take chances, each of their three full-length albums they've released in the past two years have been markedly different but also felt like a well defined plunge into the psyche of these incredibly talented and adventurous musicians. The band has recently taken a break from shows to complete work on yet another album, proving that sometimes you don't have to choose between quality and quantity, sometimes you just get lucky and fantastic musicians start throwing their music at you as fast as you can consume it. Sign me up for more, please.
Listen to "Reputation"

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Local Music

So The Bottom String hasn't been incredibly active for the past month or so, and for that, local music fans, I apologize. But alas the train has found itself back upon the tracks and we're rolling out a lot of exciting content in the new year. 2014 has been an astounding year for local music, next week we'll have our Top 20 North Carolina albums of the year posted, but this week marks a very pivotal point in the local music scene, at least for myself. Tonight at Haw River Ballroom marks the last Lost in the Trees show "for the foreseeable future."

Change like this is natural, its an ebb and flow. But as all of you likely know, Lost in the Trees is, has been, and always will be my favorite local act. From the minute that I saw the 13-piece band jam into the abandoned shops of Old City Hall in New Bern I knew I'd stumbled upon something special. That was roughly six years ago when I learned that a mere two and a half hour drive would place me into a hotbed of awe-inspiring talent. Artists like Lost in the Trees don't come around that often, even when you're surrounded by the talent that North Carolina possesses. Albums like All Alone in an Empty House serve as a snapshot, a moment in time where someone's artistic output served as much needed therapy for not only the writer, but for countless others who've undergone similar experiences. Anyone who's seen a parent struggle with depression, lived in an abusive home, had their heart broken, they've connected with pieces of music just like this. But I can safely say that I've never seen a piece of work as sincere, as passionate or as moving as Lost in the Trees' All Alone in an Empty House.

It's easy to let the melancholy wash over you without second thought while you immerse yourself in swelling strings, sharp guitars and rich harmonies. But to stop and take in the themes and the messages will shed a whole new light upon things.  So surround yourself with good people. I know it's painful but we can stand...Asked to forgive when you're still angry, if I can't heal my heart then forgive me. They're astonishingly powerful words that can easily get lost amidst the pomp and fanfare of the stellar instrumentation.

Maybe I'm just fanboy-ing out here because I'm about to see Lost in the Trees for the last time, maybe I'm just trying to share how incredibly important this band has been to my life, but either way it's a statement that needs to be uttered. Lost in the Trees, and artists like them, are the very reason that I've fallen in love with this music scene. I have zero doubt in my mind that Haw River Ballroom will be shoulder to shoulder, filled with fans, friends, musicians, and all around incredible people sharing beautiful moments with one another at one of the most scenic venues in the country. Being able to see a career trajectory as heart-warming as that of Lost in the Trees doesn't happen very often. From humble beginnings at Trekky Records to international acclaim with Anti, from the therapeutic symphonies of All Alone in an Empty House and A Church That Fit our Needs to the electronic whirs of Past Life, the sincerity and talent on display within this band is something that can never be paralleled for me.

Allow this to serve as a "thank you," to Ari and Emma, to Joah and Mark, Will and Leah, Jenavieve and Andrew, to Trekky Records, to any musician who's ever put themselves in a vulnerable position by revealing their innermost thoughts, feelings and fears and help others cope with their own. Thank you for letting some awestruck 19 year old stand in front of you with a shitty video camera for his brand new blog. You're the foundation that holds not only our music scene together, but everyone's scene. Shows like this re-ignite my passion to share local music with the masses, to shout from a mountaintop that "this band is mind blowing and you need to experience this before it's too late." Support your local scene, buy the albums, share it with friends, take them to shows, foster the community that you wish to be a part of. Most importantly, surround yourself with good people.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Show Review: Denzel Curry & Deniro Farrar at The Cat's Cradle Backroom

Deniro Farrar at the Cat's Cradle Backroom
This was the second night in a row in which I was at the Cat's Cradle, however, this time I was going to the Backroom. When I first entered the venue, they were mixing LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean" with A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation". I knew the night was going to be very interesting after delving into their pre-show playlist.

Opening the show were Greensboro rappers, Big Whiskey and Pscril. Without a DJ to mix their music, BW was left to play their music off his laptop. Regardless of the DJ situation, BW and Pscril sufficiently warmed up the crowd with some of great tracks such as "Hideaway" featuring Chapel Hill rapper Skyblew, "The Man of my City" featuring Spanish Harlem rapper Dave East, and Pscril's self-produced track, "Keep Strivin'". They ended the night with an awesome track called "Scottie Pippen", which got the crowd jumping and moshing. You can check out both rappers catalog of banger tracks on Big Whiskey's YouTube channel and Pscril's SoundCloud page.

Unfortunately, the next act, Body Games, was unable to make it due to "logistics beyond [their] control." I had first seen this Carrboro group perform at Kennedy Theatre during the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh. At their show back in September, they were joined on stage by Charlotte rapper, Well$, who was the act that followed Big Whiskey and Pscril. I was not too familiar with his raps, but he drew a pretty good crowd for his set. Well$ did some acapella raps in the middle of his set, which is always impressive. At the end of his set, he told the crowd to come see him at the merch table by saying "Come talk to me, I swear I'm not awkward."

Well$ left the stage soon after I finished my second Pabst, and the atmosphere in the Cat's Cradle Backroom was getting quite 'turnt'. Flat brim hats, basketball jerseys, and saggy skinny jeans were abound in this young crowd. Lana Del Rey was playing in the background as I ascended the stairs to the upper level to get a better view of the primary acts. Gazing down at the sound guy, Deniro Farrar's manager Meko was using his phone to illuminate the setlist (SCORE!). DuRu Tha King was up next followed by JK the Reaper, and closing the night was Denzel Curry with a 40 minute set and Deniro Farrar with a 45 minute set. As I was leaning over the railing, I looked to my left and caught a glimpse of Deniro Farrar and his crew hanging out in the green room.

A few minutes later, DJ Trap hit the stage to warm up the crowd with some of his beats. He is Deniro Farrar's road DJ and enjoys playing some EDM-rap fusion. When he dropped tracks at Kennedy Theatre, they fell on deaf ears, as the crowd was fairly empty as most had been drawn to The War on Drugs show. However, he dropped several tracks that had a dubstep / brostep vibe that got the crowd jumping and moshing again.

DuRu Tha King came out to a warmed up crowd, and started dropping his own tracks. There were a few tracks that stood out above all else, one of which was "Smoked Out". You could smell a hint of ganja in the air. He ended his set with a track he played with Deniro Farrar at Hopscotch, "Social Status", however, this time it was sans-Farrar. Check out DuRu Tha King's 12-track mixtape Indoor Plus + on his DJ Booth page.

JK the Reaper, another Greensboro native, followed DuRu's set with his own DJ, Posh Shabbat (who also DJs for Denzel Curry). He had some serious sound issues, with some truly horrible reverb. One girl shouted "Don't let that get you down!" and others started a "JK" chant. The one line that stuck with me was "I feel like the rarest Yugioh card". The energy in the Backroom was palpable, as you see many locals dap each other and other friendly gestures. From atop by perch, I had a full view of all the different social groups and cliques in the venue, and overall, the crowd was VERY diverse. Before JK The Reaper's set ended, Denzel Curry came out on stage in his Xanax hoodie and started with one of his biggest tracks, "Parents".

Soon after hitting the stage with his backwards Darth Vader mask, he took off his Xanax hoodie to reveal a Stankonia shirt (major props). Many times during his set, Denzel would climb up on the leftmost speaker and eat bars like a pill-head. Halfway through Denzel's set, he picked two guys from the front row and split the crowd in two. He then instructed that the two lucky guys were the 'leaders' of the left and rights sides of the crowd, respectively. Once the beat dropped, the crowd went WILD and started moshing! I took a video of it, but it did no justice to truly express the insanity that was unfolding a few feet below the balcony, as people were getting knocked around, hitting the floor, pushing and shoving. Denzel closed his set with his biggest hit, "Threats", which is one of his trappiest bangers. Trap arms and bow-flexing soon followed.

DJ Trap came back out a few minutes after Denzel Curry's set came to a close and started dropping more of his EDM/Rap fusion tracks. The 'VIP' balcony next to me emptied out, which signaled the start of Deniro Farrar's set. His crew came out on stage first, but were quickly followed by the Charlotte-native, Dante Farrar a.k.a Deniro Farrar. He brought the bangers out first, with tracks such as the Ryan Hemsworth produced track "Big Tookie" and "Kill Your Idols". Much like his set during Thursday's Hopscotch lineup, he performed an acapella version of "Days Go By". His next track, "Fears", uses a slowed down version of Schoolboy Q's "Man of the Year", which got the crowd absolutely HYPE. Deniro commanded the crowd to wave "left, right, left, right". Deniro started handing out water bottles to the front row and said "Gotta keep you kids hydrated". After finishing one of his more recent releases, "Rebirth", Denzel Curry ran back out on stage! Deniro and Denzel closed out the night with their collaborative tracks "Bow Down" and "Feel Like That". These two young rappers have just blown up in the past year and just finished up the last stop of their Bow Down Tour, so expect some new collaborative work from them sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Show Review: Temples w/ Spires

Spires at The Cat's Cradle
'Take me away to the twilight zone' is the quote that most stuck with me on my drive to Carrboro to see Temples at the Cat's Cradle. If you've never been to this wonderful, local venue, definitely check it out. Every show there feels like an 'underground, secret concert' that no one knows about but every seems to be there anyways. The entrance is now in the rear due to some renovations, but that doesn't stop the Cat's Cradle promoters from attracting a wide variety of well-known artists to come perform.

The opening act, Spires, offered up one of the best opening performances of any band I've seen at the Cradle. The airy vocals of front-man Jason mix well with their blend of dreamy keyboards and intricate guitar riffs. Playing hits such as "Comic Book" and "Sleepy Eyes", Spires more than warmed up the crowd for Temples, and even performed one of their new songs, "Parallel Lines". They closed their set with an awesome extended version of "Candy Flip".

After Spires broke down all their equipment, there were a few guys on stage near some old-school projectors. I also spotted an older, bearded fellow on the elevated area to the left with a modern projector. The videos I had seen prior to this show had a CRAZY visualizer. The guys on stage used translucent lens and plates to mix a concoction of colors and oils. It's difficult to describe how the visualizer looked in words, but suffice to say it was mindblowing. In the 60s, these so-called 'analog liquid lightshows' were pretty common, but the dominance of lasers, LEDs, and large screens made this ancient technology all but forgotten. The group responsible for Temple's visualiser go by the name Mad Alchemy. Check out their Facebook page for a photo gallery of their work, it's quite amazing.

In addition to the liquid lightshow, Temples torn the friggin' place down as the opened their set with their album title-track, "Sun Structures". The followed that with one of my personal favorites, "A Question Isn't Answered", which got the crowd clapping along to the song. During one of the 'crowd-banter' sessions, James Edward Bagshaw (Guitar / Lead Vocals) addressed the audience and a girl shouted "EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS AWESOME!" Laughter ensued soon after the comment.

Temples at The Cat's Cradle
Whammy bars and guitar changes were rife, as the Bagshaw had to change out his axe several times. The British group melted faces with haunting melodies and synthesizers. My main focus the entire performance were the BEAUTIFUL Gresch guitars that Bagwell had at his disposal. Regardless of the brand of guitar he wielded, the entire night harkened back to a sound of the early Beatles, with a hint of Pink Floyd. If you closed your eyes, you were almost taken to the Ed Sullivan show and Ringo, Paul, John, and George (the best Beatle) were on stage playing their hearts out for the world to see. Opening your eyes, you realize you are witnessing a modern iteration of the greatest Britain has to offer.

They continued their set with hits such as "Keep in the Dark", and ended their set with "Shelter Song". In total, they only played ten songs, and the cats in the crowd were ready for an encore. After leaving us hanging for a minute while their 'guitar guy' was setting up for their final few songs, we were graced with a spectacular encore. Temples began their encore with a song with which I was not too familiar, "The Guesser". Strangely enough, this is now my favorite track off of their debut album, Sun Structures. Fortunately, they saved the best for last, an extended version of "Mesmerise", fitting for the atmosphere Temples and Mad Alchemy had created that magical night at The Cat's Cradle. If you haven't already, check out their music, merch, and other stuff on their website, you definitely won't regret it!

Expect more reviews and previews on The Bottom String very soon. You can also follow my hectic live-local music performance schedule on my blog, TeehaMusic.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Show Preview: The “Bow Down” Tour feat. Denzel Curry & Deniro Farrar

Denzel Curry & Deniro Farrar
Many people may say hip-hop is dead, and that is true if you have been listening to anything on the radio. There's no depth in pop-rap, it's just a bunch of kids that want to drink Cristal or hang with Jay-Z. Who doesn't want to do that? However, there are many up-and-coming rappers that have been making a name for themselves with meaningful lyrics over some fire beats. Two rappers that have been essential in the resurrection of the rap-game are Denzel Curry and Deniro Farrar.

My first experience with Charlotte-local Deniro Farrar was at Kennedy Theatre at Hopscotch this year. His set was right before Lunice, so the atmosphere was already quite 'turnt'. We were warmed up with one of tonight's openers, Body Games, who had a special guest, join them on their visualizer, Jonah Hill. Another of tonight's openers, Well$, joined Body Games on stage for one song as well, something I'm sure we'll see some of tonight. The only set I was not excited about though was Deniro Farrar, however, my assumptions were shattered when he hit the stage. Although the crowd wasn't enormous, it felt like the room was packed wall to wall as he threw down several bangers. Deniro has also collaborated with several well-known producers including Ryan Hemsworth and Flosstradamus. He's released 5 studio albums over the course of the past four years, and even released an EP earlier this year, Rebirth. If you have been sleeping on Deniro, you need to wake up and check him out!

The other rapper on the 'Bow Down' Tour is Denzel Curry. The 19-year-old Floridian released his debut album, Nostalgic 64, over a year ago. He got his start by posting his first mixtape on SpaceGhostPurrp's Facebook page, and since then, his fanbase has grown exponentially. He collaborated with Deniro for the first time this year with their track "Bow Down". Soon after they announced the 'Bow Down' Tour which is making a stop at the Cat's Cradle Backroom tonight. The two rappers have a stacked opening line-up with several local acts including, JK The Reaper, Duru Tha King, Well$, Body Games [cancelled], and Big Whiskey.

The show starts at 8:00 and doors open at 7:00. Tickets are $15 in advance and at the door. Check out the video for Deniro Farrar and Denzel Curry's "Bow Down" below and purchase tickets here:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Show Preview: Temples w/ Spires at Cat's Cradle

2014 boasts a strange musical landscape to say the least. The internet is currently exploding over a cat-centric remix of a snarling hip-hop album, and those that aren't may be slyly soaking in the new Taylor Swift album or something of that ilk. Basically the spectrum of possibilities for a "buzz-band" are endless, and thanks to folks like Tame Impala it's kind of become cool to harken back to the simplistic psych-rock of old. Not to say that acts like Temples are blasé by any means, but there's something about the band that feels far less niched than their contemporaries. There's no strange oddities or tweaked out, pitch changed oscillating vocals, just straight forward pop-tinged psych-rock. And frankly that's what has become so enjoyable about this band.

Temples released their debut full-length, Sun Structures,  back in February and since then have been gradually building acclaim as one of the "best new bands out of Britain," according to folks like Johnny Marr and Noel Gallagher. Temples take what feels like an old sonic trope, the swirling guitars, simplistic melodies and soaring synths of yore, but puts a contemporary twist on them. While their musical pallet may not rival the likes of the aforementioned Tame Impala or the personality found within acts like Foxygen, Temples still do a damn fine job of capturing the nostalgia of Revolver-era Beatles and spitting out new subject matter for a generation of fans that may not be as privy to the music from decades past.

Sure one could say that Temples isn't the most original act around, there's not a ton of defining factors within their music that makes them characteristically them, but just because their tracks may be devoid of an outstanding personality doesn't make them bland or uninteresting. Frankly artists like Temples are essential, their songs are aesthetically pleasing and certainly lend themselves to a live setting, where lyrical content may not reign supreme but the melodies that carry those lyrics make all the difference. Which is truly where Temples shines, they can write a memorable hook and make it mesh brilliantly with their wistful instrumentation.

Spires will serve as an awesome dip into the psychedelic pool as well, following in a similar musical trajectory, Spires draw upon the psychedelic rock of the 60s to churn out a fresh sound that's all their own. This Brooklyn based band will provide an interesting dichotomy to see how region effects influence, they're making remarkably similar music to Temples but are doing so from an entirely different area, thus drawing upon a wide array of influences that Temples may not have delved into.

The show starts at 8:30 pm with doors opening at 7:30. Tickets are $16 in advance and $18 at the door. Check out the video for Temples' "Shelter Song" below and purchase tickets here:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Collection share live performance of "The Middle One"

The Collection will perform in Charlotte at
The Visulite Theatre on Saturday Oct. 25
I'll never forget the feeling of elation that overcame me when I heard the opening notes of The Collection's self-titled EP. A faint banjo rolls slowly through your ears, repeating its refrain as David Wimbish's delicate, warbly vocals sneak their way in to the minimalistic track. As subtle harmonies slowly build the song erupts into a brilliantly orchestrated display of shameless emotionality and spirituality. The Collection may draw much of their lyrical content from religious subject matter, but it's not an exclusive act, as the emotions and imagery evoked from this powerful music can touch the spiritual and secular alike.

This past year the band has begun to blossom in ways that even the most dedicated fan could have never guessed. Upon the release of Ars Moriendi this past July, the band began to receive a lot more national attention. Their record premiered on AV Club which lead to a whole slew of new outlets and listeners finding out about this once overlooked act. Since then they've been branching out of their quaint little pocket of North Carolina and hitting the road to spread their joyful, triumphant songs and today marks the first day of their latest outing.

To kick off this month-long string of dates, The Collection is sharing a wonderfully intimate performance that was recorded in Chicago this past August. The band prefaced their time in the city by claiming that they "were not expecting things to go great" since it was their first show in Chicago, but a few songs into their set they see fans shouting along to every word, something that frankly is hard not to do once you grow acquainted with this act. And naturally, as the road is want to do, these devoted onlookers became friends and cohorts of The Collection, letting the band crash in their studio and filming a gorgeous, sparse performance of "The Middle One," a track from Ars Moriendi. Check out the band's performance below and be sure to catch them on tour if they're stopping through your city:

The Collection Tour Dates:
23 - Elkins Park Train Station in Philadelphia, PA
24 - Rockwood Music Hall in NYC, NY
25 - Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, NC
30 - Off Broadway in St. Louis, MO

3 - The State Room in Salt Lake City, UT
5 - Old Saint Francis in Bend, OR
6 - Tractor Tavern in Seattle, WA
9 - Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR
11 - Rickshaw stop in San Francisco, CA
12 - Harlows in Sacramento, CA
13 - Radiant Church in Visalia, CA
14 - Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA
16 - Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Show Review: The War on Drugs w/ Peter Matthew Bauer

The War on Drugs performed at Haw River Ballroom on
Friday, October 17
The night started out slow. Familiar for Haw River Ballroom. Long walk from the car to the door, grab a beer past the entrance, decent crowd, not too many yet we’re too far from all the major cities. Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why. Peter Matthew Bauer started the occasion. I expected a lot of Bauer—something gentle and soothing as compared to his prior sounds with The Walkmen. I had heard he’d been studying astrology, offering readings on his website for 150 a pop, the older rock star finding peace and I was excited to see how his live set would reverberate his experience.

Bauer had a 50’s vibe, surf rock mixed with indie pop and just the slightest dash of psych rock. For me it all clicked with his track “I was born in an Ashram.” Bauer has never been a vocalist; in this track I started to see whats been on his mind all those bass-thumping years. As he chanted with band in tow “let’s leave it behind, the future is ours, let’s leave it behind, all that we say, let’s leave it behind, nothing’s illusion.” I heard the triumphant dirge of a rock star bent on striking his own chord, forming a band whose frontman would sing the songs he had been holding inside. Bauer didn’t disappoint. By the time his set was winding up, the room was full of people eager to defy Kozelek and get to a The War on Drugs show. Bauer had set the room up right. Beers flowed, old friends embraced, the haw river’s characteristic “thrills” signed pointed to a stage that promised we’d see something between psych rock and indie pop hit the stage in 1!5, maybe 20 minutes.

What to say about seeing The War on Drugs. As a wise man once said, “If you can do a half- assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.” The War on Drugs offered up tunes, but it wasn’t my favorite show (or second favorite show) that I’d seen that week. There was no consensus among the crowd. Seemingly half-hearted woo’s sounded periodically, signifying that one song had ended and another would no doubt soon begin. Some of the people around me would leave, allowing others to shuffle forward. I myself left before the encore, by the time they played "Red Eye," third or fourth song, a characteristic hit, I felt like I had gotten a sense of the whole show I would see from then on.

I may be drunk on our local music scene, starving for each show to radiate an intensity of wonder, musicians amazed at the supportive scene they play to here in Central NC. For this reviewer, The War on Drugs lacked this intensity. Not to say they were bad, they certainly weren’t. The instruments played were played well, the band’s sound was cohesive. It was that I had come expectant of a psych rock show—a genre quite open for interpretation and my personal favorite. I had heard The War on Drugs associated with the sounds of bands like Woods, Spiritualized, The Beta Band, etc. By the time they hit "Red Eye," I was losing interest in the live show which offered very rehearsed performances of studio tracks. The drum beats were kept simple, the instrumental breaks and guitar solos were played exactly similar to studio recordings. If that’s your type of thing, I would highly recommend a The War on Drugs show. If it’s not, the show may still be worth checking out, you’ll hear familiar songs and be able to put faces and movements to a sound, but it won’t be the best show you see that week.

-Joe Wright

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Show Review: Shakori Hills Fall 2014

Paperhand Puppet Intervention Harvest Parade
Every festival one attends has the capacity of becoming a learning experience. Many learn their limits, like how much music you can fit into one day or how many tacos you can eat in one sitting. Many learn how willing they are to stand in the middle of a rain storm to see a band they've never heard of, but for some reason strangely connect with at this point in time. But most importantly a lot of folks learn how to let go of the little things, kick off your shoes and run around in the mud, and soak in the joys of humanity. Shakori Hills is a festival that celebrates all things good in life, music, friends, family, arts and crafts, food, beer, diversity. Really the list goes on. From all around the country folks travel to this 74-acre farm that becomes a temporary mecca for people from all walks of life. Walk around the woods in the middle of the day and you're liable to find a man with peppered grey hair and a braided beard discussing music, life and everything in between with a group of drunken twenty-somethings covered in dirt. Take another turn in the same woods and you can find a couple making french toast for any festivalgoer that's willing to sing them a song. It's a place where everyone feels at home, everyone feels like family and most importantly, everyone can get down.

Whether you spent your days on a back and forth dash between tents, posted up in a lawn chair in the middle of a field, or huddled up in your campsite recovering from the night before, you've got memories and experiences you'll likely cherish for the rest of your life. Getting the chance to see members of Lost in the Trees, Loamlands, Sylvan Esso and Butterflies on stage all at once leading a massive singalong to Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long," is something that will always stick with me. I got to watch a fur-coat clad Jonny Tunnel lead a trap-fueled dance party inside of the same tent that I saw Frank Fairfield performing hundred year old songs with a fiddle and banjo in tow. Shakori Hills provides an opportunity for people to get out of their comfort zone and listen to something they may not have heard before or befriend a stranger because you obviously enjoy the same music. It's a place where you can gladly fit fifteen people underneath an E-Z UP because it may or may not be hailing, but that doesn't matter because you'll likely be seeing music in another half hour anyways.

This isn't particularly a very conventional festival review, but Shakori isn't really a conventional festival either. Sure there's plenty of absolutely incredible acts that performed throughout the festival's four stages throughout the weekend. Lobo Marino put on a riveting performance at Carsons Grove that blended enchanting instrumentation with passionate, soul-shaking vocals. Lowland Hum somehow made a stomp box feel like a cannonball as they punctuated their heartfelt tunes with brisk, sharp knocks on the wood beneath their feet. Laura Reed put on an R&B clinic, from the moment she began her soundcheck to the end of her star-studded set that featured members of Chit Nasty Band, Saints Apollo, The Beast and more, she had the crowd dancing and shouting along to every song in a joyous fashion. Dark Water Rising, as always, kicked the early afternoon on Saturday into high gear. The band started out with their anthemic song "Love Me" one that always draws folks in thanks to Charly Lowry's soaring vocals and unforgettable melodies. By the time you sprint out of the woods to see what's going on you can see people bouncing around in a field with drinks, hoops and smiles aplenty. Fans drew in close and the show continued to connect with more and more people as the crowd gradually grew. Of course after Dark Water Rising came another one of the festival's highlights, the puppet parade. Lead by an ensemble of local musicians with horns and drums and batons, a seemingly endless line of children, teens and adults alike don absurd masks and carry towering puppets throughout the festival grounds in one of the zaniest yet enjoyable parades I've ever seen. That led into another gorgeous main stage performance from Swear & Shake with absolutely perfect weather conditions.

So obviously there was a lot to love musically about Shakori, but that's only what brings everyone onto the campgrounds. But don't get me wrong the lineup is continually stellar, it features some of the most impressive musicians I see throughout each year of shows. But it's not the lineup that keeps people coming back to this festival tucked away in Chatham County, it's the people. It's the sights and sounds and smells. It's the memories you've made and the ones in progress. It's the experience of shedding yourself of your real world problems, putting life on pause, and simply getting back to your roots. And it's the duck tots. Always the duck tots.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Show Preview: Shakori Hills Fall 2014

Once again we've stumbled upon that serendipitous time that rolls around twice a year. A time where we're sitting comfortably between two seasons with a crisp breeze to ease us into our transitions, where the leaves haven't quite turned or blossomed, but the promise lingers. There's a sense of eagneress and excitement in the air for what's to come, but most importantly theres a weekend long adventure to a place where your worries are left at the mud-covered lot that you've parked your car. Somehow every Spring and Fall Shakori Hills creeps up on me, almost as if I've lost all concept of time and didn't realize that this thing happens once every six months.  Shakori Hills is a congregation of like-minded individuals on a scenic farmland with one sole purpose, to enjoy the beauty of those around us. Whether that beauty be the constant rhythms of a washboard that echoes throughout the woods or the joy of children's laughter as they flippantly chase around bubbles larger than their heads, it's hard not to get wrapped up in the culture of Shakori Hills. Whether you spend your weeks inside of a cubicle or out on the road living out your wanderlust dreams, you're just as likely to call the lands of Shakori Hills home. And that's because of the people, the family, the community that exists inside of these 74-acres.

When you become a part of a such a tightly knit festival community, you can become a bit enchanted by it, perhaps lose sight of how wonderful an event it truly is. It becomes second nature, twice a year you post up in the woods and soak in the sights and sounds of a seemingly foreign land that may be a little more than half an hour away from your snug apartment building. Rarely do you actually consider how truly special it is that there's such an eclectic, but welcoming group of people. When you've got acts like Frank Fairfield sharing the bill with a tribal-house DJ and know full well that you'll likely see some of the same people at both shows, you've come across something unique and indescribable. That's what gets folks so excite for this semi-annual festival, theres as much diversity as their is continuity. You could exclusively see bluegrass if that's something you're into, you could learn hand drum from internationally acclaimed musicians inside of a circus-esque tent. There's a myriad of opportunities abound at Shakori, and within this post we'll outline some of our most excited acts of the weekend.

Thursday at Shakori is always a nice way to ease into the marathon of the weekend. Music doesn't start until 5:00 pm, so there's plenty of time to set up a campsite, get yourself acquainted with the lay of the land and still have time to hang out and meet your neighbors before the tunes even kick off. Acts like Milkweed and Steph Steward and the Boyfriends will warrant early trips down to the stages, but things really start to get essential once The Duhks take the Meadow Stage at 8:30. The Duhks are near the head of a new-grass movement that blends bluegrass sentiments with exciting elements of various other genres to make for a high-energy excursion through unfamiliar musical territory. From here it's a bit of a toss-up, as both AJ Ghent and Adrienne Mack-Davis will be performing again on Friday, but Lobo Marino will have their sole performance of the weekend. While Ghent and Mack-Davis will surely have entertaining sets, it'll likely be a better to move to check them out later on Friday night, especially since Lobo Marino will be bringing some entrancing experimental folk music to the Cabaret Tent at 10:00. If Donna is your thing, you'll likely bounce out of Lobo Marino early, but I'd recommend staying throughout the set and checking out AstroHawk, the first of the weekends electronic artists. Boasting a promising blend of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, I'm knowingly staying in the dark on this musician, as I find that acts like this at Shakori are best experienced live rather than sitting at home on your couch.

Ah, the day that always kicks off way earlier than you feel it should. Usually there's a stellar band kicking things off bright and early on the Meadow Stage and this fall it's no different as Asheville's Woody Pines brings swing-style Americana that assures a riotous time for all brave enough to stumble forth from their campsite into the early morning haze of Shakori. However, after Woody Pines it's best to kind of bounce around and see what best fits your festival needs. Maybe it's hanging out at your campsite and immersing yourself in the community, perhaps it's a drum or hooping workshop in the dance tent. Either way you're likely to fill your time with smiles and good vibes while you wait for the gorgeous sounds of Lowland Hum to fill the air at 4:30 pm. Bringing a stompbox for percussion and two stunning voices that work in perfect unison, Lowland Hum is a local duo that's been receiving some heavy acclaim from outlets like NPR thanks to their beautiful folk music. After Lowland Hum there's a brief lull followed by the equally impressive Loamlands, another folk-centric duo that's done a bit of expanding since their last project of Midtown Dickens. Those bluegrassy days are over now though, as Kym Register and Will Hackney boast a combination of acoustics and electrics to craft sometimes haunting, sometimes uplifting roots-driven songs. After Loamlands though is when things get a bit hectic again. A wide array of sounds are on display across the farm from acts like The Flying Clouds of South Carolina to the boogie-driven blues of North Mississippi All-Stars, so it's best to hop to and fro and see what best fits your needs for the evening. It's probably a good idea to duck out of North Mississippi early to see Adrienne Mack-Davis if you didn't catch her electric take on live hip-hop, but Liquid Sound could be equally exciting for some folks. A rest at the campsite for AJ Ghent seems likely, as Camp Honeybadger is conveniently close to the Meadow Stage, but after that it's full force marathon mode for the Southern rock of Jack The Radio, the soulful grooves of Laura Reed, the indescribable latin-funk of Suenaló and lastly the highly anticipated beat-driven dance party brought forth by Spirit Posse, the new project of Jonny Tunnell (of The Never/The Big Picture).

If somehow you can muster up enough energy to roll out of your tent for Yoga at 9:00 am, it can be a really riveting experience. I stumbled through it this past Spring and felt as awake and invigorated as I was hungover and sore. But so it goes. You may just want to hang around camp until the early afternoon rolls around and that unforgettable voice of Charly Lowry belts out through the woods as Dark Water Rising takes the stage. Combining soulful roots with traditional instrumentation and rich harmonies, Dark Water Rising is the perfect Shakori band to take the stage early afternoon on a Saturday, especially considering they're right before the famous puppet parade. Immerse yourself in this zany puppet experience, there's children in ridiculous masks, massive puppets that whisk by the trees and a band at the front of the pack leading the rowdy troop through the festival grounds. Don't stray too far from Meadow Stage though, because Swear & Shake will prove to be one of the weekend's highlights with their poppy take on folk-rock. Washed in harmonies and driven by some stunning vocal performances, Swear & Shake will strike the core of you as a festivalgoer and leave you compelled to check out the whole set, a true feat at Shakori if you ask me. From here it's worth checking out Lowland Hum if you haven't already, then trekking over to Shannon Whitworth, one of the state's most underrated songwriters. Whitworth's sultry vocals display a wide range and showcase an impressive songwriting ability that will likely result in another standout performance of the festival.

After that would likely be the perfect time to hit up one of the incredible food vendors if you haven't already, there's a wide variety of things to check out, whether it be Korean tacos, Indian food, those heavenly duckfat tater tots or some good ol' greasy pizza, you'll find something worth shoving down your gullet. From here you can catch your obligatory Donna The Buffalo set or perhaps get into the swing dance workshop taking place around the same time. Either way, you'd be a fool to miss out on Auxiliary House, a brilliant combination of some of the areas most talented musicians. It's a Trekky supergroup of sorts that knows how to take some standard songs and turn them into an unforgettable live experience thanks to their incredible showmanship and charisma. Nahko & Medicine For The People will be an excellent way to transition from this inclusive Trekky dance party, as they'll surely have a communal vibe of their own going on at their Meadow Stage performance. From here it's another toss-up based on your genre preference. It'll be crucial to check out some of this late-night performance, when I saw him perform in the gorgeous Haw River Ballroom years back it left me awestruck at his talents, it'll likely be a similar display to this partied-out but attentive crew of festival goers. It'll be pretty important to catch some of The Soul Rebels as well though, a promising combination of 8 widely talented musicians that form a New Orleans brass band fused with hip-hop and soul. Lastly, the attendees will choose between a fork in the road of experiences, take the whiskey-soaked gypsy-inspired folk songs of Ellis Dyson & The Shambles or dance until your brain spills out of your ears DJ Bill Kelly, Telekinetic Walrus and DJ Richard McVay. Either way everyone wins!

The day of reckoning, where everyone zombie walks to the porto-potties slowly realizing that their 4-day vacation is swiftly coming to an end. Folks are gradually packing up and heading out, new friends are exchanging contact numbers and helping out with the load-out and folks are napping the grass to attempt and transition back into the 9-to-5 grind. Lynda & Patty will be a nice rustic beginning to this low-key day of performances, especially since Frank Fairfield will follow immediately after. Things are fairly back and forth throughout the day until Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble takes the Meadow Stage at 4:00 pm. A Sunday afternoon world music set at Shakori is the stuff of legends, there's a particular energy throughout the crowd that just can't be denied, it's absolutely something you must check out before you depart for the day. After that there's a few more chances to check out some of the sprawling performers like Elastic Bond, The Duhks and Telekinetic Walrus, but most will post up throughout the night at the iconic Donna & Friends All Star Revue. I for one will be heading out early to check out Flying Lotus at the Cat's Cradle, topping off a positively beautiful weekend, but I'd highly recommend staying as long as your body will allow you to at this beautiful, whimsical land known at Shakori Hills.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ears to the Ground: "Bllondes" by Ghostt Bllonde

Earlier this year Ghostt Bllonde made the announcement that we'd all been waiting for, signing to a local label. When a band experiences such a meteoric rise in the scene, it's really only a matter of time until they get a crew behind them that can assist with plugging the hell out of their music in ways that bands couldn't even imagine. Negative Fun has done such for Ghostt Bllonde, giving them not only their first vinyl release, but helping them raise their profile throughout the region by pairing them and various other locals with more regionally focused artists on the east coast through their singles series.

When the band announced their Negative Fun signing they'd announced that there would be a collection of demos and unreleased singles, and evidently that time is nigh. This Saturday marks the 2nd annual Cassette Store Day, and while Nice Price Books is the only local participant in Cassette Store Day, that didn't stop Ghostt Bllonde and the Negative Fun crew from rolling out the stops for the event.

This Saturday at Nice Price, and also at Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, copies of Ghostt Bllonde's new cassette will be available for purchase in advance of the official release on Oct. 7. So in honor of the band's new release, we're lucky enough to be able to debut the lead single off of the release, "Bllondes."

Throughout the past year of the band's existence we've seen Ghostt Bllonde solidify themselves as a band who's got a powerful sense of direction and potential. Not only does Marc Kuzio and company know where they want this band to go, they know exactly how to get there. The doo-wop inspired anxiety-fueled vibes that were present on their early work have become somewhat dissipated in their more recent releases, traded in for a sleek swagger that exudes confidence and creativity. Trash-pop no more, "Bllondes" opens with a slow build of reversed guitar lines and vocal melodies before quaintly unraveling into a subdued song that explores some seriously catchy melodies and guitar grooves. Harmonies are abound, both creating rich textures and a full-bodied sound for Kuzio vocals. With harmonies and guitar lines subtly panned to and fro, the band sounds much more polished than before. Whereas their self-recorded lo-fi sound worked for their debut, it seems the band has realized that progression is key, and they're certainly progressing in bunches.

You can check out the single below and purchase the entire cassette in advance tomorrow at Nice Price Books for Cassette Store Day:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Show Review: Slow Magic w/ Kodak to Graph & Daktyl

Slow Magic at Kings on Sept. 21
Electronic shows can really be a crapshoot sometimes, especially if you haven't checked in on the artist and researched what their live set-up is. It's really easy to end up seeing a handful of dudes in backwards fitted caps slamming pads and spinning knobs on an MPD for about twenty minutes, and frankly after three sets of that you're kind of done for the evening. But what took place at Kings was far from that, it was one of the most engaging and exciting performances I've seen in quite some time. While Daktyl and Kodak to Graph had markedly similar styles, and Daktyl may have fallen a little bit into the first category, there was enough versatility throughout the night's performances to keep things exciting until the main event of the evening came around.

Daktyl started things off with a set filled with crunching bass lines, jittering synths and dreamy yet disjointed vocal samples turned into syncopated rhythms. It was a set built on quick build-ups and even swifter breakdowns, there was bukus of noise sweeps and bass drops, but it felt natural rather than formulaic and expected. With releases set in the near future for Mad Decent and some obvious talent under his belt, I'm excited to hear more from Daktyl as he evolves as an artist. There's some exciting possibilities that lie beneath these danceable tracks, hopefully he's willing to dig deeper into the rabbit hole to really define his style amidst a sea of Mad Decent-hopefuls.

Kodak to Graph at Kings on Sept. 21
The evening got gradually more exciting as the subsequent artists took the stage. As Kodak to Graph's stage began to get set-up I pretty much knew I was going to dig this set. His table was packed in with a laptop, multi-colored beat pads and an analog synth that was all facing towards the crowd for some reason. I'm not quite sure as to whether this was done for aesthetic reasons or for ease of playability, but regardless it got my attention. Kodak to Graph was emanating some heavy house vibes while still making sure he didn't fall with into the new "deep-house" trends. Most of the set bounced between bass-laden tracks that were driven by either ambient vocals that were chopped into rhythmic patterns or hip-hop vocal samples utilized as percussive flair and bridges into heavy bass grooves.

Kodak to Graph had an entertaining set, but nothing was going to top the energy that Slow Magic brought to the stage. I'm very glad I didn't come into this show with expectations for what was about to happen, frankly I thought I'd be taking it easy for this show, maybe sitting in the corner and soaking it all in. I was doing a pretty good job of following that plan until I saw the Slow Magic set-up and then I immediately posted up in front of the stage. Driven by two large toms and a mixture of loops and live mixing, Slow Magic put on one of the most engaging and awe-inspiring electronic sets I've seen in quite some time. Many times acts like these are marked by their impressive lights show or their gimmicky set-ups, but Slow Magic seems to do it for all of the right reasons. Shortly into the set he raised a drum high above his head, hopped into the crowd, and lead the crowd in a tightly packed burst of dance to his tribal beats and poppy production. Shortly after that he was high-fiving members of the crowd, letting the front row contribute to his percussion pads and even had members of the crowd toying with the remote that controlled his light show. It was less of a passive viewing experience and more of an immersive event that everyone felt a part of, which is a massive feat for an artist like this. The tracks were all incredible, the live drumming was nothing short of compelling, and ultimately proved to be a phenomenal way to end what could have been a very blasé show. Kudos to this remarkable showman for putting on the show he does, he's won this writer over as a massive fan.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Show Preview: Slow Magic w/ Kodak To Graph & Daktyl

Slow Magic performs at Kings Barcade on Sunday,
September 21. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of
Purchase tickets at KingsBarcade.com
The fact that Kings is slowly becoming a haven for heady electronic shows is one of the most exciting parts of the past year for me. While it's primarily seen by many as a hub for indie rock of all varieties, acts like Com Truise, Gent & Jawns and DJ Spinn have all graced the club within the past year. Seeing Raleigh and its surrounding areas finally coming out in full force for folks like this fills me with a huge amount of joy and excitement, especially when shows like Slow Magic come through. Even though it's on a Sunday night I have little doubt in my mind that folks will be grooving like a Friday, when you've got talent on stage like Slow Magic it's hard not to.

Little is really known about the man behind that enigmatic animal mask, but you don't need to know that much about him when you hear the dreamy sounds that emanate from the speakers. On the heels of his second full-length How To Run Away, released Sept. 9, Slow Magic will surely blend some of his newest tracks with bangers like "Girls" and "Hold Still," tracks that builds up to a serendipitous rise only to come crashing back down with cacophonous percussion and screaming synths. There's as much subtlety on display as there is outright abrasiveness, you can be lost within the swirling bass lines or possessed by the snapping percussion but either way you know Slow Magic has grasped your undivided attention. With a whole slew of remixes under his belt as well, you know that Sunday night's show is going to be one with a seamless flow that traverses a myriad of different genres and sounds.

These openers are nothing to balk at either. Kodak To Graph and Daktyl both fit in quite nicely on this bill, blending just enough sensual melodies with party-ready rhythms to make for an eclectic mix of sounds. Both acts have a wide range of sonic possibilities, Daktyl is likely to build up a track only to barrel through the mix with a thunderous bass and pitch changed vocal pattern. Kodak To Graph brings a lot of the same aesthetics to the table, skittering vocal samples create compelling rhythms that brilliantly counter the ethereal synth lines that lay the bedding for these tracks.

Lots of times when such similar acts get together for electronic bills like these they can all bleed together, but each artist has dove deep into their own niche within the world of cloud-rap inspired beats, blending trap percussion with high-pitched vocals to create a dreamlike soundscape with a serious knack for grooves.