Thursday, February 27, 2014

Show Review: Emancipator Ensemble w/ Odesza and Real Magic

Odesza performs at Lincoln Theatre
The scene at the Lincoln Theatre last Wednesday was certainly a sight to behold. While many may thrash the EDM scene for their heavy focus on rave culture, many also forget the showmanship and talent that is on display at much of these events. Were there scantily clad tu-tu girls? Of course. Did more than one person come up asking me, "Where the party's at?" Oh, most definitely. But that's all a side-note, acts like Emancipator and Odesza and Real Magic keep the thrill alive in this continually evolving scene. I've been to plenty of electronic shows and I've seen a lot of the same stuff over and over, some Top 40s hip-hop remixes, a few nostalgia tinged vocal samples tossed in and a whole lot of predictable bass drops.

However, the trio of acts that took the stage at Lincoln Theatre displayed the opposite end of the electronic spectrum. Though I came into Real Magic's set about two songs before it ended, his music effortlessly combined elements of contemporary dance music with deep yet soaring vocal melodies. The swiftly growing crowd was locked into Real Magic with pixie-winged dancers flowing through the crowd and tank-topped snapback wearing bros muttered about how good this dude was. Missing most of Real Magic's was really the only downside of this evening for me, but alas the Bonnaroo lineup announcement was in full force and I couldn't walk out without knowing whether or not I'd be belting out "Benny and the Jets" this June on the farm.

Real Magic performing at Lincoln Theatre
When Odesza took the stage it was clear that the crowd was in for a treat. The duo set up their two Akai APCs and dazzled the crowd with a heady blend of bass heavy dance tunes and smoothly melodic structures. Whether it was a chopped and screwed vocal pattern turned into a rhythmic center or encompassing, airy synths that glide over tight percussive arrangements, Odesza's tunes were completely enthralling to the hundreds in attendance. Halfway through their set I paused my ridiculous dance routine and scanned the crowd, noticing the shoulder to shoulder dance party taking place around me. The Seattle-based production duo repeatedly noted how hyped up the crowd was and whether they were churning out favorites from their My Friends Never Die EP or brand new tracks, the fans were just as enthusiastic in their hoots, hollers and gyrations.

Odesza served as a perfect segue into Emancipator Ensemble. While I was certainly expecting an explorative live arrangement from these guys, my expectations were completely blown out of the water. I've always knocked the "jam" scene, and even when I saw Pretty Lights with a live stage set-up at Mountain Oasis last year it just simply didn't do it for me, they latched on too long to the strong melodic sections and they became repetitive and valueless. Emancipator Ensemble served as a blueprint for how to properly arrange live electronic music. Douglas Appling, brainchild of Emancipator, was planted firmly behind his laptop and beat pad, churning out heady synth melodies that were further fleshed out by the enchanting violin, drums and groove-inducing bass.

A buddy of mine soberly remarked "This music makes me feel like a jellyfish," I may have laughed and brushed it off at the time but it was almost too accurate to be hilarious. The songs felt free-form and flowing despite their structure and the infectious rhythms drove the packed out Lincoln Theatre to uninhibited dance. As the band threw out "Minor Cause" a densely packed piece of electronic wonder, the crowd's excitement reached its tipping point. Watching all of these parts come together in a live setting, with impressive video projection and light shows at that, was nothing short of whimsical and left me with an intense desire to see this set again. Emancipator have set the bar high for live electronic acts for me, it was an incredibly immersive experience that broke down the fourth wall of electronic music and made it much more than the perceived "dudes pushing buttons on stage." Any electronic detractors should check out a show like this one and then try to tell me that there's no talent involved in this genre.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Show Review: Russian Circles with KEN Mode and Inter Arma

Russian Circles at Cat's Cradle
KEN Mode left a good impression. Long, sweaty, stringy hair on the guitarists flew between screaming vocals and sludgy riffs. The drummer really impressed me, varying sticks and time signatures easily. Canadian hardcore isn't a genre I'm seasoned in, but it was obvious they knew what they were doing from stage presence to execution. The band has gained notable recognition, especially in the past few years with an exhaustive tour supporting Venerable and being a Juno award, in addition to a nomination at the Western Canadian Music Awards and being on the 40-album longlist for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize (ultimately won by Godspeed You! Black Emperor for Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!).

The lights blacked out. Shortly after, a feedback-laden loop played, entrancing the audience until it was impossible to know how much time had passed. That's one thing I love about these kinds of shows. Typically, bands have openers to prep the audience for the big act of the night, so the mood is already set for the headliner, the audience is awake and excited; it's go time for the main act. Russian Circles was able to re-calibrate and wield any energy in the room, bringing everyone back to the same focal point. If you've seen Godspeed You! Black Emperor, it was a similar intro and feeling. The band walked out onto the foggy stage and ripped it open. The backlighting highlighted the band's profiles instruments' blurred silhouettes, a fan was blowing on the drummer accentuating each hard hit to his kit. Playing through their thick catalog, the band went through various guitars and basses manipulated by a hefty (and highly custom-made) pedalboard. They made great use of sampling, looping and layering to create a truly impressive live performance, elaborating on their recorded songs.

Russian Circles' pedalboard
There was one moment in particular that felt like the audience had just plummeted out of a sensory deprivation tank -- an abrupt switch from melodic darkness to the stage's white lights hi-beaming everyone straight in the pupils, paired  simultaneously with chunky shredding. It was loud, as was expected, and my ears rang into the following day. During the show, the notes seemed to blast at you, swim to you, and linger around you mid-air. Again, this was actually quite possible consider how high everything was turned up, but the delay and reverb created an incredible atmosphere. Later on and a substantial set under their belt, they set down their instruments and walked off, immediately cueing the "one more song" chants while the guys finished their beers backstage. Momentarily they were back and played my absolute favorite Russian Circles song, "Youngblood," from their 2008 album Station. Filled with taps that make your spine tingle, the song was extremely powerful live. The audience fell into a rhythm and moved as one. Without any inkling of stage banter the entire night, the band humbly smiled and waved goodbye.
It was a Monday night but didn't feel like it. My only complaint of the night was the crowd. For being fairly scene-heavy, there was a lot of chatter during quiet parts which you just don't do at a post rock show. This genre provides an experience versus the cut and dry division of songs that calls for no interruptions or jumping the gun on clapping, despite good intentions of praise. In fact, I've seen people get shushed before and dirty looks cast at cell phones going off. Along with that, this wasn't a type of show you yell out requests at. The set was consciously well-crafted as is. Rocking out is cool, moshing can be appropriate, but taking it to torpedoing across the crowd Raiden style isn't. Luckily these complaints address a limited group, but it was distracting. All that aside, it was a phenomenal night and I hope to see Russian Circles again. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Show Preview: Emancipator w/ Odesza and Real Magic

Emancipator Ensemble will perform at
The Lincoln Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 19 w/
Odesza and Real Magic
If you've been paying attention to the local scene lately, then you've certainly caught on to the incredible music that Younger Brother Productions is bringing to the area. Whether it be booking for WKNC's weekly Local Band Local Beer or the slew of other exciting events that Craig Reed is bringing to the area, there's reason for you to pay attention to what Younger Brother's got going on. Lately there's been a surge in dance-driven tunes brought to the area by Younger Brother, and that burst continues this Wednesday night at The Lincoln as Emancipator brings a live band along to Raleigh with him for what's sure to be an enthralling trip-hop affair.

The night begins with Real Magic, an experimental pop group based out of California. Real Magic will serve as a way for attendees to dip their toes into the dance sphere as this electro-washed pop music combines elements of shoe-gaze and beat music to craft warm, dense arrangements. There's equal parts psychedelia and exploration as there is four on the floor, dance-ready drum beats. Real Magic will serve as an excellent start to what's going to be a phenomenal night of music. It's one of the strongest parts of this lineup, there's a wide range of sounds on display for Wednesday night's bill but they're all falling under an electronic umbrella that ensures each act a solid built-in audience. While there may not be droves of fans singing along to some of these shimmering tracks, they'll still be dancing with just as much ferocity to the infectious rhythms.

After Real Magic comes Odesza, an act a bit more entrenched in the EDM scene than Real Magic. Odesza is a Seattle-based production duo that's only been making music together for a few years now, but their cohesion and clear artistic vision would never give that away. Glitchy vocals wash over shuffling beats, peppered with crisp snares, crunching bass lines and bouncy synths. While Real Magic will offer more of a standard live electro set, Odesza will serve as a musical bridge to Emancipator, blending hip-hop influences with electronic foundations for a groove-inducing set of energetic tunes. Pitchy vocals, drawn out bass lines and effervescent instrumentation will help get fans warmed up for the wide-open expanses of the Emancipator Ensemble.

One of the key draws for Wednesday's show is Emancipator's live set-up. Emancipator has long been known for his heady, glitch-hop tracks that are as introspective and brooding as they are dance ready. The down-tempo tracks of Emancipator are filled with brilliant arrangements, they're deeply layered songs that contain just enough girth to pan out awesomely with a live band. If you're a fan of modern electronic music then you've probably seen countless acts lost in their headphones and MacBooks, too busy pounding away on their MIDI controllers to really provide a warming and engaging set. Thus, the live electronic scene came to fruition, and Emancipator sits atop the scene with his engaging four-piece live set-up. Meshing electric violin with bass, guitar and drums, Emancipator's ethereal melodies shine brightly in the live setting.

Doors open at 8:00 pm and the show begins at 9:00 pm. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. To purchase tickets or for more information on the show, head over to

Show Preview: Russian Circles with Ken Mode and Inter Arma

Russian Circles will perform at Cat's Cradle on
Feb. 17 w/ KEN mode and Inter Arma
Chicago's instrumental rock band Russian Circles returns to Cat's Cradle tonight, joined by KEN Mode and Inter Arma.

I'm very spoiled to live in such a rich music scene here in Raleigh, but I think Richmond, VA has a lot to boast about too. The quintet Inter Arma calls it home and has made a splash in the heavy rock community there. They've built up a great tour resume and have been able to successfully combine sludge with psych, with a few other arms in various genres here and there.

KEN mode (Kill Everyone Now) formed 15 years ago in Canada. Noisy, sludgy and representing the post-hardcore scene, they've gotten very positive feedback over the years for both their live shows and recorded music. Matt Bayles, who has produced and engineered albums for bands including Caspian, Mono, Cursive and Russian Circles, mixed KEN mode's newest album "Entrench." Bayles has had a knack for tackling the fine line between professional production and sounding too polished, and what bands I have seen of his catalog, overall, translate their music well to a live performance. With their experience and track record, I'm expecting a hell of a show from these guys. I'm also expecting to maybe not be able to hear for a few days -- but hey, sacrifices.

Russian Circles has come through the triangle before, and for whatever reason I couldn't make it out. I'm still hearing from friends about how big of a mistake that was. The band has put out five full length studio albums in addition to a 2004 self-titled and self-released EP, as well as single a split release with These Arms Are Snakes. The discography takes you through chunky instrumentation with metal roots to an emotive atmosphere, most pronounced and their October release of "Memorial" put out by Sargent House. Chelsea Wolfe, who has done a lot of the tour with Russian Circles, appears on the title track of the album.

Doors open at 7:00 pm and the show starts at 8:00 pm. Tickets are available at the door for $15. More information can be found at

Friday, February 14, 2014

Show Review: Mutual Benefit with Al Riggs

Mutual Benefit at Local 506 on Feb. 4
For a Tuesday night, Local 506 was unusually packed. The night started out slowly with the quiet drones of Al Riggs. The band had no drummer, just Al and his guitarist. Two guitars, an acoustic and an electric, intertwined in a melodic fog that was accompanied by cutesy gestures like handclaps. The doodles on Al Rigg's guitars added a layer of quirkiness to his music that set an atmospheric mood of coziness already.

Next up, in the short lineup of the night, was the headliner Mutual Benefit. When I was just expecting a one-man band, six people walked out and began tuning their instruments, which included violins and two synths. The beginning of the first song started slow and calm and kept building with sound until it felt like something was about to break. And it did. Jordan Lee's humble and soft voice broke through all the sound and "Strong River," the opening track from Love's Crushing Diamond began.

Throughout the show,  Lee's onstage banter was quiet and awkward, with a twist of dark humor that kept everyone smiling. The six piece band did a remarkable job at maintaining a beautiful haze over the whole audience. All of the instrumentation ebbed and flowed in the most calm and airy way. I felt entranced by the delicate violin melodies winding themselves around the soft drums, glittery synths and slow guitars. And I honestly couldn't stop grinning the whole time.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Show Preview: Yuck w/ Alvvays, and Estrangers at Local 506

Yuck will be performing at Local 506 on
Feb. 12 along with Alvvays and Estrangers
Next Wednesday, February 12, Yuck is coming through the Triangle to Chapel Hill's Local 506, joined by Alvvays and Estrangers.

The night will kick off with hazy pop rock of Phuzz Records artist Estrangers. The five piece's most recent album, Season of 1000 Colors, came out June of last year. Their songs are fuzzy and easy to listen to, upbeat and lo-fi. They've made their rounds playing all over North Carolina, including playing alongside Spider Bags and The Beets at Hopscotch Music Festival.

Alvvays will continue the bouncy pop vibe with female fronted and harmonized vocals, guitar, and synth. Coming all the way from Toronto, they're fairly new to the game as a band, releasing their debut album later this year on Royal Mountain Records. With an incredibly promising lead-off single, "Adult Diversion," there's a slew of excitement abound for their forthcoming full-length. They've also got quite a bit of clout as individual musicians, lead vocalist Molly Rankin has a successful solo project and comes from a wildly successful family of folk musicians The Rankin Family. Alvvays  have also been part of some great bills, including Wintersleep and Hospitality, giving the band strong footing as a burgeoning indie pop act .

I'm pretty excited to finally see Yuck. Tracks from their 2011 self-titled album have been a staple on virtually any running playlist I've had since. Yuck's sophomore album Glow & Behold came out on Fat Possum last September, a little over 40 minutes in length and also marked the first album without former guitarist and vocalist Daniel Blumberg.The transition in sound is pretty noticeable, with the newer songs being smoother and more melody-based. It will be interesting to see how much of their first studio album they revisit and how it's carried out without Blumberg. The band is also working on an EP to come out this year, so expect some sneak peaks into new material.

Door are at 8:30 pm and the show starts at 9:00 pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. For more information about the show and venue, visit

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

First Person Plural releases video for "Dead Man"

Around this time last year I was lucky enough to stumble upon Mike Robinson's solo project First Person Plural. Previously known for his work as the bassist for Annuals, Robinson's solo work allows the musician to step forward from the rhythm section and emerge as the stellar songwriter he is.

First Person Plural contributed a track to this blog's first compilation album last spring and later in 2013 released Gold Wasp, an excellent foray into Robinson's ethos. Gold Wasp put Robinson's immersive songwriting on display, showcasing his deep, raspy voice alongside some ornately arranged tracks that range from anthemic to low-key, folk driven ballads.

Late last year Robinson gathered a few talented local cohorts to produce a video for "Dead Man" one of Gold Wasp's standout tracks. With Brian Corum (of Lonnie Walker) playing the titular role, the video follows a Weekend At Bernie's type of format, with the dead man hilariously courting a woman through his effortless swagger. With performance shots of Robinson and his former bandmate Adam Baker interspersed with the quirky video, "Dead Man" plays out as a wonderful visual companion to an already fantastic song.

The video is directed by Marisa DeLuca Shields and features scenes from Raleigh locales like The Alley and Oakwood Cemetery. Gold Wasp is currently available for purchase on iTunes and Bandcamp.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ears to the Ground: "Creme Brulee" by Virgins Family Band ft. T0W3RS

Watching a band grow and evolve is probably one of my favorite parts of being a music listener. It's what makes it such a joy to find a band in their infancy, it's like aural cartography, watching this rich voyage taking place in front of your eyes. Such seems to be the story with Virgins Family Band, I was beyond thrilled to come upon the band before they released their first full-length record Honeylion around this time last year and sure enough here we are debuting their first new track since said debut.

"Creme Brulee" is a big step into the psychedelic frontier for Virgins, it's a fresh and invigorating take on a sound that was already brilliantly polished. While Honeylion was filled with sounds that just felt natural, "Creme Brulee" makes the listener reach a bit. Playing on heightened tensions and sharp synth lines, Virgins Family Band have taken my expectations and shattered them with a tightly focused bit of electronic experimentation.  The track reels the listener in with smooth melodies and throws them for a loop with brisk rhythmic changes and seemingly random guitar and bass fills, but there's a sense of structure to all of this absurdity. The vocals initially float wistfully atop the mix, reminiscent of their previous work, but as the track progresses they slowly mesh together with the instrumentation as harmonies bleed in and help to create a lush lyrical arrangement.

All in all "Creme Brulee" serves as a welcomed change to what I thought was an un-toppable sound. When speaking with the band about their inspiration for Honeylion they said that they chose the name for the album because that's what they felt their music sounded like. The same can be said for "Creme Brulee," while the base of the track is built around sweet and delectable melodies, it's contrasted brilliantly by a crunching synth,  and spastic instrumentation. Or maybe I just really dig food, who knows.

Check out the trippy, kaleidoscopic video for the track below or stream it on Virgins Family Bands' bandcamp page.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Show Preview: Mutual Benefit with Al Riggs

Mutual Benefit is performing at Local 506 on Feb. 4
Image courtesy of Pitchfork

Tuesday nights are good nights for shows that make you want to cry, so it's perfect that Mutual Benefit is playing a show on February 4th with Al Riggs. These two bands will take you on an emotional ride much less like a rollercoaster and more like a slow drive at dusk.

Al Riggs opens with songs that are reminiscent of Yo La Tengo's shoegazey drones. A North Carolina native, Al Riggs is a self described songwriter between Greensboro and Raleigh. Mixing electric guitar with acoustic and a lot of reverb. Al Riggs goes into intense psychedelic jams while maintaining grip on reality with sincere lyrics. 

Next, the headliner, Mutual Benefit will probably make you feel a lot of things at once including nostalgia, happiness sadness and everything in between. Mutual Benefit is the one-man project of Jordan Lee, but its not always a one-man band, just depends on his surroundings. His most recent album Love's Crushing Diamond is a folky, watery pop gem with songs taken from years of collaborating with friends. This album was one of the first bandcamp releases to be named Best New Music on Pitchfork which is quite a feat for a band that's been transient over the last couple of years, with Jordan Lee finally residing in Brooklyn, NY. Mutual Benefit is an absolute auditory treat that will leave you speechless and probably in a better place in your life.

The doors open at 8:00 PM and the show is set to start at 9:00. Tickets are $8 in advance and $9 at the door, you can purchase tickets at

Shakori Hills announces initial lineup for Spring 2014

Indigo Girls will be performing at Spring Shakori
alongside The Del McCoury Band, Ben Sollee,
Dirty Dozen Brass Band and more
It's never to early to get amped for Shakori, the semi-annual music and arts festival that takes place in Pittsboro, NC. At this point it almost goes without saying that I'm beyond excited for these events, and with Shakori's recent land purchase there's a whole lot to be excited about now. Organizers plan on making improvements to the festival grounds and it seems as if the number of events taking place on this beloved farm are going to start increasing as well. With the hefty land acquisition behind us now, one can only imagine how thankful and excited all of the attendees for this spring's festival are going to be. Those that attend Shakori can attest to how regularly every hoped and wished for this very purchase to go through, solidifying Shakori's permanence around the community. And so far it looks like the festival is going to be giving us a lot to celebrate, as they just announced a very brief but impressive initial lineup.

Rounded out by two highly revered acts of widely different stylings, Spring Shakori brings The Del McCoury Band and Indigo Girls to the farm and helps prove the leaps and bounds that traditional folk and bluegrass music has made. Del McCoury is one of bluegrass' gatekeepers, a living legend in the genre that will be making his long awaited return to the farm (his band last performed in Fall 2007). While McCoury's band is steeped with traditionalism, Indigo Girls are a Grammy award-winning contemporary folk act that brilliantly melds a variety of rustic stylings with rich storytelling to create a moving product of folk-rock excellence. While big-name acts like McCoury and Indigo Girls always brings a slew of new-comers to the festival, the best parts of Shakori always lie within the undercard. Widely heralded acts like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the virtuosic cellist Ben Sollee will be making their Shakori Hills debut (Sollee is one I've been hoping for since I first started attending Shakori nearly four years ago) alongside Grassroots favorites like JP Harris & the Tough Choices, Driftwood and Donna The Buffalo.

Other standouts include The Last Bison, Baloji & L’Orchestra de la Katuba and local standouts Morning Brigade. Spring Shakori will be taking place from April 17-20 in Pittsboro, NC. Tickets are currently on-sale at at the early-bird rate (until Feb. 23) of $90 for a 4-day weekend pass. Daily passes will become available during the regular pre-sale period of Feb. 24 - April 14. Keep an eye out for more lineup announcements, we'll keep you posted as soon as we get news!