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
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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Show Preview: Ty Segall w/ Wand & Flesh Wounds at Motorco Music Hall

Ty Segall performs at Motorco Music Hall
on Sunday, Sept. 14 w/ Wand & Flesh Wounds

It's basically reached the point where the term "garage rock" has become synonymous with Ty Segall for me. With an insane amount of turnover, Segall has been churning out excellent album after excellent album for the past few years now and he's shown little signs of slowing down. Before Manipulator, his most recent release on Drag City, it had been 14 months since we received new music from Segall.

Usually one would balk at the insinuation that 14 months is a long wait between albums, but this is coming from the guy that put out four freakin' records last year, all of them ridiculously impressive. This manic garage savant may have slowed his frighteningly swift pace of production, but his output is just as impressive as always. If not more so frankly. Manipulation is by no means a slow-rolling record, but there's a lot more definition packed into these emotionally dense, high-energy tracks.

Thus, one could expect that Segall will be laying it all on the line this Sunday night at their sold-out Motorco show. The night is filled with brilliant, balls to the wall punk music that will leave this garage-esque venue damp and sweaty from all of the ridiculous attempts at moshing, crowd surfing and any other ridiculously amped crowd reaction you can imagine. Segall leads the crowd's antics like a composer, his heartfelt songs bursting forth from their amplifiers physically effects these concertgoers. It compels you to manically bob your head, smack your hands on your pockets like you'd actually know what the hell you'd be doing behind a drum set, and generally experience some cathartic sense of relief. There's just something about losing your mind at a punk show that leaves you feeling reinvigorated, ready to tackle the dull 9-to-5 that you may be headed to early on Monday morning. That's what makes this show at this seldom visited venue for myself, such an incredible outing.

Since Motorco opened it's been a vastly underutilized venue, but when the big names come through it kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder why the hell this venue hasn't taken off in a huge way. Having Flesh Wounds open the show as well just makes the night even sweeter. In recent months the band has been picking up a lot of steam after a quiet year in 2013, with a 7" release on Merge and some rave reviews from their manic energy at Hopscotch, they'll likely be permeating the frenetic vibes to get concertgoers prepped for their highly anticipated headliner later in the evening. But if Segall doesn't bring his "A" game it could be easy for these openers to steal the show, making it all the more exciting to see exactly how wild this show will truly get.

Check out Segall's recent performance on Conan O'Brien below:

Show Review: Hopscotch Music Festival 2014

St. Vincent at City Plaza
I feel like every Hopscotch has just gotten better and better. Each year the lineup finds a new way to break down barriers, to pack in artists of every genre imaginable for one loaded, sometimes spastic three-day marathon of music (or four if you're some showzilla who knows no limits.) 2014, surely enough proved to be my favorite Hopscotch yet thanks to the all of its eccentricities and unforgettable performances. Though this is the first year I was unable to attend the Thursday and Friday day parties, there was still tons of music packed into that brief weekend that we all yearn so long for. Between the prodigal return of Lonnie Walker, T0W3RS' exhilarating full-band debut, and Valient Thorr bringing that Venus weirdness to City Plaza, there was plenty of local love going around downtown Raleigh. Regional acts were some of the most exciting of the festival, but that didn't stop folks like Lunice, Jamie XX, Ava Luna and others from bringing their 'A' game to this nationally acclaimed event.

De La Soul at City Plaza
Photo Credit: Agatha Donkar
Things started off late for me on Thursday as I showed up towards the end of an excellent display of showmanship from Toon & The Real Laww. This Durham based duo garners quite a few OutKast comparisons with their lyrical wit and brilliant, charismatic interplay. Throw in their stellar crowd participation antics and you've got one hell of a kick-off to this four-day festival. Things were immediately followed up by the hip-hop visionaries De La Soul, a set that even had the photographers in the pit dancing along with their cameras hanging down. While the evening got off to a hip-hop oriented start, I took off from City Plaza around twenty minutes in to catch the brilliant acts at Kennedy Theater. Body Games brought the venue to capacity as fans were entranced by Adam Graetz's mind-bending visuals. Last year they had one of the weekend's most memorable moments with a Michael Jackson cover, and surely enough they raised the bar once again this year with a "Kiss From A Rose" cover that everybody pretending like they knew the words to the verses. After Body Games came Marley Carroll, the Asheville-based producer with a knack for engaging yet trancey electronic sets. Carroll perfectly blends four on the floor house beats with spacey fills, turntable scratches and serene vocals. It was difficult to pull myself away from the dance marathon, but it's also important to take in some low-energy stuff throughout the weekend as well. Thus, it was next door to Fletcher to check out IIII, the drum-circle marathon that started out strong and ended up droning on.

The drum circle was rooted with an electronic drone that was gradually engulfed by the slew of drummers circled around the stage. It was a nice pause to sit down and mindlessly enjoy some instrumental music, but I'd hardly call it one of the weekend's highlights. It was a nice break regardless, and gave me everything I needed to soak in Deniro Farrar and Lunice with every ounce of energy possible. Deniro played to a small crowd, but you'd never know by the energy and showmanship that he displayed throughout the evening. Rapping about pampers while staring lanky photographers in the eyes, spitting out profanity laced statements that proclaim himself the king of cult rap. Frankly I wasn't expecting to enjoy this show as much as I did, but it was emanating heavy Danny Brown vibes, Farrar has a keen stage presence and knows how to get a crowd involved with his set. Regardless of whether he was simply sharing his brothers music or baring his soul on the mic, he's a man that knows how to get the people going. Farrar was also the perfect segway into Lunice, the early 20s trap wunderkind. Lunice provided a set filled with originals and remixes that ranged from a handful of Kanye West tracks to Future, mostly sticking to heavy rap throughout the night. While that made the pacing a bit difficult for those of us that danced throughout the whole set, it's one hell of a way to end an evening. Lunice had another surprisingly small set, but once folks planted themselves inside of Kennedy they stayed through the duration. A small pack of dedicated fans beats a crowd full of bored concertgoers any day.

Spoon at City Plaza
City Plaza once again kicked off the night's festivities and provided for some truly surreal moments. Getting the chance to see brand new Lonnie Walker tunes amidst a sea of thousands is something that fills folks like me with an immense amount of joy. I got into local music in late 2008 and Lonnie Walker were the kings of the scene, pounding out show after show of high-energy singalongs that struck your core as much as your sense of rhythm. While their newer tracks are a bit more subdued, they're just as powerful as the fan-favorites, making for an incredible comeback show for this high-profile local favorite. While the transition from hopped up, twangy indie rock into the art-rock auteur St. Vincent was a bit shaky, Annie Clark's guitar mastery more than made up for it. While I'm a huge St. Vincent fan the set felt a bit impersonal, perhaps it's the wide-open spaces of City Plaza or maybe it's the choreographed stage antics, either way the content was still precisely on-point. Fans of St. Vincent sang along in unison to favorites from her latest self-titled record, Strange Mercy and some deep older cuts as well. After what felt like a brief St. Vincent set, Spoon took the stage as the crowd was at its peak. Going into this kind of blase was the best thing I could have done, because Spoon frankly surprised the hell out of me with not only their live energy and performance but also by their songwriting. I've moved a bit past the straight-forward indie rock that they showcase but I'll be damned if they don't do it well. I left about a half-hour into the set though to trot over to The Pour House for one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend.

Dark Rooms at Tir Na Nog
Crowdsource kicked off my night of venue shows and proved to be one hell of a way to start the night's marathon. Blending sprawling midi-arrangements with pounding rhythms and stunning visuals, Crowdsource's crowd grew swiftly throughout the set and compelled all in attendance to get some dancing on. I ducked out early to head across the block for Enemy Waves, mostly because heavy psych-rock in a church is so Hopscotch it hurts. Seeing sax-lead psychedelic jams inside of a gorgeous church hall is something you can really only experience at a festival as unique as Hopscotch. It's one of the perfect examples of a show that seems to be totally bizarre on paper but brilliant once you step foot in the door. After a bit of jammage it was off to check out Celestial Shore at Fletcher, a set that was exactly as perfect as I'd imagined. Expansive indie-pop just works inside of this opera hall and made me yearn for more shows at such a gorgeously built venue. The acoustic lent itself to Celestial Shore's reverb-washed style and made for an excellent chill set to refresh your energy at. From there it was off to Tir Na Nog for Dark Rooms, arguably one of my favorite sets of the weekend. This was an invigorating set that blended dream-inducing violin lines and Daniel Hart's earnest, evocative brand of songwriting with some melodically focused indie rock. While I only caught the first four or five songs, it was a set that relied heavily on ambition and it paid off immensely, as their gorgeous harmonies and unique arrangements stuck with me throughout the weekend. I darted off from here to check out Mas Ysa, but sadly enough I almost immediately left as I simply couldn't get down to what I was so excited to see.

After a trek out to CAM, I decided (poorly) to see what was going on with Sun Kil Moon at the Lincoln. Apparently I walked in shortly after those fuckin' hillbillies got berated because the crowd was sparse and the vibe was all kinds of odd. I took that as my cue to check out what else was happening around town. I walked in for the last moments of Purling Hiss then booked it over to CAM to catch as much of NGUZUNGUZU as I could. After vibing for a while to their skittering remixes, I decided to check out the greatly hyped Clipping. over at The Pour House to end my evening, and man was that a great call. Jarring beats with a surprisingly smooth flow lead the sizable Pour House crowd to jumping, bobbing and swaying their way through the evening.

Valient Thorr at City Plaza
The first full festival day for me was also of course the last festival day. Things got kicked off early with some delicious brunch from Fiction Kitchen and a few sets over at Legends. Family Bike, a new project from Karl Kuehn of Museum Mouth, stood out amongst the early sets but shortly after that it was time to post up at Trekky's day party for a bit. I walked in to see Hi Ho Silver Oh in the middle of their full band set, and frankly it was one of the best sets I saw all weekend. Last year I was floored by a stripped down set from Casey Trela, but finally seeing the full band experience got me totally sold. Their cover of Tom Petty's "Time To Get Going" was without a doubt the most beautiful track I heard all weekend, a sparse arrangement of a classic tune that ends in a subdued singalong. The rest of the day was great, including some great sets from Celestial Shore, Phil Cook and Caitlin Rose and a rooftop view of Lonnie Walker at Slim's, but Hi Ho Silver Oh definitely won the day parties for me. Things swiftly changed direction though once City Plaza started and the metal fans poured in in bunches. It was one of the most unique crowds I've ever seen at Hopscotch and it was fucking excellent. Valient Thorr has become one of my favorite bands to see live because they're just such excellent showmen. I'm not really the type to sit around and listen to them in my house, but I'll be damned if I won't throw my fist in the air when prompted by some dude from Venus. Death and Mastodon were equally impressive, but really when you've got Valient Thorr opening it's hard to live up to that kind of energy.

T0W3RS at The Pour House
As quickly as I fell into the metal hole I came back out to check out the highly touted set from See Gulls at Deep South. It was one in one out and packed wall to wall, which is always a fantastic feeling when you're checking out a swiftly rising local act. I'm sure the NPR coverage didn't hurt in terms of attendance either. See Gulls' gritty garage pop was an excellent way to transition into Y'ALL, a band featuring various regional musicians producing some pretty simplistic but interesting pop-leaning indie rock. After that I surprisingly decided to forgo the soft folk at Fletcher and rock out to some orchestral metal from Subrosa. I was surprised at how in to this band I was, but I feel that for my level of intoxication I shouldn't be too surprised. My drunken self did make a pretty excellent call though in foregoing a trip out to CAM to check out How To Dress Well (which I'd have positively balked at if you'd told me a week ago), to check out Ava Luna and T0W3RS at Tir Na Nog and The Pour House. T0W3RS put on hands down the most elaborate, engaging and all-around incredible performances of this year's Hopscotch. T0W3RS has kind of grown into the Hopscotch band for me, really. It started with a shoulder to shoulder day party at The Hive, grew into a psych-rock excursion at CAM and has ended up at electronically oriented indie pop mastery. Whether T0W3RS was cranking out the brilliant tracks from the forthcoming album TL;DR or pulling out Don Henley covers (seriously though, "Boys of Summer" was the last thing I'd have expected from this Hopscotch), the band was giving it 100% the entire time. Plus some of the most talented artists in the Triangle were rotating around the stage to provide support for what is already an impressive one-man show. So getting to see the T0W3RS experience as it should be was easily the most enjoyable aspects of this year's Hopscotch.

Jamie XX at CAM
Ending the night at Jamie XX though. I feel as if I need to type out a moment of journalistic silence in appreciation for how incredibly arranged that set was. Mastering the push and pull of energy, Jamie XX's pacing allowed fans to lose themselves in the melody or dance until they fall out. Frankly there was a good bit of both. Roaming throughout the venue one could find dance circles, crowd surfers, bathroom pot smokers and pretty much every type of person you could imagine just jamming out and enjoying the music. It was the perfect way to end this year's festivities. With us all under one roof raving.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ears to the Ground: "Doldrums" by Dad & Dad

I'll never forget the first time I heard the slow-rise of "Moonbreath" Virgins Family Band's opening track from their debut album Honeylion. The slow sense of awe, serenity and infatuation that washed over me is indescribable. It was one of those moments where the music you've always yearned for perfectly coincided with what you were actually experiencing. Sadly enough Virgins Family Band disbanded earlier this year, but they've wasted no time in re-establishing themselves as local staples with their new electronically-oriented project Dad & Dad. They made their pseudo-debut here in the Triangle this past weekend as the bulk of Derek Torres' backing band for the massive T0W3RS set at The Pour House and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're some of the most versatile and talented musicians in the region.

Now, on the heels of their huge Hopscotch performance, I'm absurdly excited to premiere the first track from Dad & Dad, "Doldrums." As the track slowly unfurls there's gradual bursts of bubbling synths and airy slide guitar mixed in with delayed guitar licks and washed-out vocals. It's like if you took all of the eccentricities of Virgins Family Band and dipped them in a psychedelic wash. Saman Khoujinian's vocals feel simultaneously distant and all-encompassing, as if they're narratives from a dream, guiding the listener through a transcendental adventure. Images of afghan-wrapped travelers in the distance of a blue city, far from the doldrums, propel the song's choppy narrative, but add to the disjointed and angular nature of the track.

Whether you're focusing in on the slow-churning, astonishingly spacey instrumentation or the smooth, airy vocals that help give the track its dream-like nature, there's plenty to fall in love with about "Doldrums." It's a psych-rock track unlike any I've heard before, especially from a local crew. Dad & Dad appear to blend the most agreeable aspects of electronica and psych-pop to create something entirely new and fascinating with an infinite amount of potential. When a band comes so strong out of the gate with such a clearly defined sound, it's always exhilarating to see their progression into musical excellence. Frankly I'm already giddy to hear what comes next.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hopscotch Music Festival 2014 Itinerary: Day Three Itinerary

Usually by Day Three all pre-planned schedules are off for me. It's to wherever seems the most reasonable, comfortable, less-packed, etc. That's usually lent itself to some pretty incredible nights, but alas that's not the game plan this time. Saturday is arguably my favorite day of the schedule, and while I may not garner as much interest in the City Plaza hard rock-fest as others, it's still a ridiculous lineup from top to bottom. This will be the first day of the festival that I get to check out the Day Parties and I'll likely be bouncing between the Trekky/Hometapes Party at The Pour House, Reverbnation's Party at Deep South and Legends' Let Feedback Ring Party, a trio of shows that bring together some of the best locals and touring artists of the festival. After all of the day partying it'll be time to mosey on down to City Plaza for one of the most energetic, engaging metal acts I've ever had the joy of seeing.

Photo credit: Grant Golden
Valient Thorr at City Plaza @ 5:45 pm
Last year's CAM set from Valient Thorr was one of my favorite shows at Hopscotch, the dudes simply know how to put on a show. You're liable to see Valient Himself trotting around the stage with his badass denim jacket flailing to-and-fro as he manically mounts speakers and shoots imaginary cannons, and frankly who's not down with that? They'll be an excellent way to open the heaviest night of City Plaza in history, they're an easily palatable hard rock band that's got crowd control down pat. If you're thinking about skipping out on the early City Plaza shows on Saturday, then maybe reconsider to check this crew out.

Photo courtesy of Death
Death at City Plaza @ 6:50 pm
Death is one of those bands I've always had the pleasure of hearing about, so I know how iconic they are throughout the history of punk rock and music in general. Death is credited as one of, if not the, first black punk band and really helped fuel the uprising of Detroit punk in the 70s. They'd been broken up for decades, but in the past few years a reunion and acclaimed documentary A Band Called Death has thrust the band back into the spotlight. I'd imagine a lot of drunken flailing around to be going on close up at City Plaza, and most importantly a lot of really confused non-concert goers. People watching will be in its prime here folks.

Photo courtesy of Mastodon
Mastodon at City Plaza @ 8:15 pm
Little is left to be said of the massive metal band Mastodon. They've gradually ascended to mainstream stardom thanks to their consistently excellent releases since 2002's Remission, and since their beginnings they've been slowly expanding upon their sound to create a more broad appeal for fans. With Valient Thorr and Death opening up the evening, things will surely roll easily into Mastodon's highly anticipated set as the first metal headliner of the festival. Mastodon's City Plaza set feels like a true coming-out party for Hopscotch metal, the festival has long been home to some of the genre's most celebrated acts but never before have they been blasting throughout the streets of downtown Raleigh. If only that debutante ball could see us now.

Photo courtesy of See Gulls
See Gulls at Deep South @ 9:00 pm
When this lineup dropped See Gulls was one of the new local acts I knew that I had to check out. I'd heard rumblings of this female-centric garage rock group, but hadn't had the fortune of seeing them live until a few months back. Fronted by Sarah Fuller, formerly of The Big Picture, See Gulls boasts a seriously raucous live energy that puts a grittier spin on their already fuzzed out anthems. Songs that may have started out as little folk diddies are turned into full-on punk rock bangers. With Maria Albani (Schooner, Organos) on drums and Duncan Webster (Hammer No More The Fingers, Beauty World) and Leah Gibson (Lost in the Trees, Beauty World) on guitar and bass, this local supergroup of sorts is most definitely worthy of an early leave from City Plaza.

Funkss at Pour House Music Hall @ 9:30 pm
When I first saw funkss amidst a sea of underage badkids that were boasting of the 40s and blunts they downed in the parking lot of a Yung Lean show, he served a messiah of sorts. Lifting me up from the shoulder to shoulder bro-sweat with their backwards snapbacks and psychedelic tank-tops and into a dark, yet danceable land of aggressive electronic music. It's a bit hard to categorize these songs, but there's really little need to as well. It's music that transplants you to a different headspace, allowing you to lose yourself in the deep rhythms and brooding melodies.

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Sauser-Monnig
Alexandra Sauser-Monnig at Fletcher Opera Hall @ 10:00 pm
It's always important to remember that Hopscotch is a marathon, not a race. While I'd love to stay at The Pour House and dance myself ragged until How To Dress Well/Jamie XX, it's impotant to pace yourself. That's why sets like this one are so damn important. Not only will one-third of the gorgeously harmonic folk trio Mountain Man be at Fletcher, but there'll also be cozy seats and probably quite a few nappers. But frankly, if you're literally sleeping on Alexandra Sauser-Monnig then you're making a huge mistake. This'll likely be comparable to the Angel Olsen set at last year's Hopscotch, a set filled with insanely quiet concertgoers soaking in the breathtaking sounds of this passionate folk singer.

Photo courtesy of How To Dress Well
How To Dress Well at CAM Raleigh @ 11:30 pm
I didn't think that picking How To Dress Well would be the hardest decision of my Hopscotch this year, but they're going up against the local superstar T0W3RS. T0W3RS will be pulling out all the stops with a special full-band performance at The Pour House that'll likely be filled to capacity. Unfortunately though, it's hard to always pick the beloved local over a high-profile touring artist that doesn't come through very frequently. How To Dress Well  is on the heels of What Is This Heart? a fully realized neo-soul/R&B work of art that surpasses any and all expectations I had of this highly touted songwriter. CAM is the perfect place for these low-end heavy croons to fill the airwaves, and with Jamie XX closing out the evening there's little reason to leave.

Photo courtesy of Jamie XX
Jamie XX at CAM Raleigh @ 12:30 am
For quite some time I was largely ignorant of the excellence of Jamie XX. I'd seen stories of his Gil Scott-Heron remix album, I knew he was the producer-side of The XX, but that was about it. I hadn't realized how incredible of an artist he was until I physically saw The XX at The Lincoln this past spring. The melancholy melodies up front were the last thing I was paying attention to, it was all about that thunderous bass and gorgeous synths that were making my brain shake and my teeth chatter. Jamie XX's work is crafted to envelop the listener, allow them to wrap themselves in these immense sounds that are arranged so minimalistically that it just works. Jamie XX can pick up a groove and run with it, and frankly a sweaty dance party is without a doubt one of the best ways to close out a Hopscotch. And I say that from experience.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hopscotch Music Festival 2014 Itinerary: Day Two

This year marks a totally new Hopscotch experience for me, a mostly Day Party-less Hopscotch. It feels strange, like I'll have a bit too much energy to last me throughout the weekend. But alas, the woes of finding full-time work. It's a bit of a double-edged sword though, on one hand it's great to not be sore and sweaty when the evening's just starting, but on the other hand it greatly reduces the amount of music I get to see...which is kind of the whole point of this thing. But regardless, I'll be starting my evening once again at City Plaza, but this time for one of the most impressive Plaza lineups since the festival's beginnings. With local figureheads Lonnie Walker seemingly having their big come-back show at City Plaza (I'd imagine it'll be a set filled with mostly new tracks), followed my St. Vincent's new David Byrne-inspired stage show and ended with the indie-rock icons Spoon, City Plaza is going to be a welcomed kick-off to a jam-packed weekend of excellent tunes.

Photo courtesy of Lonnie Walker
Lonnie Walker at City Plaza @ 5:45 pm
It's been quite a few years since Lonnie Walker reigned supreme amidst the local music scene. Their eccentric brand of spastic folk-rock has been long missed in the Triangle, and while they'd play sporadically, there haven't been regularly scheduled Lonnie Walker shows until recently. With a new single out in the world it looks like the band is set for some new music in the near future, which has me all sorts of excited. Newer sets from the band has brilliantly interspersed older favorites like "Grapejuice," "Compass Comforts," and "Back Home Inside With You" alongside newer tracks like their single "All Bombs Away," a track that displays a re-ignited sense of purpose for this beloved local act. They'll serve as a wonderful opener to the indie-rock gatekeepers that will finish off the evening at City Plaza.

Photo courtesy of St. Vincent
St. Vincent at City Plaza @ 6:50 pm
Having seen St. Vincent on her Strange Mercy tour, I've got to admit that I'm ridiculously excited to see just how different her stage show is now after seeing so many different photos and reports of the theatrical event. It appears all of her work with the legendary David Byrne has rubbed off on her showmanship, St. Vincent's set is now run by angular choreography and fuzzed-out guitar solos that thrust the listener into the musical ethos, daydreaming over the guitar goddess before them. Annie Clark has proved to be one of the most prolific artists in recent memory, churning out album after album of incredible material. I'd expect this festival set to feature a nice career-spanning bit of songs while pulling heavily from her latest self-titled album.

Spoon at City Plaza @ 8:00 pm
Spoon is a band that's been pretty integral to the success of the Triangle's music scene despite the origins of the band having little ties to the region. They're one of Merge Records' most successful acts, standing tall alongside folks like Arcade Fire as one of the label's Top 10 charting acts. Their no-frills brand of pop-leaning indie rock has been evolving steadily since their beginnings in 1993, and now with the recent release of They Want My Soul they've found themselves back in the limelight. With some stellar songwriting that's been elevated by unforgettable hooks, their headlining set at City Plaza will be one for the Hopscotch record books. Folks of all ages will be packed in tightly, singing along to these anthemic tracks, which is one of the finest parts of a festival like Hopscotch.

Photo courtesy of Crowdsource
Crowdsource at The Pour House @ 9:30 pm
It's become a bit of a tradition to duck out of City Plaza a little early to try and catch the first acts of the night, and so far it's been an excellent decision. I'd imagine this one will go quite the same, as Crowdsource is hands down one of the most exciting new acts in the region...when he's here! Crowdsource is the new project behind musical visionary Phil Torres, who recently gained local acclaim through his folktronica project Baobab. Digging deeper into the electronic rabbit hole, Torres now crafts an entrancing blend of sounds that range from obscure samples from Nas and Jay-Z to refugees wailing or double-rainbow exclamations to classically inspired MIDI-riffs. To top it off, Torres seems to have perfected the visual aesthetic of the show as well, blending some seriously psyched-out scenes to the projector behind him. Mixing it all live, Crowdsource is a multi-media project unlike any other, and an excellent way to get yourself dancing through this Friday night.

Photo courtesy of Celestial Shore
Celestial Shore at Fletcher Opera Hall @ 10:30 pm
Celestial Shore is an act I've been meaning to catch for quite some time now. Since I learned that Sam Owens is related to the guitarist/songwriting wunderkind Zannie Owens from New Bern, I knew I had to check out this band and surely enough I wasn't disappointed. One minute Celestial Shore will have you gliding along on cloud-like melodies one second and then have you thrashing about wildly the next. It's as if you had Beach Boys inspired melodies with Dirty Projectors' style rhythmic shifts. They're frequently playing out with Ava Luna, another frenetic band that thrives on swift rhythmic alterations, so I'd expect a similar experience from this excellent trio from New York. Fletcher will provide excellent acoustics for a show like this, allowing listeners to soak in all of the intricacies of their songs, and perhaps even have themselves a nice seated show from a fresh, mind blowing act.

Photo courtesy of Allyce Andrew
Mas Ysa at CAM Raleigh @ 11:30
 The one-two punch of Mas Ysa and Nguzunguzu is probably one of my favorite last-minute finds of this year's festival. At first it was a bit of a toss-up as to where my Friday night would take me, while Sun Kil Moon at Lincoln would be an awesome way to close things out, festivals like Hopscotch aren't always the best setting for quieter artists (unless of course you're at Fletcher, then all bets are off). So with two open blocks I scoured the lineup and found these two back-to-back at CAM, the Hopscotch mecca for me this year. Mas Ysa is a folk-leaning electronic artist that bridges atmospheric soundscapes with danceable rhythms and pop structures. This New York-based composer blends field recordings into his mixes to make for a more organic feel, and once that all meshes together with his attention-grabbing vocal presence it makes for an incredible sound that's unparalleled amongst the Hopscotch lineup.

Photo courtesy of Nguzunguzu
Nguzunguzu at CAM Raleigh @ 12:30
Their name may be hard to pronounce, but their music is some of the most easy to palate on the entire line-up. Nguzunguzu is a powerhouse duo out of L.A that's best known for crafting R&B leaning productions that blend spacey aesthetics with forceful polyrhythms and grimey, bass-heavy synths to leave you awash in mystery but compelled to groove. This year's Hopscotch lineup is heavily dance oriented for me, which I have absolutely zero problem with. Going into electronic artists with a bit of ignorance is always a great thing, you don't know what kind of stage set-up to expect, how they'll execute their live show or really anything other than the fact that you're probably about to dance your ass off. That's really all you need to know when you step foot into CAM on Friday night, so leave your inhibitions at the door and leave the rest on the dance floor.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hopscotch Music Festival 2014 Itinerary: Day One

Now that Hopscotch week is upon us, the time has come to buckle down and determine exactly where I need to be going to each night. With the first ever Thursday City Plaza show, the evening gets kicked off with two high-energy hip-hop acts that will hopefully provide me with the boost of adrenaline I'll be needing to get to all of the shows I need to see throughout the night. Starting things off with Tune & The Real Law and ending with trap pioneer Lunice gives a pretty good indicator that it'll be a night filled with dance-driven, bass-heavy sets from some impressive locals and nationally renown artists.

Photo courtesy of Toon & The Real Laww
Toon & The Real Laww
at City Plaza @ 7:00 pm
Toon & The Real Laww are one of the area's most underrated live acts and when they kick off the Hopscotch festivities on Thursday they'll surely grasp the attention of quite a few new fans as they open up for the legendary De La Soul. Toon & The Real Laww mix club-ready beats with impressive lyrical acrobatics and crowd-pleasing tracks. By the end of the set the festivalgoers will likely be shouting along in unison as Proffessor Toon and The Real Laww command different halves of the crowd, enlisting them as rhythmic tools for their tracks. Hopefully they'll have their full band set-up, one that blends crunching guitars with breakbeat rhythms and thunderous bass, but if not their two-man set-up with a DJ is still pretty perplexing.

Photo courtesy of De La Soul
De La Soul
at City Plaza @ 8:00 pm
This iconic hip-hop trio is the perfect headliner for the first ever Thursday City Plaza show. The fondest memory I have of the first ever Hopscotch was dancing amidst a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Public Enemy as the rain poured down and the music blared on. De La Soul represents an area of early 90s hip-hop that's sonically miles away from Public Enemy, but will likely boast similar vibes. Socially conscious, non-violent lyrics meld together with jazz-inspired rhythms to create a sound that's as dancey and upbeat as it is heady and introspective. It's an excellent way to kick off the first night of Hopscotch, with some no-frills mind-blowing hip-hop.

Photo courtesy of Wild Fur
Wild Fur at Lincoln Theatre @ 8:30 pm
Wild Fur begins shortly after De La Soul, so I'll likely be missing the first 15 minutes or so of Wild Fur, but surely I'll be able to recover. This electronically driven-duo is fleshed out as a four piece band that highlights the songwriting prowesses of Nick Jaeger and Wylie Hunter. While their previous work had leaned on Americana influences with some indie-pop thrown in the mix, Wild Fur is an amorphous musical entity that lies within a genre of its own. It's a darker tinged brand of neo-soul that still feels rustic at heart. I've been able to see their live set-up at Tir Na Nog recently for Local Band Local Beer and it's one you'll definitely want to catch, at least for a few songs.

Sun Club at Lincoln Theatre/Body Games at Kennedy Theatre @ 9:30 pm
Photo Credit: Grant Golden
Ah, the first conflict of the night. As always, I'm usually torn between catching sets from beloved locals and infrequently visiting touring bands. I'll likely start this block off at Lincoln to see Sun Club, a bizarre psych-pop act from Baltimore that feels vaguely reminiscent of early Animal Collective. Sun Club's latest release Dad Claps at the Mom Prom was a captivating album that simply felt constrained by their studio limitations. Not to say that the album isn't impressive, but it's clear that Sun Club thrives off of their live energy, and that makes them a must-see for the evening. I'll likely drag myself away mid-way through the set to head down to Kennedy Theatre to check out what's left of Body Games.

Body Games is one of the locals I've grown most excited about lately. They're blending dream-pop roots with heady electronic beats and entrancing visual projections, making for a truly immersive live experience. Last year they were the highlight of Hopscotch day one solely for their Lion King projection and Michael Jackson cover, so I'd imagine they'll be pulling out the stops for this Kennedy Theatre set as well.

Photo Credit: Grant Golden
Marley Carroll at Kennedy Theatre @ 10:30 pm
Any time I get the chance to see Marley Carroll live I feel obligated to jump on it. This Asheville based producer is one of the most exciting electronic artists I've come across in recent years. Not only does he craft enormous productions filled with tightly backed grooves and etherial melodies, he's also putting on one hell of a performance as he balances between an analog keyboard and turntables. Carroll will keep you entranced with his spacey soundscapes, only to rip you from your daydream with a pounding bass drum and syncopated rhythm. He's got originals like "The Hunter" and "Speed Reader" that'll linger in your head for days, but he's also capable of pulling out devastatingly dancy remixes of folks like Lotus or Polish Ambassador. He's truly earned his moniker of "the producer's producer" or "the DJ's DJ" or whatever the hell you want to call him. I prefer to simply call him fantastic.

Photo courtesy of Deniro Farrar
Deniro Farrar
at Kennedy Theatre @ 11:30 pm
While I'm admittedly not as excited for Deniro Farrar as I am the rest of the acts on the bill for Thursday night, staying around Kennedy just makes sense on a night like this. While I may hop over to Fletcher Opera Hall momentarily to see what's happening with IIII, a massive drum-ensemble taking place at 11:00,  it's only logical to end my 11:30 slot at Kennedy as I'm sure there'll be droves of folks trying to check out Lunice afterwards. Deniro is definitely an act I've been interested in seeing though. This Charlotte based hip-hop artist grinded his way through the Charlotte scene and broke out fairly quickly by signing to Vice/Warner Bros. label back in 2013, earning quite the name for himself in the process. Farrar raps in sharply spat bursts over a wide array of beats ranging from producers like Ryan Hemsworth and Flosstradamus to Blue Sky Black Death and Lunice himself. His beats are always on-point and his flow is unparalleled, a stinging rasp that always feels on the cusp of something larger. He'll be an excellent transition into the evening's main event.

Photo courtesy of Lunice
Lunice at Kennedy Theatre @ 12:30 pm
When I first saw the schedule upon release, Thursday night at Kennedy immediately struck me as one of the strongest bills on the entire lineup. It's an excellent mix of some of the most beloved uprising locals with nationally renown artists of a similar style. While Body Games and Marley Carroll lean towards dancy electronic, Farrar and Lunice stray more towards heavy, bass-driven hip-hop stylings that'll rattle your bones and compel you to move in strange ways that your body's never done before. Lunice is best known as one half of the trap gods TNGHT, and while my dreams of seeing that power-duo at Hopscotch are out the door, the only way I could top seeing Lunice in my own town is by seeing HudMo as well. But obviously that won't be happening this weekend, so getting the chance to see this prolific producer in the prime of his career is a chance you'd be foolish to miss. While there's plenty of other incredible acts performing at the same time (Thurston Moore, The War on Drugs, Landlady, Reptar, etc), Lunice is an artist that demands attention. Blazing hi-hats cut through the mix as roaring sub-bass interplays with piercing melodies, creating a bizarre yet cohesive sound that makes you want to throw your hands up and trap-arm until your body collapses onto the floor. Which I'd imagine is likely how I'll end my first night of Hopscotch.