Category Archives: 2014 Hopscotch Music Festival

All about What Cheer? Brigade at Hopscotch14

I had a blast at Hopscotch, and you’ve seen my recaps of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And my two cents on the now legendary tantrum that Mark Kozelek pitched on Friday night. I mentioned in the recap of Saturday that I wasn’t even planning on seeing the What Cheer? Brigade. They weren’t even on my long list. I had other plans that were etched in stone. The band comes from Providence, Rhode Island, and their name comes from the town motto of Providence. They’ve been around since 2005, and they have one album, but I don’t think very many people knew about them. They’re like a marching band that performs in bars instead of in parades. Trumpets, trombones, tubas, a few drummers. No flute and no xylophone, but for all intents and purposes, they are a marching band. Their influences include eastern European folk music, hip hop, rock, and New Orleans second line parade. I read about them when I was doing research for Hopscotch but I decided that it wasn’t for me. That all changed on Friday. As everybody was filing out of City Plaza following the Spoon show, they literally paraded through the Plaza and out into the street, where they made an announcement about their Saturday show. Actually, they had already made at least one other appearance when they set up outside the VIP party on Thursday afternoon. I wasn’t there for that, but when I saw and heard them on Friday, I was sold. They had generated a lot of buzz, and rumors started to circulate that when they play shows, they have a habit of leading the audience out into the parking lot or the street or whatever and continuing to play out there. This made a lot of people curious to say the least. There were also stories about how they had shown up at a festival once and even though they weren’t on the schedule, their pop-up performances dominated the festival. Like I said, the line was really long just to get in the club, but the benefit of the VIP wristband is that you hop to the front of the standby line. Without this shortcut, I would have never gotten in. The band’s full lineup consists of 18 members, and I don’t think there were that many there, but it was still a lot of people. They immediately lived up to all the hype. If you were in the building, you didn’t have a choice of whether you were into it or not. They MADE us be into it. And there was no standing around with arms crossed. They made us bounce around, they made us dance, they made us throw our arms in the air. They made us love them. Whether they were technically “good” isn’t even the point. They’re just so much fun. They packed the small stage, but by the third song, they were already down on the floor, interacting with the crowd. By the end of the show, they had members standing on the bartop. This is a common occurrence in their shows, and it’s part of what makes them so much fun. When the band is as into it as they are, you don’t have a choice as an audience member but to feed off of their energy. Maybe it doesn’t transfer well to video, but there was an incredible amount of energy in the room. The band and the audience feeding off of each other. Here’s a video that our friends from The Stagger made.  : Actually, this is the exact opposite of how the performer and audience fed off of each other in a very negative way at the Sun Kil Moon show. The above video was at the very end of the show as the band marched down the stairs and into Martin Street. What happens next is the kind of thing that has gotten them into trouble at other festivals. They poured into the street with the audience in tow and continued for several more minutes. Keep in mind, this is going on at 1:45 in the morning. If you know what you’re looking for, I’m easy to spot in this second video.  Again, this video came from the folks at The Stagger: Subscribe to The Stagger YouTube channel, and see more of what they saw at Hopscotch here. After all of this, the Raleigh PD showed up. We assumed that they had an issue with the band being in the street and also being really loud way after the noise ordinance came into play. They were too late to do anything about that, but it looked like they felt like they had to arrest somebody. They singled one girl off of the sidewalk and brought her into the street for some line of questioning. She wasn’t combative or uncooperative. She was very calm the whole time, but they found some reason to put cuffs on her and put her into the back of a squad car. Nobody there had any clue what had happened. This was a fantastic end to a great festival weekend. The previous two nights, I drove back to the hotel utterly exhausted. Because of how Saturday night ended, I was full of energy and I could have gone on for a few more hours. However, I don’t think this could have ended any other way. I sincerely thought that it was the coolest thing that happened all weekend. I realize that it was the perfect time and place for that show and What Cheer capitalized on the hand that they were dealt. If this had been a show in a different venue, or if it had been on Friday at 9, I might have judged it differently. If you ever see this band on a festival roster, or if you see them coming to your town, you should definitely go see them.

Notes from Hopscotch Day 3

The 2014 Hopscotch Music Festival is over, and I’m back home in one piece, with no bumps or bruises to show. I’ve been checking in, and you’ve seen my recap of Thursday, and my recap of Friday, as well as my coverage of Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek’s tantrum at Lincoln Theatre, in which he was aggressive and rude to a stage hand, combative towards the audience, and just a general dick. That “fucking hillbilly” incident is being talked about by Pitchfork as well as some other big music media.

I’ll say again that while the Lincoln is a good venue, it was a terrible choice to schedule SKM there. Everyone agrees that they should have played at Fletcher, and I’ll touch on that more later.

Now, it’s time to recap Saturday’s good times.

On Friday, I did the bulk of my drinking during the day, and only had two beer after dark. This means that I slept well and woke up feeling great. My friends who I’d been hanging out with all weekend went at it pretty hard on Friday, so they slept in and played golf instead of going to the day party stuff. I took my time heading into downtown for the day party stuff, but still got down there before 12:30. I didn’t have anything boldfaced and underlined on my day party agenda, so I sort of roamed. I did see a couple of cool bands, including SoftSpot, who were playing an official Hopscotch show later in the night, but I knew that it would be tough for me to make it.

I also saw Free Clinic upstairs at The Hive. Good beer selection, good-looking bar staff, but it’s an awful, cramped space for shows. I refuse to go to night-time shows there, but they day party shows have always been great there. That’s where I saw Torres during the day parties at last year’s Hopscotch.

Free Clinic were really great and really goofy. At one point, the 21-year old frontman teased us more mature audience members by saying “why do you guys look so old?”. I enjoyed their set.

I saw those two bands right off the bat, and didn’t really see much else I walked around a lot, made myself have lunch, and I wandered in and out of several different sets, but didn’t see anything else remarkable.

I wasn’t really planning on going to the City Plaza shows last night. Valient Thorr is really good at what they do, and they absolutely own any stage that they play on, but metal just isn’t my thing. Still, I went into the plaza because there was nothing else to do, and I wanted to be in the Plaza for the set by Death. By now, we’ve all seen the documentary about them, and I just really wanted to see them. Their set was good, not great.

A really great part of being in the Plaza is that I ran into an old friend who I haven’t seen in at least seven years. I ran into a couple of other friends who I hadn’t seen in a while, but that one was especially cool.

Mastodon was headlining the Plaza, and I didn’t have even the smallest desire to see them. Still, though, with no official shows going on yet, and none of the doors open at the clubs, we kinda had to sit there for a while.

We walked over to Kings, where we were intrigued by the description of Charlottesville band Y’all as “kraut rock”. That description fell well short of the mark, and while we didn’t hate the band, we weren’t feeling it very much.

I really wanted to see Coke Weed, and we used our VIP wristbands to bump ourselves to the front of the one in-one out line. We got in quickly, but it was just too crowded, so we had to resort to an alternate plan.

Both of us wanted to sit down anyway, and I had a lot of interest in seeing Alexandra Sauser-Monnig over in Fletcher, so that’s where we went. She’s one-third of the Appalachian Folk singing trio Mountain Man. They only put out one record (2010’s Made The Harbor), and I really love it. It’s seeped in old-timey-ness. Alexandra was also a guest vocalist on the brilliant record by Sylvan Esso. That band is made up of Amelia Meath (also of Mountain Man) and Nick Sanborn of Megafaun.

Anyway, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig hasn’t put out an album of her own, and she’s not played very many solo shows before. None of that mattered because she was amazing. Her lightly strummed guitar complimented her delicate, bird-like singing on the folk songs. On a couple of songs, she went a capella. The audience was dead silent except for the rowdy applause between songs. You could have heard a clock ticking it was so quiet in there. It’s always that way in Fletcher, and that’s why Sun Kil Moon should have been there.

At some point during her set, she asked the audience what time it was so she could gauge how much time she needed to fill. A lone person in the full house shouted out “Just play thirteen more songs”, which was pretty much how we all felt. The reality was that she only had time enough for two more. That was a touching moment and another reminder of why Fletcher is a great, intimate place to see a band. It was also reinforcement on the criticism about not scheduling Sun Kil Moon there.

I left that place thinking that Alexandra Sauser-Monnig’s Appalachian folk song set was in my top five favorite shows of the festival.

There were a lot of bands that I wanted to see throughout the rest of the night, and they were mostly playing at the same time in different venues.

We ended up meeting up with the rest of our crew at Slim’s to see Nest Egg. This is a band who was correctly described as “krautrock”. We were really enjoying the show, but we also knew that we needed to get over to Kings so we could grab a space for the massive (and massively charismatic) brass and drum band What Cheer? Brigade. They made an appearance, marching through City Plaza after the Spoon show was over on Friday, and they impressed the hell out of the onlookers with their enthusiasm. It wasn’t initially on my agenda, but after I saw and heard them march though City Plaza, and after I heard rumors that they had a way of absolutely dominating festivals even when they didn’t play a scheduled show, I knew that I had to re-design my plan.

We headed to Kings about 30 minutes before What Cheer was scheduled to start. There was a huge line for the one in-one out policy, and we once again used our VIP wristbands to move to the front of the line. Within a minute, we were in, but I know that most of the people in the regular line never made it in. That makes the extra expense of the VIP wristband worth it. Part of the reason we headed early was to make sure we could get in. Part of it was that I wanted to be able to see at least a few songs of the White Octave set. I went to school with one of those guys, and I really wanted to see his band. They haven’t played in more than a dozen years, so it was kind of a big thing for them to be on the stage.

What happened next really blew my mind. As I said, I saw the What Cheer? Brigade march through City Plaza, marching band style after Spoon, and it was amazing. My initial plan was to close the festival by seeing Eternal Summers for a second time, but lots of things added up and I ended up closing it out with What Cheer.

That was a fantastic decision because the What Cheer set was far and away the best thing I saw all weekend. And a big, big surprise.

I’ll write a separate post about What Cheer. Look for that in a few minutes.

Apart from the stupidity at Sun Kil Moon, I didn’t see or even hear about any bad vibes, but after the What Cheer show spilled out into the street, John Law showed up and put a couple of audience members in cuffs. Nobody knows why that were arrested, but it seemed excessive.

The Sun Kil Moon Fiasco at Hopscotch14

I’ve been busy this weekend at Hopscotch seeing a lot of live music, drinking a lot of cold beer, and having a good time with some of my friends.

You’ve read the Day one recap and the Day two recap.

As I said in the day two recap, there was a really uncomfortable end to the night at the Sun Kil Moon show. This requires a separate post.

Everybody knows that I’m a big fan of Mark Kozelek’s music. Red House Painters, solo stuff, and the first couple of Sun Kil Moon records. I love all of that stuff. I was sort of “meh” about the 2012 album Among the Leaves, and I’ve been pretty harsh in my criticism of the 2014 album Benji, but I still really enjoy everything that Mark Kozelek does. Despite the fact that I actually hate the new album, I still really wanted to see Sun Kil Moon. It was one of my most anticipated shows. Unfortunately, it was a big letdown.

As Mark Kozelek has aged, he’s gotten increasingly fussy about his audience. Right away, we noticed this fussiness in the form of about 20 signs posted throughout the venue telling us that the artist (Mark Kozelek) requests that we not use our cell phones during the show. No pictures, no video, no texting. Nothing. Then the show promoter made an announcement to the same tune. Then, as SKM took the stage, Kozelek made the same announcement. He came off not only as a control freak, but as one of these “off the grid” wackos. Said something about how he didn’t want anyone looking at a screen and he didn’t want all the light from those devices sullying his performance.

This is a hard request to make at a rock club. If he makes this request at the seated venue in Fletcher Opera Theatre, nobody would have a problem, and nobody would even consider that to be a weird request. It’s just the wrong venue anyway, but things haven’t even begun to get weird.

Even before things got weird, and before they started playing, I could sense that something was wrong. Kozelek was gesturing towards a stage hand to come fix something, and he was pretty aggressive with that. I think he even yelled at the stage hand. He looked very angry, and as we would find out a few minutes later, he was angry.

He wanted silence from the crowd, and like I said, you can pull that off at Fletcher, but not at Lincoln. After they took the stage, and before they played a single note, Kozelek made an announcement that went something like this

Listen up, all you fucking hillbillies. Shut the fuck up

This didn’t go over well with the crowd. Nobody enjoyed the “hillbilly” comment. A lot of people started to shush in a mocking fashion, and a lot of other people started to yell. More than a couple of people yelled out “You’re not Ryan Adams”, alluding to the singer’s legendary clashes with his own audiences.

Sun Kil Moon played a couple of songs, and there was plenty more of all of this mock shushing and yelling and general combative behavior from parts of the audience. Some of those people (who were obviously not there specifically for SKM) got bored of being rude, and they left. Still, though, the mock shushing persisted.

After two songs, Kozelek made another announcement. Something a bit more aggressive like

Shut the fuck up! I’m about to walk. I don’t give a fuck whether I get paid or not

which led to more mock shushing from the crowd. He tried to reel his anger in by explaining that all of the band members had traveled a great distance to be there and they needed to hear each other to pull the songs off, and how if the crowd showed him respect he’d return the respect to the crowd.  To his credit, he apologised about the “hillbilly” comment, saying that it was “just a joke”.  It doesn’t matter, though; the damage had been done.  

You can listen to a sound clip of all the rants melted down into one by clicking through here

The vibe in there was really bad. Things were not going well. The songs they played were great, but it was just so uncomfortable. I wanted to stay for the whole thing because I had a feeling that things would eventually level out, but I was really tired, and I couldn’t take that weird vibe anymore. I left after about five songs.

The only time I’ve ever seen a performer get pissy with the audience like that was at the first Lollapalooza. I went to the show in Charlotte. Siouxie & The Banshees played two songs, then Siouxie berated the crowd for not being into it, then they all stormed off the stage in a fit.

The really unfortunate thing about Kozelek being so pissy and trying so hard to control the audience is that some of the audience made matters worse. Both performer and audience were to blame for what happened. Ultimately, like I said, there would not have been an issue, and it would have been a fantastic show if they had scheduled SKM at Fletcher.

I really hope that things got better after I left.

Notes from Hopscotch Day 2

My adventures at Hopsctoch continued on Friday, and it was a very long and very hot day. Like Thursday, it was a day that was full of surprises, but it also had its share of disappointment. Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment came at the end of the night. It involved an artist that I like very much being a bit of a prima donna, the crowd turning on him, and a really weird and really uncomfortable vibe.

When I woke up Friday, I felt absolutely awful. I skipped my traditional visit to watch the Carolina Hurricanes at their unofficial practice session, and I stayed in bed much later than I wanted to. I wrote the Day One recap, took a shower, packed some coolers full of water and Gatorade, and just before the crack of noon, I headed back into downtown. Of course I stopped to get some Biscuitville.

I milled about, doing nothing for a little while, then I headed up to King’s. They were having sort of a big day, which was being highlighted by Little Black Egg Big Band. Little Black Egg is a band that you probably don’t know the name of, but you know the band members. The band consists of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew (all of Yo La Tengo), plus guitarist Steve Gunn (who used to play in Kurt Vile’s band), William Tyler (who was in Lambchop and Silver Jews), and one other musician who I don’t recognize. I don’t think they’ve recorded anything, and I know that this was the first time they’ve ever played as Little Black Egg Big Band. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really liked what they did. It was all ambient and guitar loop-y and super-spacey. And with no vocals. Not much like Yo La Tengo, except maybe the 17-minute song at the end of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out).

I had a good time with that, and I thought about staying put at King’s for the rest of the day party stuff, but there was a thing or two that I wanted to do. Plus, it was jam-packed in there and it was getting really sweaty.

I walked around for a little while, then I went and ate some lunch. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I knew that I had to eat then or not for several hours. I made my way down to CAM, which I think is a terrible place for a band to play. Over the years, I’ve seen a few bands play there, but the space is so big and open, it just isn’t a good sound space. The acoustics are awful and the size of the space makes it worse.

Anyway, I was at CAM because I wanted to see Eternal Summers. I really like that band, and I missed my chance to see them back in March. They’re playing a “real” show tonight (actually in the last time slot of the festival), and I’ll be there for sure, but I wanted to see them twice. They played well, but the sound in that space is terrible, so it didn’t do them justice.

I started to head back to King’s because I wanted to be in there for the show that featured Thurston Moore with harpist Mary Lattimore. I got there about 30 minutes before the scheduled start of that set, and the line was at least 30 deep to get in on a one out-one in basis. I knew it wasn’t going to happen, and I ran into my buddies in the stairwell. We decided to go blindly try a few things, and we got into a few clubs just as a band was playing the last notes of their last song. We didn’t see much, but we had a few beers and a few laughs.

We did, though, get to see one and a half songs from Greensboro band Bronzed Chorus at the Pour House. That was really good, and I wish we had gotten there sooner instead of wasting so much time at other places seeing nothing.
Dinner before heading into City Plaza once again had less to do with being hungry and more to do with “now or never”.

We went into City Plaza for the big show Spoon and St Vincent.

While my friends were unimpressed with the St. Vincent portion of the night, I really loved it. I’d seen her once before in a club setting, so it was a different experience to see her on the big stage. She’s incorporated more choreography and more stage antics into the show, and while I’m not sure how I feel about that, I still really enjoyed the show. Except for the drummer. Matt Johnson is her live drummer, and he’s a really good drummer. He’s played with Jeff Buckley, Dean and Britta, Rufus Wainwright and lots of others. He plays well, but my problem was that he was trying too hard. He was playing drum solos during the guitar solos. I don’t like the direction that’s gone in. People go to see St. Vincent because she’s a masterful guitarist. They want to see her, and not a drummer. Despite that, I loved the set, and it really is a treat to see her play.

After that, we all agreed that Spoon was incredible. The sound was amazing, they were amazing, they played a mix of old and new tunes. It was just great. When you’ve been around for 20 years and you still crank out good records, you get pretty good at the live performance thing. And they were ON POINT.

My buddies and I kind of went separate ways after the City Plaza stuff. My “plan A” and “plan B” stuff both fell through because the clubs were so crowded, so I went for the “plan C” plan which was also the safe plan. That was to to to Lincoln Theatre and stay put there for the rest of the night. Loamlands, Mark McGuire, and Sun Kil Moon were all on my short list anyway, so it was a safe and good choice.

Loamlands played a solid set. I didn’t know anything about the Durham alt-country/folk band, but I liked what they did.

Mark McGuire was a guy who I didn’t know what to expect from. I’d heard a song or two before, but I still didn’t really know. One of my friends had said that this was one of the most anticipated shows of the festival for him, so I wanted to go just based on that. I was completely exhausted by this point, and I had stopped drinking hours ago. I found a place in the balcony to sit for a little while and I ended up “watching” his set from up there. His blend of electronics and guitar/effects was pretty cool. People sometimes describe him as “new age”, but I don’t really get that.

Last up was Sun Kil Moon. I really like Mark Kozelek. I’ve been a huge fan of his music over the last 20 years. Red House Painters, his solo stuff, and the first couple of Sun Kil Moon records have all been big hits at my house. I’ve been really critical of the new album, going so far as to say that I “hate” it. Still, I wanted to see him play because he’s such an interesting cat and I love the back catalog so much I was hoping to hear some of it.

Things didn’t go so well during the Sun Kil Moon set. There was a really bad vibe in the room, and the Lincoln Theatre was the wrong place for that show. It should have been at Fletcher Opera Theatre, where the crowds are always quieter and it’s seated and nice and everyone is respectful. I’ll write about what happened in a separate post.

The night ended with me eating a slice of bad food truck pizza and having nice conversation with a stranger while sitting on the ground.

Look for the post about Sun Kil Moon in a few minutes.

Notes from Hopscotch Day 1

As you all know, I’m attending the fifth annual Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh this weekend. The festival features 160 bands this year, and there was a lot of great action last night.

I started the night by meeting some friends who encouraged me to go with them to see Drag Sounds. They were on my “plan B” agenda anyway, and they’re a band with ties to my home town of Greensboro, so I was eager to represent the 336. I liked what they were doing, and it was the first time I had ever been to the Pour House. However, I only stuck around for a few songs because I was anxious to move along.

Next was Lee Noble. I dragged one of my friends with me down to the Fletcher Opera Theater for his set. My buddy didn’t know anything about him and I didn’t know much. I really enjoyed his ambient tape loop stuff and I was reminded quite a bit of Lovesliescrushing. He played for only about 30 minutes, and I think it was just one “song”. I wish he played more, but it was pretty great.

By this time, some heavy rain had moved in and we were pretty much stuck at Fletcher. It turned out to be a good thing. I had other stuff on my “plan A” and “plan B” agendas, but that all got nixed. I ended up staying there for New Music Raleigh. A stringed instrument quartet that I might have had very little interest in if it wasn’t for the rain. I absolutely loved what they did. Some electronics mixed in with the violins and the cello. It was way more ambient than I was expecting, and way, way cooler than I was expecting.

My friends wanted to stay there for the percussion ensemble IIII, and they did stay there. I walked through the rain to see indie-folk guitar guy Matt Kivel. In a church. It was pretty cool and very mellow, but I was only able to stay for about four songs. I had to keep good on a promise to go see Landlady.

Landlady had barely even started their set when I started to get texts from one of my friends encouraging me to stop what I was doing and start making my way over to King’s for the Tim Hecker set, which wouldn’t even start for 30 minutes. This is my friend who has been praising Tim Hecker’s records for as long as we’ve been friends. Even when he routinely puts Tim Hecker records in the top five of his year-end lists, I had never taken the time to see what the buzz was about. On this night, I promised my friend that I would end my night there instead of at Thurston Moore. One of our mutual friends was all about The War on Drugs, and there was some discussion about how to handle that dilemma.

I knew that I’ll have other chances to see Thurston Moore this weekend, and I love the venue at King’s, so I opted for Tim Hecker. It was a great choice. Hecker played on a completely unlit stage as he crafted a magnificent soundscape. I was completely blown away by all of it. Maybe it was how crazily dark it was in there, but I seriously felt like I was in a different place.

There was a lot of drinking, a lot of rain, a few unexpected surprises, and I bumped into a few people who I haven’t seen for several years. The rain didn’t put a damper on things at all. It was a great night. So far, my favorite has been Tim Hecker, but there’s a lot of stuff left to see and hear.

Today will be a very long day, and we shouldn’t be getting any more rain, so I’ll be doing a lot of walking. The “day party” stuff is about to get started, and one of the big things that is sort of flying under the radar is that the members of Yo La Tengo are here performing under a different name.

More on this later.

08.19.2014 — “Pet Carrot” by Palehound

Ellen Kempner of Palehound

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Pet Carrot” by Palehound (2013, from the Bent Nail EP).

Palehound is an indie rock recording project based in Yonkers, New York. The founding member is Ellen Kempner. She had been in other bands before, and she started this project in 2012 during her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College. From what I understand, the lineup of the band is meant to be constantly revolving, so in essence, this is a solo project.

The six songs on the EP are meant to portray Kempner’s transition from teenager to adult, and I think most would agree that the songwriting is very mature. Each song has its own sound, and I don’t think there’s a connective thread, so it’s totally fair to have each song stand on its own. However, there’s something that seems “Canadian” about this EP. I’m reminded quite a bit of the marvelous Julie Doiron, and there’s something that also reminds me a bit of the big noise from a small package that is Drawn Ship.

Palehound is one of the 160 bands who will be playing at next month’s fifth annual Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh. I had never heard of them until the lineup was announced, and now I’m really looking forward to seeing them play at the festival. They’ll be playing on Friday night (September 5) from 10:30 to 11:30 at Slim’s. It looks like Friday night will be the hardest night for me to manage. There are lots of scheduling conflicts, so I’ll have to pay close attention to the day party schedule.

Anyway, here’s today’s song:
“Pet Carrot” by Palehound

I love how it’s relatively quiet and comes off as a fairly “cute” song for the first 1:36. It’s during this portion of the song that I’m reminded in a weird way of what Helium might have sounded like as an acoustic band. Then, the noise comes in right there and it stays a bit noisy for the rest of the song. That’s precisely what makes me think of Drawn Ship.

This is a very tidy EP. The whole thing clocks in at under 17 minutes, so you can listen to the entire thing while you’re taking a coffee break. You can purchase a digital download of it from bandcamp here.

Single-day and three-day passes are still available for Hopscotch. Check out all the different options here.

08.14.2014 — “King Porus” by SoftSpot


If you only listen to one song today, make it “King Porus” by SoftSpot (2014, from the album MASS). SoftSpot is an indie rock band from Brooklyn whose exact subclassification is hard to pin down. They have elements of dream pop, elements of “stoner rock”, elements of post-rock, and many others. However, it wouldn’t be fair to classify them as any of those. They describe themselves as “Old School New Age Art Rock”. There’s a lo-fi grunge band from Halifax (who are also worth checking out) by the name of Soft Spot, but this isn’t that. This is SoftSpot. The band started in Brooklyn back in 2009 when North Carolinians and long-time friends Sarah Kinlaw and Brian Keller Jr joined forces. A few years later, they added drummer Blaze Beteh (who came to Brooklyn by way of Atlanta). They put out a handful of records on their own imprint Zen as Fuck Records, and their friend Jonathan Campolo always did the artwork for the sleeves. Later still, Campolo joined the band on synths. Earlier this year, the band came down to western North Carolina, where they recorded their new album in what has only been described as “a makeshift studio on the top of a mountain somewhere in the Appalachians” I’d never heard of this band until recently, and they’re one of the 160 bands who will be playing at the fifth annual Hopscotch Music Festival this September in downtown Raleigh. They’re playing Saturday night, September 6 from 10:30 to 11:30 at Slim’s. Today’s song is the first song from the new album, and without further ado, this is that song: When taken as a whole, the song sort of reminds me of the magnificent chamber/post-rock 12-piece Altos. They were my surprise favorite band of Hopscotch 2012, but they’ve sadly fallen off the face of the earth. Part of the reason that this song reminds me of Altos is that “King Porus” has several distinct and completely different parts. Also, the way they’ve produced this, it sounds like there’s much more than four players. It starts off sounding a bit like a folk song, with pretty straightforward instruments, and Kinlaw’s vocals a bit on the low end of the register. Somewhere around 1:10, there’s a slight change. A guitar bit gets a little brighter. Something else happens very subtly, and it goes from sounding more like a psychedelic rock song than a folk song. Then there’s a vocal bit behind the main vocals. For that, Kinlaw is really high in the register. That’s where it starts to sound just a bit like dream-pop.

There’s sort of a long bit there where the main components are her angelic vocalizing, cymbals, synths. It’s at the point in the song when it might be called “middle eight”, but when we come out of that bit, it’s nothing at all like what happened earlier in the song. When we emerge out of that dreamy bit, everything is much bigger than it was before and Kinlaw’s vocals are still pretty high. And they’re doubled and delayed. Everything sounds really enormous. It’s almost reminiscent of the Arcade Fire stuff on Funeral. It’s that bit. The bit from about 3:15 to about 4:08, where everything is big and anthemic. I love that bit, and it wish it would go on like that for a few more minutes. Alas, that bit ends, and we get to the coda, which settles everything down and tidies everything up.

You can buy a digital download or a vinyl copy of the album via the SoftSpot bandcamp page. Hopscotch is downsized a bit this year due to renovations in one of the large venues. From a logistics standpoint, this means that there are fewer tickets and wristbands available this year. There are still some left, but if you want to attend, you should hurry up and secure your tickets. Check out all of the ticketing options here.

08.07.2014 — “Right Through” by Wing Dam

Wing Dam

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Right Through” by Wing Dam (2014, from the album Shifter Bliss).

Wing Dam is an indie rock/post-grunge trio from Baltimore. They have a sound that a lot of people say is the embodiment of the “Baltimore sound”. I wouldn’t say that they “sound like” or even “remind me of” Baltimore luminaries like Wye Oak and Thrushes, but the three bands would certainly go well together on a mix tape.

There’s definitely a 90s feel to what they’re doing. I’ve listened to most of the album, and it definitely has elements of the tough-but-sweet That Dog, the clever angles of Pavement, and the raw emotion of Archers of Loaf

I had never heard of this band until the 2014 Hopscotch Music Festival lineup was announced a few months ago. We’re less than a month away from the festival, which means it’s time for me to start cracking on my homework. This year there are 160 bands scheduled for the festival, which opens Thursday September 4 and officially closes Saturday September 6. Every year when the lineup is announced, I’m only familiar with maybe 15% of the bands, but I do a ton of homework and I always start with a long list of about 40 that I’d like to see. By the time the schedule is announced, I narrow that to about 30, and as we get closer to the festival, I’ll narrow that list to about 20. Realistically, I won’t be able to see every band that I have on my lists, and I always end up seeing something that wasn’t even on my long list. That’s the way this festival works. I love it.

Anyway, this is one of the bands that I’ve already put on my short list.

“Right Through” by Wing Dam

Wing Dam will be playing the 9:30-10:30 slot at Slim’s. You can still buy tickets to the whole festival, single day passes, and City Plaza shows. See all the ticketing options here.

You can buy a digital download of Shifter Bliss here, and as per the band’s instructions “play it loud as fuck”.

08.04.2014 — “Scars” by Gems


If you only listen to one song today, make it “Scars” by Gems (2014, from the standalone single “Scars”).

Gems is a “shadow pop”/synth-pop/dream pop duo from Washington, DC. Lindsay Pitts and John Usher used to be in a lo-fi folk/psychedelic band called Birdlips, but they decided to go in a totally different direction when they formed this band in 2012. They released a four-song EP called Medussa last autumn, and the reviews usually include adjectives like “dark”, “delicate”, “sexy”. Thanks to the coupling of Pitts’ soaring, ethereal vocals and the dark synths, some of their songs bear some resemblance to things more gothy like early Cocteau Twins and maybe even Zola Jesus.

I know absolutely nothing else about Gems and I had never heard of them until the lineup for the fifth annual Hopscotch Music Festival was announced in April. Once again, I’ll be attending the festival and writing all about it. They’ll play the 10:30 slot at CAM on Friday night, the middle night of the festival.

Anyway, here’s the song:

“Scars” by Gems

I love how during the verses, her voice is normal, but in the chorus, it gets all high and angelic. There’s something really special about that octave shift. The first time we hear this shift is at 0:45, and it kind of knocks my socks off every time it gets to the chorus when she makes that shift.

Another part that I really dig is that middle eight section. It gets all fuzzy and crunchy and a little warmer. That starts at 2:16, and the fuzzy bit bleeds right into the final chorus with those lovely, dreamy high vocals. During that final chorus, there’s also a loop of some of the other vocals blended right in there.

There’s a lot of layering and mixing going on in this song, and I love it.

If you’re able to make it to Raleigh for Hopscotch this year, you really should. Tickets are still available, and lots of options are there. For example, if you only want to go to the Spoon/St.Vincent/Lonnie Walker show in City Plaza on Friday, you can do that. If you can only go on Saturday, you can get a one-day pass for that. Obviously, the best deal is to get the 3-day wristband. Those are still available, but the “VIP” passes have sold out. Check out all of the ticketing options here.

07.20.2014 — “Ze Beseder Lefahed” by Vaadat Charigim

Vaadat Charigim

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Ze Beseder Lefahed” by Vaadat Charigim (2013, from the album The World is Well Lost).

Vaadat Charigim is a shoegaze/post-punk trio from Tel Aviv. I don’t know very much at all about them except that they are influenced by underground Israeli bands from the 1980s and 1990s and that their debut album was released last summer. Their songs are in Hebrew, which makes it difficult for most Gentiles to understand them. Despite this, they’re starting to get some attention in the indie world.

The band name translates to something like “Exemptions Committee”, and the title of tonight’s song translates to something like “It’s Okay to be Afraid”.

Vaadat Charigim is one of the bands who will be playing at the upcoming fifth annual Hopscotch Music Festival this September in Raleigh. This year, as always, I’ve never even heard of 70% of the lineup. Usually, the lineup consists of about 175 bands, and I think it’s a little less than that this year. Either way, when the lineups are announced, I draw blanks on most of the bands. The fun part for me is doing a bit of research by reading up/listening up about every band. The good folks at Hopscotch take a lot of the legwork out of it by posting mini-bios and song samples right there on the lineup page.

Like I said, I’ve had a lot of fun over the years finding new favorite bands among all the “never heard of ’em”. That said, I’m pretty excited that I’ll be seeing these guys at the festival. Presumably on Thursday night, the first night of the festival.

EDIT: I don’t know why it happened or when it happened, but Vaadat Charigim is no longer on the Hopscotch roster. I’m disappointed that I won’t get to see them.

The band certainly has a 1970s/1980s UK post-punk sound like the Cure or Joy Division. Some people compare them to The Smiths. I don’t get that. Some people compare them to Slowdive. Maybe not so much on tonight’s song. but I can kind of hear that.

Anyway, tonight’s song:

“Ze Beseder Lefahed” by Vaadat Charigim

I have no idea what he’s singing about. I like to think that the lyrics are really beautifully poetic or deeply meaningful, but I kind of prefer the mystery. Although I used to be able to understand French with at least some degree of proficiency, I’ve forgotten nearly everything that I learned so many years ago. So when I hear those lovely songs by Cœur de Pirate, I don’t even want to know what she’s singing about. Of course the French language is mellifluous while the Hebrew language is, well, … not. So there are lots of differences, but my point is that I don’t know what he’s singing, and I don’t really care either. I like the music. I like the way the whole thing fits together. It’s great, and it transcends language barriers.

For extra credit, here’s a video of the band playing the song in front of some kids who are celebrating something. Probably Purim, but maybe something else.

You can buy the album in digital or CD format here. Burger Records did a cassette release of the album in the US. I love encouraging people to buy physical copies of albums. Even more than that, though, I wish people would stop encouraging labels to release things on cassette. It’s a horrible format and it’s a stupid trend that I really want to go away. So please, don’t buy this or anything on cassette. Unless you like terrible sound quality that gets worse every time you play it.

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