Category Archives: Hopscotch Music Fest

Notes from day two of Hopscotch 2018

I’ve been very busy at Hopscotch this weekend. I had a thrilling Thursday night, followed by a long and interesting Friday day, and a pretty busy Friday night. Between all of those day party shows at King’s and the things on my calendar for Friday night, there was a gap of about 3 hours. Instead of getting drinks or going into shows that I didn’t care about, I picked up some snacks and headed back to the hotel to freshen up and put my feet up.
I headed back into downtown about 30 minutes before the start of Grizzly Bear. I already wrote about how I always eat at Beasley’s for fried chicken. I also always eat pizza when I’m at Hopscotch. I was saddened that Pie Pushers food truck wasn’t there, so I tried a new place in downtown Raleigh that’s super close to the footprint of the festival. I had a slice at Benny Capitale’s. They have really big slices. One is plenty. Most places that serve giant slices have New York-style slices that are often impossibly thin. This wasn’t too thin, and more importantly, the crust was a little crispy. Anyway, it was good. I would eat it again.

Grizzly Bear at Hopscotch 2018

I headed in to Grizzly Bear just as they were starting. I had never seen them before, but I absolutely love their records. Shields was my second favourite album of 2012, and the others would also have been in the top five of their respective years. Although the sound was a bit too heavy on the low end, they sounded great, and they seemed really excited to be at the festival. Because I wasn’t there at 5:30, I wasn’t as close to the stage as I normally like to be, but I could still see the stage really well. Because it’s been a while since I’ve spent significant time with their records, I kind of forgot how bloody brilliant they are. There’s no need for theatrics or elaborate lighting. Just a really good show.

Just as they wrapped up, I started to hustle out of there to get back to King’s because I really wanted to see Empath. On the way out, I unexpectedly bumped into one of my old Hopscotch pals who hasn’t been able to go for the last couple of years. I chatted with him for a couple of minutes, then headed down the street to King’s. There was a pretty packed house, and Empath was already on stage playing a loud, energetic set. In a live setting, some things about them become more evident than they are on recordings. The songs are good, and they have so much energy and so much fun, but there’s just a little missing in the skill department. I only had time to spend about 20 minutes there because I needed to haul ass over to Pour House, where I was planning to use as home base for the rest of the night.

Spirit of the Beehive

Pour House is a mystery to me. It’s accessible by a narrow walkway in an alleyway, and the venue is really cool, but it’s always either jammed to capacity, or nearly empty. I used to hate it because it’s kinda grimy, and when it’s packed, it’s not much fun, but the sound is always really great, and they’ve had some great bands there for the last couple of festivals. So it went from being one of my least favourite venues to one of my very favourites.
I was expecting a full house for Philly noise rockers Spirit of the Beehive, and it was a good house, but not at capacity. This meant that it was easy to order a beer and easy to move around.
Spirit of the Beehive were fantastic. They exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately, they only played about five songs, which left a big gap between them and the next band.
Because of the gap between bands and because it cleared out a little, and because I was a little annoyed by some of the kids who were near me, I went upstairs to the viewing area. If you can get a seat on the railing up there, it’s a perfect place to watch, but if you can’t, it’s terrible.
I had a dilemma. On one hand, I really wanted to go see Julie Byrne, who was playing at Nash Hall a couple of blocks away. On the other, I needed to be back at Pour House for Swearin’ in an hour, and I should probably stay put. Also, I made a really silly mistake in my planning.
When the lineup came out, I saw “Molly Burch”, and I mistook that for Anna Burch. So I was also thinking that I had a lot of interest in seeing Anna Burch, which meant that I should stay put. As soon as Molly Burch came on stage, I realized my error. I was annoyed, but I decided to roll with it and stay put.
Molly Burch is from Austin, and the band sort of reminds me of a Texan version of Cowboy Junkies. They also remind me of the kind of band that Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor would have gone to see on Friday Night Lights.

Allison Crutchfield of Swearin’

I stayed put in my perch in the upstairs lounge, and the house started to fill up for Swearin’. As you know, Swearin’ is headed up by Allison Crutchfield, who is the twin sister of Katie Crutchfield out of Waxahatchee. They play on each other’s records and they often support each other on stage. Yesterday, I lamented the fact that Allison didn’t join Katie on stage during the Waxahatchee set, and I wondered if Katie would be around during Allison’s set. During the intermission, I spotted Katie chatting with Allison’s bandmates, and I thought that I might get my wish. Spoiler alert: that never came to pass.

Last time both Crutchfield sisters were at Hopscotch was 2013, and I had to pass on Swearin’ because of a time crunch. I did, however, see Allison play a solo show a couple of years ago. During that show, Katie came on stage to help her sister do a magnificent cover of The New Pornographers’ “Letter from an Occupant”. It gave me goose flesh. The point is that I had never seen Allison with a full band. Certainly not with so much noise.

Allison and her band roared through an amazing set of new songs from the forthcoming album along with some older ones. I absolutely loved every second of it. It was a wonderfully noisy, enery-filled ending to what was a long but fairly sedentary night.

I’ve seen nearly everything that I’ve wanted to see, and it’s been a wonderful festival so far. There’s still a ton on my schedule tonight, and it looks like I’m going to bouncing around quite a bit.


July 25, 2018 — “Grow into a Ghost” by Swearin’

Swearin’

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Grow into a Ghost” by Swearin’ (2018, from the forthcoming album Fall into the Sun).
Swearin’ is an indie pop/cuddlepunk quartet from Philadelphia. The band is fronted by Allison Crutchfield, who is the twin sister of Katie Crutchfield. Katie is, of course, the front of the magnificent Waxahatchee. You’ve heard the story a million times about how they grew up in Alabama and played together in a band called P.S. Eliot. I won’t rehash that story.

Swearin’ put out an album in 2012 and another in 2013, then they took a break. The two Crutchfield sisters played with their respective bands at Hopscotch in 2013. Scheduling problems forced me to miss most of the Waxahatchee set, and I had to skip the Swearin’ set.

Allison made a solo record called Stranger in This Town, which was released last January. She toured in support of that album, and last February, on a very strange night, I went to see her. Although it was no surprise, it was awesome to see her sister come on stage to help her do a marvelous cover of The New Pornographers’ “Letter from an Occupant”.

You may remember that the 2015 Waxahatchee album Ivy Tripp was my #3 record of that year, and that was a banner year for new releases at my house. You may also remember that Katie pinch hit for Owen Pallett at Hopscotch in 2015 and absolutely knocked my socks off.

This year, when the Hopscotch lineup was announced, I was very happy to see both Crutchfield sisters on the card. Waxahatchee plays on Thursday night and Swearin’ on Friday night. I’m not going to miss either one. In addition, both bands have new releases coming out in the autumn. Waxahatchee’s Great Thunder EP will be out on September 7, and the Swearin’ album Fall into the Sun will be out on October 5. Both will be released by my hometown label Merge Records.

So far, I’ve only heard one song from the Swearin’ record, and I really love it. This is that song.

“Grow into a Ghost” by Swearin’

This is, as expected, wonderfully fuzzy indie pop. I’ll say again, as I always do, that I’m reminded very much of That Dog. With that said, it’s a little convenient that my favourite That Dog record is Retreat from the Sun, and this new Swearin’ record is called Fall into the Sun. While it’s fuzzy and wonderful like the previous releases, this is much more polished. It’s better production values, better playing, and simply just better. The previous releases are raw and energetic, full of unchecked emotions, and probably done with limited studio time and limited feet of tape. This song is a bit more sophisticated. All of the values are better and it’s clear that more attention was paid to making it sound great.

One thing I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around is the chorus. The line is

I watch you
I watch you
I watch you

Grow into a ghost

Because she sings these lines with no spacing, and because she puts emphasis on I, rather than on watch, it sort of sounds like she’s singing

Chihuahua
Chihuahua
Chihuahua…

That silly mis-hearing doesn’t change the fact that I love this song, and I’m really looking forward to the new record and to finally seeing Swearin’ at this year’s Hopscotch.

You can and should pre-order Fall into the Sun via Merge here. They say physical copies come with a pair of 3D glasses. From the looks of the gallery, there’s a 3D photo on the back cover of the vinyl and in the liner notes of the CD. There might be something else. Merge promises more details on what the 3D glasses are for.

You should also pre-order the Waxahatchee EP here.

Check out the Hopscotch lineup here, and check out the ticket options here.


September 2, 2016 — “Cardboard” by Diet Cig

Diet Cig

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Cardboard” by Diet Cig (2015, from the Over Easy EP).

Diet Cig is an indie pop/cuddlepunk/twee duo from New Paltz, New York. You may recall that I wrote about them last January in advance of the release of their debut EP. I said that the song “Scene Sick” reminded me of Camera Obscura. At the time, I hadn’t heard the rest of the EP, but I correctly guessed that it would be one of my favourite EPs of the year. The rest of the EP is less twee, more cuddlepunk, and I really loved the whole thing. It’s reminiscent of loads of early 1990s cuddlepunk bands. I’m reminded of Tiger Trap, and to a lesser extent, Tsunami. And if you knew me in 1994, you know that I absolutely wore out that self-titled Tiger Trap album.

Alex Luciano (vocals/guitar) and Noah Bowman (drums) may not be the most gifted musicians, but whatever they lack in raw talent, they make up for in charisma. They’re scrappy, energetic, and really fun. It’s authentic. I’d much rather see that than some really gifted but uninteresting band. Oh, and they’re also adorable.

When the Hopscotch lineup for this year’s festival was announced, I was almost as excited to see Diet Cig on the list as I was to see Beach House and Sylvan Esso. They immediately went to the short list. The “I’ve got to see them no matter what else is going on in that time slot” list. As it turns out, there is a bit of a decision to make. Diet Cig is playing Friday night at midnight at Deep South. Meanwhile, Julien Baker will playing at midnight over at Nash Hall. I really want to see both. In the footprint of Hopscotch, those two venues are about as far away from each other as they could possibly be (five blocks over and four blocks up), so there’s no likelihood of doing both.

Anyway, here’s today’s song:
“Cardboard” by Diet Cig

At just a shade under two minutes in length, it’s on par with the other songs on the EP. The brief breakdown at about 1:10 sort of reminds me of a similar brief breakdown just past the halfway point of the Tiger Trap song “Super Crush” (which was always my favourite Tiger Trap song). The bouncy and loud/calm and quiet/bouncy and loud structure is just part of what makes it so much fun.

You can buy a digital download of Over Easy via Bandcamp here.

Hopscotch is next week! Check out the full lineup here, the schedule here, and all of the ticketing information here.


August 25, 2016 — “Charlie’s Neat” by Maiden Radio

Maiden Radio

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Charlie’s Neat”, as done by Maiden Radio (2015, from the album Wolvering).
Maiden Radio is an Appalachian folk/old-timey trio from Louisville. Although they all three play a lot of instruments and wear a lot of hats, the frequent setup is: Joan Shelley (vocals/banjo), Cheyenne Mize (vocals/fiddle), and Julia Purcell (vocals/acoustic guitar). That’s the setup on this song, anyway.

You may remember that I recently wrote about Joan Shelley here. Both she and Maiden Radio will be playing sets at this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh from September 8-10.

Since 2010, the trio has released three albums of glorious old-timey music. Most of their songs are traditional Appalachian folk songs, and more specifically traditional Kentucky folk songs. Their newest album Wolvering has three original songs, but everything else is “traditional”.

With most traditional Appalachian folk songs, there have been numerous interpretations over the years, and numerous different versions with sometimes wildly different lyrics. This song is no different. It’s my understanding that “Charlie’s Neat” is a traditional song based on another traditional song called “Over the River Charlie”. I think it’s usually done by a solo artist with nothing but a banjo and vocals. And it’s usually played a bit faster than this. What these gals do, though, with their three-part harmony, is magical. They remind me a lot of Mountain Man. Except that Mountain Man was doing their three-part harmonies a capella. Remember before Amelia Meath became half of the ûber-sexy duo Sylvan Esso? She was one-third of the Vermont-based Appalachian folk trio Mountain Man. Their only record to date — 2010’s Made The Harbor— knocked my socks off. Also in that band was Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, who blew me away at Hopscotch 2014. Enough about Mountain Man, though…

The aforementioned three-part harmonies in the chorus are fantastic, and Joan Shelley does the lead vocals in the verses.

The story goes that Maiden Radio recorded their third album Wolvering in the dead of winter 2015 in a cabin in the woods in a really remote part of northern Michigan. Apparently, they were sort of stranded there and were low on supplies, including heating oil. According to legend, the roads were flooded and frozen solid. Once the heater ran out of fuel, their only source of heat was the fireplace in the cabin. They say you can hear the crackling of the fire on the master tapes. I can’t hear it on this song, but that’s how the story goes.

This is that song:
“Charlie’s Neat”, as done by Maiden Radio

Also, check out this video of the girls playing “Charlie’s Neat”. It’s worth pointing out that the length of each girl’s pants is inversely proportional to the height of her footwear (or lack of same). Cheyenne: short pants/cowboy boots. Joan: high-water pants/flat shoes. Julia:full length pants/no shoes.

A reminder about Hopscotch. It starts two weeks from tonight. Maiden Radio and Joan Shelley are playing on Saturday night at Fletcher Theater after the Sylvan Esso set on the main stage at City Plaza. Maiden Radio plays at 9:30 and Joan Shelley at 10:30. I plan to be there for both sets. Even if I have to leave Sylvan Esso early for the short walk over to Fletcher.

It’s not too late to get your Hopscotch tickets. You can buy passes here.

You can buy the Maiden Radio record via Ol Kentuck Recordings in your choice of format here.


June 12, 2016 — “High Rise” by Cross Record

Cross Record

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “High Rise” by Cross Record (2016, from the album Wabi-Sabi).

Cross Record is an experimental rock/doom-folk duo from Dripping Springs, Texas. That’s a postage stamp-sized town in the Austin Metropolitan Area. It’s just 3.3 square miles, and less than 2000 people live there.

The band started as a solo project for Emily Cross. At some point, she was studying Fine Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and she spent some time studying abroad in Ireland. While she was there, she really found a passion for writing and recording. When she got back home, she got to work on Cross Record. Starting in 2010, she made some home recordings, and self-released a few things. It was mostly just her, but she had a lot of guest musicians help her out. Eventually, she met recording engineer Dan Duszynski, they got married, and he joined Cross Record. This year, they released their first proper album Wabi-Sabi. I may have the order of events out of order, but these are the things that I know about Cross Record.

Wabi-Sabi, by the way, is a concept in Japanese aesthetics centered around the acceptance of impermanence and imperfection.

I had never heard of the band until the Hopscotch Music Festival announced its lineup for the 2016 Festival. The festival is the second weekend in September in downtown Raleigh, and I’ll be there again for the fifth straight year. The lineup was announced last month, but the schedule won’t be set in stone until mid-August. Either way, I have plenty of time to research and make a long list. As soon as I got to Cross Record in my research, I immediately added them to my short list of bands to see this September.

On tonight’s song, it starts off like an early Cat Power song, then at about 0:44, it gets much louder, much heavier. much thicker. I don’t know what to compare it to at that point. Any number of noisy girl/boy duos that I loved in the mid 1990s, and a second round of them in the early 2010s. There’s also something about the guitar and the drums that remind me just a bit of the Pixies. Add to that, Cross Record does the quiet/loud/quiet thing that the Pixies were so, so good at.

This is that song.
“High Rise” by Cross Record

And for fun, there’s an accompanying video. It’s a little weird, but it’s worth a watch:

You can buy Wabi-Sabi via Bandcamp here.

They’re currently on tour of Europe, and I’ll presume that they’ll be on a tour of the east coast US in the autumn.

You can buy Hopscotch passes here. In July or early August, they’ll announce the schedule of headlining shows. At that point, single day passes and main stage passes will go on sale. Between now and the festival, I’ll be featuring a bunch of the bands from the lineup that I’ve got on my long and short lists. This is just the beginning.


08.04.2014 — “Scars” by Gems

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.


07.22.13 — “Dandelion Wine” by The Band in Heaven

The Band in Heaven

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Dandelion Wine” by The Band in Heaven (2013, from the forthcoming album Caught in a Summer Swell).

The Band in Heaven is a shoegaze/dream-pop band from West Palm Beach, Florida. After a series of 7″ records and EPs, they are finally set to release their debut album —Caught in a Summer Swell— on September 17 via their hometown record label Decades Records.

If you’ve been around here a bunch of times, you might remember that I featured The Band in Heaven last year leading up to the 2012 Hopscotch Music Festival. They were there, and I put them very high on my list of bands than I needed to see, whatever it took. Although I hate the venue where they played, and I hated the audience, I loved their set. They were one of the best highlights from the last night of the festival. In fact, they were one of my favorites from the whole festival.

This afternoon, Brooklyn Vegan debuted the band’s brand new single.

“Dandelion Wine” by The Band in Heaven

The band has changed their sound a little since we last saw them. From what I’ve read, they’ve backed off from the noisy, sludgy stuff and have drifted more towards something akin to dream-pop. If tonight’s song is any indication, and when you compare it to “Sleazy Dreams”, it’s quite a big difference. Much brighter and sunnier. I like The Band in Heaven either way, but the one thing that makes a big difference to me is the co-ed vocal harmonies. And the back-and-forth that they do.

The Band in Heaven will go on a very short two-date “tour” of New York City in early August.

Hopefully, when the record comes out, they’ll play a full slate of shows on the US east coast.

Their debut album, by the way, will be the very first physical release from Decades Records. Right now, the plan is for that label to release it only on vinyl. In a very annoying move, another Florida-based label will be releasing the album on cassette.

You can pre-order Caught in a Summer Swell from Decades Records here.


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