Category Archives: Hopscotch Music Fest

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 ├╗ber-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.


Recapping Hopscotch — Day Three

As you know, I went to the Hopscotch Music Festival last weekend. You’ve read the prologue, the Day One recap, and the Day Two recap. Now it’s time to recap Saturday, the last day of the festival.

After checking out of the hotel, I visited a friend for lunch at a local eatery, then headed downtown for some of the free Day Party stuff. One one of the outdoor stages, I caught a good bit of Oneida, and that worked out well because I had them on a long list of “plan B” options for when they were officially playing later that night.

I moved inside because I wanted to catch Jane Jane Pollock, an experimental pop band from Georgia who focuses a good deal on unique percussion. They were a band who I had penciled in for part of the Saturday night festivities, and it was brilliant to be able to see them early. I liked what they were doing, and they were certainly exhibiting their experimental side. At one point, one of the guys was sitting on the stage floor with a bunch of stainless steel mixing bowls, using them as makeshift drums. Not the kind of bowls you have in your kitchen at home. The kind from a restaurant kitchen. There were a couple of other kitchen things in there as well, and it was pretty cool. Weird, but cool.

Apparently, that whole Day Party showcase at Kings Barcade was made up of bands from Athens, Georgia. The next band was a dream-pop band called Easter Island, who were apparently in a car crash on the way to the show. They seemed like they were fine, and they played a good set. They reminded me of Ride.

There was another Athens band called Glass Giraffes, and I watched a song or two of theirs, but it wasn’t working for me, so I went outside. I caught the last half of Megafaun, who were playing on the outdoor stage. Two years ago, they were the hit of the festival with their Friday night show, and they were back as the headliner of the free Day Party. I’m not sure that I love them, but it was a good set and I was thoroughly entertained.

That wrapped up the Day Party stuff. It was about 5:30. I had no interest in going to the City Plaza shows that were headlined by The Roots. The next show that I wanted to go to wasn’t until 9:00.

I was exhausted, so I went to my car and laid down for about 20 minutes, trying to get a little bit of sleep. Although I didn’t sleep, I did get a little recharge from laying down. After going out for something to eat, it was still barely even 6:15, so I went back to lay down in the car for a little while longer. I soon had the option of finding some place to go and drink for a couple of hours, or find something to do away from downtown for a couple of hours.

Lucky for me, The Rialto Theatre is one of the “select nationwide theatres” showing the indie comedy movie Sleepwalk With Me, which is produced by Ira Glass from NPR’s “This American Life”. It stars, was written by, and is based on the life of comic Mike Birbiglia, who is a regular contributor to “This American Life”. He had some very strange experiences with sleepwalking, and he incorporated those stories into his comedy act and his storytelling. After some success with that, he turned it into this movie.

I drove to the theatre for the 7:00 showing, and as soon as I parked the car (two blocks away), it started to pour. Torrential downpour. I’m just glad that I wasn’t outside. Not for very long anyway.

The movie was a nice break, and it was right up my alley as far as the comedy goes. It’s definitely not for everybody, but I loved it. I highly recommend it if it’s playing in your city.

By the time the movie was over, the rain had stopped, and I drove back in plenty of time to make it to the last night of Hopscotch.

The first thing that I went to was back at White Collar Crime. A Chapel Hill two-man band called Little Hollow. Their brand of low-fi soul just wasn’t for me, and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I guess I had confused them with some other similarly-named band. I left after about four songs.

I headed up to Kings, where Chapel Hill legends Shark Quest were playing. I saw them once many years ago and liked them. I liked them again, but it was nothing mind-blowing.

The Band in Heaven

The next thing was the South Florida shoegaze band The Band in Heaven. They were at Tir na nOg, which isn’t the best place to see a band, but it’s fine until you have more than about 80 people in there. I liked what I heard from their record, and I liked them even more when I saw them play. They had to deal with a couple of obnoxious dudes who were crowding the stage and trying to heckle the band. Based on the way they were dancing and the looks on their faces, I think they thought that they were at a Jimmy Buffett show. The band handled those dudes fairly well and didn’t lose focus on playing a great set. The sound wasn’t great, but the sound is never great there. I stayed for their entire set.

The thing that was to be next on my list was Silver Swans. I was actually pretty excited for that one. However, they were playing at the lamest excuse for a venue that I’ve ever been to. The Hive. I’m sure their setup is fine for a Tuesday night and a guy with an acoustic guitar, but it was way too narrow and cramped, and there weren’t even very many people there. I decided to ditch that before Silver Swans even started, and I opted to spend the rest of my night at the Lincoln Theatre.

I walked down to the Lincoln just as Mac Mcaughan was finishing his last song. I didn’t even get to see who the band with him was. It wasn’t Superchunk, and it wasn’t Mac solo, but I have no idea who else was on stage with him.

Versus

Anyway, it had been more than 12 years since the last time I saw Versus, who have been favorites of mine for 20 years now. My original plan was to skip them since I’ve seen them a bunch of times before. The original plan was to go see the saxophone magician Colin Stetson. When it got to be time to make that final call, I decided to do the sensible thing instead of the hardcore thing. The sensible thing, of course, is to minimize all that walking around. The hardcore thing is to do a lot of walking around for the express purpose of being able to check more names off the list. I was tired, and I had already had a very good time at Lincoln on Thursday and on Friday. So I decided that the Lincoln would be my last stop.

Versus played a wide variety of stuff from their catalog, including some brand new stuff that they’ve never played before. Even though the band had gone separate geographical ways in the hiatus that they took from 2001-2009, they’re back now, and the fact that they have new songs is good. They closed with one of my top three Versus songs: “Double Suicide (Mercy Killing)”.

Wye Oak

Finally, the last thing was Wye Oak. Of all the bands without “Jesus” in the name, they were the one that I was the most excited to see. Everything I had seen at the Lincoln Theatre up until then was amazing. It made perfect sense for them to be the last band I see at the festival, in the venue that had done a lot of right by me.
Unfortunately, it kind of fizzled. While they were great for a few songs, I just wasn’t getting as much out of it as I had hoped. I enjoyed their set, but I wasn’t floored by it. Maybe I set my expectations too high. Maybe I was experiencing that thing that you experience on the last day of a nice vacation. Melancholy. Maybe I was just ready to go home. Whatever it was, I left the Wye Oak show feeling flat.

I think the best thing that I saw on Saturday was Versus. Band in Heaven was a close second.

When it was all over, I was sad that there wasn’t another day of great music, but at the same time, I don’t think I could have taken another day. I was definitely ready to go home.

Sometime tomorrow, I’ll wrap this up with a postscript.


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