Live Review: Whartscape 2010 Days 2 & 3 (2010.07.23-24)

Photo credits: Josh Sisk

First and foremost, Whartscape 2010 was hot — weather reports read that temperatures fell steady at 100 degrees all weekend. In effect, the parking lot that harbored Whartscape’s outdoor performances became the modern urban desert. Shade grew more valuable every second, and patrons found themselves willing to pay most anything for a bottle of water. Feeling overzealous, a friend and I initially laughed about purchasing a 30-pack of Deer Park to share between the two of us; half of it had been killed off by the end of our first day. Even though its events transpired in these miserable conditions, Whartscape’s fifth and final year was abound with interesting and engaging live performances — some of which were even good enough to allow their audience‘s attention to stray away from the accumulating sweat on their brows.

Truthfully, I only attended half of the festival. Organizational difficulties left Thursday’s theatre night out of the question, whereas Sunday’s sudden monsoon had me driving back home before I was made aware of Whartscape’s relocation to Sonar. I was there all day Friday and Saturday though, and I’m here to tell you about it. Similarly to our coverage of Whartscape 2009, I’ll be writing future Sound Off! posts on standout artists from the festival. The following is more or less a highlights reel for the portions that I experienced.


-       Lightning Bolt

  • Do I even need to say it? For the strength with which he plays, Brian Chippendale should have the biceps of a boxer. And, let me tell you, the audience can definitely feel that about his live performance.

-       Get Em Mamis

  • Get Em Mamis were easily the most unexpectedly exciting live act Friday. Their brand of hip hop was equal parts club and street — their samples cracked like thunder, and their rhymes matched in wit. As an added bonus, the Baltimore-native duo knows how to work an audience better than most. For a brief 30 minutes, the Get Em Mamis shaped Whartscape like warm putty; tracks like “Cold Summer” couldn’t have been executed more flawlessly (and they’re good on the record too). If, by some stroke of misfortune, you missed out on 2009’s TerAwesome, I advise you to seek it out immediately.

-       Romantic States

  • I was initially attracted to nothing more than Romantic States’ name. “Romantic States” — it just looks like a perfect fit for a melancholy chillwave group. I was intrigued. As it happens, Romantic States are hardly chillwave at all; in fact, they’re just a straight-up downcast pop duo. They’re good too — half of Romantic States is Jim Triplett (of the Videohippos), and he’s carried over his characteristic aching bummer into this new project quite well. Romantic States’ sound is considerably more lo-fi than the Videhohippos, but no less affecting. I look forward to hearing more.

-       Dope Body

  • Unfortunately, Dope Body’s set and my aching hunger occurred simultaneously. I stayed for two songs — both blew me away — and then walked down Park Avenue for some Chinese food. The funny thing is, I could hear Dope Body’s set four blocks away as I ordered my food. These guys are hard, fast, and loud. I don’t think a true hardcore band should be asked for more.

-       Jared Paolini

  • I didn’t like Jared Paolini’s set at last year’s Whartscape, but I guess all things are subject to change. Jared’s 2010 set at the H&H was comprised of all-new material, the bulk of which was absolutely outstanding. Since I last saw him, it appears as if his ear for harmony has grown more delicate, and his tones have only become more ethereal. According to the man himself, he’s working on getting some of his new movements recorded. To my knowledge, there’s no other information present, so keep an eye out of Jared.


-       Needle Gun

  • If Needle gun are supposed to be funny, then the joke is lost on me. If they’re not, then I wish they’d take their work a little more seriously. Needle Gun’s live noise set on Friday found them smirking more often than not; which wouldn’t have posed any trouble had their occasional harshness been more captivating (or the joke been more obvious). As it turns out, Needle Gun weren’t prepared to fill either niche. And I’ve listened to their recordings too, many of which are actually superb. Perhaps the virtue of their work is simply compromised by the live performance.

-       Ponytail

  • I anticipated yet another energetic set from Ponytail this Whartscape — they’d never disappointed me before. But their show this year was somewhat less touching. This time around, Ponytail felt overly mechanical; the sounds were the same, but the soul just wasn’t there. It was almost as if the group no longer cared for their old material. I hear now that this may have been their last performance; I just hope they’ll have one more to redeem themselves.

-       Amil Byleckie Band

  • The way I take it, Amil Byleckie Band aren’t much more than a Flaming Lips tribute. They appeared onstage at the Current Space in future-space costume; they presented commonplace indie pop tunes in the tired old verse/chorus/verse fashion, and they never quite connected their garb to their art. Now, maybe I’m just being cynical here, but it seems to me that costumes scarcely improve the live performance — especially if you don’t have the sounds to match them.

Lastly, I’d just like to take a moment to give props to Wham City for putting this on. Not only was the whole festival free of corporate sponsorship, but also the cuisine they offered was guilt-free and local. Megapasses may have costed upwards of $50, but that’s nothing for the quality of music and stubborn idealism Wham City presented.

Sound Off!: American Folklore

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MP3: American Folklore – Arrows from Trapped in the Game (2010)

What I feel towards American Folklore is an unusual kind of fondness. It’s distinct from a critical or artistic penchant, but still very apparent. I don’t think I understand it quite yet. Granted, I do kind of like how the name “American Folklore” looks in print, how it rolls off the tongue–but that can’t be the whole of it. Maybe it’s because I so rarely hear decent music coming out of Westminster, a town whose coffee houses and thrift stores often serve as a necessary go-to evening spot away from my relatively sightless hometown. I mean, what with McDaniel College’s artsy influence weighing upon the town, it only seems natural that a few Westminster-based projects should surface sooner or later. Despite the facts, only a handful of meritable musicians from the area have been brought to my attention.

So sure, perhaps my keenness for Lucas Rambo’s (also from Human Host) American Folklore can be attributed to some sort of quasi-hometown pride–or maybe it’s just the music. With “Arrows” as evidence, I’ll point towards the latter.

It’s a slow moving, folky number; and I’m certain that at least a couple of you are going to turn your noses outward in favor of the now-classic “sounds too much like Animal Collective” critique. And you know what? Screw that noise. Animal Collective started releasing music ten long years ago, and the artistic community should surely be allowed to react to their influence by now. To refuse American Folklore’s sound on the basis of an Animal Collective likeness is akin to refuting the validity of the last decade’s garage rock revival because it sounds too much like Marquee Moon.


“Arrows” is almost entirely defined by Rambo’s drowsy croon. Its harmonies are watery and relaxed, but they still manage to come off boldfaced to an absurd extent. Rambo’s minimal lyricism shows a perfect compliment: “and if we knew/the things we’d do/if no one had/something to prove”. Lucas–you ain’t got nothing to prove here. American Folklore’s latest album, Trapped In The Game, is pending release out of the soon-to-be-renamed FirecrackerFirecracker Records. It’ll be worth checking out, don’t you think?

Album Review: Lizz King – All Songs Go To Heaven (Ehse Records)

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  1. MP3: Lizz King – Mr. Fella
  2. MP3: Lizz King – Till They Do

Where do I begin? All Songs Go To Heaven was, to me, quite unprecedented. Honestly, I didn’t even know about its release until Greg posted a preview for Lizz King’s album release party at the Windup Space.

Shows how informed I am. I’m just glad to not have missed out. Now, although there are a number of routes I might take to describe the accomplishment that is All Songs Go To Heaven, none of the obvious directions sit well with me for more than a sentence or two. This record’s brilliance is an odd breed, and I’ve been hunching over my laptop for hours thinking about how I can explain that more substantially. I’m utterly baffled to this moment.

How’s this: All Songs Go To Heaven plays just as well as a singles collection as it does an independent piece of art. Normally that sentence would gather a few intrigued rereads, but what’s even more impressive is that Lizz King’s sound is anti-homogenous in the most extreme sense. And, it being the case that I can’t locate the words in me to present a bona-fide album review, I’d rather talk about how moving each of the tracks are standalone.

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Sign On!: Human Conduct Records, Part 3: Interview (w/ Rick Weaver)

To cap off this series of posts on Human Conduct Records, I exchanged a week-long email relay with all-around Human Conduct man, Rick Weaver. Our conversation exposed what my previous pieces attempted to avoid–the theoretical foundations of Human Conduct’s disposition. Coincidentally, it is my impression that we also received a remarkably profound character profile for Rick Weaver (whose works were covered extensively in Part 2).

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Boogaloo Times: A Discourse on Funk and Soul – Lee Fields, and The Sound Stylistics

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  1. MP3: Lee Fields & the Expressions – These Moments
  2. The Sound Stylistics – The Taking of Peckham 343

Production does a lot for the music we listen to. Just think about it for a moment–some sort of production must have, at one point or another, generated an effect upon every single vibration that has ever passed through any set of speakers worldwide. Period. Whether the result can be found in the artist’s instrument selection, microphones, choosing between analog or digital recording methods, editing, or in your speakers themselves–everything is produced somehow. I can even casually identify the names of a few prominent artforms that bank entirely on the ability to digitally interpret sound–electro, IDM, krautrock, chiptune, D&B/jungle–things like these would be nothing without audio editing. Furthermore, the manner in which an album is produced can occasionally transform otherwise inadequate sound into a critically lauded Pitchfork 8.7 (ahem, the xx?). Just sayin’.

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Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Dustin Wong, Sick Sick Birds

Dustin Wong @ Open Space

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MP3: Dustin Wong – Matthew and Kenneth

I think we can all agree that Dustin Wong (likely you know him from Ponytail) knows his way around a guitar. Every effect-laden note found in his work, both solo and otherwise, is deeply imprinted with a profound familiarity for the instrument. Combined with his exceptional pneumatic awareness, Dustin Wong’s sound is surely nothing to take lightly. Recently the two of us sat down together, miles apart (or so I presume), and had ourselves an email chat about his solo work. Here lies the result.

AS: So, can you describe what exactly it is you’re trying to say with your compositions?

Dustin Wong: I definitely want the whole set to be an experience, kind of a loose narrative or a journey. Towards the sky with a sense of humor.

AS: How does that differ from your work with Ponytail?

DW: I use my pedals completely differently, although they are set up in the same way. Ponytail has a more horizontal build vs playing solo things build vertically, sounds stack up. Ponytail is my extrovert, and playing solo is my introvert.

AS: Your compositions are pretty bereft of structure–what is the writing process like? Do you look at your music linearly? Stream of consciousness?

DW: It’s definitely more of a stream of consciousness thing. I think my film background has an influence as well. I write music as if I’m editing video.

AS: What urged you to compose Seasons? Why the four seasons? What was the general conception like?

DW: I think it was realization and conception at the same time. There were a bunch of songs accumulating and I realized that they sounded like the season they were recorded in, so I just went for it.

AS: Greg sent me a copy of your “Matthew and Kenneth” demo, is that going to be featured on an upcoming release? Anything new in the works?

DW: I’ve been talking to Justin Kelly about releasing a cassette tape, and this was one of the tracks that I wanted to have on that release. Starting to think about it more concretely these days. Also in the process of recording my current set, hopefully I’ll get that done soon.

AS: Your set at the Hexagon last October was pretty fantastic, how do you usually go about your live performances?

DW: Thanks! I actually play a little better if I’m slightly nervous, maybe its because its heightening something. Also I love it if I feel like I’m inside the music rather than out.

AS: Looking forward to seeing anyone in particular at Aural States Fest II?

DW: Leprechaun Catering is going to be incredible. I’m looking forward to Sick Weapons and Lands &Peoples. Also, J. Robbins’ new band Office of Future Plans!


Sick Sick Birds @ the Metro Gallery

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MP3: Sick Sick Birds – Committees (Need A Champion) from Heavy Manners LP (2009)

Sick Sick Birds reconcile a sage and poetic approach with the sound of pop-punk, something normally associated with the trite and disposable. This, in and of itself, is reason to be impressed. Their dynamic live show carries all the energy of punk while channeling the bittersweet reflection of something more measured. Given that I practically wore out the grooves on their 2009 LP Heavy Manners, their inclusion in the fest is hardly surprising. Their live presence is still a relative rarity in these parts, so come out and bask in it. Here’s hoping they have an active 2010.

Live Review: The Sour Notes, Moss of Aura, Fearsome Creatures @ Metro Gallery (2010.01.07)

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MP3: Moss of Aura – Never

The Metro Gallery was understandably vacant two Thursdays ago. After all–it was a weeknight, substantial storming had been predicted, and, to top it all off, an unfamiliar group (Austin’s The Sour Notes) was headlining. To put it lightly: the present viewership didn’t exactly make performing worth the artists’ while. But that doesn’t mean the night was uncomfortable or awkward. I’d actually say that the lack of occupancy had quite the opposite effect.

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Sign On! – Human Conduct Records, Part 2: The Many Faces of Rick Weaver

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  1. MP3: The Ruined Frame – My Sex Is A Dead Thing from Breath & Pulse (2009)
  2. MP3: The Ruined Frame – Two Travelers from The Weight of ALL Filth (2008)
  3. MP3: The New Flesh – A Lesson In Manners from Hall of Heads (2009)

In this post I’ll attempt to provide a brief survey of a few fresh releases from The New Flesh and The Ruined Frame–in what might otherwise become known as “the Rick Weaver Hour.” Now, this is not to say that Mr. Weaver doesn’t deserve it. In addition to his percussive work for the New Flesh, the Human Conduct co-founder also acts as frontman for The Ruined Frame. Once more, his name probably emerges in the credits for a great number of other releases within the label–and pretty much everywhere else when you’re talking about Human Conduct. Honestly though, I don’t see how we can so effortlessly unite The New Flesh and The Ruined Frame outside of the Weaver link. Side by side, the two projects represent oppositional musical polarities: the harsh distortion typically penned by the New Flesh feels even more brutal in the face of The Ruined Frame’s freaky folk rock. Where one group’s desolate waveforms attempt to rid their listener of an appetite, the other uses satiated song structure to fill their audience’s stomach.

As I already established in the last post, I’ll be examining the sound of Human Conduct Records using descriptive criticism almost exclusively. The full endeavor is to ignore, as much as I deem it necessary, my longing to investigate abstract logic as it relates to artistry. You can check the last post for my in-depth statement of intention. Without further ado, here’s the Rick Weaver Hour:
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Live Review: Tommy Tucker & The Supernaturals, The Bellevederes @ the Windup Space (2009.12.31)


Photo credit: Frank Hamilton (The Bellevederes)

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MP3: Tommy Tucker – Keep Good Time from Green Is Gold (2009)

Can we talk about how wonderful the Wind Up Space is for a moment? An awkwardly placed bar area lies on the right side of ten feet’s worth of concrete; everyone seems to be gravitating between the bar and three black support pillars acting as a not-so-arbitrary boundary linking the bar discussion with the art gallery/venue space on the opposing wall.

This is a perfectly designed space.

It offers a wealth of readily available mingle topics–the bar, the art, the space, the band, etc–in perhaps four or five semi-secluded areas. I walked in with time enough to hear the MC for the evening, a well-dressed, sunglasses-wearing man, announce Tommy Tucker’s (or Tucker Mayer’s) upcoming set.

Even though his folk-based 2009 release, Green Is Gold, scarcely shows it, I now know for a fact that Tommy Tucker has got some soul in his blood. One finds a faint indication of this in album standout, “Keep Good Time,” where Mayer’s astounding falsetto leads a bedroom percussion ensemble to glorious heights. His New Year’s Eve set at the Windup demonstrated to everyone that Tommy Tucker is unquestionably a soul man nowadays. His backing band The Supernaturals (which happens to feature both members of Wye Oak), compares favorably with any typical backing group–to be on pitch, on time, and to contribute a dependable foundation for Mayer’s irreplaceable stage exploitation proves itself a faultless backing design. Oh, and how precious his antics are: Mayer’s frenetic dancing is, like his voice, the absurd extension of a soul stretched to its limit. The spirit of pain channeled through Tommy Tucker’s very embodiment (Andy and Jenn from Wye Oak also performed their own adorable take on the Talking Heads’ classic “Naïve Melody,” perhaps to catalyze the evening’s climax).

“I want to know for myself that when I look back, and when I tell my children what I was doing in the first second of the ‘Tens–what I was doin’ when those ‘Tens started–well, I was dancing.” At that point, the night of had been stolen by Tommy Tucker.

Later on, after everyone in the crowd had downed a few glasses of champagne, Baltimore’s resident 9-piece soul/funk outfit took the stage. Fronted by two women so dainty that I’d never even guess could sing well, much less belt, the Bellevederes were surprisingly tight given their large numbers. Their lyrical matter may be in dire need of improvement, but musically the band need not change a thing. The Bellevederes represent in themselves a funk-for-funk’s sake sort of aspiration. That is, I’m not quite sure about why they’re playing soul and funk–other than to get funky, of course–but I’m not rightly going to criticize such an objective. Plus, they’re a riot live which is justification enough. Do yourself a favor and be sure not to miss The Bellevederes next time they play in the area.

Sign On! – Human Conduct Records, Part 1 – Detox, Form A Log, and Occasional Detroit/Gay Bomb

It’s pretty difficult to bottle together Human Conduct Records as a uniform whole. Portions of their output could pass as material from your average Joe’s favorite freak folk label, whereas the opposite is true for their less accessible releases. An understandable slight of ambivalence may sour your first impression of HCR–and that’s certainly not abnormal in this case. Uncertainty to the nature of the noise going through your headphones can, after all, be a bit daunting. The fact is: that’s precisely the sort of thing you have to expect when you’re talking about a group of people who aren’t afraid to embrace the atonal and arrhythmic in pursuit of artistic expression. I mean, they do call some music “abrasive” for a reason.

detox front

Human Conduct was founded in Baltimore during the late 90s by Ari (Ari and the Shanks) & Abe Schenck along with Rick Weaver (The New Flesh), who appears on a number of their releases. Since then, HCR has garnered quite the reputation in many anti-traditionalist circles. Coming straight out of their website, they apparently specialize in “lo-fi, hi-fi, and mid-brow” jams, mostly local but not always. That being said, I now welcome you to the world of Human Conduct Records. I’ll be going through their most recent releases by the way of our own Zack Turowski, sans alcohol. I hope to present a meaty survey of Human Conduct’s most current catalog–whilst attempting to circumvent my beloved rants about the theory (or potential lack thereof) behind experimental music.  Later segments will be focused on individual artists.

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