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Livewire: J. Robbins and Gordon Withers @ Story/Stereo (2010.02.19)

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Photo credit: Greg Szeto

This performance is absolutely transcendant. I am still in a state of disbelief. What we have here is J. Robbins on guitar and vocals with his friend Gordon Withers on cello, playing acoustic arrangements of amazing songs from current and previous bands that have been blessed by the presence of Robbins (Burning Airlines, Jawbox, Channels, and current project Office of Future Plans). Just press the play button, I won’t bore you with how mesmerized I am by this music.

I will note, though, that my spartan portable stereo miking setup is normally something of a compromise for recording larger bands, where a multitrack recording would be superior, but is nearly ideal for an intimate close-up acoustic performance like this. Deeply felt thanks to everyone who combined forces to bring this into being. If you are not already listening and your eyes are still open reading this drivel, you are wasting valuable time and energy.

This performance came about thanks to the efforts of Story/Stereo music co-curators Chad Clark and Matt Byars (whose label West Main Development will be releasing the full set properly later this year).

J. Robbins and Gordon Withers
Live @ Story/Stereo in the Writer’s Center
February 19, 2010
Bethesda MD, USA

J. Robbins – guitar, vocal
Gordon Withers – cello

Streaming player:

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MP3 links:

1. Outside the Aviary (Burning Airlines acoustic) (2:03)
2. The Deluxe War Baby (Burning Airlines acoustic) (3:56)
3. Desert Sea (Jawbox acoustic) (3:21)
4. Spoiler (Jawbox acoustic) (2:50)
5. 68 (Jawbox acoustic) (3:21)
6. Green Glass (Jawbox acoustic) (4:46)
7. The Escape Engine (Burning Airlines acoustic) (2:54)
8. Your Several Selves (Office of Future Plans acoustic) (2:44)
9. Scissoring (Burning Airlines acoustic) (4:02)
10. Static (Jawbox acoustic) (5:18)
11. Savory (Jawbox acoustic) (5:05)
12. Lucky Lamb (Channels acoustic) (3:22)

Total time: 43:43


AKG 414 mid/side pair -> Zoom h4n 48/24 -> Nuendo (stereo encoding, EQ, compression, limiting) -> MP3

Recorded by:

David Carter(carteriffic@gmail.com)

Aural States Fest II: Spotlights – Office of Future Plans, True Womanhood

Photo credit: Pete Duvall

Office of Future Plans are, in the loosely phrased wording of J. Robbins, just a bunch of old dudes who barely find time to practice. Anyone that has seen them perform (one of their only two shows), reports quite the contrary.

OOFP is J Robbins’ new full-time musical outlet when he steps outside the studio box. He is backed by a tight and talented cast: bassist Brooks Harlan (accomplished engineer in his own right at Lord Baltimore Recording, member of Avec), Jawbox-obsessed rock cellist Gordon Withers, and Darren Zentek (long-time Robbins collaborator and monster drummer).

One quick listen finds that Robbins hasn’t skipped a songwriting beat, lyricism and aggressive, angular riffs all intact and sharper than ever. Much to long-time fans’ delight, Robbins has recently decided to allow himself access to parts of the Jawbox catalog, making the appearance of a song like “Savory” in an OOFP set not that unusual. Whet your appetite with this video from the Buddyhead Halloween show at Rock and Roll Hotel in DC this past October, and prepare yourselves for a monstrous set and a sure-fire winner of a full-length later this year.


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MP3: True Womanhood – Shadow People from Basement Membranes EP (2010)

True Womanhood is quite the talented trio, garnering much praise from J. Robbins himself. Even from the frail and uneven sounds of their self-recorded demo, DC’s True Womanhood have always conveyed a certain amount of mystique and intrigue. It would appear they only needed some sage guides for their musical journey to funnel all that creative energy. Their freshly J. Robbins-mixed & David Levin-produced EP sees them cashing in big on their promise, finally enabled to develop that small peek of a vision into a wide gazing aural spectacle that could wow even the most jaded of ears.

One of the fastest maturing and evolving groups in the area, it was a no-brainer to have them play a set at this year’s festival. Lead-singer and guitarist Thomas Redmond took some time to rap about their EP Basement Membranes (digitally released today so buy it here), and other miscellany:

AS: I know you were running back and forth to record part of your EP at Death By Audio over the summer, and part at the Magpie Cage with J. Robbins. Can you break down your motivations for recording with each studio, and the contributions they had to this EP?

Thomas Redmond: Our producer for Basement Membranes was David Levin, live sound engineer for A Place to Bury Strangers, founders of Death By Audio. David’s knowledge and capabilities regarding sound recording are vast, so we were thrilled to have the chance to work with him. Beyond that, Death By Audio is the kind of place that gets it all right- a killer underground live venue, practice spaces for countless amazing bands, and an effects pedal factory that pushes the the boundaries of extreme noise. Once we had all our instrumental tracks recorded, we went into the studio with J Robbins in Baltimore to mix. J. is amazing and an absolute pleasure to work with. The songs really came together, and with J’s expert assistance, I was able to record some pretty sweet vocal tracks.

AS: When we talked last year, you mentioned that you were really trying to more effectively explore different moods. I think you definitely achieved success on this front, particularly with the tracks “Rubber Buoys” and “Shadow People.” Could you say a little about how each of those tracks developed, and what types of things you are doing musically?

TR: These are actually the first two songs that the band first started performing live way back when. As our oldest songs they were, by far, the most difficult to record. “Shadow People” is essentially just a drum loop and a metal guitar riff. It took us a long time to settle on a direction for the song to go but some tribal drumming and vocals sung into giant wooden pipes did the trick. The song has already been played on DC101– score!  ”Rubber Buoys” was also a tough song for us because its beat is built around the iron volcano, a big metal funnel, which proved very hard to record. Eventually we got it by running the iron volcano through a distorting vintage tape echo and adding some reverb. Another stand out section in that song is the bridge which features what sounds like a string quartet. It’s actually a sound I got by playing guitar through two consecutive reverse gated reverbs.

AS: You really managed to eke out a myriad of textures in your sound. Where do you find inspiration for your array of experimental sounds, things like the iron volcano funnel?

TR: During our various travels we are always seeking out big metal things that go boom, clank, and pow. The iron volcano is just a small part of our arsenal. As big fans of electronic music, our goal is to create “acoustic electronic” music by using found objects (as well as our own homemade samples of objects) and playing them in electronic styles, but live. The idea is to search out new, more organic textures for electronic rhythms and apply them to our songs. We are continuing to move even further in this direction and even adding some new tricks to the guitar and bass.

AS: How did you get involved with Baltimore-based Environmental Aesthetics for the release?

TR: A lovely afternoon lunch in the beautiful courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery in DC’s Chinatown. When John from Environmental Aesthetics first approached us, Basement Membranes was nowhere near completion. Over the course of finishing up the recording with J. in Baltimore, we became familiar with the Baltimore scene and a pattern started to emerge. We thought, what do all these young, hardworking bands have in common? The answer- Environmental Aesthetics!

AS: What are your big plans for 2010?

TR: Festivals, tours, and a full album that’s already underway.

AS: Who are you excited to see at the fest?

TR: Everyone! We are especially excited to see J. Robbin’s new band, The Office of Future Plans, and we are excited for him to finally see us live as well! Some other bands we will not miss are Lands & Peoples, Benjy Feree, and Dustin Wong.

Preview: Aural States Fest II @ Sonar Club Stage/the Talking Head (2010.01.30)

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  1. MP3: Pontiak – Suzerain from Sea Voids (2009)
  2. MP3: Vincent Black Shadow – Flash Roll from More Deeper (2008)
  3. MP3: Leprechaun Catering – Night In Amnesia from Kumquats, Lychees (2004)
  4. MP3: Caleb Stine – Two Mantras (Small Sur cover) from Baltimore Does Baltimore (2009)
  5. MP3: Benjy Ferree – Dog Killers! from Leaving the Nest (2006)
  6. MP3: Sick Sick Birds – Buildings from Heavy Manners (2009)
  7. MP3: Noble Lake – Ladies and Gentlemen from Heyday (2008)
  8. MP3: Height With Friends – Swiss Chard from Swiss Chard Vol. 1 (2009)
  9. MP3: Thrushes – Crystals from the forthcoming LP Night Falls (2010)
  10. MP3: True Womanhood – Magic Child from the Magic Child Single (2009)
  11. MP3: Lands & Peoples – Bad Habits

web Aural States Fest 2 new

Teaser image to the right, proper flyer art coming from Nolen Strals of Post Typography/Double Dagger fame.


Aural States announces line-up, details for Aural States Fest II

December 11 2009 – Baltimore, MD – Baltimore-based music website Aural States (auralstates.com) is proud to announce Aural States Fest II, our second anniversary blow-out at Sonar Club Stage & the Talking Head on Saturday January 30th in Baltimore, MD. This will likely be the final year for Aural States to be based in Baltimore, and hence, the final Aural States Fest.

The line-up for this year includes a wide variety of acts from Baltimore and DC, crossing generational and genre boundaries:

Pontiak (www.myspace.com/pontiak)

Leprechaun Catering (www.myspace.com/leprechauncatering)

Vincent Black Shadow (www.myspace.com/vbskicksoutthejams)

Sick Weapons (www.myspace.com/sickweapons)

Office of Future Plans (J Robbins of Jawbox | www.myspace.com/officeoffutureplans)

Caleb Stine (www.myspace.com/calebstine)

Benjy Ferree (www.myspace.com/benjyferree)

Sick Sick Birds (www.myspace.com/sicksickbirds)

Noble Lake (www.myspace.com/noblelake)

Dustin Wong (www.myspace.com/dustinclarence)

Height With Friends (www.myspace.com/height)

Thrushes (www.myspace.com/thrushes)

True Womanhood (www.myspace.com/truewomanhood)

Lands & Peoples (www.myspace.com/landsandpeoples)

Ami Dang (www.myspace.com/amritakd)

Liveshitbingepurge (Newagehillbilly, Decapitated Hed, and Pawly Walnutz | mt6records.com)

NARC (www.myspace.com/iamthenarc)

Stay tuned for additional line-up announcements in the coming weeks.

Like last year, early arrivals with ticket stubs will be rewarded with a limited-supply of generous grab-bags filled with CDs and merchandise from (mostly) local artists and businesses, including Atomic Books, Video Americain, Baltimore Jazz Alliance, Thrill Jockey, Natty Paint, and many more.

This year we are proud to team up with our younger regional cousin Bmore Musically Informed (bmoremusic.net) to present our festival as Night 2 of the “Blogtimore PWNS” weekend. Night 1 takes place Friday January 29th, when a combination of Aural States Fest alums (Arbouretum, Wye Oak, Sri Aurobindo) and fresh local talent (Weekends, the Violet Hour) will play the last show ever at the G-Spot.

Tickets for Night 1 are $10ADV/$12DOS and available through missiontix.com. Tickets for Night 2 are $15 and available through sonarbaltimore.com. A limited supply of 50 double-header tickets are available for a discounted rate of $20 through (sonarbaltimore.com and missiontix), and will guarantee access to both nights.

Interview: Office of Future Plans & the Jawbox Reunion (w/ J Robbins)


Photo credit: Greg Szeto

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MP3: Report Suspicious Activity – The Night of 1000 Lies from Report Suspicious Activity (2005)

Office of Future Plans plays Oct 27th at the Sidebar with The Bomb, and a Halloween show on Oct 30th at Rock and Roll Hotel with Caverns and Imperial China.

On an anonymous street, nestled tightly amidst random warehouse facades in the neighborhood known as Better Waverly (funnily enough, south of Waverly proper), sits the Magpie Cage. From the outside, it appears to be no more than a steel-gated, two-car-width garage. But when you walk through the doors, it’s like entering a different world. A veritable oasis for anyone music-oriented, lined with warm wood tones, and contrasts of deep red while absolutely bursting with vintage and high-tech recording gear that strikes any artist like Pavlov’s Bell. Unlike many studios, this one is remarkably free of clutter, and blessed streamlined interior design (perhaps a bit of insight into the mind of its proprietor).

This is the studio of one J Robbins, one of the bonafide icons of local music, earning his stripes as final bassist in DC hardcore band Government Issue, vocalist and guitarist in post-hardcore follow-up Jawbox, and more recently with duties in Report Suspicious Activity, Channels, and Burning Airlines. He also happens to be one of the most earnest, hard-working, and genuine people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.

I got the chance to gab with J in the studio before a day of mixing locals …soihadto…, who counts the infamous Duff from Ace of Cakes among its members. Our conversation veered all over: from the forging fires of his new project Office of Future Plans, to the driving forces behind the bizarre Jawbox reunion set on Jimmy Fallon, and tons more in Robbins’ very busy life.

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