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NoVo / Nouveau: Jason Urick, Microkingdom, noteNdo

Photo credit: Josh Sisk

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MP3: Jason Urick – The Eternal Return, Live @ the Hexagon

Jason Urick (ex-WZT Hearts) had a banner 2009. Finally releasing his solo outing signed to Thrill Jockey, Husbands is a glorious burst of swirling experimental instrumentals, at once sunny and brooding. The album received much fanfare, both local and national, and Jason played a number of phenomenal shows locally before shipping off on a European jaunt in early 2010. He even worked on a killer split 7″ with Jason Willett for WildfireWildfire. This is his first show since coming home, and the perfect opportunity to see and hear how his worldly travels have affected him.

Fellow WZT Heart Jeff Donaldson isn’t doing so shabbily himself, continuing to push the boundaries of the chiptune genre with his noteNdo project, and some killer game system-generated visuals. Since WZT Hearts’ dissolution, Donaldson has been working out of New York around the Tank and 8bitpeoples scene. After playing the Windup tonight, he will hang around town for a the 8-Bit Alliance show on Sunday featuring fellow NYC’ers Anamanaguchi at Sonar. Check out our exhaustive interview with Jeff from 2008.

Microkingdom will debut their newest iteration, Prism Leisure: the core of Will Redman, Marc Miller and John Dierker will be supplemented by experimental cellist Audrey Chen and Microkingdom first-timer Chris Pumphrey on Fender Rhodes piano. Their abstract jazz paintings are near and dear to us at Aural States, playing one of our favorite sets of 2009 opening for our showcase featuring So Percussion. According to Will, we can expect a little bit of old, a little bit of new, and surprises as always. One of Baltimore’s most challenging and extreme acts, on what’s sure to be a night filled with instrumental bliss.

Novo / Nouveau: Nathan Bell (feat. Ami Dang)

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MP3: Nathan Bell – Moonsblood from Nathan Bell @ 2640 (2008)

Nathan Bell probably needs no introduction, particularly to those of you familiar with Baltimore music. In recent years this elder statesmen of Baltimore music (one-time bass player for Lungfish) has come to prominence for his transcendent instrumental expeditions on banjo, as well as his Human Bell project with Arbouretum’s Dave Heumann. Bell explains the appeal of solely instrumental compositions simply: it’s all about “room.” He laments that vocals can often make a song feel confining to the listener, and the extra space for interpretation and musical exploration is appealing to him. Leaving the imagination wide-open for one to wander wherever the musical spirit takes you is key to his approach. Local label West Main Development captured Bell’s solo music in most glorious form with its release of a intricate live performance at the 2640 Space in 2008; the result is perhaps the most expansive and epic EP I’ve ever laid ears upon.

What may be most exciting about his headlining set tonight, is a potentially Earth-shaking collaboration with local sitar-wielding treasure Ami Dang. She was a casualty of inclement weather at Aural States Fest II, one of the more disappointing things to happen that night. The chance to catch up with her playing, a relative rarity nowadays as she records with Ehse Records for a highly anticipated release, will be a welcome opportunity.

NoVo / Nouveau: The Water

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MP3: The Water – Future Nails

Tonight’s headliners are one of the newest acts on NoVo’s roster. Baltimore duo The Water only really started playing out in 2009, and swiftly gained some traction and notable fans around town, snagging big gigs like the Metro Gallery’s Rufustival. Comprised of Dan Cohan (drums, electronics) and James Klink (guitars, keys, electronics), their self-titled and self-released EP was recorded with NoVo co-curator Matthew Leffler-Schulman in 2009, and serves up a strong cut of straight-up post-rock. Technically tight, but not overly complicated, their music works in the realm of nuance with an ear for great arrangements.

All well and good, but it doesn’t do justice to their immersive and dazzling live show. This is to be expected, considering what Dan told WYPR’s the Signal at the end of last week: “We spend a lot of time on what a show should look like. As much time as we spend on what it should sound like.” Undoubtedly, their pièce de résistance is a fast-track to myth, homemade “light obelisk” that changes color when they play. And as anyone can tell you, light shows and post-rock go hand-in-hand like chocolate and peanut butter.

The pot gets even sweeter when you consider that tonight’s set will feature a collaboration with guest drummer Mike Lowry of Lake Trout & Big in Japan. The lineup also features experimental guitarist Carlos Guillen’s The Expanding Man project and DJ JDay. Check out live footage of The Water’s set from Rufustival by Guy Werner after the jump.

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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?

Preview: Celebration’s Yin Yang Show @ the Creative Alliance (2010.02.26)

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  1. MP3: Celebration – I Will Not Fall
  2. MP3: Celebration – Open Your Heart

Celebration are one of Baltimore’s more reclusive groups, and one of the city’s best treasures with a sound that is always captivating, always evolving, and always delivering a show-stopping live set. Their darkly brooding, churning songs have outstretched the bounds of the genre portmanteau “punk cabaret,” reaching far and wide with high-profile (TVOTR) and local (Ami Dang’s sitar) collaborations that have wrought a distinct and unhinged sound.

They signed with one of the more revered and high-quality indies (4AD) in 2005, and released the stellar Celebration (2006) and Modern Tribe (2007). Over the past couple years however, they have cast aside the traditional music industry business model associated with being a band. In early 2009 they parted ways with 4AD, choosing instead to engage in a number of increasingly intriguing and mysterious projects including releasing free songs under the banner of their Electric Tarot series, and restricting their 2009 live appearances to elemental-themed performances in non-traditional venues (along with the occasional festival or one-off collaboration with friends).

The final show in their Elemental series was originally scheduled to take place on January 29th, but as most people around town know, the host venue was the now-dissolved LOF/t under the direction of Ric Royer, shutting down a scant few weeks before the show.

This all brings us to today, with a performance that seems to fall outside the scope of their Elemental series. In its stead we have a bonafide Celebration double-header featuring one acoustic and one electric set, aptly named the Yin Yang show. The show tonight doubles up for early-comers as an open house for the upstairs resident studios at the Creative Alliance, an opening of a new exhibit by Lauren Boilini and Becky Alprin downstairs, and a chance for a cheap chili dinner if you are so inclined. The space is great, and the music grand, so I can’t imagine a better place to spend a blustery Friday night.

Oh and it’s free.

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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Preview: Pfisters @ Ruintown (2010.02.19)

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MP3: Pfisters – She’s Mine from the forthcoming 12″ Narcicity (Fan Death Records)

Pfisters, Landlords, White Suns, Needle Gun @ Ruintown, Doors @ 9PM / $5

Tonight, roll, don’t walk, to your friendly neighborhood multi-use warehouse space as the concert venue cum industrial skate space Ruintown hosts yet another killer show.

The highlight of highlights will likely be the ferocious and aptly named headliners Pfisters. Fortunately for most, unlike their homophonic namesake, Pfisters will violate you only in ways you will enjoy. Rest assured that there will be ripping and shredding, but it won’t be painful. It’ll be glorious. Take my word for it, this new 12″ continues the stellar quality that has fast become synonymous with local upstarts Fan Death Records (for some real classic e-tainment, check out the dramatic brouhaha they stirred up at Washington City Paper).

Narcicity is a release full of piss and vinegar, the record bucks and thrashes like a righteous, punk-fueled bronco. This is unsurprising when you consider vocalist/guitarist Jason Donnells lays down bass lines in the New Flesh. A flurry of guitar and bass whips into a frothy frenzy with halting vocals and manic drums, possessing a combined stopping power not unlike a magnum. Technically, there is much more meat here in each song than your average punk or thrash band has over a full album, and it all cuts through the mix crisp and clear thanks to great production that polishes without buffing off the aesthetic edge. Pfisters even toss us a few experimental curveballs.

Keep your eyes peeled, because I’m definitely recommending this LP as its release nears with a proper, full-sized review. In the meantime, check out the track above and beat your feet to Falls Road tonight.

Aural Slate Recordings: “Arctic Phantoms” from Caverns’ We Lied

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MP3: Caverns – Arctic Phantoms

A week from today, our newest venture (EP label Aural Slate Recordings) will launch with the release of Caverns’ EP We Lied. Caverns have long been one of my favorite local artists, providing a unique take on the stale formula of rock and an explosively engaging live show. I’m really proud to have them on-board as our inaugural release. The first release show will be on Friday February 19th at Comet Ping Pong in DC with Detox Retox, and Prisms. Release shows in Frederick and label party in Baltimore will follow in the spring.

We Lied was recorded with Chris Freeland at Beat Babies, and J. Robbins at the Magpie Cage. Mixing duties fell on Chris Freeland and Matthew Leffler-Schulman of Mobtown Studios, who also did the mastering. Album art was designed by the multi-talented Caleb Moore of Lands & Peoples.

To give all you loyal Aural States readers a taste of the album, today we present the opening track (and lead “single”), entitled ”Arctic Phantoms.” Coincidentally, it is also the only track on the EP recorded with J. Robbins at the Magpie Cage, and really sets the stage for the rest of the EP.

More from lead guitarist Kevin Hilliard:

The opening track, “Arctic Phantoms,” operates as the mission statement for this EP. In fact, we titled the EP We Lied because this song steps outside of the purely instrumental confines our music has remained in up to this point by incorporating a heavily effected vocal melody and atmospheric synths into the mix. Our drummer, Ross Hurt, programmed glitchy electronic drums to add yet another texture previously absent from our compositions. The beginning of this track might even sound like the work of an entirely different band if it weren’t for Patrick Taylor’s lead piano line, which maintains a continuity between “Arctic Phantoms” and our earlier work. As for the lyrics…we’re not at liberty to discuss them, but if anyone figures out what they are, we’ll give you a free t-shirt.

Find out more than you ever wanted to know at our label site (including more track previews, links to buy etc), and stay tuned for more exciting announcements throughout the year. Starting next Friday, a limited run of 200 CDRs will sell for $5 at shows, and the album will be available digitally on Bandcamp (which means you could even get it lossless!) for $4.

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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Live Review: Felix Lighter @ Quips (2010.01.16)

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Felix Lighter – “Doug”, Live @ the Chameleon Club

Centered around a shared rehearsal space/ studio, and away from the sometimes harsh glare of Philadelphia and Baltimore, a small independent music scene is starting to grow, flourish, and gain some well-deserved attention in Lancaster, PA. While independent describes their approach, it is the collective power of all the groups that share the studio that give the scene its strength. Over the course of the years, a strong core of musicians and bands has come together to write, record, and play music together. They share stages and shows, and at times even band members. They come together to work on individual ideas and group projects. And while there is a decidedly alt-country feel in the air, there is no one defining sound. Bands tread from one end of the musical spectrum to the other, moving from the more alt-countrified sound of Slimfit and They Were Only Satellites, to the fuzz-folk of Stinging Nettles, to the more rocking improvisation of Felix Lighter.

Recently they have seen the influence of another musical realm as Joe Jack Talcum (guitarist/ singer of legendary punk band The Dead Milkmen) has become involved with the scene. Talcum has provided guidance and a sense of inspiration to the younger bands. He also occasionally plays shows with them, sometimes sitting in during their sets. He even recorded his last album at their studio.

Saturday night at Quips, one of the many Lancaster venues that support live music scene in the area, Felix Lighter played thirty plus songs across a lengthy three sets. It was the type of performance you rarely get to see: a band playing all night, with nothing to lose and everything to gain. They played as if they were personally trying to reach every person in the place, from fans right in front of them to those standoffish people at the back.

The first set was a solo acoustic set from lead singer/ guitarist Paul Skozilas that at its conclusion quickly moved into two full-band sets. The two full-band sets featured adventurous, guitar driven rock that would in an instant go from balls out rocking, to an inventive prog-rockish movement, to a subtle acoustic strum. Songs were not neatly tied up in a box. There were dangling solos, jangly jams, and a passionate intensity that brought each song to life. The first set was dominated by old-school favorite “Stomach.” It was a serious work-out in which drummer Marshall Fischer and bassist Adam Horita built a steady foundation allowing room for guitarists Rich Caloiero and Skozilas to work to the slowly building climax, which found Skozilas shredding his vocals as he delivered the final verse in Spanish.

Near the end of the first set, Talcum who had been lurking around the stage all-night, joined the band for a fiery version of Bob Dylan’s “Isis.” This was not the subdued Desire version, but the raging Rolling Thunder version. Talcum brought the heat, delivering Dylan’s classic harmonica lines with a ferocious punch.

The addition of a few covers in their set helped give insight into the wide ranging influences of the band. Dylan, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Gardenhead,” Dave Mason’s “Feeling Alright,” and Bombadil’s “Johnny” all help to give a brief glimpse into what comes together to make up Felix Lighter’s diverse musical palate.

The 2nd set was classic Felix Lighter: a whiskey-soaked, psychedelic rush of classic guitar rock that found the band stretching out, taking chances, linking songs and finding a groove that got those standoffish people in the back up and moving. It was the type of night you hope to have when you go see live music. It was unabashed fun, it was late nights, it was ripping guitars and hard-hitting drums, it was a discovery of new music that moved you. But most importantly, it was quite simply Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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