Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Concert: Bishop Allen / Jesse Marchant / North Elementary

August 26, 2014

My favorite genres are acoustic folk, indie-pop, and indie-pop-rock, so it makes perfect sense that a North Elementary / Jesse Marchant / Bishop Allen show was my favorite I’ve been to all summer. The three bands converged on Carrboro’s Local 506 for a Sunday night show that didn’t disappoint those who stayed up late the night before the local university started back to school.

honchoponcho

I caught about half of the set from local indie-pop-rockers’ North Elementary. I would have caught more of it, but I never expect any venue to start on time. (Props to Local 506 for starting at 9 when the poster said 9.) Their enthusiastic, noisy, occasionally jubilant rock was fun to hear; closer “Hi-Lo” was especially smile-inducing. The guitars were noisy but not overly heavy; there’s a lot of levity in their tunes. As a bassist, I particularly enjoyed the great low end lines laid down by Jimmy Thompson.

jessemarchant

After knocking some of the rust off my concert-lacking ear drums with North Elementary, Jesse Marchant, also known as JBM, soothed my ears. Marchant’s calm, relaxing solo set was an astonishing success, especially considering that he was sandwiched between two loud bands. (He’s on tour with Bishop Allen right now, which I think is cool: I’m a big fan of cross-genre tours.) Marchant’s songs feature the delicate intimacy of Gregory Allen Isakov’s work, but also have a deep grasp of space and mood that reminds me of Jason Molina’s work. Those two songwriters are some of my favorite in my 13-year music-reviewing career; Marchant’s sound was on par with theirs.

His melodic skill, songwriting maturity, and instrumental dexterity are all sky high. Some quiet bands don’t know how to keep attention; Marchant kept me riveted to everything that he played. His new album comes out soon, and I’m very excited for it: his set was one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen all year. If you like quiet, emotional songwriters that can keep you hanging on every note, you need to know JBM (the name his old work is under)/ Jesse Marchant (which the new album will be under).

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You’d think it would be hard to top that sort of set, but Bishop Allen is a special band to me. I don’t often indulge in personal backstory for reviews, but BA requires it. Seven years ago, I was an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, doing my best to try to figure out my place in the world. I had a best friend, a mentor, a boatload of acquaintances, and a never-ending stream of girls I liked but never managed to date. My best friend was in pretty much the same boat. In the midst of this very normal college experience, he and I went to Guestroom Records in Norman, Oklahoma to get something to listen to. We didn’t have anything in mind.

After scouting through the store, I found Bishop Allen’s The Broken String. I know I liked the cover; this may have been the only reason I bought the album. (Maybe Paste had put Bishop Allen in a sampler; RIP, Paste printed edition.) We bought it, put it in my SUV, and started driving around the city to listen to it. It was amazing. (It is still amazing.) We did this several more times throughout that year, chasing the ennui away with “The News From Your Bed” and “Like Castanets.” It is a major touchstone in my life.

We were obsessive liner notes readers–me because of The Mountain Goats. We discovered during our first listen to the album that The Broken String had been recorded in Norman, OK–the very town we were living in. This odd coincidence was enough to cement my already burgeoning fanboyship into a full-blown crush on the album. I enjoy the rest of the Bishop Allen catalog (especially the tune titled “Oklahoma,” for obvious reasons), but The Broken String will always be where it’s at for me.

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Fast forward to now: Bishop Allen is back with a new album after five years off. Lights Out is a real fun record that I’ll be reviewing soon. Even though I couldn’t get a review done by the time the show rolled around, I wanted to go hear them perform live. Maybe they’d play one or two Broken String songs. I was thrilled by the end of the set: they played almost half the record (5 of 12 songs). So everything you read from this point on is going to be colored by the fact that I heard almost half of one of the more important albums in my life played. They could have played in pitch darkness and I would have been thrilled.

It was a thrill for hardcore fans of Bishop Allen, but I think it would have been a great time for new fans too. BA’s lyrics are often wry and funny, which was reflected in vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Justin Rice’s stage banter. The band ripped through traditionally quieter tunes with extra noise and energy, which made “Rain” in particular into a mini-anthem. With those slight updates to the older material, their new songs fit pretty seamlessly into their live show. The highlight of their new material was the funky, dance-oriented “Breadcrumbs,” which was a lot of fun to dance along to. I and several others were getting into it, dancing-wise. It was a blast–chipper music, fun stage banter, dancing, and singing along to my favorite songs. How can you ask for more?

Bishop Allen’s Lights Out is out now, while Jesse Marchant’s self-titled new album comes out September 9. North Elementary’s Honcho Poncho was released earlier this year.

Happy 7th Birthday to us, pt 1: We are living in charmed times

May 15, 2010

We are living in the best musical times the world has ever known. This point was driven home to me by a band called, incredibly appropriately, The Very Best.

Yesterday at work, I was having a hard time getting going. It was rainy, it was Friday, there was not much work to do. But I had some work to do, so I needed a pick-me-up. I remembered a Facebook (1) post talking about Stereomood (2). The site features static playlists attuned to mood, instead Pandora’s (3) revolving playlists based on musical attributes. I pulled up the “energetic” playlist, which treated me to tunes by bands as disparate as Etta James, Nirvana, Broken Social Scene and House of Pain (“Jump Around” is nothing if not energetic). Third track on the list was the enigmatic “Mfamu” by The Very Best. The indie/techno beats combined with African language and vocal style gripped me. I needed more.

I jumped over to their Myspace (4) and let it roll. The tunes were tight, and I noticed that they were all remixes (5). Because remixes are almost entirely free to download and handle, I jumped over to my favorite rare/unreleased music site.  Hype Machine (6) aggregates hundreds of blogs (7) and puts their downloads and posts in one location. I searched around a bit and found a digital mixtape (8) that they had made at Gorilla Vs. Bear. I listened to a track off the mixtape and was seriously stoked.

I jumped over to Amazon (9) to see if their album was available stateside. The members are from Malawi, Sweden and France, all meeting up in London.  Music knows no international bounds any longer (10). I found out that it had, indeed been released across the pond. I found that I’d also missed the boat by about six months, as The Warm Heart of Africa came out last fall, but that’s alright by me. So, by this time I’d gotten through all my work for the morning (thank you, the Very Best!) and took lunch.

Since my local record store (11) is literally down the street from my workplace, I went down to Guestroom Records and had the clerk order the album for me. It will be there for me Tuesday or Wednesday. Score!

Later I found an interview with the members of the Very Best, and I found out that they self-recorded the album (12). They’re also not on a major label (13), according to their Myspace. Best of all, they seem incredibly down to earth and devoid of any rock star excess (14), seeing as the front man (still? maybe?) runs a second-hand store in London. I also found out that their title track features Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, which is awesome because collabs rock (15) and it’s a guy who wants to be African singing on a track with someone who actually is African.

So, as the guys and gals here at Independent Clauses celebrate our seventh birthday, we’d like to give a shout-out to people with unrelated day jobs who keep it real (16), people with related day jobs that keep it real (17) and people who don’t have jobs and keep it real (18). Major props to the unsigned musicians (19) who keep this place running; without music, we’d be ships without a sea.

With those nineteen reasons anchoring us, we celebrate all the reasons (listed and unlisted) that we’re living in charmed musical times. May you never take it for granted. And if you ever feel inclined to, let me remind you that…

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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