Press "Enter" to skip to content

Month: February 2014

Jack the Radio … on the radio


I don’t get sent very many radio sessions, but I think they’re real cool. As a fan of acoustic music, radio sessions often offer me a chance to hear noisy bands in the quieter arrangements I so dearly love.

Raleigh Southern rock/folk band Jack the Radio played a three-song set for WUNC recently, and it’s a really engaging set. The six-piece band sounds crisp and clear, with their vocal melodies really played up in the acoustic environment. If you’re a fan of Old Crow Medicine Show, Drive-by Truckers, or Jason Isbell, you’ll find much to love in Jack the Radio. If you find yourself in Raleigh tomorrow night, JtR is playing at Lincoln Theater.

Third time’s the charm: Liverpool artisans Ninetails present Quiet Confidence


Ninetails’ Quiet Confidence is a thoroughly thematic and shrewdly arranged huddle of live instruments, field recordings, and angelic vocals coming together in psychedelic conglomerate. A listen through the entire release is highly recommended, as it stands strongly as a whole.

Plaid, on 2003’s Spokes especially, laid the British soundwork for artists like Ninetails. It’s a bit daft to just throw out a sound-alike RIYL like this, but fans-of would definitely crush on these Liverpool artisans. Quiet Confidence features the keen mastering ear of Music Producers Guild’s Mastering Engineer of the Year, Matt Colton, who has worked most notably with Raime and James Blake. On first listen, Mr. Blake’s cut-up compositions come to mind. Ninetails’ use of ancient-sounding, pitch-addled human vocals is different than, say, Blake’s Klavierwerke, but they seem to have the same ethereal end result in sight.

Cex’s Role Model is another apt aural forerunner of Quiet Confidence. To state it again, this EP must be heard in its entirety, as the moods shift with each new sample. There’s an intelligence to this music that hangs formidably high above a waterfall, clinging tightly to a seemingly substantial lift that only delivers the brief tensile security of a strand of hair. Cex, in the momentary comparison, offered a more personal look at IDM and intelligent electronic (and creatively mixed) music with his aforementioned album. Not at all pastiche, Ninetails strikes a similar bell without the Autechre Dropps, and Harry Partch sits and stares.

Repeating themes from soulful genes… The music history book of thematic presentation should have a foreword dedicated fully to Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Pandemonium Ballet. Harry took two of his albums and re-mixed them into one and sounded a true APB. Quiet Confidence, with producer Chris Pawlusek at the helm, weaves that same thematic magic. Guitar lines that you swear you just heard. Vocals that sound only halfway backwards, but they remind and refresh. Harry re-recorded the vocals of “One” and slickly inserted them in to “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song” as a background vocal. These little genius moves keep an old song fresh… keep the listener’s ear perked and noticing.

On the same note, what is already mixed on the cutting edge by Pawlusek and the band, could go further. Music is really chilled-out these days. It’d be nice to hear some more aggressive or perhaps more abrasive re-mixes of the six Ninetails songs here. Picture something industrial beneath or a break-beat sneak sitting, seething under the horns in “Radiant Hex.” For instance, I tried Giorgio Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” under “O for Two.” I was doing the dishes. I started square-dance calling nonsense about, “Everybody who came here on a bike, over in this corner, please!” I was dancing around my kitchen. I broke one of my Alvin & the Chipmunks (who had similarly treated vocals) drinking glasses (Simon: the one with glasses), only to have a Theodore left.  It’s fine; he’s the drummer. Most times… all you need is a good groove, but, all the time, you need a beat…. a manifest pulse.

It can be hard to handle progressive music that is just a lot of things that happen one after another with gaudy guitar solos and full-kit triplets and Rick Wakeman pans. It can be hard to handle ambient music, too, because if you’re not trying to melt away a headache or trying to read, it can bore. Ninetails dashes all this while still being musically progressive. They place just the right engaging elements into a radio-play-length song.

Make a dinner that lasts all week. No one wants Dinty Moore beef stew. We want Scottish beef porridge with monkey ears, whole sweet potatoes, and Sri Lankan starfruit. That’s what we have here. Keep pushing the genre barriers, Ninetails, and they’ll move your picture from near the exhaust pipe on the Underground and put it on the side, BIG AS DAY, next to the clean air initiative stamp and the No Smoking sign. It’s going to get better.–Gary Lee Barrett

February Video Drop! (pt 2)

Scary Little Friends go the literal route on “City at Night,” showing a person wandering around a city … at night. They wring a lot of mileage out of that simple concept, making a low-key, fun, pretty video.

Virgins Family Band take their pop-folk into the club, getting electro artist t0w3rs to collaborate on “Crème Brûlée.” It’s like if Skrillex had Lord Huron and The Head and the Heart as parents. Okay, maybe not quite like that, but … close.

Kye Alfred Hillig is one of my new favorite songwriters. This episode of the Fastback Sessions gives him a chance to talk about the work of songwriting and showcase a new song. As a person who loves solo acoustic songwriting, this is just way cool.

There’s no single aspect that’s particularly amazing about the video for Etches’ “The Charm Offensive”; it just comes together really nicely with the song.

Private Life decided to go an entirely different direction in their clip for “Otherside”: they made a flash game similar to Robot Unicorn Attack. It is pretty awesome. [Editor’s note: Sadly, this game is no longer available.]

Debut: “Broke” by Teenager (USA)


San Francisco has its own brands of garage rock and indie-pop, which is a lot of individuality crammed into a geographically small city (7×7!). It’s the latter sound that Teenager (USA) attends to: the SanFran combination of neo-’50s vocal melodies and rhythms sync up with lush-yet-perky arrangements in “Broke.”

A staccato piano line forms the foundation for a mid-tempo tune that ends up in a swirl of psych guitars, flute, hand claps, and bouncy bass guitar. That description makes it sound like a total psychedelic freak-out, but it’s really not: pop structure reins it in, resulting in a bite-size piece of cheery goodness. Bevan Herbekian’s lyrics relate (eulogize?) a lifestyle of poor economics and rich relationships–something a lot of people can relate to.

Teenager (USA) has graciously allowed us to debut the tune from his forthcoming album The Magic of True Love, which will release later this year. Enjoy “Broke”!

February Video Drop (pt 1)

Rarely do I get absolutely transfixed by the visuals of a video, but the animated clip accompanying “World Send” by Eulogys is one of that rare breed. The minimalist, groove-laden indie-pop tune (reminiscent of Architecture in Helsinki and Peter, Bjorn, and John) is also impressive.

Bleeding Rainbow’s “So You Know” is also engrossing, but this time for the excellent narrative. I almost forgot the BR song was playing.

“Spirit” by Flowerglass is another narrative gem. Make sure to watch the whole thing.

The spastic, jazzy post-hardcore of “Astrionics” by Hyrrokkin give the filmmakers a chance to play with visual grammar. Certain images are pegged to certain sections of sound, and the expansion of those themes in the music leads to an expansion on the corresponding themes in the visuals. This is a fascinating piece of work.

Spring/Summer MP3 mix

Part two of this seasonal MP3 mix sees me getting antsy with the quietness I usually cover and jonesing for some big, brash rock and pop sounds.


1. “Fourth of July” – Zoo Brother. This unabashedly summery indie-pop cut starts off with fireworks blasting.

2. “What Love Looks Like” – Rebecca Roubion. Are you tired of pristine, joyful folk-pop from guy/girl duos like the Weepies and Jenny & Tyler? ME NEITHER.

3. “Sun Models (Feat. Madelyn Grant)” – ODESZA. Even post-dub artsy electronic groups are getting in on the summery vibes. I am thoroughly on board with this upbeat, airy track.

4. “High Times” – Blonde Summer. This one’s just a gimme, you know? Excellent summery pop here, complete with awesome video.

5. “Modern Romance” – The Forty Nineteens. The joke on this one is that this is a ’50s-style rock’n’roll band with heavy surf influences singing about modern things. Modern when? Who cares. Summer on.

6. “I’m a Freak” – Wise Girl. The components of this song are exclusively big guitars, loud drums, a bass guitar (I think?), and female vocals. I love power-pop.

7. “Killing Time” – The Mirror Trap. Big, brash, Killers-esque rock, because nothing says springtime to me like humongous synths. Chase winter away.

8. “Hex X.O.” – North by North. Rock swagger, flamboyant vocals, and dramatic flair (a la My Chemical Romance) make this track total road trip fun.

9. “Alabama Movies” – Skating Polly. If your version of summertime driving includes snarling, female-fronted grunge, Oklahomans Skating Polly need to be on your radar.

10. “Bulash” – Walrus. Ain’t no summer without woozy, off-kilter psych.

Once Upon A Launch Break: Casper & the Cookies deliver Dingbats!


Dingbats is the fourth & newest album by Athens, Georgia’s Casper & the Cookies. This album is a fun romp through a cemetery late at night (the lanterns would give us away), a secret crush on a hundred year old man (the one from work with the pickup truck) … an atrocious notion of swallowing the ocean.

Back to the full-band swing of 2006’s The Optimist’s Club, the Cookies are hitting it straight out of the park–a long fly ball, all gloves flipped on hips–with Dingbats. The album opener, “Improvisamente Ardito,” walks the listener through the fears and fun of deciding to do something “one more time” (the ringing, resounding, sing-it-all-week reverberation). One more album from C & the Cs? Yes, please, with walnuts and jimmies this time. Quickly, we have to get to the show!

Jason NeSmith (former of Montreal contributor) offers the strongest song with “Lemon Horses.” The sheer bravado is felt fully in this tune: the runt–changed forever, hazed, picked up off the ground by the back of his belt–becomes the big talker. Jason tells us a story of being pulled over on the way to the show…about being a big shot in Athens, about getting high on animal spirits, about being powerful. Blowing smoke in a cop’s face, he could have anything in the back of the tour van, so what do YOU want it to be? Ballads are hard to pull off without hearing a “shave and a hair cut… that sucked” at the end. This is a truly well-delivered story. The words fit the music so masterfully and vice versa. Experience this song!

Kay Stanton (current Supercluster contributor) offers another one of her ultra-real, super-exciting pop gems with “Jennifer’s House.” It sounds a bit like “Meredith,” a Kay song from the Cookies’ third album, Modern Silence, but this tune serves up more details. Why does this person stink, Kay? Why do you still love them? What is giving up worth?

This reviewer’s favorite song is “Thing for Ugly.” While having a great sense of humor in that it’s about what it’s about (one’s kink being ugly people), the song delivers a lot more. Jason’s best vocals, where he sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook, lie here. This is a lost Squeeze song for sure: the early UK Squeeze. It’s like “Out Of Control” with a Nels Cline Singers, electrified sewer grate breakdown from the other side of the moon… not Earth’s. Way out there: Callisto. The Cookies throw out some more memorable thought-bites, “Where’s your sense of humanity? Somebody’s got to love them!” Good fun.

Here’s some adjectives and where to find them. Frantic: the vocals in “Omni” – a cracked trip in all directions. Huge: the keyboard in response to the group vocals in “Sleep Defense.” Compelling: whoever’s speaking in “When The Moon Was In Command,” the album closer. This album delivers a lot of interesting (like new lifeforms discovered in Antarctica) and fun [like an all super-villian rollercoaster that becomes a cannon at the end: POW! (into the Sun)] songs that a lot of ears should hear. Bullet point: Their last three albums were great; Dingbats is even better. It comes out on vinyl, CD, & digitally on February 25th co-released by Wild Kindness Records (Pittsburgh, PA) and Stuff Records (Athens, GA). –Gary Lee Barrett

Happy Valentine’s Day: Julianna Barwick / Vassilus

Julianna Barwick / Vassilus
The Carrack, Durham, NC
February 14, 2014

When this blog started, I wrote about high-school emo bands making ridiculous racket in an Oklahoma hole-in-the-wall venue that was later razed. On Valentine’s Day, I saw a woman make beautiful, artful ambient music in a North Carolina local art gallery. (Oh, how a decade can change things!) Julianna Barwick’s performance was a gorgeous one, made memorable by its unique setting.

The Carrack, a fascinating zero-commission art gallery, hosted the event. The organizers of the Carrack are strictly there to facilitate the existence of the space; they turn control of the space over to local artists to create the exhibitions in the gallery. Each artist gets the space for two weeks, organizing it however they want; any and all sales of art exhibited there go directly to the artist, with no cut for the gallery. You should definitely read up on its goals and strategies if you’re interested in community art.

The small gallery was a perfect space for Barwick and opener Vassilus to play. Both artists used a projector to show looped images that corresponded to their sounds: Vassilus’ images were dark and eerie, while Barwick’s were pictures of outer space similar to those from the Hubble Space Telescope. These images were complemented by the art on the walls and a view of downtown Durham out the windows behind the performers. It was a cool set-up.

Vassilus and Barwick make good touring partners because both are focused on the primacy of the voice in ambient/electronic settings. Vassilus’ take on that formula resulted in dystopian soundscapes populated by dark, mystical lyrics that invoked feelings of uneasiness, dread, and doom. The synth-heavy textures that formed the foundation of the tunes were never abrasive; they moved lightly in contrast to the brash baritone voice that powered the songs. I’m not sure if Vassilus would call themselves witch house, but fans of that sort of dark, claustrophobic, eerie mood would find this oddly-difficult-to-Google group right up their alley.

Although both bands were vocal-centric, their sets were night-and-day opposites. Barwick invited the audience to sit down in front of her on the gallery floor, creating a warm, inviting environment for her beautiful, ethereal music. She loops her own voice repeatedly when she performs, creating whole choirs of point, counterpoint, and harmony. She would occasionally play a note or chord on keyboard to ground the tunes, but the focus was squarely on the arching, soaring vocal performances. Barwick’s wide vocal range made her work even more impressive, as she could swoop from the highest soprano to booming alto with ease.

Barwick’s lush, sweeping sound was a perfect fit for Valentine’s Day; cuddling couples were present in high number. Instead making me uncomfortable (as it would in most shows), it made the atmosphere even more peaceful and romantic. Her set was graceful, unbroken by much stage banter other than the occasional “thank you.” The show was beautiful, and the evening was thoroughly engaging.

SeBADoh pleases the crowd, while Octagrape threatens to upstage the vets

SeBADoh / Octagrape
February 5, 2014
Ottobar | Baltimore, Maryland

Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein of seBADoh. Photo by Matt Condon.
Lou Barlow and Jason Lowenstein of seBADoh. Photo by Matt Condon.

So, it’s the first date of tour. Defend Yourself is fresh; SeBADoh is ready. They come out triumphantly with “Beauty of the Ride,” a crowd-winner. Between the first two songs, Lou Barlow realizes he’s resolved to always have a bottle of water on stage, and he is without. Jason Lowenstein doesn’t know any jokes as Lou leaps backstage. I offer up, “Jason, Jason, ask them if they heard about the fire at the circus.” Jason bites, offers the set-up, and waits for me to hand over that sweet punch line. Groans already mount. “It was in tents.” Lou is back: “Magnet’s Coil.” It’s one of those more intimate shows with about 200 or so weeknight indie-goers braving the snow and hangover tomorrow–way worth it!

Jason swears mid-set that they put a lot of time into learning the new songs as they bom-bom all askew. I heard only two or so off the new album; “State Of Mine” definitely caught my ear. “License to Confuse” knocks off the kids’ knit caps. They clobber with a lot more from the you-love-that-song-because-you-know-it back catalog. It is a brilliant, short-but-sweet set from one the most revered bands in the business. Encore: “Skull.”

If there was any kind of mistake made at this show, it was Jason, Lou, and Bob’s choice to follow their opener, San Diego’s Octagrape. Because THEY RULE! They come out on the stage like someone just murdered an alien with oranges on the ceiling. Escape! Square-wave time bombs… half-bird half-doctor, fuse lit underwater by flare to explode pomegranates into goose feathers and lice. Probably the best band I’ve seen take over a stage in a long, long time!

Octagrape's Red UFO

More importantly, their new album, Red UFO, is so interesting and arresting… ah! I just can’t stop listening to it. It is by far the best thing to come across my desk… and then eat the desk, and whine all day about how its name is now Desk and how small the holes in the screen door screen are.

There are NO straps on their guitars; they’re jumping off amps like 1994’s Justin Trosper and landing like 1999’s Eric Paul on Prince’s perfectly woven 1999-gold-sequin tapestry rendering it confetti. Miles runs the voodoo down.

You can say that they sound like a Truman’s Water tributary that indeed leads to larger, more expansive, permanent things. One might say it’s the second coming of Brainiac with mind-melds hourly, making sure all craniums are crammed with silly-string nightmares. Some might say they fall right in between the unabashed abandon of the weirder Guided By Voices vignettes and the living-like-it’s-summer, psycho-swell of Kill Atom Smasher-era Pitchblende. Um … they are a great opening band.

The tour continues with both bands in the US until February 25th. Then, Sebadoh is off to Australia and New Zealand in March. —Gary Lee Barrett