Barn Owl's 2011 release, Lost In The Glare, was an instant love for me and earned a deep place in my heart with hardly any effort at all. I had been longing to see the Northern California duo since, and during the wait, my expectations had been growing higher.
In early November, Thrill Jockey Records threw one of four 20th Anniversary shows at Mississippi Studios in Portland. It boasted a seven act lineup of Trans Am, Liturgy, Eternal Tapestry, Barn Owl, Golden Retriever, Mike Scheidt, and Jason Urick, and finally put my expectations for Barn Owl to the test. They certainly passed, by putting on one of the best performances I've ever seen at Mississippi Studios.
With a largely improvised set -- I presume -- Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras showed off their electronic-leaning new sound, and wonderfully blew out of proportion what is perhaps most compelling about their music: their ability to engage contradiction by transforming gnarly, noisy sonics into the most heartwarming sounds possible, and their ability to effortlessly send one reeling through time and landscapes eternal.
November 9th, 2012 at Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon
A generally daunting experience, CMJ Music Marathon hosts an extremely wide range of bands over the course of 5 days in NYC. To those who attempt to tackle this festival, the lineup can seem overwhelming.
One advantage to being a 10-year CMJ veteran is that you not only know to have a strategy; you can put it all in perspective. And it's good to have a basis for comparison, too. From year to year to year, CMJ has progressed, in both good ways and bad. While my first few years felt completely daunting, the past few have felt manageable. There weren't so many bands that both my CMJ partner-in-crime Devorah and I were initially excited about, but that's the thrill of CMJ: discovering new gems. Last year was all about not getting into the right shows and being frustrated with CMJ in general. We went into this year cautiously, but it ended up being much easier to gain entry to shows and all of the venues seemed a bit more relaxed (with the exception of the Ghostface Killah show in Williamsburg on the last night, in which the whole block had to be closed due to overcrowding).
Below are our picks for our favorite bands, of which there were happily a large amount.
SEE FULL FESTIVAL RECAP
Tuesday, October 16th @ Marlin Room in Webster Hall
Relatively new to the electronic dance scene, Teen Daze impressed me with his newest album Inner Mansions, but his more meandering, spaced out recordings in no way prepared me for the upbeat dance party live performance. Teen Daze stepped on stage and was able to immediately project a sense of intimacy and comfort onto the crowd; it felt like we were in his dorm room, and he was just goofing around on the turntables for us. He was happy to be there playing music, which was a refreshing turn from the previous band (Heavenly Beat) who looked disinterested and aloof. Teen Daze's emphatic DJ dance moves provided some additional fun, and with these moves he held an aura of euphoria that was infectious.
2012 marked the 16th anniversary of United States of Consciousness (USC)'s annual Halloween party, Freak Night. One of Seattle's premiere electronic music massives, Freak Night has seen multiple venue changes through the years, beginning in spaces like indoor soccer fields (1998)1 and floating to and from miscellaneous warehouse and events spaces like Fremont Studios (2006)2. Yet these days, it always seems to end up back at its most high-profile venue, WaMu Theatre in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood. WaMu Theater, formerly known as the Exhibition Hall, houses Freak Night's multiple rooms comfortably, with a layout and configuration that seems to change from year to year as the event grows and shrinks accordingly to industry flux. And now, with electronic dance music (EDM) bigger than ever, Freak Night has followed suit, with 2012 housing the largest population for the festival to date.
By the time I arrived at WaMu Theater, it was 11:00pm and I was quite surprised to see a rather large line outside the venue. Due to needing to pick up my press pass and hop in quickly at a nearby art show, I managed to avoid the line completely, but heard through text messages from friends that the line was completely not moving, despite the fact that the doors has supposedly opened at 7:00pm. No one knew what was happening and the only rumor I heard was that someone had been caught with narcotics for sale. When I returned an hour later after popping by a nearby art show, the line had disappeared and everyone was hurriedly ushered into the venue with brisk ID checking and the most laughable patdowns imaginable. USC events are usually fairly stringent with their security so this was a surprise; I can only imagine the effort was sped up in an attempt to please partygoers. (Unfortunately, though USC later issued an apology3, many people let their disatisfaction get the best of them and let that circumstance color their entire experience.)
Attending Culture Collide is the easiest and cheapest way to feel like you have been around the world in just four days. When you watch two US bands open a show where groups from Singapore, Argentina and the Netherlands are also on the bill, you start to feel like the most worldly person on the planet. And night after night, numerous different countries were represented under one roof, giving people the opportunity to discover bands that maybe otherwise they would have not come across. Culture Collide deserves praise for making diversity the rule and not the exception. But if I had one suggestion for this young festival, it is to go beyond the comforts of the indie rock and electronic genres a bit. With bands flying in from countries like Peru and Estonia, it'd be nice to take the cultural schooling up a notch and invite bands who are giving new life to traditional sounds from their native countries. It didn't take long for American rock n' roll to start influencing music in other countries, but hopefully a festival like this will help more international sounds infiltrate the US.
SEE FULL FESTIVAL RECAP
When Brazil's Bonde do Rolê had to cancel because of visa issues, Los Angeles' Poolside stepped in to provide some tropical tunes and funky beats. While not as wild as Bonde do Rolê, Poolside were a pleasant addition to the outdoor portion of the festival. With the sun shining, the duo was accompanied by a drummer and second keyboardist, and provided a nice warm up for a full night of dancing. The main stage would later see Niki & The Dove and of Montreal. Instead of taking an aggressive approach to dance music, Poolside provided a relaxed atmosphere with mid-tempo melodies and calming synth lines. Still, you couldn't help but feel like you were whisked away to some exotic island.
The first annual CounterPoint Music and Arts Festival was held about 20 miles South of Atlanta, GA on a well-established horse farm along the Chattahoochee river. The venue was nestled upon green-topped pastures and surrounded by woodlands and a scenic waterfront, altogether under a spacious sky. In the festival foreground stood a monstrous dual main stage for quick back-to-back set transitions. The mid-ground had carnival rides, live art installations, event sponsored amenities, and local goods and food vendors galore! (The jumbo turkey legs and lamb crepes were delicious!) Lastly, two whopping tents were situated in the background, along with a water-filling station that constantly had a line that seemed comparable to one for the latest iPhone release.
It seemed very appropriate for me, as a first-time festival camper, to attend the first ever CounterPoint! Festival goers not only brought their camping essentials, but more importantly, they brought an electrifying energy and all the feel-good vibes the east coast had to offer. Some even made the trek from California! I admired their dedication and gave them some well-earned candy bracelets. There was an undeniable multi-dimensional sense of community that was brought on by the shared love for connections with like-minded people, an escape from our daily realities, and above all, the love of music.
I went in with no intentions of reviewing any specific acts, but instead I was going to attend as many sets as I could, well-known or otherwise, and would cover those that left a lasting impression. Those include Crystal Castles, Beats Antique, Skrillex, Zoogma, Adventure Club, and Abakus.
Every year, CMJ Music Marathon lives up to its nerve-wracking name by offering showgoers an array of shows at a huge number of venues across New York City. But unlike some events that follow a similar model, CMJ is still a great place to begin scouting out up-and-coming bands before they make it big. With enough room to stretch their wings and enough competition to want to work hard, bands playing CMJ are forced to put on put on some of their best shows in some of the tiniest spaces. In our complete CMJ guide, we highlight an array of shows, mostly in the pop and electronic realms, and provide easy listening stations for the best ones so you can decide within seconds if a show is right for you.
SEE ALL 27 FESTIVAL PICKS
Tuesday, October 16th @ Piano’s
I was lucky enough to catch this duo last year at CMJ by happy accident. The duo was charmingly lo-fi but they had enough spark to electrify the jaded Brooklyn crowd with their sweet Mates of State-influenced tunes. - JUDY NELSON
Wednesday, October 17 @ Public Assembly
Physical Therapy, aka producer/DJ Daniel Fisher, released EP Safety Net to positive reviews in June. Distilling old rave beats with jazz and ambient percussion, and sometimes adding floating samples or vocals, the sound he creates addictive and impressive. - DEVORAH KLEIN LEV-TOV
Saturday, October 20th @ Gramercy Theatre
The band basically spells out relaxation with their name choice. Their music videos and album art reiterate that fact; the video for their song “Slow Down” is perfectly California cool. - JUDY NELSON
September 28th, 2012 @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY
Niki & The Dove
WRITTEN BY JUDY NELSON
With their debut album Instinct recently released in the US, Niki & the Dove were an apt opener for Twin Shadow. Lead singer Malin Dahlström is reminiscent of a modern Cyndi Lauper, while also showing serious deference to fellow Swedish indie star Karin Dreijer of The Knife. Gothic and quirky in the same beat, Dahlström had strong stage presence and a powerful voice to back up what might be construed as overly dramatic dance moves. Keyboardist and guitarist Gustaf Karlöf was a solid but quiet presence, contributing the occasional vocal and any extra instrumentation, ranging from the Maracas to the rarely-seen-live Chinese hand drum, the Bolang Gu (波浪鼓).
SEE FULL LIVE SHOW REVIEW
September 30th, 2012 @ Roseland Theatre, Portland, OR
+++ SEE ALSO: FULL SHOW REVIEW + DUSTIN WONG + THRILL JOCKEY RECORDS
On recording, I absolutely adore Beach House, but every time I see them in a live setting, I find myself disappointed by the lack of emotional output and dynamism from husky-voiced lead singer Victoria Legrand. Her performances always feel disingenuous to me, and seem to perpetuate a vapid and shallow sense of drama that may look beautiful -- in fact, an intense light display setup heightened that sense this evening at Roseland Theatre -- but holds no lasting value beneath its surface.
So though I had initially been more excited to give Beach House a chance to redeem themselves, it was show opener and Ponytail member Dustin Wong who actually delivered. He was eye-catching the old-fashioned way: by sheer feat of artistry alone.
Now in its tenth year, Seattle's Decibel Festival has grown from a tiny electronic celebration to a world-renowned music festival without sacrificing attention to detail along the way. From fabric wristbands to the notable lack of corporate sponsors -- save for ones that directly affect the electronic music scene in some way -- Decibel has retained a number of the charming qualities which usually become lost to larger festivals. Its continued stress on the audio-visual merging of music and motion art continue to push the festival forward as well, as Seattle's best venues were sometimes upgraded with video equipment and makeshift spaces were sometimes transformed into festival-worthy ones.
This review highlights some notable shows from Decibel 2012, ranging from excellent to quite mediocre, and includes write-ups of Andy Stott, Jimmy Edgar, Clark, Demdike Stare, and Orbital.
SEE FULL FESTIVAL RECAP AND PHOTO GALLERY
The Decibel Festival guide claimed that the Warp Records showcase on Wednesday evening would be for fans of Prince, which led to some confusion for me. Would that be in reference to main headliner and mad music scientist Clark? Certainly not. Then who?
The winner of the prestigious association -- and pleasant surprise for the festival -- turned out to be 1983-baby and astrology-enthusiast Jimmy Edgar. Edgar, a most handsome and dapper fellow, rose to the stage behind a stripped-down version of the LED light rig he usually travels with, ready to perform his 2012 Hotflush release, Majenta. No hitches here, it seemed... until the projections behind Edgar began to fill the screen.
The generic and low-quality visuals, which were more suitable for Windows 95 screensavers than for Edgar's clean productions, seemed like a stock offer from Decibel rather than Edgar's own choice. They became a painfully glaring and vibe-dampening reminder that the newfound "necessity" of supplying electronic shows with accompanying visuals can sometimes go awry when the visuals are tasteless, or of a different taste than the musician's music. They were distracting, to say the least, and it was unfortunate that habit dictated that they received much more attention than they warranted. (Apologies, I suppose, if they are indeed Edgar's creation, though I doubt it, and the criticism remains.)
Unfortunate visuals aside, Edgar queued up quite a dance party by passionately embracing every type of electronic music that might even be tangentially related to Prince -- from C&C Music Factory-type club jams and dirty '80s breaks to breathy R&B-influenced slow jams. Soul was at the heart of all of Edgar’s music, and its presence in his body was also clear, from his intense concentration to his spontaneously fabulous uses of vocoder. Such sensory vibage was not lost upon the audience, either. Never have I seen a grouping of men so stoked about the performance of another man, as man after ecstatic man screamed, "Jimmaaaay!!!!!" as though they were going to tear their shirts off in support of Edgar at any given minute. Twas one of the best shows I saw at Decibel, and most certainly one that made a lasting impression.
In its third year, Culture Collide Festival will be welcoming 63 artists from 25 countries to Los Angeles in the span of four days. Other than SXSW, there are very few festivals that consciously provide such an international scope of the indie music scene. And considering how common it is for international bands to come across visa issues, Culture Collide takes on an admirable task in the name of global harmony. The nice thing about the festival is that most artists schedule more than one show during those four days. So while you may stick to the big names for one night, you'll have plenty of opportunities to take a chance on a few unknowns that hail from a country across the globe.
SEE ALL 14 FESTIVAL PICKS
of Montreal (USA)
Saturday, October 6 - 12:00am @ The Echoplex
Sunday, October 7th - 8:00pm @ The Main Stage
It's pretty impossible to not have fun at an of Montreal show. This group is kooky with a whirlwind of pop, psychedelia, electro, and glam. And with six members, it's always a party on stage. There will probably be some costumes too, so just embrace it, don't ask questions. of Montreal have recently have recently released Daughter of Cloud, a compilation of 17 of Montreal recordings from the time of their Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? era to the present. The track "Hindlopp Stat" from the album is below, along with the tripped-out music video for "Spiteful Intervention", from Paralytic Stalks.
Bonde do Rolê (Brazil)
Sunday, October 7 - 5:30pm @ The Main Stage
Even if you don't understand Portuguese, Bonde do Rolê are so worth your time. Heavily hyped by Diplo, the trio is always out to start a sweaty dance party and is known for singing about having a crazy good time. The group features a female and male MC who roll quick lyrics over club beats that you'd hear in the US and a type of Brazilian dance music called funk carioca. Just remember, it gets pretty sweltering on the other side of the equator.
SEE ALSO: Bonde Do Role + DIPLO + BRAZILIAN ARTISTS & MUSICIANS