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Red Collar - Hammer No More the Fingers

TOMORROW’S CURIOS TODAY”

Floating Action turns back the clock with a modern twist

DEXTER’S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG Dex Romweber Duo expand NC legend’s repertoire

LABEL FABLE

Odessa Records tries to prove great music + TLC still works

30-plus reviews! Gig Photos!

SPRING ‘09 shufflezine.tv

Brave Young - Sea of Cortez - Toro Y Moi


02 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009


CONTENTS SPRING 2009 04) SNAPSHOTS Red Collar, Sea of Cortez, Toro Y Moi, Hammer No More the Fingers and more

13) FINALLY FILLMORE

17) LABEL LOVE Carrboro’s Odessa Records debuts with three hot regional releases (Grayson Currin)

Publisher

20) GIANT SHIFT

A sneak peek behind the new Charlotte mega-venue (Bryan Reed)

New name and sound for Greensboro’s Brave Young (Patrick Wall)

14) DEXTER’S DYNAMIC DUO

23) REVIEWS Reviews of recent releases, including Akron/ Family, Superchunk, Wavves and more!

16) THE NEW FAMILIAR

30) GIG PHOTOS

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Editor in Chief John Schacht

Triangle legend Dexter Romweber discusses Ruins of Berlin (Mark Kemp) Asheville’s Floating Action goes old school for something new (John Schacht)

Brian Cullinan

Assistant Editor Bryan Reed

Design Editor

Our regional camera bugs deliver the liveshow goods

Blake Raynor

Design Brandon Oxendine, Bryan Reed

Sales/Website CJ Toscano

Interns Whitney Waters, Emily Barrowclough

Contributors Grayson Currin, Timothy C. Davis, Eric Deines, Hank Garfield, Mike Gray, Jenny Hanson, Mark Kemp, Crispin Kott, Jordan Lawrence, Brian McKinney, JG Mellor, David Menconi, Fred Mills, William Morris, Allie Mullin, Chris Parker, Jesse Steichen, Patrick Wall

Send Stuff To Shuffle Magazine P.O. Box 241777 Charlotte, N.C. 28224-1777

Call us at 704.837.2024

Shuffle Magazine is not responsible for your music tastes, just our own.

Floating Action photos by: Sandlin Gaither

Photos by: Allie Mullin

Hammer No More The Fingers’ Viking Storm: Duke Coffeehouse

The Love Language CD Release: Local 506 03 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


Photo by: Bryan Reed

RED C OLLAR

Another Band that Matters BY DAVID MENCONI

If commitment counts for anything, Red Collar is going to be big, and big very soon. It takes only a few minutes of conversation with guitarist Jason Kutchma to come away convinced: This is a band absolutely committed to the redemptive power of rock and doing whatever it takes to get its music out there. “People who think they just need to get on MySpace and get 10,000 friends, that’s not it,” Kutchma scoffs. “As much as things have changed, they’ve still stayed the same. You have to go play over and over and over, and also make sure you’re doing what you love – that what you’re doing and saying is worthwhile. I can’t imagine just doing this if you didn’t really care about it. I can’t imagine being a rock band going through the motions, although I’m sure it happens.” This spring, Red Collar is putting its touring van where its mouth is. In conjunction with its excellent full-length debut album, Pilgrim, the band is hitting the road, nomad-style. Members are quitting jobs, selling houses and having yard sales so they can take the music and its message to the people. Kutchma and his band mates are all in their 30s, so this is very much a leap of faith. But their chances are good based on Red Collar’s live show – an energetic rave-up in which singer/guitarists Kutchma and Mike Jackson tend to spend more time airborne than onstage. Pilgrim is another asset to win over the unconverted, 11 blazing tracks that build to fist-pumping crescendos whether testifying to the power of radio (“Radio On”) or the crushing grind of blue-collar life (“Rust Belt Heart”). Even though most every Red Collar song can be described as anthemic, Kutchma says it’s not by design so much as they just can’t help themselves. “It definitely isn’t conscious,” he says. “Like Quiet Riot, everything they ever did had a chorus in the background where they’re screaming something like, ‘Mama, we’re all crazee now’ – to encourage people to sing along. But what happens with us live is, Mike sings something and 04 04 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

I hear him and want to sing, too. So I do. A buddy told me once, ‘You should do something different just to cleanse the palette. You know, something atmospheric that would let people sit back.’ But for now, it’s just the way we write.” Red Collar first came together several years ago when Jackson moved down to Durham from Chicago and placed a classified ad looking for musicians to play with, listing Fugazi among his influences. One respondant described his band as, “like [Bruce] Springsteen fronting Fugazi, or Creedence Clearwater Revival on SST.” Another wrote, “We’re a three-piece from Durham, and you have almost exactly the same influences as our other guitarist.” Jackson noticed that both messages came from people with the same last name, Kutchma – Jason and his wife, Red Collar bassist Beth Kutchma. Jackson signed on, and before long Red Collar was renowned as one of the best live bands in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill Triangle. The band made its recorded debut with a fine EP, 2007’s Hands Up, before hooking up with producer Brian Paulson (Wilco, Superchunk) to make Pilgrim. The album had a long and frustrating birth process, in which the band spent close to a year waiting for Paulson’s schedule to clear so he could finish the project. But Pilgrim was worth the wait, with a sonic power that underscores its grim, often dark themes. “All these songs are about the working experience in America,” says Kutchma. “Trying to tell people not to give up on the person you used to be, on those promises you made to yourself 20 years ago. None of us have kids and we’re all over 30. There’s no question we have to do this, and now is the right time.” In declaring that this is the time to chase that dream, Red Collar is proceeding in a style very much in the spirit of its music.  “You know, as hard as it is, that’s exactly how it should be,” Kutchma says. “It’s gut-check time. We could say, ‘We’ll keep the 9-to-5 jobs and maybe do Red Collar once a month or so.’ But this is important to me, and I think it might be to other people, too. Now we have to travel across America to find them. It may take a couple of trips, but we have to find them. We have to. So let’s take it on the road, and see where it goes from there.”


TORO Y M OI

It’s 1 A.M., and the Steak & Shake in Rock Hill, S.C. is almost empty. At the only occupied table under the restaurant’s too-bright fluorescent lights, Chaz Bundick is doodling on his placemat.

Noctur nal Transmissions

The 22-year-old who makes music under the name Toro Y Moi was supposed to be playing a house show near Winthrop University. But it was shut down by local police long before Toro Y Moi had a chance to play. Bundick got paid anyway. Still, he feels terrible. And so he’s doodling idly, having driven the hour from his native Columbia, and

BY BRYAN REED

projects—Toro Y Moi’s dancefloor electro-rock and acoustic folk duality, the poppy garage rock of The Heist and The Accomplice, and his forfun ambient sampledelica project Sides of Chaz—to exist in the same universe, grounded by Bundick’s consistent desire to make music that other people might actually enjoy listening to. “I would like to keep an outside ear on things,” he says. “I like things to be accessible.” “Sellout,” accuses Patrick Jeffords, another Heist bandmate, with a joking grin. “I guess you could call it selling out,” says Bundick. It’s obvious from

Photo by: Bryan Reed having dragged along two of his bandmates from The Heist and The Accomplice, for naught. This evening’s disappointment notwithstanding, Bundick’s splitpersonality, sometimes folk/sometimes electro project Toro Y Moi has come a long way since the then high-school freshman adopted the moniker in 2001. The acoustic side came first. A few years later, with a burned copy of Fruity Loops—the sampling program popularized by Durham producer 9th Wonder, among others—Bundick discovered hiphop and electronica. Toro Y Moi’s dance party alter-ego was born. “I found J Dilla the day after he died,” Bundick remembers. He dug deeper and fell in love with the indie hip-hop label Stones Throw. Then he discovered Daft Punk. “I remember when you got into Daft Punk,” laughs Cameron Gardner, Bundick’s bandmate in The Heist and The Accomplice, over a plate of shoestring french fries from across the table. Bundick, apparently, got really into Daft Punk. Listening to Toro Y Moi’s latest effort, the recently-released Left Alone At Night single, makes Bundick’s Daft Punk fandom clear—the same heavy basslines and propulsive rhythms define the sound of the song and the six remixes that accompany it. But it’s undercut with a healthy serving of nervous indie rock and pop songcraft that remains constant throughout Bundick’s many projects. In 2008, all those years of writing songs and experimenting with textures and timbres resulted in three records bearing Bundick’s name: The Heist and The Accomplice’s Connections Work, and two starkly different Toro Y Moi full-lengths—Woodlands, a folk-oriented release, and My Touch—more in line with Left Alone At Night. Maybe it’s this constant output that allows each of Bundick’s divergent

the nonchalance in his reply that he doesn’t much care either way. He cares more about the width of drinking straws—Steak & Shake’s are too wide; he likes skinny straws—than he does about indie cred. Still, he’s got cred to spare. The release of Left Alone At Night is being handled by The Savant Guard, a tiny Brooklyn-based label with a focus on cutting DJquality vinyl singles and printing limited-edition T-shirts. It’s hard to get much hipper than that. But far from the D.I.Y. nature of Bundick’s projects to date, Toro Y Moi finds him dealing with all the trappings of the real-life music industry, even if it is on a small level. “It was the first time I had to deal with that and it was hectic,” admits Bundick. The process of hiring a lawyer and signing an actual contract was, he says, “like reality.” Like this dormroom project is suddenly something important, even adult. It’s a lot to swallow for the admittedly shy Bundick, but he’s willing to confront it. He’s already taken on the burden of performing live—even if his intent to perform this time was derailed by Rock Hill police. Playing keyboard, singing, and running looped beats and effects pedals is a lot to juggle, especially when you’re a shy performer. “I don’t like being on stage by myself,” he admits. “I’m shy when I’m with other people.” But it’s still worth it. “People know it’s 100 percent you,” he says of playing live. “I kind of wish the folky stuff was as popular as the electronic stuff, but I love them both equally. It’s something I made.” By this point, though, he’s just ready to make the hour-long drive back to Columbia, away from the neon glare of the restaurant, where he can go to bed and start fresh tomorrow. 05 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


HAMM E R NO MOR E TH E F IN G E R S

Don’t Call Them Polvo

Seated around the dining room table in Jeff Stickley’s secluded Durham county home, the three members of Hammer No More The Fingers—drummer Stickley, bassist/ singer Duncan Webster, and guitarist Joe Hall—fidget in their straight-backed chairs. The setting is an oddly formal choice for the usually animated trio, who still seem uncomfortable with the notion that their band is worth talking about seriously. It’s not until Hammer’s two-night CDrelease party/Durham-wide bender, dubbed “Viking Storm,” enters the conversation that the trio loosens up. Wisecracks, chuckles and inside jokes ensue. “We had practiced, and took some mushrooms and had a great time,” says Webster, explaining the genesis of “Viking Storm.” “We went into Jeff’s backyard. It was freezing cold. We were just walking around looking for hobbits and fairies and stuff. Every thing we were saying was this witty one-liner. “I think I said ‘Viking Storm’ and these dudes are like, ‘What?’ That whole night we just crafted this entire weekend of shows. We were going to have it in Jeff’s backyard and, like, cut down some trees and make a stage.” So much for ‘shrooms-inspired visions. The actual shows were moved to downtown Durham’s new Pinhook club and Duke University’s on-campus venue, The Duke Coffeehouse, where a total of nine bands (including Hammer) were assembled to celebrate the release of the J. Robbins-produced full-length, Looking For Bruce. Promotion for the events began with cryptic MySpace postings and grew to include a theme song (a

06 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

BY JORDAN LAWRENCE

collaboration between Hammer and their Churchkey label mates Tooth) before the lineups were ever revealed. The outsized idea and unconventional execution provides an example of Hammer’s penchant for both grand ambition and unpredictable ridiculousness (notice the mouthful non sequitur that is their band name). The songs collected on Looking For Bruce mix humor, seriousness and the space between (the tune “Mushrooms” provides an apt template) to create a balance of absurdity and honesty that—along with the band’s onstage antics— has helped make Hammer a mainstay live act in the Triangle. Musically, there’s a lot going on, too. “We try to do as much as we can with three instruments and singing,” Webster says. “Fancy and still poppy. Just try to do that and rock as hard as we can.” Fancy, as in the intricacies of Webster’s melodic bass lines woven into Hall’s serpentine and usually finger-picked leads, and Stickley’s propulsive but generally straightforward rhythmic base. Poppy, in the sing-along choruses and infectious energy that recalls the off-kilter pop of Pavement or Polvo as much as it does the raw enthusiasm of Superchunk. But far from feeling derivative, Hammer’s new take on an old sound lends it the kind of endless size that a three-piece really shouldn’t be capable of. Still, prospecting in the same indie rock vein as the iconic bands that put the Triangle scene

on the map has caused some to see the band as some kind of resurrection. That’s something Hammer wants no part of. “We just try to write music,” says Webster. “We get compared to Superchunk and Pavement, and I have never owned a record by any of those guys. I can name maybe one Pavement song, and I don’t think I can even name a Superchunk song. I think we’re trying to do our own thing more than we’re trying to do their thing. We’re not trying to bring indie rock back. That’s definitely not a conscious thing.” Mostly it’s because the three members of Hammer—all lifelong friends—have been playing music together in various configurations since they were pre-teens honing their sound in the mid-90s. In a sense, their band is a 90s indie rock band. “The way we grew up together and play together is just as important as any of the sound that we’re going for,” says Stickley. “Our sound is the fact that we can relate to each other that well. It’s not that we all like 90s music. It’s just what happens when you’ve been playing with the same people since 1994.” Of course the band would like to ride its friendship-powered and chiseled-by-time attack to wider notoriety, but ultimately it’s all about the good vibes. “I can work a crappy job and know that we have all our friends,” Webster says. “It makes it okay. It makes it totally worth playing in a band.” If that wider notoriety ever comes, though, Webster adds, it’ll only make the good vibes even better. “The more people like it, the more we like it.”

Photo by: Sam Roberts


TH E H AV E A N D T H E HA VE NOTS

The Clatter Twins

BY CHRIS PARKER

Somewhere between The White Stripes and Q And Not U lurks Charlotte duo The Have And The Have Nots. The wedding of buzzing, angular guitar to primal, wall-rattling backbeat on the band’s eight-song debut, Vanity of Vanities, sizzles, bristles and throbs like a temperamental engine, running hot and rattling violently enough to shake the grease from the axles. Guitarist Ben Henry and drummer Jessica Donahue comprise the something-old and something-new side of the equation, respectively. Henry’s been playing in the area for nearly nine years, first in the folkblues trio West Mary, then as a solo artist. Donahue’s more of a neophyte, whose only experience was goofing around on drums once at a friend’s house in high school, before suggesting on a whim she’d like a set for her birthday. “Just because I had fun doing it that one time,” Donahue admits. “My friend got the money together, went out and got me a drum set. I really didn’t think it through. It turned out good. But at first I was like, ‘Why did I do this? I don’t know how to play drums. This is ridiculous.” You certainly wouldn’t suspect her novice status hearing her shake the kit as if, with enough effort, she might bring rain on “Death Pills,” or when she’s chasing Henry down from behind on the jittery, writhing 98-second kiss-off, “Two.” It’s even more surprising to discover she’s only been playing for a year. Donahue met Henry through her roommate, Erika Blatnik of The Lights Fluorescent. They’re part of a musical clique that also includes

Photo by: Erika Blatnik

The Lesser Pauls and some solo artists, with Erika and Jessica’s house as the epicenter. Late one drunken night while hanging out, Henry pulled out his guitar. Donahue wanted to play as well, so she jumped on the drums. She didn’t know what she was doing, but it was fun, and they thought it sounded promising enough that their partnership was born. It wasn’t that Henry hankered for a two-piece, though that is how he first learned to play guitar, with his Dad on the traps—it’s that they couldn’t find the right third. “We were like, ‘this person would be cool, or that person.’ They’d come and play with us, but none of them wanted to play as much as we wanted to,” Henry recalls. “Eventually it was like, ‘Fuck it, it’s just us.’” The duo proves to be very different from Henry’s solo experiences, particularly vocally. “It’s usually just yell as loud as I can, because we play pretty loud,” Henry chuckles. “It’s definitely a different mentality… like I’ll play classical guitar a lot of times when I play by myself, and do subtle quiet stuff. The band is louder and pretty straightforward.” But straightforward doesn’t mean oversimplified. “Ecclesiastes,” whose dark pulse and windy guitar churn suggests a Chicago post-rock act swelling and swooning chaotically into the bridge as Henry exclaims “Nothing really matters,” proves to be the highlight of Vanity of Vanities. Its clamorous majesty suggests an apocalyptic elegy experiencing a last death rattle before meeting the ground with a resounding thud. “That’s one I wrote on the classical guitar to start out,” recalls Henry. “It’s about this guy who was supposedly the wisest man that ever lived. Nothing was denied him. All the money, women and fame he wanted. He’d gotten anything he wanted, and at the end of his life, he looked back on it and saw it was all completely meaningless.” They recorded Vanities with Bo White (Yardwork, Duo Select) in his living room, in less time than the average TV drama. But then, this is a sound best served under-thought. “I’d say the recording took about 45 minutes,” Henry recalls. Donahue jumps in, “We did eight tracks in nine tries.” White’s label Kinnikinnik released the disc, and now the duo’s onto the next step in world domination – the road. So far the itinerary outside Charlotte has been limited to gigs in Asheville, N.C. and Athens, Ga. But luck recently turned for The Have And The Have Nots in that respect: Henry found a solution to their biggest problem. “We both have really small cars, and big amplifiers. We can’t play out of town that much because we can’t fit our stuff. But I just found a cargo box to put on top of my car at Value Village for $20,” he says. “I was like, ‘Yes! Now we can play out of town.’” 07 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


S EA OF CORTE Z T

Waltzing on Baja Time

Ask anybody who’s been and they’ll tell you that Baja California comes home with you. And no wonder: Technicolor barrios and Third World slums dapple improbably dramatic vistas. To the West, the Pacific carves land away with huge winter surf; to the East, across a forbidding spit of desert and mountain ranges, the Gulf of Mexico teems with unique aquatic life. Conquistadors and ancient native tribes live on in the faces of their ancestors. You can feel the weight of time on this land. It’s inspiring, as multi-instrumentalist Rodney Lanier discovered in 1999 during a week-long stay in Baja as a member of the then Carolinas-based rockers Jolene. That’s when the idea for his all-instrumental act, Sea of Cortez, first took root. Frustrated with being told what to play and when to play it in other’s bands, and floored by the surrounding terrain, Lanier decided he would someday “make music that tried to capture” those qualities. Now, the Charlotte septet he leads is set to release The Sur & the Sword, a lush set of cinematic instrumentals infused with the natural world drama the 42-year-old Lanier last saw a decade ago. Over the years he collected melodies he thought would fit his vision, but he says the band idea lay dormant until attempts to “finagle” his way into the local experimental rock octet Pyramid proved futile. Instead, practically all of Pyramid wound up also playing in Sea of Cortez. “Originally, we wanted to do three or four guys playing pedal steel or lap steel together,” Lanier says. But because he often

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BY JOHN SCHACHT

wrote on pedal steel, he had to transpose melody lines to guitar to show the others, and the instrumentation began to morph. Eventually the current lineup emerged: Lanier (pedal steel/guitar/accordion), Ben Best (guitar/effects), Joey Stephens (guitar/ Theremin), Kris Baucom (keys), Chris Walldorf (drums/vibes), Ned Brownlow (percussion), and bassist Chris Lonon, who replaced former Vetiver bassist Brent Dunn. (Lap steel player and Shuffle contributor Tyler Baum recently left the band.) Sea of Cortez played its first show the night the Iraq War began in 2003, unveiling an array of instrumental styles that held together thematically and transcended the much-copied post-rock tropes of Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. The band did that by casting its inspirationsnet significantly wider: the made-in-a-day workouts of pedal steel pioneers Speedy West and Lloyd Green; Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti westerns and Calexico’s desert noir interludes; the lush textures of Japancakes or Daniel Lanois; experimental noise, and various strands of surf, gypsy and hard rock. On stage, that mix tightropes between swooning waltzes and the high drama of a large band generating serious G-force. But live or on disc, the songs get their points across in a timely fashion – four or five minutes, sometimes less – and wind up touching on more emotional terrain and styles. As for those endless build-and-release crescendos so popular with the kids nowadays… “That’s the thing you try to avoid – every song starting and going to a crescendo,” Lanier says, citing as an alternative Sur’s propulsive two-and-a-half-minute “Devil’s Shoestring,” whose crescendo arrives suddenly and leaves

right on time. “That song is four little parts that work together, and nothing’s really repeated. Just straight through it and then, ‘bam.’ I love that. It’s kind of nice to just hit it and leave them wanting more.” That’s almost what happened to Sea of Cortez, period. In 2005, the project stalled in part because of various Pyramid-related projects. Lanier, too, got sidelined playing in other bands. Before long it had been almost two years since Sea of Cortez did much of anything, and the hiatus began to set in stone. But then Brownlow booked a show in September 2007, and the momentum that it generated carried them through a week-long recording session at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium in May 2008. That’s where much of The Sur & Sword was tracked to two-inch tape, though it was later transferred to digital for overdubs at Walldorf’s Sioux Sioux Studio. The songs reflect the collaborative writing atmosphere Lanier fosters. Typically, when schedules align, he gets together with two or three different members to flesh out ideas. That offers his bandmates ample opportunity to contribute. “It’s fun because the song ends up its own thing, and no one really knew or had a vision for it before we wrote it,” Lonon says, citing Lanier’s ear for satisfying melodies as the group’s usual starting point. Lanier’s chief strength as a leader, Lonon adds, is that “he tries real hard not to be a leader.” On Sur, it’s hard to hear any drawbacks to the group approach, except perhaps that “the pyramids in Giza were built quicker than this record,” Lonon quips. Yet even that seems an apt metaphor since Sea of Cortez is really just operating on Baja time.

Photo By: Richard Wright


TH E OLD CER EMONY

Through being cool

Growing up in Gainesville, Fla., Django Haskins, now 35, would join and rejoin record clubs to build his collection of CDs. “I signed up for them like 30 times,” he laughs. “Literally, I got hundreds of CDs that way. It filled in a lot of gaps in my music education.” Listening to The Old Ceremony, the band Haskins formed in 2004, it seems perfectly plausible that Haskins spent his childhood amassing classic rock and pop CDs from major label clearing houses. There’s a depth to his songwriting that comes from the absorption of not only the most obvious influences, but those on the periphery, too. “Records didn’t start with Marquee Moon,” he says without a hint of scorn for Television. “People were writing songs way before that.”  Walk On Thin Air, the band’s recently issued third album, is birthed from historical context. Its lush arrangements and casual melodicism manages to touch on everything from Holland-Dozier-Holland to Wilco, creating a sound that is as difficult to categorize as it is immediately familiar. It’s a mature sound built on years of experience. Each of the band’s five members have passed 30, and Haskins has been writing songs for years, including a stint in International Orange alongside Ben Folds Five’s Robert Sledge. Ultimately, it all comes down to a simple philosophy. “A song is a song,” Haskins says, “and if a song is good, then it doesn’t matter if you’re playing it with the Westminster Abbey Boys’ Choir, or if you’re playing it on a tin can. It just doesn’t matter because a song exists outside all the trappings and bullshit of a scene. It has a life of its own.”  And if good songs beget good bands, it’s safe to say The Old Ceremony, too, has a life of its own. A typical hometown show ought to be evidence enough. Sweat soaking through his suit jacket, Haskins and his band – bassist Matt Brandau, violinist Gabriele Pelli, drummer Dan Hall, and vibraphonist/organist Mark Simonsen – play to throngs (they recently sold out both The Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro and The Pour House in Raleigh), with a demographic that reaches both teenagers and their parents.  Their fans are so rabid, in fact, that the release of Walk On Thin Air

BY BRYAN REED

owes much to a handful of them, who, instead of passively waiting for the record, invested money in its release to help the band put it out sooner. “It’s like patronage,” Haskins admits. The record, recorded at Simonsen’s home studio, was almost done when the patrons stepped in. “The money problem was with how to get it out,” says Haskins, “and that’s where it came in really handy.” With a pocketful of borrowed money, the band was able to manufacture the disc, hire a publicist and radio promoter, and release Walk On Thin Air on its own Alyosha Records label. 2006’s Our One Mistake was released on the small New York-based indie sonaBLAST! but, says Haskins, there isn’t much difference between having label backing and self-releasing. “The last thing that labels have over the individual bands is money. If you’ve been at it for a while and you know basically what you need to do, and you can attract people who are good at what they do to help you.”  The end result ought to help bring The Old Ceremony’s pop classicism to the ears of many more outside the well-worn N.C.-to-N.Y. tour trail. But the band’s sonic breadth is both blessing and curse. “While I think that the music does have a broad appeal, it’s almost too broad for some people,” Haskins sighs. “The whole record doesn’t sound like any one thing. To some people that’s refreshing. To us that’s refreshing.” But it also means that The Old Ceremony tends to operate outside of trends.  “It’s like we’re not even aware of what anybody else is doing.”  The Old Ceremony isn’t completely disconnected from contemporary music – “I really love the new Walkmen record,” Haskins proclaims, “but I couldn’t convert anybody!” – but its members find more common ground in older music. On the road, they’re more likely to be listening to Led Zeppelin or Otis Redding or The Mills Brothers than the latest “cool” band. Haskins cites both Tom Petty (“he’s like a one-man Motown”) and Billy Joel as unexpected favorites. They aren’t cool, he says, but their songs are great. And that’s all that matters.  Still, he points to The White Album, a perennially cool album, as a philosophical landmark for the band. “It works as a whole, even though each song is radically different than the last,” Haskins says.  Cool or not, though, ultimately The Old Ceremony is about making good songs. And Walk On Thin Air is in no short supply.

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PAUL FINN

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Paul Finn tries to buck industry trend with new record label by Grayson Currin

ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON, March’s early indications of the approaching spring decorate Chapel Hill with soft sunshine and an easy breeze. Just six days ago, snow covered the ground, but today feels like one of those balmy Southern afternoons when new students stretch quilts and blankets across the green lawn in front of the imperial Wilson Library. They actually do write home, sending romantic dispatches about college infatuations and new ideas to parents and friends back in Brevard and Norlina. But the grass of the campus and the sidewalks of its aorta, Franklin Street, are markedly deserted in observance of the town’s late-winter obsession: Beating the Duke University Blue Devils. A mile off of Franklin Street, where stragglers in Carolina blue T-shirts cram into bars just after tip-off, the Tar Heels are at work against the Devils inside the Dean E. Smith Center. An ACC championship depends on the game, as its competitors are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference and Nos. 2 and 7 in the nation. Today, Chapel Hill feels like a vacuum, where the only worry is the triumph of light blue over dark blue. But across the Chapel Hill line, a few miles into its post-graduate sister town, Carrboro, Paul Finn diligently stuffs compact discs into tawny padded envelopes, adding the address of some radio station or rock writer and running each package through a small, rented postage meter one at a time. Finn, a New Jersey native, doesn’t dislike college basketball. He pulls for the Tar Heels, in fact, and he has several close friends who could count themselves fanatics. Finn’s got a job to do, though, and people are depending on him to do it well. 10 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

“The accountability factor is so much higher now,” says Finn, sitting in the living room of Clarque Blomquist, his bandmate in the Orange County institution The Kingsbury Manx, a few hours earlier. Bill Taylor, the band’s guitarist, sits on a nearby couch, wearing an old Tar Heels hat, nervously strumming his six-string while he awaits his chance to make an exit and prepare for the afternoon’s big game. “One of the most awkward things is to make a call to your record label and have a very direct question, and the answer is, ‘Uhh, let me look into that.’ But this keeps everyone more in the loop. We’re able to talk about what’s going on.” In just five weeks, Finn will release The Kingsbury Manx’s Ascenseur Ouvert!—the fifth record by the band he’s played keyboards with for six years—on his new label, Odessa Records. Two weeks later, he’ll simultaneously release Pretzelvania, the bristling debut by Carrboro’s Americans in France, and Ripped in No Time, the debut pop-rock atlas by Carrboro’s Impossible Arms. His fourth release—a seven-inch by Carrboro’s swaggering, staggering Spider Bags, a band for which he once drummed—already sits on the docket for a summer release. Odessa’s opening gambit represents one of the best introductory release slates for a young Carolina label in memory. Finn, however, knows that—in this already meager music industry, beleaguered as it is by a bleeding stock market, high unemployment and crashing consumer confidence—getting these promos ready for tomorrow’s post is more mission-critical than watching this afternoon’s hoops clash on Tobacco Road. It’s not an easy time to be a record label, much less start one.


Photos courtesy, Odessa Records

AMERICANS IN FRANCE

But Finn needed to start Odessa, a label born of unequal parts frustration and inspiration: The Kingsbury Manx released three records on Chicago’s Overcoat Recordings before making the 2005 jump to North Carolina’s bigger indie, Yep Roc Records, a branch of the same company that owns Redeye Distribution. Yep Roc released The Manx’s exquisite fourth album, The Fast Rise and Fall of the South, but a tour mishap and a series of miscommunications eventually ended the relationship. The Manx finished its fifth record in December 2007 with its own money, recording with veteran area ear Jerry Kee. The quartet began shopping the album, then titled Fifth, to labels, confessing the caveat that they weren’t interested in touring behind it. After all, their former tour van remained in Utah, broken down and useless for the last few years. Several labels were interested, but none were beating the band’s door down with a particularly impressive budget. The manager of high-end Carrboro restaurant Acme by day, Finn was concurrently working with two young local bands, Americans in France and Impossible Arms, on their debuts. In a pond house outside of town, he split production credits with Brian Paulson (Wilco, Superchunk, The Sea & Cake) on 13 Americans in France tracks. Kee was recording Impossible Arms in his Mebane studio, and Finn agreed to co-produce that one, ultimately adding keys, vocals and ring modulator. He loved the records he’d made and didn’t want them to get held up by the same label negotiating and scheduling that had long hindered the Manx. “I realized that I wanted to keep going with these bands. Now that the records were done, what’s next? Do they start sending out their discs and hoping somebody randomly listens to it,” says Finn, 34. “I decided maybe what I really should be doing is a label. I was eager to make sure momentum wasn’t lost on these two records that were amazing.” So Finn’s de facto strategy became this: Find records he was invested in and treat them like his own, caring for each detail—production, mastering, design, press kit, promotion, distribution—with dedication.

In a music climate where file-sharing has cut sharply at sales (of physical and digital media) while bands now have access to relatively cheap technology that enables them to make music often and fairly well, that strategy seems preternaturally brilliant, if somewhat counterintuitive. He signed Americans in France and Impossible Arms, making them ODE-01 and ODE-02, respectively. The Manx’s record became the next logical step, but he waited for Taylor to drop the idea first. “I didn’t even know that Paul was plotting any of this until so much of it was already in place. By the time it was presented, it was a total no-brainer,” says Ryan Richardson, who, with Taylor, shapes The Manx’s songwriting team. “There wasn’t even any discussion as soon as the option was on the table. We hemmed and hawed over everything but that.” Odessa represents Finn’s first attempt at running a record label, but he’s not new to running a business or putting in long, listless hours of clerical labor for bands he loves. In his native New Jersey, Finn says he was a “restaurant dog” until he decided to move to Chicago with a friend. Howard Greynolds, an employee at the now dormant Touch & Go Records, had released a seven-inch by Finn’s band back in New Jersey. Greynolds—who went on to found Overcoat Recordings and manage bands like The Swell Season and Iron & Wine before returning to Touch & Go to lead a new A&R department—regaled Finn with stories of Chicago’s scene and opportunity. “I knew there were a lot of labels in Chicago that I liked a lot: Drag City, Thrill Jockey, Touch & Go, Carrot Top,” says Finn. Greynolds, then across town at Thrill Jockey, snagged an internship for Finn at Touch & Go. “I went in there two or three times a week and just busted my ass. Usually, interns go for like an hour or two. I would go for five and six, and say, ‘What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?’ I liked it, and I was learning so much.” Finn didn’t go to college, but he considers his time at Touch & Go a bit of a freshman year, impressed as he was by the size, professionalism 11 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


THE KINGSBURY MANX

IMPOSSIBLE ARMS

and collegiality of the label. He’d expected an office much like the Odessa headquarters in his apartment—small, cramped, barely staffed. That Touch & Go employed a few dozen people and that those people seemed to respect one another inspired him to work harder. It began to pay off. “Ian [Williams] from Don Caballero and Storm & Stress lived in Chicago, so he would come into the office. We hit it off. He was doing the artwork with the graphic designer for What Burns Never Returns, and he called me in there and said, ‘What do you think of this?’” remembers Finn, his eyes wide as he smiles at the memory. Williams was trying to determine how to orient a photograph on the back cover of the album, and he wanted advice. “I said, ‘Oh, it looks like it could go either way.’ He says, ‘I like that.’ And if you look at the back cover now, it says that. It has my quote on the back of it.” Sure, it was a small symbol of appreciation, but it wasn’t the last: After a morning of volunteering at Touch & Go, Finn went to work at his paying job in a coffee shop. That afternoon, Ryan Murphy, a staffer at Drag City, called the coffee shop and asked for Finn. Drag City was looking for a mail-order clerk, and Touch & Go had recommended Finn. 12 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

“That day at the coffee shop, I thought, ‘I’m finishing these cappuccinos, and I’m never coming back,’” says Finn, laughing. “I interviewed and got the job, mostly because of the recommendation of the people at Touch & Go.” If Touch & Go was freshman year, Drag City offered an undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral education all at once. Finn, by title, worked in the mailroom, but—at such a small label—he participated in press campaigns, artist relations and demo review. That experience landed him a job with Merge Records when he moved to North Carolina, where he again did a little bit of it all. Now, Finn knows he’ll have to do a lot more of it all. Given the recent loss of Touch & Go and several other labels, his expectations are low. But— discussing the minutiae of running a small, new label on a daily basis—his energy and enthusiasm seem boundless, determined finally to use his experience for the records that mean the most to him. “We’ve been through illnesses, band members leaving, innumerable van wrecks, record label shifts, industry shifts,” says Finn. “We’re not going to stop doing this regardless of upturns. People aren’t going to stop making music or putting it out. You’ve just got to soldier on.”


BIG

N.C. Music Factory set to open Fillmore in Charlotte by Bryan Reed AS I’M WRITING THIS, the North Carolina Music Factory isn’t much more than a halffinished work site, a skeleton of promise settled into a century-old textile mill in the northeast corner of Uptown Charlotte. That’s a bit alarming given the Music Factory has been open since 2005. Well, sort of open. The facility, owned by the father-son team of Rick and Noah Lazes, has been on the verge of its grand debut for years now. So far, though, only offices, the Queen City Underground rehearsal spaces and the Garden & Gun Club are in operation. But at long last, the nine-acre plot is quickly developing into a sort of music-centric amusement park for the city’s young professional crowd. “We call it a ‘stroll district,’” says Ken Thomas, the Music Factory’s V.P. of Entertainment and my tour guide. Still, as Thomas leads me through a labyrinth of incomplete service passages and back doors, it’s clear there’s a lot of work yet to be done before the still-under-construction Fillmore hosts its first headliner. Many of the smaller spaces still don’t have tenants locked in. The aged pine floors, warped with time, will need to be refinished. Walls need to be built. Many of the kitchen and bathroom facilities stand bare, far from finished. Work dust leaves a grainy film over almost everything. Then there’s the matter of landscaping. But in The Fillmore’s grand hall, ornate light fixtures are bolted in, ready to illuminate the club. A stage faces the large, yet comfortable room, seeming alien without a performer atop it. The Fillmore, it would appear, is almost ready. At that point, Thomas’ future tense becomes present. It’s not about what could be, or what almost is, or what will be someday in the distant future. The Fillmore is in Charlotte. It opens in May. Done deal. With the 2008 completion of a new $3 million, city-funded access road, Seaboard Street—which Thomas insists was a crucial development for the Music Factory’s chances of success, and which didn’t come without a fight—the Lazes’ might finally see their vision manifest. LiveNation has signed on to oversee the booking of the Music Factory’s two biggest venues: the 2,000-capacity branch of The Fillmore, slated for a May opening, and a 5,000-capacity outdoor “boutique amphitheatre,” which is supposed to open later in the summer. High-end nightspots Butter and Crobar have spaces reserved and leases signed for late-2009 openings. Wet Willie’s joins the lineup in early 2010, offering a smaller space for local and regional bands to perform, and a decidedly more casual environment.

The already-open businesses on the site have mostly been successful to date. One early nightclub already came and went, but The Garden and Gun Club, which opened in September of 2008 (around the same time as Seaboard Street), has become a fixture of the local dance circuit, and the 25 Queen City Underground rehearsal spaces have been booked solid since opening in March 2005. The staggered openings, says Thomas, allow the staff to acclimate to what he hopes will be ever-growing crowds. Given the current economic climate, it would seem as though the Music Factory is girded to the entertainment-isrecession-proof philosophy. That could be holding true. LiveNation CEO Michael Rapino stated to shareholders, “we are not seeing nor do we currently expect to see any significant impact on our business stemming from the current economic slowdown.” But, reports longtime music critic Jim DeRogatis, this contradicts Rapino’s testimony in front of Congress, defending the company’s controversial merger with Ticketmaster. Thomas, though, says the whole point of the Music Factory is to help Charlotte become a regional destination for entertainment. “We think this will bring it to a whole other level,” he says. And it’s a good bet tour routing in the Southeast will change because of the new venues. A possible scenario for the future involves the upcoming TV On The Radio show in Charlotte. The plenty-acclaimed New York band is touring in June. They’ll headline the 3,500-capacity Tabernacle in Atlanta after playing Bonnaroo in Tennessee. On the way to Tennessee, they’ll headline Charlotte’s 1,200-capacity Amos’ Southend on June 11. Next time, a show like that might well land at The Fillmore. “Some of that stuff will start coming here,” admits Thomas, “but I think long-term it’ll just help the whole musical climate in Charlotte.” Plus, he says, most of the Charlotte venues already have their niches. Amos’, for example, is known for hosting tribute acts. The Fillmore will try to shy away from that, Thomas says. As Charlotte’s profile grows with its population—the metro region is a top 25 market in both TV and radio—the city’s lack of outlets for nationally touring, marquee acts only becomes more obvious. Thomas claims The Music Factory has the potential to not only raise Charlotte’s entertainment cachet, and bring jobs to the city—up to 100 between the Fillmore and the amphitheatre—but also could attract more business of all types to the city. Or, as Thomas puts it, “The better this thing rolls, the better everybody is.”


Dexter Romweber expands the palette without losing the point by Mark Kemp

Photos by: Reuben Bloom

ents. CAT’S CRADLE, 1984 OR 1985. It could have been The Replacem I It could have been the dB’s. Maybe it was Lone Justice or Let’s Active. music don’t remember what great band played that night at the storied got club in Chapel Hill. What I remember is the gritty rock shock I when I walked out the door at two in the morning. Sitting on the curb, in the muted orange glow of a streetlig ht, was up a scrawny teenager with a greasy black pompadour and scuffeder was leather jacket. Head tilted back and eyes ablaze, Dexter Romweb howling at the moon. I had never seen anything like it, and neither had any of the others ly on a who huddled around this kid as he bashed out distorted rockabil tangled; and twisted all was sound The vintage Sears Silvertone guitar. chicken it was like he was singing over the noise of a Chatham County

farm. “I’m He was deconstr ucting classic 50s rock songs: “Think It Over,” m revivalis ly rockabil the wasn’t it But #9.” Block Cell in “Riot Sorry,” music’s This . Cramps the of goth illy of the Stray Cats, or the psychob & roots ran much deeper—it was raw, twangy, window-rattling rock in Records Sun outside it did probably Cash Johnny roll played the way 1955. Romweber, now forty-th ree, laughs at the memory. “I guess I did ing,” walk around town with my guitar and do a bit of street perform the he says. “I just had such an urge to sing. I wasn’t really aware of ” making. impression I was on More than two decades later, the impression Romweber has made An Hill. Chapel of streets the beyond far extends music ound undergr

14 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

l, entire generation of lo-fi indie rockers— Cat Power’s Chan Marshal er a Romweb Calling praises. his sings Stripes— White Jack White of the as a “huge influence,” White has confessed, “I owned all of his records teenager.”

ROAD TO RUINS

It’s likely the White Stripes guitarist has already picked up a copy of Duo, Romweber’s latest disc, Ruins of Berlin. Billed as the Dex Romweber Snatches and Active Let’s of formerly Sara, sister his features the album and of Pink, on drums, along with guest vocalists Marshall, Neko Case Exene Cervenka. The album is more subdued than the frenzied garagefor a rock Romweber created with his 90s band Flat Duo Jets. He was ready change. “I just didn’t want to make another twelve-bar rockabilly record,” he says. “I’ve already made a lot of those.” For Ruins, the Romwebers cast their net wider, expanding their palette with exotic jazz, pop and soundtrack music of the 40s, 50s and 60s, but with scrupulous restraint. They don’t gussy up the arrangements with unnecessary instrumentation. It’s all propped up by a basic rock organ foundation—a guitar and drums—with a little cello here, piano or we there, a saxophone part, and the occasional marimba or bongo. “When rde started this, me and Sara decided that we wanted to get a little avant-ga the on back my turned I’ve that not “It’s says. er on this record,” Romweb rockers, we just wanted to do something that wasn’t what people expected from me.” The duo brings a ragged crooner’s touch to songs like the Kurt Weil-ish sing in title track, penned by Friedrich Hollaender for Marlene Dietrich to


the 1948 film A Foreign Affair. The siblings pull out a few other 40s standards, too, including the Latin-tinged exotica of “Lover’s Gold” and minor-key Stan Kenton jazz nugget “Lonesome Train,” which Dex and Cervenka transform into a spooky folk song. He and Marshall duet on the slow-burning “Love Letters,” a pop-jazz standard made famous in the 60s by Ketty Lester and revived in the 1986 David Lynch film Blue Velvet. The original songs have a similarly nostalgic soundtrack feel. “Cigarette Party,” a spare, rockabilly-jazz instrumental, would fit perfectly into a James Bond chase scene, while the ersatz Eastern European om-pah sound of “Polish Work Song” could play over the closing credits of a Woody Allen film. A pair of songs about lost love—“Camillia’s Gone” and “Oh, Lover’s Gone”—have a dark, dramatic, Nick Cave-like vibe. Romweber isn’t reticent about acknowledging his influences. “I’ve been a big fan of Nick Cave for twenty years,” he says. “I wasn’t so much consciously trying to copy him, but of all the artists I listen to who are still producing music today, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen are probably the two I like best.”

MAN OUT OF TIME

John Michael Dexter Romweber was born in Indiana in 1966. His family moved to Florida for several years before relocating to Chapel Hill in 1977. That was the year punk started making an impact in college towns across the U.S. In the Triangle, a handful of fledgling new wave acts began battling with folkies and Southern rockers for supremacy in local clubs such as the Station and Cat’s Cradle. Like CBGB in New York, the Cradle initially booked bluegrass and folk— the Red Clay Ramblers, Mike Cross, Arrogance—but by the early 80s was attracting local and regional post-punk bands like the dB’s, X-Teens, Let’s Active and R.E.M. The Romweber siblings loved music. Dex was fourteen when he and Sara formed Crash Landing and the Kamikazes. By 1981, Sara had teamed up with Mitch Easter in Let’s Active, their brother Joe had formed Eraserhead (which evolved into the Smiths-inspired UV Prom) and sister Monica was a big-time fangirl. But young Dex had an older soul: he’d converted a little shack in the back yard into a rock & roll hideout he called The Mausoleum. Inside was a junk pile of memorabilia—vintage rock singles, old pictures of Elvis, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. “Ah, the Moz,” Romweber remembers with a sigh. “That place ended up burning down one night. We were partying and things just got out of control. My friend almost died in it, and a large portion of my record collection burned.” In 1985, before the fire destroyed everything, a crew from the MTV documentary series “Cutting Edge” had visited Romweber at the Moz for a segment on quirky southerners. The following year, he and drummer Chris “Crow” Smith put out an EP of rockabilly covers as the Flat Duo Jets, then promptly moved from Chapel Hill to Athens, Georgia. While there, the Duo Jets wound up stealing R.E.M.’s thunder in the 1986 feature-length documentary Athens, GA: Inside Out, churning out a stomping, blazing “Crazy Hazy Kisses.” Romweber was all over the film, performing solo near the beginning, dueting with eccentric folk artist Howard Finster on “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and goofing around with Crow in several interview segments. The gossip among the Carolina indie-rock scene was that Romweber and Crow had moved to Athens just to be in the film. “Oh, that’s not it at all,” he says, laughing. “We had been gigging around Greensboro, Chapel Hill and the whole Triangle area a lot, and we got some shows in Athens. When we went down there, the town was just hopping with music, and we got a great response. So we moved. It just so happened that while we were there, they were filming that movie, so we got in it even though we weren’t from Athens.”

THE SHUN SESSIONS R.E.M.’s growing popularity offered big exposure to the regional acts that appeared in the documentary. By the late 80s, a slew of independent bands

from scenes across the country—R.E.M., the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, the Pixies—began signing to major labels. In 1990 the Duo Jets released their self-titled long-player. The following year Nirvana combined all this abrasive new post-punk mayhem into the chart-topping Nevermind. Bands like the Flat Duo Jets became beneficiaries of their success. Go Go Harlem Baby, the Duo Jets’ 1992 followup, was produced by Memphis legend Jim Dickinson, who had helmed the Replacements’ second major-label album, Pleased to Meet Me. Romweber and Crow were caught up in the alt-rock swirl. “It was pretty bizarre,” Romweber says. “The early 90s was a hell-bent time.” The two continued putting out solid, if not button-pushing sets of stripped-to-thebasics rock—White Trees (1993), Introducing Flat Duo Jets (1995), Red Tango (1996)—on indie labels like Norton and Sky. Meanwhile, the likeminded Carolina band Southern Culture on the Skids made a modest impact with their 1996 major-label debut Dirt Track Date. By 1998, the Flat Duo Jets had inked a deal with the major label Outpost, and tapped R.E.M./Nirvana producer Scott Litt to twiddle the knobs for Lucky Eye. It was a mystifying album—a set of slickly produced music that whiplashed from the pedal-steel-fueled “String Along” to the stringsdrenched “Go This Way” and horns-heavy “Hustle ’N’ Bustle.” It had little of the spark of that hazy, late-night street performance so many years ago in Chapel Hill. “You end up doing things you’re totally unconscious of,” Romweber says of his brief brush with the mainstream music business. “I wish I’d had more self-knowledge at the time.” In the end, Romweber’s songs simply did not fit into the cogs of the music industry, even by 90s alternative standards. No matter how much dressing they put over it, the music wasn’t “accessible,” as defined by major-label standards. “You know, I have my own taste in music,” Romweber says, “and a lot of the bands of that era didn’t make the type of music I listened to when I went home anyway.”

BACK TO MONO

The Duo Jets went their separate ways after the Outpost debacle, and Romweber began working on a solo album that turned out to be his best to date. Chased By Martians, released in 2001, delivered on everything Romweber’s earliest performances promised. It was raw, crazed, energetic and spooky, and it included some of his strongest original material (“The Curse of the Little Bastard,” “Witchdoctor,” “Walkin’ With Scary Hillbilly Monsters) and cover choices (a bluegrass take on the Who’s “The Seeker,” a sweet solo acoustic version of Charlie Rich’s “Feel Like Going Home”). He repeated the album’s success on his 2004 followup, Blues That Defy My Soul. But by then, the mainstream music industry had moved on to a new bunch of garage rockers—acts the Flat Duo Jets had influenced. What makes the Duo Jets an inspiration to artists like Jack White is Romweber’s fanatical enthusiasm, his appreciation of historical context and the purity of his sound. “His attitude towards music is remarkable,” White has said. “And his songwriting—along with his love of classic American music from the South, be it rockabilly, country or R&B—is one of the bestkept secrets of the rock & roll underground.” Romweber is touched by the acknowledgement. “Jack has always been really giving about mentioning me and the Duo Jets, and I’m flattered that he listened to those records and that it made an impression.” But, he quickly adds, “There are so many artists that influenced me that not too many people know about. Like this fellow out of Tampa, Florida— Benny Joy. I can’t even begin to measure how much he influenced me. His music was just really raw, really interesting and very innovative. He recorded in the 50s but he never became a huge star.” Sounds kind of like Dex Romweber. “You never know what’s making an impression when you’re doing what you do,” he says. “When I was recording with the Duo Jets, I wondered if this stuff even mattered. Now, years later, I’ve found out that it did matter, so that makes me think maybe it wasn’t all in vain.” 15 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


Photo by: Wesley Kirk

by John Schacht

Seth Kauffman and rewrite the songbook by reshuffling the basics. WHEN YOU HEAR SETH KAUFFMAN’S MUSIC for the first time, it’s like someone has just hit the “erase” button on the last 40 years of popular song. Not “rewind”—plenty can pull off that parlor trick—but a fourdecade sonic mulligan: No more post-this or alt-that movements, no more American Idol or Auto-Tune conformity, no more flannel death-cults or skinny-jeans scenes. Instead, the Rolling Stones are young, relevant and blues-obsessed again, and Sam Cooke and Otis Redding still burn brightly. The Funk Brothers keep turning out the Motown hits, Cash and Haggard ride high in the saddle, the early Wailers still wail, and tropicalia is too new to influence anyone outside Brazil. And in Black Mountain, N.C., the trenddefying Kauffman is mashing it all together into an exotic and soulful mix he calls “lo-fi North Carolina funk.” Inspired in part by mission trips to music-cradles like Jamaica and Angola, the 32-year-old Kauffman sees hipster chic and factory fare for 16 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

what they are—corrupting diversions from the creative spark. None of that nonsense has any place in Floating Action, his homespun hooks-andmelodies machine where raw sounds and first takes reign, though never at the expense of groove or fun. Yet it’s simplistic to call him a revivalist or retro. Too much new is going on here. Yes, Kauffman may favor the same-style Gibson Firebird played by Howlin’ Wolf and Brian Jones, and he did name his band after a Gretsch kick-drum pedal so old other drummers sneer at it. But that doesn’t explain why his songs sound like they just rolled off the tape today—albeit slightly torn and frayed—at Studio One, Hitsville USA, or Villa Nellcôte. Whatever the answer is, just asking the question adds to the Floating Action mystique. This spring, Kauffman will tour with Asheville gunslingers Michael Libramento (bass), Evan Martin (drums), and Joshua Carpenter (guitar) to support a new full-length of his improbable


concoctions, an eponymous title out April 21 via Philly/New Orleansbased indie label Park the Van Records. Floating Action represents just the latest uptick for Kauffman and his bandmates, having recently shared stages with Band of Horses and the Whigs, and concluded a string of sold-out dates—including 1,500 at Webster Hall in New York City—with labelmates Dr. Dog. That growing profile may seem sudden for a guy who wrote his first song just five years ago at age 27, but it’s actually been a long time coming. And it’s been anything but your typical rock & roll journey. ON A NEAR-ARCTIC, late-february night in Asheville’s River Arts District, Kauffman and his band are test-driving new material and reprising his solo songs for an overflow house at the Wedge Gallery. Floating Action is the meat in a three-band bill at the 3rd annual Bike Love benefit, where $15 gets you in and all the beer you can ingest, courtesy of a local brewery. In honor of the event’s theme, bicycles wreathed in Christmas lights hang from the walls and the rafters. Closer inspection reveals the vintage two-wheelers’ irregular shapes: a bicycle built for two has a third frame welded atop the main one, and the top seat stands nearly 10 feet tall; another has chopper forks made from many other forks that arc out several extra feet to the wheel, and so on. These funky hybrids aren’t all that different from Kauffman’s songs. His bluesy rockers, soulful rave-ups, and exotic-flavored ballads about love and yearning are mash-ups of styles and elements that probably shouldn’t work together: airy bossa nova and fat-bottomed funk; calypso rhythms and twangy lap steel; turntable scratches and African prayer chants. Yet beneath the bikes and Christmas lights, Floating Action is tearing through a 90-minute, 22-song set with enough fire that a detachment of women have carved an impromptu dance-floor into the gallery crowd. Musical opposites, it seems, also attract. “I always try to give something the wrong style-approach,” Kauffman explains. “If something’s a bit country, give it some bossa nova feel, or add gospel to a pop song. But it’s almost more about the beauty of the amount of counter you give something, finding that elusive pocket where something seems like it shouldn’t fit, but with the right amount of sympathy, the right amount of tension from the notes not played, it somehow works. It’s always a quest—and mystery.   “When I was in Africa, the tribe and I would beat millet with huge sticks, pounding the ground, to get the grain off.  It was the  most primal thing, there was a slow beat and rhythm to it, nastier than the nastiest hip-hop beat could ever hope to be. You could hear it for miles. That was a defining moment for me—it made me want to try to incorporate that into every song. That core honesty and the plight of human nature, that’s probably the reason people make songs anyway, or should.” Kauffman puts that primal groove front and center in his music, to the delight of his bandmates. Throughout this loose-limbed set at the Wedge, these veterans of Asheville acts like Wayne Robbins and the Hellsayers, Tyler Ramsey, Mind Vs. Target, and Menage look like kids with a secret so awesome they can’t keep it from their grinning faces. (You can hear the live fun from another show via free download—Live at the Grey Eagle—at ParktheVan.com.) “People at a rock show don’t want to see a band get up there and just go through the motions,” says Carpenter, 28, the band’s newest addition who concedes he’s still learning songs on the fly.  “They want to see you get up there and have fun.” The 26-year-old Martin loves the freedom the music’s simplicity affords: “I’m used to playing from my gut, and fortunately that has landed me behind the drums in Floating Action.” At 22, Libramento is the youngest band member, but speaks eloquently of the empathy he hears in Kauffman’s “perfect chord voicings, arrangements, instrumentation, lyrics, and phrasing.” He says hype, hipness, and “all the other crutches” musicians too often rely on disappear when playing Floating Action songs. “That’s why we say it’s so easy to perform Seth’s music—not because it’s technically simple, or because we’re talented, but because we get it.”

Ting (2005) THEY’RE NOT ALONE. Kauffman made a fan of Triangle country rocker Thad Cockrell when he played in his touring band earlier this decade, and the latter passed a copy of Kauffman’s infectious second solo release, 2007’s Research, to Kauai/Nashvillebased songwriter Courtney Jaye. “What I loved about it was that I really didn’t know when it was recorded,” says Jaye, who wound up co-writing with Kauffman and using one of his originals—“Sunlight”—on her forthcoming record, The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye. “It could have been recorded yesterday or 50 years ago… it was brilliant, raw and spiritual.” Park the Van label boss Chris Watson shared a similar lightning-strike reaction. Research arrived unbidden and free of the usual press clippings, publicist hyperbole, or self-aggrandizing bios. But once in the player, it did not want to come out. “I just didn’t believe that something like this was coming into my mailbox without any forewarning,” the 30-year-old Watson says. “It might be a little bit of a nod to some fantastic things that have happened in the past, but Seth’s records are just incredibly refreshing. There’s nothing like them out there right now.” That could be because of the rigorous gauntlet the music runs in Kauffman’s head. Responding to a question in Shuffle’s “Songwriter’s Roundtable” (Issue #3), he says songs must unanimously pass an “invisible panel of judges that includes Thelonius Monk, Keith Richards, Fred McDowell, Eddie Willis, and Bob Dylan.” And while you might not quickly pin the tail on Monk (answer: a fondness for first-takes) or Dylan (answer: narrative complexity) in his songs, there’s a music-first integrity running through that illustrious group that speaks directly to Kauffman’s soul. But all the touchstone-dropping doesn’t explain how he synthesizes it all into what one trenchant reviewer called “tomorrow’s curios today.” That’s where Kauffman’s semi-cloistered background—partly prescribed, partly selfimposed—inexorably leads.

It might be a little bit of a nod to some fantastic things that have happened in the past, but Seth’s records are just incredibly refreshing. There’s nothing like them out there right now.”

WITH A THINNING PATE OF HAIR and fulsome beard, Kauffman resembles another music iconoclast, Will Oldham. He fits the definition of a character well enough—the story of a hummingbird stopping in mid-air to drink from a stream of his urine is heading toward legend— but there’s little of the show-off or extrovert in his demeanor. His drummer Martin fondly calls him “one of the most genuine and absurd motherfuckers” he’s ever met, but also “extremely giving and polite, with a very sharp sense of humor.” He’s also shy, though less so now than when he learned to play drums in part because he could hide behind them. For this interview, Kauffman chooses a secluded lake in the hills behind his home where he often runs the trails or mountain bikes. He’s dressed in simple blue work pants, scuffed-up yellow tennies, and a threadbare hoodie that won’t do much good when the winter sun goes down; it’s an indie rock wardrobe, but without the ironic statement. He speaks with few emotive peaks and valleys, which makes his revelations more startling when they slip by almost unnoticed. He’s lived in the Black Mountain area on and off for several years, but grew up in a ranch-style home his parents still occupy in one of those semi-rural, subdivision outposts beyond Greensboro’s city limits. His dad, a retired electrical engineer, is an inveterate tinkerer with a DIY streak; not only did he design his home’s second story addition, he built it himself. Kauffman’s mom played piano and insisted her three kids take classical music lessons. Rock music was actually banned from the household. He got started early on violin at age four, and with his two older sisters formed an impromptu string trio. He joined the high school 17 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


Mississippi Fred McDowell, was on the label.) Bromberg, however, could not convince his partner to release it. Still, things were getting more serious for Cates and Kauffman. So they renamed the band the Choosy Beggars and brought in percussionist Aaron Sizemore and bassist Jonathan Poole, who’d played with members of the Kimbrough clan in Mississippi. The Beggars’ eponymous debut came out in 2002, and picked up some positive reviews. Encouraged, and more stage-ready after stints backing Asheville’s Abe Reid & the Spikedrivers and Thad Cockrell, the Choosy Beggars booked some regional gigs and began collecting followers. But Kauffman’s confessed naiveté, combined with what he calls Cates’ ambivalence about being a musician, doomed a future more promising than Kauffman even suspected. “I don’t know if you know people who sabotage themselves,” Kauffman says, “but that’s what (Cates) was doing. I knew he was like that, but until I was at least 25 it was just me and him making all these great songs. We recorded a lot, but we just didn’t understand the whole ‘have a band, get gigs, play a lot’ thing, that whole world. But I think a lot of it was him not wanting to do it, mixed with my ignorance. I’d say, ‘Maybe we should get a gig?’ and he’d be, ‘No.’” He now sees it as a co-dependent relationship, and it came to a head when he confronted Cates in the parking lot of The Cave in Chapel Hill after a gig. He’d just learned through a third party that Cates had blown off a potential breakthrough by ignoring calls from Audley Freed of the Black Crowes, who’d wanted to produce the next Choosy Beggars record. “He said, ‘Oh, they wanted my address, I’m not giving them my address,’” a still-incredulous Kauffman remembers. “There was no logic to it. That’s when I realized, ‘This guy just really doesn’t want to play music.’ I’ll never forget that moment. I wasn’t super angry at him—I was shocked. We didn’t fight or anything, but my whole musical life was pretty much based around him. I couldn’t sleep at night. It destroyed me.” The memory of what he calls “my dark period” briefly reetches his brow. As if on cue, the sun dips behind the trees, and any remaining warmth seeps quickly away into the shadows. “Maybe we should head back,” he says.

orchestra at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, where he carpooled 30 minutes each school day and Sundays as well. But by that time he chafed at the vigorous regimen. He finally quit in his senior year, when he was just as busy “de-learning” how to read music as he was playing along by ear with Sam Cooke and early Rolling Stones records. It was, he laughs, “the peak time when you hate everything anyways.” He’d begun playing guitar at 15, too, and soon after enrolling in Montreat, a Christian college in Black Mountain, added mandolin and dulcimer to his burgeoning multi-instrumental skills. After sitting in for a while on violin with a Dave Matthews-wannabe act, Kauffman turned his back on the granola rock scene and teamed up with childhood chum and fellow musician/cynic Bryan Cates. “You know those blues Nazis—whatever obscure blues you’ve found still isn’t the real thing, or as obscure as what they’ve found?” he asks. “That’s what we were like. I hated everything that was on the radio at the time, I only listened to Robert Johnson and old Rolling Stones—that was almost it.” Cates was a willing co-conspirator—some might say a mentor and others a Svengali figure. (Editor’s note: Cates did not return multiple e-mail requests for an interview.) In 1996, the two began putting the “blues Nazi” aesthetic to four-track tape. They named themselves the Brothers In the Kitchen, pinching the moniker from the backup groups of North Carolina bluesman Guitar Gabriel. They made three records built on dirty blues-rock riffs and Cates’ confident, Jagger-swagger vocals. The records were primarily labelbait, and one of them—Bring It Back Alive, a rough-hewn mix of gospel originals and covers recorded in the basement stairwell of a Baptist church—caught the ear of High Tone Records’ co-founder Bruce Bromberg. (They sent it to High Tone because one of their heroes, 18 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

THE WOODEN HOUSE where kauffman now lives was built in 1911 and seems entirely fitting: a vintage cottage on the outside, surprising add-ons, nooks and crannies inside. In the living room a phonograph spins In the Brazilian Bag by the Sergio Mendes Trio, and the Stones Goats Head Soup sits atop a pile of CDs—two more signposts to Kauffman’s musical aesthetic. His wife of five years, Rachel, is baking cookies for a bridal shower in the kitchen, and the couple’s dog and cat—Otis and Moscow, respectively— curl up together on the dog’s cushion in the late afternoon sunlight. From the sitting room window in this quiet neighborhood where many of the seasonal homes stand vacant, you can see through the bare trees past Asheville all the way to Mount Pisgah. The home’s interior is tastefully decorated and tilts austere—except for the studio, which is a Craig’s List/eBay jumble of guitars, cases, keyboards, electrical wires, effects pedals, drums, a sitar, a violin, and the computer where all that firepower winds up. Kauffman practically waves off the story of how he acquired the sitar so he can instead talk about his Full Tone Tube Tape Echoplex. “I try to run everything Research (2007) through it, and I’ve got an old tube reverb unit and a tube compressor I use, too,” he enthuses. “I’ll use the computer but try to run it through all kinds of analog delay pedals and really crappy mics, so by the time it gets there it’s like you used a tape.” That recording process, minus some of those key components, characterizes his six-song debut EP, Powder, and first full-length, Ting. The latter is named after a popular


soda in Jamaica, and those mission trips to the ghettos of Kingston (’97) and the bush in Angola’s high desert (’99) provided the rhythmic and spiritual inspiration for the mile-wide grooves in tropicalia, dub, bluesrock and Funk Brothers styles. But they also sound like they came off early Smithsonian acetates. Kauffman played everything, from drums to multi-track string sections, and recorded it without knowing what he was doing—just what he wanted. “You just have this vision of how you want it to sound, and then you just do crazy stuff,” he laughs, citing his predilection for putting microphones as far from their instruments as possible. “It doesn’t always get you there, but it’s like, ‘oh, that could go somewhere else.’” High Tone’s Bromberg was impressed enough to release Powder and Ting in 2005. “His stuff was kind of wacky in a soulful way, but I thought, ‘Here’s a kid who’s going his own way in music relative to his age group,’” the 62-year-old Bromberg says. “I liked his sensibility. It was old-fashioned, but modern in a real way.” The releases provided validation and a lifeline back into music after the Choosy Beggars fiasco. Perhaps anticipating that band’s demise, Kauffman had begun songwriting on his own toward the end of his run with Cates. Now the first songs he’d ever written were being put out by a well-respected independent label, and blowing some people’s minds. Martin remembers first hearing the huge Bobby Womack-styled hook from Ting’s opener, “Get Your Love Stole,” and calling Kauffman back while the CD was still playing and “laughing at how awesome” each subsequent track was. He agreed on the spot to play drums in the live band. For Research, Kauffman added the Echoplex and later found out it was a staple component of Motown recordings. Even with the upgrade and a few guest spot-backup vocals, his goal was still to remove the sheen and precision from the computer’s digital tracks. But Research showcased more sonic nuance and confident songwriting, and though initially it didn’t find a label, Watson and Park the Van reissued it in October 2007. It paid early dividends, too, when Jaye heard it and soon after collaborated with Kauffman in his studio. She says she was struck by how organic the process was—even if some of the gear was “one step away from falling apart.” “We made a microphone popper-stopper out of a hanger and a pair of his wife’s pantyhose,” Jaye laughs. “Seth’s most endearing quality as a producer is his unabashed boldness. Yet with him, it comes from this really honest, natural, and soft place. He’s not trying to be bold and different for the sake of being bold and different. It just comes from within him, without a second thought.” Jaye then took Kauffman to hear her record get professionally mixed. That got him over one of his remaining “blues Nazi” suspicions: That professional studio follow-up would destroy the music’s emotional

Floating Action (2009) integrity. “Before, I would smash or distort everything to cover it up,” Kauffman says. “Now I don’t have to crank everything until it sounds like it came from the 1920s. It can still sound distorted, but have a real tone, too.” He had to get used to the idea anyway, because Watson sent Floating Action to Bill Moriarity (Man Man, Dr. Dog) for mixing, and then to Eddie Ashworth (Supersuckers, Blackalicious) for mastering. Watson characterizes Moriarity’s role as “a little bit of refining and restructuring.” Other than that, he says, it’s the “same homespun, Seth Kauffman odyssey that we heard in Research.” Floating Action certainly bears the essential characteristics: tasty grooves in a rich Motown-meets-Trenchtown sonic sauce. That’s because, excepting a Libramento bass line and back-up vocals from singers Camelia Campbell, Shaneika Henry, Direna Cousins and Rackell Smith, Floating Action is, once again, all Kauffman, all the time. AFTER THEIR WEDGE GALLERY SET and a post-gig brew, Kauffman waits in the relative warmth of the van while Libramento sits in on keyboards with Pierce Edens & the Dirty Work. A school bus with half its carriage turned into a flat-bed is parked in front of the gallery, and a propane torch operator periodically shoots dragon flames into the frigid night. Well-sauced revelers stumble past, and the music from inside drifts toward the French Broad River and echoes under the Haywood Road bridge. Kauffman hesitates longer than normal when asked whether his band will be invited to take a bigger role in future recordings. You suspect his delay is because altering his recording M.O.—in all its first-take, flubbednotes, faraway-mics grandeur—might be like changing his core belief system. “There are a few new ones that I recorded, not with the intention of being keepers, just demos,” he says. “But that’s also a part of my approach—that first take usually has that magic that you can never recapture quite as well later. They’re the greatest players, but there’s just something about when I do it all myself that just has this certain vibe.” Call it the Seth Kauffman Vibe in the studio. Live, call it Floating Action. Either way, call it brand new old-fashioned fun.

19


Giant changes for North Carolina’s Post-Rock Monolith BraveYoung by Patrick Wall A FRIEND OF MINE ONCE MADE THE ASTUTE OBSERVATION that, like dogs that resemble their owners, there are some bands that just sound like their names. (See: Devo, The Clash, Megadeth, Rancid.) Greensboro, N.C.-based post-metal outfit Brave Young was, until recently, one of those outfits; the group went by Giant until January, and had built a reputation on its eponym. Like doom-metal monoliths Isis or Neurosis, Giant married massive metal riffs and throat-shredding vocals with longer, calmer instrumental passages. 20 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

The quintet—guitarists Isaac Jones, Ben Saperstein and Derrick Wells, bassist Kyle Whisenant and drummer Zachary Jones—adopted the new moniker to “avoid being sued,” according to Isaac Jones, by 80s pop-metal act Giant. “It was not a big deal to us,” he adds of the name switch. “We hated the fact that people were like, ‘Oh, it’s Giant! I get it!’ ” “We like Brave Young better anyway,” he adds. The name change capped a trying 2008 for the Greensboro quintet,


which started with the band recording and then scrapping a full-length album at The Jam Room in Columbia, S.C., an experience Saperstein describes as a “disaster.” “Most of the stuff we recorded just didn’t sound like us,” Isaac Jones adds. “And rather than following what would have been smart economically or for the market or for our label (New York-based The End Records)—which definitely wasn’t happy with the fact that we couldn’t release anything—we decided that we have to release something that we’re proud of.” But those trying times resulted in something the band is quite proud of. Bloom, Brave Young’s stellar new 10-inch, takes a fresh approach to their monolithic metalgaze sound, making 2009 a tabula rasa for the band with a shift in musical direction accompanying its name change. Where the group’s early material—including Song, its 2006 debut, and a 2007 split with Rhode Island’s likeminded Tides—gravitated toward the traditional mores of post-metal, Bloom finds Brave Young widening its sonic palette, dropping the tempo and going orchestral on the listener’s ass. Case in point: “The Days That Sat In Front of Everything,” Bloom’s mammoth B-side, which ebbs and flows like a minimalist masterpiece before exploding into an epic eight-and-a-half minute crescendo. Though it’s a radical departure for Brave Young, Jones insists that Bloom is business as usual despite the expanded sound. “Everything that we were trying to express in Song and the Tides split are still there, but they’re expressed in a different way,” Jones says. “In a lot of ways, I think the new stuff is heavier than anything we’ve done.” And Jones is right—though Brave Young has dialed back the gain, Bloom possesses richness and density not found on its predecessors. Jones, though, isn’t too worried about losing the fans nonplussed with Brave Young’s new sound. “We’ll only lose people that liked us on a surface level,” he says of certain listeners’ disappointment with Brave Young’s towering new compositions. “Anyone that grabbed anything from our music to begin with will like the new stuff just as much. Because we do.” Saperstein credits part of the shift to the addition of new instrumentation. While the band’s three-guitar arsenal remains the core, it’s been fleshed out with orchestral flourishes: Bloom features distant howls of noise, string arrangements, timpani, bowed bass and other tools of the classical music trade. But where ornate instrumentation in other bands might burden the music with overambitious posturing, it seems natural in Brave Young’s mini-symphonies. “It’s really obvious when a band wants to do something and they’re forcing it,” Jones says. “What a lot of people don’t realize about Song and the split with Tides is that that stuff was written over two-and-a-half years ago. So we were just having to tour behind this stuff we were continually growing past.” While it was out-growing its old material, Brave Young also experienced growing pains. After scrapping its Jam Room sessions, the group retreated home, recording Bloom in a Greensboro church with engineer Drew Fulk, who has also documented N.C. hardcore bands such as Brave Young’s recent tour mates, Advent. “It was a big, good open space, and that’s what we needed to get a good sound,” Jones says. “We didn’t want to use a bunch of digital options; we wanted a lot of space and big sounds. I’m really happy the way it turned out. I think it sounds really live, and I think it sounds really representative.” If Bloom sounds representative of Brave Young’s current sound, it’s mainly because it was recorded live, a methodology Jones says best captures the immediacy of his band’s music. “We’re big on performance when we record.” Brave Young’s use of spatial effects and emphasis on dynamics is another hallmark of many post-rock/post-metal bands, and there are familiar sonic reference points for fans of bands like Tides and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But many of Brave Young’s musical influences come from outside of the rock realm, and Jones and

Saperstein cite minimalist and post-modern composers Philip Glass, Arvo Part and Henryk Górecki. Indeed, the influence of European postmodernism is as pervasive as that of American post-rock, resulting in a sound as reliant on subtlety and nuance as it is sternum-crushing dynamics. “Trying to put those kind of influences into your music for most bands—and even for us at times—it doesn’t work,” Jones says. “But all of our favorite music veers away from that standard band format. And that’s the difference between Song and Bloom—where the former expanded on the tropes of pop-song formats, Bloom shines because it successfully cross-breeds massive instrumental metal with contemporary classical composition. Bloom’s movements and patterns fold and expand gloriously, much like Glass’ Metamorphosis or Part’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. As a result, no note seems out of place, no tone haphazard. “There isn’t a separation of person and music,” Saperstein says. “It’s all-encompassing. It all feels like an extension of Eastern European thought. We all somehow have independently arrived at Russian authors and Russian literature and Eastern European composers; there’s this feeling of starkness that lends itself.” Composers like Part and Górecki aren’t the only Eastern Bloc thinkers who have inspired the band. On its MySpace site, for instance, Brave Young lists as an influence Peter Alexeevich Krapotkin, one of Soviet Russia’s foremost advocates of anarchist communism. In one of its blog entries, the band puts forth a host of authors whose ideas are represented in its music, ranging from Noam Chomsky and Friedrich Nietzsche to radical feminist Valerie Solanas and socialist union leader/presidential candidate Eugene Debs. Clearly, politics matter to Brave Young; Saperstein says that the band’s politics encompass “literally everything” it does. Both Jones and Saperstein are quick to mention, though, that Brave Young is less of a political band and much more a band comprised of incredibly political people. “[We’re] definitely the latter,” Jones says. “When we very first started … a lot of the lyrics and songs and stuff were very openly about labor politics and stuff. And that’s stuff we fill our everyday lives with, but music is something entirely different. We don’t want to seem one-dimensional because our music isn’t.” That said, their staunch anarchist-communist political stance often clashes with the business of being in a band. And as Brave Young has grown, it’s been forced to make compromises. Hitting the road, for instance, poses issues. “Touring itself is a huge compromise,” Saperstein says. “I’ve always thought that touring is an entirely selfish act because you’re using all these resources and contributing to the death of the world, essentially, with your van that’s leaking oil and [consuming] 34 gallons of gas per day. But you have to make the word flesh, so to speak, and I feel like [being a band] is a really incomplete thing without that element. So that’s one of the compromises we’re OK with.” “It’s fun as shit,” Saperstein adds with a laugh. “It’s like a vacation. I don’t have to worry about selling my mind or body or my labor just to get through another month. Because we’re not just getting through; we’re thriving and we’re enjoying ourselves and hopefully in some manner contributing. So if there’s a single person that takes something away from us being here, it’s a resounding success.” In fact 2009 holds a lot of miles in store for Brave Young. The quintet finsihed a month-long tour with Tides, and future sojourns will find the band in Europe and Japan. Much of the rest of the year, Jones says, will be dedicated to recording. The band plans to release the full-length follow-up to Song sometime in 2009, and perhaps a split of “some heavier stuff that we’ve written,” Jones says. Hopefully, he adds, the band will be able to recoup some of its lost momentum from 2008. “It was hard,” Jones admits, but “I think 2009 is going to be the year 2008 was supposed to be.”

“It was not a big deal to us. We hated the fact that people were like, ‘Oh, it’s Giant! I get it!’”

21 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


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MEMORY PLAYS TRICKS ON PEOPLE. A recent 60 Minutes feature delved into the science of memory as it pertains to eyewitness evidence in pre-DNA criminal trials. Turns out an eyewitness’ memory isn’t as reliable as we once imagined. Behind the gauze of memory, it would be tempting to call Superchunk’s Leaves In The Gutter a return to form. The band’s heyday seems so far gone, and this latest feels so youthful and energetic. Besides, it’s the first collection of new studio material since 2001’s Here’s To Shutting Up—discounting the 2007 single “Misfits And Mistakes,” which appears again on Leaves. But those temptations, as temptations are wont to do, would lead one astray. Leaves In The Gutter is not a return to form. It’s far too refined and textured to fully compare to the bristle and bite of ‘Chunk’s early pop firecrackers, and it’s far too punchy and revved-up to compare with Shutting Up (which is often much closer to Portastatic’s textured moseying). No, Leaves In The Gutter, is simply Superchunk, yearmodel 2009. And, if this is the direction we can anticipate Superchunk will continue to follow, then all the better. “Learn To Surf,” two versions of which bookend the EP, is one of the most immediate songs Superchunk’s written in years. “When I learned to walk/Humans roamed the earth/I can’t hold my breath anymore/I stopped swimming and learned to surf,” sings Mac McCaughan, effectively reminding that as the old adage advises, “times change, and so should we.” But if even McCaughan, Triangle indie rock’s standard bearer for decades is advocating evolution, then why the hell does Chapel Hill

still sound like 1993? A handful of notable Triangle bands have been making their name on the same (or, at the very least, similar) aesthetic that’s swirled around college towns for close to 20 years now. Not least among them, Embarrassing Fruits, a Chapel Hill by way of Greensboro trio who rarely appear in print without comparisons to Pavement, Archers of Loaf or Sebadoh. Frontman Joe Norkus’ lazy drawl does, after all, embody the slacker tag popularized in the heyday of his band’s most obvious influences. His voice, particularly the way it propelled his succinct images of adolescent nostalgia became the focal point of last year’s The First Time EP. But on the new nine-track full-length, Community/Exploitation, the focus is the general feeling of the band’s sonic template – which is marked by a familiar sort of guitar-led amble, meandering riffs and shrugged-off vibe. Small variations, like the gentle but prominent trombone on “Corner,” find the Fruits pushing a bit farther, but still landing securely in the same territory they’ve been inhabiting. Ultimately, though, it’s hardly worth complaining about as the songs carry a natural feeling, casual and endearing (even if not always particularly exhilarating) in their familiarity. But the formula isn’t foolproof. On their first outing as a bonafide N.C. band, the questionably titled Shower The People You Love with Gold, transplanted Alabamans Western Civ, enlisted Mitch Easter to manifest their Pavement by way of R.E.M. ambitions. And indeed, one hears echoes of Pavement’s wound-up guitars, R.E.M.’s chiming

ones and Archers of Loaf’s thrumming crunch, as well as the melodic ease of Easter’s own Let’s Active. But it all doesn’t quite add up. In sacrificing the raw churning of previous efforts, which made Rich Henderson’s vocals a lone beacon of clarity amid the clatter, Shower’s focus lies in a smoother, janglier Western Civ. Front porch laziness takes the place of garage rumble. And so the dueling old and new clash like two types of plaid. A clear, ringing guitar line smashes abruptly into a noisy chug, without shifting the mood of the song. The elements are there, but not quite gelled into something cohesive. That isn’t a problem on Hammer No More The Fingers’ debut full-length, Looking For Bruce, largely because the standard referents don’t fit the Durham trio. Hammer’s focus is on the interplay between guitarist Joe Hall and bassist Duncan Webster: Halls’ spindly riffs charged through Webster’s spring-loaded basslines. Hammer’s take on the sound takes on the fluid unpredictability of Flubber – which suits a band as likely to write an homage to an American Gladiator (“Nitro”) as it is a local homeless man (“Concrete”). With Webster singing about isolation by way of hallucinogens (“I seem to know myself better when/I am on your poison”) and unrequited love via oddbal compliments (“I thought that you were so weird/And I guess I still do”), it’s clear that Hammer has its goofball/stoner/savant thing on lock. What results winds through the same mindset of Polvo’s spidery guitars or Superchunk’s sugar-buzz enthusiasm, but ends up somewhere else, dipping toes into NOFX’s pop-punk pool. BRYAN REED 23 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


2013 WOLVES Sinners Get Ready AFTERBIRTH CASSEROLE

There might be no better example of today’s Southern underground than 2013 Wolves, the duo of Robert Childers and Milestone Club owner Neal MF Harper. Theirs is an unholy union and its spawn is a bastard blend of speed-blues, punk, metal and field-holler gospel. Somehow, though, it sounds natural and fluid, Harper’s frantic fretwork  pushing and pulling into and away from  Childers’ driving rattle. The two holler in tandem, “Oh, Sinner get ready/Time is a-comin’ when the sinner must die,” like the end is nigh, and they’re pegging the speedometer  to get there first. In the mean time, though, the predominantly instrumental album maintains interest with a deceptively full sound, riffs that cut to the quick and sound-collage detours evoking horror-movie atmospherics overlaid with moonshine-saturated gospel. Here, 2013 Wolves don’t just do more with less, they totally cover up the fact that there’s anything “less” about it. Sinners, get ready. Your soundtrack has arrived. BRYAN REED

AKRON/FAMILY

Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

off amp-fuzz as it ducks and dives into erratic verses, cutting jagged pathways beneath his ranting. Still, the record is oddly—even miraculously—catchy, an art-pop milestone ready for its cult following. BRYAN REED

spiked “Death By The Rope,” The Woyzeck-like “Pegasus,” and the (no other way to say it) hauntingly beautiful “Ghost,” possibly the best track on a record that boasts a lot of contenders for the crown. TIMOTHY C. DAVIS

NEKO CASE

JIM AVETT AND FAMILY

Middle Cyclone

Jim Avett And Family

ANTI-

RAMSEUR

Jim Avett is known more for raising sons Scott and Seth than any of the farming, welding, social working, college teaching or Navy serving he’s done over the last four decades. But this debut recording from Jim—a longtime singer and picker who absorbed many of the 10 tunes collected here while sitting in the pews of his father’s church—delivers more than a rural-family novelty or an Avett Bros.-completist trinket. With Seth, Scott, daughter Bonnie, Charlotte guitar teacher Nelson Mullis and the two Avett Brothers that don’t share the last name, this extended Family turns “Keep on the Sunny Side” into a singand-shout country rollick and eases the pre-Ben E. King “Stand By Me” into an acoustic mantra for loved ones to lift together. Like those of his boys, Jim’s voice isn’t perfect, but witness the unwavering honesty and comfort in his gentle, just-flat motion, and feel history tumble into a figure eight. GRAYSON CURRIN

No one will argue the bonafides of Ms. Case’s voice. It’s as subtle and supple (and strong, when need be) as anyone’s, no matter the genre. Her songwriting, too, is noteworthy. Not content to only write first-person confessionals or mega-versed story songs, she’s recently taken to inhabiting inanimate (or at least, not human) objects, and Middle Cyclone is no different. In “This Tornado Loves You,” she’s a twister zigzagging across the Midwest. She also becomes an animal on (appropriately enough) “I’m an Animal,” before reminding us that we share that same classification. It’s yet another gradation between black and white for Case as a songwriter. She’s abandoned for the most part the slick, straight-ahead country soul of the early aughts for something darker and denser, and the new suit fits her like a velvet-lined glove pulled taut, ready to lash at your larynx. This one’s a keeper. TIMOTHY C. DAVIS

DEAD OCEANS

The latest from these music-Magellans has a heady agenda: Using song topographically to chart universes personal and cosmic. Like yesteryear’s cartographers, what A/F documents is both real and fantastical: “Ge-o-me-try of self!” the Family chants as “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon” erupts in ego-eradicating psychedelia, just moments after “River” has engulfed us Tao-like in gentle Ali Farka Toure guitar and then snare-marched us out to sea with playful vocal interplay. A/F now functions as a trio rather than quartet, but the palette expands as the collective vision coheres and everything they discover here glistens like new worlds. Whether they reimagine American Beauty-Dead (“Set ‘Em Free”), marry free jazz and punk (“MBF”), go full-funk (“Everyone is Guilty”), or out-tribal Animal Collective (“They Will Appear”), they sing in awe at having mapped the musical contours of the heart, even as it explodes: “Atoms splinter sparkling/Alive in nimble symmetry/And all along this glistening/Blankets we and everything.” We, too, are discovered anew. JOHN SCHACHT

DEATH BECOMES EVEN THE MAIDEN

BRAVE YOUNG Bloom

Death Becomes Even The Maiden

THE END

VIE DEVANT SOI

Brave Young—formerly known as Giant—didn’t need a name change to reinvent itself. The two-song, two-side platter that functions as the newly christened band’s debut is reinvention enough. Here, the band sheds the post-metal trappings of its former self, taking on a spacious, dynamic sound that chimes and churns and heaves and builds. Not an ounce of heaviness is sacrificed in the transition, but the metal-band posturing is. No more guttural vocals and deliberate guitarchug left to interfere with what had already been moving in a more expansive direction. The nowinstrumental quintet has turned in an epic halfhour of music, embracing new textural elements (strings and timpani are prominent) and finding a new, more refreshing focus with these post-rock compositions. With Bloom, the band unifies its influences—brooding metal, minimalist classical and grandiose post-rock—for a momentous, dynamic, and ultimately beautiful recording. BRYAN REED

A remixed/remastered collection of DBETM’s (almost)complete discography provides a solution for the vinyl-reluctant, and boasts a new cut to make up for killing off two Arrangement EP tracks. That leaves a total of eight songs you should already have, united by DBETM’s singular collision of ideas and influences, which rather than forming a jarring mess of inconsistencies, gels predilections for noisy post-punk, math rock and abrasive pop into a strangely anthemic being. Check the churning, agitated melodies of “Identify” or the newbie, “Closing In.” Tangled guitar lines dive into overdriven choruses, like a slightly more brittle Fugazi or a more focused Milemarker. Then there’s The Pink EP’s “The Only Thing I Feel For You Is The Recoil,” a vitriolic masterpiece. As it scorches and seethes through blistering feedback and a redline charge, Eric Greenwood shrieks, “No time to waste! No time to waste! No time to waste!” Damn straight. BRYAN REED

AMERICANS IN FRANCE

BUSCHOVSKI

JOHN DOE & THE SADIES

ODESSA

SELF-RELEASED

YEP ROC

Pretzelvania

Piloting her paintbrush, Casey Cook is an active, addled creator. Lines take the shape of body parts, words and inanimate objects seemingly cast together through chaos. Muted colors splash. Pieces break and reform. Her creation is a universe in mid-Bang. It’s also a fitting parallel to Americans In France, the Carrboro trio in which Cook plays drums. On their debut, these Americans stomp and stammer and stagger and lunge through 13 punchy gems. Frontman Josh Lajoie recalls Black Francis’ trembling howl, but tends to cast off the quiet part of the Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud dynamic in favor of a more directional one. Cook’s rhythms form a whirlpool, wrapping the songs like noodles into her whim. Lajoie’s guitar shakes 24 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

Buschovski

The phrase “musician’s musician” is oft-overused (ever heard of a non-musician’s musician?) but the tag fits with Charlotte native Todd Busch. Despite Buschovski being the man’s de facto debut, the eclectic songwriter has made many “records” (I own about five) over the years, burning a few copies of each for friends or other interested parties. Recorded at Charlotte’s own Sioux Sioux Studio (say it fast), Buschovski indulges Busch’s longtime love affair with Brechtian, orchestral soundscapes (the band name refers to Busch’s Old European ancestral line). Dark, unsettling, and quietly transformative, the post-WWI carnival of cruelty and compassion Busch lays out here might well be subtitled “The Sun Also Sets.” There are tension-fraught tangos (“Nationality”), the gypsy-

Country Club

John Doe is no stranger to old school country—for one, he’s a founding member of X’s country-rock spin-off The Knitters. But these 11 covers and four originals would just be a curio if Doe hadn’t co-billed with Canada’s psych-twang heroes, The Sadies. The collab filters classic Countrypolitan and Bakersfield nuggets through Doe’s strained voice and the Sadies’ impeccable guitar lines—Dallas and Travis Good come from hearty country stock, and it shows in their twists on Clarence White 1/8-note runs and Duane Eddy baritone. With the Sadies’ lock-step rhythm section, they color Johnny, Merle, Willie, Porter, Tammy, etc., in subtle psychedelic-tinted shades. Eric Heywood’s lush pedal steel swells and harmonics add texture, and Doe benefits from duets with Kathleen


Edwards, Cindy Wasserman and Ma (Margaret) Good. You can’t hardly tell the originals—three Sadies-penned, one by Doe and X-partner Exene Cervenka—from the classics, which says more about this record than I can. JG MELLOR

FLOATING ACTION Floating Action PARK THE VAN

Adopting a full-band title for his third outing (but still doing 99 percent of it himself), Seth Kauffman—now Floating Action—reprises the shambolic mastery of 2007’s Research with 14 cuts that traipse through Stax soul, Jamaican ska, British psychedelia and lo-fi indie pop, Kauffman’s weary voice floating along all the while. This Asheville-born pop-mélange seems to exist in its own bizarre and lovely world where Motown harmonies are never far, and there’s always a thick bass groove to buoy the whole affair. Still, Kauffman is a heartbroken narrator, singing as though his audience is the back of the woman walking out the door. “Don’t stop loving me now,” he pleads, “Cuz I’m trying to forget my dreams of you.” Drums, bass, organ and the soft cushion of the backup singers provide soulful backing, but the spotlight remains on Kauffman’s heartbreak. Even so, for the listener, Kauffman’s downcast croon and worldly backing prove a wonderful diversion from our own pains. BRYAN REED

THE FRENCH & INDIAN WAR The Moroccan Experiences of… KINNIKINNIK

Recorded in one day just before frontman (and Shuffle contributor) Eric Deines (backed here by most of Black Congo NC) left Charlotte for the Midwest, The Moroccan Experiences of… is The French & Indian War’s debut, a 6-song, 30-minute EP that does indeed sound like the Moroccan experiences of…Dirty Projectors. The skeletal beats, the fluttering guitar lines, the jittery, emotional vocals—of course those things aren’t the exclusive domain of any one band. It’s just a little unfortunate that this reminds me so much of that. When you look at it the right way, it has simple yet intricately developed rhythms, interesting arrangements, and a singer who absolutely believes in himself. Song structures fade away instead of moving the directions you would expect, and the minimalism of the whole thing shows the strength of these songs, which are held up by so little yet still remain sturdy. The potential here is great, and in this case, that’s just as nice to hear. JESSE STEICHEN

GRAY YOUNG Firmament SELF-RELEASED

Concisely written, cleanly recorded and cleverly sequenced, the debut full-length from Raleigh band Gray Young foregoes the usual foibles of the instrumental post-rock meme with several interesting decisions: Though the trio depends largely on guitar, drums and bass, guitarist Chas McKeown sometimes laces these arching anthems with textural vocals, their impressionistic tendencies tending to strengthen the momentum rather than distract from it. In a genre often marred by monochrome and crescendo obsession, Gray Young understands the space between focus

and monotony. An organ drone adds richness to “Sway” and serves as the platform for its slow build. During appropriately named closer “Aurora,” though, pointillist guitar notes cascade against a slow carousel organ, moving through circles to avoid yet another booming finale. If post-rock meanders too much for you, investigate the three-song, 10-minute suite that stretches from the propulsive “Cavalcade for Sundown” before soaring through the beautiful piano aubade “First Perennial Fall” and steaming forward with “Across the Loft.” Not a masterpiece, but, we hope, a harbinger. GRAYSON CURRIN

HANDSOME FURS Face Control SUB POP

Could this be the first Handsome Furs review to not mention Wolf Parade? Nope. In addition to Dan Boeckner’s distinctive nasal phonation, the fuzzy drums, nebulous bleeps, bloops and hazy guitars reek of the aforementioned lupine procession. And thank god. Just as soon as the sheen of the latest WP album starts to dull, out comes an album from Boeckner or colleague Spencer Krug’s Sunset Rubdown to tide you over. According to the advance press, Face Control is the response to a society self-absorbed and overexposed; life in a 21st-Century digital miasma, where two lovers (in this case Boeckner and beat-mistress wife, Alexei Perry) ignore the tenets of society and do their own thing at their own frenetic pace. Certainly, Face Control is footstomping, hip-twitcher of an album regardless of incidental meanings. Perfect for those cold winter nights when hipper-than-thou visitors beg for diversion. BRIAN MCKINNEY

GRIZZLY BEAR Veckatimest WARP RECORDS

These Brooklyn art-rock dandies keep it effortlessly classy and perfectly unclassifiable on the band’s latest—and greatest—release. The obvious “pop hit” from the album, “Two Weeks,” comes in with an instantly loveable piano bounce and doo-wop “ohhs” before exploding into a spectral, chiming chorus. From the opening Deja Vu-like jazz strums of opener “Southern Point,” the band comforts you on the journey down their rabbit hole, which resembles a live Grizzly Bear experience more than previous efforts. It’s an album of payoffs and fleeting perfection. But the real star—in spite of the amazing songwriting skills of duo frontmen Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen (an obvious Paul Simon-ophile)—is the experimental production of Chris Taylor, who makes this album sound as if it were recorded in a cathedral on Venus. Despite orbiting millions of miles from Earth or the mainstream, there is still comfort in its cradle. ERIC DEINES

IMPOSSIBLE ARMS Ripped In No Time ODESSA RECORDS

Two historical routes feed N.C.’s indie rock legacy: one flows South to Athens and its tributaries, the other to the crowded Northeast corridor. The latter best serves this Carborro trio’s debut. The jagged Barre chords, pummel-percussion, bass fuzz and shout-aloud choruses of “No Way to Know,” “Yourself, Alone” and “Nowhere

At All” provide Ripped with mini-novas of madtrio energy where it’s easy to imagine bandmates pin-wheeling off each other even in the studio. The bitter-but-unbowed lyrics come through memorably on the gone-to-seed ode “Here On the Couch,” featuring a Feelies pace but played through the Minutemen’s gear. That high-octane fare contrasts with a few unfortunate tracks whose melodic intentions fall short, the weakest being “I Pray High,” which shuffles past leaving no mark despite the pretty string section, and “Ghost Town,” an acoustic cut that reaches for twangy aphorisms and misses by a country mile. These cuts carry critical weight mostly because they break an otherwise promising spell and debut. JOHN SCHACHT

JULIE DOIRON

I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day JAGJAGUWAR

One-time member of Eric’s Trip and recent Mount Eerie collaborator Julie Doiron has moved through rock’s circles with ease and grace for nearly two decades. On I Can Wonder…, she makes what is perhaps her most rock-oriented solo effort. Electric guitars quietly rage underneath her plain yet emotionally bare vocals, which tell sad tales of oncehappy hearts. When the guitars really poke their heads out, as on “Heavy Snows,” they sound as if they came out cocksure from angry mid-70s arenas, but here are whipped by Doiron’s feminine whims. “When Brakes Get Wet” and “Je Le Savais,” in particular, show that the Anacortes wing of K Records certainly owes a debt to Doiron (and her Eric’s Trip bandmates), with gauzy, yet brittle guitars expertly recorded over simply made, driving beats and a haze of harmonized vocals. It’s no wonder Phil Elverum wanted to work with Doiron so badly—he’s obviously been listening to her for years. A simple delight. JESSE STEICHEN

JUNIOR BOYS Begone Dull Care DOMINO

If synth-pop never really went away at the end of the 80s, then Junior Boys aren’t so much retro act as flag-bearer for a time-honored tradition. The sound on the band’s third full-length is more art than commerce, best suited for long drives through dark European cities than the American hit parade. The instrumentation—primarily keyboards and drum machines—is spare, the vocals breathy and alluring. The cryptically-named “Dull to Pause” is perhaps the most organic song on the record, with what sounds like guitar or banjo filtered through a Commodore 64 and the most up-front singing the duo seems capable of providing. “Hazel” comes on like Twiki the robot from the Buck Rogers TV series trying to make sense of an early Prince album, and “Sneak a Picture” has some Wham! coursing through it, making the transition from smooth to downright soulful as the album progresses. CRISPIN KOTT

THE KINGSBURY MANX Ascenseur Ouvert! ODESSA

Following stints on Yep Roc and Thrill Jockey-distributed Overcoat, this Chapel Hill quartet serves up its first record in four years courtesy of keyboardist Paul Finn’s new label. And while Ascenseur Ouvert! isn’t as riveting as 25 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


2001’s psychedelic masterpiece Let You Down, it’s still pure Manx. Which is to say, atmospheric and poppy in a Low/Galaxie 500/American Analog Set sense, quietsexycool like Yo La Tengo in non-jamming mode. Admittedly, some of these 14 songs meander, an overreliance on just-southof-midtempo arrangements serving to undercut the album’s overall impact. But when the band scores, it’s a UNC-over-Duke sense of triumph: the shuddery chkka-chkk rhythm and rippling, twangy guitars of the buoyant “Well, Whatever”; the gorgeous Beach Boys-like vocal motif and hypnotic neo-orchestral flourishes of “Minos Maze”; the Simon & Garfunkel-on-sitars vibe of “Clean Break.” Call the album a welcome return, and a reason to keep believin’, too. FRED MILLS

LAND OF KUSH Against The Day

ism becoming essential elements of his forlorn balladry. “So I made a big mistake/Thought this heart would never break/Selfish me,” he drones over a slow, dramatic piano in the tortured “Two Rabbits.” But by “Lalita,” The Love Language has perked up with the catchy, but more convincing and selfassured, song. Though McLamb’s vocals remain heavy and abrasive, reminding us of past pain, the record winds its way eventually to a more upbeat tone. McLamb’s strengths shine more brightly in these final moments, as astride cheerful tambourine beats he seems to have gained more clarity with distance. What results is more an album about recovery than loss, and one ultimately better in moments of hope than of hopelessness. WHITNEY WATERS

JASON LYTLE

Yours Truly, The Commuter ANTI-

And the whole time I thought, “I’ve seen this country/funk bro-down before. I’ve seen Naked Gods live” (minus the drug meltdowns). These mountain men are shooting for the basement Americana of Big Pink (even name-checking Rick Danko), though more often than not they land a few paces away from Skynyrd landmines. This aesthetic shines on “Blah Blah Blah,” the album’s triumph, which brings to mind certain moments of Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born. It—along with a handful of other tracks—proves these tunes could be just as epic without leaning so heavily on the crutch of atmospherics. It’s a rare thing to please both the hipsters and the dude in the back of the club barking “Free Bird!,” but I’ve seen Naked Gods do it. ERIC DEINES

NATHAN OLIVER Cloud Animals POX WORLD EMPIRE

CONSTELLATION

Inspired by Thomas Pynchon and Middle Eastern pop music, Sam Shalabi’s Land of Kush has a masterpiece in Against The Day. Harmonic drones and mournful strings carry the album’s hour-long run-time through extended instrumental passages melding jazz and psych-rock with heavy Eastern percussion and contrapuntal woodwinds. The LP’s three central cuts each highlight a different solo vocalist, but never overwhelm the instrumental depth of the backing arrangements—which, to be clear, are the crux of what makes this album great. Seamless incorporation of avant-garde electronics with traditional Western orchestral instrumentation, and Mid-Eastern timbres including the darbouka and the oud, makes this a unique entry in the post-rock canon. Shalabi claims to use this blend of Western and Arabic forms as a means of protesting post-9/11 Arabophobia, and truly succeeds in illustrating what can happen when cultures mingle. BRYAN REED

THE LONERS Revolution! CHURCHKEY

A friend of mine once said he felt The Loners were “like, the Raleigh-rock Flat Duo Jets.” I countered. Not because the FDJs are sacrosanct, but because the comparison is reductive. But to my friend’s credit, it’s the nature of the rock duo. Insert clumsy White Stripes comparison here. The Loners, though, don’t electro-charge a zombified version of rockabilly (as the FDJs did so well, and for which I’m forever grateful). They don’t limit themselves to a black-white-red color scheme, either. The Loners just play quick and dirty rock & roll. The Loners practically define the notion of the local favorite with Revolution!, providing a consistently solid collection of 11 cuts to keep the beer flowing and the PAs pumping. Eddie Taylor’s guitar churns out crunchy, wound-up riffs. His voice taunts and swaggers, demanding “gimme” this and “I wanna be” that. Chris Jones’ drums pound and snap. It’s only rock & roll, and that’s all it needs to be. HANK GARFIELD

THE LOVE LANGUAGE The Love Language BLADEN COUNTY  

Raleigh’s Love Language lives up to its name on a self-titled debut devoted mostly to matters of the (broken) heart. At the outset, frontman Stu McLamb adopts a barfly persona, somebody who won’t shut up about his miserable break-up, the subsequent loneliness and alcohol26 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

As frontman and chief songwriter for Grandaddy, Jason Lytle had a knack for beautifully sweeping tunes and lyrics often forlorn and desolate. In the wake of the disintegration of his band in 2006, Lytle uprooted himself from Modesto, Calif., and settled in Bozeman, Mont. While much has changed on the surface, fans of Grandaddy will find much to identify with on this, Lytle’s first solo full-length. Lyrics that still sway from desolate to guardedly optimistic, epic and expansive melodies, and Lytle’s distinctive and delicate voice. He explores more familiar territory, with the chunky guitars of “It’s the Weekend” and the otherworldly ambience of “Here For Good.” But it’s not Grandaddy-by-rote, either. “Birds Encouraged Him” features electronic strings and a lead guitar that lend the tune an almost Beatles-esque quality. The album is far more a triumph than a tribute to the old days. CRISPIN KOTT MT. ST. HELENS VIETNAM BAND Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band DEAD OCEANS

I got nothin’ against kid drummers. Ornette Coleman’s son, Denardo, manned the skins for his old man, and was a capable foil as well as a competent drummer (which ain’t easy when your dad plays a style of music, harmolodics, that doesn’t appear in any music book). And I have nothing against witty, preemptive PR gimmickry, either. I like that Led Zeppelin made up runes for themselves and that KISS donned facepaint. I don’t even mind that the MSHVB was named by the band’s tyke drummer Marshall Verdoes (now 15), whose legal guardian is guitarist Ben Verdoes. I do mind that their music sounds like “Vampire Weekend at Bernies”—i.e., jangly, guitar-driven, entitled without cause, and dead on arrival. They had a deal before they played a show, didn’t release anything on the Internet, finally did some odd, hand-picked gigs, and here we are. The buzz, as it were, is deafening, and it sounds like the alarm clock announcing someone’s 15 minutes are up. TIMOTHY C. DAVIS

NAKED GODS Welcome Home DJANGO KILL RECORDS

I’ve seen this DVD of Dr. Hook on Swedish television, ripped out of their gourds on every chemical you can name. They tear through their country/funk numbers with enviable prowess while members vomit into handkerchiefs and turn jaundice yellow in total cocaine meltdowns.

It’s not easy to pull the same trick twice—much less to do it well. But Nathan Oliver achieves precisely that with its second album. Returning to the indie rock-plus-strings-and-horns template of its debut, the Chapel Hill act keeps its arrangements unsettling yet catchy; a perfect pairing with frontman Nathan White’s bitter, offkilter songcraft. As his band keeps pace, White walks a razor’s edge between calm and chaos. For every unsettling image (the ex-girlfriend on a noose in “A Dark History”) there’s a personal attack to match (the scathing “Alone in a Fog”). And because White inhabits both moods with equal aplomb, this album carries more emotional punch than his debut. With Cloud Animals it’s no longer White battling his own demons, but you facing yours, too. JORDAN LAWRENCE

NORTH ELEMENTARY Not For Everyone Just For You ESKIMO KISS

Listening to North Elementary’s Not For Everyone Just For You is like taking a crash course in 90s indie pop: “Decade Styling” bounces around on a popping synth-line and churning guitars akin to The Rentals; “Golden Tigers” wouldn’t be out of place as a lost I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One B-side, especially given its cantankerous guitar solo; “Ones in Love” recalls Grandaddy with its programmed drums and walls of fuzz; “Medical Sunset” owes a great deal to the bubbly synth-pop of Mates of State; and “Speed of Lies” and “Xxxmas Head” are two of the best songs Mercury Rev never wrote. It’s that instant familiarity that’s attractive about the Chapel Hill quartet’s pretty pop, yet it’s smart enough to avoid being at all derivative. Crack it open now, but give it some time to mature; I guarantee this’ll be your summer jam. PATRICK WALL

THE OLD CEREMONY Walk On Thin Air ALYOSHA

Superchunk via Big Star, The Old Ceremony doles out spirited rock permeated with Americana, pop and country. The new one opens with “Til My Voice Is Gone,” a vaguely Springsteen-cum-Elton John ballad with Triangle fixture Django Haskins proclaiming, “I will take a stand/ And raise my hand/And offer up this song/And I will sing my tune/Until my voice is gone,” a sentiment which evokes Ewan McGregor’s Moulin Rouge protagonist. “By Any Other Name” is


an audacious indie chantey, worthy of your iPod. “Same Difference” is memorable, but flagrantly borrows the cello hook from “Live and Let Die,” and occasionally resembles “Since U Been Gone.” WOTA is a satisfying album overall, with songwriting and production values deserving recognition. The chief fault is that it feels too familiar, as if TOC has trouble finding a distinctive tone amidst a sea of influences, which ensures at least something appealing to sundry audiences but nothing risky enough to shake you out of your comfort zone. BRIAN MCKINNEY

PAPERCUTS

You Can Have What You Want GNOMONSONG

One-man band Papercuts, a.k.a. San Francisco’s Jason Quever, has been compared to both his friend and fellow home recordist Cass McCombs as well as a “four track Brian Wilson,” but I’m just not sold yet on the godlike genius of Quever. His last album, 2007’s Can’t Go Back was pretty and precious, and in 2009 he’s still playing the Sensitive Manchild card. For every true gem here—the joyfully thrumming Britpop of “A Dictator’s Lament,” the Tindersticks-like “The Machine Will Tell Us So,” the stately, almost orchestral title track—there are others that get bogged down in their own dreamscape gauziness. Quever, abetted by Beach House’s Alex Scally, scores points for the lush, Creation Records-goes-Phil Spector ambiance. But his fey, androgynous vocals, relentlessly droning keyboards and subdued hooks (you’ll be begging for a memorable chorus) ultimately don’t leave much of a lasting impression. FRED MILLS

PALEFACE

The Show Is On the Road RAMSEUR

When anti-folk veteran Paleface embraced the Avett Brothers, and they reciprocated, it wasn’t surprising; both eschew musical ponzi schemes built on net-hype and often little else. Paleface’s relocation from NYC to the brothers’ Concord environs in 2007 did raise some eyebrows, but these 11 songs celebrating road-life and his move South with girlfriend/drummer Mo Samalot serve as explanation. The wistful “New York, New York” waves goodbye to the city where he was (briefly) major label fodder and DIY hero, “Raise That Glass” is a plangent turn from partying to sanity-saving sobriety, and “Traveling From North Carolina” highlights the pull both sides of the Mason/Dixon exert. The Avett clan adds some much-needed dashes of gut-bucket bottom end and piano to the bare-bones guitarand-drums arrangements. But there are several songs where more textures would better integrate Paleface’s gravel-patch voice, which isn’t always up to holding them aloft by itself. That may chafe against anti-folk tenets, but why not leave those behind too? JOHN SCHACHT

PETER, BJORN & JOHN Living Thing

ALMOST GOLD/STARTIME INTERNATIONAL

In 2006, Peter, Bjorn & John’s “Young Folks” had the world whistling like an Andy Griffith Show convention crowd. Recovering from instant one-hit wonder-dom must be difficult, as two albums on from Writer’s Block Sweden’s finest have gone all digital and weird. There’s nothing as catchy as “Young Folks” here,

though the bells, whistles and drum tracks suit the material perfectly. But it’s like trying to develop a taste for unsweetened oatmeal and tea after eating nothing but hot fudge sundaes. Album opener “The Feeling” comes on as though Kraftwerk recorded a vocal-swathed take on SMiLE. But PBJ haven’t abandon the guilty pleasures of the pop hook entirely. Lead single “Nothing to Worry About” is a robofunk smash with creepy synthesized children’s voices, while “Just the Past” has enough OMD DNA to have fit snugly on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. But, still…hot fudge sundaes. CRISPIN KOTT 

PONTIAK Maker

THRILL JOCKEY

Just six months after the sludgy, brooding fecundity of Sun On Sun, the Brothers Carney–—like characters out of a Breece D’J Pancake story: Jennings, Lain, and Van— are back with Maker. They mostly reprise what tore your face off last time, though here often in slightly shorter attacks: bruising-but-melodic riffs, foundry-pounding drums and psychedelic effects-noise that suggest your Black Sabbath and pre-Dark Side Floyd vinyl have been going at it hot and heavy and making the Earth records watch. It’s four minutes of barely reignedin feedback and percussion thunder before the lumbering beast “Wax Worship” emerges, and the 13-minute title track rockets through space vistas with graceful—but brutal—determination. A handful of tracks clock in at under two minutes, but most are just noise releases or interesting riffs that dead-end. Because Pontiak is best when its menace emerges slowly and ruthlessly, this keeps Maker from making Sun On Sun’s explosive heights. JOHN SCHACHT

RED COLLAR Pilgrim

SELF-RELEASED

The literate, impassioned rock & roll popularized by Springsteen has never gone out of style, but given the almost ubiquitous esteem for bands such as The Hold Steady and Against Me!, it’s safe to say that fist-pumping, blue-collar rock is back in a big way. But you knew this, clever reader, and you’re looking for this year’s big bar-rock breakout. Look no further than Durham’s Red Collar; led by the gruff, impassioned croon of frontman Jason Kutchma, who captures workingman angst better than Craig Finn ever will, Red Collar is nothing short of electrifying on Pilgrim, its debut full-length. The record is filled with anthems for the Rust Belt-residing working man, from the angsty “The Commuter” to the twitchy, Joe Strummer-via-Sonic Youth title-jam and the Sunday-sunset blues of “Used Guitars.” Is Red Collar destined to have the type of breakout year The Gaslight Anthem had in 2008? Could be, reader. Could be, especially if college radio catches hold of “Pilgrim.” PATRICK WALL

RESIST NOT

Just Walking Away SELF-RELEASED

As a folk singer (anti-folk though he might be), Resist Not frontman Aaron Ward is an adept  storyteller, character actor and activist. In “Choice Means Choice,” the 27 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


obvious standout here, Ward gazes through the eyes of a scared teenage girl, pregnant by statutory rape, who decides to keep the baby despite outside pressure. He’s already  treading  a touchy subject  (and  overtop a rolling rockabilly rhythm, to boot), but Ward spares us the preaching. Instead, he  turns the two-minute vignette into an intense character study, sympathetic and detailed enough to elicit considered thought instead of knee-jerk reaction. Elsewhere, though, Ward and his band (which features members of the departed Future Kings of Nowhere) are just a friendly band of unplugged rockers putting punk’s excitable brevity into  rollicking odes to drinking with the guys (“Separation Anxiety”), marital contentment (“My Ole Wife”), and life in general. Just Walking Away is a delightful 25 minutes spread over 14 thoughtful, buoyant tracks. HANK GARFIELD

DEX ROMWEBER DUO Ruins of Berlin BLOODSHOT

Best known for his skittle-hot, fatElvis-fiendin’ power trio Flat Duo Jets, Dexter Romweber, despite little in the way of national airplay, has friends in high places, low places, and everywhere in between (this album alone features turns by Chan Marshall, Neko Case, and Exene Cervenka). What’s nice here is that he’s comfortable in his now-looser skin, and has evolved past the simple aping of elders he fell back on in his teeth-cutting years. “Still Around” (with Case) and “Love Letters” (with Marshall) still bubble with typical Dex energy, but the real action this time is in sister Sara Romweber’s busy percussive undertow and the shabby chic of Romweber’s now-weathered croon, as opposed to the reeling, roiling surface swirl of old. Just because a guy’s at a point in his life where he’s more at home contemplating the cosmos that shooting for stardom doesn’t mean he can’t still light up the sky with the best of ‘em. TIMOTHY C. DAVIS

SWAN LAKE Enemy Mines JAGJAGUWAR

Canadian super-trio Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes, Blackout Beach), Dan Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers), and Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade) have been busy since the collective released their debut, Beast Moans, nearly three years ago, yet each have managed to stash away enough passing-grade material to fill Enemy Mine’s 39 minutes with its own brand of idiosyncratic rock. Alternatively boisterous and decorous, Bowie might be the common point of reference within, but anyone familiar with the trio’s material can easily—instantly recognizable vocal tics aside—pinpoint who wrote what. “Heartswarm” is reminiscent of new Bejar, acoustic and piano-laced, damaged and hesitant, if not subtly triumphant; “A Hand at Dusk” could easily be a low-key, forgotten but treasured early Sunset Rubdown B-side; and the album is bookended with trademark Krug numbers, each exploratory, rollicking, and yelp-filled, altogether resulting in three miniEP’s worth of commendable holdover material. WILLIAM MORRIS

28 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

TELEKINESIS Telekinesis! MERGE

The one-man pop constructions of Seattle’s Michael Benjamin Lerner likely won’t change your life, but the debut LP from Merge’s latest addition should, at the very least, charm your day: Recorded by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla but played almost entirely by Lerner, Telekinesis! (no punctuation required with the band name) bustles and beams or moans and memorializes Lerner’s aphorisms— “We travel far and wide in search of something/ but it’s OK since something equals nothing,” he manages during the headlong jangle of “Look at the East”—in vivid details and references, like his memories of “cherry blossoms, cherry soda, picnics in the country side” during the tryst of “Awkward Kisser.” Every three minutes or so, Lerner swings between titans, from The Replacements and The Kinks to The Shins and Of Montreal, grabbing a new gaggle of listeners with each motion. Hardly original, sure, but hardly easy to do with a band, let alone solo. GRAYSON CURRIN

THE THERMALS Now We Can See KILL ROCK STARS

The Portland indie/punk/rock/ power-pop trio here follows up 2006’s superbly acerbic and heavy The Body, the Blood, the Machine with a slightly lighter batch of songs, trading dire lamentations of politics and religion for more subtly ironic—and more openly hopeful—bouts of melody and catchy choruses (band notes thank Obama for the change in tone). And if the argument can be made that the Thermals are just as lyrically incisive as they once were (and, sure, I guess it can), there’s no defense for the claim that the band is just as relentless or ambitious. Rather than lodge themselves into your ears, these songs tend to bounce, skip, and glide their way there.  There is punch, but it’s more jab combo than killer right hook; it’s not a total departure—read: is still pretty solid—and there are a few gems, but it’s enough to wonder how great this record would have sounded under Vice President Palin. WILLIAM MORRIS

WAVVES Wavvves FAT POSSUM

Wavvves, the follow-up to skateboarding San Diego pop wizard Nathan Williams’ debut, is a mess. But what a glorious mess! “Rainbow Everywhere,” the album’s opening cut, vomits sunshine all over the shop, bleating random reverberated notes before fading into the lo-fi thrash jam “Beach Demon,” which sounds like a song The Beach Boys would make if raised on a steady diet of Beat Happening and Pavement. (Dig those harmonies in the chorus!) Indeed, Wavvves is filled with the same kind of fuzzed-out, lo-fi slacker-pop tunes Williams churned out on his blog-ballyhooed debut, and where the album falters is when Williams steps outside that zone. There’s a “Goth” motif that runs through the second half of Wavvves that’s incredibly unmusical and hard to stomach. But it’s those moments of sunshine—“So Bored” and “Beach Demon” chief among them—that keep Wavvves radder than that backyard halfpipe you built in ’91. PATRICK WALL


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1. Birds of Avalon - House Party, Raleigh - Mike Gray 2. King Tut - The Milestone, Charlotte - Jenny Hanson 3. Radio Taiwan - Saturday Skateboards Warehouse, Charlotte - Jenny Hanson 4. Thank God - The Milestone, Charlotte - Jenny Hanson

30 SHUFFLE SPRING 2009

5. Naked Gods - The Milestone, Charlotte - Jenny Hanson 6. The Sammies - The Visulite Theatre, Charlotte - Bryan Reed 7. Foxchase - The Milestone, Charlotte - Jenny Hanson 8. Ultimate Optimist - House Party, Charlotte - Jenny Hanson 9. Fucked Up - Lunchbox Records, Charlotte - Bryan Reed


31 WWW.SHUFFLEZINE.TV


SUPERCHUNK LEAVES IN THE GUTTER EP

TELEKINESIS TELEKINESIS!

M. WARD HOLD TIME

CONOR OBERST AND THE MYSTIC VALLEY BAND / OUTER SOUTH

SCORE!

20 YEARS OF MERGE RECORDS : THE COVERS!

ARCADE FIRE MIROIR NOIR DVD / STANDARD & DELUXE EDITIONS

Shuffle, Issue #5  

Floating Action, Odessa Records, Brave Young, NC Music Factory, Dex Romweber Duo, Toro Y Moi, Hammer No More The Fingers, Red Collar, Sea of...

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