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sh uffle The Moaners + Veelee + Last Year’s Men + Shit Horse + Brian McGee


Carolinas’ Independent Music Source

THe PArtiNg GiFts Greg & Coco, Swinging in a tree… R-o-c-k-i-n-g! Back to the DIY blueprint for Southern Culture on the Skids Hip-hop and Jazz Détente From The Beast & Nnenna Freelon Regional scribes pick 2010’s top Carolinas LPs

)($785(' 086,&,$16 ,1&/8'( 3$9(0(17  :,/621 3,&.(77  -,0, +(1'5,;  &&  7+( &/$6+  621,& <287+  7+( 52//,1* 6721(6  (0,1(0 5(07+(%($7/(67+('2256,**<323%,*%527+(5$1'7+(+2/',1*&203$1<&+8&.%(55<7+(521(77(61(:<25.'2//6*5$&(-21(6 7+(&5$036,$1&857,6-2+1/(1121<2.2212-2<',9,6,217+(0$5692/7$%-g5.82$6,6(/9,6&267(//27+(5$021(67+(9,1(6 $/$1)5(('7+((9(5/<%527+(56.857&2%$,1/,77/(5,&+$5'-$<=//&22/-38))'$''<7+(<$5'%,5'6)5$1.=$33$%811<:$,/(5 '$9,' /(( 527+  5(' +27 &+,/, 3(33(56  &28571(< /29(  0$5,$11( )$,7+)8//  /,/ .,0  %8''< +2//< (/9,6 35(6/(<  -$0(6 %52:1 .$7+< 6,/9$  &+8&. %(55<  %/21',(  $/,&( 7(03/(  0(7$//,&$  7+( 0$0$6 $1' 7+( 3$3$6  +(15< 52//,16  7+( 32/,&(  0255,66(< $0<:,1(+286(%,*7,0$5067521*0$5,/<10$16210,1257+5($7%2%'</$10,&+$(/-$&.6217+(%·6)5('',(0(5&85<6/<6721( '$9,'%2:,(7+(:+,7(675,3(60$'211$/,1'$0&&$571(<$;/526($5(7+$)5$1./,13,1.)/2<'(;(1(&(59(1.$&+5,66,(+<1'( 7+( 9(/9(7 81'(5*5281'  783$& 6+$.85  .,66  7$/.,1* +($'6  (/721 -2+1  %2: :2: :2:  7,1$ 7851(5  3$77, 60,7+  /<',$ /81&+ %2%0$5/(<%58&(635,1*67((10,$-$1,6-23/,1%/8(%/$&.3(7(72:16+(1'.(,7+)/,17/('=(33(/,1-2+11<5277(1%/,1')$,7+ 67,9%$72566$/7¶1·3(3$-2+11<&$6+&,1'</$83(50(7+2'0$15$',2+($'7+(6835(0(6(5,&&/$37217+(6(;3,672/6-(55<*$5&,$

Photos, clockwise from left: Claude Gassian Elvis Costello, Paris, 1989 Gelatin silver print 12 x 10 in. (30.5 x 25.4 cm) Credit Line: Claude Gassian; Nitin Vadukul Radiohead, St. Louis 1993, taken 1993, printed 2008 Giclee Print Sheet: 39 7/16 x 44 in. (100.2 x 111.8 cm) Image: 24 x 36 1/8 in. (61 x 91.8 cm) Credit Line: Photographed by Nitin Vadukul; Ebet Roberts The Cramps, CBGBs, New York City, taken December 10, 1993, printed 2009 Chromogenic print 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm) Credit Line: Ebet Roberts; Ian Dickson The Ramones, 1977 Silver gelatin print 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm) Credit Line: Ian Dickson/; Barry Feinstein Fans Looking in Limousine, London, taken 1966, printed 2009 Gelatin silver print 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm) Credit Line: ©; Jerry Schatzberg Frank Zappa, “Himself”, taken 1967, printed 2009 Chromogenic print 19 x 19 in. (48.3 x 48.3 cm) Credit Line: Courtesy of Jerry Schatzberg

The Parting Gifts p. 20

04 The Moaners 05 Brian McGee + VeeLee 06 Last Year’s Men + Brian Grainger 07 Shit Horse 08 Hot Releases 10 The Beast & Nnenna Freelon 14 Top 25 18 Moogfest 2010 19 Troika music festival 24 To Do List 26 Southern culture on the Skids 28 Venue NEWS 32 Reviews Publisher Brian Cullinan

Photo Editor Enid Valu

Editor In Chief John Schacht

Illustrator Taylor Williams

Assistant Editor Bryan Reed

Sales Vance Carlisle Bryan Dowling James Wallace

Design Gurus Taylor Smith Patrick Willett

Contributing Writers Rick Cornell Hank Garfield

Corbie Hill Brian Howe Jordan Lawrence Topher Manilla JG Mellor Fred Mills William Morris Chris Parker Whitney Shroyer Ryan Snyder Jesse Steichen Chris Toenes W.T. Wilson

Contributing Photographers Daniel Coston Sandlin Gaither

Cover shot: Sandlin Gaither This page: Sandlin Gaither

Shuffle Magazine P.O. Box 1777 Charlotte, N.C. 28224 704.837.2024

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

All content © 2010 Shuffle Magazine 3 #10

The Moaners Chapel Hill Duo Deliver Change-up The Moaners set a template with their first two albums. The duo’s 2005 debut, Dark Snack, sounded like one: chunky, fuzz-caked roar oozed from Melissa Swingle’s amplifier like extruded beef onto the sturdy crackle of Laura King’s martial drumbeats. The songs are bite-size, rarely extending beyond three minutes, but with enough rugged garageblues flavor to make a meal.  Blackwing Yalobusha, 2007's follow-up, stretched songs longer and moodier, with more emphasis on the blues side of the equation. The records picked up additional vibrancy with a first take, live-in-the-studio recording ethos and the ambience of Money Shot, the Mississippi studio where many of Fat Possum’s signature blues acts recorded their albums.  But now, after regaling their audience with some high heat, The Moaners’ third album, Nocturnal, arrives like a change-up, confounding expectations as it floats across the heart of the plate.  “You can’t just do the same thing every time,” Says Swingle. “We’ve always had a backlog of slower, more atmospheric songs. They’re the kind of songs that aren’t as much fun to play live…[but] this time we decided to embrace that side of our songwriting.”  But it’s not just a slowed-down version of records past; Nocturnal broadens The Moaners’ sonic palette. There’s the strummy acoustic lullaby, “Raggedy,” a harmonicadriven country-blues take on the trad-classic “Moonshiner,” and the dreamy, understated psych-blues of “Barbarian in China.”  Still, Nocturnal’s highlight is “Cowboy Bob,” a terrific female empowerment story

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in the mold of past tracks like “Foxy Brown” and “Terrier.” It’s based on Peggy Jo Tallas, an unassuming, thoroughly average, middleaged woman who dressed up like a man —with a Stetson, fake beard and pillow paunch — to rob banks and bamboozle the authorities who gave her the moniker “Cowboy Bob.” Swingle read about her story in Texas Monthly on tour in 2005, and penned a spooky paean on her behalf. “I couldn’t fit every detail into this song,” she says. “But the song represents when she was getting away with it, the euphoria she felt and what a wild ride that would’ve been.”  The whole album is something of a ride, too; it’s more dynamic than anything they’ve done, with plenty of subtle textures and rootsy echoes of Swingle’s old country-goth band, Trailer Bride, particularly in the wailing saw that keys “Blue Moon.” King gets adventurous as well, adding — for the first time — sweet vocal harmonies to contrast Swingle’s dry, haunted croon.  “We are The Moaners, not just ‘the moaner,’ ” cracks Swingle. “It’s an album you can listen to with your headphones and notice things instead of just full-on guitar-distortion-rock-city.”  Perhaps the most notable additions come from Swingle’s cousin, piano player Earl “Pool” Ball, who flew in from Austin, Texas for the sessions. Ball was Johnny Cash’s piano player for years, worked with Merle Haggard on several albums, and played on The Byrds’ country classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The idea of using him came out of a conversation Swingle had with Neko Case. Case had just finished recording Fox Confessor Brings the Flood on which The Band’s pianist Garth Hudson played. When Case heard about

By Chris Parker

Swingle’s cousin and his background, she encouraged Swingle to record with him.  “I was like, ‘That’s a great idea,’ but it took me five years to actually get around to doing it,” she laughs. “I’m really happy what he did on the songs. He said it’s not like the honkytonk he usually plays with bands in Austin, but he had a good time stepping outside his box.”  On Nocturnal, Ball’s piano adds depth and color to songs like the foot-tapping rag “Ramblin’,” the aforementioned “Raggedy,” and the dulcet, lugubrious “Bartender’s Lament.” The latter also might be Swingle’s most unabashedly pop song, proving that Ball wasn’t the only one stepping outside his box.  And The Moaners not only opened up their sound, but also explored the production side as well, on three of the album’s 10 cuts — “Blue moon,” “Barbarian in China” and “Little Man.” Swingle says it was a revelation to discover “it’s possible to do home recordings and have them stand up next to studio songs.”  Swingle likes the idea of being able to take their time with the songs, to exercise complete control. It’s a switch from Blackwing Yalobusha, which was recorded and mixed in three days. Though she’s not a perfectionist, she had trouble with all the warts and clams on Blackwing. It’s largely why they devoted six months to working on its follow-up.  “Laura’s a little bit more OCD and I’m a bit more, ‘Fuck it, that’s good enough.’ So together we kind of balance each other in that respect,” she laughs. shuf10

Photo courtesy Holidays For Quince Records

Brian McGee Beyond Country Punk Despite hundreds of gigs with a punk band and a decidedly twangy last record, Asheville’s Brian McGee has always balked at the “country punk” label reviewers saddled him with two years ago.  “If I showed up at one of my shows expecting Hank III or Shooter Jennings, I’d be disappointed,” McGee laughs. “I feel like what I’m doing now is averaging out those things. It’s just rock & roll.”  McGee shed his old band for his latest effort, The Taking or the Leaving. Lost the fiddle. Ditched the banjo. Sped things up. Plugged in more. The album should throw off the old label as sure as it’s invited comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and Buddy Holly.  Recorded at Echo Mountain, these songs reflect a more seasoned performer

and songwriter. McGee goes upbeat with tracks like “Hold Sway,” “First Kiss,” and the rollicking “Walking Back to Love.” But there are contemplative numbers, too, in “Here I Am” and “When My Time Comes.”  The whole album has a strong rockabilly undertone. McGee was listening to Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited during the songwriting. But there’s also an undercurrent of Elvis Costello in his vocals, and the shadow of Steve Earle.  McGee’s take? “This is more garage-rock rockabilly [than earlier records],” he says. “It’s got a sloppy, Link Wray feel, kind of jangly.”  After a layoff earlier this year, McGee got serious about music. He shelled out for studio time at one of the region’s premier studios (where Band of Horses and Steve Martin have recorded, among

Veelee Keeping It Simple A quick tour of the little house in Carrboro shared by Matt Park and Ginger Wagg — who write and perform together as Veelee — reveals that of three bedrooms, one is a studio and another a practice room. Multiinstrumentalist Park and drummer Wagg don’t have to leave home to record or practice, and that degree of comfort and familiarity comes out in their short but surprisingly expansive debut LP, The Future Sight.  “I’ve been in bands that were a lot more involved,” says Park, 33, who’s played with others since he was 15. “[It’s] as if I had to play all that weird, complicated stuff to be able to learn how to play really simple stuff. “ Music, he says, is about art or expressing emotion, and “it turns

out, the most effective way to do that a lot of times is just strip everything else away and just focus on [the vibe].”  Like Beach House covering Pinback, the Veelee vibe springs from basic, everyday rhythms. There’s the playful I love you/you annoy me dichotomous narrative of “When You Gonna Come Home?” (the response is, “When you gonna go to work?”). And there’s also the basic, near-lullaby lilt of “Regret/No Regret.” Sparse lyrics and extensive repetition build an almost dreamscape feel, even on the fast songs. Also common are unique textures, such as the layered thumb piano on the latter. These stratified tonescapes complement a central melodic theme: The “nugget,” as Wagg, 31, puts it.

By Rebecca Sulock others), and his touring schedule is packed through winter thanks to his exhaustive booking efforts. He even recently opened a Nashville show for Sam Bush and John Oates (of Hall and Oates).  “I’m trying to push as hard as I can,” McGee says. And though playing and promoting can require Herculean efforts, McGee’s got big plans. One of them could even find him sharing a bill — of sorts — with Band of Horses, Thom Yorke, and Grizzly Bear, among others.  “I want to figure out a way to get ‘Let’s Bleed’ into the final installment of the Twilight series,” he says. shuf10

Photo by Sandlin Gaither

By Corbie Hill  “There’s crystallization,” she says of their songwriting. She describes it as a natural process, like a seed sprouting, “and then that is what the song is.” It might have been comfort and familiarity that helped the duo create a record that, in 29 minutes, ranges from playful to mystical and back again. Park and Wagg trade in schoolyard shouts and layered monastic intonations, underlain by loops, crisp guitars, and fundamental drums.  “Recording at home provides the luxury of time,” Park says, admitting it probably took a full year to perfect the record. Not every band has that kind of patience but, upon repeat listens of The Future Sight, it appears to have paid off. shuf10 Photo courtesy of Bears Heart Beards Media

Last Year’s Men This Year’s Garage Rock Ben Carr spent his Saturday afternoon napping, trying to sleep off a nagging stomach ache before his band, Last Year’s Men, was scheduled to perform at Durham’s annual Troika Music Festival. But when showtime rolled around, the 18-year-old frontman confessed to the eager audience he hadn’t been feeling well that day.  “I’ve decided to just drink it off,” he said swigging a gin and tonic from a clear plastic cup. Not 15 seconds later singer/guitarist Carr, guitarist Geoff Schilling, 22, and drummer Ian Rose, 17, were redlining their way through “Paralyzed,” the first, and one of the best, songs from Last Year’s Men’s alarmingly good debut LP, Sunny Down Snuff.  It’s an assured, confident garage rock record that, despite its 60s-born sound, clearly grew out

of the “shitty street punk” bands the Men formed as pre-teens. “We still have a shit-ton of punk influences,” Carr says.  As young punks tend to, the band eventually discovered the similarities between their loudfast punk rock joyrides and early rock & roll (and its revivalists). Now, they take loans from garage rockers like Reigning Sound, Mark Sultan and Spider Bags (whose frontman Dan McGee produced Sunny Down), and use the anxious spasms of bands like the Descendents to compound the energy.  If most garage rock bands aim their sound for beer-and-whiskey staggers, Last Year’s Men aim theirs for a wide-awake Four Loko drunk. Even the slide-guitar slow-dance “Make Me Feel Okay” brims with urgency and nervous energy.  The next batch of songs, Carr says, are turning

Brian Grainger Old Tools for New Sounds Tackling adversity can make for great music. For Brian Grainger, a Columbia, S.C. musician who creates noise and ambient pieces — and most everything in between — under a variety of different monikers, quality stems from the challenge of learning his craft the hard way.  Grainger, 27, started messing with his dad’s guitars at 14. His parents had just split, and his father wearied of the way his untrained son handled his collection. Once his dad moved out, Grainger began teaching himself to play guitar, drums and a variety of other instruments. Shortly after, Grainger discovered electronic music and wanted a computer to mess around with. His family didn’t have one.  “My dad’s friend, who ran a record store, knew some guy who could make computers out of

spare parts and stuff,” he recalls. “I paid him $125 to make me this really, really crappy computer.”  But having to overcome his own lack of expertise and subpar equipment has shaped Grainger’s art. He still uses old equipment, insisting that new tools aren’t necessary to make fresh sounds. He constantly experiments with his process — like taping the final versions of some projects and then sunning them on the dash of his car before mastering them, for instance. But it makes him supremely conscious that his work stems from his own effort. The results are adventurous, left-field entities that invite listeners with their warmth and subtle momentum.  That quality is apparent in Grainger’s two most notable projects. As Milieu, he tackles drone with impressive nuance, sometimes allowing it to drift

By Bryan Reed out to be even louder, if more psychedelic, than their predecessors. Those will be reserved for a 7-inch and a follow-up LP that Carr hopes will appear over the next 18 months.  For now, though, the focus is finding time to tour, which has proved difficult between Carr’s job at a grocery store, Schilling’s at a restaurant, and Rose’s high school classes. “We’re kinda scrambling to do it,” Carr concedes. Still, the band will criss-cross the Southeast for a week in December, toting Los Naturales bassist Montgomery Morris along for the ride.  “We are trying to find a full-time bass player,” Carr says. “It’s kinda hard finding someone who is able to tour fairly often like we’re trying to do, that’s into everything, that can put up with us.” shuf10 Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

By Jordan Lawrence into echoing soundscapes, other times adding prickly electronics or throbbing dub beats. With Coppice Halifax, he dabbles in skittering noise that often clicks about intensely but reveals its sonic layers gradually. The consistent element in each of Grainger’s personae is the rich, enveloping quality of the tones he cultivates. Headphones on, lying in the dark, it’s an immersive listen.  With a partner’s stake in two boutique labels, Second Sun Recordings and Install, and a seemingly endless outpouring of new projects, Grainger continues to seek new ways to make sound. And by continuing to forage unfamiliar sonic territory, he keeps discovering vitality in the sounds he brings back. shuf10 Photo courtesy of Brian Grainger

Shit Horse Befuddle and Conquer Danny “Magic” Mason was wearing a felt hat and a purple shirt — or maybe visa versa — when I first noticed him on the sidewalks of Raleigh. He had a disheveled flamboyance about him, a rough-edged, middle-aged black man standing amidst a bunch of white hipster 20-somethings in front a club where an Austin band called Harlem was performing. (Yes, Harlem. Don’t think the irony is lost on me.) To be blunt — and to risk coming off as an asshole — I assumed he was a vagrant. (He sort of is.)   “What’s this dude’s deal?” I mumbled into a friend’s ear. A North Carolina music inside-insider, he looked at me with wide eyes, stunned. “No. That’s Danny Magic from Shit Horse,” he said. “They’re amazing.”  Two months later, I’m calling Mason, known to my friend and many others as Danny Magic, on the phone. And he’s not answering.   Shit Horse guitarist Josh Lajoie has assured me that Mason will not only answer, but will school me on a great many subjects, including his role as ring leader for this Chapel Hill post-garage psych foursome. “Oh yeah, Danny will talk to you,” Lajoie said laughing. “He’ll talk your ear off. “  The band’s one and only release, a cassette called They Shit Horses, Don’t They? (Odessa Records), came to my attention when writing a piece about tape culture and cassette labels for this publication. In that piece, I said of Shit Horse: “Beefheart playing early Joy Division, the sound of Nuggets melting (I’m actually calling this genre Fuggets), Gil Scott-Heron back on the sauce and fronting a Peel Session gone batshit.” I liked that then and I like it now. It’s punk fury with a dark, improv-soul

Photo courtesy of Odessa Records

edge; Peel Session fodder in another place and time.  Mason barks and croons street madness (“Twelve Horses”) and soul non-sequiturs (“Don’t Smell Too Good [But It Keeps Me From Burning]”) over the band’s post-punk meltdown. He tells me there are “multiple characters in one throat” that result in his whiskey-graveled singing voice. There’s also a pretty spot-on classic dub tune, too. It’s the riskiest, most exciting debut from a North Carolina band this year.  Lajoie met Danny Magic at a Chapel Hill bar in the first half of 2009. Lajoie was on LSD, and Danny, a local legend of sorts and a musician, filled Lajoie with cosmic wisdom. “He told me I needed to be effeminate with myself and to breast-feed myself,” Lajoie recalled. “I thought about that image for the rest of the night.”  They would soon cross paths again, when Lajoie, bassist Justin Blatt and drummer John Jaquiss played a one-off, last-minute show at Chapel Hill’s The Cave under the name Shit Horse. Mason happened to be present, and Lajoie asked him to join the band on vocals for a song or two.  The myth-making shit-storm that followed involves a.) Lajoie letting fly a racial slur to put a “post-PC” punk exclamation mark on a song, and the crowd and bassist Blatt turning on Lajoie; b.) Mason — alerted to the hubbub — tearing two holes in a white paper towel and hanging the paper from his hat, then sashaying to the mic and declaring himself a member of the KKK: “The Kinky Kinky Klan”; and c.) Shit Horse, with Mason, ripping through “Don’t Smell Too Good,” and winning the angry crowd through utter befuddlement.  “I didn’t know what happened,” Mason

By Topher Manilla recalled when we eventually get in touch. “The bouncer told me I just had to get back on the stage. He said ‘Man, you have to do that again.’ ”  Hence the impromptu nature — in both location and performance — of Shit Horse shows, which are chock full of shenanigans, and often a machine-gun-toting, mostlytopless female dancer in a horse-head mask. The band would set up in on the street somewhere with tiny battery-powered amps and send out a “mysterious Bat Signal for Mason,” as Odessa’s label owner Paul Finn put it.  “Our shows were basically our practices," Lajoie said. “Every time we play for new people, they’re pretty confused.”  During most of our conversation, Mason seems skeptical of me, and not that positive about Shit Horse. As I would come to find out from both he and Lajoie, Shit Horse are on indefinite hiatus — maybe. Their last performance ended with Mason calling it quits and stalking off the stage.   “It’s time for the child games to be over and stop playing with everybody’s minds,” Mason said. “I need to communicate with the audience… Shit Horse should be an investment of our talent.”  Finn plans to release an expanded version of They Shit Horses, Don’t They? on vinyl in 2011. Lajoie simply said the band is taking a couple months off to craft some new material. “From the beginning, we tried to do things that would it make it difficult to have success on any kind of classic level,” Lajoie said. “I’m just as confused by Shit Horse as anybody else.” shuf10 7

Music for Becoming With his label, Hot Releases, and solo project, Secret Boyfriend, Chapel Hill's Ryan Martin blooms By Brian Howe

8窶ォot Releases窶ピhuffle ten

Photo courtesy of Ryan Martin


n October 24, the Carrborobased outsider-music label Hot Releases held a launch party for its latest offerings: a Horaflora/Secret Boyfriend split LP, and Jeff Rehnlund’s Smoke from the Mirror. Ryan Martin, the man behind both Hot Releases and Secret Boyfriend, sat on the floor at All Day Records and played a couple calm, creepy acoustic ballads. Then he stood behind a console-laden table with a bizarre Casio guitar and played a set of epically damaged pop, skirting an obscure and highly personal boundary between new wave, noise, techno, and ambient music, with fritzy connections slicing through billowing tone waves and un-quantized drum machines. Perhaps for the first time while watching Martin perform, I was reminded of other bands — Crystal Castles, M83, Ariel Pink — but only occasionally and indirectly.  Secret Boyfriend’s highly musical modern style is a far cry from the early days, when Martin anonymously signed himself up for singer/songwriter nights and performed poorly on acoustic guitar, in a fur-lined leather mask, coughing and mumbling unnervingly. He’s arrived at a pitch-perfect balance between interiority and external gestures of musicality. At the release party, he was un-costumed; his demeanor was lowkey and slightly awkward. His eyes conveyed a sort of softness; a genial remoteness, with no hint of the stylized confrontation that sometimes characterizes fringe experimental music. The only word I know to describe Martin’s stage presence is freighted: “authentic.” There is something rare and hard-won about his current Secret Boyfriend work. How did he get there?  I mentioned to Martin how much I liked the Secret Boyfriend side of the new split LP, which strikes an interesting contrast with Horaflora’s distressed concrete music on the other side. I also mentioned that I could see chillwave fans getting into it. “Uh-oh,” he said, soft stubbly cheeks stretching into a smile. “I’ve always liked dreamy stuff, but have started to go with it more lately. Like, okay, I don’t have to be harsh; I can do that in Boyzone.” (Boyzone is a blistering noise project that Martin does with Rehnlund.) “But it would be funny to accidentally get popular and then do something upsetting.”

 Martin grew up in Southern Pines, an isolated retirement community. “It took me awhile to figure out a lot of things in life,” he said. “I always had the feeling that something was being hidden from me.” In middle school, he discovered Sonic Youth’s Confusion is Sex, the most out-there music to be found in Southern Pines. He got a fourtrack and started recording his own songs. “I didn’t have any instruments,” he recalled, “so I’d just hit things and record melodies.” Soon he appropriated an older brother’s acoustic guitar and started to teach himself. He started a rock band with a friend and his English teacher, a former Rush coverband drummer. They played talent shows and birthday parties under various names, including Hot Releases.  In 2000, Martin left Southern Pines to study Communications at UNC and got on at WXYC, which requires its DJs to explore every section of the library. Martin got into reggae, “weird tribal music,” and “raw field recordings.” He had “no friends” for the first few years of college, but found a community that fit him when the Nightlight opened. He started interning there, working door and sound, and then became co-owner with Lauren Ford when Isaac Trogden left in 2004; a role he would maintain until Alexis Mastromichalis took over in 2006. “It could be really stressful,” he remembers. “On top of figuring out how to do everything, I was learning how to talk to people. I’d just turned 22 but was a late-bloomer socially.”  Martin’s own performances began to proliferate around the time he left Nightlight. He recruited his high school band-mate to freak out with him on drum kits and circuitbent Casios, but quickly realized they weren’t compatible. “Practices were tense,” Martin said. “He would want to take ideas from, like, Radiohead songs. I found out later he was just doing those shows to humor me.” Martin’s bands began to proliferate too: Boner Machine, a darkly shamanic ensemble with a big revolving cast; the harsh noise/ performance art of Boyzone; and Secret Boyfriend. “I couldn’t really figure out how to play my songs in front of people,” he said, “and sometimes just did karaoke.” But gradually, he got more proficient and confident, and his sense of outsider orthodoxy relaxed. “I used to think that

ephemeral quality of noise music,” he said, “could only be captured by not imposing any control. Now I try to impose myself a little more in the live thing.”  Boyzone recorded itself, but for a long time none of it sounded like an album to Martin. He was inspired to start Hot Releases when Rehnlund’s jittery and abrasive sound art began to get released on small labels in other parts of the world. Martin started giving away a Secret Boyfriend tape, Savage Weekend, and was encouraged by the responses. The first Hot Releases issues were from Rehnlund and American Band, on vinyl and cassette, in 2008. Outsider music tends to circulate in far-flung niches, and Hot Releases, initially promoting itself via noise message boards, soon picked up limited distribution via Triple R, Forced Exposure, and others. “A guy in Japan got in touch with me because he bought a Boyzone record in Tokyo,” Martin enthused. “I was like, what the fuck!”  The label managed to break even on relatively popular releases by Maurizio Bianchi and Russian Tsarlag, and it has an ambitious release schedule for the last quarter of 2010. Beyond the Horaflora/ Secret Boyfriend split and the Rehnlund LP, we’ll see new music from VVAQRT, Teaadora, Ryan Jewell, and more. These new releases document the label—and Martin’s sensibility—maturing. “VVAQRT is probably the most accessible thing we’ve done so far,” Martin said, “but still falls within the label’s perimeter: Think ‘marginal,’ ‘autodidact,’ ‘loner,’ ‘the hidden music of imposters,’ and ‘music for becoming.’ ”  “Becoming feels so accurate,” Martin went on. “Trying to explore the unknown has been a living process for me, and a transformative one. It’s been a way to break away from the strict status quo and connect with alternative modes of awareness. This probably sounds very hippie and maybe pretentious, but it feels true. In terms of local music, we offer another side of experience in our little outsider realm, but without any intention to alienate, since I have this naïve desire to reach new people and share these things I enjoy. What we do isn’t popular or cool, but it’s important to have a welcoming environment for people interested in things that are idiosyncratic, that don’t quite fit.” shuf10 9

The Beast & Nnenna Freelon Bridging Jazz and Hip-Hop

By Jordan Lawrence

10窶サhe Beast & Nnenna Freelon窶ピhuffle ten


here’s an expectation that comes with the seal, “hosted by 9th Wonder.” The prolific NC/NY-based producer is well known for the production work — and trademark old-school soul and jazz samples and boom-bap snares — he’s lent to the likes of Little Brother, Jay-Z and Erykah Badu. His cachet carries even more weight in the Carolinas. The Beast, a Durham-based jazz trio-plus-MC, earned the producer’s endorsement on its latest outing, Freedom Suite, and knows the clout that comes with 9th’s name.  “We were told by some local hip-hop musicians, ‘Why don’t you use like a 9th Wonder snare? It’ll really make your head knock,’ ” says Pierce Freelon, The Beast’s rhyming frontman. “ ‘Your stuff, live drums, it’s just not punching trough. It’s just not doing it for me.’ ”  That resistance is to be expected for a band that works in such unconventional ways. Live hip-hop bands might be common in today’s post-Roots landscape, but rap outfits that lay their instrumental foundations in jazz are a much rarer breed. The Beast’s bass lines don’t always follow the beat path — they move with a skittering amble. Those live drums offer more than metronomic pounding; they complicate the rhythmic landscape, making it an invigorating challenge to follow. Little of what The Beast does adheres to rap’s sonic status quo, and neither does its 9th Wonder cameo.  Freedom Suite, which is available for free download at both The Beast’s Bandcamp page and jazz blog, fades in on a hypnotic, looping jazz instrumental. 9th Wonder takes the mic, and the role of a jazz club owner introducing his guests to the night’s entertainment: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and welcome to the Freedom Suite,” he says with a rich, suave delivery. “I hope you’re ready for some progressive hip-hop and jazz tonight.”  Credited to The Beast and Nnenna Freelon, Pierce’s Grammynominated jazz-singer mother, Freedom Suite tirelessly inverts the sounds and aesthetics of both hip-hop and jazz to create a vivid musical dialogue between them. The trad-jazz club intro substitutes for a typical, name-dropping mixtape opening, and the music that plays under 9th re-imagines one of his own beats. It’s a compelling tangle of twisted genre tropes, a listener-friendly blueprint for the free-thinking jams that follow.  Intent on keeping The Beast’s name out there after the release of 2009’s full-length debut, Silence Fiction, the band began working toward Freedom Suite early in 2010. Bandmembers were originally drawn to the idea of collaborating with indie rock bands from around the Triangle area, stemming in part from their friendships with acts like Hammer No More the Fingers and Lost in the Trees. The idea shifted when The Beast decided to push its pre-existing jazz-rap aesthetic to new poles.  “We have an MC. We play backbeat stuff. We’re a hip-hop band,” drummer Stephen Coffman says, addressing the outfit’s alignment with the local rap community. “But I think with Silence Fiction, calling that a hip-hop record and saying that we’re a hip-

Illustration by Taylor Williams

hop band, it turns people off. Because you know the hip-hop fans are going to think, ‘Nah,’ because it’s not traditional hip-hop.”  But as the band stewed on its idea, the plan became more ambitious. The project would revolve around the clash of both styles and, in addition to the originally planned cuts, it would include updates of jazz and hip-hop standards.  “There’s never been one person that the media or the public could look to as like the person or entity that has defined what the relationship between jazz and hip-hop is,” says keyboardist Eric Hirsh, summarizing Freedom Suite’s mission. “If anything, maybe it’s just a project that asserts that they’re very complimentary approaches to things.”  After weeks of what Pierce remembers as repeated “phone calls, e-mails and just nagging people,” the band assembled an all-star cast of North Carolina talent to help out — a list that includes Phonte, the crooning voice of the Foreign Exchange, Raleigh rap group Kooley High, rising R&B star YahZarah, and production by Apple Juice Kid, whose résumé already includes full-length re-workings of Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong tracks. But the biggest impact comes from Nnenna Freelon’s contributions.  There’s intimacy between her singing and The Beast’s music that’s clearly influenced by the familial bonds. Her voice, a slowburning and sophisticated timbre capable of bright and blinding flares of raw emotion, provides the drama, while The Beast — via Pierce’s witty adlibs or melodic wrinkles from the band — lightens the mood. On the updated Beast tune “Freedom Part 2,” Nnenna sings the opening lines with the conviction of a revolutionary. (The album’s title echoes the famous 1960 pro-civil rights recording by Abby Lincoln and Max Roach, We Insist! Freedom Suite Now, and shares its name with a 1958 Sonny Rollins LP

“ If it allows people to continue the discussion, then (Freedom Suite) is what it needs to be.”

—Nnenna Freelon

which speaks more to a sense of musical freedom.) But Nnenna’s visceral impact is tempered by Pierce’s lighthearted, pop-culture nod-cum-advisory to “Eat, pray, love/ Freedom.” The undulating bass lines in Apple Juice’s remix add sensual sway, letting the song’s pro-environmentalist, pro-humanist agenda go down with the ease of a slow dance. It’s another example of the record’s generation gap-bridging charm.  “Parents are always kind of turning up their noses and not really listening to the cultural impulse,” Nnenna says. “My son has really done a lot to educate me on the culture of hip-hop that I don’t think I would have had if I hadn’t had his leadership. Duke Ellington said something that I think is so to the point. He said, ‘There are only two kinds of music: Good and the other kind.’ I’m really feeling that. There’s no genre that’s inherently good or bad.  11

The Beast & Nnenna Freelon (cont’d)

It requires listening. Really listening to what any artist is saying.”  That’s the discourse Freedom Suite aims for, particularly when The Beast (and company) invert still more expectations when reinterpreting the songs of others — one of jazz’s greatest traditions. “Umi Says” transforms Mos Def’s reverb-laden original into one of the more straightforward jazz pieces on the record, with Nnenna crooning the lyrics as Pierce echoes her, recalling Mos Def’s spoken-word delivery. And “Skylark” renders a jazz canon standard into a glossy piece of modern R&B that warps Nnenna’s performance with aggressive vocal effects.  That approach impressed the other collaborators, too. “They’re taking songs that I love and that inspire us, and flipping them to another interpretation to inspire others,” says YahZarah. “I want to be a part of things that do that for people.”  But on Freedom Suite, subverting musical expectations isn’t enough. Pierce, a hip-hop scholar at North Carolina Central University who operates the insightful blog, Blackademics, fills space between songs with interviews with respected musicians

“ Good art (is) just about channeling your life experiences through whatever medium is at your disposal.” —Pierce Freelon

and thinkers from the worlds of jazz and hip-hop. So instead of the typical rap skits, sound bites from the likes of saxophonist Branford Marsalis, jazz legend Herbie Hancock and The Roots’ ?uestlove litter the record with academic insight.  These interviews don’t shy from the prejudices between the worlds of jazz and hip-hop. In the outro to “Freedom Part 2,” Marsalis references his famous trumpeter brother Wynton, who called hip-hop “another form of minstrelsy.” The Beast follows this with “Let Go,” a critique of the bling-obsessed and misogynistic side of rap that doesn’t toss out the hip-hop baby with the gangsta rap water. “People think hip-hop got to be a certain way. People think jazz got to be a certain way. It’s just music,” Pierce laughs during the instrumental break.  “This is a conversation that we got into a lot,” Pierce says of his band, “so it was easy to say, ‘let’s take this conversation and weave it into and throughout the music.’ It’s just another reflection of our journey as musicians and artists. It just happens to play out in dialogue with these icons of the genre. I think art, really good art, is just about channeling your life experiences through whatever medium is at your disposal. We definitely do that musically, and we saw an avenue to do that as far as the discussions.”  Like the seamless integration of these interviews, the guest spots on Freedom Suite don’t suggest marquee-only cachet. They’re here because this is a dialogue with many voices. In this way, the record becomes much like the metaphorical “Freedom Suite” that 9th Wonder bid us welcome to in the beginning. It’s a place where artists not only play music skirting the borders of two often clashing genres and cultures, but also where they can speak their piece about the divide freely and openly. That’s a lot to be accomplished by any album. And giving the music away for free means anyone can listen, and continue the dialogue beyond the record’s duration.  “If it allows people to continue the discussion, then it is what it needs to be,” Nnenna says. “Because the freedom to talk about these things, to work them out, to maybe not come to a total resolution, but put it out there — that’s what’s up. That’s what’s good. Everywhere where doors are closed and we can’t talk because we’re just too different, it maybe lights a little candle to be like, ‘you know what, let’s talk about it.’ I think that’s a good thing.” shuf10

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Photo by Bryan Reed

Top 25


s reliable as colder temps and longer nights, Winter finds us music critics trotting out our Best Of yearend lists for music fans to hate on, simultaneously assuring you that this year’s crop was certainly better/worse than the previous year’s godawful/ brilliant output. The records, though, should speak for themselves.  And among our voters — 15 Shuffle contributors and select guests (see below) — they did. More than 150 (!) separate Carolinas-based recordings were nominated. They were as varied as the two states’ terrain and people, from hardcore and harsh electronica to old-time music and modern Americana, from skewed indie rock and hip-hop to good old-fashioned power pop and a gaggle of styles in between. Even accounting for the weight of exposure, the cream rose quickly. So, here for your delectation are Shuffle’s Top 25 recordings of 2010.

The Electorate: Editor in Chief John Schacht, Assistant Editor Bryan Reed, regular contributors Fred Mills (also Blurt’s esteemed Managing Editor), Rick Cornell, Jordan Lawrence, Corbie Hill, Chris Parker, Topher Manilla, Ryan Snyder, William Morris, Jesse Steichen, Chris Toenes, and friends Courtney Devores of The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Hahne of Creative Loafing, and David Stringer of

The Best Music 2010 25 Southern Culture On

The Skids The Kudzu Ranch (Kudzu Ranch) More songs about rural buildings and food, plus a so-unlikely-it-wasinevitable mashup of Nirvana and Pink Floyd, sleekly and sexily selfproduced. 4 Shit Horse 2 They Shit Horses, Don’t They? (Odessa) Despite the band’s penchant for secrecy, this eight-song tape bursts with confounding, bluesdriven psych-garage nuggets too great to go unnoticed. 23 Overmountain Men

Glorious Day (Ramseur) Avett Brothers bassist Bob Crawford lamented David Childers’ semiretirement, so he formed the band to showcase the songwriter’s hasn’tmissed-a-beat rootsmusic chops. 22 Tender Fruit

Flotsam & Krill (selfreleased) Mostly written four years ago during the relationship that resulted in Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, Christy Smith’s debut fills in the story with beautifully cathartic indie folk. 1 The Houston Brothers 2 The Archer (Chocolate Lab) Charlotte’s brothers Faircloth return to their compelling two-piece configuration and turn out a reinvigorated set of luminous and wistful pop tunes.

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20 Carolina Chocolate Drops Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch) A pop cover (“Hit ’Em Up Style”) and a haunting original (“Kissin’ and Cussin’ ”) reveal new possibilities for the oldtime resurrectionists. 9 Wild Wild Geese 1 Sorry, Earth (Odessa) Vintage 90s indie guitar rock a la Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., et al., delivered fresh and fecund without a trace of cloying nostalgia. 18 Last Year’s Men

Sunny Down Snuff (Churchkey) The succinct, ultracaffeinated garage rock offered here is both a confident, retro-leaning joyride and one of the year’s finest debuts. 7 Sin Ropas 1 Holy Broken (Shrug) More infernal blues, haunted hill music and narco-rock from this under-appreciated Marshall duo, constructed with a quiver of homemade gew-gaws. 6 Wesley Wolfe 1 Storage (self-released) Turning life's lemons into delightfully tart alt-rock lemonade, Wolfe's second LP is a gourmet brew of hooky, cynical 90s-style indie rock.

15 Various Artists

Gastonia Gallop: Cotton Mill Songs & Hillbilly Blues 1927-1931 (Old Hat) Unearthed recordings from until-now anonymous musicians delivering truly authentic sincerity, cathartic humor and timeless ‘work sucks’ sing-alongs. 14 The Beast & Nnenna Freelon Freedom Suite (selfreleased) The goal was to explore the borders of jazz and hip-hop. The result is playful, academic, enjoyable and enlightening. Mission accomplished. 13 Double Negative

Daydreamnation (Sorry State) Best living hardcore band? Probably. Daydreamnation’s a white-hot, sputtering grease fire of unrelenting, distinctly artful hardcore fury. 12 The Parting Gifts

Strychnine Dandelion (In The Red) Greg Cartwright and Coco Hames have some serious chemistry on this welcome and carefree fusion of rockabilly, soul, country and blues-rock. 11 Chatham County Line

Wildwood (Yep Roc) Continuing to push their sound beyond bluegrass instrumentation (hello, drums!), and deeper into folk and pop, proves rewarding for the roots veterans.

0 and the Carolinas Have To Offer 10

Toro Y Moi — Causers of This (Carpark) Indeed, Toro Y Moi’s breakout LP brims with a sense of longing, built upon murky, psychedelic haze, and heat-stroked endlesssummer pacing. But calling it chillwave isn’t entirely accurate. Chaz Bundick doesn’t hide his songs in synthetic smears, and his clear infatuation with dance music and R&B drives this effort beyond mere fad-piece.


Grids — Kansas (Made In Kansas) Charlotte noiselords’ second LP of 2010 is also their finest musical moment, boasting bold, weighty production from Harvey Milk’s Kyle Spence. But more than the enhanced depthof-sound captured on this platter, Grids assembles a serving of hardcore-fueled noise rock that never neglects hooks or structure in the name of squall.


In The Year Of The Pig — Jamón (Holidays For Quince) Five songs. Sixty minutes. You do the math. There’s nothing small or quiet or polite about In The Year Of The Pig, but the monumental music they’ve captured here — a massive construction of Kraut-rock deliberation, doom-metal pacing and heft, and noise-rock energy — carves deep grooves and upwelling momentum for an unforgettable ride. The result drives bodies and minds in equal measure


Stephen Warwick — Talking Machine (self-released) Each of the 10 songs on this dreamily arranged gem sound like they’re floating in the amber of shifting musical eras. Charlotte native Warwick and his Secondhand Stories players tap into dust bowl balladry, carnival music, 60s Dylan, late-90s Elliot Smith and judicious electronica elements, among others, blending them together so organically that all eras unite under one timeless banner: Solid songwriting.


Foreign Exchange — Authenticity (Foreign Exchange Music) With typically deft production from Dutch-born/Wilmingtonbased Nicolay, and Phonte continuing to croon instead of rap, the duo transitions further into sophisticated R&B on its third record. Via shifting, skittering beats both organic and processed, warm synth textures and Phonte’s liquid-smooth vocals, Authenticity doesn’t just transcend the genre’s tropes, it creates its own beautiful language by incorporating electronica and even twang.

Guest Lists

    Caitlin Cary     (The Small Ponds/Tres Chicas/Whiskeytown) • Jon Lindsay, Escape From Plaza-Midwood • The Dirty Little Heaters, Champions of Imperfection • The Tomahawks, Cut Loose • The Old Ceremony, Tender Age • Filthybird, Songs for Other People

    Rob Davis     (GRIDS)     7" • Pissed Jeans - "Sam Kinison Woman” b/w “L Word" • The Shitty Limits - "Last Orders” b/w “Selling Point" • Harlem - "LSD Saves” b/w “Mood Rings" • Naked Gods / Invisible Hand - split • Unnatural Helpers "Sunshine/Pretty Girls"     LP • The Men - Immaculada • Pollution - Smut • Double Negative Daydreamnation • Gun Outfit - Possession Sound • Masshysteri - Masshysteri

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Guest Lists (Cont’d)

   Graham High*    (Museum Mouth) • Caribou, Swim • Titus Andronicus, The Monitor • The Measure, Notes • Los Campesinos!, Romance is Boring • The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs *with help from Karl Kuehn, also of Museum Mouth

   W. Heyward Sims    (Death Becomes Even The Maiden) • Sleigh Bells, Treats • Ratatat, LP 4 • LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening • Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles • Holy Fuck, Latin


Hiss Golden Messenger - Root Work: Live WFMU 2009 (Heaven & Earth Magic) The daydream folk songs Hiss Golden Messenger captured in this mostly-live recording offer laid-back riddim, soft psychedelics and avant-jazz flourishes that never overwhelm the gentle currents of the music. There’s a distinct feeling of the outdoors in the band’s warm-breeze momentum and infinitely, if subtly, textured arrangements.


Superchunk - Majesty Shredding (Merge) Hiatus, schmiatus. Sounding nearly as energized as they did during their early 90s heyday, Mac McCaughan and crew tear through the first ‘chunk record in nearly a decade like piss-andvinegar 40-is-the-new-20-somethings. But add a frisson of wellaged angst to these urgent rails against Father Time — 40 may not be what it used to be, but it’s still heading in the wrong direction.


Black Congo NC - Live In Miami 1984 (FrequeNC) BCNC exists as an interstate entity these days, but prior to this year their woodshed recordings embodied the joyous, multi-culti blender mix of the ensemble’s music (just like the title hints at their humorous streak): Afrobeats and benga guitar, field recording loops and jazz sax skronk, rock crescendos and ambient stretches, and portable narratives that suit any musical setting.


The Love Language - Libraries (Merge) Unlike the disheveled party crasher-songs lurching through Stu McLamb’s lush but lo-fi debut, Libraries’ soulful ballads and romance rockers are gussied up with swooning strings and resplendent layers of guitars, keys and percussion, transforming them into the seductive tools of a practiced song-Casanova. We gratefully succumb, and though everybody winds up heartwrecked, song-salve like this makes the ache worthwhile.

  Ami Worthen  (Mad Tea Party) • Jar-e, Blood of the Summer • Sonny & the Sunsets, Tomorrow is Alright • The Parting Gifts, Strychnine Dandelion • Paleface, One Big Party • Toubab Krewe, TK2

1 16 Top 25 shuffle ten

Megafaun Heretofore (Hometapes)

Sure, Shuffle’s editorial staff are unapologetic fans, but we are not alone; Heretofore earned Top 10 spots in nine of our voter’s lists. Written in a week and recorded during a brief break in their increasingly busy and far-ranging bookings, the Triangle trio both sharpened their focus and expanded their sonic purview with this 34-minute mini-LP. Concise country rock (“Volunteers”) and breezy folk pop singalongs (“Carolina Days”) serve as straightahead foils to the digital alchemy adorning the insistent title cut riff, the free-form skronk flurries of “Eagles,” and the improvisational centerpiece “Comprovisation for Connor Pass.” One element too often overlooked in all the superlatives for their genre-bending sound are the trio’s fine lyrics, blending the concrete and ethereal into striking images like this “Bonnie’s Song” stanza: "Set it on fire/ let it float away/ everything burns the same/ so take your time/ (the ocean breaks and bends/ the ashes all ascend)”. So, yeah, the complete package. But what Megafaun does here transcends the band’s sonic playground; by honoring its adventurous instincts, Megafaun has proven that Carolinas’ roots music can keep absorbing rare or new elements, and continue expanding its seminal legacy.




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moogfest 2010 1 Dan Deacon  2 Omar Souleyman 3 Big Boi 4 MoogFest crowd 5 Younger Brother 6 Massive Attack 7 Jonsi Asheville, N.C.


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MoogFest photos by Enid Valu

This was no minor deal—it was the biggest musical happening ever to hit Asheville. For three days and nights during Halloween Weekend, a host of visionary artists drawn from the electronic, dance, indie rock and hip-hop communities commandeered the stages of five venues until the wee hours. Among the most talked-about: Jonsi, Massive Attack, Big Boi, Four Tet, Sleigh Bells, Dan Deacon, Nortec Collective Presents Bostich + Fussible, Girl Talk, Projek Moog and Van Dyke Parks. Icing on the cake came via numerous panels and workshops (such as Theremin and “Abominatron” demonstrations), with everyone celebrating the anything-is-possible spirit of synth grandaddy Robert Moog. Considering the event’s overwhelming success—from ticket sales to hiccup-free logistics to the numerous sidelights (a sexy, cerebral, keep-AsheVegas-weird vibe suffused the entire downtown area)—it’s a foregone conclusion that in years to come, 2010 will be referred to as Asheville’s first annual MoogFest. In fact, 2011 is already in the works. —Fred Mills


3 1



troika music festival 1 Wood Ear  2 Mount Moriah 3 Dexter Romweber 4 Double Negative 5 Chatham County Line 6 Wesley Wolfe

Durham, N.C. Contrasting MoogFest’s star-studded bills and grandiose light shows, this year’s Troika offered a stacked roster of mostly-local talent in small and impromptu spaces. But the close proximity enabled by Durham’s newly opened venues The Casbah and Motorco, and some creative nontraditional venues like Fullsteam Brewery and the offices of 307 Knox Records, lent itself well to a fun and familiar festival. Standout sets (and they all were) from Dexter Romweber, Justin Robinson and The Mary Annettes, Double Negative, Los Naturales, Phil Cook & His Feat, Whatever Brains, Last Year’s Men, Hammer No More The Fingers, Mount Moriah and Chatham County Line showcased the festival’s breadth — from shake-rattle garage to flashbomb hardcore to genteel Americana. But more than a music fest, it was a gathering by Durham, for Durham. The increasingly famous food trucks arrived en masse to feed festivalgoers, who were more than eager to split sets with neighborly conversation on the sidewalks of the Bull City’s downtown. —Bryan Reed


Troika photos by Bryan Reed 19

tHe Sound Is RigHt

By Whitney Shroyer

May-December musical collaboration links like-minded Reigning Sound and the Ettes and results in Parting Gifts for fans of both

20窶ケarting Gifts窶ピhuffle ten


guess I watched a lot of game shows as a kid,” says Greg Cartwright, front man for the Reigning Sound, discussing the name of his new side project with Coco “Motion” Hames from the Ettes. “It’s that sweet and sour spot at the end of the game show where, you know, you didn’t really get what you wanted, but, you know, at least you got this.”  “I think it has a melancholy ring to it,” says Hames. “Parting Gifts are . . . things you give people when you’re leaving, like giving away all of your prized possessions just before you commit suicide.”  While neither consolation prize nor break-up bauble, the Parting Gifts and their debut album, Strychnine Dandelion, was something neither the Asheville-based Cartwright nor Hames were expecting or seeking. But with help from Hames’ fellow Ettes, Reigning Sound members, and friends from sympathetic bands (the Greenhornes, the Black Keys), they pulled off a poppy, catchy collection of songs born in a few spontaneous sessions in Nashville in the Spring of 2010.  Hames and Cartwright aren’t the most obvious collaborative team — Cartwright has been playing his blend of Memphis soul and 60s garage for more than 20 years to steadily growing acclaim, while the Ettes are a third-wave garage band whose critically well-regarded LPs bespeak more modern rock influences. But when the Ettes invited Cartwright to produce their third LP, 2009’s Do You Want Power, something clicked.  “I went to Nashville to produce a record for them…they’d found a nice home studio, Bomb Shelter, they thought would work. I saw that [Bomb Shelter] used all the same equipment that I’d worked on at Easley’s [in Memphis]. So I said, ‘Yeah, I know how all this stuff works,’ ” Cartwright recalls. “The first thing that jumped out at me was how strong a singer Coco was. I also learned in the process that they were capable of writing lots of different kinds of songs.”  In fact, the pairing was successful enough that they bandied about the idea of doing something outside of either group’s established brand names in the future. A long-time country music fan, Hames expressed an interest in doing a split single together, with a more obviously rootsy sound than the Ettes. Both songwriters got to work. The Bomb Shelter experience had been comfortable enough to use it again as their base of operation, and the first session yielded five tracks, all deemed usable. The project expanded into an EP, and as more songs were composed, a full-length record.  With the songs so fresh and untested, the recording booth became a laboratory, with the tracks taking shape as studio constructions rather than practice room jams. This atmosphere of creative spontaneity was different than either Cartwright or Hames’ normal methods — both tend to flesh their songs out more fully before bringing them to their respective bands.  “When you have a band, and you all live in the same town, and you write a bunch of songs, you practice them, you play them out, you know how you’re going to cut them,” says Cartwright. “But with this, we put the songs together on the spot, figured out the drum part, the bass line, piano — even some of the string parts were written the same day we cut them. In an atmosphere like that, you’re bound to have lots of different outcomes. This record

Parting Gifts photos by Sandlin Gaither

would sound different if we’d been playing these songs out for a while, but I don’t know that it’d sound any better.”  For her part, Hames says she’s always treated songwriting as a private affair. She’d lock her door and barricade it with pillows as a kid, recording herself on a cheap home karaoke cassette with a mic shoved into a sneaker. “ ‘Awesome recording skills, Coco!’ Hames jokes. “I’m not good at communicating with talking — I do it through music. And I didn’t want my parents to hear me, you know…communicating. With Greg, he makes it feel more like the end result is out there, and you’ve got the talent, so let’s go, show me what you’ve got, and I’ll show you. It was really hard to get used to…it was like Jedi training.  “I see things very clearly when I’m writing, black and white, what should and should not be. I go, ‘Here are the songs, play this like that, 1-2-3-4, one take, get the fuck out.’ But with Greg, because it was collaboration, I would always defer to him. Luckily, I happen to love his ideas. [It was] probably the most productive off-the-cuff kind of thing I’ve ever done.”  Ettes’ bassist Jem Cohen proved to be an important fulcrum between the two songwriters, and a vital ingredient in the success of the collaboration. He not only plays bass on the album, but mans the drums and rhythm guitar on a few tracks. Already

Hames’ occasional songwriting partner (“When I am in the mood to collaborate!” she interjects), Cohen was also able to connect with Cartwright’s love of bridges and harmony, and often served as another kind of bridge between the two writers’ respective styles. “(Jem) can really hear what Greg is going for,” Hames says. “Sometimes he even helps translate Greg-speak to Coco-speak.”  Cartwright, used to working in either Asheville or Memphis, found some real benefits to working in a music industry town when he and Dave Amels, keyboard player for the Reigning Sound and co-producer on Strychnine Dandelion, decided they needed strings for a couple of the songs.  “I started talking about writing string charts, and the engineer said he knew some string players — ‘How many do you need, what  21

do you want?’ — Next thing we knew, three punk girls showed up on mopeds with violins and cellos!”  It wasn’t just instruments and side players that were available in Nashville, and soon friends were joining the sessions. The Ettes’ Poni Silver served as what Hames called “our default drummer,” and Patick Keeler, Nashville resident and drummer for the Greenhornes and Raconteurs, also handled percussion on some tracks. The round-robin of musicians extended to the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who took time out from Nashville househunting to add guitar parts.  “There was one point where Greg was playing guitar, Patrick Keeler was playing drums, and Dan Auerbach was doing a solo, on one of my songs,” says Hames. “I was having a pretty good time that day.”

22 Parting Gifts shuffle ten

 “We were already in this giant rotating stew, so throwing another person in the mix was that much more fun,” Cartwright says. “Dan plays the lead on ‘Don’t Stop’, which is way more inyour-face guitar playing than I’ve ever played; I’m a much more self-conscious guitar player. It was nice to have him go in there and go nuts on it.”  The spontaneous creativity is audible on Strychnine Dandelion. It doesn’t quite sound like the Ettes and it doesn’t quite sound like any of Cartwright’s bands (the Compulsive Gamblers, the Oblvians), either. Cartwright characterizes Ettes songs as aggressive, but more pop oriented than his soul-garage sound. But he says it’s the collision of those elements coming together that give Parting Gifts its hybrid sound.  The songs themselves come from unexpected angles for

listeners familiar with the Ettes’ work, too. Hames says that “all early Ettes songs are just country songs sped up,” but there’s nothing in their discography quite like the Wanda Jackson stomp of Hames’ “My Mind’s Made Up,” or in Cartwright’s title track, with its lush 60s vibe.  “ ‘Strychnine Dandelion’ was the one I think changed the most. It got jazzier, but it also got ‘folk rockier,’ And when I was mixing it, I realized it sounded almost like something from (Love’s) Forever Changes. But it didn’t when I wrote it, and I think it’s maybe my favorite thing from the session. It would never have sounded like that if I hadn’t played it with them.”  Another unexpected turn is “Born to Be Blue,” a song Cartwright wrote for the Shangri-Las’ Mary Weiss when he produced her 2007 comeback record, Dangerous Game. The track wasn’t finalized during those sessions, and Cartwright had been looking to get it on tape ever since. While the song, a ballad about a girl trying to figure her way out of a love triangle, sounds tailor-made for the ex-Shangri La to sing, Hames finds its predicament universal.  “I can definitely relate to the perspective on ‘Born to Be Blue,’ ” she says. “I’m sure a lot of girls can. Girls are like monkeys in a tree, I tell ya, won’t let go of one branch ‘til they got their hand on the next!”  The classic girl-group vibe continues on the album’s only cover tune, a JaggerRichards number, “Walking Through the Sleepy City.” Its presence in the Cartwright discography puts him in an elite cadre of musicians who have covered two songs off of the Stones’ overlooked collection of demos and outtakes, Metamorphosis.  “At least half of it is one of my favorite records by them,” Cartwright says of his fascination for the album. “It shows another side of the Stones — that they were good songwriters — that they could really get outside of their own box and write pop songs for other people.”  “I never really sing like that,” says Hames, who performs the song in a style reminiscent of Carole King’s sweet-voiced 60s recordings. “I couldn’t help feeling like a cast member in Annie.”  Cartwright had just released the last Reigning Sound record, Love and Curses, when the notion of the Parting Gifts sessions came up, so his songwriting cupboard was bordering on bare. Two of the first songs he composed for the record were written on a

chilly Wednesday in mid-January between cigarettes and cups of coffee. First he wrote “Shine,” and, just as he finished “Bound to Let Me Down,” his wife asked him if he’d heard that Jay Reatard had passed away.  Cartwright and Reatard were fellow Memphis musicians with a long and deep connection — Cartwright’s band the Oblivians influenced Reatard’s early records and Cartwright played drums at some of Reatard’s earliest gigs.  “In a way, I kind of felt like those songs were gifts from him, which played into why I named the band the Parting Gifts,” Cartwright says. “ ‘Bound to Let Me Down’ in particular, when I recorded it, I really had Jay in my mind. As soon as I heard the news I began to wonder if there was something I could have done to prevent that tragedy. Then I began to feel like it was no coincidence that the message of the song I had just finished was forgiveness. It’s a little hard to express but, at a moment when I felt guilty for letting a friend down, it seemed to me that he was letting me know there was no reason to punish myself. And that really helped me deal with what happened.”  The Parting Gifts, in an incarnation that is basically the Ettes plus Cartwright, have been playing a few shows to promote the record.  “It’s fun to make a record, but the really interesting part is playing shows for people,” Cartwright says.  “It’s the Ettes with a new leader,” says Hames. “And it’s fun, too, to play and know that the guy next to you is going to be awesome at his instrument and sing well and be present and all of that. We’re all high-strung egomaniacs, so it’s nice to let that go a bit and just play a show with someone we love and admire. And it always feels good to rock.”  While the main collaborators in Parting Gifts are taking a “wait and see” position on whether or not they will record together again, it seems that the project has had an impact on their musical thinking that extends beyond the original sessions. And maybe that will represent parting gifts to both.  “I think I brought something back to the Reigning Sound by doing this,” says Cartwright. “I realized I don’t have to box myself in quite as much as I do sometimes. Maybe everybody else is ready to do something different, too.” shuf10

“I kind of felt like those songs were gifts from (Jay Reatard), which played into why I named the band the Parting Gifts.”

—Greg Cartwright 23

To Do LisT


6 Agent Orange @ Tremont Music Hall 12 Obits, Gentleman Jesse, Whatever Brains @ King’s 12 Jason Ajemian @ Nightlight 12 Lemuria @ Milestone 13 Casey Jones, Death Before Dishonor @ New Brookland

14 The Walkmen @ The Grey Eagle 14 The Love Language @ Soapbox Upstairs 15 The Love Language @ Cat’s Cradle 15 Steve Aoki @ Neighborhood Theatre 15 Detroit Cobras, Dex Romweber, Charlie Louvin @ Pour

16 Dan Sartain, Brian Olive, The Ettes, Reigning Sound @



Pour House 16 Jesse Malin & The Saint Marks School w/ Richard Bacchus & The Luckiest Girls @ Kings 18 Obits, Gentleman Jesse and His Men @ Soapbox Upstairs 18 Chris Pureka @ Local 506 20 The Toasters @ Milestone 21-22 Tift Merritt @ Reynolds Industries Theater 21-22 Death To False Hope Fest, feat. Less Than Jake, Off With Their Heads, Red Collar, Lurch, Last Year’s Men, Hammer No More The Fingers @ Motorco Music Hall 22 Less Than Jake @ The Orange Peel 22 Rodney Crowell @ Visulite

24 Calendar shuffle ten

Above: MoogFest crowd. Photo by Enid Valu

22 Crooked Fingers @ Evening Muse 22 Girl Talk @ Gaillard Municipal Auditorium 22-23 Yo La Tengo @ Cat’s Cradle 25 Girl Talk @ The Fillmore 27 Girl Talk @ Disco Rodeo 28 Bang On A Can All-Stars with Glenn Koetche @

Reynolds Industries Theater

28 Capstan Shafts @ Local 506 28 No Age @ The Grey Eagle 29 Wavves and Best Coast @ Cat’s Cradle


3 Dr. Dog @ Music Farm 3 Monotonix @ Kings 5 Jimmy Eat World @ Amos’ Southend 6 Deerhoof @ King’s 8 Dr. Dog @ The Orange Peel 10 Tapes n Tapes @ Cat’s Cradle 11 Wayne Shorter Quartet @ Page Auditorium 16 Deicide @ Tremont Music Hall 17 Greil Marcus: Our Old, Weird America @ Nasher

17 Deicide @ Volume 11 Tavern 24 Old 97s @ The Orange Peel

Museum of Art

Sounds That Grow On You With The Kudzu Ranch, Southern Culture On the Skids go it alone…again By Fred Mills


onest, officer, it wasn’t my fault — it was the chicken’s.  Um, well… so maybe I am the one to blame. See, I’d taken a young friend of mine to his first Southern Culture On the Skids show, back in July in Asheville. Good sound, solid crowd, fun vibes — just what you want from a SCOTS show.  Oh, and the Kentucky Fried. Didn’t tell my friend about that. Figured the surprise would leave a lasting impression. Boy, did it ever. I jockeyed us down front into position just in time for the band’s culinary anthem “8 Piece Box” in which they invite some of the more willing and eager females onstage to dance and gyrate while helping themselves to a few cartons of the Colonel’s finest, which has been a standard item on their touring rider (“no chicken, no show,” it advises) for years.  Now if you know anything about SCOTS, you know how the deal inevitably plays out: those wings and drumsticks are

26 SCOTS shuffle ten

Photos by Ron Keith

soon airborne. Me, I learned to duck a long time ago, as have the band members — guitarist Rick Miller, bassist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman, plus recent recruit Tim Barnes on second guitar — who understand how, as Miller puts it, “the velocity at which that chicken leaves the stage is multiplied when it gets returned.” My friend, he wasn’t so lucky: SMACK. Middle of the forehead. I am not making this up.  But I’m happy to report that after being momentarily stunned, probably more psychologically than literally, and after the quick application of a handy moist towelette (okay, it was actually my handkerchief, just work with me here), my friend emerged from the incident unscathed. And, judging by his purchases at the record store the next day, a new convert to the SCOTS cause… • • • “That was a good show!” recalls Miller, talking on the phone about a month later. “We played a bunch of new songs and had

a really good time. Sometimes we don’t do it [the fried chicken], really depends on the crowd. But with festivals we usually do because it’s always fun for the audience."  One supposes for some audience members, more than others. Anyway, the occasion of our conversation is the upcoming release of Southern Culture On The Skids’ new album The Kudzu Ranch, for which they have established their own label, Kudzu Records (motto: “sounds that grow on you”), following years of recording for labels as disparate as Yep Roc, DGC/Geffen, TVT, Estrus and Safe House. In a very real sense, it brings things full-circle for SCOTS; after forming in 1983, within a couple of years the band, then a quartet (Miller is the only remaining original member), had self-released an EP and a full-length via the Lloyd Street imprint, named after the studio where they were recorded. Fast-forward to the recent past: Miller completes construction on his own recording studio, located just northwest of Chapel Hill, in Mebane, which he christens Kudzu Ranch Recorders. Hence the album title’s origin.  For Miller, moving everything in-house only makes good business sense, particularly now, with the music biz in tatters and all the old rules out the window. It’s also part of a consistent philosophy for SCOTS, for which Miller has tried to maintain “realistic goals” all along and notsub-scribe to the major labels’ plantation-system mentality.  “This really started back with the Geffen deal [in 1995],” he explains. “We took the advance money and went out and bought an eight-track half-inch Tascam. We thought ‘man, this is kinda the way to go.’ And we’ve always kind of done it ourselves, managed ourselves. Then the whole thing became us building the studio, and once we had all the means of production, we really didn’t need any advance money. And when we didn’t need advance money, we started questioning whether we really needed a label. We just thought we should try doing it ourselves. The numbers just keep going down and down and down anyway. So if instead of 25,000 records and making pennies on a dollar, if you could sell five to ten thousand records and make five bucks a record, well, you’re making the same amount of money or more.  “What we’re hoping, with our own label, is that we will start to see a bigger cut of merchandise and record sales. Because being on a record label — even on a big one like Geffen — you just could not depend on that money. You wouldn’t get it for months, maybe not even for years because of accounting practices. I even remember how Geffen would take us off tour to go do these radio shows; some radio guy says, ‘Oh, I might play “Camel Walk”…’ or something. So they’d fly us from Minnesota to Texas, while we’d have to pay our roadie guy to drive the gear out to Seattle where we’d hook up with him again but we’d miss all our shows on the way. I go, ‘Okay, but if you take us off tour you’re gonna have to reimburse us for the money we lose.’ "  The Kudzu Ranch is the followup to 2007’s all-covers record Countrypolitan Favorites (Yep Roc). It was recorded at a leisurely pace over the course of a couple of years, yielding a 12-song set

of classic SCOTS, ranging from shitkicking garage (“Bone Dry Dirt”), swinging dance numbers (the Huff-warbled “Highlife”) and T.Rex/Gary Glitter glam-slam (“It’s The Music That Makes Me”) to several of Miller’s signature instrumentals including the sproingy-twangy “Slinky Springs Milt,” which Miller says was inspired by listening to the frantic mating noises of frogs during the springtime, and the moody, contemplative “Jack’s Tune,” dedicated to his young son. Per SCOTS tradition there are also some choice covers: Neil Young’s “Are You Ready For the Country,” and a psych/surf instrumental interpolation of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam.” (Of the latter’s genesis, Miller says it came about almost randomly one day while listening to Nirvana and suddenly realizing that the guitar riffs of the two songs were nearly identical, with only a few notes different. “When we play [the medley] live,” he adds, “sometimes it goes right over people’s heads, but there will always be three or four faces that light up at the Nirvana song. But then of course we lose those folks with the Pink Floyd part!”)  In addition to setting up the label to release new music, Miller is also finally getting around to taking a hard look at the band’s extensive archives, starting with a remastered reissue of their long-out-of-print 1991 album Too Much Pork For Just One Fork, originally released by Chapel Hill indie Moist. “With that, we’ve had the rights for years,” says Miller. “We bought them when Moist went out of business back in the mid ‘90s. But you’re always looking to the next thing, you know? It never occurred to me to spend much time looking backwards until recently. But I think just the way the music business has gone, the Internet — and also getting the rights back to other things, you do start thinking about reissuing them.”  To that end, also on the horizon is the first-ever official CD release of the self-titled first SCOTS LP paired with the debut EP (something some enterprising bootleggers did in the late ‘90s when copies of the original vinyl were going for hundreds of dollars on eBay), and possibly a box set of rarities and archival recordings, a prospect that should make longtime fans salivate with anticipation. Yours truly has cassettes containing hours of unreleased demos from back in the day, and Miller confirms those are likely targets for release, along with material culled from the various eras and incarnations of SCOTS. “Like a lot of bands that have been around as long as us, we’re digging up all kinds of stuff. And not only that, after five, seven, 10 years, the rights to a lot of your stuff reverts back to the band. That has happened now with the Geffen stuff; it’s happened with the TVT stuff. So we can rerecord any of that, or actually use some of the versions that were on there.”  As the interview winds down, I pose Miller one last question, something I’m fond of asking musicians: A guys walks into a graveyard 20, 50 years from now and sees a tombstone with the words “Here lies Southern Culture On The Skids…” What does the rest of the epitaph read?  Miller, not missing a beat, replies firmly, “No chicken, no show.” shuf10 27

Venue News

Now Playing: Charlotte

Handing Off the Milestone By John Schacht


fter six years, nearly 5,000 acts, and an estimated $100,000 of his own money, Neal “MF” Harper discovered critical mass: running The World Famous Milestone had become surviving the All-Consuming Millstone.  It didn’t begin that way, though there was history to suggest the West Charlotte venue could try any owner’s soul. Back in 2004, Harper, then just 23 years old, rescued the long-running club (established in 1969) from mostly fallow status when he bought the operating rights for $30,000 from founder and building owner Bill Flowers. Harper finalized his loan the same day the first shows were booked, and the club opened with a paper-thin $800 operating margin in the bank.  That turned out to be one of the flush times.  But judging good club owner-reigns isn’t all dollars and cents — otherwise tribute acts and crap jam bands would’ve infected the Milestone’s calendar, and Harper would’ve been wrecking his liver with Courvoisier more often than PBR. Instead, along with booking partner Philip Shive, the duo kept alive the venue’s hallowed tradition of billing eclectic up-and-coming youngsters and pairing them with local draws, often staying open seven nights a week in the first months to accommodate as many touring artists as possible (in part, Harper says, because they really needed the dosh).  Harper and Shive-Milestone coups included Battles (Warp), Wavves (Fat Possum), Baroness (Relapse), Fucked Up (Matador), Ruby Suns (Sub Pop), and Future Islands (Thrill Jockey) — hip and adventurous bands on some of America’s sturdiest independent record labels. Whether those acts reach the same historical heights is for the future to decide, but they joined a ledger that included early days shows by R.E.M., Nirvana, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and Dinosaur Jr, among dozens of other now-recognizable names.  But it came at a cost beyond just paying band-guarantees out of bar sales, or transferring money from Harper’s personal account to make rent or booze deliveries. Funneling all his day-job earnings into the Milestone money pit was robbing the 30-year-old Harper of his sanity and health, and so were the bar shelves’ contents. The 29-year-old Shive, a full-time butcher and member of Manchovy and Piss Trough (among others), was also worn thin from negotiating three to five bands per bill five and six days a week.  As much as the ramshackle venue had become a part of Harper, who now plays in 2013 Wolves and first fell for the club’s graffitisplattered walls after playing there as a teenager in the 90s, it was time to get out, or check out.

28 Venues shuffle ten

 “Every year running a club is like one hundred mortal years,” Harper laments over pizza and beer at a local Chuck E. Cheese, where his thin, well-inked frame, closely cropped head and long beard draw sideways glances from nervous-for-no-reason parents. “I thought I’d die there.”  He didn’t, but only him and his God know how close it came. So on Nov. 21, the last night of the six-day Casserolefest (Harper and Shive operate as Afterbirth Casserole, which will continue as a mixed media label and production company), Harper passed the keys (and headaches) to Jonathan Hughes, a Milestone bartender who’s effectively been managing the club since May 2009. Shive and Harper, both hard-wired with strong streaks of gallows’ humor, kid about the transfer. But you sense the wistfulness beneath as this chapter in their lives closes.  Harper comes from a family of self-starters and entrepreneurs, and it doesn’t sit well that he couldn’t take the club into the black. But he says he has no other real regrets — “the good times far outweigh the bad,” he insists — and that includes whose hands he leaves his legacy in.  “The last thing I wanted, after all the hype we built up and how many people love that place,” Harper says, “was to just walk away from it and not have anything happen, or have it fall into some jackass’s hands that turned it into something terrible — fuck that.” To get an idea of Harper’s devotion, you only have to know that he lived in the Milestone’s booze, sweat and smoke summer-melt and winter-freeze for two years. He slept on its couches, washed his feet in the sink, even battled varmints for morning-after pizza slices.  “It was like living commando style. Every penny I made was going right back into the place,” he says. “Hell, I was 23. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing…we felt obligated to help every single band out that wanted to play — we had to figure out how to make this happen.”  That’s one thing the 27-year-old Hughes swears he’s won’t ever do: live in the Milestone. The Lincolnton native has a wife and two-year-old — Harper was a bachelor until he married Oct. 31 — and enjoys having a “regular home life.” But he’s not immune to the Milestone’s charms and spells. He first stepped into the club in 2005 when his punk band, 25 Minutes to Go, played it. He later wound up filling in here and there for other bartenders, then came on staff full-time and watched first-hand as Harper’s frustrations unraveled him.  “It was pretty obvious to everybody that he was running body and mind through the ringer doing what he was doing,” Hughes says. “I knew that if he was desperate enough, if he really, really

Baton Jonathan Hughes

needed to get out, he could sell it to anybody. And then what would happen? What would my life be like if just some jackoff from uptown came in there and tried to make it something different?  “The worst thing that could ever happen to the Milestone is to be owned by somebody with enough money to run the Milestone.”  That won’t change under Hughes, but a few key things will, he says. The venue closed in late-November for some minor but

“The worst thing that could ever happen to the Milestone is to be owned by somebody with enough money to run the Milestone.” —Jonathan Hughes necessary renovations, but more significant fixes are in the works. Though Hughes remains good friends with Harper and Shive, and learned from both, he also sees areas where the Milestone has yet to realize its potential.  “I never thought that I had a better way of doing things than Neal ever did, but I felt like I always had a bit better business sensibility,” Hughes says of his negotiations with Flowers. “Not than Neal now, but versus Neal six years ago.”  Most changes have to do with the venue’s booking. Hughes and his new booker Wyley Buck Boswell (another Milestone employee) hope to open up the calendar to local bands who haven’t been invited to play before — mostly because Shive had his hands full negotiating with touring acts.  “There’s no reason for certain bands to play in certain venues, but the fortunate thing about the Milestone is there’s really not a kind of band that couldn’t play at the Milestone and have a great show,” Hughes says.  Though they’ll still work together, Hughes feels that Shive’s booking has outgrown the Milestone. He cites former Milestone owner Penny Craver’s mid-90s move to the much bigger Tremont Music Hall for similar reasons.

Philip Shive (L) and Neal “MF” Harper

 “Philip, he’s getting offers for huge shows, and he’d be a fool not to bring these bands to Charlotte,” Hughes says. “But the problem we have is that we can’t pull the people in to meet the money these bands are asking for (Ed. interruption: the club’s capacity is 170). Philip’s a great negotiator, he’s able to get us bands for much lower prices and guarantees than you would ever imagine — bands getting $3,000 to $4,000 the night before are taking home $800 and are happy because they had a great time.  “So I don’t see myself saying, ‘No, Philip, we’re not interested in that great band you want to bring to the Milestone.’ But because he’ll be independent, those’ll be his risks.”  Hughes wants to stop paying bands out of the night’s bar profits, and for that he has to figure out a way to avoid shows where three patrons come to see critically acclaimed acts. It’s common enough for Shive to recount the familiar pattern, “ ‘Well, I lost a couple hundred bucks tonight, but they gave me another t-shirt!’ ”  “It’s hard for the bands, it’s hard for you as a fan, it’s hard for me as an employee — it’s embarrassing,” Hughes concedes. “Neal is one of my best friends, and I’d be really disappointed in myself if I let him down. I’m pretty optimistic about it, though. I think we’ll be okay, but I’d be a fool not to be nervous.”  Meanwhile, theories are winging across the table at Chuck E. Cheese while a kids’ version of the Cars’ “Good Times Roll” seems only to highlight the fact that fewer people listen to live music these days. Is it that the Milestone, located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, is just too far from the bar-happy artist/ musician enclave of Plaza-Midwood, or the trendy venues and eateries of North Davidson? Should the city’s local bands do a better job promoting their Milestone gigs? Is it Charlotte’s fickle music scene? The sub-prime recession? Too many computer chippowered diversions these days?  The consensus answer is: Who the fuck knows and all of the above. But like Harper says, new venues come and go, yet the Milestone goes on. At least as long as there are music believers willing to sacrifice almost everything. shuf10 29

Venue News

Now Playing: Asheville

Static Age stage shut down By Corbie Hill


ith Asheville still basking in the afterglow of MoogFest and other national spotlight-events like 2007’s Smashing Pumpkins Orange Peel residency, there’s a natural assumption that all the attention just has to benefit the local music scene, too. A trickle down music scene theory, if you will, for Asheville’s ‘quirky little art town’ image.  But how friendly, really, is Asheville to homegrown talent?  Local or fringe-friendly venues don’t seem to be reaping the benefits as the hordes flock to the Orange Peel or Thomas Wolfe. For one, the big rooms’ booking policies don't embrace a lot of locals. The Grey Eagle doesn’t accept demos, and the Orange Peel’s website flatly states that “on rare occasions we book local support for shows” — followed by the suggestion that bands build a name for themselves in the town’s small rooms (the venue does host periodic local showcases). Yet this year alone, Static Age Records, New French Bar, The Rocket Club, and several other entry-level venues have gone quiet.  To be fair, Static Age didn’t close, but the record shop dodged eviction only by canceling all future shows. “That’s threatening the business,” owner Joel Hutcheson says of the eviction notice. “[The landlord] wasn’t fucking around.” But Hutcheson wasn’t fucking around either, not with his bookings. He mixed touring Photo courtesy of Static Age

heft with local aggression, bringing in notable out-of-towners like Municipal Waste, Nachtmystium and Screaming Females, and local heroes like Just Die!, Ahleuchatistas and Reigning Sound. Baroness, notably, played the shop on a night off from their tour with Deftones.  “I worked the door,” says veteran Asheville musician Justin Whitlow, of US Christmas, Shadow of the Destroyer and The Cuisinartist. “They only charged $8, and Baroness could get more than that if they wanted to.” Asheville has a history of adventurous nontraditional venues like Static Age, and local 30 Venues shuffle ten

music fans trace a lineage back through defunct spots like Gourmet Perks, Akumi, El Nuevo, and the much mythologized Vincent’s Ear.  Some say these venues fell victim to gentrification, to the rents and condominium buildings downtown. Within a few blocks of Static Age stand several venues — Bobo Gallery, The Emerald Lounge and Broadway’s — that condo residents have complained about because of noise, Hutcheson says.  The area in question, Lexington Avenue, was known for its freaks. But both Whitlow and Dave Reinhardt, drummer for hardcore mainstay JUST DIE!, say even that’s changed. The gutter punks and train-hoppers have retreated into Carolina Lane, the grungy alleyway tucked between Broadway and Lexington, Reinhardt says. They’ve been replaced with a lot of upscale types “that are out sort of promenading, looking good, being out, spending money,” he says. “It’s like a fashion show, you know?” Jarrett Daugherty of New Jersey band Screaming Females wryly notes that “there are a lot of places to buy fancy lamps.”  The irony, as Whitlow sees it, is that visitors come to the mountain city for the fringe culture, but that “because of their money and that constant inflow, businesses want to make it more desirable for the tourists, so it pushes that element out,” he says. “It’s kind of this Catch-22.” Hutcheson admits there’s gentrification, but thinks the problem’s been exaggerated. Many new businesses downtown are locally owned, and he points out that tourism is the biggest industry in Asheville.  Both Screaming Females and Just Die! played well-attended shows at Static Age, but noisy punk shows seem increasingly incompatible with a tourist-friendly downtown. Reinhardt takes a practical view. “The landowners, they’ll get their money either way,” he reasons. “There’s undesirable stuff going on (at the shows): people drinking cans of beer out on the sidewalk, hooting and hollering, people with leather jackets and spiky hair and shit.”  Still, that hard-edged vibe continues. “Shit gets shut down here all the time,” says Hutcheson. “But two seconds later, something good opens.” And The Get Down, where both Just Die! and Shadow of the Destroyer have already played well-attended shows, is evidently the new spot.  It’s worth noting that the unassuming little dive, though safely across the river from downtown, is a short sprint from a police substation. And whether music tourism a la MoogFest will eventually benefit the part of the scene that’s always scuttling from one seemingly temporary home to another seems irrelevant. It has survived so far, and will likely continue to, without any trickle-down benefits from the city’s marquee events. shuf10

Venue News

Now Playing: Winston-Salem

Ziggy’s Returns in new spot By Ryan Snyder


ith The Garage and its barely 100-person capacity just about the only venue keeping the once-bustling Winston-Salem music scene on life support over the past three years, it feels like the doors of Ziggy’s Tavern have been closed far longer than they actually have been. But with the number of months until the iconic music club makes its return countable on one hand, anticipation is building.  When Ziggy’s closed its doors on Nov. 25, 2007, after a performance by the soon-to-be Josh Phillips-less Booty Band, there was no indication that it would ever return. Owner and Bo Diddly at the old Ziggy’s Photo by Daniel Coston

manager Jay Stephens set off to promote shows at an assortment of other locations, including the Millennium Center, the Lawrence Joel Coliseum, and outdoor spots near the freshly bulldozed club that stood on the edge of Wake Forest’s campus for more than 20 years.  But Stephens kept the idea of a new location in the back of his mind throughout, privately vetting potential investors until reaching a deal over the summer with newspaper publisher Charles Womack this summer.  Construction at the new location, on the corner of 8th and Trade Streets on the outskirts of the downtown Winston-Salem Arts District, is, according to Stephens, right on track.  “As far as we know, everything is on schedule with the developers,” he says during a phone interview. “Unless we run into any bad weather or anything like that, we should still be alright for the mid-March date.”  In addition to an adjoining tavern that will operate independently of the main room, Stephens says that garage-

style doors will allow bar access for patrons from the parking lot, where a mobile stage will allow for outdoor events. As a logistical precaution, Stephens says he won’t officially begin booking acts until sometime between Christmas and the first weeks of 2011, but he has already been in contact with a number of artists about the reopening in March.  “We’ve been told by the developers that we’ll have our building shell up completely by December 31st,” Stephens said. “If that is true, then we’re on schedule and we’ll start booking. But I don’t want to go overboard and book a bunch of shows that I might have to shuffle at the last minute in case something gets delayed.”  Though there’s still plenty of time to fill out the concert calendar, Stephens has big plans for the venue’s first week. Though the capacity could double from 750 to as high as 1500, the “Roots, Rock, Reggae” edict of the old Ziggy’s will remain.  “We plan on having a full week of big shows that first week, and we’re going to do every genre of music,” Stephens said. “We’re going to have a really big rock band, really good reggae, pop and jam music. We’re going to try and hit all of the audiences we have in the past and make it a whole-week blowout.”  The stage of the new Ziggy’s will have an extra 75 square feet of space, to go along with a considerably higher riser — from two feet at the old location to four feet at the new. Press and photographers won’t have the benefit of a dedicated photo pit, but Stephens says that every effort will be made to accommodate. Some of the improvements, however, aren’t readily apparent.  “We’re going to have two artist greenrooms in the back with a state of the art dressing room with showers and everything,” Stephens added. “It’ll be a lot nicer than what the old Ziggy’s had.” shuf10 Google Sketchup representation of new Ziggy’s 31

Reviews Listen to This

Jar-e Blood of the Summer Exotic Recordings


have no qualms using “smooth” as a pejorative. I want music that excites and inspires, not that casts lovely, benign hues of pretty, polite and boring beige across my brain. This just makes Blood of the Summer the more confounding. It’s smooth, yeah, and my brain keeps telling me I should hate it. And in some cases that crotchety old brain of mine is right. The already succinct record is mostly top-heavy with the reggae-lilt of “One

By One” and the organ-rock of “Amends” claiming most of the energy for the A-side. And “Witch Doctor” might be a murky shot at psych-pop that falls unfortunately into OffBroadway B-sides — and gets worse as singer Jon Reid tries to emote like Justin Vernon through the bridge. But it’s not smooth like my stool after a bowl of bran flakes. It’s a different kind of smooth like one might describe a good blended whisky: flavorful, rich, relaxing. Even

as it walks a narrow path between adult-contemporary snooze-rock and abstract, emotionally distant indie, it remains outside the range of either. The band’s figurehead, Reid, leads with an assured falsetto that occasionally trails off into Jim James reverb-land — and shows the same affinity My Morning Jacket has displayed for syrupy, seductive soul. The chiming, slow-jam guitars, warm brass and keyboard accents, and Reid’s nimble

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Jon Reid illustration by Taylor Williams

falsetto, would seem to paint the band too squarely as square, though. One wonders if it’s Reid, or the studio assists from Floating Action’s Seth Kauffman and Toubab Krewe’s Drew Heller, that lend the record its dusty grooves swing, its earthy funk, and its dubby resonance. “Cuckold” might suffer for the moment Reid croons “When all that you do/Means nothing when I’m inside you” — which sticks out like a gym-shorts boner — but the song more

than redeems itself with New Orleans brass, Mississippi slide guitar and Motown horns. So even with its flaws, there’s something seductive about Blood of the Summer. I might not want it to stick around in the morning, but that won’t keep me from enjoying it for a while. —W.T. Wilson

Ayr Eternal Sustain Nervous Light There’s something distinctly bipolar here. It’s not that Ayr can’t decide whether to play melancholy post-metal or pound with Nordic heaviness, rather it’s that this band wants to express an imperfect balance between the two. Even in only four tracks, Eternal Sustain is rife with paradox. Two patiently building atmospheric works (think Red Sparowes lost in high orbit) complement two triumphant, terrifying storms of black-ish metal. Without the reflective space of the ambient pieces, this would just be one more band that spends all its time turned up to 11. But without the pounding heaviness of the metal cuts, this would just be another aimless drone band. The stark contrast between tectonic ferocity and expansive ambience is emotionally draining, and casual listeners may be frightened away. But Ayr doesn’t need them. Cuts like the 12-minute “Lifted by the Light from my Breath,” with its mantric repetition and brutal intensity, reward the patient. —Corbie Hill

The Beast and Nnenna Freelon Freedom Suite Self-released By the time Durham hiphop quartet The Beast had assembled 2009’s Silence Fiction, frontman Pierce Freelon had found his voice in social-improvement incitements and sci-fi references; the backing trio — drummer Stephen Coffman, keyboardist Eric Hirsh and bassist Peter Kimosh — was plying nimble beats, engaging melodic interplay, and clever

reinterpretations of familiar motifs. But Freedom Suite takes it all a step farther. The collaborative and conceptual exploration of border territories between jazz and hip-hop helmed in tandem by The Beast and Freelon’s mother, Grammynominated vocalist Nnenna Freelon — and buttressed by luminaries of N.C. hip-hop, R&B, and jazz, including YahZarah, Phonte, Apple Juice Kid, Camp Lo’s Geechie Suede and Kooley High — is something of a masterpiece. More than any concept, Freedom Suite, is the product of strong individual components creating a whole, stronger than its contributors could likely muster alone. —Bryan Reed

Bailey Cooke Bailey Cooke self-released By the time this five-song EP dropped, Charlotte’s Bailey Cooke was listing Nashville, TN, as another home-base. Judging by these tunes’ old school DNA, that’d be Nashville circa ‘57…or even ‘27. She covers some of country’s biggest names and canonical songs – The Carter Family’s “Cannonball Blues”, Woody Guthrie’s “Ramblin’ Round”, B.F. Shelton’s “Darling Cora” -- with to-a-tee accents of pedal steel, fiddle, and banjo. Cooke’s clawhammer playing has won competitions, and with her honeyed drawl, she acquits herself quite well on these classics. But Cooke comes from a long line of Piedmont cotton mill workers, so her two originals – the lonesome train blues “Alabama Bound” (nope, not Leadbelly’s) and the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings-like “Way Back Home” – come with seasoning that twang tourists can’t buy, and declare Cooke a worthy heir to the tradition. If Cooke decides the twangy pastures are greener in Nashville, that’d be Charlotte's loss — assuming the powersthat-be in Music City would know what to do with the genuine article. —John Schacht

Embarrassing Fruits Frontier Justice Trekky It may not be just, but one’s frontiers shrink as college’s wide-open vistas narrow in the rear-view. Shedding slacker idealism like scales from their eyes, Embarrassing Fruits’ second full-length, Frontier Justice, begrudgingly embraces adulthood while acknowledging the occasional rear-guard actions (“Drunkland”). Their early-90s alt-rock influences still bubble to the surface, from the caffeinated Superchunk power-chord pop of “Someday” and supple echoes of Pavement’s dulcet angularity on “Car” to Archers of Loaf’s bruising melodicism on “Total Betty.” Bassist Lee Shaw’s addition enriches the songwriting pot, though. He pens album highlight “Long Distance Breakup Summer,” a ringing mid-tempo paean to romantic entanglements and disappearing friends that epitomizes the Fruits’ encroaching maturity, and concludes, “All these incestuous love circle politics make me want to move/I’m so glad I’ve got you/Makes me feel immune/Makes me feel removed.” Their conspiracy theory ode, “Illuminati Rock” is also noteworthy, contributing to a strong album that nonetheless feels like the setup for a third album spike. —Chris Parker

The Extra Lens Undercard MERGE All you fans of the Extra Glenns will — wait, you say you never even heard of the Extra Glenns? Don’t feel bad. John Darnielle (Mountain Goats) and Franklin

Bruno (Nothing Painted Blue) have done their level best to remain off the radar, issuing a couple of singles in the early 90s, subsequently going on hiatus, then releasing a 2002 full-length, Martial Arts Weekend, and subsequently going on hiatus again. So with a modified moniker, will the third time be the charm for these elegiac-pop merchants? With Darnielle at the fore on vocals, plus guitar, and Bruno filling in the primary colors, Undercard brims with such delights as the brash, neopsychedelic “How I Left the Ministry” and the yearning, strums-andivories “Cruiserweights.” And a left-field cover of Randy Newman’s “In Germany Before the War,” with its vaguely Teutonic overtones, suggests a heretofore unexplored spiritual connection between the Old Maestro and the Young ones. More, please — and skip the hiatus this time, lads. —Fred Mills

The Foreign Exchange Authenticity Foreign Exchange Music Now fully committed to fleshing out the smooth, R&B/ soul sound first explored on their second album, Leave It All Behind — which itself marked a decided move away from The Foreign Exchange’s more rap-centric debut — once-Little Brother MC Phonte has fully traded rhyming for singing. Still, he and Wilmington-viaThe Netherlands producer Nicolay aren’t doing anything groundbreaking, even relative to themselves. Detractors won’t complain so much that this is a continued departure from Phonte’s hip-hop roots, but that the record is decidedly un-hip; this is largely refined, contemporary modern R&B. But whatever you want to call closing tracks “Laughing at Your Plans” and “The City Ain’t the Same Without You,” you should use words like lovely and captivating. It would be easy enough to hate on an

effort like this for its relative simplicity, but it’s a lot easier just to relax and enjoy it. —William Morris

Future Islands Undressed Thrill Jockey This far too brief and far too limited release is a fluke, a gambit and a black sheep in Future Islands’ rapidly growing catalog. Initially recorded as a radio session, the four-song Undressed sheds the thick fog of synthesizers Future Islands usually employs to propel its revisionist new wave. Here, joined by friends from their adopted hometown (Baltimore), Future Islands has created a proper acoustic EP that refuses to play the gimmick, opting instead to lay bare the songcraft. The normally exuberant frontman, Samuel T. Herring, flexes the full range of his voice, from his tight, brash bellow to restrained whispers that seem to evoke similarly distinct voices like Destroyer’s Dan Bejar or Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug. Atop elegant strings and piano, Herring reveals himself to be a more convinced and more nuanced vocalist than he usually gets credit for when the band is pumping basement party anthems with abandon. The only downside here is the brevity and scarcity with which Future Islands reveals this side of itself. —Bryan Reed

Gray Young staysail 307 Knox Records Gray Young’s debut Firmament skirted the worlds of shoegaze and post-rock just so, bringing both instrumental palettes to  33

Reviews (cont’d) the table without letting either dominate the conversation. Concision was key, too, and what vocals there were worked better as additional texture than narrative messenger. On staysail, though, singer/ guitarist Chas McKeown’s voice plays a more prominent role with mixed results. His limited range nearly sinks “Unbound” and “Prescience,” acoustic guitar and banjodominated left-turns, and adds little from its spotlight on metallic-gauze cuts like “Ten Years” and “Meridian.” But “Cycles” and “Vermillion” recapture the band’s wellblended rumbling drums and bass coated with guitar haze, and McKeown’s just another texture here; words don’t matter and you don’t mind. There’s a blueprint for Gray Young’s sophomore slippage in San Francisco’s Film School, who tread a similar sonic path and delivered less-than-scintillating releases after a promising debut. Whether it’s the format’s limited palette, or McKeown’s monochromatic delivery, the resulting downturn, while not yet a deal-breaker, still suggests the Raleigh band has important decisions in its future. —John Schacht

Grids Kansas Made In Kansas On Kansas, Charlotte’s Grids present a hardcore/ noise hybrid that threatens to, but never does, become predictable over the course of its 20 minutes. They keep on introducing new elements, whether it’s a female voice (Helen Rhinehart, of Athens noisemongers Chrissakes) or a particularly riffy, droning bass line, and those new elements act as hooks. The guitars are typically a wall of squealing and surging feedback, sometimes approaching Coleman-esque sax-skronk. The vocals stay away from hardcore’s more barky vocalizers, and emote quite heavily on “Old California,” which begins “Three fucking weeks and I can only last twooooo/ I’m a mess,”

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and ends with a drum dirge. “Friend” slows things down with some drum rolls and echoing vocals, and the rumbling bass and dirty guitar hook of closer “Drilling” reminds the listener just how diverse Kansas is. Grids take what could be their weakness, and, by recognizing it, turn it into strength. I’d love to see what they could do with an hour. —Jesse Steichen

Hardcore Lounge Dance of My Life Possumwalk Wes (vocals) and Chris (keys, vocals) Johnson have been on the Queen City scene since well before the Sue Myrick and Rev. Joe Chambers dark ages, which is just another way of saying they’ve paid their dues while steadily refining their musical visions. And no, we’re not talking “lounge” as a descriptor. Abetted by bassist Marco Heeter, drummer Marlon Young and keyboardist/singer Mary Allegrucci (plus a host of guest players), the Johnsons serve up a rich buffet that includes the lush Latino pop of “Arrival and Departure,” the countrytwangin’, pedal steel-flecked “Love Song,” the anthemic garage/soul of “Holiday” and the unabashed hi-nrg disco swirl that is the title track. Earnestly buoyant vocals from Wes — who just might have a Tom Jones album or two in his collection — help seal the deal. A fun record from start to finish. —Fred Mills

Hellblinki These Bubbles Come From Ants Weirdhead Publications “Mix it up into a pot/some black and gorgeous master plot,” Hellblinki’s master of ceremonies Andrew Benjamin

sings over jaunty horns and manic guitar lines on “Bubbles,” the opening track from the band’s fourth full-length. The lyric works as a thesis, too, for this Asheville-based outfit’s darkly comic music, conjured out of bits of Weimar Republic cabaret, Italian operetta, infernal Slavic folk waltzes and psycho swamp blues. Benjamin’s “fiends” and “zombie kings” flirt with madness and chaos, drawn to the flames of power, lust and lechery — or perhaps driven there by the songs, where singing saws shadow operatic vocals, tuba fuels a dance macabre, and mariachi horns mingle with Middle Eastern melodies. Hellblinki gets compared to Tom Waits because of the Brecht/Weill strain, but Benjamin shares more in common vocally — and sometimes thematically — with Pulp’s sardonic Jarvis Cocker. Some tracks veer into the cartoonish, keeping Bubbles from greater heights, but as antidote to the rock grind, it succeeds. —JG Mellor

Last Year’s Men Sunny Down Snuff Churchkey In the 60s, neighboring youngsters would gather in garages to make raw, raucous rock & roll. (Or in rec rooms, but the term rec room rock never really took off.) Nowadays, such collaborations typically involve passing files back and forth online. Thus, one of the many thrilling things about this LP from Chapel Hill’s youthful Last Year’s Men — songwriter/ vocalist/guitarist Ben Carr (18), guitarist Geoff Schilling (22), and drummer Ian Rose (17) — is that it sounds truly garage-born, just like the good old days when these guys were, like, negative 25 years old. Other thrills include the couplachords-and-a-cloud-of-nervousenergy pop-punk perfection of opener “Paralyzed” and the gang harmonies that bring the shape-shifting epic “Old Letter” to a joyous, ramshackle-choir close. Biggest thrill? “Beware”

Reviews and “Make Me Feel Okay,” the mid-record pair that somehow approximates what Sam Cooke would have sounded like had he been three Chapel Hill youngsters making raw, raucous, and oh so welcome rock & roll. —Rick Cornell

Le Weekend DBLSCRT Self-released The art-rock trio Le Weekend updates mildly vintage styles — the shouty tunefulness of pre-mainstream emocore and the sinewy dynamics of 90s math-rock — with highmodern pastiches, forging a unique new sound. From former projects like The Nein and Audubon Park, we know these guys like to straddle the traditional and the esoteric, a duality DBLSCRT captures more purely than their debut, Suite. Most songs here appear in two versions — the melting cube of harmonies on “Symii,” for example, were excised from the balefully breezy “Sym2” — although usually the boundary between construct and deconstruction is more porous. In spirit if not sound, I’m reminded of Arthur Russell, another studio auteur who recorded his songs in endlessly fragmenting variations. This is detail-obsessed songwriting, wrought like a Baroque tapestry, with careful accents of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion shining out like gilt thread, courtesy of local favorites like Chris Eubank, Wendy Spitzer, Crowmeat Bob, and Shannon Morrow. Brawny and brainy, it’s a treat for fistpumpers and beard-strokers alike. —Brian Howe

Les Sins Lina Carpark Les Sins represents Columbia’s Chaz Bundick’s second stylistic morph of 2010. First, under his Kanye-approved Toro Y Moi tag, he ditched the sunshiny weed-disco (see also: chillwave) of his full-length, Causers of This, for the garage-ier but no less lovely sound of the Leave Everywhere 7-inch. Now, as Les Sins — a project that’s been around the blogosphere for well over a year — Bundick is going full-on disco-house. Maybe it’s just double-time chillwave, still full of waterpark synth layers and gauzy beats. But rest assured, this is the shit you drop at the apex of a dance party, not a Corona commercial. And if the crowd bites, you’re in for an Ibiza-style ecstasy-atsunrise jammer. While short on earworms like Causers of This’ “Blessa” or “You Hid,” Les Sins finds Bundick at the peak of his production prowess. —Topher Manilla

Low Sky Led Zeppelin House Show Headfirst A project born of Greensboro post-rock giants BraveYoung, and hardcore stalwarts Advent, Low Sky’s five-song cassette debut — as you might expect — marries the intensity of hardcore with the deliberation and dynamics of post-rock. At times, as on the noise-addled “Streets Of Gold,” this makes for a delightfully disorienting spree of tense restraint and explosive release, complemented by searing feedback and throaty howls. Elsewhere, the foursome reaches for sludgy heave-ho — not unllike early Baroness — or emotive post-hardcore — like a grimier Thrice — to varying

effect. “The Perilous Gray” opens with a spare guitar and mumbled melodic vocals, delaying the song’s wonderfully turgid center unnecessarily. But despite such hesitations, Led Zeppelin House Show displays Low Sky’s greatest promise: enhancing hardcore’s dynamic range without sacrificing the impulsive catharsis that is its foundation. —Hank Garfield

Luz Light, Among Other Things Self-released This Charlotte band’s six-song EP is certainly promising, if a bit schizophrenic. Fronted by Stephen Morrison, the five-piece’s best tracks employ relaxed tempos and subtle textures to generate slow-build momentum. The mood is warm but wistful, like Red House Painters or Pedro the Lion, and the religious narrative undertow certainly echoes David Bazan. What gives tracks like “Nobody Knows My Name” and “Effect” some nice contrastwallop, however, are the reverbheavy crescendos that break out like sudden thunderstorms, then siphon off through digital whirlpools. But the faster tempos and louder sonics, like those on “Religion,” tilt AOR, and that track’s shoegaze guitar solo feels jerry-built. Morrison’s autumnal Joe Pernice-like voice on the quieter tracks suits the textures to a tee, but on “Come On, Honey,” and even the outro to “Effect,” he comes perilously close to the over-emotive whinging of a Chris Martin. Morrison writes in the liner notes that these songs “continue to shift and metamorphose” — hopefully they’ll continue in the direction that seems most fruitful here. —John Schacht  35

Reviews (cont’d)

MAKE EP 1 Self-released As neato as the band’s horizontally-challenging moniker is, naming your band “Make” and your debut “EP 1” makes you completely un-Googleable. Give it a shot. Frustrating, yes, but not as frustrating as listening to a clearly talented band — they’ve got chops, ideas, balls and solid production — wasting its time in a sub-Tool progmetal fantasy. It’s got all the hallmarks: The extended, winding song structures, the “here’s my metal voice”/”here’s my normal voice” thing, the slow and heavy bits, the melodic passages, etc., etc. I like so many things about this band (and from our e-mail exchange, they seem to be very pleasant and slightly goofy), but the package they’re wrapped in just holds nothing for me. I wish they’d more often go for the extremities of their sound, as they do somewhat on “White Light/Desert Throne,” which starts off repetitively beatific, blows out into doom with wraith-like, vomiting vocals, but then ends as somewhat bland, if pretty, stoner rock. —Jesse Steichen

Maple Stave LP1 Self-released Maple Stave has made a name in Durham, its hometown, by packing one hell of a wallop. The trio thrashes through a thicket of tight-wound baritone guitars and drumming that hits with the quickness and impact of chain-gun rounds. On its first full-length, this intensity remains one of the band’s best assets. The exemplary EP3 holdover “Heng Dai,” for

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example, bends time signatures with brute force as nervy guitar tones give way to chaotic bouts of distorted arrhythmia. But Maple Stave is also more spatially aware than before, allowing room for incremental crescendoes that lend even more force to incendiary moments. “If They Are Brave, They Will Fight” springs from lush picking and a steady bass line before mad-dog drumming splits the song open into a breathless cavalcade. Allowing its forces to build up before it attacks, LP1 manages seismic impact while remaining immensely satisfying from beginning to end. —Jordan Lawrence

Brian McGee The Taking or the Leaving Self-released Asheville’s Brian McGee, lead singer and guitarist of mid90s northeastern punk outfit Plow United, fills his second LP with the kind of everyman rock that made Springsteen a household name 30-plus years ago and drives bands like Gaslight Anthem today. There will always be a place for this no-frills Americana in the kinds of bars The Blues Brothers played after getting the band back together, especially given the touches of pedal steel and organ that show up this time around. And though his raw vocals are somewhat smoothedover, this isn’t unimaginative, limited or one-toned in any way — “Let’s Bleed” recalls Son Volt, while “First Kiss” could pass as a Strokes cover. You can call this alt-country or rockabilly, but tracks like “Driving Horses” expose the record for what it really is: essentially genreless, genuine rock & roll that doesn’t insist upon itself but generously sates listeners’ hungry hearts. —William Morris

Jenks Miller and Nicholas Szczepanik American Gothic Small Doses Though Jenks Miller’s recorded work has been remarkably diverse — ranging from cloudy, peaceful drones to harsh black metal to heavy blues meditation — patience has been its consistent virtue. American Gothic, a 35-minute collaborative exercise shared between Miller and D.C. sound artist Nicholas Szczepanik, is no exception. Here, the pair mostly trades in lush electronic drones that rise and recede like tides. The duo dives into dense, harsh timbres as eagerly as clear, meditative tones, never more adeptly than on “White Light,” which pits crashing waves of harsh electronics against shimmering, sunlit keyboard chords, matching panoramic beauty to raw power for a delirious effect. This trades the instrumental narrative Miller offered with his 2009 post-metal opus The Invisible Mountain (released under his Horseback marquee), for wide swaths of applied sound, which serve instead as a series of tangentially connected vignettes, each suggesting further possibilities in emotionally compelling instrumental composition. —Bryan Reed

The Moaners Nocturnal Holidays for Quince The Moaners have been playing outlaw country-tinged blues rock for six years and, now, three LPs. Nocturnal is a logical step in the duo’s evolution with a hint that — if it so chooses — it could go off the deep end into scary-good experimental folk. “Barbarian in China” is

three-and-a-half minutes of undeniable transcendence, evoking the bleak minimalism of Patti Smith’s deeply troubled Gone Again. It is — easily — the finest cut. More commonly, Southern rock truisms are given new life in songs like “Ramblin’” and “Blue Moon.” By and large, the Moaners’ lyrics are elegant in their tipsy simplicity, with guitarist and vocalist Melissa Swingle often evoking Johnny Cash-level sincerity. The musicianship is fantastic and uncluttered. So it’s okay if “Moonshiner” goes on too long, or if “Happiness Is the Road” collapses under its own lack of subtlety; the rest of the record is quite human, quite honest, and quite good. —Corbie Hill

Monsonia 33.3 Holidays for Quince This is one tense record. Alice in Chains achieved this kind of sustained anxiety in their better work, but even Staley and Cantrell let listeners up for air every once in a while. Not so with Monsonia. The record ends with the naked desperation of “Lived in Caves,” where a voice sunk in big guitars and bigger drums hints at a failed relationship that, 20 years out, remains unresolved. “Lumberjack Stunts” rides an unsteady truce between swaggering, stoner swing and a seething, repressed guitar that finally breaks loose in the third minute. Even then, there’s no resolution, it’s as if the song lost its temper, twitching eyelids and all. Much like hard rock did in the 90s, Monsonia brings metallic intensity to a format accessible to non-metalheads. The trio’s instrumental sound is huge, throaty, and dark, yet the vocal style brings a vulnerable, frantic quality that shapes the unbelievable tension endemic to 33.3. —Corbie Hill

The Old Ceremony Tender Age Alyosha Hyper-lush production. Keenly fashioned 60s pop hooks and arrangements. A confident, poetic (and well-named) crooner at the helm. The Old Ceremony’s latest longplayer is matured, well-versed pop-rock, if not a bit stated. Perhaps it’s a retro-leaning, but slightly younger brother of The National, trading in the 4AD stars’ jittery, haunted edge for an overall nostalgic swagger and bounce. That said, one of its most successful cuts comes in the wide-open, slo-mo strummer, “I Don’t Believe It,” a ballad concerning a lover in the midst of one of life’s darker moments. The hook contained in its verse is as timeless a thing as I’ve heard. Even if removed from its pluckier chorus, it backstrokes along magically. The kitchen sink percussion and reverb of songs like “Ruined My Plans” and “All At Once” call to mind Grizzly Bear’s production as much as Phil Spector’s. The casually ornate (but not fussy) and delicate (but not twee) Tender Age is another finely executed, accomplished longplayer from the reliable Django Haskins and his crack team. —Topher Manilla

Paleface One Big Party Ramseur The title of “You Will Get What You Want,” the song that opens the new one from Concordbased singer/songwriter/multiinstrumentalist/interesting character Paleface, can be considered prophetic if these are among the things you want: A strummy testimonial that deftly dodges being monotonic

Reviews (“She’s So”); shimmery evidence that if Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are unable to fulfill their She & Him duties, drummer/ partner Monica “Mo” Samalot and Paleface could step right in (the title track); a knowingly retro rocker with a chorus destined to age better than that of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” (“Rock N Roll”); a crooning, quirky number where Dex Romweber meets NRBQ (“Understand the Man”); and the missing link between Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On” and Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” (“U Gotta Move On”). That’s only half the roster, but you get the idea: An entertaining variety pack, each song beating with the kind of homegrown and inquisitive heart that gives new-folk a good name. —Rick Cornell

The Parting Gifts Strychnine Dandelion In The Red The Parting Gifts began life as a proposed 45 teaming Reigning Sound’s Greg Cartwright with The Ettes’ Coco Hames. The studio chemistry clicked (Cartwright also produced The Ettes’ 2009 LP Do You Want Power), and after subsequent sessions found Dan Auerbach, the Raconteurs’ Patrick Keeler and assorted Ettes/RS members pitching in, they unexpectedly had an album. Of the two, Hames veers from her garage/punk safety zone the most: on a cover of the Stones’ “Sleepy City” she’s like Duffy in a Phil Spector biopic, while on her own “My Mind’s Made Up” she dons cowgirl boots and adopts a rockabilly gal’s twang. For his part Cartwright, though in a subtly poppy frame of mind, maintains his unmistakable soulful rasp. Yet when each singer tackles the other’s compositions — she on his sweeping, romantic epic “Born to Be Blue”; he on her swampy, 50s-ish “My Baby Tonight” — that’s when the real sparks fly, effectively clearing the way for an intriguing stage summit. —Fred Mills

Shards Shards Sorry State Shards is a vicious band, but not in the barking, growling dog-on-a-chain way that a lot of hardcore bands favor. Instead, Shards’ particular ferocity is that of an absently snarling feral cat that might be rabid. You can’t quite tell if it’s agitated, hungry or both, or when it might decide to wage its tooth and claw assault. Most of this is derived from William Evans’ foaming-at-the-mouth vocals; he slurs and drawls in the vague outline of melodies. The rest of the band — bassist Evan Willams, guitarist Matt Watson and drummer Cameron Craig — fills the space behind Evans with fractured, lunging riffs that balance violent attack, dark atmosphere and basement party pep, like West Coast hardcore icons TSOL or a nascent Black Flag. The result is a singularly exhilarating and repeatedly surprising take on the genre that makes for a hell of a record. —Hank Garfield

Spacelab Spacelab Blastco Records With opening track “Seventy Seven” gurgling forth its whorl of guitar delay over a drum machine’s martial beat, and by virtue of this Chapel Hill band’s name, one anticipates a longwinded psychedelic ride. But first-impression expectations of the record — which core members Bob Wall and Matt Welborn recorded gradually with help from contributors Ben Florin and Anne Gomez — are quickly disproved with a nuanced instrumental record, full of

kitchen-sink adventurousness and an undeniably heady vibe. “72”’s sax-driven jam transitions to the hypnotic synthesizer and bass workout of “Remove Thy Lampstand,” but Louis Farrakhan’s voice hovers over the track’s proceedings unnecessarily because the playing stands up just fine without it. Crime and the sinister live here, too: “Leonard Pt. 7” just cruises, a shining tribute to 70s homicide soundtracks, while “Chrome Darts,” would fit comfortably in a sci-fi flick. —Chris Toenes

The Tomahawks Cut Loose Self-released Getting ‘cut loose’ is nobody’s idea of fun, but as an imperative, it’s a high-proof elixir, and that’s what this Chapel Hill gang aim for on their debut. Nick Jaeger leads a revolving cast culled from a half-a-dozen Triangle acts past and present, and the Tomahawks hew to the analogprophets retro-rock aesthetic seemingly sworn to by all Drughorse Collective members. They also draw as much from Being There Wilco as they do 70s Topanga Canyon twang and Stax soul, though it’s the latter two that fire the band’s long suits: Summer hooks and singalong choruses. They loft the skywriting pilot in opener “Dear Mary,” turn the guitars on “Sunrise” to redemptive rays of daybreak after a night of overindulgence, and age the Faces-like blend of piano, organ and chunky guitar on “Reason and Rhyme” so it goes down like a smooth malt. Muddy production drains much of the nuance from the percussion, but for the most part these lovelorn songs do more than survive; they thrive. —John Schacht

Veelee The Future Sight Grip Tapes The Carrboro-based indie-pop duo Veelee values concision. Their three-song debut, Three Sides, barely broke seven minutes. With seven songs in less than half an hour, The Future Sight lurks between long EP and short LP, as befits a band whose stance is split between minimal arrangements and big, bold maneuvers. Within a perimeter of tight yet shaggy beats, lambent keyboards, and side-winding guitars, Matt Park and Ginger Wagg explore startlingly diverse terrain. Touchstones include the xx (“Blood’s Sake”), Beach House (“Animal Dreams”), Teenage Fanclub (“Amber”), and Architecture in Helsinki (“When You Gonna Come Home?”). The warm, understated vocals sound like male and female sides of the same coin, and the carefully layered harmonies (see “Taste”) belie a crafty ear for unusual phrasing. A slight rough edge — a couple abrupt endings, for instance, and the occasional over-loud guitar — are worth mentioning only because of Veelee’s enormous potential to compete on the national stage. Regardless, it’s easily one of the very best regional LPs of 2010. —Brian Howe

Veteran Assassins Veteran Assassins Head On In the rarefied realm of great hip-hop concept records, subtlety is a littleemployed mechanism. The self-titled debut by Veteran Assassins, the collaboration of Greensboro MCs Veteran Eye and ethemadassassin, uses it so effectively that it barely

registers through the first listen. Veteran Assassins pairs two MCs with distinct styles — Veteran Eye packs every line with voluble detail, and ethemadassassin’s idiosyncratic cadence is terse and raw — but on record it’s a textbook union. You’re quickly hoodwinked into believing the bombastic monologues by West Coast MC Mr. Locks — which cast the duo as thuggish hitmen hired to dispose of anonymous perpetrators — represents the album’s real M.O. You go searching for self-indulgent Mafioso rhymes, but instead find lyrics that grind that concept to dust. “We Spike TV/Y’all the Oprah Channel,” E raps on “Chips,” not referring to a decadent lifestyle, but creative ability. While the album occasionally spins its wheels on pre-fab choruses (“Go For Mine”), tracks like “Emcees?” and “Chips” systematically dismantle the mainstream hip-hop hype machine with hypnotic jazz hooks from French production team The Fakehunters. —Ryan Snyder

Wild Wild Geese Sorry, Earth Odessa Chapel Hill/Durham combo Wild Wild Geese, formed two years ago by a pair of erstwhile Spider Bags, hearken back to the lazy-hazy-crazy alt-rock 90s, channeling, at various points, Built To Spill, Superchunk and Dinosaur Jr. If that sounds like a recipe for overdriven guitars, room-filling drums and singalong choruses, go directly to the head of the class (of ’94). Serving up blurry anthems and toeing their effects pedals with ballerina-like precision, the Geese somehow make the old seem fresh again, and while the ’Chunk influence in particular does loom large on tracks such as the bouncy “Stuck Inside” and the throbbing, kinetic “Art and War,” well, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing a bowl of sugar from the neighbors once in awhile, as long as you cook up something tasty with it. —Fred Mills 37


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