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sh uffle The Ettes + U.S. Christmas + SLED + Hiss Golden Messenger

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New lineup, new approach: Pyramid The future of the music industry: Artistic Licenses

They've         jumped      to      a      major       label         and recorded         with          Rick Rubin. Their fervent fanbase seems        to grow exponentially with each sweaty, sold-out gig. And with the biggest record of their career finally out, they still rely    on      what got them here in the first place:  1

October 8th & 9th, 2009

Join us for a 2-day series of discussions that will explore the transformation of music, the music industry, and music branding—from legal to cultural considerations, media consumption to retail behavior. Industry leaders in marketing, advertising, licensing, new media and the music industry will deliver compelling content that will change the way you think about the branded experience for years to come. Event open to: Brand Managers Advertising Departments Marketing Executives Independent Labels Major Labels Music Publishers Artists & Artist Managers Music Supervisors Agency Creatives Publicists Entertainment Attorneys Media (traditional, digital, & social) Music Libraries Sonic Branding Agencies Film, TV & Interactive Directors and Producers NC Music Factory 935 N. Graham Charlotte, NC 28206 Reserve your space (RSVP Required) and find out more at:

#6 Publisher Brian Cullinan Editor In Chief John Schacht Assistant Editor Bryan Reed Design Patrick Willett Taylor Smith Marketing/Sales CJ Toscano Social Director Blake Raynor

AVETT BROTHERS14 “I remember the days of five-dollar Shoney buffets and peanut butterand-jelly sandwiches. And that wasn’t that long ago.”

The Ettes 04 SLED 05 U.S. Christmas 06 Hiss Golden Messenger 07 Pyramid’s New Day Dawns 08 Artistic Licenses 12 The Bill 20 Featured Review 22 CD Reviews 23

Contributing Writers Emily A. Benton Grayson Currin Timothy C. Davis Courtney Devores Hank Garfield Mark Kemp Topher Manila Brian Mckinney JG Mellor Fred Mills William Morris Taylor Smith Jesse Steichen Jeff Taylor Chris Toenes Patrick Wall

Contributing Photographers Scott Bilby Brumley Chianese Michael G. Cole Jason Todd Cooper Jeremy Okai Davis Jenny Hanson Kristen Miller Jordan Pepper Shuffle Magazine P.O. Box 1777 Charlotte, N.C. 28224-1777 704.837.2024 All content © 2009 Shuffle Magazine. Cover photo: Jeremy Okai Davis This page:  3 Bryan Reed

THE ETTES  Hunter Captured by Game By Fred Mills Several years of stalking is finally paying off.   Coco Hames, vocalist/guitarist and primary songwriter for the Ettes, has never been shy about her love for Greg Cartwright and his band the Reigning Sound. Not only did the Ettes cover RS classic “We Repel Each Other” on their 2006 Sympathy For The Record Industry debut Shake the Dust, on numerous occasions the trio’s hi-octane sound has been likened by critics to a distaff Reigning Sound. In interviews Hames has consistently listed Cartwright as one of her heroes, additionally suggesting he was on her shortlist of producers she’d like to work with. And when the Ettes decided to ditch their original base of Los Angeles, the first camp they pitched en route to becoming a fulltime touring concern was in Brevard, NC, just a few miles away from Cartwright’s home in Asheville. (Okay, okay; her parents have a house in Brevard. Work with me here.)   Fast-forward to 2009: The Ettes — Hames, bassist Jem Cohen and drummer Poni Silver — are prepping their third album for a September release. Titled Do You Want Power (Take Root Records) it was produced by… drumroll please… Greg Cartwright.   “I didn’t really know Greg,” Hames says, coyly, “although we have a bunch of mutual friends. But he agreed to do the record. I told him, ‘It’s good that you’ve decided you’re gonna support this. Because I don’t know where it could go

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next, Greg. I mean…’” — here, she drops her voice down to a sexy purr dripping with veiled menace, like one of James Bond’s femme fatales — “’if you didn’t say yes, I don’t know what could happen. I’d come over to your house, and everyone knows how I feel about you…’” Hames trails off, then cackles loudly.   Never fear, PETA supporters; Hames isn’t about to boil any bunnies. Although Power is definitely a steaming, thick, heady cauldron of sound, with everything from widescreen psychedelia and the trio’s trademark girl-group garage-shock to unexpected diversions into baroque pop and countryish freak-folk. It’s at once a logical progression from Dust and 2008’s Look at Life Again Soon and, with its layered production and sophisticated songwriting, a brilliant leap forward artistically. Cartwright’s presence is felt clearly throughout as well, for not only did he helm the whirlwind five-day Nashville recording session, he worked on arrangements, contributed numerous guitar parts (“If there’s anything on there that sounds too good to be Coco, it’s Greg,” advises Hames), and even co-wrote a song.   Though doggedly DIY ever since their inception in L.A. in 2004, the Ettes have always sought out career advice, and that’s meant aligning themselves with some of the best ears in the indie world. Their first two albums were cut in England with White Stripes producer Liam Watson, while last year’s Danger Is EP was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys

(with whom the band has toured). Cartwright himself praised the band’s instincts and work ethic, telling this writer recently what a joy it was to work with them: “They just went in and were ready to do it and keep working until we’d gotten it right, no complaints or aggravations.”   The new album’s title is also reflective of their career to date. According to Hames, it refers to freedom achieved through self-sufficiency. “My mom used to make her own clothes, and Poni makes her own too, so it’s like the things you can do on your own, you should: take control of the process. That’s the way we work as a band. We do so much by ourselves, so that ‘power’ would come from the ability to do it all for yourself.”   Currently the Ettes split their time between Nashville (where they rent a house), N.C. and London, but if you really press them they’ll admit they’re essentially nomads. Their whomping, stomping, fist-pumping live shows have earned ‘em fans across the U.S. and all over the U.K. and Europe, where they recently played in front of thousands as the Kings of Leon’s opening act. And while Hames admits that being on the road three-fourths of the year inflicts its share of damage, she also insists that she, Cohen and Silver relish the lifestyle.   “We go for broke every night [and] then you’ll come off tour and be so exhausted you can’t even form full sentences. But we can’t seem to shake it. I guess it’s just part of the whole mental disorder that has a person sacrificing everything in their life to be in a touring band.” shuf6

SLED  Metal Boy Band By Bryan Reed In 1995, when Columbia, S.C.'s Assfactor 4 released its self-titled LP, the quartet was, like many young hardcore bands, furiously trying to make sense of the world. Those who were around to see them a decade ago still adopt a reverent tone when their name comes up, not only because of the band’s infamously intense performances, but because Assfactor 4 could write a song. Among the lyrical gems on that self-titled LP is this one from “Life is Wacky” – “Life is crazy/ But nothing makes sense/ As much as this fucking noise.”   It’s a young man’s sentiment, one any adolescent punk could relate to. But as it turns out, it holds water well into adulthood.   Twelve years after the dissolution of Assfactor 4, its members aren’t so young. But for two of them, drummer Alex and guitarist Eric (Assfactor 4 was a first-names-only type of band), the noise still makes sense.   In late 2006, to create an outlet away from the pressures of work and family life, they adopted the names Cuz and Evil Dean, respectively, recruited bassist Curley from the local death metal outfit Necrocide, and became the mighty, if largely unknown, SLED.   The band’s obscurity, though, is easily attributed to its modest goals – drinking beer, talking shit and playing music. All three members have jobs, wives and children vying for their time and attention, so SLED shows are rare. They’ve done a few weekend jaunts with

Chapel Hill’s Caltrop and practice regularly, but it’s an intentionally small venture. “A lot of it is just selfish kind of stuff,” says Cuz. “It feels very good to do something creative. It’s good to do something just for having fun.”   So from Curley’s brutal bass grooves, and Evil Dean’s hardcore abrasion, the punk-metal hybrid that SLED calls its own was born. “We all have very drastically different tastes, but we knew it would probably be louder and faster,” Cuz says. “Definitely not covering Billy Joel or anything.”   The trio’s self-titled debut, a nine-track LP, soon to be released by Charlotte’s Lunchbox Records, is about as far from Billy Joel covers as you can get. Opener “Commination/Perfucked” is a deep-groove sludge-metal assault, akin to Kylesa at its heaviest. The band’s hot-tar brutality carries through in Evil Dean’s thick, throaty vocals and sidewinder riffs, even as the rhythm section steps on the accelerator, as on “Metalboyband,” and “Hi-C-Ody,” which marry death metal vocals to punk’s speed and melody.   The songs were meant to be heard, delivered with urgency and recorded to accentuate the band’s able balance of sonic heft and melodic momentum. “We knew we wanted to record [the songs],” says Cuz, “Even if just to document them for our own use, just to sit around and say, ‘Dude, that sounds good.’”   But the trio didn’t have any ambition for a major release until Lunchbox owner Scott Wishart, after seeing SLED play at Charlotte’s Milestone Club, offered to help put out an album.

  That SLED would be loud was inevitable, given the band’s lineage. But the roots of the sound run even deeper. Cuz recalls his introduction to punk rock as a kid in Rock Hill. “There was this guy a little older than us who was into skating,” he says. “He turned us on at a really early age to some very good music.” He remembers hearing Void. And he remembers a particular 7-inch – 1985’s 13-cut Hayseed Hardcore, by the obscure Canadian punk band Sons of Ishmael.   You can hear echoes of Sons of Ishmael’s light-speed pacing and frantic delivery in Assfactor 4, and though SLED’s sound is a heavier, sludgier animal, you can still hear it in the way Cuz’s drum beats push the band forward, creating much of the tension that makes the music sound as urgent as those old hardcore bands.   In that sense, documenting SLED’s contributions to Columbia’s rich history of loud, aggressive rock bands – which also includes Guyana Punch Line, One3four, Antischism and In/Humanity – stand to influence future generations.   That’s something that’s always on the mind of Cuz, the father of two boys, ages 3 and 5. “I try not to play stuff with blatant cussing, but I’ve let them hear [SLED] a couple times,” he says. “We normally listen to something a little kidfriendlier, but still good music.” They’re fans of Johnny Cash, he says, and are particularly fond of Wire’s “Ex-Lion Tamer.” The one constant in their listening habits: “Our boys don’t listen to any frou-frou bullshit.” shuf6

photo By: Scott Bilby  5

U.S. Christmas  Fortunate Sons By Bryan Reed Marion, N.C.’s U.S. Christmas is the anti-Anvil. While the veteran Canadian band soldiers on into its fourth(!) decade of obscurity, documenting its embodiment of Murphy’s Law on film with Anvil, U.S. Christmas is getting lucky. “Shit goes wrong sometimes,” Nate Hall assures me before his band headlines at Charlotte’s Snug Harbor. “But mostly shit goes right. When it counts, it goes right.” Hall played guitar for years, devouring the blues, classic rock and heavy metal. Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, Neil Young, Hawkwind and Slayer all come up in conversation. Hall considers himself a blues guitarist, not a metalhead. He found bandmates – a lucky find in small town N.C – and they started to write. The sound they found became a slow, doomy brand of psychedelic rock that is hardly in vogue outside of the loud rock underground. The group named itself after a minor character from a Sam Peckinpah film. At least, that’s how Hall remembers it. He doesn’t care much about the nomenclature. “Nobody confuses us with another band,” he says, so the name stuck. From there, the unfinished biography of U.S. Christmas reads like a teenage metalhead’s daydream. Multi-instrumentalist Matt Johnson, who bounces between electronic noisemakers, guitar, synth and theremin to create the bulk of U.S. Christmas’ psych-haze, suggested the fledgling

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photo By: Bryan Reed

band send a CD to Neurosis bassist Scott Kelly’s internet radio show, Combat Music Radio. Kelly played the music, and apparently dug it, as U.S. Christmas released its third full-length, Eat The Low Dogs, in 2008, via Neurot Recordings, the label spearheaded by Neurosis. “It was like fate,” says Hall. “That sounds kinda corny, but things keep happening to us that the chances of happening were so remote.” Next thing, U.S. Christmas is on the road playing in front of their heroes in Neurosis, touring Europe – where the band broke even, financially – landing guitar and amp sponsorships, and preparing for the next stroke of luck. But before we descend too far into hyperbole and premature mythology, let it be clear: U.S. Christmas’ rock star story is nothing like the one starring Mark Wahlberg. And no matter how lucky the band has been in its still-young career, it didn’t bring more than 20 people out to its headlining performance at Snug Harbor. But it doesn’t faze the band a bit. “If I worried how many people was at a show, then I’d never have any fun,” says Hall. Pared down to a quartet – Hall, Johnson, bassist Chris Thomas and drummer Justin Whitlow – USX’s classic rock tendencies come out in full. Surprisingly, so do Johnson’s noisier tendencies. The end result finds all of Hall’s stated referents commingling: Crazy Horse’s sprawling, spacey jams, Neurosis’ skuzzy doom, and simple, bluesy riffs stretched like skin over a drum. Hall swings his long hair out of his face, Johnson crouches to draw strands of noise from

his effects pedals. It’s loud, but it isn’t really heavy, per se. I wrote once that U.S. Christmas is like the fog floating skyward after Neurosis’ thunderstorm. That still sounds about right, even when the usual six-piece plays more guitars than synthesizers. “Versatility has been our friend,” says Hall. He better hope so. His band’s next record is a vinyl-only live album, to be released by the Chicago-based I’m Better Than Everyone Records. Its B-side features two live cuts, one new and the other a take on “Say Sister,” from Eat The Low Dogs. But what might come as a bit of a surprise is the A-side; a live set recorded this spring, unplugged. “We’d never played an acoustic set before, and I thought it came out really well,” says Hall. “I just wanted to document it, mostly.”   It might seem like a sharp left turn for a band which relies so heavily on electronic effects to create its sound. But, says Hall, “I’ve never deliberately done anything to sound a certain way.” Claiming versatility as a virtue and an unwillingness to settle into a pre-determined sound isn’t a revolutionary philosophy – how many musicians tell journalists they don’t like to categorize their sound? – but translating an amp-dependent sound to wood and strings is risky business in the wrong hands. “You’ll never be great if you limit yourself,” Hall shrugs. It’s those sharp left turns, after all, that lead to surprising discovery. Besides, U.S. Christmas, apparently, has luck on its side.shuf6

Hiss Golden Messenger  A Hai-fi Journey By Topher Manila More often than not, I’m drawn to what I’ve come to call “vibe records” – albums that don’t rely on major left turns; or the use of zany instrumentation; or stand as a future Greatest Hits collection.   Albums like Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, Califone's Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, Paul Simon's The Rhythm of the Saints and Joni Mitchell's The Hissing of Summer Lawns all lay down a very particular mood from the get-go and rarely let up. It’s a tough feat to pull off. And yeah, the same could probably be said for my taste in film – Easy Rider and Walkabout. You get the idea.   So imagine my delight upon spinning former Court & Spark frontman (and recent San Franto-Chapel Hill transplant) M.C. Taylor’s most recent effort as Hiss Golden Messenger, an album that immediately put me in the spirit of New Orleans and old school Dr. John, and held me there despite its many nods to an array of disparate musics.   “Nobody has mentioned the New Orleans spirit, but I suppose there is a burnt-out party vibe to the record,” says the 33-year-old Taylor. “And I love Dr. John; we referenced his Hoodooera albums a lot while we were making Country Hai. Talk about vibe – that dude invented it.”   But this is hardly a Mardi Gras send-up. It more often comes up like a loose, psychedelic exploration of the American South, in some ways similar to the early films of David Gordon Green: impressionist love poems to this strange region.

  “I’m obsessed with George Washington, and think it should be required viewing for anyone moving to the Piedmont region of North Carolina – and I hope that a record like Country Hai East Cotton works in even vaguely the same way as (Green’s) movies,” says Taylor. “Southern music is referenced in my work – unconsciously or no – because it constitutes a large part of my listening habits and record collection. But to describe myself as a maker of Southern music would be wrong. It’s incredible how a particular interval, timbre, tone or tempo can affect the listener so emotionally.”   Before moving to North Carolina to study the curriculum in Folklore at UNC-Chapel Hill, Taylor recorded Country Hai East Cotton with C&S member and longtime collaborator Scott Hirsch, leaving every door and window wide open for influence. And indeed, there’s some NEU!, some Dead, some Duke Ellington and some Fleetwood Mac in its DNA.   The crisp, hi-fi production is also front-andcenter – a nearly adult contemporary sound that gave Taylor a chuckle upon this reporter’s use of the phrase.   “Scott and I have always worked to make our recorded music sound as hi-fi as possible,” Taylor says. “I think it’s something we learned from an engineer [and now North Carolinian] called Scott Solter, with whom we made several albums.”   Taylor sings with the honeyed-but-worldweary voice of a young James Taylor (or maybe Chris Whitely). It’s always kept at the front of the mix, and patiently put into great effect

with every phrasing (see the chorus to “Oh Nathaniel,” which may very well be the best James Taylor tune you’ve heard in two decades – yes, I said it). The first moments of “John Has Gone to the Light” sound like the production collaboration of Daniel Lanois and King Tubby (both big influences on the record, Taylor says).   “Scott (Hirsch) and I both enjoy the wedding of vintage and new technologies in the making of music; instead of taking sides on the tedious argument of analog versus digital, why not utilize both to create something that is antique in intention, but technologically contemporary? If King Tubby were alive today, I’m sure that he’d be using ProTools to brilliant effect,” he says.   Taylor still considers himself very much a newcomer to the Chapel Hill scene, one he’s found friendly, tight-knit and knowledgeable in the vernacular of old time, country and bluegrass music. After years and years spent playing clubs with Court & Spark, Taylor said he’s indifferent at the moment about traveling in support of Country Hai East Cotton, a title that he believes signifies the mystery found on the album.   “It has a nice cadence to it, and it reminds me of where I found myself after moving east. Like the music itself, it conjures – I think – the Southern specter without elaboration. Make of it what you will.”   So, I’ve done just that. I’ve made it the soundtrack to my summer, front-porch Mojito hour. shuf6

photo By: Terri Loewenthal  7

Pyramid's New Day Dawns Four years and four ex-members later, Charlotte's experimental rockers re-emerge with a new lineup and Small Arms, a short record with a long history By John Schacht


n the first Pyramid release in four years, the sun looms even in the shadows: Drifting through drawn shades and into sleepy torpor; invoked from ocean depths or cold jail cells; or an incriminating spotlight on those who’d prefer to operate unseen.   It’s a recurring symbol you just can’t shake

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when listening to the foreboding rockers and blissed-out dreamsongs of Small Arms, the follow-up to the Charlotte-based ensemble’s 2005 debut, The First American. To be clear, these are not the sunbeams of tropical riddims or beach blanket summer pop, but a presence seen rather than felt – like constant day at near-pole latitudes. You still wouldn’t call their music

Photo collages By: Scott Nurkin

“sunny,” in other words, but it’s an apt leitmotif given that this is definitely a new dawn for Pyramid.   The blush of fresh beginnings is evident just discussing the making of Small Arms with four band members over beers at a local club, a summer evening’s cobalt skies shading into night above the open-air patio. Having parted

with four co-founders integral to the original octet’s songwriting democracy, and added three new members, the lineup changes have fundamentally altered Pyramid’s approach to music-making. And the reset has brought back into the light what seemed, from the outside anyway, to be a band that existed mostly in theory and shadows.   But with the Phoenix comes the ashes, and Pyramid’s metamorphosis includes its share of scorched emotions.   “It was a nice creative spurt of time that was very dense and was happening in light of the big-picture Pyramid, which was totally fracturing and cracking up,” says Joey Stephens, who along with Ben Best, Kris Baucom and Ryan Blaine constitute the remaining original cast (multi-instrumentalist Rodney Lanier, bassist Chris Lonon, and drummer Scott Nurkin are new to the fold). “So it became, ‘why don’t we make this what we do, and just let this other thing go?’”   And so in stages, Pyramid’s roster halved after recording sessions fell apart in 2007. The remaining fold insists relations are cordial again, and all four former members – bassist Tyler Baum, strings-player Ben Kennedy, reeds man Brent Bagwell and drummer Chris Walldorf – have minor parts on Small Arms. But for a significant stretch even the holdovers weren’t sure what would emerge after the schism, or if Pyramid, per se, would even exist.   “There was a regrouping period,” concedes Stephens, who also spent months away from Charlotte on the Albuquerque set of Observe and Report, a film by friend and director Jody Hill for which he also wrote the score. Best, too, was often out of town working on the irreverent HBO series he co-writes and co-produces, “Eastbound & Down” (Stephens co-wrote the score for that show’s first season with MC5 legend Wayne Kramer). But throughout, Stephens says, “three or four of us would just get together on a somewhat consistent basis and record weird music, and then we’d keep working on it.”   That scaled-back approach echoes Pyramid’s late-90s origins. Back then, the band was more of a late-night, altered-states, push-record-andsee-what-happens entity than release-centric touring act. But over time those improvisational get-togethers bore song fruit. Gigs were booked whenever enough of the original octet was around to create something that approximated the studio sessions. Audiences were impressed,

among them filmmaker, friend-of-the-band and former North Carolina School of the Arts classmate David Gordon Green. Green had an upcoming feature – All the Real Girls – due out and put two Pyramid songs on the soundtrack, where their music blended right in with established indie icons like Sparklehorse, Will Oldham and Mogwai.   Behind that momentum, Pyramid morphed from creative outlet to functioning band. Original drummer Waldorf built a studio in Charlotte, and band members who’d been scattered from Seattle to New York relocated to the QC or within a few hours’ drive. Over 2003 and ’04, the band culled hundreds of hours of tape for quirky snippets to build on, then ran them through challenging and sometimes

were the fissures of Pyramid’s fracture. When the octet tried to tap into the process again, the band unraveled.   “Everything got convoluted with too many parts,” Stephens says. “They were all great, they sounded beautiful together, and it would have been dumb to try and do that again without some of the guys that helped make those songs. So this time there was a definite intention to not make another The First American.”   Topping the list of things the new Pyramid wanted to avoid was, as they saw it, The First American’s relentless minor-key shades (Stephens calls it “slit-your-wrists-serious”) and its wall-to-wall sprawl (Best: “You have to take a week off to listen to it”). So the remaining members worked piecemeal on Small Arms,

uncharted instrumental combinations. They wound up with 30 songs, and for a time considered unleashing a massive, double-disc debut on the world.   They settled instead on The First American’s 14 tracks – the other 16 were eventually put up for free on-line at the band’s website (www.; tracks from the aborted 2007 sessions are on their MySpace page). The record was released on the tiny Arkansasbased Ring Road Records, but earned praise for being a “true genre-bender” (Allmusic. com) and sounding like “Jason Molina’s Being There as Nigel Godrich twiddled Wilco’s knobs” (Independent Weekly). But within its sprawl

recording songs that hadn’t worked in the octet (“Babyteeth”) or existed as little-played solo vehicles (Stephens’ “Blue”), while blending archival snippets with more recent Petri-dish experiments done at the house Best, Baucom and Stephens shared at the time. In the interim, Pyramid’s connection to the Charlotte instrumental ensemble Sea of Cortez (Baucom, Best and Stephens are members) paid off when Lonon and Lanier were brought into the new incarnation.   Another key puzzle-piece arrived with The Dynamite Brothers’ Nurkin, a Trianglebased drummer whose skill-set Best calls “Ninja”-like. Significant portions of Small Arms  9

were built around Nurkin drum loops (final percussion was recorded at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium), with layers of keyboards, guitars and synth textures sculpted on until the right form emerged for Stephens to put lyrics over. Instead of combining the best of all the disparate parts and then rehearsing the songs ad nauseam before recording, inspirational moments took priority for song foundations. Some even skipped the demo stage all together and graduated straight to “basic track,” such as what Best calls the “stupid little Mayberry RFD” acoustic riff and mic-bleed accordion that

lyrics and aggro guitar riffs as they frog-march the song to its frenzied climax.   And yet the music feels open and spacious, and considering all the tinkering, remarkably free of fingerprints. “This album felt like we were focusing more on the songs and not all the bells and whistles,” says Best. “There were so many times with the old Pyramid – because we definitely liked to space-out and hit record – that you’d listen back and it’s a piece of music you love but no one else in the world was going to have the patience to listen to. So we have archives of this stuff that we’d always wanted to

yearning for connection the next.   Stephens’ characters mirror their aural surroundings. They feel either too little or too much, and seem uncomfortably aware that their fate-strings are being pulled by forces outside their control. “I’m hanging on pulleys that don’t work at all,” Stephens sings on “Catacombs” as the tempo ramps up to a jarring crescendo that batters down your door with the bad news. Similarly, the cellmates of “Jail” – a song that really suggests Radiohead if they’d had more country in their music diet – vacillate between hopeful and delusional as the weight

get back to, and this is the first time that we took that stuff and made it the basis of the album.”   The moment threatens to get heavy, so Best quickly disarms it by switching into the cut-up mode he channels into “Eastbound & Down”: “So whenever we got together to record it always ended with chest-bumps – and hand-jobs!”   “That was actually being considered the album title for a while,” Baucom quickly chimes in.   “You should see the artwork,” Stephens adds.

of their circumstances hits home. And over a bed of gravity-free synth noise and muffled timpani explosions on the stellar (in every way) “Big Dipper,” Stephens sings “you’re doing everything to feel,” chanting “feel” over and over in the chorus like a supplication.   Finally, hovering over nearly every song is that bright orange disc, holding the promise of warmth and comfort -- but always at arm’s length. On disc-ender “Blue,” over processional layers of wistful mellotron, baritone guitar, and faraway feedback howls, Stephens sings with resigned deliberation, “The sun can fit through the shades/the dust projection it leaves/makes you reach like a fool/for tiny stars in the room.”   But the tiny stars are really no less reachable than the big one in the sky; tricks of perspective or figments of imagination. Yet few things ring truer than harnessing that life-force in song as Pyramid has done throughout Small Arms. And pulling that off has got to be worth a chestbump or two from the audience. The rest is their business. shuf6

"It was a nice creative spurt of time that was very dense and was happening in light of the big-picture Pyramid, which was totally fracturing and cracking up." – Joey Stephens

anchor the aqueous ballad “Depth Charge.”   “There were all these surprises that were found every step of the way,” Baucom says. “They weren’t incorporated into ‘let’s practice it that way.’ Whenever you tend to do that, somebody comes up with a killer part that inevitably gets too focused and loses a little of its emotion when you continue to do it over and over and over again.”   One thing that didn’t change, though, is the band’s fondness for – and talent at – creating labyrinthine textures that don’t clog arrangements or overwhelm melodies. And like the best labyrinths, part of the audio fun here is losing yourself in them. Best put some of that HBO money to good use by scouring eBay for all types of “fuckedup, weird-ass keyboards,” and on Small Arms a symphony of Mellotron, Rhodes, Korg, Moog, Farfisa, and piano provide lavish layers that strings and horns used to. On “Sneaking Around,” for instance, Stephens recalls eight different keyboard tracks blanketing the shouted

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Clearly, Pyramid’s people and Pyramid’s music offer intriguing dichotomies; for every wisecrack and nascent comedy sketch there is a no-nonsense Small Arms song replicating sleepless angst and chilling paranoia, or inducing stoned surrender and child-like wonder. Like most interesting art, the contrasts provide depth and perspective: one moment, squalling guitars and atom-mashing percussion agitate fragile psyches; cloud banks of comforting keys and synths soothe a desperate

(All dates Visulite Theatre unless noted) Oct. 7 Oct. 8 Oct. 9 Oct. 10 Oct. 10 Oct. 13 Oct. 14 Oct. 15 Oct. 15 Oct. 16 Oct. 16 Oct. 17 Oct. 18 Oct. 20 Oct. 21 Oct. 22 Oct. 23 Oct. 24 Oct. 28 Oct. 30 Oct. 30 Oct. 31 Nov. 1 Nov. 5 Nov. 6 Nov. 11 Nov. 14 Nov. 16 Nov. 17 Nov. 17 Nov. 18 Nov. 19 Nov. 20 Nov. 21 Nov. 22 Nov. 25 Nov. 27 Nov. 28 Dec. 1 Dec. 3 Dec. 4 Dec. 8



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ArtistiC Licenses With CD sales gone the way of cassettes and 8-tracks, licensing opportunities offer some hope... right? Joey Stephens

By Bryan Reed


here was a time when selling your song to a corporate or Hollywood entity was an unforgivable sin, a sell-out that would have earned you excommunication from the high-minded ideals of 60s counter-culture rock, 70s punk or the DIY underground 80s scene.   Of course, there was also a time when people actually paid for recorded music, too.   So in this era of dwindling sales, overcrowded touring markets and still-immature digital solutions, what is the aspiring rock & roller to do to earn enough to keep making music without losing their soul in the process? Well, plenty of speculators are increasingly putting their money on licensing opportunities – film and TV placement, corporate sponsorship or ad-based revenue streams.   And we’ve seen successful integrations of both, from the stratospheric launch-pad the movies can provide – before Good Will Hunting, Elliott Smith was just another singer/songwriter from Portland – to advertising that serves both product and endorser (check the sales bump of any iPod TV ad band). We’ve even seen corporate brands reach niche markets with wellassembled marketing ploys, like Scion’s massive art-metal Rock Fest earlier this year.   The culture – at least key segments of it –

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has become more accepting of licensing deals. Mostly, one suspects, because everybody realizes that the old models are dead and gone, leftover relics at best. Ad Age reporter and ex-Bitch Magnet guitarist Jon Fine recently told Shuffle editor John Schacht that “Record sales are small, touring is hand-to-mouth, with luck you do pretty well on (merchandise) sales and that keeps you going, (but) if you can sell a chunk of a song to a car company or a technology company and have it show up in a video game or TV commercial, and maybe you get a check for $35,000 dollars at the end of that year, well, congratulations, you can do music full-time for another year.”   While we have yet to see a sustainable, musicfirst business model develop from these ideas, some see licensing as a worthy supplement, able to provide income or exposure, and sometimes both. You know, like eclectic FM radio once did before every station became a pre-programmed carbon copy.   “We still sell copies of The First American (Pyramid's debut album) specifically because “Streets Were Raining” appears on the soundtrack to All The Real Girls,” says Joey Stephens, the front man of Charlotte-based rock ensemble Pyramid, and composer for scores such as The Fist Foot Way, Observe and Report and the HBO series, “Eastbound & Down.” “A large portion of people who write in to our Web

site have discovered us by way of the movies.”   And even beyond record sales, licensing offers immediate compensation. “For one thing with licensing, we don’t have to wait around for royalty checks to get paid. The advances are pretty good and quick,” says Joe Diaco, one half of the Huntersville, N.C. dream-pop outfit AltCtrl-Sleep. “I could pay off the instruments I just bought through licensing, or maybe make just enough to buy a bag of hair with royalties.”   The comparison is fair, but in the minds of many musicians and fans, music licensing is about so much more than money. It’s about the value of music as artistic expression, and the ability of art to exist as some sort of noncommercial entity – even as commerce is what makes playing, listening to and engaging with music possible.   In June, the Durham-based Web portal ReverbNation announced a new program called “Sponsored Songs,” in which a corporate sponsor would subsidize free music downloads, in exchange for advertising embedded on digital album covers. “The advertising in Sponsored Songs travels with the fans wherever they enjoy their music – following them onto the subway, going with them to the gym, and showing up at the party – giving the advertiser frequent and regular brand exposure, and the fan free music,” stated a ReverbNation-issued press release.   Participating bands received 50 cents each

Joe Diaco time their sponsored song was downloaded – until an agreed-upon cap, usually less than $100, was met. What sort of exposure the participating artists gained is yet to be determined and difficult to quantify.   “Each artist is a ‘brand’ unto itself,” says ReverbNation's chief operating officer, Jed Carlson. “We preach the artist-as-brand concept heavily because it can have a significant impact on their success. They are the ones who own their image and understand its value to their fans. There has always been a natural tension between protecting your brand and grabbing opportunities.”   He continues, “That said, these free services are not worth the tradeoff for all artists. In some cases, the negative impact on the Artist's brand outweighs the cost savings.”   And as can be expected any time some entity supposedly representing “indie rock” aligns itself with a corporate entity, not everybody was stoked. Remember the uproar over Of Montreal’s selling-out to Outback Steakhouse? Or Band of Horses’ Wal-Mart ad?   It’s an ambiguous distinction, though. WalMart’s bad, but the film Garden State isn’t?   Diaco’s Alt-Ctrl-Sleep has a recording contract with Lakeshore Records, predominantly a soundtrack label, which has resulted in several film placements, including two songs in a recent adaptation of Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train. “I don't get to pick and choose exactly where [the music is] going to go though,” he says, “which is fine by me.”   For Stephens, working with filmmakers has proven a fertile opportunity for networking. “I’ve met a lot of people via the Observe and Report journey – composers, musicians, directors, and producers – and that is always a good thing.”   It’s also been an opportunity to experiment with new sounds. “I had one Observe cue with 160 drum tracks,” he says. “Massive pounding! Once you get to 160 drums you don't go back.”

Jed Carlson   But, he admits that in film work, “ultimately, it’s about getting the next job.”   Stephens also has the fortune of distinguishing his bands – Pyramid and Sea of Cortez – and his film scores. “I consider the two as separate,” he says. “Mainly because music written for a film or series belongs to someone else.”   This, of course, implies that his original, un-commissioned work with the rock bands belongs to him – or at least to his band.   Jenks Miller, a Chapel Hill musician who records under the moniker Horseback, would agree. He’s wary of the so-called exposure and quick-cash song-licensing claims to afford. “That exposure has hidden costs,” he says. “There’s always like an asterisk.”   His isn’t a blanket stance against licensing, sponsorship or commissioned work, but a realization that songs associated with films, TV shows, or products tend to become tied to those associations. And, as Miller puts it, “To me, that’s just the death of a song.”   But for an upstart band with the right song, at the right time, a key song placement can be the tipping point. Brian McNelis, senior vice president of Lakeshore Records (the label home of Alt-Ctrl-Sleep), says, “The good news is, today, music supervisors and executives are more and more interested in the music than ‘the band.’” Shows like “The O.C.” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and movies like Garden State, have shown that moderately popular indie bands (The Shins, Death Cab For Cutie) can become very popular bands with a well-placed licensing deal.   But those spots are few and far between. And the artist often doesn’t get much, if any, say on the thematic context in which the song is used. Witness Iggy Pop's heroin ode “Lust For Life,” the theme song for Carnival Cruise Lines. The song’s context and meaning are forever altered, and for what?   “Expect the worst, hope for the best,” says

Jenks Miller Diaco. “Let’s just hope you can write a really catchy song in a scene where someone is getting set on fire or something.”   When it works, it can be magic. “I think people love that feeling or connection when the music brings a certain scene or film to life,” says Diaco.   But when it doesn’t, says Miller, “You have surrendered whatever meaning, whatever personal context you have when you sell a song. Its job now is to sell a product.”   “I like to think that bands and records have more consequence than that.”   But artists need revenue streams to supplement touring and album sales, which, for most artists, won’t provide a living. And fans seem willing to accept advertising – whether on MySpace, Pandora or Sponsored Songs – as a fair trade for access to music.   And, as Carlson points out, “Artists have become comfortable with ad-supported models in general. Sites like MySpace, Imeem, Spotify, Pandora, et cetera, all use advertising to deliver hosting, streaming, or downloading services to the artist and fans for free. Artists don’t seem to have an aversion to having advertising (even if they don’t control it) displaying in conjunction with their art.”   And the exposure that does come from licensing might not come with any guarantees, but, McNelis says, “The ones that do [pay attention to music credits in film] blog about it, go onto newsgroups and forums. Early adopters and tastemakers make the difference.”   Most can agree licensing is unlikely to usher in immediate financial success, but it can contribute to a larger effort – one that includes touring and album sales. The biggest question it raises is one that can’t be answered in general terms: At what point is the money and exposure worth the lingering association with a product or film?   That’s a question with answers as unique and personal as the songs. shuf6  13

By Grayson Currin

he people aren’t just waiting. They’ve been waiting—for hours, some since noon, in lawn chairs or with their prats warming on sidewalk concrete. And of course they have been. Last night, The Avett Brothers’ bus—a long, polished, burnt sienna beauty with Tennessee plates and a retractable living room— roosted in front of the Crystal Ballroom, a historic and high-ceilinged hall about a mile from the wide Willamette River in Portland, Ore.   Iron shavings drawn to their magnet, the people—Team Avett, The Avett Nation, Avett Brothers fanatics by any name—arrive in a steady trickle. They drift to the door for hours, and by show time, 1,600 of them have overrun a city block. They don’t just wait, though: Avett Brothers shows suggest reunions of a very extended family, where the rock club is

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the community building and the band’s eight-album, four-EP repertoire is the heritage. They swap stories (“My first show was…”) and share songs (“You know, ‘Pretty Girl from…’”). Bound-for-Avetts graffiti covers car windows, and homemade T-shirts—surprisingly de rigueur for a band that sells so much merchandise—clothe bodies. Some garments reference songs not yet released (“I am a breathing time machine,” reads one) or pun on an album months from store shelves at the time of this show (“I and Love and The Avetts,” goes another). A string band busks in front of the bus, beating its instruments and howling its tunes with a distinctly Avett charisma, hoping to raise enough money to scalp a few tickets into tonight’s show. People sing and smile along, and, sure enough, the boys in the band get through the door. As cheesecloth and obsessive as

All photography by Jeremy Okai Davis unless otherwise noted

the scene may seem, it’s somehow endearing and, in the end, altogether understandable.   Despite several other high-profile concerts tonight in Portland and the 25,000-person Sasquatch Music Festival raging four hours to the north, the show—the second in a two-night Crystal Ballroom stand—sold out this morning. That’s not surprising for The Avett Brothers, Concord, N.C. native sons who have, in eight years, gone from playing the dingiest underground dives and most generic middle-class eateries to selling out a 7,000-capacity amphitheatre in Cary, N.C., last summer. They’ve headlined major festivals, toured Europe, and consistently served as a lightning rod for the press’s praise. And for the second half of the decade, they’ve been one of the best selling independent bands in America, working with Concord’s Ramseur Records to move well over 200,000 discs, downloads and LPs.   The Avetts’ Americana assemblage—bluegrass instruments beat with rock zeal for songs that mix soul, pop and country—has earned the band a major label deal with legendary producer Rick Rubin and his American Recordings. By this time next year, these 1,600 folks might only be those who managed to see the band “way back when.” Major label, major stakes and major possibilities: A statement like this is nearly always bound to fail, but The Avett Brothers might be this country’s next truly great, completely deserving, arena-filling rock band.   There’s no need to hang that albatross right now, though: On the second of the Crystal Ballroom’s three floors, The Avett Brothers—elder Scott on banjo, Seth on guitar, figurative next of kin Bob Crawford on bass and Joe Kwon on cello—and their four-man crew drift in and out of a series of backstage rooms, performing their nightly ritual: They eat dinner, joke

with old friends, watch the NBA playoffs, and talk shop with opening acts. They’ve been on the road for six weeks, opening shows in 20,000-seat sheds for Dave Matthews Band before headlining their way up the West Coast. After a short break, they’ll spend about a third of the remaining year touring behind the Rubin-produced I and Love and You. But here they are, chatting, eating like a family and preparing for the evening ahead. Like watching your father sit at the table before he leaves home for another day of work, it’s a collected, calming and proven process.   Indeed, zealous crowd or no, The Avett Brothers do have something to prove tonight. Ever since they huddled backstage last night to discuss encore possibilities, Scott has insisted the show just didn’t feel right. “Something’s missing,” he preemptively but correctly told his band mates, futilely slinging sweat off of his forehead with his hand. Tonight, they’re ready with all of the tricks: They’ll play a rare song, which Crawford will sing. They’ll debut a new tune, “Friends,” which will cause a massive man in the crowd to weep openly. And they’ll play 25 numbers, which will leave them and the room smelling a lot like sweat and, again, maybe a little like tears.   Still, that’s not the future Crawford is concerned with just before show time: In November, Crawford and his wife, Melanie, will have their first child. His eyes light up whenever it’s mentioned, and when Scott passes around his laptop, loaded with photos of his own seven-month-old daughter, Crawford crowds the screen. Crawford was adopted, and he admits his family life in New Jersey was difficult. He sees the Avetts’ idyllic past—long written into their lyrics and attitude—as an ideal.   “What did your parents do right?” he asks, his warm, gee-golly earnestness glowing. Though the brothers vacillate between long hair and  15

beards and clean-shaven faces and close-cropped hairdos, Bob always has the look of a Catholic schoolboy who’s just grown up. “It’s so comfortable, and you two want to be around your parents. You went back home. I never wanted to do that.”   Bob, like the Avett’s father, Jim, is a student of politics and history, a rapacious reader who spends much of his backstage and bus time scouring books like Great Powers: America and the World after Bush, by American military specialist Thomas P.M. Barnett, or The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Presidency, by economics columnist Robert Kuttner. He’s familiar with the nuances of Antebellum history, and he understands the context of Daniel Webster’s Second Reply to Hayne. In Powell’s, Portland’s sprawling multi-story book depot, he buys a Martin Van Buren biography. So, just like a thousand journalists and that many fans squared, he wants to know what makes these brothers and their family so, well, special.   He’ll wait for his answer, too, as Scott and Seth sort through the possibilities: There was church on Sunday, lunch thereafter, family dinners around the little table, a passionate dad and a loving mother. Or maybe it was the hard farm work and the lessons they learned? The linchpin eludes them. Is there really an answer? And are they that different? Simplistic but completely honest, the Avetts imply that they only are who they are. “Hell, why not?,” offers Scott about his decision to go back home after earning an art degree. He leans back into a big easy chair and sighs. “I figured, ‘Shit, it’s just like anywhere else.’” “Load the car and write the note/ Grab your bag and grab your coat/ Tell the ones that need to know/ We are headed north,” Scott sings hesitantly during the first verse of “I And Love And You,” the opening and title track of the band’s eighth album. His brother’s ginger piano line plinks above a droning organ peal. “One foot in and one foot back/ It don’t pay to live like that/ So I cut the ties/ And I jumped the track.”   They sing the last four words together: “For never to return.”   Seth takes the second verse alone, his voice treating a childhood reflection with the apologetic assuredness adulthood can offer: “When at first I learned to speak/ I used all my words to fight/ with her and him and you and I/ but it was just a waste of time/ oh, it’s such a waste of time.” The brothers swap stanzas and harmonies for two more minutes. The song builds, and Kwon’s cello wraps the easy drumbeat in dramatic tones. The organ grows beyond a hum.   Though the brothers have long written many of their songs at a piano, they built their fan base from stages with broken banjo and guitar strings and numbers that were shouted and not crooned, nor finessed. “I And Love And You” is the first piano-led ballad in the band’s oeuvre

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and, like the record that takes its name, it’s a surefooted declaration of independence. It doesn’t circumnavigate or summarize past successes. It stakes out its own future. Or, to paraphrase Scott’s verse, it’s a record with both feet in.   “I don’t think much now about what might happen. Things that people are generally scared of don’t really impress me,” says Jim Avett, sitting on the front porch of the family home in Concord, N.C. with Suzie, his wife since 1971, to his right. “What might happen? Hell, it might not happen.”   This isn’t idle talk. Sure, on this still, stifling mid-June day, the front porch of the Avett family home offers the perfect amount of shade. Goats graze quietly in a pasture across the road, and birds warble a scattered symphony. Scott, Seth and older sister Bonnie Avett were raised at the end of the long gravel road out front, a few miles from downtown Concord. Farms, churches, fields, forests and humble houses occupy the acres that lead from town to home, a little ranch to which Jim has added onto as his family has grown. To the left, nearly a dozen cars and pick-up trucks sit at every angle imaginable. That’s where the boys park when they board the bus for tour, keys left dangling in ignitions, doors trustingly unlocked. Today, this is the perfect picture of docile domesticity. But before settling here three decades ago, Jim and Suzie lived dreams and adventures, two country Kerouacs with no plans except avoiding normalcy.   “I went to work for the state of North Carolina, and I worked for a year and a half for them and realized I wasn’t going anywhere ’til somebody died or retired. That’s just not my style,” Jim says, his Southern accent not quite as soft as that of his sons. He’d graduated from Guilford College with a degree in psychology and served four years in the military stateside. The son of a minister, he was working with abused and neglected children in the western North Carolina town of Lenoir, but he didn’t want to sit still long. “I came home one day and said, ‘We’ve talked a long time about going to Alaska. Do you wanna go?’ Suzie said, ‘If you’re going, I’m going.’ I said, ‘Well, pack your bags.’”   So, in 1974, the young couple—“too dumb to be scared of it,” says Jim, who offers the same pithy wisdom in his stories as his sons do in their songs—sold everything they had and canceled their debts. With a 10-month-old Bonnie, a Doberman, a 15-year-old pick-up truck, and “big hopes and dreams,” they headed to Chicago, stopping briefly to visit Suzie’s sister. The next point was Cheyenne, Wy., where the brother-in-law of his community college welding instructor offered him a job. Jim insisted upon the Alaska adventure, his hopes of working on the oil pipeline burning holes in his feet. Due to union rules, though, Jim couldn’t find a job, and his plans to have an Alaskan hog farm collapsed when he took a wrong turn on the way to a property auction. After three months in the

Jim and Suzie Avett (photo courtesy of Jim Avett)

49th state, Jim and Suzie returned to Cheyenne. Jim welded while earning his master’s degree in psychology across the state line in Colorado. Suzie worked for a community action agency until she gave birth to brother number one, Scott, in 1976. When Scott was four months old, the family of four returned to North Carolina. And in 1980, when Seth was four months old, they moved into the gravel road’s last house, a gift from a friend who knew he had more than he needed. The little house and its acre cost $65. They’ve been here ever since.   “Friends,” the song the band debuted during that second Crystal Ballroom show, is the other piano beauty on I and Love and You: Written in three parts, it too winds through strings and interlaces austere fraternal vocals before leaping into a jaunty, Joe Jackson-style blast. But before the shift, the brother’s ask, essentially, the same salient question that Crawford asked them in Portland: “Who did we borrow from?”   After sitting on that old porch and walking through the refurbished house and across the 60 surrounding acres that Jim eventually purchased (and has since subdivided and given to his children, all of whom live nearby), that question seems nearly rhetorical: The Avett Brothers are their parents’ boys. They have been nothing if not career romantics, for instance, writing songs about pretty girls from small Southern towns, big cities and foreign countries. They’ve exalted New York and the carefree esprit of travel. Likewise, Jim and Suzie talk about their first date ( Jim swiped Suzie from a friend) and three-decade-old odysseys with beaming faces that seem incapable of fading.   There’s a time-earned practicality to what the brothers write, too: They sing about family names and use the metaphor of a laundry room to connote true intimacy and comfort as something that, if you’re lucky, is as mundane as a sweaty workshirt. They poke fun at a lover who desires Hollywood romance. Jim and Suzie have been raising this family for nearly four decades. With Scott’s early impetuous streak (which makes his mom giggle) and Seth’s later relationship troubles (which make his dad frown), it could be unglamorous, but they have no plans to quit now: Indeed, the small, worn kitchen table remains in the family home, and they all raise chickens together out back. Jim checks to see if Sarah, Scott’s wife, or Susan, Seth’s wife, have collected the eggs. If they haven’t, he pokes his head inside of the coop, shoos the chickens and scoops the eggs up to take them home.   “We’re very satisfied, living out here and having farm animals. It’s a lot easier to teach about death and sex and love and lots of things when you’ve got farm animals in front of you,” he says, Suzie laughing to his right. Jim turned his successful welding company over to an employee two years ago. Now that the kids are grown, Suzie teaches at a literacy center. “They asked several times why we didn’t live in a neighborhood. When you live out on a dirt road, you don’t get interfered with. They’ve got their whole life to be influenced by other people. While they were here, we would try to influence them ourselves.”   Three chunks of that influence—songs, singing, stories—shape every bit of The Avett Brothers’ music: First, there’s its country music frame, influenced by a father who says he knows literally thousands of songs by Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall, Roger Miller and Waylon Jennings. Earlier this year, he even released a collection of gospel tunes and traditional numbers through Ramseur, his children and some

Concord friends backing up his plain voice. He and Seth (and manager Dolph Ramseur) share a devotion to The Fleetwoods, a singing trio from Washington state whose reductive claim to fame remains “Come Softly to Me.” He’ll sing any of those songs for you, too, while strumming one of the six dozen vintage guitars he stores in meticulously labeled hard black cases in a tiny, cluttered room upstairs.   The house’s walls are lined with books, tales of history and conquest, adventure and courage. Jim considers the explorer Ernest Shackleton a personal hero. He confesses that he can talk for days about The Civil War, the South and the confluence of personalities that make both so compelling. He’s a natural storyteller with a strong personality of his own. He likes good jokes and better yarns, and he’s got plenty of both. Suzie watches and listens, interjecting whenever he misses a detail or  17

offering the punchline to the tale he’s telling. She seems more reserved but always precise in her commentary, a trait Jim likely wouldn’t claim. In that way, she’s the Seth to Jim’s Scott.   Her boys work the same way on the road, operating in a state of dynamic equilibrium: When one’s down, one’s up. They rib each other constantly and—like their parents—work hard.   The parallels extend beyond personality, though: The Avett Brothers’ continual ascendancy has more than a little to do with their parents freewheeling back-story. In the early days, both set out with next to nothing, or little more than some small amount of money and, as Jim puts it, this knowledge: “If we stayed where we were at, we were destined to be regular, run-of-the-mill people. And I just don’t accept that very well.”   So, after college, the boys formed a band. They found Crawford, a jazz guitarist who’d recently purchased an upright bass he didn’t know how to play. He auditioned for the band in a vacant parking lot in 2001, and less than year later, he was booking a tour that went as far north and west as Wisconsin. The trio stayed glued to the road thereafter, returning to towns

to employee, band to crew—is reassuring. Everyone is treated as a person, trusted as more than a friend. Pete’s family joined the band in Portland, while Joe’s live-in girlfriend, Emily, rode the bus from Portland to Montana. Jim spent the California run with the band, digging for old Fleetwoods records in stores alongside Seth. Nicknames abound: Seth is Mess, and Scott is Skeezy. Inside jokes are constant: They accuse Honeycutt of ‘sexting’ with his new girlfriend and ironically overapologize. Actual wrongdoing is rare.   With the Avetts, anyone that commits to the family—whether as a band member or spouse—immediately becomes part of the clan, Crawford insists.   “Once I became a fixture around the farm, it was, ‘You can stay for dinner. Don’t drive all night. You can stay here,’” he says. Jim even offered Crawford the burgundy apartment that both brothers have, at some point, called home when the band wasn’t making enough money for a decent wage. They wanted to take care of him. “But I’m not special in that. They care about a lot of people.”

and building a following with devotion and diligence. As Ramseur, the band’s longtime manager and head of Ramseur Records has put it as long as anyone can recall, “One fan at a time.”   “I remember the days of five-dollar Shoney buffets and peanut butterand-jelly sandwiches. And that wasn’t that long ago,” says Crawford, sitting outside of Barista, a boutique Portland coffee shop. The two cups of coffee he’s sharing with Kwon—single-origin beans from a tiny region of Ethiopia—cost $13 each. It’s a luxury the band can afford, even if it’s not a routine. “And here I am, having the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.”   As the fans and funds have grown, the family has grown, too: Durham cellist Kwon added parts to the 2007 album, Emotionalism, before being asked to join them full-time on tour. He’s all over I and Love and You, his versatility offering environment for the slow-burning numbers and visceral textures for many of the up-tempo tunes. After years of traveling with only tour manager Dane Honeycutt and sound engineer Justin Glanville, Pete Schroth—a light designer who formerly ran a club the band played midcareer in Greensboro, N.C.—and Travis Hylton joined the crew for this trip.   The parity and levity between all eight—brother to brother, manager

  Scott Avett drives mostly like he plays music. On stage, he’s the aggressor of his instrument, breaking banjo strings and turning tuning pegs as he flashes through another song. He pauses only when something’s totally wrong, rapidly swapping one banjo for another while his brothers vamp. And behind the wheel, Scott takes turns sharply. He speeds. When he sees a cop, he slows his approach, glances to the rearview, and leans back against the gas.   Today, he’s sprinting through the mountains that flank Interstate 90 as it leads west into Seattle, Wash., driving a rented beige minivan he picked up for the band’s use during a day off in Portland. After eight years, Seth, Crawford and Ramseur, who flew across the country just in time to catch the second set at the Crystal Ballroom, are used to his propensity for speed. He and his dad collect old Ford Galaxies, which they store at the homestead, parked alongside the band’s mostly retired white tour van. Even they remark that Scott is in a righteous hurry this afternoon. But they’re fine with that.   In four hours, the foursome is expected on a cross-country red-eye flight to North Carolina to be with their families for four days. They’ll

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Photo By: Jason Todd Cooper

rejoin the bus and the crew in Philadelphia. The long drive into Seattle doesn’t allow much room for error and dawdling, and they’re not about to miss this flight. Dolph is a father of two. Scott has a newborn. Crawford has one on the way. And Seth has a wife who he calls his “favorite person ever” when they speak on the phone.   Just two hours ago, the band hustled off the main stage at the Sasquatch Music Festival after finishing a 45-minute set for about 20,000 people. One might assume that, for such a big show and so many new faces, the band would make special preparations to deliver something flawless. But, on stage, Crawford’s electric bass amp broke. Scott broke a half-dozen banjo strings. And, after a miscommunication about their remaining stage time, they roared through “Talk on Indolence,” the rowdy, turbo-charged opener of 2006’s Four Thieves Gone. By sending the kids down into a frenzy, it was the perfect closer—at least until they realized they were expected to fill five more minutes.   So, Scott walked to the drums, and Seth walked to the piano: “Load the car and write the note/ Grab your bag and grab your coat,” he sang, opening the opener of the album that’s going to be their introduction to a lot of ears this year. By the last refrain, people were singing along to a song that they’d never heard. Set against the most beautiful major amphitheatre in America, on a natural gorge above the Columbia River created by volcanoes as many as two million years ago and later scoured by intense

flooding, it was a hair-raising moment and the perfect exit for a quick trip back to the place the big family calls home.   “As good as all this stuff is, there’s something that it hasn’t got. I don’t know what it is,” Scott said earlier that afternoon, squinting slightly in the afternoon sun as he sat on a patch of grass and looked down to the Columbia River. “I like coming to these places, but I always love going back home.”   After all, that’s the place that made all of this—music and an implicit message of family and love and trust and friends and growing crowds that get it—possible. shuf6

Rick Rubin Leaves Well Enough Alone

The Avett Brothers I and Love and You Columbia One notable difference between the Avett Brothers’ new Columbia Records album and their previous works for the Concord-based indie label Ramseur is a lack of pretty girls.   On their 2002 debut, Country Was, the Avetts introduced us

in song to a “Pretty Girl from Matthews.” The following year, they invited a “Pretty Girl from Raleigh” along for A Carolina Jubilee, and on Mignonette they ran into a “Pretty Girl at the Airport.” After toiling on the road, the boys expanded their horizons, both musical and experiential, on 2007’s Emotionalism, adding pretty girls from San Diego and Chile to their list of heartrending conquests.   There are no pretty girls on I and Love and You. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of girls who are pretty – like the one in the title track who has “eyes that shine like a pair of stolen polished dimes.”   That song actually comes off more like a love letter to New York City – a place young bohemians from the South and elsewhere flee to when they feel

misunderstood back home. “One foot in and one foot back, but it don’t pay to live like that,” Scott Avett sings over melancholy piano and strings that are closer to the chamber-folk moodiness of Emotionalism than the ragged country moan of Jubilee. “So I cut the ties and I jumped the tracks … never to return. Ah, Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in...”   When word got out that the Carolina indie darlings had signed to a major label and were working with musical-makeover guru Rick Rubin ( Johnny Cash, Jakob Dylan), the big question was: What would the Bearded One from L.A. do with the Bearded Ones from Concord? The answer? Not much. The Avetts still play their old-time instruments – acoustic guitars, banjo, upright bass – like a hillbilly Beatles, Kinks and

sometimes Green Day. And the songs on I and Love and You remain giddily sentimental, sweetly brooding, and about as subtle as a black eye.   If that last line reads like an insult, it would be for most other contemporary bands. But the Avetts have mastered the art of unsubtle. Their smack-you-in-theface harmonies and heart-on-thesleeves bluntness suggest the guys really are looking for the kind of uncomplicated Truths they express over the folky guitars and banjos of “January Wedding”: “She keeps it simple, and I am thankful for her kind of lovin’ – ‘cause it’s simple.”   But simple isn’t stupid. Even if their sometimes ham-fisted harmonies come off on album as overly precious, the Avett Brothers’ songs have always been defiantly non-ironic – a tough

position to maintain in a clever, irony-loving indie world where “hip” comes with a rulebook as fat a major-label contract. “They said, ‘I hope that you will never change,’ I went and cut my hair,” Scott Avett sings on “Slight Figure of Speech,” the album’s only ballsto-the-wall pop-punk song. “They say, ‘Don’t take your business to the big time’ – I bought us tickets there.”   The only thing Rubin brought to I and Love and You that Emotionalism didn’t have is a warm, big-studio sheen and more emphasis on the band’s upbeat pop sensibility. The vocals don’t chirp so much as they hum, and the bass and strings mix together with the guitars and drums like honey over toast. Who needs all those pretty girls when you have such pretty songs? –Mark Kemp

photo by: Bryan Reed  19





20  shuffle six  The Bill



Got great pics from a recent show in the Carolinas? Send us your gig photos (we like a good crowd shot, too) along with the name of the band , your name, and the venue and date. If we like what we see, you could wind up in the next issue of Shuffle for all your friends to






12 1. Bill Noonan, Snug Harbor, Bryan Reed 2. Grids, Lunchbox Records, Bryan Reed 3. American Aquarium, Moore Square, Jordan Pepper 4. Polvo, Visulite, Bryan Reed 5. Cory Brannan & Sarah Mann, Local 506, Jordan Pepper 6. Red Collar, Local 506, Jordan Pepper 7. Future Kings of Nowhere, Snug Harbor, Bryan Reed

13 8. Benji Hughes/Django Haskins, Snug Harbor, Kristen Miller 9. Birds of Avalon, New French Bar, BRUMLEY Chianese 10. Prabir & The Substitutes, Snug Harbor, Michael G. Cole 11. Junior Astronomers, Lunchbox Records, Bryan Reed 12. Kings of Leon, Bojangles Coliseum, Kristen Miller 13. Lost In the Trees, Neighborhood Theater, Jenny Hanson

gawk at. Send submissions to: (By submitting a photo to Shuffle, you warrant that you are the sole owner of that photograph and grant Shuffle the non-exclusive right to use that photograph in print and/or online).  21

Though it’s fundamentally a CD-R label with a fluid, whenever-it’s-done release schedule and a catalog of titles so limited in quantity some of them might as well not exist, Kinnikinnik Records is actively documenting some of the Charlotte scene’s most vital music. Not too many others doing that around these parts.   And 2009’s flurry of quality releases has the potential to shape the label into a local presence that extends well beyond ringleader Bo White and his circle of friends and accomplices. This is a slate of releases that complement each other, even as they venture into new directions for a label born in 2004 as a means of self-releasing White’s own projects, solo and with Calabi Yau or Area Man W/ Ax.   Coma League’s This Could Be The Night, the band’s second Kinnikinnik CD-R, is a garagerock rave-up that shakes and rattles like a beatup car, shimmies like a go-go dancer and snarls like a hangover. In seven songs and 15-and-a-half minutes, the Charlotte duo (now a quartet) stirs up a ruckus that plays like a more confident, less bedraggled Wavves might, echoes The New York Dolls and indie pop, and steers Ben Gelnett’s boozy drawl into eager sing-alongs.   Baltimore’s Art Department, whose Live CD-R functions as Kinnikinnik’s first out-of-state foray, serve up a 20-minute, 14 track platter that feels addled in the same way Coma League does, favoring short songs and rapid twists in the guitar lines. But where Coma League staggers drunkenly, The Art Department seems all wired and jittery. Frontman Jonathan Ehrens sings in an elastic falsetto to pose as though the songs are sped-up. The result is somewhere between Tullycraft and the Meat Puppets,

22  shuffle six  Reviews

coursing through the melodies at warp-speed, but in control enough for the hooks to stick, and stick good.   Grids, though, seems to have come unstuck on its Riot Girls cassingle – the punk quartet’s first Kinnikinnik release. In some sort of tribute to Bikini Kill, Grids takes on “Rebel Girl” and “Suck My Left One,” maintaining the former’s admiration for and infatuation with independent women, and gleefully erasing the latter’s irony. It’s a quick shot of punchy fun that counters the grumpy pigfuck of the band’s Lunchbox-issued 7-inch.   The similarly brief Big Day EP from Ultimate Optimist is, unlike Grids’ reverent/ irreverent covers tape, nothing if not earnest. The EP, limited to 30 copies on 3-inch CD-R, is a three-track follow-up to last year’s Emotional Animal, and follows in much the same manner: programmed keyboard loops build atop one another, and create a soothing, colorful atmosphere for the live drums. Playing like the instrumental iteration of a motivational speech, Ultimate Optimist does live up to the name, even if it such cheery disposition can be repetitive. But here, as on much of the Kinnikinnik catalog, the point is to document progress, and in this The Big Day succeeds.   Where the new releases take a left turn is in the posthumous issue of Bosses by White’s defunct Area Man W/ Ax, which instead of marking a point in the continued progression of a band, functions as a “we did it first” to young punks and a reminder to old ones. But, even if it doesn’t fit the typical ethos of Kinnikinnik releases, it reaches – and at times surpasses – the quality standard. Opener “Yawner” is a fuzz-

Photo By: Blake Raynor

draped opus of trudging, mathy post-hardcore and ought to teach the rookies a thing or two about crafting a menacing, muscular punk song.   These days, though, White seems to have settled down. With his noisier outfits Area Man W/ Ax and Calabi Yau put to rest, White is left winding guitar lines in Yardwork and fronting the vaguely jazzy Duo Select. On Bo White & Duo Select, White is flanked by drummer Kain Naylor and vibraphonist James Cannon, who provide able backing to the trio’s worldly (not “World Music”) sounds. White’s guitar melodies borrow from indie rock and Afrobeat, winding crooked melodies of gentle chords, while Naylor’s brushed drums tiptoe behind Cannon’s chiming vibes. The standout here is “Saving Up For Nothing,” White’s own Charlie Brown Christmas lament: “I’ve been saving up for Christmas/ And can’t alleviate the fear/ That I might be saving up for nothing/ ’Cause no one gives a shit this year.” As the song gently builds into its full swing, it reveals itself to be a resigned commentary on empty consumerism.   But where Duo Select walks a more straightforward path, free jazz quartet Great Architect provides the counterpoint. In the nine cuts that comprise Great Architect’s debut LP (and Kinnikinnik’s first vinyl release), the four players – saxophonist Brent Bagwell, guitarist Ben Kennedy, drummer Michael Houseman and electronics guru Casey Malone – coalesce, even as their instruments diverge. In their capable hands, the unstructured music feels whole. You could say the same of Kinnikinnik’s latest batch. Bryan Reed

American Aquarium Dances For The Lonely Last Chance I’ve happily drunk American Aquarium’s PBR-flavored KoolAid, and will again. But this one is a bit disappointing. There’s a nice little Springsteen tack on the Triangle band’s third LP, but Dances isn’t all Boss-baiting stomps; AA is just blasting some E-Street horns and piano into its alt-country. It’s quite the complement, really. But thematically, this record is onedimensional. Like a Man’s Ruin tattoo, Dances blames so much on the booze, the late nights, the rock & roll, and the women of loose morals that it fails to look inward – even as it brushes up against introspection on “City Lights” (which, tellingly, is sung in the third-person). It sucks, too, because these are good songs. But you gotta have some balance. Frontman BJ Barham makes a pointed confession on “Mary, Mary,” singing “Sex and love, I can’t keep ’em apart.” Man’s ruin, indeed. HANK GARFIELD

Birds or Monsters Ideas of the North Self-released On this folky, minimal (and at many turns, kinda creepy) solo side project from the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Justin Robinson, the Chapel Hill native eschews the Drops’ refined hoedown for a folk style that has more in common with, say, Joanna Newsom. Robinson even satisfactorily covers the same folk traditional (“Three Little Babes”) that Newsom nailed

on her debut. And also like The Harped One, Robinson spends a lot of time on a similarly stringed instrument – autoharp, that is. Opener “Bright Diamonds” is an interesting enough mash-up: Outkast’s “Bombs Over Bagdad” played on autoharp, with vocals by David Byrne (or is that They Might Be Giants?). And the dub poetry that starts “Kissin’ And Cussin’” certainly readies one for the soulful Badu-as-folk slo-groove that follows. But it also seems like an unnecessary Arrested Development (the back-to-Africa 90s hip-hop group, not the television) show. On the strength of the first three EP cuts, the term unnecessary could also be applied to the record’s two twee closers. TOPHER MANILA

Bombadil Tarpits & Canyonlands Ramseur One listen to this Durham band’s second full-length and the saying “it takes a village…” springs to mind. Layers of worldly and folk-based orchestrations, which include charango and zampona, plus collaborations with Tenspeed/Eastern Seaboard sax man Brent Bagwell and Boat Burning’s Joshua Starmer (cello), hint at the many divergent hands that went into making this record. But this marriage of styles and personalities is no Rachel Getting Married emotional mess; Bombadil’s songs are joyous in their clean execution. Their complex lyrics could be snippets of stories told at family reunions (“Kate and Kelsey”), or long-weathered tales of traveling minstrels before the king’s court (“Kuala Lumpur”). Word has it the band’s music may not make it to a live stage for some time due to bassist Daniel Michalak’s debilitating tendonitis, so this may be the only incarnation to enjoy them for now. And if everyone goes their separate ways, this postcard will remind us of what a beautiful journey it was. EMILY A. BENTON

Bowerbirds Upper Air Dead Oceans The sophomore release from these Airstream-in-the-N.C.woods kids features the same strong suits that earned their debut Hymns For A Dark Horse such high marks – haunting minor-key melodies, the sparkling contrapuntal singing of Phil Moore and Beth Tacular, and the restrained acoustic textures that suited the debut’s Thoreau-like narratives. Those songs weren’t eco-warrior agitprop, but wistful reminders of our failed stewardship of the vanishing natural world done with music that mirrored the organic rhythms being lamented. Here, however, these dusky folk contemplations accented by piano, violin, organ and autoharp read more like journal entries – the interiors to Hymns’ exteriors. That suits Upper Air’s themes, which suggest that what’s dysfunctional about our relationship with nature isn’t that different from the fundamental misunderstandings that plague our own. And that remains Bowerbirds’ strongest suit: The ease with which their music integrates and mirrors the natural world, including us. Let’s hope it’s more cautionary tale than memento mori. JOHN SCHACHT

The Bronzed Chorus I’m The Spring Hello Sir Seeing The Bronzed Chorus perform is an often disorienting experience; there are more sounds coming from the speakers than ought to, given

the Greensboro act comprises only two members. But with a drummer – Brennan O’Brien – who can multitask enough to fill keyboard lines between snare hits, and a guitarist – Adam Joyce – whose adeptness with effects pedals makes his one instrument sound like an ensemble, that The Bronzed Chorus sounds big is only natural. That they sound explosive is the gift they give to audiences. On the duo’s full-length debut, though, that ceiling-rattling dynamic is tempered, making the 8 songs collected within it sound more cerebral than visceral. There isn’t the same level of excitement when Joyce lets loose one of his shattered cascades of notes, but the finesse with which he does it is more obvious than ever. As it turns out, The Bronzed Chorus wields both brawn and brains. BRYAN REED

Dynamite Brothers Again Self-released By the time you read this, I’ll have made love to the new Dynamite Brothers album at least 2.5 times. And much like the whiskeydipped, 70s van rock that these four musical ninjas from Chapel Hill pound out, things just may take a turn for the raunchy. After escaping some near-Blues Hammer moments that kick off the album – escaped, I might add, with some clever, Can-does-Ram-Jam psychrock maneuvers – the band triumphantly launches into the Funkadelic-o-sphere on “Neighborhood Pharmacist.” Then there’s the soulful precision with which these dudes nail the slow, sensual jam: “In Time,” “Happy Hour” and “Purple Neon, Pink Champagne” might be some of the sexiest tunes to roll out of N.C. in a long while. It might be easy to dismiss some of the cockrockery found here as tongue-in-cheek cheese-blues – if that tongue wasn’t also suckling your toes (or running up and down your inner thigh) with such cunning. TOPHER MANILA

Ear Pwr Super Animal Brothers III Carpark Five songs in, this album gets as annoying as having to take a shit on a subway. Speaking of, I have to go to the bathroom. Okay, I’m back. Oh, God, it’s still on. Ear Pwr does have a remarkably stable aesthetic: Fast, clappy rhythms, nursery rhyme vocals, and harsh, melodic synths over short, catchy songs. There’s enough to differentiate the songs from one another, if only barely, and maybe that’s why it’s best to take this album track by track instead of as a whole. Taken as songs, there’s barely a loser in the bunch. Still, the few that break from the mold are the ones that stand out, for no better reason than just that. Having recently moved from Asheville (where they must have seemed profoundly out of place), to Baltimore, Ear Pwr are most likely reveling in the spiritual warmth of a “scene.” That said, Asheville must miss such unbridled, knowing silliness. JESSE STEICHEN

Pierce Edens & The Dirty Work Long Days Above Ground Self-released Native to Western North Carolina, Edens’ music is saturated with the region’s twangy, story-telling vernacular, but it’s the peculiar mix with the Seattle Sound that makes the band a staple in the regional rotation. Long Days Above Ground rushes from the gate with roadhouse jams “Drowning Man” and “Party Dress” before decelerating into the numbers where the band proves more  23

effective. Edens testifies to life’s long hard days with “Black Shiny Shoes,” paints an authentic life portrait with the atmospheric “Ghost on the Radio,” and pleas for salvation in “Good Man.” His vocals are still dressed in an unruly growl but his sweeter side manifests in the broken hearted ballad “Queen of Hearts.” Ideal company during those creeping hours between dusk and dawn, the album comes to an unfortunate close though with what’s best described as drunken cowboy karaoke, “Soberin’ Up,” which at best should be a live show novelty. TAYLOR SMITH

Electric Owls Ain’t Too Bright Vagrant It may be so much romantic nonsense, but it’s often said that conflict helps create great art. The origin of Andy Herod’s new outfit’s debut began when he decided to quit playing with the Chapel Hill act that made his name, The Comas, because “being in a band was ruining my life.” You suspect it wasn’t the music that was getting to the now Asheville-based Herod, however, because the sound on Ain’t Too Bright doesn’t stray too far from the Comas’ familiar mix of pop rock, with a side of glam, psychedelia and fuzz. This time around, however, the music seems more focused and cleaner sounding, even as it adds a more serious folk/country element to the already maxed-out, though harmonious, mix. Standout “Darken Me” is representative, sounding like Donovan after some shots – whiskey and testosterone. Ain’t Too Bright contains plenty of catchy songs, and Herod makes willfully ruining one’s own life sound like a worthwhile endeavor. JEFF TAYLOR

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Grappling Hook …And Those Who Would Keep Us Safe Blastco The moniker may sound like a reference to an anachronistic naval war tool, or perhaps a limited-edition microbrew, but Grappling Hook’s music sounds more like if The Doors had been less concerned with psychedelics and spotlights, and more intent upon rocking me straight to hell from my barstool. Or is that a bit of Dischord heyday post-rock ushering me in on “A Closing Fist Can Crush Your Heart”? Or is that Maiden on closer “In Their Waking Hours”? In any case, raw energy emanates from every track – starting with opener “I Judge You Not O Juggernaut” – like ego and money does from Donald Trump. Vivacious, rollicking, and quick to switch gears and change directions, Grappling Hook drives straight through all seven tracks with salient urgency (and just the right amount of patience). Clearly, this is music meant to be heard live by a small army of PBR-holding head-bobbers, yet even on record, my neck muscles are getting a workout. WILLIAM MORRIS

Grids PGCOBUIBQTAUWTCS (7-inch) Lunchbox In the first of this EP’s three cuts, Grids’ chief yeller Rick Contes bellows in what resembles a chorus, “Suits! Suits! Suits are a-comin’!” If you hadn’t picked up on it yet, he’s pissed about it. Such pointed venom suits (pun intended) this sludge-

punk firebrand, which spews its tarry, acidic stuff as giddily as that chirping, frilly dinosaur in Jurassic Park. And that’s what counts here. Grids gets noisy like Big Black and slow like Flipper, lurching like a horde of ghouls, unleashing bits of skin-peeling slide guitar, and flaying slabs of feedback on this debut. But like the ancestors they so audibly claim, Grids’ sonic fisting is a grooving, sly-grinning bit of punk rock psychopathy that seems a direct reaction to its necktie-strangled bank-haven city of origin. And that, friends, makes Grids more than a gang of record-store slackers running passes from the Albini playbook – Grids is an active contributor to punk’s present and, most likely, its future. HANK GARFIELD

Groove 8 Groove 8 Self-released The former Audioform may have had to change their name for legal reasons, but successfully duplicates the loose jazz-funk of its live shows on its first recording under their new one. The disc, produced by Soulive’s Alan Evans, demonstrates the band’s stellar individual musicianship and ability to complement each other. There’s no competing for solos here, just ease, restraint, and impressive playing. It’s the kind of timeless combination of lyrical horns, retro keys, and funk that you might expect Quentin Tarantino to use in the next Death Proof or Jackie Brown. Songs like “Highland Park” and “Groove Brew” capture a cooler than cool era. The group boasts former members of the X-Periment, Baleen, and Black Rayne, but falls on a jazzier plane than those more rock-funk oriented acts, most notably on the gorgeous “Lament.” Although the horn runs are more calculated than in a live setting, Evans succeeds in capturing the Charlotte band’s essence. COURTNEY DEVORES

Hiss Golden Messenger Country Hai East Cotton Heaven & Earth Magic Recording Co. Former Court & Spark leader M.C. Taylor left his Bay-area home a few years back to earn a graduate degree from UNC; the hearth-warm textures and melodies of Country Hai prove he packed along his songwriting strengths with him. Assembled with long-time collaborator Scott Hirsch over a period of three years in various studios, lofts, and farmhouses in N.C., S.F. and N.Y.C., Taylor – now going by the Meher Baba-inspired Jai Lil Diamond – and friends conjure stately Tindersticks’ blues, Topanga-fried twang, and ropy NEU!-jazz, evoking Bare Trees-era Fleetwood Mac, late-60s Floyd, King Tubby’s crackling console, and even the honky-stomp of Waylon Jennings. Taylor’s smoky voice echoes ‘sticks leader Stuart Staples’, but his lyrics lead to the light rather than the dissolute dark. Soulful horn sections, countrypolitan strings and a tapestry of keyboard layers embellish the spiritual journey, potentially making Country Hai yours as well. JG MELLOR

Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey Here and Now Bar None Thirty years after their dB’s debut, Holsapple and Stamey have certainly lost some of their youthful exuberance. Of course, when considering the stunning energy of Stands for Decibels, that’s understandable. With Here and Now, they’ve become the

self-assured craftsmen they used to try to obscure underneath layers of quirked-out production. Here, they retain their Beatles fixation and are quite capable of serving up a melodic stunner now and again. “Santa Monica” is a perfect example, with its sour, yet sweet, backing vocals, tinkling pianos, and a stately tempo supporting a chorus that, like the song says, just wants to “hang around with you.” “Song for Johnny Cash” is another great, with the song’s sentiment going further to explain its title than the slide guitars do. Even if they take fewer risks these days, Here and Now is a surprisingly pleasant album, full of great songwriting and wonderful production that is, ultimately, exactly what you might expect. JESSE STEICHE

Horseback The Invisible Mountain Utech If it weren’t for the unwavering quality of his output, one might accuse Jenks Miller of inconsistency – until now. With The Invisible Mountain, Miller has built a unique and enduring sound from post-rock pacing and dynamic, black-metal textures, and an adventurous, meandering sense of melody. He’s helped on this quest by Scott Endres (Suntan, *SONS), John Crouch (Caltrop) and Jon Mackey (Sweater Weather), who bring their own bands’ respective swirling psychedelia, Earth-y heft and monumental dynamics. But the impression left here is unmistakably Miller’s. Some of these riffs were birthed on Miller’s 2008 solo outing, an extended guitar improvisation dubbed Approaching The Invisible Mountain, and Miller employs the same scorched-throat black metal vocals he used on this year’s unexpectedly melodic MILH IHVH 7-inch. But though this draws from Miller’s ever-morphing back-catalog, his sidemen’s resumes and the

expansive jazz-metal of late-era Earth, The Invisible Mountain is its own adventure. BRYAN REED

Hymns Appaloosa Blackland Brooklyn-based but Concordraised Jason Roberts and Brian Harding build on the sunny 70s California sound they explored on the 2008 full-length Travel in Herds. Recorded over four June days in L.A., Appaloosa finds the band adding horns, fiddle, harpsichord, falsetto singing, and foot-stomping bite to its arsenal. The digital EP (limited edition copies are available at shows) begins with the dreamy desert feel of “Black Boots,” featuring fiddler Tracy Bonham (“Mother Mother”). “Wedding Day” is a playful Cure-like shuffle that evolves into a danceable falsetto chorus worthy of the Bee Gees. On “Call Me Honey,” Harding sounds like Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner fronting Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles. The party escalates with the closer, a horn-driven Memphis soulmeets-psychedelic track fit to score an Austin Powers party montage. Hymns continues to grow, wearing its retro heart on its sleeve without sounding dated. COURTNEY DEVORES

Jar-e Chicas Malas Exotic All you need to know about Asheville’s Jar-e can seemingly be gleaned from the opening three tracks of Chicas Malas, an album that, though it seems to genre-jump its way through

10 economically delivered bursts of song, is in the end one congruous whole despite its mixed-bag approach. “Fever Break” opens the record playfully, with punctuations of brass giving the song a jazzy French Quarter feel, before the vocal delivery and bounciness of “Heyday” make evident a Graceland-tinged air explored most recently and successfully by Vampire Weekend. Then, on the infectious “3 Leaf,” the album introduces a more obvious soulful element, somewhat reminiscent of Stevie Wonder or Van Morrison (if either were more Cuban/Latininfluenced). Throw into the mixer all of the above, press repeat, and you have, voila, Chicas Malas. Really, only on the album closer “Ramparts” does the record take on a little somberness, which serves as a welcome and fitting final stitch in this patchwork quilt of sound. WILLIAM MORRIS

Junior Astronomers I Had Plans for Us Self-released The six-song debut from this Charlotte quintet is brimming with the sort of youthful exuberance and restless unsteadiness one would expect from such a fresh-faced band. The musicians sometimes play a little too hard and a little too fast; ideas are often drawn out far too long; and some of the riffs and twists betray the band’s more obvious influences. (See: TV on the Radio, Modest Mouse, At the Drive-In.) But repeated listens reveal some real moments of earnest brilliance on this rough recording. “Kid, You’ll Move Mountains” is the obvious crowd pleaser with its multiple crescendos and “whoaoh-oh” coda, but the jittery “Cavalcade” shows what this quintet is capable of when it stops trying to make cleverly abrupt left turns and concentrates on kicking out the jams. Plans might betray Junior Astronomers as a band still searching for its sound, but

the quintet certainly has a strong bearing on where it would like to end up. PATRICK WALL

King Tut Francis/Rule the World (7-inch) Self released I’ve had some sort of flu for a few days now and, being stuck at home, I tried to bang out a review or two. When I got to this new 7-inch from Asheville’s King Tut, my brain nearly went into fits from self-recognition. “Francis” is filled with feverish guitar repetition and ever-changing, never-quite-content-to-stickaround rhythms that feel just like the half-asleep visions I found myself experiencing. There is something logical, yet totally illogical, about the band’s songs. Every moment feels right, yet is juxtaposed against something that doesn’t quite fit in any expected manner. On “Rule the World,” there’s a bit that sounds like build-up, with guitars and drums swelling to some glorious, yet never-reached peak, only to be followed by a synth-y slowdown with sampled speech. Either way, I’m glad to know what my visual hallucinations sound like. Gurgle. JESSE STEICHEN

Lamb Handler Jingle Jangle Coma Gun “You should shut your mouth,” opines Lamb Handler front-man Moe Lassiz (say it fast and altogether-like) on the track of the same name, and his gang of axe-wielding backing toughs make sure you get the point. There’s some twang here – see  25

the down-n-dirty “Devil Dawg” – but also more than enough mezz-metal to smoke your speakers (see their spot-on cover of Megadeth’s “Peace Sells"). The band keeps the energy and sound intact from its first album, The Shepherds of Rock, but the Lamb Handler crew (former members of Charlotte faves Dirty Box, Semi-Pro and it could be nothing) has finally hit upon its sound here, and that sound is a stone(d)-free(ly) studio simulacrum of their balls-out bong-a-billy live act, one that has been slowly smoking in its own juices for years now. TIMOTHY C. DAVIS

Lemming Malloy The Return of the Norfolk Regiment Neckbeard Lemming Malloy maestro Jay Cartwright wields the spork of the music world; the keytar. And not just any old Roland AX-7, this dude plays a fully-customized wood-paneled steampunk monstrosity! Joining Cartwright on the erudite debut is Joe Mazzitelli on guitar, Wendy Spitzer on bass and vocals, and Dylan Thurston on drums. (Ed. - Neckbeard Records is run by Shuffle A.E. Bryan Reed.) Named after the British World War I brigade rumored to have disappeared into a mist during Gallipoli, TRotNR is a scrumptious cocktail of indie pop, prog and synth rock. “Sioux Falls,” an organ-heavy shuffler, opens the album and sets the spastic pace. The jittery “Don’t Act Like Prey” and “House of Cards” evoke like-minded rockers Witch’s Hat, also pairing poppy vocals with grungy D&D-themed soundscapes. The album finale, “One Foot Off The Merry-GoRound” exceeds the 8-minute mark and is a prog/math-rockers’ dream on a debut that is equally ambitious and rewarding. BRIAN MCKINNEY

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Jon Lindsay Magic Winter & the Dirty South Self-released Judging by his 5-song solo EP, Jon Lindsay’s tenure as Benji Hughes’ keys-player is paying songwriting dividends. It’s a familiar refrain from those who’ve worked with Hughes and praise his exacting craftsmanship, and these songs sound much more finished than Lindsay’s ill-fated collaboration in the Young Sons last year. “The Sideman” continues that disc’s power-pop vibe, Teenage Fanclub being a worthy reference point. But things take a SoCal turn with the minor-key twang and stacked vocals of “Not Trying,” Topanga Canyon summer pop re-imagined by The Shins, as well as the Spector/Beach Boys textures of “Ryan on the Runway.” Yet it’s “Red Dawn Soon” that plays like an exile from Hughes’ A Love Extreme, Patrick Swayze and Charlie Manson name-dropped amid the burbling synths and keyboards of an unstoppable melody. But with Lindsay channeling Hughes’ laconic singing style, too, the song tilts derivative – suggesting Lindsay is still refining his own voice. Still, there’s enough here to suggest that’s worth waiting for. JG MELLOR

Lonnie Walker These Times, Old Times Terpsikhore Lonnie Walker’s pleasantly ambiguous sound is born of Bob Dylan’s story-telling, Johnny Cash’s attitude, and Iggy Pop’s conviction. The Terpsikhore debut showcases the band’s versatility, as the five-piece sweeps through opposite ends

of the rhythmic spectrum with equal ability. While “Compass Comforts” offers a geographical journey at breakneck speed, the self-confident “Summertime” highlights an agile front man, Brian Corum, wielding inventive lyrics “If my brain had legs and it could walk around the block/well it would wear a pair of sunglasses and Coppertone sun block/All the people would be jealous as they saw it walk with style/with its spinal cord a-waggin’ and its neurons running wild.” The songs are equally impressive when the band shifts into a somber setting, exposing every scar below the surface on tracks like “Back Home Inside With You,” “Ships,” and “Pendulum’s Chest.” This is a promising start whose new twists are stronger for being built, like the title suggests, upon the lessons learned from the past. TAYLOR SMITH

Magnetic Flowers What We Talk About When We Talk About What We Talk About Self-released Like Raymond Carver, whose story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is name-checked in the title, Magnetic Flowers’ strength is in its potent, poetic storytelling. And like Carver, this Columbia quintet operates in a genre — for Carver, minimalism; for Magnetic Flowers, folk-rock — that’s similarly loved, imitated, parodied, reviled and made into pastiche. But where Magnetic Flowers separates itself is in the tent-revival energy with which the band attacks its sweeping, cinematic indie-folk; perhaps nowhere is this more evident than on “Books and Bad Poetry,” where guitarist Patrick Funk spins a murder ballad that might make Nick Cave jealous. Playing the Tweedy to Funk’s Farrar is Jared Pyritz, whose twangy, impassioned singing pushes his finer moments (“Southern Baptist Gothic,” “Reprise”) into widescreen territory. Playing the wild card is pianist Adam

Cullum, who rambles, rants and raves on “Talk Talk Talk” like Bukowski following a three-week bender. Authors aside, these guys can stand on their own. PATRICK WALL

Megafaun Gather, Form & Fly Hometapes Not long ago, you could define the “Megafaun sound” with relative ease, citing a blend of old-time folk and avant-garde improvisation. But if such reduction was ever fair, it isn’t now. The trio’s anticipated followup to 2007’s Bury The Square is a shape-shifting collection that takes its time (more than 50 minutes) to unveil the many colors in its kaleidoscope. The foundation of folk and avantgarde improvisation are still present, but so are roadhouse blues stomps (“Solid Ground”), swinging acoustic pop (“The Fade”) and a skewed take on chamber-pop (“Impressions of the Past”). This sonic range, though, doesn’t hamper the album’s journey. If the songs of Bury The Square were different chapters of the same novel, Gather, Form & Fly is a volume of poems – separate but united in voice. What this latest effort reveals is not Megafaun’s mastery of a single style, but its flexibility in interpreting American musical tradition by refusing to narrow its window of influence. BRYAN REED

Bill Noonan & His Fallen Gentlemen The Man That I Can’t Be Catawba City Longtime Charlotte roots rocker Bill Noonan’s latest still carries a whiff of the Rank

Outsiders, his former band, but he (in collaboration with producer Mark Lynch) has now hit upon a sound that suits him, featuring a soupcon of 60s soul, two-car garage rock, and classic country. Always one of the more underrated QC rockers, Noonan has brought along many of his friends for the party, including local legend David Childers, drummer David “DK” Kim, keyboardist Jason Atkins, and silky-smooth chanteuse Beth Chorneau. The result is some seriously satisfying country soul, a genre that’s been relegated to the sidelines in recent years. Noonan’s impassioned take sounds like the musical equivalent of a late-round pick who’s finally getting the chance to shine, calling audibles at the line (a cover of Gene Clark’s “Tried So Hard”), and taking over the huddle and making it his own. TIMOTHY C. DAVIS

The Poles Twelve Winds Doubleplusgood If you can get past The Poles’ similarity to the Constantines – singer/guitarist Todd Lemiesz’ rasp sounds like a forced version of Brian Webb’s – you’re left with a debut that’s equally abrasive and addicting. On Twelve Winds, this Asheville foursome tears it up and shoves the dirty little pieces in your face afterward. Lemiesz and Bruce Rogers’ dueling guitars like to, for lack of a better phrase, fuck shit up; like a quality filet, they’re seared black on the outside and blood-red and juicy inside. The rhythm section of bassist Matt Gentling (Archers of Loaf/Band of Horses) and drummer Jon McDuffie keep captivating tunes like “Dark is Electric” and the title track from falling apart in cascades of sweltering leads. Twelve Winds is a promising debut from a talented cast, and if they distinguish their sound a little more I see big things on their horizon. BRIAN MCKINNEY

Polvo In Prism Merge The effect of time on the reception of In Prism, the functioning comeback album for these titans of the 90s, is paramount. One must wonder, was Polvo’s decade of absence on the band’s behalf? Or on ours? Could In Prism have even been made 10 years ago? Could 1999 have even handled it? So much here feels vintage Polvo, the snaking, brittle guitar melodies and countermelodies, the mid-tempo pulse and the esoteric lyrics. But so much is so different, too. This is far and away the rockingest thing Polvo’s undertaken. Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski aren’t just playing riffs, but embracing them, and warping their near-metallic heft into new directions – from doomy trudging to chiming, crystalline webs of melody. Meanwhile Steve Popson’s bass lines are forceful creations pumping alongside Brian Quast’s muscular drumming. This secondgeneration Polvo, upgraded with muscle and atmosphere, isn’t what anyone would have expected – it’s even better. BRYAN REED

Reigning Sound Love & Curses In the Red Greg Cartwright’s brand of Southern soul should be required listening for any serious student of songwriting, a little detail that’s not been overlooked by Sarah Borges, the Ettes, Mary Weiss and the Detroit Cobras, all of whom have covered Cartwright tunes. Love & Curses is the Memphis

ex-pat’s first full-length studio recording with the Asheville incarnation of Reigning Sound, and it should prove a goldmine to song scavengers. There’s not a missed note here, from minor chord, Searchers-like jangler “Trash Talk,” with its lyric notion of how “the truth can hurt as much as a lie”; to the Dylanesque cautionary tale “Banker and a Liar”; to raging raveup “If I Can’t Come Back,” a stylistic successor to RS classic “We Repel Each Other.” With turbocharged bassdrums-organ backing, Cartwright maintains his rep as one of garage-rock’s modern-day avatars, but as noted above — like the Yardbirds song says — he’s got a heart full of soul. FRED MILLS

Sugar Glyder Poor Baby Zebra Sugar Glyder Music The first track on Sugar Glyder’s second full-length is called “The Kicker,” but it’s during second song “Handshake Foes” that the Charlotte four-piece’s epic rock really kicks in. It sounds like a shoving match between the Killers, Arcade Fire, and Explosions in the Sky. In fact, Explosions’ tone and wall of postrock guitar style, group backing vocals, and Daniel Howie’s passionate vocals (reminiscent of Muse’s Matthew Bellamy) color the 12 tracks. Howie sings with the kind of vein-opening emotion that made emo hot, but without any hardcore trappings. Like Muse, Sugar Glyder isn’t afraid to break from the tortured grandeur and have a little fun. The title track ends the album with a shredding guitar intro and rides a disco bassline worthy of a Franz Ferdinand single. Production-wise, Poor Baby Zebra doesn’t sound like a typical self-release since it benefits from the co-production of Scapegoat’s Kit Walters. COURTNEY DEVORES

Whole World Laughing Eight Songs for Cy In most heavy rock, metal or otherwise, lyrics are secondary. Here, Scotty Irving and Dave Cantwell speak instead with a multitude of riffs, squeals and bashes in a language fluent between them. They’re old friends who separately fill the rosters of more than twodozen bands over the years; both drummers here trying out new avenues together. No surprise, then, that these songs have a natural purity. Their instruments yell in abbreviated fist-clenched jabs, lunge with focused phrases ending in frayed-edge exclamation points (see “Generican Idol”). They also temper the guitar and drum overload with quiet sections, like the jazz breaks in “Instrumental Song for D. Boon to Sing.” The album title references Cy Rawls, longtime local music supporter and friend to both men. These songs are exclusive to Cytunes. org, a site that raises money through downloads and donated songs for the Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke, which treated Rawls. CHRIS TOENES


sh uffle

MarketPlace Get your Name out there! Is music your business? Why not let the Carolina's largest collection musicians and music business readers know? Shuffle is proud to introduce MARKETPLACE, a new reduced-rate space in Shuffle designed to help working elements of our music scene get the word out and grow what they do. Interested? email: brian@shufflemag. com. We'll help you construct your ad and get you going. Space may be limited by demand, so don't hesitate to reserve your space.

Categories currently being booked for the next issue include: • Music Management • Record Labels • Booking Agents • Club Promoters • Pro DJs • Legal/Professional Services • Artist Promotion Services • Publicists • Promotion Services • Instrument Repair • Music Education/Lessons • Producers • Recording/Production Services • Tour Management • Rehearsal Space • Publishing • Web Services • Merchandise/Printing Vendors • CD duplication/Pressing We're offering this space for $50 (Carolinabased businesses only, outside NC/SC, $75). That's right, 50 bucks gets your name out there to over 16,500 readers via the region's only PROFESSIONAL MUSIC BUSINESS DIRECTORY, inside the region's leading music publication.

Brian McKinney, Chocolate Lab Records 801 S. Wells St, #709, Chicago, IL 60607 "A symbiotic indie rock label. Now accepting demos."

WWW.SHUFFLEZINEZINE.TV Carolinas music news The region's most comprehensive show listings Read Shuffle Magazine online Features, videos, scene picvs, and more Get Hooked Up! Sign up for our email list to recieve updates, breaking news, special offers on tickets, giveaways and more.

HOLIDAYS FOR QUINCE RECORDS P.O. Box 576 chapel Hill, NC 27514 Public Relations For The DIY Set contact: Brian McKinney,, 312.532.2013 801 S Wells St, #709, Chicago, IL 60607

Publisher's Note   The days prior to printing a magazine can be brutal. The fun is over. No more musing around about content, feature bands, or artsy covers over a beer or quiet cup of coffee. The right brain takes hold as that anathema to creativity. “Process” ensues: deadlines, layout, image resolution and ad content… Did we get the file for that ad on page 11 yet? Time, which once flowed abundantly in weeks and months, is now reduced to minutes and hours. Free floating ideas must now conform to 8 ½ x 11 sheets of paper. That behemoth machine you have a date with – the one that dispassionately cuts, collates, spews ink, binds and eventually discharges the product of your creative work into neat little boxes –won’t be kept waiting. In the end, a truck shows up, those boxes are off-loaded and hurried hands tear through packaging tape to first expose to daylight the fruits of our labor.   Some may see this as an inconvenient aside to the creative process, in truth it’s really a part of it. Creativity is equal parts inspiration and application. We all have our canvas to wrestle with. In our case, it’s this bunch of bound paper or the pixels in your browser. But application goes beyond just physical output. It’s also about where you go with what you do, where you chose to hang your art, if you will.   The music landscape continues to change. A once familiar canvas, the “record album” is quickly fading into the past. No more will it be the primary vessel by which a musician communicates art. With that, we explore a few new conduits. Bryan Reed’s excellent article “Artistic Licenses” provides good background on one of them. As a musician, these days your fans are more likely to commune with your work via channels that may not be familiar to you. We hope that this article sheds some light on one of those lesser known, often questioned areas.   You may have also noticed the ad at the front of this issue for The General George Squire Brainery. This event, presented by SC-based Muzak will cover a variety of topics surrounding the use of music in non-traditional commercial environments such as in ad campaigns, business background and brand imagining. There are a handful of regional artists already tapping into the power of this space. Among them: Benji Hughes, Danielle Howle, Joey Auch and The Sammies. What they probably know is that it’s quite possible that an ad agency or music supervisor can do more for your career these days than a radio station. If you’re a songwriter, label owner or someone else with a vested interest in exploring this topic, I would urge you to take advantage of this free seminar. Yours truly will be taking part in this event, interviewing keynote speaker and legendary producer Elliot Mazer ( Janis Joplin, Neil Young, The Last Waltz). Check out their Web site for more details.   I’d like thank the staff, as well as all of our hard-working contributors for another great magazine. For every moment I question my sanity during this process, I look to my side to find them right there at the edge with me. John and Bryan work as hard in these crucial days as any two people I have ever met in almost 20 years in the music business. Their contribution to this magazine and to the greater Carolina music scene is enormous. Along with C.J., Blake, and our two newest stars Taylor and Patrick, these are the folks that make Shuffle tick. Thanks also to our advertisers who continue to believe in what it is we do and whose support makes this, our canvas, possible. If you’re a fan of Shuffle, I hope you’ll continue to support them as enthusiastically as you've supported us. See you all at the next Shuffle Party at The Visulite in Charlotte on Nov. 13. Brian CullinanPublisher Shuffle Magazine


sh uffle Reach The Heart of The Carolinas Music Scene Partner with Shuffle and reach the most dedicated group of music fans available anywhere in the Carolinas. Our quarterly music publication reaches over 16,000 core regional music fans. Our online following and sponsored live events further that reach and create unique opportunities for presenting your brand, business, or idea to our unique community of hip, active, and culturally savvy music fans. Looking to reach a targeted audience? Let us help you get connected to our readers in a way that's smart, direct and affordable.

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The HighlyAnticipated New Album PRODUCED BY RICK RUBIN

“OH MY GOD they’re AMAZING.” – Bob Bollen

“They have always evoked The Band’s Music From Big Pink, but this album’s epic sweep and dramatic lyrical imagery enlarges that influence to the scale of arenarock sing-alongs.” – SPIN ARTIST TO WATCH 2009 “...the Avetts have stumbled upon one of the last untapped youth demographics in American music. – ROLLING STONE



Available everywhere SEPTEMBER 29, 2009

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Shuffle No. 6  

The Avett Brothers, Pyramid, The Ettes, SLED, US Christmas, Hiss Golden Messenger and much, much more!

Shuffle No. 6  

The Avett Brothers, Pyramid, The Ettes, SLED, US Christmas, Hiss Golden Messenger and much, much more!