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Des

Ark

Aimée Argote Roars Out of the Carolinas

Reigning Man Asheville’s Greg Cartwright

Beneath the Underground

NC’s Free Jazz Scene

Issue #7


#7

04 Israel Darling 05 American Aquarium 06 Mount Moriah 07 Sin Ropas & Dynamite brothers 08 Nicolay of the foreign exchange 09 Secondhand stories & Andy the door bum 10 GRIDS 11 Wesley Wolfe & If you Wannas 12 Greg Cartwright of Reigning sound 14 Free Music and the Abstract Truth 16 The Biz column: Diy.com 23 scene report 24 the bill 25 Lead review: Goin’ Old School 26 reviews Publisher Brian Cullinan Editor In Chief John Schacht Assistant Editor Bryan Reed

This issue of Shuffle is dedicated to the creative spirit of Sparklehorse's

Mark Linkous

Design Gurus Taylor Smith Patrick Willett Sales/Marketing Vance Carlisle Website CJ Toscano Creative Blake Raynor

18

“For a long time, I refused to admit that Des Ark was my project...” Aimée Argote

Interns/Inspirations Al Eisenstaedt Bushmill Jameson Manor Panera Dr. Havel Reader Contributing Writers Rick Cornell Grayson Currin Timothy C. Davis Hank Garfield Topher Manilla JG Mellor Fred Mills William Morris Chris Parker Jesse Steichen Rebecca Sulock

Des Ark Goes Off Chris Toenes Patrick Wall W.T. Wilson Benn Wineka Johan Wolfgang Contributing Photographers Michael G. Cole Luca DiPierro Daniel Coston Shane Cudahy Jenny Hanson Kimberly Nguyen Angela Owens

Jordan Pepper Bryan Reed Richard Schuerger Rye Studio Patrick Willett All content © 2010 Shuffle Magazine. Shuffle Magazine P.O. Box 1777 Charlotte, N.C. 28224 shufflemag.com 704.837.2024

Flashes & Cables of artists. The bill comprises The Kingsbury Manx, Inspector 22, Michael Holland, Transportation, Wesley Wolfe, Impossible Arms, Americans in France, WAUMISS, Wild Wild Geese, The Toddlers and Shit Horse.

Whatever Brains

broken social scene

Festivals April 22-25: Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival: Silk Hope, N.C.: The Spring edition of this year’s biannual Shakori Hills Festival features local and national performers including Des Ark, Midtown Dickens, Bowerbirds, Cool John Ferguson, Béla Fleck and Donna the Buffalo. Info at www.shakorihills.org. April 23-24: Odessa Fest: Chapel Hill, N.C.: For two nights, the ascendant local label Odessa Records will take over Chapel Hill’s Nightlight to showcase its stable

May 14-15: RadFest: Wilmington, N.C.: Carolina punks rejoice, your own, slightly smaller version of Gainesville’s massive Fest is here. RadFest brings an avalanche of quality punk to the Port City. Bands include Leatherface, Lemuria, Red Collar, New Mexican Disaster Squad, Cloak/Dagger, Fin Fang Foom and many more. Info available at www.radfestnc.com.

Sept. 9-11: Hopscotch Music Festival: Raleigh, N.C.: The biggest thing to hit these parts since, well, maybe ever. This top-tier festival, curated by the Triangle’s Independent Weekly (and specifically its music editor, and Shuffle contributor Grayson Currin), boasts a stellar lineup that includes Public Enemy, Broken Social Scene, Panda Bear, Javelin, Fucked Up, Double Negative, Cannabis Corpse, Bear In Heaven, Akron/Family, Harvey Milk, Tortoise, Megafaun, Horseback and close to 100 more. More info at www.hopscotchmusicfest.com.

Label News • Chapel Hill’s orchestral pop standouts Lost In The Trees have signed with Anti- Records (home to May 22: Charlotte FemmeFest: Charlotte, N.C.: The Neko Case and Tom Waits, among others). On May annual mini-fest and “celebration of women in the arts, 11, Anti- will release a re-recorded (by Scott Solter) benefitting women in the community,” will feature and expanded edition of LITT’s gorgeous 2008 LP, All artists of all stripes – including musical headliner Jill Alone In An Empty House. Andrews (formerly of the everybodyfields) – to raise • Horseback, one of the best experimentalist metal acts money for the Center of Hope Women & Children’s with last year’s acclaimed The Invisible Mountain LP, Homeless Shelter. More info at has inked a deal with the titanic metal label Relapse www.charlottefemmefest.org. Records to reissue the album with wider distribution.

Cover photo: Erik Gamlen  This page: Mark Linkous photo courtesy Astralwerks Records

shufflemag.com  3 Shuffle magazine is not responsible for your music tastes, just our own.


Photo by Carolyn Wachnicki

Israel Darling Out from the White Light

By JG Mellor

Three years ago, Jacob Darden emerged from an overdose-coma a confirmed believer. Not in the white light, and not in Jesus or Moses or Mohammed or any of that “streets of gold stuff,” but in the Write-What-You-Know school of songwriting.   Listening to the harrowing and highly addictive debut – Dinosaur Bones & Mechanical Hands – of Darden’s band, Israel Darling, it’s no wonder he’s hijacked the attention of so many in the region and beyond (including NYC-based Engine Room Records, who released the record).   Darden just turned 22, but the 18-year-old who wrote these songs survived a lot more than the banalities of the usual teen-angst phase. He grew up in Drexel, N.C. (“a town with one stoplight, a barber shop, and a Hispanic church”), and to combat boredom sought the typical wayward-teen escapes. But the toll was terrific; Darden counts seven friends lost to overdoses or car wrecks, and their ghosts haunt these songs.   “There was nothing to do, so kids got fucked up, and a lot of them died,” he says with chilling matter-of-factness.   He wanted the record to depict an America he sees as a “beautiful wasteland,” where not fitting in becomes a life-or-death proposition. Grief and existential turmoil are the narrative ballast for the debut’s robust arrangements, sky-high melodies, group chorus catharses, and surging tempos - though there’s also an outsider’s belief in the redemptive power of art. Topped off with his frantic vocal delivery and torrential wordplay, 4  shuffle Seven  Snapshots

Darden’s songs burn with the same elemental fires you find in Neutral Milk Hotel or a countrified Arcade Fire.   In part, that’s because Darden was nearly one of those casualties and is excited that he wasn’t. At 18, he overdosed on opiates and fell into a coma, and came out of it embarrassed at the humiliation he’d put his family through. Combined with all the death he’d already experienced, his objections to the terminated pregnancy of a close friend, and time spent working in horrific conditions at a Morganton half-way house for the mentally disabled (starkly chronicled in the song “Locked In a Safe”), Darden underwent a conversion.   But he flipped the script. The son of devout Christians, he’d been raised Baptist and even drove himself to church through high school. But postcoma and a rehab stint, Darden’s religious beliefs evaporated.   He’s quick to credit his parents for accepting his decision despite their own steadfast convictions. But the Darden family bonds are strong, and one of them is music. Darden’s father, a Burke county employee, gets off work at 3:30 p.m. and often tinkers until midnight as a luthier in the room below the house. His son calls him a consummate finger-picker who counted Piedmont blues legend Etta Baker among his clients and the bluegrass circle who regularly played on the Darden back porch.   “I used to take that stuff for granted as a kid, I’d be in bluegrass circles and think, ‘this is stupid, I want to be a rock star!’,” Darden chuckles. “Now

when I go back down there nothing fills with me more joy than to sit with him and a few of his friends and just play with some of the most talented back-porch pickers.”   Growing up around musicians, Darden used his “addictive personality” to become something of an instrumental polymath. He picked up (and often just as quickly discarded) everything from drums and bass to horns and classical guitar. But it was that Appalachian aesthetic that he turned to in Israel Darling.   After graduation, Darden formed a band in Hickory, where a show with the NYC-band Lowery led to Darden’s deal with their Engine Room Records label. He then spent nine months as part of the up-and-coming indie roots scene in Greensboro. In January, Darden and most of the band (now a sextet) relocated to Asheville, where work has begun on an ambitious follow-up that includes a 33-piece “Appalachian folk orchestra” on one song, comprised of Israel Darling and six of their favorite regional bands – Our Horse Jethro, The Subterranean Bums, Red Snapper, The Old One-Two, Friend House, and Come Hell or High Water. Dinosaur Bones & Mechanical Hands may still be picking up fans and critical momentum, but Darden long ago put it in his rear-view.   “It’s way beyond the last record,” Darden says of the new material, his southern drawl picking up enthusiasm. “The lyrics are more intense, there are more parts to every song, there are more melodies, more harmonies, more subtlety, more dynamics and orchestration – but we don’t have anywhere to record and we’re afraid it’s going to be one of those things again where two years from now we’re releasing stuff from when I was 21.” shuf7


Photo by theRYEstudio

American Aquarium Plenty of Gas in the Tank “If you have a bar, we will come to your town,” offers American Aquarium singer/guitarist B.J. Barham, on his way to Asheville for a gig. Finding themselves in North Carolina is something of a rarity for the band. They’ve been pursuing the rock & roll dream the old fashioned way for several years now, hitting the road with ridiculous tenacity. Last year they played more than 300 shows in 46 states. This year, they intend to top that. “We’ll play in front of a bartender as long as they’re listening.”   They’re releasing music as well, not having forsaken the studio. Last year they moved to Oxford, Miss. for a month to record their fourth album, Small town Hymns, with Andrew Radcliffe (Will Hoge, The Damnwells). Their country-punk sound has earned comparisons to Whiskeytown, Lucero and the Drive-by Truckers (whom they opened for on a short tour in January), but they’re not counting on critical accolades to bring people in the door.   “You just get out there and punch everybody in the face every night,” Barham offers. “Touring’s the lifeblood of this band. It’s how we’ve been successful. We’ve watched our fan base grow a lot quicker than a lot of bands. We don’t have a label pushing us or a publicist putting us in magazines. All our fan base is earned the hard way.”   Their sound evolved over time like their audience. Their 2006 debut, Antique Hearts, was a hodgepodge that encompassed pretty country-folk ballads like “Anne Marie” and “Last Stand,” hooky roots rock (“Big City”), anthemic alt-country (“Ain’t No Use In Trying”) and heartland bar rock (“Antique Hearts”).   “We just threw as much shit at the wall as we

By Chris Parker

possibly could,” he recalls. “What stuck was what we started really focusing on as our sound, and our sound has definitely turned into piano and bravado-heavy country rock.”   Their second release, 2008’s The Bible and the Bottle, explored more of the country side of their sound. Whiskeytown’s name came up a lot in connection with that album, thanks to the contributions of former Whiskeytown members, singer Caitlin Cary, who lent backing vocals, and drummer Skillet Gilmore, who designed the album cover, as well as their old producer Greg Elkins. “Being from Raleigh, having a fiddle in your band, and being a bunch of drunks, you can’t really outrun Whiskeytown,” cracks Barham. “We just embraced it, and were like, ‘fuck it.’”   They pursued yet another direction for last year’s louder, harder rocking Dances of the Lonely. Keyboards figure more prominently, and with the punchy bar band strut, the first person that comes to mind is Bruce Springsteen (or, even closer, Lucero since the addition of keyboardist Rick Steff.)   It’s a darker album lyrically, bristling with bitter, brokenhearted bile, from the idle threat of “Ain’t Going to the Bar Tonight” and ornery kiss-off, “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart,” with its epitaph, “you fuck like a woman, but love like a little girl,” to “Queen of the Scene,” in which Barham confesses, “I ain’t yet a killer but I’m far from a saint,” concluding “when the smoke clears there’s always someone to blame.”   “A lot of people were looking for a super artistic statement and I really wish I could give it to them,

but it was a ‘fuck you’ record,” says Barham, who fielded complaints from some critics for the allegedly misogynist outlook of the lyrics. “This next record will mean a lot more to them because the blame’s not on the girl. If anything the blame’s on me, so I think for the people that might have been turned off by the sheer ‘fuck you’ brashness of the last record, (Small Town Hymns) will be more of their kind of album.”   Scheduled for a May release, Small Town Hymns finds American Aquarium beginning to settle into their sound, while pulling back on the guitars and tempos, evoking both late-night alt-country reflection and sparser, slow-burn rock amble.   “It’s a songwriter record at the heart of everything,” he says. “The band did a brilliant job with the accompaniment but it’s a songwriter record. The last record was definitely a band record, like ‘Hey we can tear the roof off any shitty bar in all 50 states.’ This one’s definitely more of an introspective look on relationships.”   Playing at South by Southwest this year, they’ll keep their ears open to label overtures. (They’re currently on their friend Travis Hill’s small Little Rock, Ark. label, Last Chance Records.) But they’re not waiting for any calls. They’ll just keep putting out music (they recently recorded the Live at the White Water Tavern EP while in Arkansas), and burning up the asphalt.   “As long as we can keep the van on the road, we’ll keep touring,” he says with a chuckle, “We’re all still young – I’m only 25 – and it feels good to know we have a lot of gas in the tank.” shuf7 shufflemag.com  5


Photo by DL Anderson

mount moriah Classic Rock Hymns

By Bryan Reed

You can blame the Southern Baptist Church and classic rock radio for plenty. But thank ’em both for Mount Moriah.   When Mount Moriah’s yet-to-be-announced album finally reaches listeners, it will mark the band’s recorded debut, following a swell of local buzz built over only a year of shows. But the foundation for Mount Moriah was laid long ago. It was founded in the church of frontwoman Heather McEntire’s childhood, and in her friendship with the band’s guitarist Jenks Miller, who started an early version of Mount Moriah but laid it to rest when he decided to focus on his starkly different experimental project Horseback.   “I had all these solo songs and I really liked the name Mount Moriah,” explains McEntire. “Not that the songs are necessarily religious, but there’s a similar conflict.”   Spending most of her formative years attending church and youth group functions might not have impressed a devout faith upon the songwriter – “I was always an observer in the church,” she explains. But the “contagious energy” of other people’s religious convictions and the congregational harmonies of traditional hymns provided something she could believe in.   “I was never in the choir, but I wanted to be,” she remembers. “I was way too shy.”   It wasn’t until her late teens, near the time she formed her wire-bristle, post-punk outfit Bellafea in Wilmington, that McEntire opened up enough to share her voice with the world.   With Mount Moriah, McEntire trades the 6  shuffle Seven  Snapshots

pained howl and jagged guitar lines with which she leads Bellafea for an aching, soulful drawl and 4/4 shuffle on an acoustic guitar. Miller’s guitar-leads meander with a slow, Neil Young assuredness akin, at times, to the solo improvisations of his 2008 LP Approaching The Invisible Mountain. And the band is bolstered by contributions from drummer James Wallace and rotating bassists Jeff Crawford and Ryan Gustafson, whose combined resumes count a litany of classic-rock inspired bands including Max Indian, Light Pines, The Old Ceremony, Roman Candle, The Tomahawks, and others. Though Mount Moriah is, musically, a drastic diversion from its core duo’s other projects, they deliver this new sound with enough conviction and talent that it sounds as uncomplicated as breathing – even if it’s not.   “I don’t really know what to do on stage with this band,” McEntire admits. “I’m adjusting to presenting these very traditional folk-inspired songs.”   But that tension and barely-restrained urgency drives the songs farther than McEntire’s lead vocals, Miller’s and Wallace’s warm backing harmonies, and a collection of emotionally wrought lyrics could manage alone.   If McEntire hadn’t been drawn so strongly to hymnal music, Mount Moriah wouldn’t carry the same solemnity and group-sung uplift. The band wouldn’t have the same eternity-is-waiting patience that lets it stretch tight pop songs into wide spaces, and it wouldn’t have let “Old Gowns,” a clear standout, live as a sparse, Gospel-tinged dirge led predominantly by leaf-in-a-breeze harmonies.

  And if McEntire hadn’t, in her late 20s, rediscovered a love for pop-rock singles from the likes of Fleetwood Mac through Raleigh’s 100.7 FM, “The River,” then Mount Moriah wouldn’t have its soft-but-effective dynamic or its concisely composed punch. It’s as much indebted to the 70s’ best-written, most tightly wound pop records, like Carole King’s Tapestry or Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours as it is to the indie-folk of Jason Molina’s Songs:Ohia or Cat Power. Listening to the breakup song “Lament” uncoil into a brilliant pop song, you can’t help but hear the emotional complexity and tension, and the spring-loaded undercurrent of bitterness that made Rumours an instant classic.   Somewhere in the midst of the rhythm section’s intoxicating drive, Miller’s sidewinding counterpoints, and McEntire’s melodic songwriting, Mount Moriah may have found what it takes to live up to its influences.   The album, which McEntire suggests will be released in the summer or fall of this year, is in a sort of limbo as the band decides how best to present it, and through what channel. Tizona Records, an indie label usually dedicated to louder acts like Bellafea, has shown interest in releasing Mount Moriah’s work, and McEntire and Miller have been considering the pros and cons of releasing it through their Holidays For Quince label. But no matter how, or when, the record reaches listeners, it’s bound to leave an impression.   And like those impressions left on McEntire by Southern Baptist Hymnal pages and classic rock radio frequencies, Mount Moriah is continuing to evolve into one of the region’s most exciting new bands. shuf7


Photo courtesy Luca DiPierro

Sin ropas Mountaintop Siren Calls By JG Mellor

From their mountain redoubt in Marshall, N.C., Sin Ropas say they can see me down here in the Piedmont… and I believe them.   There’s something timeless, elemental and haunting about the music that husband and wife Tim Hurley (exRed Red Meat/Califone) and Danni Iosello (ex-Pure) have made over the last decade. After their debut, Three Cherries (2000), they recorded Trickboxes on the Pony Line (2003) in a dying German industrial town on the windswept North Sea, and Fire Prizes (2005) in an abandoned library while the worst flood in 100 years swept parts of the town downriver. The duo took just two months to record their latest, Holy Broken, in the basement of their log cabin in

the woods.   During recording, the natural world made its presence felt. A wild peacock roamed the property to Iosello’s delight, and Hurley one day came upon a “donkeylike creature” with a huge head and scraggly mane, its hindquarters shorter that its front, which looked like it came right off the savanna. It roared at him and then walked calmly back into the forest.   Those creatures suit the tenor of Holy Broken’s songs: Colorful, alluringly misshapen, almost apocryphal. Sin Ropas’ narcotic dirges and unrelenting rockers illuminate the dark by becoming part of it. Even their home-made instrumentation seems chimerical: a fretless banjo jerry

rigged from a cookie tin; a two-stringed hurdy-gurdy made from a church organ pipe; a treated violin bought at a yard sale; a thumb piano built out of a dresser drawer.   “This time around I wanted less of a ‘guitar’ record,” Hurley says before the band’s month-long European tour. “We’ve always used sounds like these in the past, but maybe they were less present, more swept away by the guitars.”   Fans of previous Sin Ropas need not hand-wring. There remain plenty of processed guitar textures, ingot-forging percussion, synth storms and wheezing harmoniums for the hypnotic harmony-reveries of Hurley and Iosello to waft through.   “It’s a part of our lives, it’s what we do, what we’ll probably always do in some way or another, even if we’re pursuing other things,” Hurley insists.   And that, even from this vantage point far below, is clearly a magical thing. shuf7

Photo by Vikas Nambiar

Dynamite Brothers Explosive Soul & Roll You might listen to Again, the latest from Chapel Hill’s Dynamite Brothers, and wonder why you’ve not heard more of their raw-dog garage-rock, soul and funk mix. Where are the breathless blog posts? The Bonnaroo invites? The frickin’ back catalog?   Thing is, for all their sparks-a-flyin’ live shows, considerable North Carolina word-of-mouth, and soundtrack work (The Foot Fist Way, Eastbound & Down and All The Real Girls), they’ve released only a handful of records – Again, Clap Along With The Dynamite Brothers and Rarities, B Sides, and Soundtracks.   “We've been wanting to release a follow-up for a long time, but it just kept getting put on hold,” says guitarist

By Timothy C. Davis

Mitch Rothrock, who took on other gigs while bassist Shane Hartman took time off and drummer Scott Nurkin toured with Birds of Avalon.   “Even though people kept telling us they loved our music, no one was really interested in helping us out label-wise or financially,” says Nurkin, who admits to having been burned out after a decade with Dynamite Brothers. “But eventually we came back to what worked.”   Noticeably more up-front in the band’s soul & roll sonics on Again is a measured, Meters-like element of funk, which the band credits to their on-the-road collection of classic soul and funk, and Hartman’s production.

  “(The) van was like a classroom to us,” says Hartman. “We studied these sounds inside and out, trying our best to emulate masters like James Jamerson, Bernard Purdie and Jimmy Nolan. The grandmaster of it all would have to be Sly Stone. The things that we are trying to do – merging rock, pop, soul, blues, and jazz – he and his band already did over 40 years ago. When people say things like ‘man, you guys are funky’ or ‘y’all are so tight,’ I just have to chuckle, thinking ‘No, the J.B.’s are funky’ or “No, Fishbone is tight.’”   “I think we all matured as people and musicians,” Nurkin says. “So I guess our color palette got a lot bigger and more diverse. More colors to paint with, ya know. Plus we switched from Krylon to Belton Molotow, so now you know we're on some next-level shit.” shuf7 shufflemag.com  7


Photo by Jati Lindsay

Nicolay The Foreigner’s Exchange By Benn Wineka

Speaking with an implacable accent, the towering Dutch producer Nicolay (born Matthijs Rook) is clearly not a North Carolina native. But as he sets up for a DJ gig honoring N.C. legend Bill Withers, discussing the success of the Foreign Exchange, his N.C.-based R&B collaboration with Little brother's Phonte Coleman, it's clear that today, Nicolay's as much a Tar Heel as any local.   “I think we represent something that has a lot of North Carolinian flavor. It’s hard to explain but it’s that unmistakable Southern twist that comes from such a rich history.” says the 35 year-old producer.   But Wilmington, which Nicolay's called home since leaving the Netherlands (his self-described “artistic exile”) in 2006, isn't exactly the most dynamic of musical communities. The coastal town boasts its share of talented acts and vivacious venues, but at heart it's still a tranquil scene filled out by inebriated college students singing along to 80s power ballads. It’s not an atmosphere you'd expect to house the fourth-ever Dutchman to receive a Grammy nomination.   But, despite logical expectations, The Foreign Exchange's “Daykeeper,” from last year's stellar Leave It All Behind, grabbed a nod in the Best Urban/Alternative Performance category. The academy, apparently, recognized something special in the independent release whose textured backing was birthed in Nicolay's Port City studio.   Leave It All Behind, the duo's second album, is steeped in hip-hop but more prominently framed around lush textures and a laid-back, lounge 8  shuffle Seven  Snapshots

vibe. Even apart from the lyrics, the music tells a story, like scoring a movie that doesn't exist yet. Looking back over Nicolay’s personal catalog, it makes sense. Setting is a recurring theme. His two installments of the City Lights album series attempt to create a soundtrack to a city, most recently, Tokyo's Shibuya ward.   Nicolay swaps a hip-hop staple, the sample, in favor of live instruments. Phonte trades rapping for a strong croon. The result is a quid pro quo for the better. The two met before Nicolay's immigration, via the Okayplayer message boards. From overseas, Nicolay would build the melodic piano and guitar arrangements that Phonte would then download and overlay with his vocals, and those of frequent collaborators YahZarah and Muhsinah. The transcontinental outfit released its debut, Connected in 2004.   “The thing I love about working with Te is that he keeps me on my toes and he’s not the type of cat to sugarcoat anything,” Nicolay says. “He’s the quality control of the group in a lot of ways and it helps me with being a better me. That objective set of extra ears that I think you need to not be self-indulgent.”   In the months leading up to the Grammy award ceremonies, Nicolay admits that there wasn't as much time for the music. Normally a studio rat averaging eight hours a day working on records, the nomination was something of a forced reprieve. But it hasn't kept Nicolay from plotting an ambitious 2010. YahZarah and Darien Brockington

both have albums slated for release via Nicolay's Nicolay Music label, with Nicolay providing the bulk of the production for both. And The Foreign Exchange is preparing to go full-bore into making its next album – something Nicolay says is always an intense experience.   And even though the group didn't leave the January 31 Grammy Awards ceremony with a golden gramophone in-hand, the opportunity for Nicolay, Phonte, YahZarah and Nicolay's wife (and the group's publicist) Aimee Flint to attend with full red carpet treatment didn't go overlooked. The Foreign Exchange is still riding the Grammy publicity and capitalizing on the new-found exposure, not just for themselves but also for their home base.   “When you’re a musician there’s not always a good story to sell,” Nicolay explains. “You’re going to be broke, you’re going to be quitting jobs. Normally it’s just a bad news sort of career until something like this comes along. It’s a really cool thing, knowing I can come here and not fail. It’s also great just getting to put N.C. on the map, you know.   “Combined with cats like The Love Language from the indie rock perspective, it’d be cool if we were to become like a generation of dope Carolina artists to get some national exposure. I think the last one was James Taylor, and that was like eleventy-27 years ago.” shuf7


Photo by Daniel Coston

Stephen Warwick & Secondhand Stories Angels in the Details By John Schacht

If, like the digital pundits tell us, the album is actually dead – please, nobody tell Stephen Warwick. The Charlotte native spent five years meticulously crafting songs into an old-fashioned long-player, creating a luminous, cohesive debut that harks back to records that meant something from the first needle-pop to the last.   “Even though it’s now the age where people just download single tracks or a few songs from an album,” says the 32-year-old former actor, “I still think of the album as a collection of songs that belong together.”   That doesn’t make Warwick a Luddite, and though Talking Machine is shot through with sepia images of Depression-era circuses, traveling sideshow performers, cabarets and brothels, it’s no bloated concept album, either.

The title track may imagine the skepticism and surprise that must’ve met the invention of the phonograph, but that only indicates the romantic light in which Warwick still holds music-making. Like most of his images, they do double duty as metaphors for modern times.   That blend of eras comes through in warm, minorkey folk-pop that’s mostly the product of Warwick’s multi-instrumental talents. There are also essential contributions from his Secondhand Stories band, particularly Jack Kelly’s upright bass and Kristin Garber’s trumpet, and producer Steve Pugh. But whether burnished with whirring synths, carnival keys or an Italian choir recorded on a cell-phone and then looped backwards, the music recalls an era of album-making

when song-to-song detailing defined records.   “I lost sleep at night trying to figure out the sequence,” Warwick laughs, adding that he often relied on skills gained from his full-time DJ gig to measure the album’s mood shifts. If that meant re-recording a song in a different key to match one song with another, or endless iTunes permutations to find the right blend of tempos, or sacrificing a favorite arrangement that just didn’t fit… that’s what Warwick did. It’s like opening an antique music box and hearing Elliott Smith playing instead of those flimsy little chimes.   “I wanted people’s minds to adjust and not want to skip tracks,” Warwick says. “Throughout the whole songwriting process I thought, ‘Where would this fit in this collection of songs?’”   The answer was: Right where it belongs. shuf7

Photo by Frank Balthazar

Andy the Door Bum the Voice in the Booth

By Topher Manilla

I once bore witness as a bearded wild-eyed madman, armed only with an acoustic guitar and eyeball-popping holler, turned a house show into a darkened, sea-faring vessel full of bottle swinging, lyric-shouting marauders. Uprooted from our foundations by his deranged howlings and plopped into troubled narrative waters, violence and mayhem seemed imminent.   It wasn’t, of course, and I wound up having a wonderful evening of reckless abandon. Now, a few years on, Andy the Door Bum’s roar has become as defining as his five-year run as The World Famous Milestone’s most famous face.   While we visitors occasionally tune in to the West Charlotte venue’s strange frequency, the Door Bum, born Andy Fenstermaker, has carved out a creative home in it,

his ticket-dispensing/I.D.-checking gig allowing him to befriend musician, hipster and crackhead alike. And that’s what gives his dirty, surging and occasionally frightening brand of folk its weight and truth.   “My first album was recorded to cassette 4-track completely in the booth,” he says of 2005’s The Doorbooth Album. “Nowadays, I don’t record in there much. Just an ashtray clang here and there. I had to upgrade because I had too many ideas to fit on 4-tracks.”   Fenstermaker, 25, cites the Butthole Surfers and Boredoms as influences, and shares more than a bourbon-glazed hobo-howl with Tom Waits, a frequent vocal comparison. He’s got the same knack for shaping folk traditions into new, often quite worrisome monsters, his narratives following crust-punks, ne’er-do-wells,

backwoods demons and worse.   But the most mature moments on his latest long-player – the self-released Art Is Shit – recall the non-spiritual spiritual poetry of Leonard Cohen. But whereas Cohen’s poet is clad in cuffed-shirts, tailored black slacks and fedora, you wonder if Fenstermaker’s wild-haired poet has any pants on at all.   “I got my pants ripped off by two random girls in Augusta while playing high on synthetic mescaline, and continued to play throughout the process,” Fenstermaker says, telling road stories.   While this type of crowd interaction is rare, Fenstermaker says he craves most any reaction, so long as the people actually listen.   “I get just as much out of clearing a room for being too abrasive in some towns as I do from playing shows in Charlotte when there are lots of people singing along with me,” he says. “The worst thing is when the crowd acts like you’re not playing. At least running them out shufflemag.com  9 means they paid attention to it.” shuf7


Photo by Angela Owens

GRIDS "We're Not Punk" By Bryan Reed

“Someone recently asked if we’re a punk band,” remarks GRIDS’ guitarist/singer Rob Davis, leaning against a pile of amplifiers in the band’s Charlotte practice space. “I thought it was the funniest question ever.”   But even though Davis might dismiss labeling GRIDS a punk band, you’d be forgiven for drawing that conclusion. True, the quartet draws more inspiration from the Jesus Lizard and Harvey Milk than it does from Crass or the Dead Kennedys; even the notable and noticeable influence of hardcore on GRIDS’ songs is more Flipper and late-era Black Flag than Adolescents or Minor Threat. But if we consider punk a mode of operation more than a defined sound, then GRIDS is as punk as they come.   In addition to quickly becoming one of Charlotte’s most active and popular loud/weird live acts since its May 2008 house party debut, the band has helped build Charlotte’s reputation as a city welcoming of louder, more outré music.   After the band ran through its set in practice, the four members – Davis, guitarist Rick Contes, drummer Bobby Michaud and bassist Gus Engstrom – loaded up their amps (not a small chore) and drums for a show they’d booked in a photo studio near Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. That night, GRIDS played fourth on a bill that included Gainesville, Fla.’s Carbs and Chronic Youth, two hardcore bands with an affinity for firewalls of carefully manipulated feedback, and Eastern Seaboard, a free jazz trio led by saxophonist and Charlotte resident Brent Bagwell. 10  shuffle Seven  Snapshots

  Outside, a small bonfire warmed the hands of a few lucky attendees among the 50 or so who’d gathered for the show. Inside, the bands played on the floor, casting shadows against the stark-white, corner-less room.   “I can’t imagine playing a venue with a stage and mics,” says Davis, continuing his earlier thought. “But we’re not punk.”   And yes, if punk is about bad manners and rudimentary songs, GRIDS doesn’t fit the description. Off stage, the band is mostly polite and composed. On it, as on record, the songs’ abrasive ferocity is tempered with elasticity in the treatment of time.   With its discography comprising two demos, a 3-song 7-inch, a live CD and a 2-song cassette-only tribute to Bikini Kill – plus a 12-inch on the way via Brooklyn-based Inkblot Records – GRIDS has been prolific in its recorded output. But the band’s real motives are in the live shows.   All four members admit the real inspiration for GRIDS is facilitating shows for other loud bands in Charlotte. “1990-’94 was like a heyday for Charlotte,” remembers Engstrom, recounting the likes of Harvey Milk and the Melvins playing in town. “The Milestone got all those bands.”   Engstrom joined GRIDS in late 2009, after the departure of the band’s original bassist Joe Elmore. He saw something he liked in the band’s willingness and ability to put together shows nobody else would.   “When bands come to Charlotte, we eat dinner with them and they sleep at our house,”

says Davis. It’s nothing glamorous, but it’s proven advantageous, not only to fans of loud music in Charlotte, but to GRIDS’ efforts at touring outside home territory. So far, they’ve never lost money playing out of town. That, they say, can be attributed to the relationships they’ve cultivated with the bands who host them in other cities – a very real sense of reciprocity between bands.   And with a small but dedicated punk-ish scene sprouting in Charlotte around GRIDS (and its de facto homebase, Lunchbox Records), the mission only reaches farther.   “There’s niches that need to be filled, and we’re filling them,” says Michaud, who moonlights in the addled pop outfit Brain Flannel. With GRIDS – which has, at times, shared members with Obstruction, Meth Mountain, Young and In The Way, and the aforementioned Brain Flannel, among others – and other Charlotte loud bands like Lowbrow, Moenda and Machete! carrying a torch for difficult music (to borrow a term from Harvey Milk), the opportunity to hear uncompromising sounds has never been richer.   “I’m not sure what ‘lush’ means,” says Davis. “But it’s the opposite of what we are.”   Whatever GRIDS is, though, with the band’s willingness to draw disparate-sounding bands under the same outsider umbrella – “People like a car wreck,” says Engstrom – one can’t help but be reminded of the original free spirit of punk. shuf7


Wesley wolfe Love Songs for Misanthropes By Bryan Reed

You could accuse Wesley Wolfe of suspended maturity. The lifelong songwriter counts hearing his mom’s ABBA tapes sometime around second grade as his earliest influence. “I’d get a melody stuck in my head all day,” he says. “Eventually the idea came to change the words. Now here I am, years later, still 7 years old.”   Decades later, in the fall of 2002, Wolfe left his hometown of Rockledge, Fla., for one reason. “There wasn’t much of a music scene in the Space Coast of Florida,” he explains via e-mail. “All the twentysomethings were growing up and putting down their instruments. I had to go somewhere where it’s normal to play music for the rest of your life.” He decided on Chapel Hill because that’s where his favorite music – “Archers of Loaf, Polvo, Superchunk and Merge (Records)” – came from.   But to suggest that Wesley Wolfe is immature does great disservice to his emotionally nuanced and carefully constructed songs.   Like Lou Barlow and Evan Dando before him, Wolfe aims to embody the word bittersweet with his every song. His speakers are unsure, cynical and sarcastic. They’re world-weary, confused and thoughtful. They’re also hopeful. He opens his brand-new album, Storage, with a perfect love song for misanthropes. “We’ll tread through the bullshit of this human zoo,” he sings at one point,

before declaring, as the chorus, “You’re my only ray of sunshine.”   But that sort of clever flip from bleary-eyed resignation to simple-yet-profound joy is a defining characteristic of Wolfe’s songwriting. The characters that inhabit Storage exist in an illogical and disappointing world. But they keep right on living. It’s apparent on his debut, Dumb Children (which Thinker Thought re-released April 14, five years after its original recording), in which Wolfe gives voice to misguided, skeptical and guilt-ridden speakers. He might sing “we’re living proof that bad dreams come true, too,” but in a way he’s acknowledging the good ones at the same time.   “I’ve listened to some songs that I wrote when I was 14 and into punk rock. Very disturbing,” he explains. “I just want there to be a little more life experience in my lyrics. So my goal, is rather than just, ‘you suck,’ the new me says, ‘everything sucks and life is great.”shuf7

Photo courtesy Odessa Records

If You Wannas Gentlemen Prefer Hooks “Pop music is the easiest music to like,” says Ryan Cox, frontman for Asheville’s If You Wannas, an unapologetic pop foursome with a few twists. Consider: Songs on the band’s second record, Island Diplomacy, are of the hummable three-minute variety, but feature lyrics punched up by a nearly Hemingway-esque knack for detail.   And if much of modern pop music needs mastermind producers, the IFYs do not. Diplomacy was self-recorded in hallways, showers and living rooms, with a ragtag collection of DIY sounds. Yet the tie-sporting gents somehow made the thing sound cohesive.   “I don’t know if people listen to CDs all the way through anymore, but if anyone did sit down and hear the entire record, we wanted it to flow,” Cox says.   And like most pop songs, even ones with odd titles like “Pop Tarts and Mosquitoes” and “Shotgun Landmine,” these turn out to be about:   “Mostly relationships,” Cox says.   Cox and guitarist Gavin Conner met in high school. They mailed mix-tapes back and forth and discovered a love for the same music. “I think we were the only two guys who liked the Lemonheads,” he says.   He also cites, among other influences, Cyndi Lauper, The Beatles and Blondie: “Songs that, when you hear ‘em a couple times, they stick with you.” Which is often

By Rebecca Sulock

a quality of Ifs songs – try not to whistle “Manchester Mosquito” after a single listen.   In three years, The Ifs have made a name playing venues known for booking acts bigger than their small size really ought to allow, like The New French Bar and BoBo Gallery.   Conner’s sporting riffs and Cox’s offbeat lyrics aside, the band’s not big on the complicated, Cox says, instead favoring hooks. This, too, despite the backgrounds of the rhythm section: Bassist Trevor Stoia gigs in jazz-oriented side projects with some local power players (Floating Action’s Michael Libramento, Ahleuchatistas’ Shane Perlowin), and drummer Jacob Baumann plays with raucous country act The Trainwreks, among others.   “If it’s really complicated, you have to listen and figure out if you get it or not,” he says. “If it’s simple, you know if it’s good or not.” shuf7

Photo courtesy the If You Wannas


Gr D

“Dude, you sound like James Brown!”   Greg Cartwright stares at me, snorts, and then gets a mock-thoughtful look on his face. “Maybe I should do a split,” he muses.   I’m betting he could pull it off if he wanted to.   It’s an uncharacteristically sunny February afternoon in Asheville. I’m standing in the Reigning Sound guitarist’s brightly-lit, high-ceilinged living room, listening to rough mixes from a forthcoming album Cartwright’s been recording in Nashville with fellow garage stompers The Ettes. Outside, in the large yard, a gorgeous pair of greyhounds kitted out in toptorso warmers are romping about happily; inside, Cartwright seems pretty stoked, too, as he plays me the tracks and talks about the unexpected fruit the project apparently yielded.   Turns out his production work on The Ettes’ 2009 album Do You Want Power (see the last issue of Shuffle) fostered a genuine meeting of sensibilities, and a suggestion by vocalist Coco Hames that she and Cartwright record a one-off single together has turned into a full-blown full-length featuring songs penned by both Hames and Cartwright, and tentatively assigned the band moniker Parting Gift. The aforementioned James Brown doppelganger is a sinewy, sexy blend of rock and soul, while another song he lets me hear features Hames dropping her rock chick swagger for a more Loretta Lynn-styled dew-eyed drawl.   “We’re not completely done yet; there are still some things to add, so they’re still rough,” Cartwright says of the tunes. “But I was just so impressed with how easily things went that I was inspired to write more material for the project.”   In addition to him, Hames and Ettes bassist Jem Cohen, the record will feature drum contributions from The Ettes’ Poni Silver and the Greenhornes’ Patrick Keeler; Cartwright’s headed over to Nashville in 12  shuffle Seven  Cartwright

Photo of Greg Cartwright by Dan Meyering

April for a second round of recording, and there’s a good chance Reigning Sound’s label, In the Red, will wind up releasing the album. Reached by phone, Hames confirms the sessions went great – and she hands all the credit to Cartwright, saying, “He’s comfortable and exciting to work with because I trust him, his ideas, his inclinations. It seems he’s completely without artifice, the real deal. And he’s so Memphis! I wrote a really straight Carl Perkins-y number, and in Greg’s hands it turned into this spooky voodoo Memphis sexalicious juke-joint jam. It freaked us all out!”   The initial Nashville sessions in December with Hames & Co. capped what was unquestionably Cartwright’s busiest, and by most estimations productive, year to date. 2009 started off on a high note with the guitarist being part of the backing band for Rodriguez at one of the ’70s pop/psych legend’s comeback concerts. He produced The Ettes’ album and continues to field frequent production offers (“the prerequisite is that I’ve gotta like the band and have some interest in their music,” he explains). He staged a reunion with his notorious pre-Reigning Sound band The Oblivians, touring Europe with Mick Collins’ reconstituted Gories; another reunion found an even earlier Cartwright combo, the Compulsive Gamblers, performing at the annual Goner Records’ Gonerfest in Memphis. A Cartwright solo album, Live at the Circle A, documenting a 2006 acoustic

“...he’s completely without artifice... I wrote a really straight Carl Perkins-y number, and in Greg’s hands it turned into

this spooky voodoo Memphis

sexalicious juke-joint jam.” –Coco Hames


reg Cartwright

: Mr. Shakes A Lot

Coming off his busiest year ever, the multitasking Reigning Sound frontman isn’t slowing down By Fred Mills

gig, was released on the Dusty Medical Records label. And the fourth Reigning Sound studio album, Love and Curses, was issued by In The Red, notched glowing reviews (including a full page spread in Britain’s Uncut and an NPR Music “Song of The Day” nod) and wound up on scores of critics’ year-end best-of lists.   “It was a great year, yeah,” says Cartwright. “I was really happy with the album and proud to finally have one with the new lineup.” (Cartwright formed Reigning Sound in Memphis in 2001, but a 2004 move to Asheville necessitated him assembling a new version of the band: bassist David Wayne Gay, drummer Lance Wille and organist Dave Amels.) “But any kind of success I have, I attribute it to the fact that my wife lets me do this stuff. My [6-year-old] daughter is growing up, so I need to be home more. So we’ve found a system that works for us, and my wife’s really helped me realize I need to focus on making albums and do some limited touring.”   He’s already got a stockpile of tunes for the next Reigning Sound record, which he hopes to cut in a few months. He’s also pleased that he’s being recognized more and more for his prowess as a songwriter and not just “that garage rock guy” (my term). Reviewers of Love and Curses consistently gave him props for his instinctive ability to probe the layers of heartbreak/loss and happiness/redemption, something that other musicians who’ve covered his material – among them, Sara Borges, the Ettes, the Detroit Cobras and Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las (whose 2007 album Dangerous Game featured Cartwright producing and the Reigning Sound as backing band) – already knew. As Hames succinctly puts it, “His songs are so naturally constructed to morph – he can write beautiful songs and face-melting rockers. I can tell you, he’s my favorite songwriter.”   Cartwright chuckles and nods when I reel off some of the kudos he’s amassed; I think he’s trying to disguise the fact that he’s blushing slightly.

“Folks are getting a better perspective of what I’m all about. Sometimes it’s me screaming my head off. But sometimes underneath all that screaming there’s a song, and sometimes I also wanna sing a ballad or a love song. And as you get older, I also think that the moments of genuine angst come fewer and farther between. So you want those moments to be true – you don’t want to manufacture them. You really have to wait for them to hit you. And then that way you can do it earnestly, because when you fake that, it’s really bad. It’s better to do what comes natural, and as I get older, I feel like pop songs, ballads, heartbreak songs are what I feel like writing. And I think I’ve gotten better at it.”   That said, anyone who’s seen Cartwright perform solo or with his band knows he can shift from a ballad to a raveup in a nanosecond. There’s a popular YouTube live video of the band (viewable at their MySpace page) doing the song “Bad Man” which shows Cartwright in full flight, righteously throttling his guitar neck while barking/howling into the mic, and shuddering and shimmying to the point where he looks like he’s about to have a convulsion.   I mention to him that my 9-year-old son watched the video clip with me the other day and was absolutely mesmerized. Cartwright smiles broadly; he’s heard it before.   “A friend of mine has a couple of young kids, and they had a video of me doing the song. The kids really liked it too, and from then on they have referred to me as ‘Mr. Shakes A Lot’.”   At that both of us explode with laughter – there’s something weird and creepy and funny, in an evil-clown-entertaining-at-a-children’s-birthdayparty way, about the mental image the name conjures.   Somehow, though, given the man’s infectious passion for music and penchant for shaking some action all these years, it fits. shuf7 shufflemag.com  13


In B Search of the Abstract Truth Two North Carolina musicians show what it takes to survive in the local free music underground

By Chris Toenes Seven  Jazz 14  shuffle seven 

Behind his home in Charlotte, Brent Bagwell has converted a shed into a rehearsal space. Great Architect, one of the many projects in which he collaborates playing saxophone and clarinet, practices there weekly. “I’ve slowly turned this into a comfy little spot to make a racket. And the neighbors have never complained,” he says. “At least, not yet.”   Bagwell is also a member of The Eastern Seaboard, a free jazz trio whose other members live in San Diego and New Mexico, and plays in Project BLUEBIRD with Raleigh musician and fellow free music traveler Bob Pence, more commonly known as Crowmeat Bob. Both Bagwell and Pence are key cogs in their respective music communities: as collaborators seeking interaction and inspiration from their colleagues, and as promoters and organizers for touring musicians’ shows. Their type of music – roughly stated, an amalgam of jazz and modern classical, informed by free improvisation and the avant garde – also lives somewhere “out back” at the local music level across the country, including here in the Carolinas.   In the shadows of the indie rock scenes and DIY punk house shows, and far below the mainstream jazz or classical audience’s radar, it flows through them all via small substrates. But to Bagwell, the appeal of this music is the freedom it offers from almost all categorization.   “Free from most artifice and liberated from the yoke of ‘profits,’ this is just the place to conjure up some truth,” he says.   Bagwell, 34, didn't go to music school. When he lived in New York City, he scored “a justifiablyforgotten indie movie” and the money allowed him to take private lessons in lieu of graduate school. Instead, he studied saxophone and clarinet with teachers that included J.D. Parran, Roger Rosenberg, and Bob Feldman, who had played with Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Cecil Taylor, among others.   “I went over to his place for my first lesson and afterwards he played a Coleman Hawkins cut and the first cut off (Albert) Ayler's Spiritual Unity – drawing no distinction between them,” he says. “He also lived in this great neighborhood and we would walk out after

Photos by Bryan Reed  above: Charlotte’s Brent Bagwell   Right: Raleigh’s Bob Pence

lessons and stop and talk to his pals, many of whom held honored spots in my record collection. I was really lucky.”   For Pence, 38, it started with a horn, as it does for many musicians in this field. He played trombone from middle to high school, where he first studied music theory. He’s mostly self-taught now, and collaboration informs a constant learning curve. Still, jazz and avant garde music have surrounded him for so long now, it’s hard to nail down its meaning to him. He says the elasticity of time is key, whether you’re listening to John Coltrane disrupt preconceived notions of time using two drummers on Meditations, or hearing the rhythmic possibilities in pulsed music like Sly and the Family Stone or Messiaen.   “It's about throwing yourself into the stream of time,” Pence says. “Examining and altering the way time passes, the forms it takes. The relationship between the intangible and the physical in duration. The non-pulsed or arrhythmic nature of so much free improv is directly related to time perception…and it's one reason that two or more musicians improvising together stand a better chance of success than one alone. The potential for rhythmic fluctuation exponentially increases.”   Bagwell and Pence know how to keep challenging themselves creatively while operating in such an underdog environment; this isn’t pop music, after all. Of course, jazz and experimental music almost always exist, and indeed thrive, on the fringe. You could argue that once the music gets popular – well, it’s already changed into something else. But these local musicians typify the obsessive commitment to play when and wherever they can, something jazz and outsider music deals with every day, from the neophyte to the worldclass.   In the winter of 1998, Two Way Pull Records, a cozy record store in Chapel Hill, hosted some of contemporary free jazz’s brightest lights. Swedish saxophonist and mainstay of the Scandinavian jazz scene Mats Gustafsson brought in his AALY Trio featuring Ken Vandermark. Gustafsson had made inroads in the U.S. through Chicago jazz players like Vandermark, Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake, and played alongside many of Europe’s free jazz giants, including Peter Brotzmann and Derek Bailey. A year later, Vandermark won a MacArthur “genius” grant. (Bagwell booked him for a Charlotte show in 2007.)


The narrow room had space for about 30 people, housing the record shop’s vinyl inventory and CDs in the front, with a small art gallery to the rear (currently the home of CD Alley). The band set up against a sidewall, their glimmering reed instruments propped neatly next to record shelves like alien silver roots sprouting from the floorboards, and soon after began blowing. For many, it was an astonishing show, their first live experience with free jazz, where the abandonment of fixed chord structures blew open in gusts of spirited pyrotechnics and delicate mood pieces.   Walt Davis, a pony-tailed man watching alongside that day, continued to bring similar artists through the Triangle-area for several years with his Alliance for Improvised Music series. Bagwell and Pence both benefited from tour stops like these in their areas, and picked up the booking baton once the AIM series ended. One key element of Davis’s series was having touring musicians collaborate with local artists as a way to fire their own imaginations.   Pence misses that part, and the healthy climate the series established for jazz in various venues. “Whatever happened to the days when David S. Ware and Peter Kowald could play the Cat's Cradle?” he asks. It “seems like there's no chance of that kind of thing happening now. Having big-shot outsiders coming in on a regular basis helped keep things fresh.”   Bagwell points out that one individual can still make a positive difference, especially when the national scene is compact enough to erase geographic boundaries. “With the ease of communication we have today, it feels like one contiguous thing and that its invisible borders run to wherever one or two, or 200, people are working hard to make this music happen,” he says. “It’s old school, individuals making it happen where they live.”   Bagwell has organized gigs in Charlotte wherever he can, from art galleries and photography studios to the backroom of a local thrift store. He’s hosted over 35 shows for traveling artists in the last three years, including a recent show with Chicago heavy hitters Fast Citizens. Pence continues to do the same in the Triangle, though finding cooperative venues remains an issue, especially after two Raleigh spots, the original Kings Barcade and Bickett Gallery, closed.   “Kings was known more for rock & roll, but they encouraged all kinds of bizarro activity, including the Death Jazz series,” which Pence

started at Bickett. “In both of those cases,” he says, “it was their idea for me to do a weekly series.” But as those venues fell away, others stepped in, like Marsh Windwoods in Raleigh, a musical instruments shop.

large brass ensemble, D-Town Brass.   A dialogue on music continues off-stage and out of the rehearsal room, too. Pence is linked to oboist Carrie Shull. In Project BLUEBIRD, Shull plays oboe and English horn. She has

  The cooperation of local venues not only helps regional players get their own work heard, it provides an opportunity to hear some of the same national and international touring artists playing New York or Chicago. But blending into jerry-rigged venues and bills also breeds creativity, and can open new ears to their music, too. Bagwell cites a recent gig where The Eastern Seaboard played short sets between three hardcore bands. “It made perfect sense to me,” he says. “I foresee a future where everyone has enough experience with different musics to evaluate each encounter individually.   “I sense that we’re moving into a time where everyone has heard everything, you know? I can talk to anyone I meet about John Cage or Sun Ra or Black Flag or Townes Van Zandt or the second Miles Davis quintet, anything really.”   Pence and Bagwell also mix it up by playing with stylistically varied groups. Bagwell was a founding member of the experimental rock octet Pyramid, blew reeds for Afro-beaters Black Congo NC until their recent hiatus, and does a lot of sideman rock-band work. Pence plays reeds In Savage Knights and composes numbers from chord-based jazz to slash-and-burn progressive jams. He plays guitar in noise-rock band Kolyma; in the New Romans, with Dexter Romweber of roots-rockabilly legends Flat Duo Jets, he plays sax; and he also plays among a

performed frequently with groups ranging from Greensboro-based Eugene Chadbourne’s outfits, to the N.C.-based Micro-East Collective, and German composer and improviser Georg Graewe. Recently, she has led her own Carrie Shull Group with Chicago luminaries like cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (a Fast Citizens member) and bassist Kent Kessler, also known for his work with Vandermark.   Bagwell also finds his personal life entwined in his creative pursuits. “I’ve always done something else like office crap, construction, book and record store work, or freelance stuff to make ends meet,” he says. “I have come to prefer playing exactly what I want on my own terms and paying my stupid bills some other way.”   He’s also a family man and looks to the future effects of his work. His wife is a poet, busy with her own writing work. “I’m lucky enough to be able to spend most of my time these days caring for my son,” he says. “It keeps me motivated to help Charlotte be the sort of place where he’ll have experiences that prepare him for a broader world.”   Thanks to the efforts of these two North Carolina musicians, striving to evolve in their own work while navigating the challenges of presenting it to the public, these doors open for all of us. You just have to be willing to walk through. shuf7

shufflemag.com  15


DIY.com By W.T. Wilson

A

At this very moment, there are thousands of CDs piled upon thousands of desks at which thousands of record label A&R schmucks, snobby rock-scribes and college radio stoners work. Many of those thousands of CDs will never be listened to before they wind up in used bins at the few remaining record stores.   The bands that sent those CDs to the A&R reps, music critics and radio programmers aren’t idiots, per se. But they might be. Some of your friends may even be this dumb.   Mailing off your life’s work to people who might give rat’s left butt-cheek that it exists may be helpful, but it’s becoming more of an anachronism every day. Sure, maybe you’ll be one of the lightning strikes signed by the label of your dreams, or maybe that dude who writes for your favorite regional “quarterly” will write a feature, or maybe you’ll hit the CMJ Top 10. And that would, indeed, be awesome.   But it gets less likely daily – nor is it the be-all, end-all of your little music career anymore.   Because a hundred write-ups and a million midnight-to-3 a.m. plays might get somebody to listen, but it just as likely might not. Music critics and college radio jocks quite often have tastes that don’t align with the types of people who still actually pay for their music. And you’re probably not reaching the people watching you when you’re on stage, and those are the folks that really matter – you need fans more than reviews.   But here’s the good news: It’s easier than it has ever been in the history of the music industry to convey a message to an audience of any size or geographic scope. It’s called the Internet and it’s pretty freakin’ cool.   With free-or-cheap services available to meet almost all of your selfpromotion and distribution needs, it’s really your own fault these days if your fan base isn’t growing. It could mean your music sucks, but it might just be that you suck at giving people the chance to hear it.   Lucky for you, I’m going to tip you to three Web platforms you should already be acquainted with. If you don’t take advantage, then it’s your own damn Luddite fault.

16  shuffle Seven  Biz Column

1 ReverbNation — www.reverbnation.com First off, ReverbNation is based mostly in Durham, N.C., so if you’re reading Shuffle, you should be extra ashamed for not knowing what your neighbors are doing. Initially, ReverbNation seemed like it was trying to compete with Myspace, but as it turns out, that was mostly growing pains and misunderstanding. What ReverbNation really does is offer a whole workbench full of tools to help bands manage their Web presence via Twitter and Facebook integration (and a collection of handy widgets), and build mailing lists to disseminate information to the people that want it. They’ve also got platforms for digital distribution and merch sales. Everybody from Pantera to the Carolina Chocolate Drops has a profile (See Fig. 1), and almost as many use RN’s newsletter tool to send targeted messages to their fanbases.


A Luddite’s Guide to Making Incredible Shit Happen Online

2 Bandcamp — www.bandcamp.com Bandcamp offers a hosting solution and sales platform for digital music in any format (including lossless), as well as a merch outlet, without taking a hefty distributor’s cut. In effect, you’re dealing direct to the consumer. Bandcamp also enables artists to stream songs and offer downloads at any price, including free or pay-what-you-want. Bands can implement tiered pricing models based on audio fidelity or just give it all away. The layout is clean and customizeable, and the audio player and purchase interface can be embedded anywhere, which means artists can sell not only through their Bandcamp page, but on any other page they’ve got, too. Ex-Chapel Hill band Roman Candle used Bandcamp to release three EPs to promote last year’s excellent Oh Tall Tree In The Ear LP (See Fig. 2). Now they use it to provide an instant point-ofpurchase from their own Web site (http://records. romancandlemusic.com).

3 Kickstarter — ww.kickstarter.com Want to go on tour or record an album, but you’re strapped for cash? Assuming you’ve got friends, family, neighbors, and maybe even a few fans who love you enough to throw a few bucks your way, you can fund whatever project through a customizeable fund-raising interface from Kickstarter. The site enables you to set different levels of donation so you can provide different incentives based on the size of a person’s donation. They pledge however much they want, and they pay when the amount of money pledged meets your pre-defined goal. It also lets you sell conditionally: You’ll know whether anybody wants to buy your album enough to pre-order it, and if not, then you won’t have to fill your garage with excess CDs. I found a page where some unknown band called The Smiles exceeded its $2,000 goal to record a debut EP before the auction even expired. (See Fig. 3)

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DesArk

the living Music of life, for By Grayson Currin Aimée Argote ‘rips the rug out’ from beneath her N.C. roots with Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker, and turns intimate fears into powerful calls to confidence 18  shuffle Seven  Des Ark


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Aimée Argote, a Durham native who has led a half-dozen versions of her band Des Ark during the last 10 years, keeps a running tally of her biggest fears. Last year, there were two definite frontrunners: She was scared, one, of living in Philadelphia and, two, of touring Europe alone. So she did both.   Mostly, Argote had to get out of town. For the last eight months, she’d been living with her boyfriend in Charlotte, a city that she’d hated as a kid, when it felt like the longest part of her family’s drives to New Orleans, and a city that she’d hated as a bisexual adult, when it felt like the aggressively androgenic stop on Des Ark tours. She couldn’t write songs in Charlotte, and she couldn’t identify with many people in a town that she felt was so affluent, its young residents couldn’t find a good way to spend their money. Last September, she went on tour and never returned.   “I was miserable and really felt uninspired by that fucking horrible city,” admits Argote, 28, chortling but completely serious. “I would wake up in the morning, and I felt dead to the world. It felt like I had a chest of gold weighing down on me for eight months. And then I left.”   Today, Argote is making the hour-long walk to work at a crepe shop in downtown Philadelphia. Lured in part by her anxiety, in part by a cheap living arrangement and in part by the easy touring access the city affords to the rest of the Northeast corridor, Argote moved to Fishtown – a low-rent, artist-heavy, historically working-class district that sits just west of the Delaware River – in January.   “I moved to the only place I know that’s as jaded and working-class as Durham,” says the Bull City native, her speech slightly clipped but mostly enthusiastic about 45 minutes into her daily pedestrian commute. “I’ve always been really loud and boisterous and inappropriate, and sometimes I felt – especially in Charlotte, where everyone is really self-conscious – that people didn’t know what to do with me. I feel like, in Philadelphia, that’s the swing of things. You’re loud. You’re inappropriate. You’re hard-lovin’, hard-livin’.”   In May, she will tour Europe by herself.   “That’s a really good thing, you know – to occasionally rip the rug out

from underneath yourself. I couldn’t find any more rugs to rip out from underneath myself in North Carolina,” she says. Indeed, she’d built herself a little house in the woods on her parents’ land, and she’d lived in what she unwaveringly calls her least favorite city in the world. “That was another way of ripping the rug out. That was really bad. And now I know that.”   Argote bears all of this bravery out – declaring fears, facing them, moving along – in Des Ark. There are the arresting lyrics – built on vivid images like sweat on the back of knees and stark situations, like childhood sexual assault. And there is the relentless movement, sudden but always graceful shifts between bludgeoning rock and bedroom folk. It’s grounded in reality, suspended in drama. Argote’s music is of life but for the living, then, written to resolve her own demons but shared because she hopes her battles can pull others through their own turmoil.   At least that’s what she’s always aimed for: On her second proper LP, the appropriately named Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker, Argote combines those dispositions and interests better than ever before. Tender and whispering, throttled and raging, Sink turns pained confessionals into powerful calls to confidence. At the risk of sounding reductive and hyperbolic, in all of its ambition and vision and audacity, it’s perfect.   The most precious stones can require the most extreme conditions – and time, of course. Argote began recording Sink, which will be released in August, in 2007 in Richmond at Black Iris, one of three studios across the country owned by a collective of indie rock veterans who cut commercial music for some of the world’s biggest corporations. One of the company’s leading producers, Jonathan Fuller, used to play drums in the sinewy rock bands Denali and Sleepytime Trio. At nights and on weekends, his friends use the studio to make their own records. Argote and Fuller collaborated in fits and starts, getting together for occasional Saturday and Sunday sessions, months sometimes dividing their work. During those sessions, they recorded the quiet numbers, like chiming handclap opener “My Saddle is Waitin’ (C’mon, Jump on it)” or “Howard’s Hour of Shower,” a tender break-up song that mixes empathy with antipathy, electric guitars intertwining like poison tongues.

This page courtesy of Lovitt records

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“ That’s a really good thing, you know – to occasionally rip the rug out from underneath yourself. I couldn’t find any more rugs to rip out from underneath myself in North Carolina.”

  On these tunes, dozens of vocal layers wrap beneath Argote’s main line, giving the most personal moments a universal breadth. During “Girls Get Ruff,” for instance, a tale of drunken lust yields to flashbacks of rape “in the woods behind my house.” Argote delivers the tale with a splintered resolve, her voice strong but wounded, curling around the words, crawling from beneath their full force. A self-made choir coos and cries. She sings not to the victims, then, but with them.   “The things that I let out are the things I feel like people can relate to,” says Argote. Her inspiration, she explains, often comes from her life and those of her friends, but she exaggerates and bends, and not just to protect her privacy. “If I write about something I feel people can relate to, I feel safe to let it out. Then it could create a conversation. If something I’m writing about is something no one has ever experienced, though, why would I want to share that? There’s no point to that.”   Indeed, every song here tells its own tale, even the clanging rock numbers. “Bonne Chance, Asshole” is a rising-and-sprinting homage to small-city sleepiness and the quest to conquer loneliness. “FTW Y’ALL!!!” 20  shuffle Seven  Des Ark

photo by Erik Gamlen

takes shape at first like an Explosions in the Sky atmosphere before igniting into a windows-down pop song, a terse survey of the misfits who find each other. “You were getting strung out every day,” Argote shouts from the crevices between the guitars and drums. “I was fucking every girl who looked my way.” These are the types of songs people clutch in the darkest corners, that turn fears into force.   Argote didn’t start recording them until two years after the early work in Richmond. She knew she wanted a thick drum sound that still popped, so, at the advice of several friends, she headed north last May to Salem, Mass. Drummer Ashley Arnwine, who hadn’t been in the band at that point for nearly two years but who had arranged many of the tunes with Argote, and guitarist Noah Howard accompanied her. The production of Kurt Ballou, guitarist for inventive hardcore heavyweights Converge, blooms around the songs, but not too much. It’s still chiseled, still racing. Everything’s proud and powerful.   And it should be. The path that leads to Sink is actually more than the sum of several sessions in two states. The album represents a decade of


resolve and adaptation on Argote’s part, plus the slow struggle to finally admit to everyone that Des Ark was her project. That’s the sort of thing that allows her not only to make solo European treks as Des Ark or to take a former drummer into the studio but also to make Sink sound like the music in her head.   “For a long time, I refused to admit that Des Ark was my project, and I went about it like, ‘Oh, this is really collaborative and I want everybody…’ And that’s just not true,” she says, exaggerating her own voice to sound like the foolish, happy-go-lucky bandmate she once fancied herself. Argote talks in a kinetic, sidewinding way, where one thought leads into the alleyway of another idea. It generally brings her back to the original point – sometimes, not so much. She ends more than a few replies with some variation on, “But I don’t know if that’s what you were asking.”   “I realized that no matter what happens, I’ll keep doing it,” she continues. “For me to be going out into the world and pretending this is going to be a more collaborative thing, that doesn’t work.”   Argote alone has been with Des Ark for a decade. In 2000, Argote’s old band was falling apart. Local musician John Booker, then a member of Strunken White and now the frontman of I Was Totally Destroying It, wanted to play drums in something new. He mentioned the idea at a house show to Argote. They formed the three-piece Pequeno and twice expanded into four-piece lineups. Booker finally yielded the drum position to Tim Herzog, a local soundman, in 2001. He and Argote started dating and kept touring for the next three years, recording the first Des Ark album, Loose Lips Sink Ships, with Durham producer Zeno Gill and Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis in 2004.   But they broke up. Soon thereafter, so did that version of the band. Argote began playing solo, sitting on the floors of dirty punk houses, sweating in the summer heat, singing and playing an acoustic guitar that wouldn’t hold a tuning for too long. Kids would sit feet away, at eye level, crying at the raw ends of despair in her songs.   She tried other bands, including a brief partnership with atmospheric Carrboro pop band Work Clothes. For her, starting a new band is a little like starting a new relationship, and she says now she just wasn’t ready. As she sings on “The Lord of the Rings and His Fascist Timekeepers,” a song from those years, “I don’t want a fucking lover who makes me feel like a failure.”   But she felt like she had to prove that she could do this on her own, that she alone could be Des Ark, no matter the accompaniment. She rushed into Fuller’s Richmond studio to record five songs for Battle of the Beards, a full-length split with Ben Davis & the Jetts, released in 2007 on Lovitt Records.   “I hated it then, and I still hate it,” says Argote. Backed either by a small string section or by nothing but her guitar or piano, her voice, generally so brazen and focused, sounded too controlled and perhaps a tad nervous.

The confidence that normally pours from Argote’s music seemed to have been replaced by paralyzing unease. “I was pretty insecure – about everything and those songs. But I knew it was the first step of getting the ball rolling. I threw up on a recording, and I don’t like that. But I needed it to happen.”   The least remarkable track on Beards, a circumscribed piano builder named “The Fall of the Skorts,” carries a prescient lesson: “We cannot change without hurt/ We cannot grow in the same skin all of our lives,” sings Argote, lifting her voice when she hits the verbs, as if her head suddenly pokes through thick clouds.   “When I listen to the record, I realize that’s how I don’t want to sound,” she says of Beards now. “Sometimes you look at a picture, and what you don’t see, that helps you create your next image. I guess it all makes sense now.”   If that sounds like new confidence in her current place, it is. Argote talks

about songwriting in pragmatic terms, something that requires practice and experience. Her earlier songs meandered and shambled their way to a point, she thinks. More and more, they cut through excess to clarity and concision. And this album is all her – she made the decisions, the cuts, the additions – without regard for what she can reproduce live. In the past, Des Ark’s recordings have been sudden, instant emissions. The band would walk into the studio, record the songs and get out as quickly as possible. The protracted process allowed Argote to exact each detail.   “Usually, you get stuck on a part, and you just have to keep going,” she says. “Here, I had a lot of time to sit with it and wait to see how it would be fixed. So a year later, when I’d go back to finish this song, I knew how it was supposed to sound.”   On Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker, Argote bests a dozen fears, it seems, and the payoff is as bright and undeniable as a new city you love on one of the first days of spring.   “On the record, I felt like I wanted to put on tape what I heard on my record which I can never do live, and it’ doesn’t matter,” she says on exactly that day, still walking to work. “It’s my project, and I wanted it to be what comes out of me.” shuf7 photo by bryan Reed

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Merrimon

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Ave.

Asheville 1.  Musician’s Workshop 319 Merrimon Avenue 2.  Broadway’s 120 North Lexington Avenue

7. The Grey Eagle 185 Clingman Avenue The Grey Eagle hosts an eclectic mix of regional, national and international performers in what many regard as one of the premier-sounding rooms in the Carolinas. The locally owned fixture offers an extensive selection of wine and beer with a full Cajun kitchen in an intimate, relaxed setting, but the emphasis is always on live music first.

West Asheville

22  shuffle Seven  Scene Report

9. Harvest Records 415 Haywood Road Award winning independent record store in the heart of West Asheville. New & used cd’s and vinyl. Open 7 days a week. Visit online at www.harvest-records.com 10. Admiral 400 Haywood Road 11. Hot Stuff Tattoo LLC 428 Haywood Road

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5. Echo Mountain Recording 175 Patton Avenue Located in downtown Asheville, Echo Mountain blends vintage and state of the art equipment to create the optimum studio experience. Our two rooms have an impressive mic and outboard gear selection to compliment the Neve 8068 and the API 3224 consoles. We have all the comforts of home to put you in the space to be at your creative best. Our experienced staff will welcome you and make sure all your needs are taken care of.

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Lexington Ave.

4.  Izzy’s Coffee Den 74 North Lexington Avenue

8.  Custom Boutique 415 Haywood Road Custom has been voted one of the best boutiques in Asheville for its fun and cheery style, gorgeous clothes and affordable prices (nothing over $100!). Check out their store info at www.custom-boutique.com

y St. Broadwa

3.  Smashing Guitars 103 Broadway Street

6. Orange Peel 101 Biltmore Avenue The Orange Peel was voted one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 5 Rock Clubs in the country in 2008, and has been named the ‘Best Place to Hear Live Music’ in the Mountain Xpress poll for the past six years. Located in downtown Asheville, the Orange Peel features a diverse line-up of music with new acts regularly added; see the full calendar at www.theorangepeel.net

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Scene Report At long last, the LAB has arrived. The big news downtown (in addition to the arrival of Urban Outfitters and a sweet new bar called The Prospect) is the opening of the Lexington Avenue Brewery’s listening room. The LAB kept us waiting a while – Echo Mountain Recording’s Steve Wilmans and his business partner in the endeavor, Mike Healy, bought the old T.S Morrison building four years ago, and have been working on it ever since.   Their crew has renovated the former general store into a brewery, gastropub, and venue, and they haven’t scrimped – the LAB boasts a cosmopolitan interior swankier than many in Asheville; were it not for the rugged brick walls, it might even be suspiciously sleek for locals. But when Wilmans does something, he tends to do it up right: Echo Mountain’s studios are loaded

show? The Chiara String Quartet, performing its “Beethoven in Bars” concert; two nights later it was Cobra Horse, a local indie-rock super-group.   Wilmans has said he’d like the listening room to “pick up where Vincent’s Ear left off … we want to showcase underground, indie and punk rock,” citing the iconic coffeeshop/club that hosted acts from The White Stripes to Cat Power. Will artists visiting Echo use the LAB’s listening room for impromptu shows? We’re hoping so.   Upstairs, Wilmans and Healy have built Sweet Peas Hostel – a coup for travelers. With 16 bunk beds, 24 “pods” designed to look like train-car sleepers and 2 private rooms, the hostel is square in the middle of downtown. It’s the only traditional-style hostel there, and it’s just as good-looking as the LAB. Though travelers take

the The lab with vintage equipment and staffed by expert producers, and count Band of Horses, the Avetts and Malcolm Holcombe among its clients.   The LAB offers its own beer (from veteran brewmaster Ben Pierson) and gourmet pub food, and with the opening of the listening room, an interesting lineup of music in a welloutfitted space.   The inaugural event was a private party with musical guest Band of Horses (guitarist Tyler Ramsey calls Asheville home, as did bass player Bill Reynolds for many years). The second

note: Downtown West Asheville has Bon Paul and Sharky’s, which will put you within walking distance of Westville Pub and the Admiral, among other nightlife spots. •  Another pretty terrific downtown development: The Orange Peel recently finished an expansion that upped the venue’s capacity from about 950 to 1,200. The club’s banking on that increase bringing in some shows that might’ve passed by in the past (although, even with the extra 250 people, Vampire Weekend still sold out in about 14

By Rebecca Sulock minutes). And in an effort to offer its customers liquor drinks while complying with the state’s odd liquor laws, The Peel built PULP, a new private club downstairs in the same building, with a tiered membership system and one-night memberships. So now, you can hypothetically run downstairs to PULP, take a shot while watching the main show simulcast in high-def, and run back upstairs. Whether or not this is a good thing remains to be seen. •  Static Age Records has finished a redo of its listening room, and now boasts bona fide movie-theater style seats, a stage large enough for a six-piece band and (gasp) red velvet curtains. Expect a continuing cutting-edge lineup of bands across genre lines. •  And on the band front: Word is, tropicalpop outfit and rising stars Floating Action have recorded another album, following up last year’s brilliant self-titled debut. Frontman Seth Kauffman’s been bringing his particular lo-fi sound to a number of local bands, including veteran country-blues-rock artist and former Freighthopper Cary Fridley (on her latest EP, Fare You Well). Fridley’s even got Floating Action bassist Michael Libramento and drummer Evan Martin playing with her rollicking Americana band, Down South. •  Asheville lost a major winter warmer when POPAsheville organizer and Bjork-lovin’ maven Stephanie Morgan (of stephaniesid) announced the festival’s cancellation (not enough time, not enough money). The midJanuary weekend had been the town’s only stronghold of the genre – while there’s no shortage of steam-punk evenings, old-time circles, jam band festivals and electronica allnight-long, there’s sometimes a shortage of pop. Rebecca Sulock is A&E editor at Mountain Xpress, Asheville’s alt-weekly.

photo by John warner photography

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8 1. Magnetic Flowers, Visulite, Patrick Willett 2. Double Negative, Slim’s, Angela Owens 3. Scout Niblett, Snug Harbor, Shane cudahy 4. Horseback, with Brad Cook, Nightlight, Bryan Reed 5. Lonnie Walker, Pinhook, Richard Schuerger 6. Veelee, The Pour House, Bryan Reed 7. Mac Leapheart, Soapbox, Jordan Pepper 8. Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Green Bean, Kimberly Nguyen

24  shuffle Seven  The Bill

Send us your gig photos with the name of the band, your name, venue & date. If we like what we see, you could wind up in the next issue of Shuffle for all your friends to gawk at. Send submissions to: readerphotos@shufflemag.com. (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).


Carolina Chocolate Drops

Various Artists

Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch)

Going Down To Raleigh: Stringband Music in the North

Various Artists

Carolina Piedmont 1976-1998

Classic Appalachian Blues

(PineCone)

from Smithsonian Folkways (Smithsonian Folkways)

Various Artists Gastonia Gallop: Cotton Mill Songs & Hillbilly Blues, Piedmont Textile Workers on Record, Gaston County, North Carolina 1927-1931 (Old Hat)

Reviews In recent months, the Carolina Chocolate Drops have piqued critics’ interest with the release of their Nonesuch Records debut, Genuine Negro Jig. And like the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack before it, it reveals an appetite in the music-critiquing populace for old-time revivalism with a healthy portion of revisionist history.   And indeed, the Drops’ big-time, Joe Henry-produced entrance confronts the ups and downs of reaching eagerly – sometimes desperately – for connection with a more contemporary audience than this sound is accustomed to. And mostly, it’s for the better. “Trouble In Your Mind” delights as a dusty fiddle tune even before Dom Flemons expands the music’s geography to include overtone singing borrowed from Tuvan throat singers. And on the album’s sole original, the Justin Robinson-penned “Kissin’ and Cussin’” (which also appeared on his Birds or Monsters LP Ideas of the North last year), a spare, haunting arrangement drives one of Jig’s most memorable moments.   But then, Tuvan throat singing and dark-hued folk don’t really have the type of pop appeal that would trip them up in the first place. It’s the trio’s cover of Blu Cantrell’s 2001 hit “Hit ’Em Up Style” that sinks the group, momentarily, to a Hayseed Dixie level of parody. Even as most of Jig leans more heavily into Depression-era novelty songs than the searing, fiddle-led stringband twang that made the Drops’ name in tradmusic circles, it’s mostly an entertaining affair in a Squirrel Nut Zippers kind of way.   What it isn’t, though, is a valid representation of the staying power of the traditional music indigenous to the Piedmont region – no matter how much marketers and Dom Flemons’

suspenders suggest otherwise.   Unfortunately for the Chocolate Drops, their record closely follows the release of several top-quality compilations of old-time music from the region – Old Hat Records’ Gastonia Gallop, Smithsonian Folkways’ Classic Appalachian Blues and PineCone’s Going Down To Raleigh. Fortunately for the Drops, these compilations won’t get the same level of media attention, lest the Drops find themselves an Emperor parading about in the nude.   Gastonia Gallop is, of the three compilations, most sonically similar to the Chocolate Drops, and indeed Robinson penned the liner notes’ introduction. What the collection of pre-WWII songs exhibits is a level of currency that a revivalist band could never muster, a feeling that these musicians’ motives are purely music for entertainment’s sake, rather than a scholarly pursuit. David McCarn’s “Cotton Mill Colic” rivals Woody Guthrie’s compositions for social commentary cast through personal narrative and melodic simplicity, while Watts & Wilson’s “Bay Rum Blues” plays somewhere between Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams in its Prohibition tribute to a bay rum buzz. The songwriters represented here never shied from their surroundings in place and time. They sing of Charlotte and Belmont, textile mills and illicit booze. Singing songs specific to themselves, these artists have captured, perhaps accidentally, something timeless.   And while Gastonia Gallop serves as a historical document, Classic Appalachian Blues opts to highlight the vibrancy and variety within its specific aesthetic. From the intricate guitar work on Etta Baker’s “One Dime Blues” to the sputtering, talk-sung “Pawn Shop Blues” by Brownie McGhee, The Piedmont Blues

heard here – a mid-point between the Delta’s acoustic sound and Chicago’s pre-rock & roll energy, shot through with ragtime and folk – is distinct for its enthusiastic mixing of sounds. The complex acoustic guitar phrases are its most singular trait, but there’s no shortage of piano, harmonica or electric guitar, anticipating upcoming styles the way Sticks McGhee’s “My Baby’s Gone” anticipates Chuck Berry’s rattle and roll.   But even long after these styles had reached younger generations through oral tradition, their relevance didn’t have to wane. Going Down To Raleigh, which compiles string-band field recordings captured between 1976 and 1998, differentiates itself mostly in recording fidelity alone. Fiddler Joe Thompson – whose numerous contributions to the collection feature his late brother Odell on banjo – served as a mentor to the Chocolate Drops, and displays the dissonant John Cale timbres that informed much of the Drops’ 2006 debut, Dona Got A Ramblin’ Mind. Here, the Thompsons play with ragged abandon, sounding infinitely younger than the old men they were at the time of recording. As A.C. Overton’s jaunty banjo lines – fluid in crooked lines like a narrow stream skipping over rocks – exemplify in “House Carpenter,” the joy here is in the music itself, not what it means.   That essence was captured in every cut of these compilations. It was captured on the Drops’ Ramblin’ Mind. But with Genuine Negro Jig, the trio seems to have gotten too bogged down in recreating history to capture much of the timeless spirit that gives this music lasting vitality. The Genuine Negro Jig isn’t as fun when it’s not just Ramblin’ for its own sake. Photo by Daniel Coston

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Alt-Ctrl-Sleep Earth Lens Lakeshore Records Excuse the ridiculous band name, and don’t flinch at what likely seems a laborious 14-track, 54-minute runtime. Rather, let these texture-laced love songs and laments wash in like high tide. The Low La Tengo slow burner “Silence” drifts into distortion, while the “Claire de Louvre” backs Kings of Convenience-quiet harmonies with dub on a morphine drip. Throughout much of Earth Lens, April and Joe Diaco build quiet, steady wonders, anchored with hooks and accessories that service the legacy of Galaxie 500 well. Remember the advice about forgiving the runtime and the band handle? It only goes so far. For such a measured band, AltCtrl-Sleep occasionally comes up remarkably short on restraint. Touches of feedback, static and electronic pitter-patter seem contractual on some songs that could work better as skeletons. And whether excising the extra from an outro or an instrumental, Alt-Ctrl-Sleep favors the “Save” command a bit too much. Grayson Currin

American Aquarium Small Town Hymns Last chance records For a band whose existence these days is defined by the road, an album that reads like a Michelin guide to the heart is practically de rigueur. Unlike the dystopian landscapes of road classics like Springsteen’s Nebraska or Son Volt’s Trace – where succor lasts only as long as the wheels turn – singer B.J. Barham still

hopes for better times down the road. The usual alt-country tropes provide plenty of reasons for leaving, though, ranging from small-town boredom (“Reidsville”) and family baggage (“Brother Oh Brother”) to, of course, the ladies (every other song). Barham caught critical flak for the personal nature of last year’s Dances for the Lonely, but here it’s women in general who either ride along or drive his narrators out of town. It’s a more limited narrative palette than the above-mentioned classics, and is why these songs still read like Whiskeytown laments -- shuffling road meditations and surging country rock best played in the contemplative, moderately hammered late-night hours. JG Mellor

Timothy Seth Avett as Darling To Make The World Quiet/Killing The Headlamps/The Mourning, The Silver, The Bell Ramseur Records With six LPs, four EPs, and two live discs in 10 years, The Avett Brothers are on a Prince-ly pace for a band who just released their major label debut. To hold over the ‘Brothershood until their next release, their old label has re-released three Seth Avett solo discs recorded on an old Tascam cassette recorder and mixed in his kitchen. All three have their moments – The Mourning, The Silver, The Bell is most likely to appeal to Avett newbies. But one imagines these releases are for the fans anyway – and contain plenty of that wide-eyed sparkle and scrap that defined the earliest Avetts work. It’s certainly not for everyone, but diehards will probably cherish the chance to hear one of their favorites in his formative phase, even as eBay sellers and rare-record geeks bemoan the instantaneous

implosion of their back-catalog market. As it stands, both Killing the Headlamps and The Mourning, The Silver, The Bell work in a sort of Bon Iver-gone-bluegrass way, and deserve(d) (re-)release. Timothy C. Davis

Calculator Classic Acid Self-released All bands beg, borrow and steal from their influences; the best retain the authorial command to make those goods into something unique. So it’s not a stretch — or an insult — to call West Columbia, S.C., quartet Calculator first-rate thieves. Calculator’s sound is heavily indebted to The Pixies, recalling the Boston band’s reliance on loud-quiet-loud dynamics, laconic vocals, and Black Francis’ penchant for abstract, fever-dream lyrics. (Indeed, “Angel Answers” could be a lost Bossanova B-side with its stop-start dynamic and intertwined guitar lines, and “Exit Extinguisher” lifts the tunefully dissonant pre-chorus guitar breaks of “In Heaven” before a coda that’s eerily reminiscent of the chorus of “Tame.”) In the hands of a lesser band, such pilfering would be little more than highway robbery. Rather, it’s in the way that Calculator alchemizes The Pixies’ alt-rock aesthetic — adding doses of Spoon’s Southern swagger and The Dandy Warhols’ erudite detachment — that makes the still-young band stand out among the tropes of carbon-copy, cutand-paste indie-rock acts. Patrick Wall

Reviews 26  shuffle Seven  Reviews

Ben Davis and the Jetts Charge It Up! Lovitt Records Ben Davis has been making visceral indie rock since the early 90s, with Sleepytime Trio, Bats & Mice and Milemarker before embarking on a post-millennial solo career. Along the way he’s demonstrated a remarkable gift for melding chewy post-punk guitar to memorable melodies. The guitars writhe, ring and fold in on themselves much like Jawbox, but the arrangements aren’t so tightly wound, allowing in enough light to illuminate his muscular melodies. The combination of wiry sinew and reverberating textures slowly insinuate themselves into your consciousness, making his albums growers. Charge It Up! is no exception. It’s not that there isn’t a measure of immediate allure, but like a trendy Manhattan nightclub, it takes time to gain full entry. Of note are the disco rhythm rumble “Robocoppin’,” the sinister throb, skronk guitar and female vocals of “Rincon Pio Sounds,” and the GBV-ish “Who Spilled Their Emo Dust.” Slowly entrancing, and soon enough unforgettable. Chris Parker

Dave Desmelik Onlooker Self-released Dave Desmelik’s world is “we” – “We don’t work,” “We’re not trying to get to/Some place we don’t want to,” “Why do we do the things that we do?” Listeners are lucky that Desmelik allows them in because his world affords pleasant escape. His sixth outing is cheerful Americana, full of

lovely dobro hooks and plucky mandolin, harmonica and banjo, piano and pump organ – most of it played by Desmelik, who also wrote and sang everything. We’re going somewhere with him, too, on opener “If It’s Good for You,” taking regional highways home, a soundtrack to watch the Carolina sky roll by. Even “Sad and Old” isn’t too downbeat, with its train whistle/harmonica strain and chugging guitar. WNCW listeners voted Onlooker their No. 9 favorite regional release last year, and it’s easy to hear why. While the station seems to have chosen “Who Says” as the single-to-play, listen for the tender “Why Would You Have Me.” Rebecca Sulock

Elonzo Extended Play Self-released “I was watching you play tonight/ Your rhythm steady, eyes stage right/Playing tobacco brown Gibson guitar,” Jeremy Davis sings at the start of “Lucinda” – as in Ms. Williams. So, yeah, when creating musical valentines, there can be a fine line between admirer and stalker. But on “Lucinda,” Davis and his Elonzo mates walk that line just fine, sitting comfortably on the non-crazed fan side while engaging in pedal steel-blessed gravel-road country music. The Rock Hill, S.C. quartet seems quite comfortable on the other three tunes here as well, albeit less single-minded when it comes to theme and sound. “Sunday Morning,” “Americana Blues,” and especially “Say Nothing Do Nothing” all sport an arresting blend of Right Now and Old School, with handclaps, keys, and hooks swaddled in burlap. Think orchestral pop songs escaping from an antique Philco radio. Think tobacco brown guitar at the center of a bright blue cottoncandy dream in a sweet old world. Rick Cornell


Felix Obelix The Tick of the Clock, The Beat in the Chest Pox World Empire Felix Obelix is a wonderful surprise. The instrumental lineup of accordions, organs, mallet percussion, drums and bass (with occasional horns and woodwinds,) nearly engenders instant originality, and the only precedent for Wendy Spitzer’s tonal voice is, maybe, Slapp Happy’s Dagmar Krause at her simultaneously most grounded and unhinged. It also doesn’t hurt that, despite the strange timbres, the songs remain so lovable. Rhythms bounce and pop (“Oh! Cadaver”), song structures bend then break for the better (“Gleanings on Bee Culture”), and those organs and accordions soar in ways they just simply shouldn’t (“See the Stain Come Out with Lye”). The whole damn album is one long highlight, but I feel I have to mention two shorter tracks, “Dead Name” and “Pinprick,” which reveal a fascination with minimalism, almost as if Eno’s monumental two-flutes-and-phase-forever “Discreet Music” somehow morphed into pop songs. TwentyTen has just begun, but this is my favorite 35 minutes of the new decade thus far. Jesse Steichen

Fin Fang Foom Monomyth Lovitt Records According to the Marvel Database, Fin Fang Foom is an alien being that resembles a Chinese dragon imbued with superhuman strength and durability, shape-shifting abilities,

the power of flight, and acid-mist breath. Chapel Hill rock trio Fin Fang Foom is similarly superpowered. Strength? Flight? Check and check: Like the mythical Makulan, Fin Fang Foom’s sonic girth shatters mountains, and its epic, loud and sprawling rock arcs so high it scrapes the sun. But Monomyth’s greatest strength is its diversity, shuffling between epic post-metal sprawlers (“Deathless,” “Exploding Coast”), math-rock mindbenders (“Magnetic North,” “The Great Race of Mercy”), eerie slowcore (“Lonely Waves”), and driving loud-rock anthems (“Regret”). Okay, maybe the metaphor falls apart at acid-mist breath. Still, Monomyth is a fantastic rebirth album — at once tuneful, impressively monolithic and filled with hard-won climaxes — by a band that, by all rights, could have folded years ago after the death of original drummer Peter Enriquez and the near-death of guitarist Michael Triplett. Chalk that one up, then, to superhuman durability. Patrick Wall

Free Electric State Caress Churchkey Records David Koslowski played guitar and seethed/sang with the tightly wound Baltimore skuzzsters Liquor Bike, before joining Shirlé Hale in the pulse-heavy disco-punk acts Gerty! and The Ex-Members. Drummer Tony Stiglitz kept the flicking beat in Jett Rink and the casual pop click in Hundred Air, while the quartet’s youngest member, guitarist Nick Williams, thought of Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth while co-founding a popular Durham watering hole. Let that back-story pedigree serve as shortcut to the urgent, electric and aggressive nature of this debut: Dissonant guitars and sidewinding melodies suggest Polvo stirred into mortar mix, powered by a clinched-fist rhythm section. Koslowski and Hale split lead vocal duties, his

twitching anxiety contrasting with her jaded ennui. “Silver Thread” adds acoustic jangle to a hazy electric lament, while “The Black Sea” sears with a low, steady heat and blinding electric radiance. “Marshes” even marches to a Motorik pulse for seven stunning minutes, while the tumultuous “Six Is One” sashays and swivels with an evil allure—sexy and perfect, but dark at the heart. Grayson Currin

gogoPilot The Further It Goes, The Farther It Is Self-released The depth and nuance demonstrated on this platterful of power-pop — let’s make that, “pop, with power,” in a nod to Pete Townshend — borders on the extraordinary. Charlotte’s long-running gogoPilot effortlessly channels the greats, like the Plimsouls (the swaggering “One Step Away”), Hoodoo Gurus (quirkysexycool “The Hostage”) and power-pop patron saint Big Star (“Best Day of Your Life”). Yet with myriad eras and genres surfacing here in both subtle and overt ways, from 60s Brit Invasion to 90s shoegaze to contemporary jangledom, the gogoPilot sound is wholly the band’s own. To further invoke the Townshendian lineage: the powder-keg aesthetic of vintage Who also powers these 11 tunes, and when frontman Jeff Williams lights the fuse — say, in the rave-up closing moments of “One Step Away,” or the anthemic chorus of “Tell You Right Now” — the sonic catharsis is utterly liberating. Talkin’ ‘bout somebody’s g-g-g-generation indeed. Fred Mills

The Houston Brothers The Archer Chocolate Lab Records This is the Houston Brothers’ first recorded work since 2007 (the first of a three portion-full length this year), which is a strange thing for a duo that has such a “little band that could” vibe about them. The time away hasn’t changed them—they’re still a meat ‘n’ potatoes band that lives off effortless melodies and songwriting prowess. One could say that there’s nothing truly remarkable about the HB’s. They play straight-ahead, gently charging pop-rock with few flourishes, but that’s all the better for songs seemingly dedicated to the perils of communication. From trying to understand one’s past (“Wasted Youth”), ecstatic love (“Boyfriend”), or even miscommunication (“Chimney Rock”), this setting plays to their songs’ strengths. Beatific harmonies pop up all over these piano-lead songs, and are especially effective on “All We Ever Wanted” and closer “Do What We Can,” where they overlay a wonderful organ-fueled coda. So, yeah, nothing new, but so solid it’s remarkable in its own way. Jesse Steichen

If You Wannas Island Diplomacy Self-released This sophomore release of oddball smart-guy pop has enough ambition and versatility for a couple of records – which also hamstrings it. Singer/songwriter Ryan Cox does deliver in a variety of styles: the breezy pop ditty “PopTarts and Fleas” has a

dystopian 69 Love Songs flavor; “Mindbender” is a fuzzy hook writ Weezer-large; and you could imagine “Manchester Mosquito” getting the white-funk business from Flight of the Concords. But Cox’s tendency to cram several songs into one frustrates, most egregiously when “Sometimes,” a promising scuzzy garage rocker, suddenly starts quoting 70s proto-riffs from Kansas’ “Carry on My Wayward Son” and juxtaposing them with dancehall Ray Davies. The country rocker “Light” gets it right, toning down the narrative artifice and sonic diversity for simplicity, and here the cleverness carries emotional weight: “When I get the hours back I wasted on you/I’ll cry and cry like a little girl.” The record’s charms edge out its flaws at the finish line – but just barely. JG Mellor

Inspector 22 Hey Man, I Understood Odessa Records If one were to take the broken, scratched and buzzing shards of our post-apocalyptic musical nation, and glue them together into a ramshackle piece of found art, it might sound like Todd Wesley Emmert’s project, Inspector 22. The noisy, rattling (in the loosest sense of the word) songs suggest something released on the Knitting Factory label, a symphonic cacophony of odd sounds and instruments forging a hymn to the absence of God. Those that require melody might be disturbed by vast stretches of this album, but that’s not to say it isn’t interesting. Some of these no-wave inflected tracks, like “Traffic Light,” attain a certain sublime beauty, like a kitchen full of bleeping, malfunctioning gadgets. The most readily accessible tracks are actually quite alluring, including the gruff ambling folk-blues “Hey, Man,” the 60s garage-folk “Full Moon,” (which recalls Roky Erickson), and “Kid In A Well,” whose raspy quaking drone evokes Bob Dylan with radiation poisoning. Challenging, but worth it. Chris Parker shufflemag.com  27


Israel Darling Dinosaur Bones & Mechanical Hands Engine Room Recordings Either Jacob Darden has packed enough hard-living into 22 years to make him a wizened old soul, or he is a songwriting wunderkind. Probably a little of both, judging by this Asheville collective’s debut of urgent, country-tinged Mangum-Oberst rock. Opener “Samson the Mason” is a hit single whether it sells or not, and like many of Darden’s narratives, a paean to youth angst and lost generations that passes through current-era Holden Caulfield stages: Excoriating God and country; addiction and dead friends; and proud-but-lonely outsider status. Throughout the record, guitars rush forward, the beat quickens, choruses scream themselves hoarse, and Darden’s lyrics tumble out in clever flurries dark yet hopeful; at the end of each line you can feel him itching to get at the next one. The tender junkie-lament “Billy Walker” (“I’m just a silhouette for young girls to pass/The better part of a damn good laugh”), the languid title track, and the blue-eyed soul of “All Is Well” suggest Israel Darling have diversity – and a very bright future – on their side, too. Johan Wolfgang

Jamie & Steve English Afterthoughts Loaded Goat Records Charlotte, 1965: Spongemania has swept the nation, and local lads the Spongetones have sold out an incredible 10 nights at McDonald’s Arena. Sadly, though, by ’69 the dream will be over, and

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amid legal wrangling and threats of solo projects, the band splits up. Cut to 2009: After an offer from Lorne Michaels gets the group back together for a one-off performance on Saturday Night Live, principals Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel make the tentative first steps towards a permanent reunion by woodshedding as Jamie & Steve. The resulting English Afterthoughts — selfproduced, in the absence of so-called “fifth ‘tone” Don Dixon — is a delightful buffet of hailBritannia strum-and-harmony (“Emily’s Ghost”), sophisticated balladry (“Color Me Over Again”) and meaty power-pop (the anthemic “Let’s Don’t Count This One” and “Feeling You Watching Me Watching You” — the latter, notable for its sly nods to UK legends Ron, Dirk, Stig & Barry). By the summer of 2010 a world tour is announced and Spongemania grips America’s youth once again. Fred Mills

Angela Faye Martin Pictures From Home Self-released Musical artists – especially heretofore unknown ones – play with phonic fire when they hook up with established artists, especially one like the late Mark Linkous, whose sonic palette – eerie tape loops, blip and drone, Fox News-sized distortion – is so instantly recognizable. The trade-off is that the established artist can piggyback the unknown to the mainstream – or at least further upstream. That said, don’t get the idea that the MartinLinkous pairing was the uneven mountain rock equivalent of, say, Timbaland-Chris Cornell. Martin’s more spare, less Sparkly tracks (“The Ballad of Lolita Dean,” “Adieu, Mr. Higginson,” “Widow’s Lament”) stand tall on their own. The two artists comingled best on “Pictures From Home,” wherein Linkous seems to have learned some pop-ulist punch from his recent collaboration with Danger

Mouse, while Martin’s voice, a wonderfully unique, fuzzyaround-the-edges sonic soup, still somehow steals the show. Put another way, the ‘Horse Martin rode in on isn’t the best in this particular show, and that’s no mean feat. Timothy C. Davis

Minor Stars The Death of The Sun in The Silver Sea Summer Secret Eric Wallen has spent a decade making a life – if not a livelihood – of rock & roll. He’s gone through two bands of his own, and moonlights as lead guitarist of Ben Davis and the Jetts. But with Minor Stars, a power trio with a sound that lives at the intersection of power-pop, early metal, psych-rock and shoegaze, Wallen might have found his best vehicle yet, and having spent most of his adult life chasing an elusive dream seems to have provided the muse for a full-length debut. “Just when you thought that you’d made it/You wake to find that you hate it,” he sings at the outset of “All Your Stars Out.” Here, Wallen turns his doubt and trepidation into one of nine four-minute suites memorable enough to overfill the band’s debut with promise. Hank Garfield

Old Bricks Farmers Self-released Stuart Edwards’ voice is difficult to ignore. In the sparsely arranged songs he’s assembled here with multi-instrumentalist Andy Holmes, Edwards carries a reedy vibrato like Conor Oberst’s and

moans with a bone-deep ache like Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck. But the floorboard creak in Edwards’ voice suits the empty-cabin rattle and lonesome desolation this duo evoke from minimal arrangements. The beautifully sore “Splinter” – a gem of a second track – pushes its way through a cowboy country gallop doggedly. It’s here that the pair draws forth its greatest success. But elsewhere the band shows room for development, letting songs – such as the 14-minute-long “Tether” – drift unrestrained for too long. But the point here isn’t to be perfect, it’s to leave an impression. And that, Old Bricks has mastered. Bryan Reed

The Overmountain Men Glorious Day Ramseur Records Longtime Southern songwriting savant David Childers disbanded his last act, the Modern Don Juans, choosing to devote more time to his day job, painting, and not tilting at the Americana industry windmill. Enter Avett Brothers bassist and longtime Childers’ fan Bob Crawford, who suggested a project that would exist whenever Childers had the itch and Crawford came off the road. The result is as unrushed as the initial impetus. The sound is loose and informal: “Some Place Along The River” is a first-rate fish camp jam, equal parts hoedown and hell-raisin’. “Looking for Dr. Caligari” is an insanely catchy superfuzz stomper, and a throwback to the Don Juans. Perhaps most notably, there’s the heart-rending “Magpies,” a stoic, rib-sticking lament that, as with the best of Childers’ balladry, gets down to that cellular memory of love, lust and loss. As side projects go, the overall efficacy and sonic success of Glorious Day is a cold day in hell – a rare thing indeed. Timothy C. Davis

Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers All You Need Is Sleep Self-released Wayne Robbin’s 2007 debut, The Lonesome Sea, earned deserving kudos for employing tectonic feedback eruptions to jolt its cosmic country to life. But too many songs on this follow-up lack sufficient dynamism beyond strum und drang feedback to justify their lengths. “The Devil Has a Map” and sinister “The Lonesome Sea” are superb songs until their lengthy, mirror-image free-noise outros drag them into eight-minute territory; one would have sufficed. Half-way through “I Saw An Angel,” you’ve given up on the seraphim or a contrastproviding bridge, and there are still two more monochromatic minutes left. Shorter works better, especially the record’s countryinflected fare, like the Beatles/ Beachwood Sparks mashup “All Roads Lead to Helen,” the multitracked vocals on the eccentric “Rowboat of Stone,” and the Tunng-like folk of “At My Feet.” Sleep is solid, but the formula tilts rote. And like going missionary every time, that’s eventually going to lead to other music. John Schacht

Saint Solitude Journal of Retreat Alive and Well Records There’s a girl at one of this guy’s shows. She doesn’t smoke, but she carries a lighter because her boyfriend’s pants are too tight. She’s got mascara on, but it’s starting to streak, and she’s beginning to wish her boyfriend weren’t here, and maybe he doesn’t want to be here either,


because she really wants to lurv the guy on stage’s heartbreak away. As the faux-strings swell, she stares at the double-x’s on her tightening fists and wishes she was brave enough to break out the flask of vodka tucked into her purse. Me? I’m a damn music snob and there’s nothing about this Ashevillian’s debut that connects with me. It sounds like it might as well be 1995. For all I know, this thing could blow up big-time. It’s certainly not melodically challenged, and the one-man band thing always makes me quiver with jealousy. It’s likable, and it’s a decent start, but it’s not for me. Jesse Steichen

Schooner Duck Kee Sessions Cytunes Carrboro’s Schooner, led by Reid Johnson, here offers a digital-only release, an EP so named for the studio that also recorded, most notably, Superchunk, Polvo, and The Kingsbury Manx. All may be good starting points for description (but only up to a point), though punchy and melodious opener “Feel Better” could easily pass as an unreleased mid-career track by the last of those mentioned above. But this is followed by a more ruminative and subdued track, “Fortuitous,” which also better showcases the boy/girl harmonies found on five of the record’s six songs, with the other being a short, off-kilter instrumental. Elsewhere, the record ranges from lyrically longing and musically upbeat to the inverse of that equation. But it always works, and never does any of the material feel anything less than sincere, especially when things get a little more GBVinspired, and therefore is a nice addition to the band’s catalogue. William Morris

Sin Ropas Holy Broken Shrug Records Tim Hurley and wife Danni Iosello return after a five-year hiatus with their most sedate, understated and accessible release. There’s still all manner of buzzing, clanging, sputtering backgrounds, but they’re lower in the mix, and the pace is a resolute crawl. The chafing Brechtian vibe is all but gone. The effect is one of a late-night mass, full of reverent ache, and a whispery, loping pace which lulls rather than agitates, suggestive of early Sparklehorse. Though the 8-song, 40-minute disc works as a whole, several tracks stand out. The creeping, somnambulant strum of “Stolen Stars and Lights” is aided by a sawing cello as it implores, “What good is stealing light from another star?” The lonely, wounded elegy “X is for Christmas” drags itself ahead of a low organ hum and Hurley’s breathy, Mark Linkous-like croon, while the title track cases a smoldering blues and tracks its own decline. Dark as hell, but compelling stuff. Chris Parker

The Situationals Bellwether Self-released Everything old is New Wave again. That’s not an epithet, by the way. Charlotte’s Situationals expertly mine the 80s for inspiration, with overtones of everyone from U2, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Cure to Blondie, Eurythmics and the Motels creeping into the mix. Vocalist Candice Tucker has a throaty, sultry delivery

that brings to mind the latter group’s Martha Davis’ haughty warble, with touches, perhaps, of Concrete Blonde’s steely-butsexy Johnette Napolitano, and in her dynamic delivery, she’s clearly the band’s not-so-secret weapon. But the melodic songs and muscular arrangements are what ultimately seal the deal — the sinewy, martial “Quiet Last Halloween”; the slow-burn, twangy psychedelia of “Song For Demaris Ann”; arpeggiated power-pop anthem “Way Too Blue” (it was the standout cut on the group’s 2006 EP; most of the tracks from that reappear here). Ultimately, the Situationals serve up a boundlessly buoyant sound that’s both cerebral and danceable. Fred Mills

Starmount Tyranny of the Sphere Superfan Records The name may stem from an old neighborhood in Raleigh, but Starmount sounds like a Texas post-rock ensemble doubling down on the pedal steel flights of fancy. Led by veteran musician/ producer Greg Elkins, the instrumentals he delivers with teammates Dave Pitts (upright), Brian Donohoe (drums) and Rob Davis (synths) recall that ‘97-era Thrill Jockey sound – though less out for the “thrill” and more content to cruise comfortably in the saddle. At times, the band’s latest is like sitting in on Tortoise’s hungover Sunday session. Nobody’s really up for playing anything with migraine-inducing mathematics or dissonance, and they’re set up with Bloody Marys and a twelver of Dos Equis. So they lay down a batch worthy of the soundtrack to Sling Blade II: Electric Boogaloo. And as lovely as the big sky moments are, the records’ successes come when the band looks toward places more exotic, like those found in the lightly Caribbean-flavored “The Battle of Brentwood Creek” and “The Vivian Twist.” Topher Manilla

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Through the Eyes of the Dead Skepsis Prosthetic Records It’s plain to hear South Carolina’s Through the Eyes of The Dead have spent some quality time with Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Decapitated and the like. And good on ‘em; death metal in the 90s was rad. But four LPs into their career, it’s reasonable to expect the band would have moved beyond gluing together their favorite parts with a watery paste of false harmonics and chromatic solos. But expectations, like Skepsis, are bound to disappoint. The pleasure of listening to Skepsis doesn’t come from hearing new and novel ideas in the field of metalcore. And it doesn’t come from carefully and expertly constructed song craft, either. In fact, TTEOTD’s songs tend to jump between parts and rely too heavily on genre tropes and predictable song structures. Where we can squeeze a few drops of enjoyment from this dry lemon of metal-by-numbers is in its demand to go find a better album and listen to that, instead. Bryan Reed

Tokyo Rosenthal Ghosts Rock & Sock Records Where to start with this veteran Raleigh-based singer/songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist and this new release. His exotic moniker? The sepia, hooded cover shot that makes Rosenthal look like an Americana monk? A guest list that includes pedal steel hero Al Perkins, Peter Holsapple, and co-producer Chris Stamey? How about 10 nothing-short-of-solid

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songs, with a healthy handful going well beyond that? “Inside Your Skull,” bolstered by splitpersonality steel from Perkins, is a curiously successful rocker. “Still She Thanks God” showcases Rosenthal’s amiable vocals and his way with a melody, while the gently swinging title track is sonic soulmate to Jesse Colin Young’s “Sunlight.” And the album closes with a nifty, fiddle-blessed take on “Goin’ on Saturday” from journeymen Aztec Two-Step. That tag fits Rosenthal, too, as commentary on his travels - from Long Island to the West Coast to North Carolina, with a stop in Edmonton for a key to the city (long story) - and the memorable songs hatched along the way. Rick Cornell

Toro Y Moi Causers of This Carpark Records As Toro Y Moi, Chaz Bundick makes a universally likable fruit salad from the ubiquitous laptop/ sampler-based (though wholly different) pop stylings of Animal Collective and J Dilla, which are now Slint-like in their widespread influence. A bedroom-funk, emo synth-sprinkle gives the record its own legs to stand on, and highlights here are the gorgeous, anthemic “Blessa” and the glitchy, Kanye-approved “Talamak, both previously available. But the real triumph is Bundick as producer, his palette enormous and his ears always open to happy accidents. The happiest of them all is a specific compression of the bass beat into a deep, soft suction that’s become his signature sound, and thereby Greater Metropolitan Chillwaveington’s – it’s something like when your Jeep’s passengers drop the back windows, creating the foompfoomp-foomp of a helipad takeoff over your radio jams. Maybe this is why it works. It’s music made by, for and about those of us on that perpetual cruise to the oceanside. Topher Manilla

Transmission Fields Transmission Fields Spectra Records Calling a band radio-ready is often seen as damning praise. After all, most (commercial) radio plays about as many songs as there are spaces on a bingo card, and each of those spaces is usually filled by a band playing one hyper-predictable, super-specific genre cliché or another. What’s more, there’s no longer any “free space” in the middle for anything different or unique to gain traction. Too bad for radio, then, as this self-titled release, eminently hummable/ harmonizable, is a little gem for those who like their pop rock like R.E.M. or Built To Spill make it: a little angular, a little obscure, and a lot of fun. Guitarist Neil Hunter’s spidery, Peter Buck-esque riffs, just as high in the ever-insistent mix as Lee Neitzel’s easy/beatific vocals, takes listeners back (and hopefully, forward) to an era when rock radio didn’t mean also playing an endless game of Spot the Influence. Timothy C. Davis

Tropa Love Songs & Alibis Outside Recordings “Wind In,” the penultimate track on Love Songs & Alibis, the latest from Charlotte producer Brian Darden Patterson, or Tropa, depends entirely on a wonderful stutter-and-start beat: A narrow bass blast lunges forward and phases slightly. A coruscated keyboard pings to the foreground. More bass—now, a full, head-nodding line, rubbery but slight—slides into

place, gliding in elegant zigzags between those persistent thuds. Patterson reverses the track, offering the allusion that it’s all flying out of place, only to right the pattern again, letting the inversions tessellate momentarily. It’s disorienting and dizzying. These sorts of surprises are woefully underutilized on this competent but circumscribed piece of electronic stargazing. Patterson’s clinical funk and textural blipscapes come carefully designed and meticulously executed, but his persistent aim for understatement sometimes bends these beats into blurs. Everything here feels learned and borrowed, meaning that Patterson’s work as a composer isn’t enough to offset his music’s beige wallpaper glow. But if that’s mostly the point—to build a background that deserves immersion as much as it invites it—Patterson succeeds. Grayson Currin

Stephen Warwick & Secondhand Stories Talking Machine Self-released Charlotte songwriter Stephen Warwick, accompanied by his backing band, Secondhand Stories, offers 11 songs on Talking Machine, a direct and compelling record that, though it clocks in at just over half an hour, offers plenty for both fans and the uninitiated. In terms of tempo and mood, the album graphs almost like a bell curve, with “Golden” and “Keep on,” opener and closer, respectively, deftly playing the somber and subtle foils to the meat of the record, which is filled with playful, sometime borderline raucous tunes that reveal influences ranging from vintage country to modern indie/folk. But it’s album highlight “Tiger II” that best marries the two styles, initially showcasing Warwick’s voice and simply strummed acoustic guitar before building to a gorgeous, rocking crescendo. And, yes, both song and album may end too quickly for some, but that’s what the repeat function is for. William Morris

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Shuffle No. 7