Author Archives: nickstropko

Concert Review/Interview: tUnE-yArDs with Sylvan Esso @ Union Transfer (June 15, 2014)

2014-06-15 22.00.06

By Esmail Hamidi

On Sunday, June 15th, I was given the incredible opportunity to see tUnE-yArDs and Sylvan Esso at Union Transfer. While it was not the only musical endeavor I had involved myself in that weekend -the previous night had been defined by an excursion to the Great Indoors in West Philly to see PILE and others, and the afternoon I helped out Nick Myers with putting Tweens on our airwaves – it was tUnE-yArDs! Nobody can beat the bizarre reputation of Merrill Garbus and her merry band. Since 2009, Garbus has been making music and touring relentlessly. The consensus among my friends was that it kind of had to be seen to be believed.

Before the show, I was also invited to interview Sylvan Esso, who were opening on this tour. The first listen won me over. Despite being almost entirely electronic, Sylvan Esso’s music sounds human to me. From a more technical standpoint, the production value is high. Amelia’s soprano is layered and complemented by the high level of deep bass in all of their songs. I struggle to pick out a structure in their songs, but that’s not a bad thing. They ebb and flow organically. The lyrics are conversational, and definitely have a stream-of-consciousness feel to them.

When I first met them, it was clear that Nick and Amelia make an extraordinary creative team. They welcomed me into their dressing room with smiles. There were moments during the interview where I definitely thought they were messing with me, the strapping young music journalist, but I was so okay with that. It was a pleasure to get to know their creative sides.

I’ll shut up now. Here’s the best chunks of the interview:

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Concert Review: Needle Points @ Golden Tea House (May 22, 2014)

By Esmail Hamidi

If you’re a punk kid from Philadelphia, chances are you know of the Golden Tea House. Several nights a week, people from far and wide flock to this oasis of good times and cheap, all-ages, relateable music. The kitchen is where it all goes down. Bands set up opposite the stove, the refrigerator, the microwave, and the audience. Bring earplugs, because the PA is terrible. If you by chance forget them, the door guy probably has some spares, but be chill about it.

The illustrious House has been holding shows since at least 2012, which is grandfatherly in punk years. That whole time, it’s been cursed by terrible, oblivious writings about it (the article about DIY venues on Myspace is a glaring example). That said, here’s my shot.

Last Thursday, I went out to see Pujol, Needle Points,  Ruby Buff, and The No-No’s. It was a curious bill, for sure. The No-No’s were first on for their first show ever- trading virtuosity for attitude and energy. The pint-sized girl lead singer yelled about all kinds of things. The drummer was loose and liberal with tempo and the dual guitars sounded like unhealthy chainsaws, but watching them was the most punk thing I did all week. They played a song called “I Wanna Hit My Head On The Radio,” which kinda rules. Seeing them made me want to start a band like them.

Ruby Buff took the form of a power trio taking cues from powerpop, post-punk, and other twinkly guitar music. They were really tight, and they had a singing drummer who got the job done.  Their guitarist looks a lot like the guitarist from another great band, The Joint Chiefs of Math. They might be the same person, but my cursory internet research appears to indicate otherwise.

Needle Points appeared in the kitchen dressed in full psychedelic garb, to the delight of the modest Thursday night crowd. There was glitter, leopard print, eyeliner, and tribal paint. They truly pulled out all the stops. As an ensemble, they are an experience – two standing drummers playing a hodgepodge of random drums and cymbals, fuzz bass, slapback guitar, and a howling, possessed lead singer evoking equal parts Iggy Pop,  Peter Zaremba, Syd Barrett, and Sky Saxon. All of this stews together into something that will make you dance your ass off.

They aren’t just some imitation revival act – I find that they bring an addictive energy and originality to live psychedelic garage music. I don’t know how these beautiful people found each other, but they did, and the results, in the form of Needle Points, are exquisite. I hate to attach something so immaterial as the beauty of Needle Points to material goods, but you should get their self-released record on your turntable soon because it rips. If you’re too cheap for that, get a very solid approximation of their live set and “studio” work from their live set on WKDU (see below).

Now, full disclosure, I had to leave before Pujol played, but they are worth mentioning. To me, their recordings sound like Wavves’ second record and Diarrhea Planet – straight ahead rock’n’roll out of Nashville with hipster tendencies and a rough, self-deprecating voice. Their new record, titled Kludge, is worth checking out.

Sorry for no pictures. I was too busy rockin’ out.

Be sure to check out our live in-studio set with Needle Points!

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Concert Review: Chet Faker @ Union Transfer (5/16/2014)

Or: Like James Blake You Can Fuck To

By Jonathan Plotkin

A late show at a venue typically means the place has been overbooked and the second guys aren’t that important. But Friday night’s late performance by Chet Faker at the Union Transfer was nothing short of gorgeous. Starting us off was Sweater Beats, who despite his moniker, performed on stage wearing a jacket. Not having heard of Sweater Beats before tonight, I had really hoped it would be a duo wearing reallyridiculoussweaters and dropping beats, but apparently it’s just one guy from New York named Antonio Cuna. Maybe sweater describes his beats themselves? I suppose one word that sprung to mind during his set was “wooly” but that’s probably me just trying to make this stupid analogy work. Despite some technical difficulties early on, Sweater Beats rocked it for about 45 minutes with slowed down bass that rattled your chest and lifted your body with each beat, only to drop it on the next. He reminded me somewhat of Sweet Valley, though a bit less aggressive. I didn’t want to break stuff so much listening to Sweater Beats as I did just groove. Suffice to say, I’ll be checking out more of his stuff in the future.

As for the main attraction, Chet Faker (born Nicholas James Murphey- his stage moniker is an homage to Chet Baker) came out to a darkened stage (wearing a sweater, I might add). His set up was simple: a small keyboard, a board with some beats making jawns, and a laptop off to the side. Unlike the Chromeo show a few days beforehand, there was no elaborate lighting scheme and he relied on just the house lights. I actually liked this stripped down approach: for just one dude for whom being an independent artist is a huge part of his aesthetic, anything more would have felt showy. Plus, the dark purple lighting kept the mood, well, moody throughout the show.

Chet Faker wasted no time in getting soulful- starting off with “I’m Into You” and “Terms and Conditions”, he got the crowd dancing all sexy like right away. He later moved into material from his new album Built on Glass with “To Me” and “Blush”, a personal favorite of mine. WIth its high energy the crowd went from bumping and grinding into jumping and sweating without missing a beat.

But he didn’t just play stuff from previous releases. About half an hour in, he turned to the crowd and said “I really love electronic music but it’s too easy to just hit play. I think it’s really important to have a section of your set where you can fuck up, that’s what makes a musician. This is the part where I fuck up.” He then proceeded to improvise for several minutes, looping live beats and keyboards. Though not as soulful or danceable, to me it was the most impressive part of the show, especially since I didn’t hear him fuck up at all (though to be fair, how would I know? He laughed about that afterwards, telling the audience “maybe I fucked up, maybe I didn’t”).

He brought it back to the beginning of his career soon afterwards, playing another track off of his debut EP Thinking In Textures (whose name unfortunately escapes me, just trust me it was great). Finally, he played the track that we had all been waiting for and made him famous: his beautiful, smooth-as-silk cover of “No Diggity”, encouraging the audience to “get sexy with this one”. And ooh boy did we. I’m pretty confident that most of the people at that show got laid afterwards (I would have joined the fun, but I went alone and though I did run into someone I knew, it was a guy I went to middle school with and I’m not the biggest fan of man parts).

Wait, did I say everyone had been waiting for “No Diggity”? He closed with “Talk Is Cheap” and the crowd went wild. More than happy to follow his request to sing along, the roof of the Union Transfer swelled with the combined voices of hundreds of people all unified in vocal harmony (I thought we sounded pretty good but maybe his mic was just turned up enough to drown out our crappy voices).

Chet Faker left soon after that, bowing and thanking us once more for being such a wonderful crowd, sounding completely sincere. His humbleness tied nicely with a mid set speech describing his nature as a DIY musician and I really just liked the guy. It didn’t hurt that when he first walked on stage he gave several dozen “Happy Birthday” balloons out the the audience. Apparently he found them backstage and figured it had to be at least one person’s birthday. What a stand up guy.

Happy birthday to someone.

Happy birthday to someone.

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Concert Review: Of Montreal at Union Transfer (May 12, 2014)

By Matt Rotello

The show opened with Dream Tiger, a keyboard-heavy group that reminded me, at least atmospherically, a little of the Warpaint show I saw a month or two ago at the same venue. Their setup consisted of two interchangeable keyboards, a female vocalist with her own big pedestal of sampling pedals and vocal filters and whatever else, and a drummer who pounded away far more enthusiastically than anyone else in the band. I appreciate his energy despite the simplicity of his parts–it’s always nice when drummers aren’t bored. Their music was atmospheric; dark synths and ambience from the keyboardists, simple but powerful drum patterns, all overlaid with ethereal female vocals (which were occasionally downpitched to sound menacing). All their songs kind of blurred together, and they all felt more or less the same, but that’s not necessarily a complaint. The muted red lighting lent the whole affair a shadowy, almost ominous air, despite the relative gentleness of the music, and the songs flowed into each other pretty well. Overall I enjoyed their set. It didn’t blow my mind, but they were a solid opening act and their performance intrigued me enough to make me check out their recordings, which is really all you can ask for.

And then there was of Montreal, bizarre troubadours from some fantastic land no one’s been to. They were introduced by some weird hybrid of a masked wrestler and a power ranger, who threatened to kill us in the audience, then changed his mind and told us we were all beautiful. I like him. As far as the actual performance, I don’t know if I can really describe it. It was too fantastic, in every sense of the word. Of Montreal’s eclectic blend of whatever they feel like playing at the moment sounds fantastic live, every song far richer and fuller than on record, and they augment the performance with the most bizarre backdrops and stage antics I’ve ever seen. At various points, there were the aforementioned masked wrestling rangers, people carrying huge cutout trees with swirling light projections dancing across them, and a two person high bird with reflective wings that flapped slowly behind Kevin Barnes. The music itself ranged from peaceful indie-folk to psychedelia to the immense, jam-driven finale of flickering strobes and noise. I admit to being less familiar with them than I should be, so I can’t tell you how their choice of setlist was from a diehard perspective, but every song was excellent, and I didn’t see a single person not having a good time in the room, whether dancing or simply nodding their head and smiling. Anyone who hasn’t seen of Montreal yet should really get on that, because it was a fantastic experience all around.

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Concert Review: Future Islands @ First Unitarian Church (April 29, 2014

Courtesy of 4AD

Courtesy of 4AD

By Esmail Hamidi

Last Tuesday, I was fortunate to see Future Islands headline the First Unitarian Church. Accompanying me were WKDU DJs Dr. Plotkin and Peter Liu, of The Love X-Perience and Hear Hear Mix respectively. Supporting were Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and Chiffon. Soundwise, the bill was pretty darn diverse, but all bands had their hometown in common: Baltimore.

One cool thing about the Baltimore scene is its interconnection – the music might be wildly different, but the musicians are all uniformly skilled and versatile. Dan Frome and Denny Bowen, both of weird noise rock quartet Roomrunner, were spotted filling in on bass and drums for Ed Schrader and Future Islands respectively. I’m normally used to these guys playing totally different types of music, but they still killed it in this setting.

All groups on this bill played perfectly. Chiffon caught my attention with a weird hipstery take on 90s radio R&B and BMORE CLUB that got me movin’. Their beats were very, very reminiscent of the programming on WERQ Baltimore 92.3 FM a.k.a. 92Q JAMS, a station that is best listened to cruising the streets of West Baltimore around 10PM in a late-model Cadillac.

To me, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat always sounds like The Monkees on PCP, and this was no exception. Every time I’ve seen them on the home front, this two-piece always succeeds in turning the floor into a swirling mosh pit. Unfortunately, this did not happen in Philadelphia. For further weirdo cultural experiences courtesy of Ed Schrader, check out the Ed Schrader Show on YouTube.

Lead singer Sam Herring mentioned that he was feeling a little under the weather that night. He was definitely holding back, but still delivered a great performance. He is a conduit for the music – gyrating and radiating sexual energy like a balding, bodybuilding Elvis gone new wave. Bassist William Cashion lashed out with expressiveness that a lot of bass players could take a lesson from. As the main live instrument in the mix, Cashion simultaneously anchored the band and played singing leads.

Synth player Gerrit Welmers’ compositional skills play a huge role in the Future Islands sound, and Denny Bowen’s always a clock on drums. Their live personas were somewhat less expressive than those of Herring and Cashion, but steadfast nonetheless.

That night kind of embodied why everyone needs a good show every so often. I know I did. It was…refreshing. Also, sidenote, I ran into Liz of Liz and the Lost Boys afterwards. You can peep the session they did with WKDU (and that I engineered, woo soundz!) here.

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…Sleep Deprivation, Hoagies, and Yoga

By Jonathan Plotkin

This was written last fall, but slipped through the cracks until Jonathan fortunately remembered and sent it over to me. 

I recently had a bit of an unusual night. I went out bar-hopping with a friend and some girls he knew much later than I normally would (we didn’t start drinking until after midnight, which I felt was rather late for a Wednesday night). Afterwards we filled up on Wawa hoagies and by the time I got home at 4 AM, I was stuck with a choice: Should I pull an all-nighter and exercise at 6:00 AM, or sleep until noon and contribute nothing to better society?

Being the headstrong individual that so many describe me as, I decided to start my day early so I could crash right after. I managed to keep myself awake for 2 hours by snacking on chocolate covered espresso beans, until I was able to head to the Bikram yoga studio. For those who don’t know, lack of sleep, meatball hoagies, and whiskey typically aren’t a great way to warm up for 90 minutes of intense exercise in a heated room. The mind turns to anything else to distract it, which for me is always music.

What with the sleep deprivation and trying to work out the alcohol from my system, I began to have bizarre waking dreams synched up to whatever music was stuck in my head. Having recently just seen Spiritualized live, I couldn’t get their music out of my mind. I tried to recall exactly how specific songs went, causing a strange, Fantasia-like series of flowing colors to move behind my eyelids. As soon as I got home, determined to hear the space/psychedelic/gospel rock of Spiritualized the way it was meant to be played, I cued up Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space on my stereo and settled into my bed for the proper listening experience.

Of course, having been up for nearly 24 hours at this point, I immediately fell asleep, with iTunes just playing through their entire catalogue (just three albums, but still a sizable length of music at over 3 hours long). Now I don’t know how many of you have tried to go to sleep with blinding daylight outside, but it’s really hard. Your body naturally wants to be awake when the sun is out (no seriously, it’s science) and trying to fall asleep at 8 AM when you’re used to waking up then is damned near impossible. So impossible, in fact, that I kept waking up from bizarre whiskey/yoga dreams to hear the sweet sounds of Spiritualized playing in my room.

These dreams seemed much more like a Hollywood production than typical the random firings of my subconscious. They had plot structure that (nearly) made sense, real characters that weren’t just bastardizations of people I knew in reality, and music. Oh, the music! It was like having an honest-to-goodness soundtrack playing the entirety of my dream. A chilled out party had “Cop Shoot Cop” playing in the background. I went on a bike ride and I heard “Headin’ For The Top Now” playing as I climbed the hills. At one point, I met a girl and “Mary” played while she described the most tragic life my subconscious had ever imagined.

I honestly can’t think of a poetic way to finish this, I just wanted to share with you all the joy that comes with staying up all night, eating and drinking too much before a yoga class, and finally sleeping while the music you’ve had stuck in your head for the last hour and a half is playing into your ear holes. Bottom line: music + sleep = awesome and I definitely recommend that’s how you spend your next all-nighter, no matter what causes it.

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Concert Review: Perfect Pussy with Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, Green Dreams, and +HIRS+ @ First Unitarian Church (April 25, 2014)

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Photo courtesy of Megan Matuzak/Tri State Indie. Check out the full gallery below.

By Nick Stropko

5/1/14 update: In a previous version of this post, we mistakenly misgendered the singer of +HIRS+. We sincerely apologize for the error.

I saw much hyped Perfect Pussy at the Church last week, and frankly…I was pretty disappointed. Before I get to their set, though, I’d like to highlight each of the three opening acts, all of whom I enjoyed quite a bit:

+HIRS+, the first group of the night, fit nicely into the ethos of the show (on their Facebook, they describe themselves as being “LGBTQIA, anti-authoritarian, bullshit grind-noise-thrash with PUNK ethics. NO GODS//NO COPS//NO BROS,” which pretty much sums it up). The Philadelphia duo is comprised of a singer, who convincingly screams bloody horror, and a guitar player who shreds along with pulverizing programmed drums. Their short songs are punctuated by found audio recordings that run the gamut from amusing to disturbing. I found their set to be impressive in its sheer volume, energy, and force; the duo maintained an impressive stage presence, pretty much battering the crowd with their sonic onslaught. I dug ‘em. Check out an in-studio they did in WKDU a few years back.

Green Dreams, hailing from Rochester, played a more straightforward hardcore punk set. Regardless, they were impressively tight and boasted some really solid songs. I also majorly enjoyed lead singer Jesse’s vocal delivery—it’s satisfyingly shouty while conveying a fittingly bratty, insolent attitude. Look out for them—they’ve definitely got something here.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan was probably my favorite act of the night. Donning decorative face paint, Chinese silk robes, and bathing themselves in bright white light, Yamantanka // Sonic Titan’s stage presence was something to behold. They meld a variety of disparate genres into a coherent, encompassing vision; throughout their set, I got hints of late-70’s Bowie and some of the darker stuff off Queen II in addition to the more overt stoner/sludge metal and Eastern influences. Able performers, I was equally impressed with their instrumental prowess (there was some killer organ going on) and distinctive stage set-up. Check ‘em out.

All right, so that leaves Syracuse-based headliners Perfect Pussy. I like their new record, Say Yes to Love. Lead singer Merideth Grave’s unhinged shouting pairs very nicely with the feedback laden, low-fi punk instrumentals. However, the elements that make their record an addictingly visceral listen just weren’t there that night. Instead, the Church was enveloped in an overwhelming, ear-shattering wall of feedback. I felt like I was about 50 years old (quick aside—shout out to all the old dudes at the Church with their kids…you all rule) when I asked my friend if she thought the band was having sound problems, or it was intentional. Perhaps they were trying to up the hard-hittingness of their sound with the added noise, but it really just bowled over the tenuous line between melody and raucous din that the band so successfully straddles on their debut record. I really wanted to like their set—the band performed with a reckless abandon on the floor of the Church (hoping to recreate the egalitarian energy of house shows, I presume), but I just couldn’t get beyond the noise.

For additional coverage, check out the gallery below and Megan’s awesome work at Tri State Indie.

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