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.

…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.

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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Top Played Artists 4/22-4/29

1 MAC DEMARCO Salad Days (Captured Tracks)
2 FUTURE ISLANDS Singles (4AD)
3 TWEENS Tweens (Frenchkiss)
4 CLOUD NOTHINGS Here And Nowhere Else (Carpark-Mom And Pop)
5 AVEY TARE’S SLASHER FLICKS Enter The Slasher House (Domino)
6 BLACK LIPS Underneath The Rainbow (Vice)
7 TACOCAT NVM (Hardly Art)
8 ST. VINCENT St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
9 S. CAREY Range Of Light (Jagjaguwar)
10 BLEEDING RAINBOW Interrupt (Kanine)
11 REAL ESTATE Atlas (Domino)
12 WAR ON DRUGS  Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
13 NOTHING Guilty Of Everything (Relapse)
14 ANGEL OLSEN Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
15 LIARS Mess (Mute)
16 TYCHO Awake (Ghostly)
17 PINK MOUNTAINTOPS Get Back (Jagjaguwar)
18 CHEATAHS Cheatahs (Wichita)
19 SNOWMINE Dialects (Mystery Buildings)
20 YELLOW OSTRICH Cosmos (Barsuk)
21 MODERN BASEBALL You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run For Cover)
22 AVA LUNA Electric Balloon (Western Vinyl)
23 HOLLOW AND AKIMBO Hollow And Akimbo (Quite Scientific)
24 DAN CROLL Sweet Disarray (Capitol)
25 SISYPHUS Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty-Joyful Noise)
26 PERFECT PUSSY Say Yes To Love (Captured Tracks)
27 DENNEY AND THE JETS Mexican Coke (Burger-Limited Fanfare)
28 OFF! Wasted Years (Vice)
29 AGES AND AGES Divisionary (Partisan)
30 LYLA FOY Mirrors The Sky SUB POP

Interview with Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak (April 25, 2014)

Courtesy of Merge Records
Courtesy of Merge Records

By Nick Stropko

Last week I interviewed Jenn Wasner, one half of the Baltimore-based group Wye Oak. We spoke about side-projects, the state of pop music in 2014, traveling, and the Baltimore music scene. Be sure to check out their excellent new album, Shriek, and look out for them May 5th at Union Transfer.

So, what’s the situation with having a home between various bouts of touring? It seems like it’d be pretty inconsistent…

Well for awhile I didn’t think it was necessary. During the fall for the touring we did for Civilian when we were really, really pushing it, I didn’t actually have a home. That made sense to me on paper, but it actually took a bit of a toll, as you can imagine. Since then, I have moved into a really nice house with a friend of mine–she’s really busy too, she’s a grad student–but we have a really nice house, and we do the best we can to take care of it, but between her schedule and mine…the best we can hope for is that it’s well-preserved. It’s lived in…but on and off, between the two of us. I’d say it’s really important to have a place to live in, even if it’s just for a couple days.

Understandable. A place that’s not a storage unit, anyway.

Exactly, which is what it was, for a little while.

Well, I looked at your tour schedule, and it seems like you’re hitting it pretty hard again.

Yes, but believe it or not, not as hard as we were. This is an improvement. I know, it seems insane but it is not as crazy as it was [during Civilian]. But it’s still a formidable amount. We’ve been on tour since the better part of March and April, and then we have a little bit of time off, and then we’ll be back in March for the better part of May, June and July.

In March, we toured down to SXSW with our good buddies, Future Islands, and then we went to Europe, and we played a bunch of shows over there. We went to Turkey, and a bunch of other places. Then we came back and went to Coachella, and we came back from that, and now we’re about to go on a proper US headlining tour.

I actually lived in Istanbul for a few months, so just for my curiosity, how did you like it there?

It’s the best! Gosh, I had such a great time. We gave ourselves a couple days after the show just to hang out, and I’m really really glad we did–it was absolutely one of the coolest, if not the coolest place, I have ever been.

I actually picked up, like, three phrases, and they all came in great handy for the show. I can’t remember it anymore, but–I learned it about five minutes before the show and then promptly lost it–I learned good evening, because I have a superstition that I have to start every show that I play, assuming that it’s in the evening, by saying “good evening.”

Is it difficult working out the logistics to go somewhere as far as Turkey to play one show? It seems like it would be tough to pay for airfare and things like that with one gig.

It’s tricky for us to fly in general, just because we are two people but we have way more than two people’s worth of stuff. That actually makes it really tough because of baggage restrictions and stuff like that. If we had more physical bodies to distribute the gear amongst it would be easier, but we really don’t. That is the trickiest part. It can be really expensive and really exhausting, because it basically involves me strapping like 100 pounds of shit to my body and grabbing a couple more bags on top of that and working my way through airports and train stations. So it’s no joke, but it’s way worth it. Getting to visit a place like Istanbul–in my wildest dreams as a child I would have never thought I’d find a way to do that. It’s absolutely worth it, it’s just hard work.

You have a new album coming out. It’s excellent, by the way.

Thank you for saying that!

This new album seems to be influenced by some of the stuff you’ve done as Dungeonesse, and maybe to a lesser extent as Flock of Dimes. Do you think there was an overt influence from that, or do you think it just seeped into your subconscious or or writing process?

Continue reading “Interview with Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak (April 25, 2014)”

Concert Review: Tycho @ Union Transfer (April 19, 2014)

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A good majority of the WKDU staff could be found at the Union Transfer last Saturday. The much anticipated return of Tycho, both in Philadelphia and in recording, led to a sold out show. Their latest album, Awake, has been a station favorite here, and for good reason. Mainman Scott Hansen’s project has evolved from solo to trio, whose recent live performances include a backing band. Beyond that, the synth-heavy music of Tycho is both tranquil and engaging. Each song will take you on a ride, changing vibes at every turn.

If we weren’t already excited for Tycho, a few weeks before the show it was announced that California natives Gardens and Villa would be the opener. I’ve been told by many that their live show is incredible, and after avidly listening to their two albums (Dunes, was most recently released in February) I was already interested in seeing them live.

We were able to get right to the front with no problem during Gardens and Villa’s set which was awesome because we were right in the midst of the band’s high energy set. The lead singer Chris Lynch’s numerous flute solos combined the poppy sounds of the synths with tribal influences.

            Black Hills and Orange Blossom form their first release were personal favorites of mine. They also played a lot of songs from their latest, Dunes. The moody purple lighting on the stage was an excellent touch as well. They ended their set with lots of applause, and they expressed their gratitude to the crowd.

            Tycho came on soon after, in which time the audience was chanting in excitement. Hansen got on the mic to explain that they were fixing some technical difficulties on stage. After fixing the problems, the show started with a bang. If you are not familiar, Scott Hansen is also a very well known graphic artist and it would be no surprise if he had something to do with the projected visuals. Serene settings of beaches and minimalist designs coincided with each song. The title track from Awake kicked things off. They also played a lot of songs from 2011’s Dive release as well. What I found most appealing was the live drums, which gave each song a different feel, something not heard in their recorded works. The entire set was mesmerizing and I don’t think anyone wanted it to end. Being right there by the band was also an amazing experience.

            For the encore, they played the two songs everyone was waiting to hear: A Walk and Montana before giving a hearty thanks to Philadelphia for being such a great audience.

Be sure to check out Gardens and Villa’s Dunes as well as Tycho’s Awake, both out now!

http://www.gardensandvilla.com/

http://tychomusic.com/awake/

Back to the Retro-Future: How the Sounds of Last Century Are Making the Music of a New Millennium

By: Jonathan Plotkin

You slowly drive your Pontiac Grand Am along the darkened alleys of the underbelly of a diseased city, where neon signs shine permanently half lit through the neverending rain. Or maybe you’re cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway in your Ferrari Testarossa Spider, roof down, wind in your hair, shades on even though it’s midnight. Or perhaps you just broke into the mainframe of MegaCORP’s servers and now are currently whizzing your way down the electronic super highway with their top secret files in your grasp. Whatever you find yourself doing right now, the soundtrack to your various exploits all sounds surprisingly familiar and yet new at the same time.

Retro-futuristic music, as I like to call it, is music that sounds like it was written in the 80s but somehow reaches into the future with its sound. It conjures a similar aesthetic to cyperpunk fiction, envisioning a neon-soaked synthesizer-addled future that in some alternate timeline is occurring at this very moment. My first experience with the sound was probably the movie Tron: Legacy, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I saw Drive did I really understand there was more than one artist making music like this. Who would have thought that there was a whole subgenre of people making purely electronic music that emphasized synthesizers as their main body of work, instead of using them just for effects?

What makes retro-future music so unique in my mind is how well it inspires various emotions without any lyrics or even standard song structure. While of course those are never required to make a great track, I find it rather impressive how tracks like “Retrogenesis” by Perturbator or “Hydrogen” by M|O|O|N never fail to make me think I’ve been transported to a decaying city to perform horribly violent crime of some form or another. The pulsing basslines and dark, moody synths conjure up entire cityscapes in my mind that could easily have acted as backgrounds for Blade Runner. Conversely, artists like Kavinsky and Starcadian have a lighter mood in their work. The former’s “Nightcall” (i.e. that song from Drive) and the latter’s album Sunset Blood have a slower beat and generally feel less claustrophobic. They make me want to slow down and take in the sights around me, instead of speeding through the grime to get out of town. Meanwhile, other artists strive for expansive sound. Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner could be argued to have kick-started this entire genre, while Pilotpriest’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack instantly transports the listener to a world light years away from ours, with wide open galaxies where starships zip across the skies and attacks ship burn off the shoulder of Orion.

Of course you can’t classify a huge genre of music like this into 3 groups, despite the vast amount of evidence that supports the validity of the rule of three in writing. Artists like Com Truise make music that sounds more like it belongs in a late 80s or early 90s film about computer hackers where no one really understood how computers worked (like the original Tron or Hackers if the latter didn’t have so much drum and’ bass). Then there’s bands like Kraftwerk, where you wonder if they count as retro-future since it wasn’t retro when they wrote their stuff but they sure sounded like the future. And of course there are composers for indie video game soundtracks, who more and more frequently will post the entire soundtrack on the internet for at home listening. These artists sometimes combine a multitude of genres, from downtempo, to synth, to chiptune to create tracks that in one way, each tell a small part of a larger story.

But now we’re splitting hairs, so who cares? The important thing is that even in this age of easy technology, where everyone who has an internet connection can become a musician, there is still really unique and intriguing stuff out there. Why not pursue sounds of the past to create the music of the future? Retro-futuristic music might inspire you to write the next great cyberpunk novel or just put on a pair of headphones and enjoy the ride. Either way, the sounds are out there, for you to do with them what you will.

Looking to start listening to this genre but are struggling for a good jumping off point? The soundtrack to Drive, though largely an original work composed by Cliff Martinez, has some wonderful tracks by Kavinsky, Chromatics, and more. The Hotline Miami soundtrack is over 90 minutes of pulsing songs by Sun Araw, Jasper Byrne, and many other equally talented artists. Additionally, be sure to tune into Midnight Drive, Tuesdays from midnight to 1 AM with Peter Liu on WKDU 91.7 FM for the best 80s inspired synths, the perfect way to enhance your late-night driving experience.

For a wider range of electronic music, check out Jonathan’s personal show, Dr. Plotkin’s Majikal Love X-Perience, Wednesday nights from 10 PM to midnight on WKDU and be sure to follow him on Twitter @doctorplotkin for more musings about music.