This Saturday, The Altar Bar hosts two very good, very talented, very similar bands. They’re both from Brooklyn (a borough of New York City), both have a knack for haunting ambients, sleek guitars and falsetto vocals and both create beautiful, arching narrative gems (staples of my Crying Mix on Spotify, find it). They are The Antlers and Port St. Willow.
Port St. Willow is Nick Principe, a plural instrumentalist and talented singer with an EP (Even//Wasteland) and a full-length called Holiday to his name so far. The latter is a particularly gorgeous record, bleak and substantive and weirdly uplifting in all the right places. Check out “Hollow” from his full length; it’s a fitting introduction to the sound and a good example of how depressed music isn’t necessarily always depressing. Much like those Antlers.
The similarities between the two are not coincidental, Principe and Antlers’ mainman Peter Silberman go way back (like spinal chords and car seats?) and have been collaborating/supporting each other musically since childhood in upstate NY (north of Brooklyn). You can find one such collab here and though there are no guarantees in live music, we can hope they join each other on stage Saturday.
On to The Antlers. Where Principe has remained PSW’s principal player (sorry), The Antlers have since filled out to full-band status without losing the bedroom edge. Breakthrough came in the form of 2009’s near praised-to-death Hospice, a ten-track concept-ish album about a hospice worker falling in love with a dying patient. Despite the heavy subject (and it is that), the strengths of the compositions are too good to ignore and somehow, end up way more memorable than the dreary hospitalness in the lyrics.
Since then, The Antlers have released an EP (Undersea, July) and a pretty excellent full length called Burst Apart. While maybe a little less original than Hospice, it’s much more gratifying and much less taxing on your mood. Check out the Hail To The Theif/Sigur Rosie “Parentheses” below.
This Saturday, find The Antlers and Port St. Willow at The Altar Bar. The show is all ages, tickets $15. Doors 7pm, show at 8pm.
Happy Monday! This week's mp3 comes from Pittsburgh native Judith Avers. The folk singer/songwriter just released her eighth album, God Bless the Brooders, last week, and we're giving you a first look at the song "Doves."
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Attention indie rockers: Dr. Dog is coming to Pittsburgh this weekend. The Philadelphia-based band has been touring in support of their latest album, Enter The Void, since early this year and even played a sold-out show at Mr. Smalls last March. With seven albums under their belts, Dr. Dog has found a way to blend psychedelic, southern rock sounds with a little bit of soul and retro-pop. If you’re into dudes with beards and cool hats and listen to bands like The Shins, My Morning Jacket or even The Rolling Stones (seriously), definitely check these guys out.
Catch Dr. Dog this Saturday (9/22) at Mr. Small’s. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25; click here to get them. (Word is they're going fast.)
Just a quick morning heads-up: a couple days ago, Human Hustle and North Coast Beats released its first mixtape on DatPiff. It's got a load of Pittsburgh rappers, including Beedie. Worth a look-see for those interested in getting a taste of Pittsburgh hip hop beyond the household names. Read more and download it here.
1. A band called Bear Hands (Brooklyn indie, a solid showing) thanks the audience for supporting what they called an “admittedly strange bill” then engages in some totally genuine Wu-hyping with “Who’s ready for some Real hip hop?”
2. Real hip-hop emerges as the event’s premiere talking point. “Ain’t no skinny jeans or auto-tune up in here,” from the very large, very imposing, Grammy Award Winning and totally charming Killer Mike. “This is Real hip hop,” he says.
3. Said Grammy-winner performs his Grammy-winning verses from Outkast’s “The Whole World,” which brings a noted upswing in energy to the crowd of late 20-somethings including myself. “Catch the beat running like Randy Moss,” I chime.
4. The under-21 crowd, though quite literally marginalized at side-stage, is incredibly energetic and replete in Wu-merch. Killer Mike seems to like this quite a bit, continuously offering thanks, appreciation and advice (“Don’t smoke weed, you can smoke all the weed you want in college”).
5. Killer Mike performs “Never Scared” and you can sense a weird uncertainty in the crowd, wondering “Wait, does he sing that?” (He does not. “Never Scared” features Killer Mike, but Bone Crusher is the credited author.)
6. Wu Lords, a trio of very young rappers, take the stage. It’s unclear how old they are or what affiliation, if any, they have with Wu Tang Clan aside from their shared presence on the admittedly strange bill. The first, or possibly last, moment of their short performance features the youngest Lord storming through the early verses of Wu’s “Killer Beez” anthem (which is actually called “Triumph”). This wins the crowd over. Video:
7. GZA enters to the terribly creepy dialogue that opens “Duel Of The Iron Mic,” originally sampled from the film ‘Shogun Assassin’ and sprinkled throughout the tracks on Liquid Swords. (Side note: earlier this week Westbound Records announced a lawsuit filed against Raekwon, Ghostface Killa, Method Man and RZA for illegally sampling “I’ve Changed” by The Magictones. Had I more time to write this, I’d write a good “Suing Wu-Tang for sample infringement is like ...” line but I’ll just leave it to the linked article).
8. There’s a cloudiness to Liquid Swords that makes it tough to keep track as the show goes on. It’s unclear if GZA performs all the tracks, or if they’re performed in order, but once he takes to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” it’s clear we’ve moved on.
9. GZA brings back Wu Lords and Killer Mike (no sign of Bear Hands) for a grand finale rendition of “Killer Beez” that reminds us all how long that song truly is. I find it virtually impossible to not think of the “Killer Beez” music video, which is really one of the better concept-videos out there. Link!
10. Closing arguments for Real hip hop are made and we all agree that it's good.
Yo! It's Monday, and last week there was no MP3 Monday because I'm lazy, so I'm hooking you up this week.
This week's MP3 comes from the band Cold Weather, which recently released its debut EP, Functional. We're offering the title track from the album.
[Download link expired, sorry!]
Local hip-hop head, Jenesis Magazine senior staff writer, student and general good citizen Jamar Thrasher sent along this open letter to rapper Kendrick Lamar:
Dear Mr. Kendrick Lamar,
I want to address your recent comments regarding why you do not exercise your right to vote. You cite contradictions and lack of control of world events and affairs as reasons not to vote. You have a right to your opinions, but your statements were foolish and dangerous.
Now that you have been pushed into the public spotlight, you are burdened with being a role model; whether you are tactful and responsible in your new role is up to you. You have an influence and reach that is phenomenal: Your music is on the top music blogs, you have fans all over the world, and most importantly, you deliver meaningful messages. When you are a rapper, it's almost certain that you are a trendsetter. People, the youth especially, will follow and listen to your every word and some might emulate your behavior.
In 2012, voting and politics are "cool." Elections, especially presidential elections, have become mainstream events; they have even become more closely associated with hip-hop culture. Jay-Z, Diddy, and Young Jeezy have all asserted messages in their music urging their fans to vote. In 2008, hip-hop was instrumental in improving voter participation in election campaigns, motivating young people to get out and vote.
According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau tracking voting trends in presidential elections, voters ages 18-24 were the "only age group to show a statistically significant increase in turnout in the most recent election, reaching 49 percent in 2008, compared with 47 percent in 2004."
If timing is everything, then your words do a disservice to the disenfranchised communities of America, especially now, during an election year. This seems odd, especially since your music paints vivid pictures of the issues plaguing the world, specifically poverty issues.
In your seminal work, "Section .80," you rap, "Everybody can't drive Benzes so I make it my business to give them my full attention."
When people aren't getting the attention they deserve from politicians, they have to demand it.
Politicians have a job, and at the end of every term, they are faced with reelection. The two main resources politicians need to create a successful campaign and win an election are money and votes. In disenfranchised communities, there might not be money, but there are votes. Voting demands attention from the top.
For years, community organizers have developed strategic ways to get people to vote. One way is by having community leaders (like you) get the message out about the benefits of voting.
Many times, people stop believing in the American Dream when it seems like it is unattainable, but by voting, they have a say. People in low-income communities can vote for candidates who have an interest in raising the minimum wage, for example.
Even if you do not vote, please encourage your listeners to do so. Voting is a right community members must exercise to have a say in how their communities operate. If communities do not make decisions about their communities, someone else will make these decisions for them.
Vote for the black citizens who were, at various points in history, threatened, intimidated, maimed, raped, and killed for wanting to vote. Vote for the women who fought tooth and nail during the suffrage movement to cast a vote. Vote even for people in other countries across the world who are still revolting and rising up against tyrant political systems to get a chance to get their voices heard.Vote for the people who cannot vote: the mentally ill, the incarcerated, and the youth who are not old enough to vote.
Music educates people, and as a teacher, you must be cognizant of the lessons you are teaching.
By not voting, you further exacerbate and make definite your claim that you have no say in how the world is run.
Jamar Thrasher received his undergraduate degree in political science and communications from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College for Public Policy and Management. Thrasher is also a partner at Kennedy Blue Communications, a communications firm based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Contact: email@example.com or @jdthrasher on Twitter.
Just wanted to point out quickly that Pittsburgh Track Authority, the project of some of the folks from Machine Age Studios, are featured on MTV Hive in an article about small-city dance scenes. Good on 'em!
I talked last week with Frank Turner about his forthcoming record and the tour that brings him to Mr. Small's next week. Here's a less-abridged version of the interview, for those of you who just can't get enough.
You're ramping up to work on a new record there in Burbank?
We're doing a week of pre-production here right now, then we head off for a week to do the tour, and come back after the tour to make the album.
And what's pre-production like for you — is it an exciting time, a painful time?
Well, I haven't actually worked with Rich Costey before, so to some degree, I'm not entirely sure! Though I'm a huge fan of his work. He's a person I've been wanting to work with for a long time. But essentially it's just the moment to tune my self-criticism to yet more intense levels. I try my best to be hypercritical of what I do anyway, but this is when all the new songs, which I'm terribly excited about, will be subjected to laser-like, microscopic nit-picking, and torn apart and turned upside-down. And hopefully made better.
Will you do entire rewrites of songs or just little tweaks?
Again, hard to say — I'd like to say that I think I'm beyond the entire-rewrite section, but there is one song where I think the verse and the chorus are possibly the wrong way around. But we'll find out ... like, today. But yeah, it's very toothcomb kind of stuff, with arrangements and that sort of thing.
And is there a title for the record yet?
I've got a few hanging around, but I don't want to jinx it — plus, historically, I have a habit of changing my mind up to the finish line. So, we shall see. I've got some ideas.
Where and when did you do the writing for this album — is there a thematic string to the material you're putting together?
To me, writing is an ongoing process. I know that there are bands out there that set aside writing time, that kind of thing, which strikes me as a slightly weird idea. Because to me, songwriting is more like trying to hail a cab: I feel like there are ideas going past, and you stick your arm out and every now and again you get one. As with everything I've done in my solo career, these songs have been written at various points in hotel rooms and on tour buses and that kind of thing, since I put a cap on writing for the previous record.
I try not to get too analytical about the process or what I do, songwriting. In terms of sort of themes for records, I think the last record that I did England Keep My Bones, it ended up being a record about England, and about mortality and this kind of thing. But I didn't sit down and go, "I am now going to write an album about the following things!" It was more a question of, once the body of work had sort of congealed around a central point. Once the recording process is done, I can sit back like anybody else and start to go through it and analyze what it is that's been bothering me lately. So, what this new record will be about still remains to be seen.
So listening back to a record is sort of like looking in a mirror.
Yeah, basically. I'm almost like — you and I both will be on the analysis side of it starting at the same time.
That must be exciting and slightly terrifying at the same time.
Very much so. To repeat a well-worn platitude, I'm very excited about the new material, and about the songs and about recording. Obviously, I would say that — if I wasn't saying that, we wouldn't be about to go into the studio. But my aim is always to try and better myself, and I think I can make a record that's better than the ones before.
You blogged that you were feeling a little tentative about doing your recording in L.A. Have you always recorded in England in the past?
It's always been in England — but I haven't repeated myself in a studio to date, it's always been different places. I think the wariness thing is just, it's such a kind of tired cliche — English band achieves a small degree of success, goes to L.A., blows a ton of money on a record, or, you know, adopts American accents and starts driving Cadiillacs. It's just sort of — I don't think of myself as a nationalist, but I think that kind of, my cultural Englishness is a big part of my identity, and of the music that I make — hopefully in the way that Springsteen is always from New Jersey, no matter which part of the world he's in. I don't want to start making records that sound American, at least not self-consciously so.
You don't want to make a sunny, California record just because you're in California.
Right. But what I'm hoping is, these songs, like the others, have been written in different parts of the world, and quite a lot of England, Keep My Bones was written on tour in the States, and it came out as quite an English-sounding record.
You keep a blog fairly regularly — most bands or artists keep some manner of social media profile, but it seems like communicating with the written word is important to you, maybe more so than it is to other bands.
Yeah, I think that may well be true. On a certain level, it's important; a better way of putting it for me is maybe that I find it interesting. The Internet — well, first of all, I'm very bored with people trying to say the Internet is a good thing or a bad thing. That's like trying to say the Industrial Revolution was a good thing or a bad thing; it's kind of irrelevant. Regardless of the moral value you ascribe to it, it just is. It's had a lot of interesting effects on the process of being a musician, and one of the positive effects it's had in my view is that it sort of helps break down the barrier between performer and audience. I've never really been a fan of that kind of slightly Wizard of Oz-esque curtain between the world of being a musician, and the people who listen. That kind of Marie Antoinette-esque attempt — I hate it when you see a band talking about, like "the fans," we're doing it for "the fans," and it's this sort of faceless morass. There's a haughtiness in there that I don't like. And living in a world where the economics of the music industry is in such flux, I think it's good to inform everyone of the economic realities and the practical realities behind it. I think this is less the case now than it was a few years ago, but I still have kids come up to me in the bar and think since they've heard my song on the radio, I'm a millionaire. And it'd kind of like, 'Wow," where to even start with that? It's interesting. It's fun.
So, to clarify, you're saying you're not a millionaire?
I am not a millionaire. This is a total aside, but I was at a festival in Germany the other day, and there was a German, like, hair-metal band playing, and they had a song talking about how they were in a band because they wanted money, sex and power. And I thought to myself, "Maybe the middle one, but options one and three — I think you're in the wrong job!"
You recently played the opening ceremonies of the Olympics — what was it like getting that call?
That was a very weird experience all around. And not in a bad way! Just, it was all very surreal. The opening ceremony was directed by Danny Boyle, the film director, of whom I am a big fan anyway. And my manager got a call from Danny Boyle, saying, "Can we have a meeting?" And obviously we said, "About what?" And they said "We can't discuss it over the phone." We had to sign non-disclosure agreements and all this business. But yeah, it's that simple: Danny's a fan of my music — which was news to me, and kind of disarming. And he said "Would you be up for playing some songs?" and I said ... "Yes." It was quite funny, actually, he said "Don't answer me straight away; you can go away and have a think about it," and it was like, "I don't need to go away and think about it! I'll tell you right now what the answer is!"
Like I said, I don't really consider myself to be a nationalist, really, or a patriot or whatever you want to use, but having said that, it is the only Olympics in my country in my lifetime. And it was kind of cool to be part of history.
Did you at any point feel any ambivalence about being involved, or feel like there was a certain viewpoint that you had a responsibility to bring to the table?
Not particularly. Mainly because of Danny — the opening ceremony was very much his vision, his baby. Of course I'm aware there are corporate sponsors, but you know what? Every time I play a venue they're selling beers in the venue. I'm not sure I feel compromised by that. And so, why — yes, there were large amounts of corporate sponsorship around the Olympics, but it wasn't directly impacting me, I wasn't getting paid by anyone, it was sort of a moot point to me.
One of the terms we throw around here to describe the music that you make it "folk punk" — what's your relationship to that genre term?
You know, yeah, I've got better things to do in my life than get worked up about genre terms. I've always felt the genre terms serve a certain purpose up until the point when all the people in the current conversation have heard the music you're talking about, after which point, who gives a fuck? There's a large folk influence in what I do, there's a large punk influence in what I do, and if you put a gun to my head and asked me to describe what I do, I would probably tell you I was a country singer. But, like I say, I don't really care that much. If people want to call me folk punk, that's fine.
You used to be in louder bands — what made you feel that you wanted to change directions and pursue the music you play now?
The very beginning of it was just, when I was touring with hardcore punk bands — I was in a noisy, shouty band, playing with other noisy, shouty bands, people were always putting noisy, shouty music on in the van. And as sort of a refuge from that, I started listening to records like Springsteen's Nebraska, the Johnny Cash American Recordings series, stuff like that, just as a kind of counterpoint. Then the last hardcore group I was in, Million Dead, broke up rather messily, and I suppose in a way, I needed something of a different direction. I knew I wanted to keep playing music, but the idea of forming another hardcore band at that point filled me with kind of tired disgust. And so, I think after that, I wasn't really sure if it was going to work, or going to last, but I started doing these shows and instantly felt like I was in the right place in life.
Is there something else that you want to do in life besides music?
This is definitely my number-one passion and I would absolutely love to be Neil Young when I'm older: To be old and still making records that have something to say, and all the rest of it. Whether or not that's going to happen, who knows? I think anyone with any degree of intelligence who's a musician has a plan B. The statistics are against us, is a nice way of putting it. I've always said I want to be a history teacher — but I may now have too many tattoos to be a history teacher.
Just a quick heads-up: The local band Gypsy and His Band of Ghosts, headed up by former Once Nothing/Haste the Day drummer Giuseppe Capolupo, released its debut EP today. It's available for streaming via Spinner, and can be purchased on iTunes. Look for more on the band in next week's CP.