Tag Archives: indie

Introducing Mercies

Mercies is a DC-based power trio that benefits greatly from the work its members have done with other local bands. Guitarist-vocalist John Russell also plays in the jammier ThunderTyts (and was a member of Little Bigheart), bassist-vocalist Justin Scott writes electro-tinged indie pop as Stout Cortez, and drummer Ezra Finney also plays with City Folk. As Mercies, the band makes indie rock that is confrontational yet catchy, in the tradition of Wire and the Pixies.

The band’s self-titled EP gives a taste of what they’re about, pulling from a range of influences. The rollicking “Precipice” bounces along with the occasional shrieked lyric, while “This is Not About Control” is more brooding. The vocal interaction between Russell and Scott is interesting and always different: sometimes harmonizing, other times juxtaposing through counterpoint.

The EP piqued my interest, but their live show sealed the deal. Playing to a full backstage room at the Black Cat last Thursday, Mercies rocked on a visceral level only hinted at on their EP. The soundboard recordings do a good job of capturing that energy. “Decade” is the strongest of the bunch, with sharp guitar and bass riffs, Russell with his grungiest growl, Scott’s soaring “ohs” and “ahs” and rumbling beats from Finney.

Local music scenes often take on an incestuous quality, with musicians collaborating and growing together in various configurations. The fruits of that labor is evident with Mercies. Catch them at Sidebar Tavern in Baltimore on March 30 and Asylum in DC on April 7.

Album Review: Ra Ra Rasputin – Ra Ra Rasputin

Synth pop. New wave. Dance punk. Three related, overlapping genres that, among other things, share an emphasis on the melding of the natural and the artificial. A lot of bands dabble in this territory; successful bands find the right balance.

DC stalwarts Ra Ra Rasputin have perfected their formula on their long-awaited debut. After developing as a live entity over the last few years, the band recorded their self-titled record, leaning heavily on the “dance” portion of their “dance punk” formulation.

The albums opens with a razor-sharp synth line and some David Byrne-styled vocals on “Stereocutter.” Swirls and swells of synthesizer dominate “Neon Scthye,” a song propelled by full low-end bass. This one-two punch sets the album’s tone.

Densely layered, lush compositions balance the cold, monotonic vocals of Brock Boss throughout the album. Something that stands out and differentiates the album from the band’s live performances is the house vibe. The band is unafraid to jam over an extended loop for spacey dance breaks; “Fit Fixed” devolves into a seductive house jam that will be a lot of fun live.

Compared to the rest of the album, “The Day Of” is a bit more aggressive, with plenty of cow bell and more emphasis on Patrick Kigongo’s guitar. It also features a revealing chorus that says a lot about where the band is coming from, musically: “I’ve got love for you if you survived in the 80s.” (This performance doesn’t show the band’s trademark energy, but I suspect it’s because they’re playing to an empty newsroom and not a crowd.)

The standout track is “Electricity Through the Heart,” due in large part to the addition of vocals provided by Anna Rozzi. The song is reminiscent of art-punks Pretty Girls Make Graves; it’s available for free on the band’s website.

Comparisons to contemporaries Cut Copy, Hot Chip, and Delorean are apt, but the sonic godfather of Ra Ra Rasputin is Depeche Mode. The band has the neon glow of the 80s locked down, with enough modern touches to make a well-worn style sound fresh and vibrant. Unfortunately, the album is missing the hooks that put the “pop” in “synth pop.” Still, it’s an impressive, well-produced debut from a promising DC band.

Three out of five stars.

Catch Ra Ra Rasputin at the Black Cat on October 9th for their joint record release party with Casper Bangs.

The Verge: Zola Jesus

For the last year or so, there has been a renaissance in lo-fi music, across genre lines. Whether making surf pop (Best Coast, Dum Dum Girls), chillwave (Toro y Moi, Neon Indian) or witch house (Salem, Mater Suspiria Vision), there is a premium on the bedroom recorded, four-track tape sound.

Nika Roza Danilova is a Wisconsin-born singer-songwriter who performs as Zola Jesus. Last year, she released two such bedroom albums, New Amsterdam and The Spoils, and garnered acclaim from the usual suspects. And for good reason – buried beneath fuzz, static and gothic drone is a talented songwriter with some serious pipes. The music is dark and mournful with melodies that remind me of Bat for Lashes.

Danilova cites Throbbing Gristle among her influences, and on her first two albums, it shows. She’s not afraid to push things into industrial, dissonant territory. There is an ambient uneasiness throughout, and with her music’s goth feel, it works. And while key elements of this style continue on this year’s Stridulum, she’s taken major creative steps forward, breaking out of the lo-fi box with style.

Throughout Stridulum (and the double EP of the same name), the focus is on Daniloa’s operatic vocals. Minor-key synthesizers waft over strings and piano melodies, stark and simple drums drone in the background, but everything operates in service of song. The album opens, appropriately, with “Night,” a mournful love song that is tinged with loss.

“Trust Me” and “I Can’t Stand” tread on similar sonic and lyrical ground, with strong results. The 808-like rhythm on “Sea Talk” harks back to earlier material, while the emphasis on vocal melody is definitely in line with the rest of the album; the “Poltergeist”-themed clip is yet another fantastic piece of video art.

With Stridulum, Zola Jesus is ready to burst from the bedroom to the big time. The prolific songwriter is back with yet another EP next month (Valusia). She opens for The XX and Warpaint at a sold-out 9:30 Club show on Tuesday, and then she’ll be touring Europe through November. And next time she rolls through town, she’ll be headlining.

The Verge: Big Troubles

As the saying goes, “everything old is new again.” This partially explains the glut of indie bands whose sounds are indebted to both the the fuzzy post-punk of the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine and the alternative sensibilities of the Pixies and Nirvana. For some reason, the Jersey suburbs of Bergen County have proven to be a particularly fertile ground for this type of music, giving us Vivian Girls, Real Estate and Ducktails. The most exciting new band to emerge out of this scene is Big Troubles.

Big Troubles make catchy noise pop that is not as dreary as their foreboding name and album title would suggest. Worry, released yesterday on Olde English Spelling Bee Records, is a hook-infested, fuzzed out collection of 14 songs that are heavy on nostalgia for 80s and 90s indie rock.

Throughout Worry, Ian Drennan and Alex Craig present songs that play bigger than the duo’s bedroom recordings should allow (the membership of the band doubles live). Waves of feedback and fuzz, artful guitar arpeggios, and basic surf rock rhythm tracks go hand-in-hand with reverbed vocal lines. “Freudian Slip” sounds like a Smashing Pumpkins B-side melted onto a JAMC tape, while “Drastic and Difficult” is just that: eardrum piercing squeals that barely give way to verse and chorus. The opening crunch of “Modern Intimacy” opens up into a wavy Beach Boys guitar line.

Both the song and video for “Bite Yr Tongue” find the band in their comfort zone. A soaring guitar riff repeats throughout a verse-chorus-verse composition, before turning into sonic chaos that is somehow still pleasant. For the synesthesic among us, the video looks how the song sounds: dissonant but playful.

Whatever the state of irony in 2010 underground culture, the band’s decision to start an Angelfire webpage (“The #1 site for teens… Best viewed in Netscape 2.0,” the scrolling text reads) is hilarious and telling. Underneath music that is superficially harsh and unforgiving, there is a flippant, youthful attitude. It’ll serve Big Troubles well as they try to give some shine to a well-worn stone.

The Verge: Givers

Givers is an impossibly upbeat five-piece from Lafeyette, Louisiana, the Cajun capital of the world. One thing they’ve absorbed from their home base is the value of a melting pot. On their impressive self-titled EP, the band blends Afro-beat, psychedelic folk, and indie rock sensibilities into an adventurous, contagious sound.

From the first swells of “Up Up Up,” Givers oozes fun. Percussionist Tif Lamson exchanges scratchy Ida Maria-like vocals with guitarist Taylor Guarisco over the bouncy drums of Kirby Campbell. Bassist Josh Leblanc, keyboardist William Henderson and Guarisco have a developed give-and-take, alternating between straight-forward rock outs and multi-rhythmic jams. “Up Up Up” has the feel of a Vampire Weekend song – but these kids seem to be having a lot more fun.

“Ceiling of Plankton” starts with a smirking riff but is deceptively mournful. “When you notice all your stars are in line to find me / I’ll be there waiting right behind / and when you notice that your heart is bleeding / mine is bleeding, too,” croons Guarisco, over Lamson’s glockenspiel. The chorus doubles back with a synth-pop feel that is sweeter than frosting from the can. Owing a little more to their Deep South roots, “Saw You First” is more twang than upstroke. This would be hoedown material if it weren’t for the bubbling synths and shout-out-loud chorus.

If these live videos and their SXSW hype proves anything, it’s that this is a band you need to see live. The energy of these songs cannot be contained on disc or MP3; it’s just begging for a sweaty and smiling crowd. They are slated to join Ra Ra Riot on tour, dancing through DC in November at the 9:30 Club. In the meantime, enjoy Givers as the band prepares a debut album, due out this fall.

The Verge: Wavves

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. If I’m weary of ripping off the BBC, I absolutely loathe doing the same to Pitchfork. Anyway, here’s a band who has had some blog love for quite a while, but now is actually worth all the hype.

For the last couple of years, Wavves has been a bit of an underground shitshow. Bandleader Nathan Williams rode the Pitchfork hype (no pun intended) from his bedroom to the mainstage. And predictably, everything came crashing down – Behind the Music style – including a drug-addled performance at the 2009 Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival and a drunken brawl with the Black Lips. After some cancelled tour dates, Williams emerged from 2009 with a new backing band: the rhythm section of the late Jay Reatard, another noisy rock sensation with similarly outsized drama.

With that said, Wavves is polarizing. Some find the blog love unwarranted; others are equally turned-off by the dramatics. But with the recent release of King of the Beach, Wavves might turn haters into believers.

The band’s last record, Wavvves, was pure noise-pop and not entirely serious; Williams crammed “Goth” into five titles, with gratuitous mentions of California’s sun, beach and weed throughout. King of the Beach continues to mine the oh-so-popular surf rock milieu, but with much more focus. If this is to be Williams’ Nevermind, Wavvves was his Bleach (a comparison also made elsewhere). And just how moving from a $600 studio session to recording with Butch Vig allowed Nirvana to tighten their compositions and let Kurt’s writing shine, the introduction of professional recording into the Wavves sound is what will take them to the next level.

Right off the bat, King of the Beach presents Wavves in a new light: intelligible! The title track finds Williams defiant and cocky, as expected: “You’re never gonna stop me (x4) / the king of the beach.” Next, “Super Soaker” jumps between the combo of a terrific start-stop rhythm and Williams’ falsetto, and a wall-of-noise that sounds like early Jimmy Eat World.

The self-loathing over power chords of “Idiot” (“I’m not supposed to be a kid / but I’m an idiot / I’d say I’m sorry / but it wouldn’t mean shit”) and the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics of “Green Eyes” are not going to stop the Nirvana comparisons any time soon. Similarly, the rollicking “Post Acid” leads with a blue-era Weezer melody, even if it packs in considerably more feedback and reverb.

For fans of earlier Wavves, the jangly melodies “Baseball Cards” and “Mickey Mouse” should be buried behind sufficient fuzz and effects. “When Will You Come” cops the “Be My Baby” drum line, and its dream pop owes heavily to Phil Spector.

These days, blogs like Pitchfork will make or break your band. For Wavves, the underground community has already done both. Here’s hoping everyone can shake hands and move on, because King of the Beach certainly does.

The Verge: Bosco Delrey

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. Last week, this space featured a French band that has mastered 70s yacht rock. Now it’s time for an artist whose influences go even farther back.

The most significant aspect of last weekend’s Mad Decent Block Party is the continued dominance of the zeitgeist by Diplo. The entire line-up was a tribute to Wes Gully’s commitment to popularizing regional sounds from around the country and the world. Club music (DJ Sega and the Brick Bandits), moombahton (Nadastrom), electro-mambo (Maluca), and dubstep (Flufftronix) were just a few of the genres on display, the type of eclectic exuberance that makes Mad Decent an underground phenomenon.

Also performing in Philly was one of the most recent signees to Mad Decent, Bosco Delrey, who, like his Mad Decent family, promises to break new ground. Bosco Delrey is a Memphis by way of Jersey singer-songwriter. His music is best described as rockabilly with a dancehall flair (hallbilly?). Like Jack White before him, Delrey looks and sounds like a relic of a place and time that never truly existed.

Delrey croons like Elvis while strumming wavy riffs over programmed beats and chirps of electronic noise. As a genre, rockabilly refuses to ever die, as there are always musicians and audiences that crave the sound and fury of proto rock and roll, that truly American relic. “Space Junky” is typical of his output (of which there are only five songs), with a throwback melody and modern dance elements.

The sinister sounding “Evil Lives” is fueled by chilling organ chords and a trap music beat. The refrain of “Devil’s gonna cut you up” is a flip on Johnny Cash’s “God’s gonna cut you down.” The song – and Delrey’s sound – owe much to the man in black. Plus, “Evil Lives” is an anagram for “Elvis Live.” Spooky.

Like all Mad Decent artists, Bosco Delrey has free reign to develop organically. Even if that means lo-fi reworking of Gucci Mane songs. Trust in Diplo, and trust in Bosco Delrey.

The Verge: Jamaica

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. While this column frequently focuses on musicians from England, how about a band from the other side of the Chunnel?

Here’s a little SAT analogy for you: Daft Punk is to Justice as Phoenix is to… who? Judging by their impressive pedigree and upcoming debut, the answer appears to be Paris duo Jamaica.

Jamaica is Antoine Hilaire and Flo Lyonnet, and was formerly known as Poney Poney. No Problem, out in August, is produced by Xavier de Rosnay of Justice and Peter Franco, an engineer who has worked with Daft Punk. In the same way that Justice built on the French house of Daft Punk, Jamaica takes Phoenix’s electro-tinged indie rock to the next logical step.

From their locale-based name to their bouncy melodies and shrieking guitar solos, Jamaica is 2010’s answer to yacht rock, that ubiquitous brand of 70s and 80s soft rock parodied to great effect in the web series of the same name. Their presentation might be tongue-in-cheek, but the hooks are real. Case in point: the hilarious video for lead single “I Think I U 2,” which presents a fictional rise and fall of the band, complete with stock footage and neon guitars.

No Problem is eleven tracks packed full of jagged guitar riffs and four-on-the-floor beats that all but guarantee an energetic live performance. Even metalheads like it – at least according to the performance video for “Short and Entertaining.”

The album starts with a squeal on “Cross the Fader” and doesn’t stop until the jaunty “smooth music” of “When Do You Wanna Stop Working.” Let’s hope Jamaica doesn’t stop working anytime soon.

The Verge: Noon:30

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. The DC scene isn’t just about electronic dance music and hip-hop – it’s also increasingly about rock music. Here’s one band leading the way on that front.

Whatever you expect of Noon:30, you’re probably wrong. The DC power trio of bassist/vocalist Blue S. Moon, drummer Vivianne A. Njoku and guitarist Aissa Arroyo-Hill confounds expectations based on their age, sex, race, and place. Their music combines elements of punk, shoegaze, noise and art rock into a powerful concoction. On their EP and so it is, the band shifts between the melancholy, swirling “Stop-loss” to the garage-punk of “French Song” and to points in-between.

But no matter what I say here, Noon:30’s music needs to be experienced live. The band plays the U Street Music Hall tonight as part of “Get Your Pants On” collaborative arts project / dance party. I had the chance to speak with the band in advance of the show.

What are your main influences, musical or otherwise?
Life, each other, musicians who infuse their music with consciousness.

What’s your songwriting process like?
It varies, depending on nothing other than the mood in the air. At times we jam out, other times someone has an emotion they need to express musically and we come together to flush out what’s missing, still other times we’re collectively inspired to put something out there that represents our life at that moment (i.e ‘Who Let The World Go’).

A recent show included a projected art piece. How did that come about? Anyone in the band have that type of multimedia art background?
From the get-go we’ve known that we want our shows to be as much of an experience as possible. We’re still expanding on that concept, but a good starting point for us has definitely been video projections. Vivianne is a filmmaker hobbyist and so she does some editing magic with video she finds from different sources. She’s really anal about making the images match our songs emotionally and logistically. Aissa also has mad skills as a multimedia designer, so she’s done some of our more badass fliers as well.

Best and worst show memories?
Best show – in Detroit on tour last year: The audience was 100 percent into our music. They came mostly to see their hometown hero, Blue, but regardless we could feel that they were glad that she was a part of something so phenomenal.

Worst show – a venue that will remain nameless. . . the house kit was missing just about EVERYTHING, the sound system was on perma-fritz, the audience was only interested in the bar, things kept breaking (Aissa’s strings, the drum kit even more, someone’s belt . . .) UGH!!!

You’ve said a lot about combating stereotyping and pigeonholing in the scene. What do you think needs to happen to make in-roads against that?
Folks need to branch out and discover the awesomeness already existing in DC – not in some other town, but really right up the street from you, most likely. Hyping the same handful of bands/artists continuously does nothing to foster the kind of thriving cultural mecca that DC has the potential to be – imagine if DC became the kind of city everyone CLAIMS they want it to be.

Venues need to do away with the genre/racial lines they’re creating with their booking practices, as do promoters and organizers, and people in general need to acknowledge that there is a place FOR EVERYONE IN MUSIC.

What’s next for the band? Any tour/record/etc plans?
World Domination.

(I can’t agree more. Don’t miss Noon:30 tonight at U Hall!)

The Verge: Body Language

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. Last week, I profiled an up-and-comer in the DMV hip hop scene. Now it’s time for a Brooklyn buzz band.

Brooklyn is and will continue to be the center of the universe for indie culture. There are probably more musicians, artists and writers in the area between Park Slope and Williamsburg than any where in the United States. So while the Internet has democratized culture to a degree, you can be sure that any band that makes its bones in Brooklyn will soon be on global radars.

Meet Body Language, an electronic pop outfit from the Zoo that specializes in soulful, chill-out jams. The band’s debut EP, Speaks, was released last year on Moodgadget Records. Over just 5 tracks, Body Language finds its own way forward, crafting pop songs that aren’t as precious as Passion Pit’s and aren’t as atmospheric as chill wave.

Speaks kicks off with a stuttering, frenetic sample on “New Day” and doesn’t look back. Male and female vocals duel over an increasingly complex tableau. On tracks like “Work This City,” the band gets a little funky, with syncopated rhythms and soft-serve keys. (Sammy Bananas, the DJ-half of Telephoned, gave the track a disco feel on his remix.)

“At a Glance” starts with a grinding squeal of bass, and it’s the EP’s only minor-key ballad. The EP closes with “Sandwiches,” with it’s once-in-a-career hook: “We’ll make it hot like butter / easy to spread / and we can sandwiches.” I don’t think they’re talking about deli meats on this seductive joint.

Like any electronic band worth it’s weight in PBR, Body Language have contributed their remix skills to similarly-minded acts like Toro y Moi. Their finest effort, however, is the 80s new wave/R&B twist they gave to “Obsessions” by Marina and the Diamonds. These Casio synths and Linn drum samples haven’t sounded as good since the Reagan administration.

Download Marina and the Diamonds – Obessions (Body Language Remix)
Courtesy Neon Gold Records

Love it or hate it, but bands from Brooklyn will always get more attention. Thankfully, Body Lanaguage aren’t content to ride on the coattails of their neighborhood. Body Language speaks: listen up.