19 March 2015

Preview Round-Up: January/February 2015

Natalie Prass
concert preview

On their own, this Nashvillean's songs are quiet, intimate, love-troubled things, and her impossibly sweet voice a vulnerable, elfin wisp.  But bolstered – as they are on her self-titled debut LP (Spacebomb), and as they will be on stage tonight – by the luxurious fantasy-throwback orchestrations of producer/collaborators Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard, they emerge as improbable beacons of modern-day countrypolitan R&B: calmly jubilant, buoyed by a graceful, grown-and-sexy elegance and steeped in deep Southern swamp-gospel soul.

Justin Townes Earle
concert preview

September's Single Mothers and its recently-released companion Absent Fathers (Vagrant) are, as their titles suggest, not exactly feel-good albums: each offers ten torn-and-tender, pedal-steel-draped tunes on all-too-autobiographical themes of abandonment, struggle and uncertain redemption.  There's solace to be had here too, but it's mostly in the sound – a little bit soul-searing country, a little rock'n'roll – of one of our most promising songwriters settling into a comfortable groove that at this rate (he's only 33) could sustain him for decades, though one hopes it doesn't have to.

Ariel Pink
concert preview

A decade after his Animal Collective-abetted emergence as home-taping neo-lo-fi hero (and improbable chillwave forerunner), Ariel Pink has somehow morphed into indiedom's reigning king of the freaks; a cartoonish mutant-pop ringmaster and a relentlessly trolling social media instigator.  Last year's powderpuff-pink pom pom (4AD) is his twisted, taste-defying magnum opus: an overstuffed seventeen-track schlocktacular that plays like Frank Zappa by way of John Waters – several of its campy/creepy hyper-retro goof-offs were co-written with ur-L.A.-misfit Kim Fowley (R.I.P.), whose spirit looms large here – but somehow manages space for some effortlessly pretty psych-pop ballads too.

Hundred Waters
concert preview

This Gainesville FL band take their name from Austrian architect (Friedensreich) Hundertwasser, whose whimsically fluid, boldly colorful and environmentally-minded buildings defy the stuffy grandiloquence of his native Vienna in much the same way their music sticks out from the context of circa 2015 "indie rock," and, certainly, from the typical purview of their label boss Skrillex.  Last year's sophomore set The Moon Rang Like A Bell (OWSLA) is all rounded edges and dreamy pastel textures; mystical post-classical pop forged at the intersection of polished instrumentalism and subdued but sprightly electronics.

Zola Jesus
concert preview

"I thought fear brought me closer to the truth," sings Nika Danilova midway through 2014's Taiga (Mute) – which may explain some things about the art-gothery and foreboding that so dominated her past oeuvre, and why this, her fifth album as Zola Jesus, pushes so emphatically past it.  There are breakbeats; there are brass chorales; there is some serious affirmation and emotional empowerment afoot.  Pop goes the ego.

Kishi Bashi String Quartet
[Pop/Chamber Music]
concert preview

Twee-prog whiz kid K. Ishibashi routinely loops and layers his ever-frolicsome fiddle-work into the equivalent of at least a quartet, so hearing him accompanied by four more string players at this "special seated show" should approach chamber orchestra territory.  It'll be interesting to hear how the giddy-goofy dance-pop of cuts like "The Ballad of Mr. Steak" (from last year's irrepressible Lighght (Joyful Noise)) translate – if they're doing it right, the show shouldn't remain seated for long.

Elisa Ambrogio
concert preview

Elisa Ambrogio's markedly song-oriented solo debut, The Immoralist (Drag City), feels like a distant cousin, at best, to both the noisenik skronk she spearheads in Magik Markers and the sleepy-sparse folk of 200 Years, her duo with Ben Chasny. These ten tunes have their share of clangor and drone, but also an understated sweetness (see, especially, the chiming "Superstitious"), and rough-edged naturalism recalling Waxahatchee and Torres in their commingling of grit and grace.

Damien Jurado
concert preview

Eleven albums into what was once a relatively demure indie-folk career, things are getting mighty interesting for this Seattle songsmith.  Last year's Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun (Secretly Canadian), Jurado's third straight collaboration with neo-psych production MVP Richard Swift, got about as far out as he could get without jettisoning the "singer-songwriter" umbrella entirely – a murky, mystical psycho-spiritual concept opus with bombastically plush, dub-touched sonic whizbangery to match.

Jeffrery Lewis/Diane Cluck
concert preview

West Philly house/gallery Eris Temple Arts is a suitably scruffy and intimate setting for these veterans of New York's loose "anti-folk" scene (basically, songwriters unaverse to personality, topicality and humor – kinda like what folk used to mean.)  Lewis is an endearingly muppetish, ever-personable performer and a top-notch cartoonist (fingers crossed he brings along some of his illustrated "low-budget music video" flip-books); the Lancaster-bred, self-described "intuitive" Cluck tends more to the poetic, even austere, as on last year's brief-but-affecting Boneset (Important),but she's got her quirks for sure, and a magnificent warble of a voice.

Until The Ribbon Breaks
concert preview

Not many acts would seem equally at home sharing stages with heavy-lidded lounge-poppers London Grammar – tomorrow night's headliners – and the flat-out heavy rap duo Run The Jewels (with whom they've traded album guest spots), but this Welsh trio fits the bill.  Their assured if rather forbiddingly sober debut, A Lesson Unlearnt (Cobalt) somehow synthesizes the past half-decade's trends in electro-pop, lushly moody avant-R&B, indie rock anthemism and egghead hip-hop, with precisely the kind of fluid fluency their cassette-tape-referencing moniker lacks.

concert preview

If Riff Raff didn't exist, Mad Decent, who signed the Houston rapper/freakazoid to an eight-album deal (two down, as of last summer's Neon Icon) may have had to invent him – he shares head homeboy Diplo's gonzo maximalism and tireless hustle, but with a gleeful, improbably ingenuous absurdism with which the globetrotting label boss could only dream of keeping pace.

concert preview

Rune Reilly Kölsch hails not from Köln – though his label, Kompakt, is there – but from Denmark's autonomous hippie "freetown" of Christiania, where he may have learned something about utopian visions.  2013's 1977 (titled, T-Swift/FlyLo-style, after his birth year) was a masterclass in warmly enveloping, straightforward-but-not-simplistic house, unafraid of sentimentality; last month's mix for the Balance series accomplished similar things in slightly whooshier fashion, imbued (via the likes of Radiohead, Caribou and Coldplay) with an almost hymn like serenity and a big-tent populism that transcends his counter-cultural roots.

originally published in Philadelphia City Paper

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