Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with Kimbra, Toots and the Maytals, Skream & Benga, and more
3:06 pm Mar. 26, 2012
For decades artists have been writing about the fears and apprehensions of adolescence, but few of them have managed to capture the nervous feeling of youth quite as well as Trevor Powers, the 22 year-old who records as Youth Lagoon (Mar. 27, Bowery Ballroom). "I used to be outspoken/ do anything for someone's attention," he croaks at the start of his latest album, Year of Hibernation, as a synth spins, mobile-like, behind him. “When that changed,” he goes on, “I guess you thought that I was no longer me." The transformation continues over the record's 8 songs, his primitive blinking Casio matching the boyish ache in his voice. It feels as private as a diary, a gently moving portrait of one boy's journey.
Skream & Benga (Mar. 28, Best Buy Theater) utilize electronics to decidedly different effect. The two U.K. producers are among the early creators of the style that came to be known as dubstep. Though it's been lately exaggerated and, to some extent, exploited, its booming bass drops and wild streaks of synths inflated to cartoonish proportions, the strain created by Skream & Benga, as well as producers like Burial, is still intoxicating. The instructions are simple: blink electronics on-and-off like light switches, drop in sliced-up vocal samples, power with stuttering drums. Repeat. Their live show is mercilessly physical, a big blast of color and sound that obliterates anything that dares compete.
There's a healthy fondness for obliteration in the music of Ducktails (Mar. 29, 285 Kent) and Silent Drape Runners (Mar. 30, Cuddle Cave), but in both cases it feels a bit wilier and more impishly destructive—teenage graffiti to Skream & Benga's grown-up hellraising. Ducktails scuff the surface of their songs with a sort of sonic sandpaper, making their electronic patterns feel blurry and only half there. Silent Drape Runners, as their name implies, began life creating music to score episodes of “Twin Peaks.” Their songs blend snatches of music from that show with bleary new instrumentation and soulful vocals for a final product that is appropriately Lynchian.
You could argue that, in doing this, they're nicking a few tricks from D.J. Shadow (Mar. 28, Irving Plaza). The California producer's first record, Endtroducing was a masterpiece of sample appropriation, dosing hip-hop rhythms with splashy electronics and eerie sci-fi vocal samples. He's moved on, to the consternation of some of his more vocal fans. Last year's The Less You Know The Better was a madman's mixtape, finding room for thrash-metal guitars, old-school boom-bap rhyming and oddball, angular electronics. It may not have been as viscerally satisfying, but it proves Shadow is a man listening to nothing outside his own muse.
As rewarding as that kind of stubborn eclecticism can be, there's something to be said for staying faithful to an ethos. First Aid Kit (Mar. 28, Webster Hall), comprised of the Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg, display a manic fealty to the American country music of the early '70s, gilding their ambling acoustic numbers with glistening lap steel and gently lowing organ. It's the kind of music that gets done to death in coffeehouses and music festivals across the country, and there's no good reason that it should feel interesting or exciting anymore—which makes it all the more surprising that, in the case of First Aid Kit, it does. They pepper their songs with both sweetness and shadow, each one as guileless as it is painfully sincere. The result is music that is thoroughly disarming, able to summarize thoughts and feelings you could never quite articulate on your own. Opening act Peggy Sue prefer to stick to the shadows. They may have begun as a quasi-country group, not too unlike First Aid Kit, but on last year's riveting Acrobats they shredded the blueprint, opting for the kind of skeletal, menacing indie rock P.J. Harvey was creating in the early '90s. "I cut my teeth upon his love," goes the first lyric on the record. The slow descent into exhilarating madness continues from there.
First Aid Kit would perhaps be better paired with Andrew Bird (Mar. 30, The Greene Space), whose own gentle take on Americana has gotten a bit looser with each record. On this year's Break It Yourself, he lets the songs amble along, leaving plenty of room to gently pluck a mandolin and to indulge his fondness for whistling. That the album was tracked in a barn on Bird's farm makes sense—it has the feel of a group of friends whiling away the afternoon under the country sun, no clock on the wall, no quitting time posted.
The New Zealand singer Kimbra (Mar. 26, Mercury Lounge) got a lot of mileage last year out of collaborating with a friend. She's the woman who gives Gotye what-for in his acrid "Somebody That I Used to Know," playing the furious woman scorned to his whining, narcissistic louse. Her own music doesn't bear much malice—it's dizzying, whirligig stuff, a kaleidoscope of sound comprised of handclaps and clipped guitar and Kimbra's looped and stretched vocals. It slyly charms while it envelops completely.
The French band Alcest (Mar. 31, Public Assembly) also write enveloping music. Though they've been nominally associated with heavy metal, there isn't much terribly metallic about them, save for their long hair and fondness for dark clothes. Frontman Niege uses guitars thick with distortion to create cascades of sound; the music on this year's Les Voyages L'Ame is dense and dreamlike, Niege's tender vocals finding their way through the towering guitars like a boy wandering through an enchanted forest.
In the end, it's less Slayer and more Swervedriver (Mar. 31, Bowery Ballroom), who themselves created woozy, guitar-stuffed songs in the early '90s before imploding at the end of that decade. Like so many bands from that era, they're back, but their music requires surprisingly little updating. Their 1993 album Mezcal Head remains a high point, whipping the thick sludge of shoegaze up to a steady froth, making for music that's as brisk as it is bracing.
At the other end of the spectrum are Crystal Stilts (Mar. 30, The Knitting Factory), who never wrote a song they didn't want to gut. Their songs are full of odd corridors and wide-open spaces, Brad Hargett's forlorn vocals so drenched in echo it sounds like he's singing from a prison cell in the basement of some enormous medieval castle. Add rickety guitars and the kind of organ lines that used to soundtrack silent horror films, and you've got music that is as bleak and foreboding as a book of spells.
The British band Zulu Winter (Mar. 29, Glasslands) are more visceral. They've got some of Swervedriver's Britpop affectation, but their songs are brighter and punchier, feeling at times like a smaller-scale Coldplay. They start small on "Let's Move Back to Front," vocalist Will Daunt's falsetto floating up in the stratosphere with tiny, angelic guitars. It gains volume as it goes on, though, and what starts as a nervous entreaty begins to feel like a panicked plea.
Speedwolf (Mar. 29, The Acheron) have no time for nuisances like pacing and nuance. Their songs are feral and snarling—first generation descendants of Motörhead with a resemblance that's impossible to deny. Singer Reed Bruemmer has Lemmy's caveman growl down pat, and their songs roar forward with bulging yellow eyes and greasy, sharpened claws.
Wild Flag (Apr. 1, Webster Hall) proceed with a roar, too, but their fury is based more in punk than metal. When their name first started appearing in print, it was usually preceded by the unfortunate phrase "indie rock supergroup" (its members are veterans of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and the Minders). Fortunately, their reputation as a fearsome live act has grown so much that their history has started to recede into the background. What's left is the present—a band that plays panicked punk rock with precision and passion.
Like Wild Flag, part of the thrill of hearing the Brooklyn group Flatbush Zombies (Mar. 29, S.O.B.'s) is getting to soak up the energy that comes from three friends playing together. Their most popular song to date is the bizarro "Thug Waffle," on which the trio string together a string of giddy non sequitirs—depressingly few of which have anything to do with waffles—over stark horrorcore synth stabs. Like Odd Future—and, a decade ago, Cannibal Ox—Flatbush Zombies set up camp in the darkest corners of hip-hop, a trio of hooligans ready to raise hell together.
Both of Montreal (Mar. 30, Webster Hall) and Toots & the Maytals (Mar. 27, Brooklyn Bowl) find a similar joy in playing together. Both groups depend on a single strong visionary but write songs that would be unimaginable without collaborators. Kevin Barnes may use of Montreal as the filter through which he explores his own deep psychological unrest, but his band surrounds his worries with such giddy, fluorescent arrangements you'd never be able to tell what they were masking unless you listened closely. Toots & the Maytals—whoever that group may be at any given time—are more ardently focused on celebration, but their big, buoyant sound could never be achieved without a small army onstage.
Both bands are, in that way, like Bernard "Pretty" Purdie (Mar. 30 & 31, The Iridium), the pioneering funk drummer who played on records by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, and B.B. King—to name just a few. His giddy, arrhythmic patterns powered some of R&B's most indelible moments, proving that, occasionally, a superstar is only as good as his or her friends.
More by this author:
- Streets of Your Town: This week's live shows in New York, featuring Kendrick Lamar, Thurston Moore, Ravi Coltrane and more
- Streets of Your Town: Live shows in New York, featuring TORRES, Kurt Vile, Patti Smith, Tune-Yards