Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with All Tomorrow's Parties, Stanley Clarke, Metric, and more
12:35 pm Sep. 17, 2012
When it first began in the U.K. 12 years ago, what set All Tomorrow's Parties (Sept. 21-23, Pier 36) apart from the other myriad music festivals competing for consumer attention wasn't so much its lineup as who was responsible for assembling it. Unlike other weekend affairs where the roster seems almost scientifically engineered to generate the maximum amount of revenue, ATP put its stake in curation, selecting a well-respected artist and turning the band-selection duties over to them. There's something willfully defiant about this approach. The bands doing the selecting are hardly marquee names—they've included the post-rock band Tortoise and the glitch electronic duo Autechre—and the acts they choose can be often willfully difficult. That this year's lineup, selected by Greg Dulli of the recently-reunited Afghan Whigs, feels like the festival's most mainstream is only a reflection of how impishly obstinate it's been in years past. There are bigger names, to be sure—emotive R&B breakout Frank Ocean is appearing, as are the Roots—but so are minimalist composer Philip Glass and woozy Australian instrumentalists Dirty Three. In years past, the festival was held at Kutscher's Country Club in upstate New York; in some ways, its relocation to Lower Manhattan is perhaps another small attempt to widen some of its previously-rarefied appeal and bring a few more bodies through the gates. That even these tiny concessions feel like they rob some miniscule portion of the festival's character are a testament to how ruthlessly focused past years have felt. Laurel Halo (Sept. 21, 285 Kent) is, in her own way, ruthlessly focused. Her delightfully queasy brand of electronic pop has more in common with neo-classical music than any au courant strain of the genre. Purity Ring (Sept. 21, Bowery Ballroom) are more percussive but just as strange. Their stage presentation, with wreaths of multicolored lights that change color when struck, is more art installation than clever prop. Purity Ring's songs smuggle darkness, but Gang Gang Dance's (Sept. 21, Public Assembly) embrace it full-on. Their last album, Eye Contact, was full of turbulent songs that laid churning tribal rhythms under ice-cold slashes of synth. Austra (Sept. 19, Music Hall of Williamsburg) exists at some locus point between all of them: Katie Stelmanis's voice is as weird and witchy as Halo's, but her music hints at Purity Ring's electropop propulsion.
Bassist Stanley Clarke (Sept. 18-19, Blue Note) also operates at the center of several overlapping musical universes. The albums he made in the late '70s have particularly dense, baffling DNA: taken on its own, Clarke's thick, glottal double-bass playing feels as if it's been swiped from songs that occupy the hammier end of early funk. But on albums like School Days and I Wanna Play For You, he surrounds them with strange, wispy synths, oscillating between open-armed quiet storm ballads ("The Streets of Philadelphia") and genuinely peculiar mood pieces (the ambling "Quiet Afternoon" idles along for a full five minutes and centers around an electronic organ that sounds like it's coming from the console of some Sci-Fi B-Movie spacecraft). Clarke's pedigree is undeniable: he's a principle member of lauded fusion group Return to Forever, with Chick Corea and Jean-Luc Ponty, and has worked with everyone from Jeff Beck to Gil Evans. His 2010 album, called simply The Stanley Clarke Band, picks up where his late '70s work left off, keeping the focus on Clarke's bullish bass for which a gang of fizzy synthesizers merely serve as set dressing. As a member of Stereolab, Laetitia Sadier (Sept. 21, Mercury Lounge) also trafficked in fusion (and fizzy synthesizers). Her second solo record, Find Me the Pulse of the Universe, is a bit lusher than that band's restless, burbling lounge pop, but Sadier's curious, skeptical delivery is undiminished. Deerhoof (Sept. 17, Music Hall of Williamsburg) are more ornery and cockeyed. Their songs are built from rude right angles, the jabbing guitars picking fights with Satomi Matsuzaki's sun-eyed singing. Wye Oak (Sept. 20, Music Hall of Williamsburg) are prickly in a different way. Frontwoman Jenn Wasner is as potent a guitar player as she is a singer, and her baleful, raspy alto is the perfect complement to her gleaming tangle of riffs. But few experimentalists are as unpredictable as Lee "Scratch" Perry (Sept. 23, Music Hall of Williamsburg). After cutting some of reggae's most celebrated singles, he burned down his Black Ark studios in a fit of pique in the early '80s and spent the ensuing years inventing increasingly alien versions of dub.
The evolution of Thee Oh Sees (Sept. 22, The Well) has been just as singular and just as peculiar. While Perry moved from definition to abstraction, Thee Oh Sees went the other way 'round. Albums like 2007's weird, warped Sucks Blood and the previous year's Grave Blockers E.P. were essentially the home creations of frontman John Dwyer (formerly of Pink & Brown and Coachwhips), and were full of ghostly, doddering songs that crept along slowly and spookily, like the rickety soundtrack to a cartoon horror film. The shuffling "What the Driven Drink" is emblematic of the era: a phantom bass line enters first, playing a melody that's halfway between the jazz club and the cemetery. There's a stone-wrist snare pattern, some lacey acoustic guitar, and then Dwyer's voice, a spectral falsetto, breezes eerily across the top. It's mesmerizing—a song sung by witches above a steaming cauldron. Contrast that with the band that appears on this year's excellent Putrifiers II, which opens with a blinding flare of guitars and then settles quickly into a lean, driving garage groove. That has been, more or less, the formula for the current iteration of Thee Oh Sees, balancing bug-eyed 100-mile-an-hour rock ragers with frequent forays into pinwheel-eyed psych. Perhaps as a direct result, they've become one of the best live acts in the business. They deliver a non-stop, veins-bulging, sweat-flying carnival of sound, one where the sheer velocity and volume demands full-bodied participation and rewards it with a constant adrenaline rush. The same can be said of opener Ty Segall, though his rowdy songs contain a few more nods toward '70s hard rock. Nobunny (Sept. 20, Otto's Shrunken Head) is just as loose and reckless. Donning a beat-up Halloween rabbit mask and typically performing in little more than his briefs, Justin Champlin belts out punk songs with traces of '50s doo-wop melodies; his performances feel like a full riot in a 4th grade classroom. Cold Showers (Sept. 20, Glasslands) are just as nervy but far more severe. On their new record Love and Regret, they offer a batch of bared-fang, late-night rock songs, outfitting the bottomless nihilism of early Cure with more brawn and heft. There's plenty of darkness on Live From the Underground, the new record from Big K.R.I.T. (Sept. 20, Irving Plaza). The Mississippi rapper has the same bounding, limber flow as Big Boi and Killer Mike, and he bounces it across productions that range from dank funk to late-night deep-bass party anthems. Even the usually-sunny Metric (Sept. 23, Radio City Music Hall) is feeling bleak lately. Their new album, Synthetica, opens with frontwoman Emily Haines announcing, "I'm just as fucked up as they say," and the rest of the record is full of decidedly tart guitar-pop.
There's a milder kind of sadness in the music of Justin Vernon, who records as Bon Iver (Sept. 19, Radio City Music Hall). The story behind his debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, has been repeated so many times it's beginning to feel like urban legend. In brief: Vernon, in the wake of a particularly bad breakup, retreated to a cabin in the Wisconsin woods and wrote a batch of airy, ruminative songs designed to salve his pain. That such a tiny, retiring record caused such an uproar is one of modern pop's great paradoxes; it earned Vernon not only endless critical plaudits, but a cache of A-List fans like Jay-Z and Kanye West, the latter of whom featured Vernon heavily on his 2011 prog-rap masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On last year's self-titled album, Vernon betrayed none of the trappings of his newfound fame. It would have been easy and obvious to widen his musical landscape but Vernon instead chose to burrow further in. His trembling falsetto remains intact, as do the layers of guitar and keyboard that flutter down slowly, like fresh snow. And though Vernon's characteristic trick is stacking his breathy voice ten-high, the accumulation somehow manages to make him sound even softer, as if he gets more vulnerable the more of him there are. There's a tender, candle-lit kind of sorrow to Vernon's music; his quivering voice and ghostlike arrangements give them the feel of sad last words, whispered into the darkness late at night. The Avett Brothers' (Sept. 18, Central Park) approach to Americana is more forthright. Though they've lately been upstaged by younger bands like Mumford & Sons, their warm, oaky country music still charms. Some of Vernon and the Avett's woundedness seems to be impacting Patterson Hood (Sept. 17, Bowery Ballroom). As frontman for the Drive-By Truckers, he excelled at setting tales of hard-luck cases against rollicking country-rock, but his latest solo album is quieter and more controlled, its lyrics detailing his life in music. Michael Kiwanuka (Sept. 18, Webster Hall) approaches R&B as if it were country, pouring his rich, emotive voice over skeletal acoustic guitar. And the Michigan group Frontier Ruckus (Sept. 21, Littlefield) also tends toward the pastoral. Their last album, Deadmalls & Night Falls is full of gently surging country songs lightly seasoned with indie rock archness.
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