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Modest Mouse: “The Ground Walks, with Time in A Box”

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Erstwhile indie rockers Modest Mouse announced a new album recently, Strangers to Ourselves, and based on the first two singles- (the bring down the world party jam “Lampshades on Fire” and the folk-tinged “Coyotes”), I expected the album to be familiar territory for MM- with a few new sonic flourishes and  an enhanced environmental awareness beneath Isaac Brock’s painfully cryptic lyrics. That what makes “The Ground Walks, with Time in A Box” such a pleasant surprise. The main riff (which sounds like a schizoid mutation of “Float On’s” classic progression filtered through Interpol’s post-punk revivalism), struts and starts as Brock cooly delivers some of his most delightfully misanthropic lyrics to date: (“The world’s an inventor/ we’re the dirtiest thing he’s thought about/ And we really don’t mind”). Florid imagery (“Trees drop colorful fruits/Directly into our mouths”) clashes with impenetrable strings of words (“Eyes vacuum up light/sound gets trapped by the mouth/What to do with the remainder/When the dents, the dents, get hammered out/ Then we’ll travel through time”). Jittery plucked strings and an in-your-face horn section keep the bombast flowing without letting it tip into overindulgence. All seems relatively sane until the chorus, where eerie harmonies slide into Brock’s ghost-like phase shifted vocal. After a couple more choral repetitions and two new verses, the track descends into controlled noise, with the guitar offering blasts of pitch-shifted chords, much like “Dramamine.” After that subsides, the horns threaten to blast off into full on mariachi mode. Synths and percussion take on a sort of wormhole-funk motif as the main riff returns, only to be punctuated by Brock’s warble and closed out with a melange of more percussion, steam pistons, and an electronic bit which sounds as if it’d work well in a remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Our predecessor left this box and something’s clawing around/ I think it really wants out’ snarls Brock in the last verse of the song. What the hell? Let it loose! Modest Mouse are like Pandora’s Box, you never know quite what to expect from them, but one thing’s for sure. It’s going to be a pretty awesome ride.

Sufjan Stevens: “No Shade In The Shadow of The Cross” Review

 Image Courtesy of Sufjan Stevens

In the eleven years since Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens has worn many hats; from that of a literate, banjo strumming folkie to a cutting-edge man of mystery who sheathes his`introspection in walls of synths. Although I love to see Stevens playing twenty instruments on his records, and even indulging in the occasional 25 minute opus, deep down it’s a relief to see him return to his acoustic roots. On “No Shade In The Shadow of The Cross,” there are no anthemic choruses, orchestral swells, or blasts of noise. Just Stevens’s voice and a classical guitar, which glides along quite nicely as the singer-songwriter muses over his parents: (“like my mother/give wings to a stone”), combines natural imagery with personal reflection: (“I slept on my back/in the shade of the meadowlark/Like a champion, get drunk to get laid”), and occasionally slips in a vague motto: (“Give out to give in”). It’s vintage Stevens, in the mold of “The Dress Looks Nice on You,” but less celebratory and more uncertain. The harmonies are a bit much, and Stevens’s trademark half-whisper makes you wonder if he’s trying too hard to be sincere. Overall though, it works. Restraint isn’t something we’ve seen from Stevens recently. As this song proves, it still looks nice on him.

February 12th: PHOX and Field Report @ 930 Club

Field Report, the Milwaukee, WI based indie-folk trio, was formed in 2011 by singer/songwriter Chris Porterfield a few years after his first band, DeYarmond Edison split up. The name, Field Report, is actually an anagram of Porterfield, Chris’s surname. The band released their newest album, Marigolden, back in October of last year, and has been playing much of that album on tour.

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Photo Credit: Anour Esa

When Field Report took the stage, the 9:30 club was nicely filled, and ready to hear music be played. With Porterfield on acoustic-electric guitar and lead vocals, Thomas Wincek on Bass, Guitar, backing vocals and midi board, and Shane Leonard on Drums, the music began. The soulful lyrics, paired with methodic layers of slowly moving harmony gave the music an earthy, raw, almost painful feel to it. Later in the show, PHOX lead singer described Porterfield’s music as being “thoughtful” and listening to the music, one could feel the soft intensity to the lyrics. The entire venue seemed to be deep in thought, taking in all that the music of Field Report generated. With soft spoken but strong vocals, an arrangement of percussive instruments, and an ever evolving sound, Field Report satisfied the audience’s yearning for a soothing music performance.

After a seemingly endless intermission between the two sets, PHOX finally came on stage, to a thunder of applause and hoots from eager fans. The Wisconsin band of six hailing from the small town of Baraboo was in DC this past December, where they opened for Indie-Folk group The Head and The Heart. Needless to say, they had no trouble filling the venue, with long time fans, and first time listeners alike. The band had been at NPR’s studios earlier that day, doing their very own tiny desk concert, which when Monica announced at the show, the band received a plethora of applause and cheering.

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Photo Credit: Anour Esa

After some small talk, the band went right into it, playing their rolling, warm, and dreamy music that left a gentle smile on your lips. Their tender and very organic sound had the audience swaying and dancing to every song. The band, after playing a few songs normally off the record, switched to all acoustic instruments, and, with the help of a condenser microphone gave us their own tiny desk concert on stage. After a few songs of their wonderful acoustic set, Monica stayed on stage, and sang a solo set playing only her Ukulele. After enchanting the audience with her one of a kind voice, Monica, Matteo, and Jason teamed up and sang an acapella song showing off the wonderful vocal assets of PHOX. The band returned in full to the stage, and instead of playing an encore, they simply told the audience they were cutting to the chase, and going to play all they were going to play, as it was a Thursday night and there was a lot of “drinking or sleeping to be had.” The band closed out with Espeon, dedicated to Monica’s younger sister. With crashing drums, groovy bass, wailing guitar, rolling piano, the occasional flute, and soothing vocals, PHOX rocked the house with Espeon, and called it a night.

The band is headed to Australia for a short tour, ending in a music festival in New Zealand in a few weeks; so if you’re reading this from down under, check PHOX out! All in all, between the raw, earthy sound of Field Report, to the rolling and dreamy sound of PHOX, this was a show well worth seeing.

1/30: San Fermin and White Hinterland @ The Barns at Wolf Trap

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San Fermin is an ensemble you have to see to believe. Resembling an orchestral starter-kit, the eight piece traveling band was supported by local string quartet Invoke at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday Night. From brass to drums, keyboard to xylophone, guitar to electric violin, the hodgepodge chamber-pop band filled the stage with elaborate arrangements driven by a multitude of instruments. Read the rest of this entry

Shows to Know: San Fermin @ the Barns at Wolf Trap – 1/30

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If you cross the beltway for anything, make it for San Fermin at the Barns at Wolf Trap this Friday. Sure, it’s at the end of the orange line in Vienna, Virginia and maybe you have to take a second form of transportation to get from the metro to the theater, but this band is worth it. The brainchild of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, San Fermin is a 22-piece ensemble made up of classically trained musicians playing a mix of chamber pop and classical music. While their touring band is made up of a smaller core of musicians, there is no shortage of instruments nor bold instrumentalists on stage. Read the rest of this entry

What Is An Eternal Banger?

Photo credit: author

Photo credit: author

While surfing the internet chillwaves the other day, I came across a song that somebody posted, which they had labelled as an “eternal banger.” Without giving much immediate thought to what an eternal banger might be, I found myself nodding along, thinking “yup, this is definitely it.” Later on, I began to think about what an eternal banger actually is. The pinnacle of the modern English language, Urban Dictionary, says that a banger is “If a Song is extremly tight or just unbelivably awesome. It is a banger.” Cool. Everyone can recognize when a song is a banger, but what distinguishes a regular banger from an eternal banger?

After contemplating this for a bit, I came to a few conclusions:

    1. Eternal bangers are subjective. In an ideal world, we would all be in agreement on what songs are eternal bangers and what songs aren’t, but alas, this is a very personal thing.
    2. I believe that bangers are inherently of a faster BPM, so to be considered an eternal banger, a song must be rather upbeat. This tends to work in the favor of electronic and dance songs, however, this is not confined to just one genre. See: “Dance, Dance”
    3. Many, but not all, eternal bangers have some sort of sentimental or nostalgic value, tying back into the subjectivity of an eternal banger. For example, “Like A G6” brings me back to my days in high school spent fooling around with my friends during track practice. That song went and will always go hard, and there are people out in the world who may disagree with me. That’s okay! That is all part of the fun of eternal bangers.
    4. While eternal bangers tend to be older songs, it is possible to recognize a current song as one that has the potential to be an eternal banger. A banger with longevity. See: Beyoncé by Beyoncé; anything Nicki Minaj has ever released.
    5. Trust your gut. If you think a song is an eternal banger, then it probably is! Some of the most iconic eternal bangers are eternal for a reason. See: “Now You’re Gone,” “Sandstorm.” 


– Lotanna Obodozie

BestCoast Connection Tour Review – by Max Blackman

As YG’s DJ took the stage and began spinning tracks to pump up the crowd, you could sense the excitement in the air. Coming off a year of much acclaim, the Los Angeles rapper descended onto Silver Spring to perform some of his biggest hits – and that’s exactly what he did. Wearing his signature red “Bompton” fitted cap, and riding a modified BMX bike, YG entertained the crowd with his brash style and heavily synthesized beats harkening to the heyday of E-40 and Too $hort. Read the rest of this entry

BestCoast Connection Tour Preview – A$AP FERG & YG

This Sunday, A$AP Ferg and YG will be descending onto The Fillmore for their BestCoast Connection Tour. This will be the third stop of their East Coast tour, as the pair looks to bring an energetic show to the area. Ferg released his mixtape Ferg Forever at the end of November and it was very well received. The DJ Drama-hosted tape recently surpassed 250,000 downloads from its host site, Datpiff.com. On Dec 15th, YG released his second album Blame It On The Streets. With hits like the title track “Blame It On The Streets” and “Bicken Back Being Bool” the new album is rising in popularity.

Ferg definitely knows how to put on a show. His past performance in the DC area, in Dec 2013 was insane – with songs like “Work” and “Shabba” bringing the house down. After the release of this new mixtape, I’m sure “Fergsomnia,” “Jungle” and “This Side” will   be just as intense. YG’s West Coast feel will definitely be high-energy as well, and seeing the two on-stage together will be a unique experience. If you’re a fan of hard bass party rap with an edgy feel, then this is where you should be Sunday night. YG and A$AP Ferg will be sure to bring a great show to The Fillmore that will be one to remember.

-Max Blackman, WRGW Hip Hop Director

WRGW Music: What We’re Excited for in 2015

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Courtney Barnett

It’s January 5th and we here at the WRGW Music Department are just a little bit sick of the cyclical year-end lists penned by **in-touch** music writers and tastemakers who continually peddle the same albums over and over again, with more regard for controversy (Mark Kozelek shout out) than actual substance. Let’s face it – music journalism kinda sucks. The top blogs and sites are essentially celebrity gossip forums, with occasional big words and nice pictures thrown in. The promotions companies are no better, as the wealthier bands get press and talented, hardworking ones are left in the dust. Still, rant aside, 2014 was a damn fine year in music. The mega releases of 2013 slowed down enough to allow break out artists, like Ex Hex, Ty Segall, Angel Olsen (the list goes on) to break into new territory and release exceptional, career-defining albums. The future is ripe, and there has never been a better time to be a music fan with a pair of headphones and an internet connection.

Instead of laying out the “best” albums of last year, our three assistant music directors, our music promotions director and I share below the top three artists/bands that we’re genuinely excited about in 2015. This is by no means an objective or comprehensive list; those things do not exist in music journalism. Read, listen, and watch before they get drowned out by the next Kanye single, or another War on Drugs album. Regular blog content and programming will continue starting the week of January 19th – until then, indulge our egos and maybe find your next favorite band.

–Quinn

Read the rest of this entry

12/9: The Head and The Heart, PHOX @ DAR Constitution Hall

Phox by Pip for Partisan Records

Photo Courtesy of PHOX

When PHOX walked on the stage, DAR Constitution Hall was half-full. I say half full, because when the music began, it couldn’t have mattered less how many people were missing, as the joy of the people present made up wholly for it. The warm cascades of indie-folk seemed to make the audience gently sway, as if a musical breeze blew across them. The six-piece band founded in Baraboo, Wisconsin, came together as an organic whole for a beautiful opening set, from the subtle banjo dancing in the background, to the twinkling of the keyboard intermixed with energetic guitar riffs that seemed to play perfectly off each other. Let us not forget the wonderfully capturing and mysterious vocals of Monica Martin, whose voice seemed to melt each melody into a congruous whole that left you tranquil and serene. The band recently released their first full album, PHOX, and when I got a chance to interview the band, they told me that they felt that rather thinking of the album, as a novel “a linear front back thing, you think of it as a collection of short stories.” And on that Tuesday night here in DC, the short stories indeed were told, beautifully. PHOX will be back in DC in February at the 9:30 club, and I highly recommend seeing them.

Following a wonderful opening set, the cavernous concert hall seating up to 3,500 was packed with people and anticipation.

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Photo Courtesy of The Head and The Heart

If I had to sum up The Head and The Heart’s playing style, it would simply be having a good time. From the moment the group stepped on the stage to the moment they stepped off, it was nothing but a good time. The six-member group hailing from Seattle could do nothing but play the music and have a kickass time. Not only did the audience get lost in the music, but the band did too, and towards the end of the set, vocalist and guitarist Josiah Johnson remarked, “so I just realized we have one more song.” DAR Constitution Hall is all seated, but that didn’t hold the audience back from having a good time. Only one song into the set, a wave of people standing up began, until the entire floor of the venue was on its feet, dancing and moving to the sound of the music. From that point on, the performance was less a performance and more a conversation between old friends. At one point, Johnson came into the crowd simply to dance with the front section. The result was an atmosphere of happiness and joy, the large concert hall suddenly feeling cozy and homey. The group was not musically perfect, and yes, there were mistakes, but none of that seemed to matter, because the band didn’t need perfection to have a perfect show, it just needed to have a good time, and an audience to share that good time with. At the end of a beautiful first set, an acoustic song done by Johnson and his partner, and an encore, it is safe to say The Head and The Heart indeed had a perfect show.

It may have been a cold night outside, but inside DAR Constitution Hall was the warmest atmosphere anyone could have asked for, from the warm melodies of PHOX to the heartwarming music of The Head and The Heart. This was a night well worth the ticket.

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