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DBB Feature #6: Bowerbirds

Merge organized a morning concert on the last day of early voting (9am the morning after Haloween) to encourage music fans to vote.  Bowerbirds played, as well as Megafaun, Billy Bragg, Superchunk, Ivan Howard, the dBs and a few others.

Ever since the release of Hymns for a Dark Horse on local label Burlytime Records, Bowerbirds have been destined for big things. In short order, the record garnered glowing reviews from indie trendsetters Pitchfork Media and Prefix magazine and rose to the top of WKNC’s indie rock charts. Within a year they were signed to big-time indie-folk imprint Dead Oceans (part of Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar) and went on to tour with the Mountain Goats. Simply put, the Bowerbirds rose through the ranks of the music world at a meteoric rate.

Bowerbirds’ music is characterized by uniquely minimalist arrangements and melodies paired to stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and their debut LP is a concept album of sorts; its 12 songs discuss the conflicts of civilization versus the nature and humanity.

Naturally, with such material, you might consider Bowerbirds to be a ‘cause band,’ and, indeed, they tackle the subject of environmentalism with fairly blunt words. Through clever songwriting, though, they avoid the adversarial tone that so many bands with a cause seem to convey; instead, they radiate an earthy idealism that wouldn’t seem too out of place in a Thoreau novel.

Nowhere is it more clear that Bowerbirds is an exceptional band than in concert. With even more sparce instrumentation than in thier album, they manage to create an even more full sound. They will be the final performers Friday night at the Double Barrel Benefit, taking the stage after Schooner.

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DBB Feature #5: I Was Totally Destroying It

When I was a kid, my dad would often take me for a ride in his Camaro, crank up the radio, and introduce me to some of his favorite bands, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  I’d sit there in the front seat, enthralled by the experience, and so began the long love affair with music that would eventually bring me to this station.

Perhaps as a result of those days, I’ve always had a soft spot for catchy, radio-friendly tunes, despite my proclivities towards the experimental and the eccentric.  After all, pop music is our culture’s universal communicator: you can sing just about anything over a good melody and most of your listeners will understand exactly what you’re trying to tell them.  That’s some serious power.

And so we come to the titular topic of this article, I Was Totally Destroying It, a group who specializes in creating just that…  remarkably catchy and ambitious pop music.

As a grizzled veteran of college radio music direction, I’ve often found that aficionados of indie rock can turn a blind eye towards unabashedly poppy music that isn’t either couched in brooding sentiment, sonic experimentalism, or profound lyricism.  IWTDI’s music can indeed become brooding, experimental, and profound, but their guiding principle has always been about building strong melodies above all other elements.

The end result is refreshingly unpretentious and listenable, whether you’re into Captain Beefheart or The Shins.  It comes with a strong pedigree too, featuring members of legendary Chapel Hill heavy rockers such as Sorry About Dresden and Strunken White.

So while you might not believe that pop music has a place in your collection, a quick listen to I Was Totally Destroying It’s songbook could change your opinion.  Fortunately for you, they’re opening up on Saturday at this year’s edition of the Double Barrel Benefit, and if you’ve never seen them live, prepare yourself for an energy-filled experience you won’t soon forget.

Until then, you can download their latest EP, Done Waiting, for free from their ReverbNation website, one of the best bargains you’re liable to find in 2009.  As for us, we’ll see you on Saturday.

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DBB Feature #4: Lost in the Trees

Lost in the Trees, Troika Music Festival 2008

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If you’ve listened to WKNC with any frequency in the latter half of last year, you’ve undoubtedly heard Lost in the Trees. Lost in the Trees’ critically acclaimed sophomore album, “All Alone in an Empty House” has been a favorite among WKNC’s daytime DJs since it’s release in September.

On “All Alone in an Empty House,” Ari Picker, the principal member of the band, has perfected his unique form of orchestral folk. The record has some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard in a long time; it’s mostly intensely personal melancholy ballads with lush orchestral instrumentation. Listening to the record can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride, but anyone that has a soul will appreciate the immense beauty of their music.

Ari Picker is a classically trained musician and a talented songwriter and nowhere is this more clear than when he performs live. My introduction to Lost in the Trees was their performance on the first day of the Troika Music Festival in Durham last year. I was immediately struck by the intensity and emotion of the music; I knew they would be one of my favorite bands. This is not a show you’ll want to miss.

Lost in the Trees will be going on second behind Lonnie Walker this coming Friday, February 6th, for the sixth annual Double Barrel Benefit.  The house is sure to be packed early due to Lonnie Walker & also First Friday, so make sure you get a ticket and get in there to catch this fantastic 12 piece band for their entire set!

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DBB Feature #3: Lonnie Walker

Lonnie Walker: it’s a band, not a dude. Although I suspect that in due time that will be common knowledge. The one-man act—Brian Corum playing a guitar and stomping on a bass drum—turned five-man band has really caught on among WKNC DJs and listeners, self included. There seem to me to be 2 sides to Lonnie Walker, as we’ll demonstrate with 2 of their songs.

First, let’s take a look at “Summertime,” a song you’ve definitely heard if you listened to WKNC with any regularity in 2008. It’s awfully hard not to tap your foot or dance along as they alternate between spewing clever lyrics and frantically banging away on guitar while a drum beat in what, to my untrained ear, sounds like 2/2 time moves the whole thing along at a breakneck pace. And if you’re thinking about accusing Lonnie Walker of taking themselves too seriously, consider this verse:

“And I do the best I can with this head that I got.
And it’s a mighty fine nice head, and it’s got mighty fine nice thoughts.
And if my brain had legs and it could walk around the block,
it would wear a pair of sunglasses and Coppertone sunblock.
And all the people would be jealous as they saw it walk with style,
with its spinal cord a-wagging and its neurons running wild.
But there is no need for bragging all the words that it may speak,
because there are no legs attached to the ideas that it keeps.”

Very clever and playful word use that moves along so quickly that you don’t quite realize it the first few times you hear the song.

But a look at “Wider than White” reveals their other side. From the somber keyboard intro to the overlaying chord progression to Corum’s unmistakable moan to the shredding guitar solo a mere 50 seconds into the song, the entire orchestration has a very epic feel. The lyrics that operate in the not-quite-literal world lead us to the realization that there’s another, more sober side to Lonnie Walker. I’m not sure which I like more, but I do know this: I haven’t heard a song of theirs that isn’t damn good.

They have yet to release an album, but it is reportedly in the works. Which means that you’ll just have to check them out at the Pour House on the first night of the Double Barrel Benefit 6, Friday, February 6. See you there.

In the meantime, check out their interview with Mz Kelly on WKNC from June 5, 2008:

Lonnie Walker interview

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DBB Feature #1: Schooner

This is the first installment of WKNC’s features on all the bands included in this years Double Barrel Benefit.  Be on the lookout for more blogs, interviews, and other cool information in the coming weeks!

For those of you who know me well, you’re aware of how prone I am to wax poetic about the superlative elements of our local music scene. Local music is one of those topics that I’m wont to speak at length about given any tangential opportunity, so when I was asked to write a blog post about Schooner, I had to compile my thoughts for a while. What was I going to write that hadn’t already been said?

I don’t think that it’s a secret to anyone that Schooner is one of my favorite bands from North Carolina. I know what you’re saying…  I’ve got a lot of favorite bands from North Carolina, right? Well, OK, yes… but for those of you who doubt my veracity, I’ve got proof: their bumper sticker is currently one of two adorning the rear of my trusty 1998 Geo Prizm (though, admittedly, it sort of matches the color scheme).

Schooner sound a bit like Stephin Merritt if you replaced his early synthesizer fixation with an equivalent fixation on Buddy Holly and the hazey sounds of shoegaze.  Like Merritt, Schooner’s songs are rooted in solid pop melodies and hooks, but you’ll often find them drenched in more reverb and paired to dreamy choruses. Amidst the atmosphere, Reid Johnson sings with a Merritt-like baritone croon straight out of the 50’s, and adding to that general 50’s vibe are slide guitars, mandolins, and those characteristic palm-muted slow dance rock chords.

Lyrically, Schooner’s songs can seem like character studies from a Faulkner novel; they’re often told in the past tense and are filled with bruised, distinctively Southern tales of lost love, missed opportunities, and regret.  It can be heavy stuff, surely, but with the sweet pop melodies that Schooner brings to the table, you could make even the saddest tale feel like a catchy, danceable rocker.

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So why do I consider them to be one of my favorite local bands?  To answer that, let’s listen to one of their songs, “Married,” from their 2007 release, Hold On Too Tight.

Listen carefully and you’ll realize that in three short minutes, through oblique phrases and echoing slide guitar runs, we get a glimpse into a lifetime’s worth of memories and regret. Whatever your interpretation of lines like “constellations were laid upon,” you know several things for certain by its conclusion: she was the one, he’s probably been in love with her for far too long, and her marriage symbolizes the end of hope that she’ll come back.

The ability to fit all of that complex sentiment within the trappings of a deceptively simple verse-chorus pop song is a gift that few songwriters possess, and the fact that Schooner is able to do it so effortlessly with just about every song they write earns them a spot in the highest echelons of my music collection.

The best part? They’re awesome live, and you can see them at this year’s Double Barrel Benefit.

Whatever your tastes are, there’s a vast bounty of world-class music to be had here in the Triangle, and it’s due to this great variety that we’ve held the Double Barrel for the past six years.  This year’s edition promises to continue what has become one of the best damned Raleigh traditions around, and we’ll be writing features for each artist playing.

Schooner plays third on Friday, February 6th, and tickets are available from the Pour House website.

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Bo Burnham, The Best Rapping Since Holiday Gifts Were Wrapped

YouTube is notorious for taking a typical person with a weird talent and transforming him or her into a celebrity. That wasn’t what I was thinking when I ventured onto the website one cold evening, however, I ended up stumbling upon one YouTube celebrity. His name is Bo Burnham. 

Bo Burnham is a young, northern, white lyrical genius. He has written 8 songs and created several short skits. 

Bo has been compared to comedians like Adam Sandler and Steve Martin, with sexual references and crazy puns! His best line, in my humble opinion is,

“You know im a gangsta, you know I do coke, But I had to go to diet, cause it burnt my throat.”

The best part of his whole act, though, are the intros and exits. He creates such an awkward pre-pubescent persona for himself… and it works. The introduction to his rap, “Bo Fo’ Sho’,” suggests that a hot woman was just in his bed doing sexual things… like, word-for-word.

“See you later incredibly hot chick. Come back anytime and do sexual things, like how we were just doing…" 

So, what does this mean for you? It means that Bo Burnham is becoming so popular that he has become slang. His name is synonyms with "cool” and “awesome.” For example, WKNC is not just Bo. WKNC is BO BURNHAM! Okay, so maybe his name is only slang among friends, loved ones, colleagues… but I feel that it has potential to be great. I encourage you to use it.

But first, Listen to him, it will blow your mind.

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Q-Unique – Between Heaven and Hell

Q-Unique’s long history in the hip-hop music world includes revitalizing the legendary Rock Steady Crew, fronting the rap rock group Stillwell with Fieldy of Korn, membership with hip hop super group the Arsonists, and his own critically acclaimed solo album “Vengeance is Mine.” In 2008, Q-Unique is putting out his best work to date : Between Heaven and Hell. A true hip hop album in a time of watered down commercial fluff.