Music is full of little miracles that are easy to overlook. One of the most fundamental is the fractured nature of performing as part of a band.
When you’re at your favorite venue, hearing familiar songs come out of a few, huge speakers, it’s easy to process it all as one thing, and to forget that the parts of that whole are the result of individual human beings putting into motion an unfathomable number of neural pathways and muscle groups in just the right order, at just the right time. It’s what makes being in a band so frustrating and so rewarding. When you get up on stage to perform with other people, you’re on a tightrope together, and the gravitational pull of chaos never abates. The universe does not want to be as ordered as you’re forcing it to be when you play a song.
After spending a few days thinking about why I so enjoyed seeing Clair Morgan at Strange Matter on Friday night, I’ve decided it has something to do with the remarkable way they walked that tightrope, and the daring way the band’s frontman and namesake (“Clair Morgan is and is not a band,” as the t-shirt I bought at the show explains) courts chaos, making the walk all the more thrilling.
It started (both literally and in the bigger sense) with Morgan’s guitar style. He kicked things off with a fast, repeating lead pattern — math-y, in the way that a minimalist composer might choose a specific set of notes to start running with — played on his gorgeous natural wood finished Rickenbacker. Those notes were being played too quickly to pick out downbeats or a key at first, giving the song’s beginning an impressionistic feel, but as vocals and accompaniment flooded in, the rhyme and reason were made clear, and a lovely, organized song came into focus. (I think they started with “Breathe Out,” which I’ve posted below, but don’t hold me to that — I’m still getting to know the band’s catalog.)

All this happened in the span of less than a minute, but those formative moments were deeply impressive (Morgan singing and playing those patterns simultaneously is a spectacle — I highly suggest seeing it in person). Even more striking was how quickly and naturally the group took that impressionistic start and got to that sounding-like-one-thing place. It can’t be a cakewalk — the other elements are many, and they’re varied in terms of timbre. Powerful backup vocals, vibraphone, trumpet, drums, additional percussion, bass, another guitar… Given Morgan’s acrobatic guitar style, you’d think the additional guitar would be simple and rhythmic, and while many of Troy Gatrell’s contributions were chordal, those chords came at inventive times in the form of accent and coloring — not safe strumming on downbeats. As a result, bassist Shannon Cleary’s lot involves gluing these pieces together and making it all seem seamless. He did so wonderfully on Friday, projecting an assured looseness at the same time he brought all the elements in tight with one another.
Of course, the job Cleary had throughout the weekend involved bringing even more than that together. Friday was just day two of WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents, the festival he’s spearheaded for the past four years, and one of the great joys of being at Strange Matter that night was the palpable feeling of fellowship in that dark, noisy room. So many familiar, smiling faces. So much rapt attention. So many videos and photos taken. It reminded me of something Cleary said when I interviewed him in the days leading up to this year’s event:

I think Richmond is in a really good place right now. Maybe in the past, I would have claimed that if people just took a second to show a little more dedication to the scene, we could do so many more things. Currently, we have so many people that are working to really chronicle this moment in time. Not even just chronicle, people are actively participating in this art. Music bloggers, photographers, record labels, musicians, graphic designers, fans, videographers and so on are just making their presence felt. And the city could always use more and more people like this, but we fortunately have a lot of people outside of myself that really go above and beyond their call to appreciate and celebrate Richmond music.

If there’s one conclusion I can draw from last Friday — other than that I can’t wait to see Clair Morgan again — it’s that Cleary really does bring out the best in Richmond’s music scene, and we’re all better off for his powers of pulling it all together.
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Clair Morgan — “Breathe Out" [Spotify/iTunes]

Music is full of little miracles that are easy to overlook. One of the most fundamental is the fractured nature of performing as part of a band.

When you’re at your favorite venue, hearing familiar songs come out of a few, huge speakers, it’s easy to process it all as one thing, and to forget that the parts of that whole are the result of individual human beings putting into motion an unfathomable number of neural pathways and muscle groups in just the right order, at just the right time. It’s what makes being in a band so frustrating and so rewarding. When you get up on stage to perform with other people, you’re on a tightrope together, and the gravitational pull of chaos never abates. The universe does not want to be as ordered as you’re forcing it to be when you play a song.

After spending a few days thinking about why I so enjoyed seeing Clair Morgan at Strange Matter on Friday night, I’ve decided it has something to do with the remarkable way they walked that tightrope, and the daring way the band’s frontman and namesake (“Clair Morgan is and is not a band,” as the t-shirt I bought at the show explains) courts chaos, making the walk all the more thrilling.

It started (both literally and in the bigger sense) with Morgan’s guitar style. He kicked things off with a fast, repeating lead pattern — math-y, in the way that a minimalist composer might choose a specific set of notes to start running with — played on his gorgeous natural wood finished Rickenbacker. Those notes were being played too quickly to pick out downbeats or a key at first, giving the song’s beginning an impressionistic feel, but as vocals and accompaniment flooded in, the rhyme and reason were made clear, and a lovely, organized song came into focus. (I think they started with “Breathe Out,” which I’ve posted below, but don’t hold me to that — I’m still getting to know the band’s catalog.)

Clair Morgan shirt

All this happened in the span of less than a minute, but those formative moments were deeply impressive (Morgan singing and playing those patterns simultaneously is a spectacle — I highly suggest seeing it in person). Even more striking was how quickly and naturally the group took that impressionistic start and got to that sounding-like-one-thing place. It can’t be a cakewalk — the other elements are many, and they’re varied in terms of timbre. Powerful backup vocals, vibraphone, trumpet, drums, additional percussion, bass, another guitar… Given Morgan’s acrobatic guitar style, you’d think the additional guitar would be simple and rhythmic, and while many of Troy Gatrell’s contributions were chordal, those chords came at inventive times in the form of accent and coloring — not safe strumming on downbeats. As a result, bassist Shannon Cleary’s lot involves gluing these pieces together and making it all seem seamless. He did so wonderfully on Friday, projecting an assured looseness at the same time he brought all the elements in tight with one another.

Of course, the job Cleary had throughout the weekend involved bringing even more than that together. Friday was just day two of WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents, the festival he’s spearheaded for the past four years, and one of the great joys of being at Strange Matter that night was the palpable feeling of fellowship in that dark, noisy room. So many familiar, smiling faces. So much rapt attention. So many videos and photos taken. It reminded me of something Cleary said when I interviewed him in the days leading up to this year’s event:

I think Richmond is in a really good place right now. Maybe in the past, I would have claimed that if people just took a second to show a little more dedication to the scene, we could do so many more things. Currently, we have so many people that are working to really chronicle this moment in time. Not even just chronicle, people are actively participating in this art. Music bloggers, photographers, record labels, musicians, graphic designers, fans, videographers and so on are just making their presence felt. And the city could always use more and more people like this, but we fortunately have a lot of people outside of myself that really go above and beyond their call to appreciate and celebrate Richmond music.

If there’s one conclusion I can draw from last Friday — other than that I can’t wait to see Clair Morgan again — it’s that Cleary really does bring out the best in Richmond’s music scene, and we’re all better off for his powers of pulling it all together.

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Clair Morgan — “Breathe Out" [Spotify/iTunes]

Step 1: Listen to a @nycradiolab segment about bot flies.
Step 2: This.

Step 1: Listen to a @nycradiolab segment about bot flies.
Step 2: This.

0 notes

Took a chance on this
proggy 70’s Dutch band.
Exceedingly pleased.

Took a chance on this
proggy 70’s Dutch band.
Exceedingly pleased.

1 note

You may be thinking “These guys look pretty cool, but do they cover ‘Try A Little Tenderness’”? The answer is yes.

You may be thinking “These guys look pretty cool, but do they cover ‘Try A Little Tenderness’”? The answer is yes.

Y’all see this?
If not, the long and the short of it is that if you agree to buy a vinyl copy of Spoon’s soon-to-be-released (8/5, to be exact) They Want My Soul album from a participating, locally-owned store, you get to take home a 10-inch record with three of the album’s songs on it. They’re calling it Vinyl Gratification. The offer went into effect this Tuesday, and I’m not sure how many each store got, but you can click here to find a participating location — they may still have copies of the above-pictured 10-inch.
I got mine at BK Music on Tuesday, and I was pleased to find that the two They Want My Soul tracks I’d heard and fallen madly for — “The Rent I Pay” and “Do You” — were both on it, but I’m even more pleased by the Vinyl Gratification idea in general. Offering perks for pre-ordering albums isn’t new, but this initiative has a wonderfully collaborative feel to it. Just read the open letter Spoon frontman Britt Daniel wrote to introduce the promotion. There’s a palpable sincerity there, and an understanding that correcting the imbalance that currently exists between the amount of music people consume and the amount of money that music-makers make will involve bringing all the stakeholders together. The fix, as it almost always does, requires us to work together.
The majority of bands obviously can’t afford to offer free 10-inch records when you pre-order their albums (pressing an LP to vinyl is an expensive undertaking to begin with), but part of the reason I love what Spoon’s doing is that the idea has a bit of the same spirit that Jack White’s recent efforts have had. I haven’t said much about Lazaretto — I’m pretty sure it’s falling into the same “I like it so much that I have no desire to write about it” category that Modern Vampires of the City occupied last year — but I will say that the ultra LP created a genuine moment. In the bigger sense, it generated a flurry of conversation about all the bells and whistles the disc would feature — a shared sense of wonderment — but in a more personal sense, I had this unforgettable experience where I was sitting in my living room, watching the arm of my record player move from the inside of side one to the outside. I’d never seen that happen before. It’s such a small, quirky change, but Jack White had an idea, he followed through, and that resulted in my record player functioning in a way it had never functioned before. It felt a little like he was sitting in the room with me, smiling and saying “Pretty cool, eh?” Now THAT is a moment.
Record Store Day (which is helping Spoon with the logistics of Vinyl Gratification) is the same way — just swap out wonderment for adrenaline. Those seconds after BK opens its doors are so intensely charged, and as silly as it may be to freak out about some limited-run pressing of an album, the rush I get when I walk through the doors and start reaching for the items I scouted out online: that too is a moment — something I remember even more vividly than what I got or didn’t get. The moments I’ve had with the Vinyl Gratification 10-inch have been less intense than Record Store Day, and less wacky than spinning Lazaretto, but they’ve been just as impactful. It’s given me a reason to get even more excited about an album I was already excited about. And while I’m bummed about (probably) missing their upcoming show in Norfolk, I still have this other way of deepening my engagement with They Want My Soul. It’s great.
When I wrote last year’s top-10 records post, I talked about how the experiences you have while listening to songs and albums change the way you hear them. Britt Daniel seems to get that, and I hope his experiment inspires others who are searching for a way through or around the clusterfuckery that’s keeping many independent artists, stores and labels from earning a fair shake.
Listen to “Do You” below, and learn more about Vinyl Gratification here.
-
Spoon — “Do You" [Spotify/iTunes]

Y’all see this?

If not, the long and the short of it is that if you agree to buy a vinyl copy of Spoon’s soon-to-be-released (8/5, to be exact) They Want My Soul album from a participating, locally-owned store, you get to take home a 10-inch record with three of the album’s songs on it. They’re calling it Vinyl Gratification. The offer went into effect this Tuesday, and I’m not sure how many each store got, but you can click here to find a participating location — they may still have copies of the above-pictured 10-inch.

I got mine at BK Music on Tuesday, and I was pleased to find that the two They Want My Soul tracks I’d heard and fallen madly for — “The Rent I Pay” and “Do You” — were both on it, but I’m even more pleased by the Vinyl Gratification idea in general. Offering perks for pre-ordering albums isn’t new, but this initiative has a wonderfully collaborative feel to it. Just read the open letter Spoon frontman Britt Daniel wrote to introduce the promotion. There’s a palpable sincerity there, and an understanding that correcting the imbalance that currently exists between the amount of music people consume and the amount of money that music-makers make will involve bringing all the stakeholders together. The fix, as it almost always does, requires us to work together.

The majority of bands obviously can’t afford to offer free 10-inch records when you pre-order their albums (pressing an LP to vinyl is an expensive undertaking to begin with), but part of the reason I love what Spoon’s doing is that the idea has a bit of the same spirit that Jack White’s recent efforts have had. I haven’t said much about Lazaretto — I’m pretty sure it’s falling into the same “I like it so much that I have no desire to write about it” category that Modern Vampires of the City occupied last year — but I will say that the ultra LP created a genuine moment. In the bigger sense, it generated a flurry of conversation about all the bells and whistles the disc would feature — a shared sense of wonderment — but in a more personal sense, I had this unforgettable experience where I was sitting in my living room, watching the arm of my record player move from the inside of side one to the outside. I’d never seen that happen before. It’s such a small, quirky change, but Jack White had an idea, he followed through, and that resulted in my record player functioning in a way it had never functioned before. It felt a little like he was sitting in the room with me, smiling and saying “Pretty cool, eh?” Now THAT is a moment.

Record Store Day (which is helping Spoon with the logistics of Vinyl Gratification) is the same way — just swap out wonderment for adrenaline. Those seconds after BK opens its doors are so intensely charged, and as silly as it may be to freak out about some limited-run pressing of an album, the rush I get when I walk through the doors and start reaching for the items I scouted out online: that too is a moment — something I remember even more vividly than what I got or didn’t get. The moments I’ve had with the Vinyl Gratification 10-inch have been less intense than Record Store Day, and less wacky than spinning Lazaretto, but they’ve been just as impactful. It’s given me a reason to get even more excited about an album I was already excited about. And while I’m bummed about (probably) missing their upcoming show in Norfolk, I still have this other way of deepening my engagement with They Want My Soul. It’s great.

When I wrote last year’s top-10 records post, I talked about how the experiences you have while listening to songs and albums change the way you hear them. Britt Daniel seems to get that, and I hope his experiment inspires others who are searching for a way through or around the clusterfuckery that’s keeping many independent artists, stores and labels from earning a fair shake.

Listen to “Do You” below, and learn more about Vinyl Gratification here.

-

Spoon — “Do You" [Spotify/iTunes]

0 notes

Get ready, y’all.

Get ready, y’all.

1 note

Good ideas can’t be contained. They expand to fit people’s appreciation of them, and Shannon Cleary’s notion that Richmond’s music scene deserves a weekend of celebration and acknowledgment is a great example. We’re nearing the fourth edition of the WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents festival, and Cleary has outdone himself yet again, putting together a winning lineup of bands that will showcase the depth and breadth of Richmond’s musical talent over the course of four gloriously noisy days.
With the start of the festivities set for this Thursday, I asked Cleary a few questions about what goes into planning for the event and how this year’s festivities are shaping up.
Check out the full interview here, click here for more details on the event’s Facebook page, and get the #wrircon4 excitement flowing by listening to Sundials’ “Completely Broken” below.
-
Sundials — “Completely Broken" [Spotify/iTunes]

Good ideas can’t be contained. They expand to fit people’s appreciation of them, and Shannon Cleary’s notion that Richmond’s music scene deserves a weekend of celebration and acknowledgment is a great example. We’re nearing the fourth edition of the WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents festival, and Cleary has outdone himself yet again, putting together a winning lineup of bands that will showcase the depth and breadth of Richmond’s musical talent over the course of four gloriously noisy days.

With the start of the festivities set for this Thursday, I asked Cleary a few questions about what goes into planning for the event and how this year’s festivities are shaping up.

Check out the full interview hereclick here for more details on the event’s Facebook page, and get the #wrircon4 excitement flowing by listening to Sundials’ “Completely Broken” below.

-

Sundials — “Completely Broken" [Spotify/iTunes]

Gigante!

Gigante!

1 note

Almost exactly two years ago, when writing about Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, I coined a term (sounds so much better than “made up a word,” doesn’t it?) that I’m still waiting for popular culture to whisk away. It’s confrenzus — the consensus frenzy that results from a book, movie or album that is so clearly worthy of acclaim that everywhere you look, someone is heaping praise on it.
There’s a confrenzus brewing, and it’s about to bubble over at the Broadberry. Tonight is the release show for Greenwood Shade — the new album from Richmond-based band Sleepwalkers — and I can’t resist joining the chorus in saying that tonight’s event (which also features Black Girls and Dead Professional) is well worth your time.
One reason I think people are so excited is that Greenwood Shade is uncommonly impactful. I wasn’t familiar with Sleepwalkers before this, but I needed only a few tracks to decide — in that way you decide things semi-consciously but with total certainty, like “Yup, I’m getting McDonald’s breakfast tomorrow morning” — that what I was hearing was special. It was also clear from the get-go that the musical brains that created this are well-read. Production techniques — the vocal processing on “Images,” for example — evoke specific periods, and the songs themselves pull from all sorts of genres.
When you’re everything, there’s always the chance that you’re simultaneously nothing, but I don’t get that sense here. Instead, I see this as a great example of a kind of musical singularity that’s quickly approaching. More and more music is made available each day, and the better songwriters get at absorbing diverse influences and incorporating them in tasteful ways, the closer we get to a moment when the walls between genres are so low that they’re not even worth talking about outside of a historical context. It’s a scary and exciting thought, and an album like Greenwood Shade offers proof that if that moment hasn’t already arrived, we’re pretty damn close. (There’s a great passage from Jessi Coble’s Richmond.com interview with the band that touches on this idea.)
Take a listen to “Images” below and hear for yourself how all the disparate pieces come together.
-
Sleepwalkers — “Images" [Bandcamp]

Almost exactly two years ago, when writing about Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, I coined a term (sounds so much better than “made up a word,” doesn’t it?) that I’m still waiting for popular culture to whisk away. It’s confrenzus — the consensus frenzy that results from a book, movie or album that is so clearly worthy of acclaim that everywhere you look, someone is heaping praise on it.

There’s a confrenzus brewing, and it’s about to bubble over at the Broadberry. Tonight is the release show for Greenwood Shade — the new album from Richmond-based band Sleepwalkers — and I can’t resist joining the chorus in saying that tonight’s event (which also features Black Girls and Dead Professional) is well worth your time.

One reason I think people are so excited is that Greenwood Shade is uncommonly impactful. I wasn’t familiar with Sleepwalkers before this, but I needed only a few tracks to decide — in that way you decide things semi-consciously but with total certainty, like “Yup, I’m getting McDonald’s breakfast tomorrow morning” — that what I was hearing was special. It was also clear from the get-go that the musical brains that created this are well-read. Production techniques — the vocal processing on “Images,” for example — evoke specific periods, and the songs themselves pull from all sorts of genres.

When you’re everything, there’s always the chance that you’re simultaneously nothing, but I don’t get that sense here. Instead, I see this as a great example of a kind of musical singularity that’s quickly approaching. More and more music is made available each day, and the better songwriters get at absorbing diverse influences and incorporating them in tasteful ways, the closer we get to a moment when the walls between genres are so low that they’re not even worth talking about outside of a historical context. It’s a scary and exciting thought, and an album like Greenwood Shade offers proof that if that moment hasn’t already arrived, we’re pretty damn close. (There’s a great passage from Jessi Coble’s Richmond.com interview with the band that touches on this idea.)

Take a listen to “Images” below and hear for yourself how all the disparate pieces come together.

-

Sleepwalkers — “Images" [Bandcamp]

2 notes

You heard me say this less than two months ago, but it bears repeating: I owe a great deal to Todd Herrington. As part of DJ Williams Projekt, he helped open my eyes to the vast array of homegrown musical talent I’d been blind to during my four years as an undergrad at the University of Richmond, and nine years later, I’m still in awe of how transformative those Tuesday nights at Cafe Diem were.
Given that history, and how much enjoyment I’ve gotten from his Things album since it was released last year, getting to interview him moments before he kicked off a Monday evening performance with Mekong Xpress & The Get Fresh Horns was a profoundly rewarding experience. I assembled the highlights of that conversation in an article for West End’s Best magazine, and it just hit the interweb. I sincerely hope you’ll check it out.
Let me just add that keeping this under my hat was extremely difficult, because Monday nights at Mekong are so, so fun. What a cool scene they’ve built. The music is top-notch, the beer selection is as varied as it is tasty, people drift back and forth between the bar and the front/side room where the band is set up — I recommend going as soon as your iPhone says it’s Monday. And the next time it says that. You know what? Just set a repeating reminder on your phone that says “Go to Mekong” for Mondays. You won’t be sad you did.
Check out the interview here and listen below to one of my favorite Things tracks, “Leland’s Awesome Kasio Jam.”
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Todd Herrington — “Leland’s Awesome Kasio Jam" [Spotify/iTunes]

You heard me say this less than two months ago, but it bears repeating: I owe a great deal to Todd Herrington. As part of DJ Williams Projekt, he helped open my eyes to the vast array of homegrown musical talent I’d been blind to during my four years as an undergrad at the University of Richmond, and nine years later, I’m still in awe of how transformative those Tuesday nights at Cafe Diem were.

Given that history, and how much enjoyment I’ve gotten from his Things album since it was released last year, getting to interview him moments before he kicked off a Monday evening performance with Mekong Xpress & The Get Fresh Horns was a profoundly rewarding experience. I assembled the highlights of that conversation in an article for West End’s Best magazine, and it just hit the interweb. I sincerely hope you’ll check it out.

Let me just add that keeping this under my hat was extremely difficult, because Monday nights at Mekong are so, so fun. What a cool scene they’ve built. The music is top-notch, the beer selection is as varied as it is tasty, people drift back and forth between the bar and the front/side room where the band is set up — I recommend going as soon as your iPhone says it’s Monday. And the next time it says that. You know what? Just set a repeating reminder on your phone that says “Go to Mekong” for Mondays. You won’t be sad you did.

Check out the interview here and listen below to one of my favorite Things tracks, “Leland’s Awesome Kasio Jam.”

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Todd Herrington — “Leland’s Awesome Kasio Jam" [Spotify/iTunes]