Some Chaos First: A Summer Playlist

This playlist is born of hazy treks under desert sun and misty climbs to mountaintops. Hope you enjoy.

DC playlistSummer — oh, summer. I am gripped in your sweaty, sordid embrace and seek escape in travels and tunes. This playlist is born of hazy treks under desert sun and misty climbs to mountaintops. Hope you enjoy.

Lord Huron ✦ Horse Feathers ✦ Joe Pug ✦ Elephant Revival ✦ River Whyless
The Mynabirds ✦ Belle and Sebastian ✦ Glass Animals ✦ Hannah Peel
Vetiver ✦ The Airborne Toxic Event ✦ Jay Troop ✦ Jesse Terry ✦ Ben Howard

1.  Lord Huron — World Ender

I’ve been a bit obsessed with Lord Huron’s second album, Strange Trails. The band is alternately labeled folk and rock. It’s both, and more — with reverb-laden vocals and swingy, hard-charging rhythms, we alternately meander and ride at an urgent canter through moonlit landscapes filled with ghosts, lovers, and fellow travelers.LH1

Lord Huron, 9:30 Club (May 3, 2015)
Lord Huron, 9:30 Club (May 3, 2015)

Frontman Ben Schneider’s time in Indonesia lends an eastern vibe to some of the songs (though it’s more apparent in debut album Lonesome Dreams, with its gamelan-esque chimes). Lord Huron’s live shows are cinematic, with moody lights and transitions narrated via a voice that seems to emerge through an old wireless that sits on stage. The band’s show attire seems to be an extension of the “movie trailer” teasers for the album (a sort of Tarantino aesthetic, with pulp-novel-jagged typeface and Japanese subtitles) — tastes of spaghetti western in bolo ties, of ’50s greasers in leather jackets and slicked-back hair.

The lyrics here feel tailor-made for the adventuring spirit (I borrowed a phrase for the title of this mix): Lord knows I should be pushing daisies /  I was 6 feet down, but something raised me up /  Sent back for to lift my curse /  Gonna get me a taste of some chaos first.ghostbook

Lord Huron started as a solo visual and musical project inspired by the adventure novels of George Ranger Johnson (b. 1946). The thing is, George Ranger Johnson doesn’t exist, except in the imaginings of Ben Schneider — and what a richly and meticulously imagined world it is.Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 12.03.09 PM

In the video for “Fool for Love,” our protagonist convinces a motorcycle gang to take on a musclehead who is his rival in love. In the ensuing bar brawl and chase scene, the characters run past a billboard that reads: “Feeling Lost? 1-800-774-1372.” Dial that number and you’ll enter a choose-your-own-adventure story.

The alternate reality created by Lord Huron is alluring because of the sense of disorientation that it fosters. If we take apart the word “sublime” and look at the root, limens — lintel, threshold — it becomes so very appropriate here. Lord Huron evokes the in-between territory of dreams and memories, dislocation and discovery. It’s a strange trail that you should follow.

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Coming Up For Air: Kodaline in Concert + Ticket Giveaway

Two years ago, Kodaline was the supporting act at a 9:30 Club show. Last week, the Irish rock band returned to the D.C. venue, this time as the headliner. It was an evening of music that was both achingly beautiful and irrepressibly joyful. Check out the photos below and enter for a chance to win tickets to Kodaline’s Los Angeles show on May 5, 2015.

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Nine o’clock, Thursday night. Gavin James had finished his soulful opening set, and Kodaline was up next. On the club floor, the crowd was jammed up against the barricade. From the balconies, eager faces looked down.

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Whatever We Might Encounter: A Chat With Young Buffalo

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Winter seems to have a hard time letting go this year, shrouding D.C. in a drizzly gray as the Tidal Basin’s cherry trees hesitantly proffer florets. In the midst of the chill gloom, the shimmering energy and upbeat instrumentation that Young Buffalo brought to the Black Cat on Monday night felt just right for easing into sunnier days. The Oxford, Mississippi-based group offers harmony-rich anthems and rock grooves sprinkled with synth lines, a sort of Delta Spirit-meets-the Strokes sound with an occasional bonus cover of Brian Eno.

Originally a duo, Ben Yarbrough and Jim Barrett started writing music together as teenagers. The band now also features drummer Tim Burkhead, bassist Andrew Guinn, and keyboardist Will Eubanks.

“My Place” — the lead single off their new album, House (Votiv Records), is an buoyant earworm of a song, both a remembrance of home and a measured optimism for what’s ahead: “It’s our life, so let us live…whatever we might encounter, we’ll always have that place to go.”

Earlier this week, Jim Barrett answered a few questions via e-mail about musical influences, favorite authors, and tour life.

First off, I’m really digging the new album. Was this your first time working with Dave Schifmann [Haim, Weezer], and what was that collaboration like?
This was, and he was the best! He has such a great sense of pop with the hooks and big choruses, but he wasn’t at all opposed to going off-course a little and trying something strange. He was open to anything and really put us in a beautiful place creatively. We hope we can work with him again in the future (LP2 maybe?).

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A storm blowing from Paradise: A night with the Airborne Toxic Event

anna2 blogA Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. –Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History”stage

A spectral bird, its wings outspread, imparts a white glow to the dim stage. The sculptural eagle — a spirit animal of sorts for The Airborne Toxic Event — recalls Klee’s angel, and the music of The Airborne Toxic Event evokes the struggle with the chaos of modern life described by the historian Walter Benjamin. But unlike Benjamin’s angel of history, confronted with the devastation of the past but propelled inexorably into the future, the music of The Airborne Toxic Event encourages us to linger, to rebuild these stunning ruins and piece together the fragments of our compartmentalized lives.

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Ha Ha Tonka: On “Lessons” and life on the road

The folksy indie rock band is as adept with powerful electric guitar riffs as with pensive bluegrass-tinged harmonies. Earlier this week, they took a moment to chat about life on the road and the inspiration behind their new album, “Lessons.”

07/22/2014 update: Scroll down for photos from Ha Ha Tonka’s July 20, 2014 show in D.C.

Hey Washington — Ha Ha Tonka is playing this Sunday, July 20, at Rock & Roll Hotel (tickets here). When they’re not making music, these guys listen to NPR. Now what’s more D.C. than that? You have to check ’em out.

HHT_Lessons_Promo_2_0Ha Ha Tonka’s “Lessons” is a beautifully-crafted reflection on middle age and middle America, on ambition and regret. With evocative harmonies, a dynamic mix of electric and acoustic instrumentation, and lyrics that are smart, honest, and accessible, this is music that is as rousing as it is revelatory.

The Missouri band’s sound can be likened to early Wilco, the Avett Brothers, Old 97s, and Kings of Leon — but the comparisons don’t quite do Ha Ha Tonka justice. The band (named after a Missouri state park) takes driving guitar riffs, bright mandolin, saloon piano, thumping bass and drum, and four-part harmonies, and transmutes these elements into something quite addictive. Lead singer Brian Roberts has a voice that lends itself equally well to raw, anthemic rock and forlorn, confessional ballads. If you appreciate nuanced storytelling through the medium of a Southern rock song, “Lessons” should be on your summer playlist (CDs & vinyl here, digital download here).

Earlier this week, the band answered some questions by e-mail about life on the road and the inspiration behind their latest record.

Ha Ha Tonka performs at Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington, DC on July 20, 2014.
Ha Ha Tonka performs at Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington, DC on July 20, 2014.

Q. What was your earliest music memory — do music prodigies start out banging pots and pans on the kitchen floor like the rest of us, or did you go straight to strumming chords?

Brett Anderson (keys, guitar, vocals): Mostly pots and pans at first. Then a conscious effort to play something later. I started playing guitar when I was 13. It devirginized me as a musician.

Q. What was the first record you owned? If you were to name a handful of albums that captured your attention, say at ages 10, 15, 20, and 25 — what would those be?

Brett: I owned a tape of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Played it till it wouldn’t play no more. 10 — Michael Jackson’s Thriller. 15 to 25 — everything Pixies.

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