First Listen: Frightened Rabbit’s “Fields of Wheat”

Bklyn Steel

After wrapping up a U.S. tour, the members of Glasgow-based Frightened Rabbit have been sequestered in a house south of Galveston, Texas, writing and recording roughs for a new album. Last night, they shared a song and posted a photo of the handwritten lyrics, with scratched-out phrases and all. It’s an arrival without the usual major-label social media arm-waving. And it’s altogether fitting that an expression of such aching beauty should enter this way on a Saturday morning, as if a friend slipped an unmarked CD under your dorm room door.

“This isn’t about me. It’s about the avenues, crescents, streets, and lanes we’ve not been to — windows we don’t peek through” Scott Hutchison ruminates in “Fields of Wheat.” The track — a bedroom confessional in the vein of Elliott Smith or Jose Gonzalez — is framed by a finger-picked meditation on acoustic guitar (Simon Liddell) and overlaid with touches of gauzy organ (Andy Monaghan). The latter builds to a not-quite-dissonant fuzz two-thirds of the way through — just enough to color the mood a few shades darker.

“Fields of Wheat” strips away the sweaty, sweary bombast of a Frightened Rabbit concert to reveal the persistent, oft-hidden anxieties of modern life. It’s a reminder that behind the major-label fixtures, masterful studio production, and festival stages, is a bunch of boys barely out of their 20s, pushing bodies and psyches to the limit to bring these songs to life, to capture honest sentiments in tumultuous times.

As outsiders, we can’t know the personal narratives behind the music embedded in our collective unconscious. But we can imagine. And I envision a series of liminal spaces — between city and ocean, dusk and dawn, an American administration careening out of control and a UK climate of mutiny against an attempted Tory chokehold.

There’s a certain melancholy here that reflects not so much regret, as the process of reckoning — an accounting of where we stand after the adrenaline of the road wears off and the longing for home re-enters. It’s fragile, but not frail. And it’s a lovely way to start your weekend.

Connect with Frightened Rabbit on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Pick up their latest album, Painting of a Panic Attack, here.

Flock of Dimes + EL VY at the 9:30 Club

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods. Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt. But there’s music in us.

It feels wrong to post anything today, mere days after the attacks in Paris and Beirut, without noting the violent ends to which extremists will go and the myriad ways in which we respond. Many of us treat music as a safe haven and a bridge between beliefs and borders. Surely the events must touch a particular nerve in musicians and music lovers familiar with Le Bataclan, one of the sites of Friday’s violence. So I’ll open with this video from yesterday of a man who towed his grand piano behind his bike, parked it outside Bataclan, and performed John Lennon’s “Imagine.” And I’ll direct you to this poem by Jack Gilbert, who fiercely insists that “there will be music despite everything” — despite the sorrow, despite the slaughter.

Flock of Dimes

FoD10

As one-half of Wye Oak, Jenn Wasner has created brash, folk-tinged rock alongside drummer & keyboardist Andy Stack. The Baltimore native has since ventured out with solo work under the moniker Flock of Dimes. Though the full album has yet to be released, Wasner is road-testing the songs as she tours with EL VY (more later on the side project of The National’s frontman). If the Flock of Dimes songs we heard on Wednesday night represent almost-but-not-quite-finished products, then we’ve got some true sonic candy to savor in the months ahead. These are majestic, effects-drenched pieces — so full-bodied that you wouldn’t guess they’re the product of a single performer.

For most of the opening set, Wasner was half-hidden behind an array of keys, dials, and guitars — but there’s no hiding that voice with its shimmering energy, like a dream that visits by night and haunts through the day.

Continue reading “Flock of Dimes + EL VY at the 9:30 Club”

Hamilton Leithauser at AMP by Strathmore

Early on in his set, Hamilton Leithauser flashed that signature smirk: “My kid’s here tonight, so I have to spell out the title of this next one: ‘Dad is D-R-U-N-K.'”

I had been introduced to the little gal earlier that evening. She now sat beside her grandparents, clapping excitedly for her dad.

Said dad is the former frontman of The Walkmen. The indie rock band announced an indefinite hiatus in 2013 and its members ventured forth with solo efforts — Leithauser’s Black Hours (produced by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij), Walter Martin’s collection of children’s songs We’re All Young Together, and Peter Matthew Bauer’s Liberation! And last month, Leithauser and Walkmen guitarist Paul Maroon released Dear God, a set of nine original songs plus covers of Tom Paxton, Will Oldham, the Everly Brothers, and V.F. Stewart.

Continue reading “Hamilton Leithauser at AMP by Strathmore”

Landmark Music Festival Recap

Last weekend, the National Park Service partnered with C3 Presents (who also run Lollapalooza) to put on a weekend festival steps from the Washington Monument. Here are some photos & tunes for your audio-visual gleaning, including a peek backstage courtesy of the lovable hooligans of Vandaveer.

Last weekend, the Trust for the National Mall partnered with C3 Presents (who also run Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits) to put on a music festival in West Potomac Park, steps from the Washington Monument. A portion of the proceeds went toward restoring the National Mall (because Abe Lincoln doesn’t want to look out over cracked sidewalks and a tarp-covered Reflecting Pool, alright?). Stellar line-up, cool temperatures, Metro-accessible location, herbivore options aplenty, and a good cause — this basically checked all the boxes. It was remarkably well run, especially for an inaugural event.

Landmark Festival headliners included Drake, The Strokes, and CHVRCHES. Topping my list were Vandaveer, Lord Huron, and Ben Howard. I also caught some of Dr. John and Hiss Golden Messenger. Given infinite time/energy, I would have also seen Rhiannon Giddens, alt-J, Ex Hex, War on Drugs, and TV On the Radio (there will be other chances!). Here are some photos & tunes for your audio-visual gleaning, including a peek backstage, courtesy of the lovable hooligans of Vandaveer.

VANDAVEER

I’ve seen this band seven times. If I’m so lucky as to increase that number sevenfold, I will still find each experience to be utterly moving. I think our subconscious has a way of registering the Cartesian coordinates laid down by exceptional songwriting. The music that’s exactly right at an exact moment in your life — you will forever return to those songs when you need to find your way again. Vandaveer is one of those bands for me.

Continue reading “Landmark Music Festival Recap”

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.

Continue reading “Some Chaos First: A Summer Playlist”