Happy almost May! Boy did we get a pleasant surprise this week…
You know how we were all really sad when Virgin Freefest pulled out of D.C. and we thought we were only left with Sweetlife (who admittedly stepped it up this year) and the sporadic, lackluster Earthy Day concert? Well here comes the Landmark Music Festival out of nowhere to take the crown as the premiere D.C. music event of the season.
On September 26th and 27th, 40 artists including Drake, The Strokes, Band of Horses, War on Drugs, Twin Shadow, Dan Deacon, Ex Hex, and others I don’t feel like typing will convene upon West Potomac Park in an attempt to “energize the movement to restore our nation’s common ground.” I don’t know about all that, but I do know you should get tickets while they’re cheap(er) here.
Also, please make sure to follow the Tunes You Should Know in 2015 playlist on Spotify. It makes me feel warm inside when you do.
Onto this week’s fixations!
- Lee Fields – “Still Hangin’ On”
J Cole fans might recognize Lee Fields’ voice from the track “Ladies” off The Warm Up, but I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Mr. Fields at Bonnaroo two years ago. He opened up that day’s performances on the What Stage and in my recap, I described it by saying, “The 62-year-old soul singer brought the midday crowd to its knees with a set that felt like a sermon being delivered by James Brown.”
Even with two years hindsight, I’m sticking to that hyperbolic claim. In fact, Lee Fields has even been called “Little JB” for his vocal and physical appearance to the late James Brown (he also provided additional vocals for the James Brown biographical movie, Get On Up). But over the course of his 45-year career, Fields has picked up an emotional weight in his voice that Big JB never had. The inflection on each syllable and the wavering of each vowel give every line that Fields sings an extra wallop of gravitas. Even the best live video on YouTube can’t do it justice.
Fortunately, you can (temporarily) ditch your laptop and see Lee Fields LIVE THIS SATURDAY NIGHT at Howard Theater. Get tickets here, just please don’t snap any pictures of me weeping like a baby when he plays “Still Hangin’ On.”
- Girl Band – The Early Years
I have to confess that when I first saw the name Girl Band whilst going down a music discovery rabbit hole, I clicked on it because I thought that was the name of Alison Brie’s musical side-project (That band is called The Girls, so you can see where the confusion happened).
Instead, I was treated to a sonic force that had me writing down notes like “Death From Above 1979 with Cursive’s Tim Kasher on vocals” and “you can tell they like Nirvana,” all while getting far too amped for a morning Metro commute. But for as heavy as these guys are, and they do get cacophonically heavy at times, everything still has its own groove that it settles into. It might be the plodding march of Beat Happening-cover “I Love You” or the militaristic snare of “Lawman,” but it’s always there if you listen hard enough. And when you get to their cover of a techno song by someone named Blawan called “Why Do They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?,” which they have no shame stretching to an obscene 8-minutes, you really hear the potential for what this band can do with disparate elements.
This EP, winkingly titled The Early Years, is only a collection of previously-released singles packaged together by Rough Trade Records in advance of the band’s US tour, but it’s obvious this is only a first step for these guys.
P.S.: Someone named Aimee Cliff over at Fader tried to lump these guys into an article about, to patronizingly mansplain, white guys in bands who had “overtones of cultural and political appropriation evoked by their names.” While I get where she’s coming from with bands like Viet Cong, Slaves, and Perfect Pussy, it’s already close to being a straw man argument, and when you take into account this band’s tongue-in-cheek naming system for everything, it just seems like a huge reach. So, as a white man, I would like to defend other white men against an argument made by a non-white man. America!
- Major Lazer featuring Pusha T, Travi$ Scott, 2 Chainz, and Mad Cobra – “Night Riders”
Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, aka Major Lazer are back with not only a new album, but apparently their own cartoon show on FXX. “Night Riders” was originally set to debut on the show, but they actually uploaded the song to YouTube a few hours prior to its airing.
And hip-hop needs these kinds of songs. While To Pimp A Butterfly may be the groundbreaking hip-hop album we “needed” at this moment in time, songs like “Night Riders” are necessary to keep the yin-yang balance of the genre in check. Think of it like the turnt-up apple to Kendrick’s orange. We need to hear Pusha T tell us he feels like he hit the Powerball, we need to hear 2 Chainz talk about his guest-room full of fur coats.
Sometimes, we just need to set this bitch on fire so that we can have a sing-along.
And now, it’s time for a very special edition of…
HULKING OUT WITH LINDSAY HOGAN! (name subject to change each week until we find a good one)
Hey kids, I hope you enjoyed Major Lazer and Pusha T, because down here we’re catching up on folk.
- Color In Numbers – “Watched You”
Color In Number might be the newest band in DC, and they also might have one of the most promising sounds. “Watched You,” their first and only single gives a lush, haunting sense of what this group is capable of. The dual vocals on this track and the intricate guitar work are the song’s strengths, and neither overpower each other.
I’ve been brooding over the phrase “unforgiveable, you’re unforgettable,” not just because dark folk music is inescapably tied to my own reoccurring brand of heartbreak, but because folk is a genre that doesn’t often pull off a good hook. And this is a good hook. As lovely as this track is though, its constraint left me wanting more. But for the first single of a young band dripping with talent, that’s a pretty sweet place to be.
- The North Country – “The Cross We Bear”
The North Country on the other hand, is a D.C. band that’s been keeping a presence in D.C. for about four years and putting out solid music all the while. Their open-minded tendency to blend genres, folk, rock, Americana, and psychedelic, has kept their audience’s attention. “The Cross We Bear” is the first single off their record There is Nothing to Fear, out last Monday.
I loved this song when is first came out in January, and it’s grown on me even since then. The change in tone from serene to frantic and lyrical depth packed into this song ensure that something new will catch your ear with every listen. They cover regret, hope, self depreciation, and loss, and manage to put all these subjects under an uplifting umbrella.
What I like about folk bands in D.C., and I’m sure this is not exclusive to our city, is how they unabashedly project joy in a music community where joy is a riskier style choice then say, despairing noise rock. Following that commitment to joy, The North Country’s album release show two weeks ago had one of the most loving, shamelessly happy crowds I’ve seen in a long time. And if you don’t think the crowd at a show means a lot, then I don’t think you’ve been to enough shows.
- Lady Lamb – “Violet Clementine”
Lastly, I will throw in an over-due surrealist folk gem, “Violet Clementine” by Lady Lamb. This track comes from the album After, which is becoming one of my favorites of this year. This song is essentially three songs in one; the lyricism is familiar and clever but the music changes and tumbles into increasingly unexpected places. Its sweet, then aggressive, anxious, then sprawling. I’ve been listening to “Violet Clementine” regularly for two months, and it puts me on the edge of my seat every time. Trust me, you’re in for a ride.