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all words: William Alberque
all photos: Katherine Gaines

Monument Music and Arts Festival organized a fantastic show to highlight the cause of the Grassroots Reconciliation Group.  Grassroots works to rehabilitate child soldiers in northern Uganda and helps reconcile them with their communities. Quite a worthy cause; give if you can.

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They put together an intriguing mix of sounds, from Cigarette’s entrancing slowcore to Outputmessage’s irresistible, soulful dancefloor IDM, topped by Small Black’s intoxicating bedroom electronica.

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First up were Cigarette, playing a marvelous, relaxed American indie, reminiscent of Low or Galaxie 500, or a male-fronted Hope Sandoval and the Warm Intentions.  The six members of the local Virginia band crowd onto the stage – with three guitars, a bass, a keyboardist and a drummer – and weave their beautiful, soporific sound.  The audience is distracted, talking incessantly through the set, which is a damn shame.

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I loved the patience and space they gave each song to grow and stretch out, including the trumpet they bring out for the last track.  The five or so songs are too few, but the band seemed relieved to come off.  I hope they grow in confidence – with the right main act to support, this would have been very popular.

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Cigarette finished and the event organizers took to the stage to remind everyone of the reasons why we were all here – raising money to make the world better and to listen to amazing music. Outputmessage takes the stage next; it’s a one-man show, with Bernard Farley, his microphone, and his synthesizer.  He triggers the first song and immediately makes the crowd stop talking and start dancing.

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The music is irresistible and Farley’s vocals are soaring, massive, filling the room.  He’s an immense presence on stage, moving and dancing and posing.  I’m sold.

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Farley is a DJ, a producer, and a record label-owner – his growing presence in the music scene includes a new act with Will Eastman and Micah Vellian called Volta Bureau.  He’s promoting his last album, Autonomous, and the remix album Autonomix, and it’s uniformly excellent work.

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Some of the beats sound ‘80s inspired and they’re all amazingly poppy – with more and more of the crowd being moved to dance.  It reminds me a bit of Friendly Fires with a song that would go really well with “Hawaiian Air.” He dedicates a song to a friend, and the vocals switch up – from a soulful Hot Chip to something extraordinarily emotional – almost like a richer version of the XX.

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The band demands an encore, and he follows with a hard Tiga beat over a Cut Copy-esque closer.  Farley ends the song with an amazing little dance, and we’re left to contemplate what’s next.

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Small Black takes the stage late – but I think three bands tend to be a bit too much for a work night.  Fortunately, Small Black is incredible live, so I’m perfectly willing to deal with it.  The four members, Ryan Heyner, Josh Kolenik, Juan Pieczanski, and Jeff Curtin take the dual keyboards, bass, and drums.  Their sound is extraordinary – a dizzy, blissful, summer-spun electronica with strong pop elements.

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The first song is atmospheric, rhythmic, and more sensual than I expect, with a gorgeous outro.  The second is bass-driven with icy, placid synths over the top.  The third has a big build and is gently wasted, but the packed room moves a bit less as this one’s a bit mid-tempo.

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It follows with another beautiful, but mid-tempo number.  The next slows even more, with echoed vocals, reminiscent of A.R. Kane.  The sixth song picks up the pace, speeding even further with the bouncy pop of the next track.

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Small Black are demonstrating a remarkable range of sounds, turning now to three funky r&b numbers in a row, beautiful and winning.  The next track wins cries of recognition from the crowd – I think it’s “Despicable Dogs,” and it’s gentle and beautiful but gets the whole audience bouncing and dancing along.

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“Photojournalist” follows with its dizzy, bouncing electronica and spacy, echoed vocals.  They wrap up with one more, and I’m very, very pleased indeed.  It was an excellent evening’s entertainment and all for an excellent cause.

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