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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Pattern Is Movement’s self-titled new album

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In the six years since Pattern is Movement’s last full-length release, the indie kingdom where they (perhaps precariously) stake their ground has seen some significant changes. 2008’s All Together hit at a time when the orchestral, whimsical flourishes of indie rock were in full swing. Albums like Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest were the defining statements of that ethos – a textured, intellectual lens on cathartic and catchy tunes predominated over those works more subtle rhythmic components. While All Together is an extraordinarily rhythm-heavy work, with drummer Chris Ward’s breakbeat and time signature-dodging drum lines underscoring Andrew Thiboldeaux’s piano and vocal acrobatics point-by-point, the band’s groove-heavy elements are overshadowed by the cabaret aesthetic and almost-nonsensical quality to some of the lyrics (“Jenny Ono” is a stand-out in this regard). The album fits well within this era.

The ensuing six years would see this entire world change under everybody’s feet, and that musical world’s most persistent and celebrated artists deemphasizing their rock roots in favor of more conspicuous flirtation with EDM, hip-hop, and RnB. The lines between these worlds have blurred considerably, and are now almost invisible. Nobody bats an eyelash at Justin Vernon appearing on Kanye West tracks, or Drake pulling Jaime xx onto his album’s title track. These worlds were not meant to stay apart, and the ethereal qualities that permeated the best products of both musical worlds were destined to bring them together.

With this background, Pattern is Movement (released today on Hometapes Records) might appear late to the party. Fortunately for everyone involved, this album might be the best statement of the indie rock-hip-hop fusion that has been made. Whatever the Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, and acts of their ilk were attempting when they began taking obvious cues from 90s RnB, Ward and Thiboldeaux have lapped them in their dedication to the artform’s roots. They trade angularity for warmth and shimmering beauty, cheeky surrealism for heart-on-sleeve passion.

All of this is not to say that the band has let go of their flair for the dramatic (just listen to “Make it Right”, which could probably have fit in on All Together if not for the D’Angelo-styled vocal harmonies) — rather, they’ve commuted it into something more accessible, both aurally and poetically. Instead of feeling like a show or a musical, Pattern is Movement evokes a feeling of ecstasy that is inextricably intimate and communal. Intended to capture the atmosphere of first encounters (supposedly inspired by a trip undertaken by Thiboldeaux to the Dominican Republic, laced with the energy of what the Spanish conquistadors and Native Americans felt upon first meeting), the album employs every blippy keyboard, every auto-tuned vocal run, every string-and-horn ensemble buildup in the beautiful service of capturing something as ephemeral as it is universal.

On “River”, the album’s opening track, the new direction comes into crystal clarity. Continue reading →

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Kings of the Jungle: Talking passion and relentless pursuits with Night Panther

Night Panther
Night Panther

There are many words that come to mind the first time you hear Night Panther. One of those words is almost certainly “sexy.” There’s something so sultry about their particular blend of elements—the smooth, almost lackadaisical beats, the falsetto vocals dripping with honey—that immediately transports you to another time and place: somewhere with cabarets and crushed velvet and massively indulgent fur coats. Night Panther don’t just make sex-pop; they seem to effortlessly embody its form.

2013 was a big year for the band. They placed second in The Deli Philly’s annual poll of top emerging local bands, and their single “Fever” was named best local tune of 2013 by yours truly. This April, they’ll be residents at new NoLibs venue Bourbon & Branch, playing every Friday with a slew of awesome supporting acts. The buzz behind their name alone should be enough to put the new spot on the map.

Indeed, it seems like success comes easy to these fur-clad crooners…and in some ways, it does. But in another sense, it’s been a long time coming. The tune “Fever,” I soon find out, was written about 8 years ago when front man Farzad Houshiarnejad was playing in another band, but was shelved because it didn’t fit their sound at the time. Since then, it’s gone through years of revisions (and one previous release under the little-known “Captain Dum Dum” moniker) before being recorded for their self-titled LP in 2011. It was released in 2013.

“We’ve been working on these songs for years,” says drummer Mike Cammarata over drinks at Doylestown staple Maxwell’s on Main. “Even when we were involved with past projects, this was always something we had on the back burner.”

hanging with Night Panther outside Maxwell's on Main (photo via Instagram)
hanging with Night Panther outside Maxwell’s on Main (photo via Instagram)

Actually, the whole band’s been together for years. Houshiarnejad and Cammarata have roots in Doylestown act Drink Up Buttercup, a zany, oompah-inspired garage-punk project whose thrilling bashing and Man Man-esque melodies won them props in the mid 2000’s. Keyboardist/guitarist Chris Radwanski was the manager for Drink Up, and they all lived together in a big, sprawling house in downtown D-town, with a recording studio in the basement.

So when that band dissolved, they naturally continued tinkering, and formed Night Panther soon after. (Their live line-up also includes singer-keyboardist Kelly Kurteson and bassist Jon Anderson, who is not the guy from Yes).

“When we first started out, everything was about being sexy,” says Houshiarnejad. “I’m very anal about our image. I care a lot about how things look.” Continue reading →

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Adventures in loudspeakers and Stockhausen will introduce composer Nathaniel Bartlett to Philly in a new series at Crane Arts

Nathaniel Bartlett | photo courtesy of the artist
Nathaniel Bartlett | photo courtesy of the artist

Major changes in life are always followed by a period of readjustment and acclimatization. Having recently moved to the Philadelphia area from his native Madison, Wisconsin, composer and percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett has decided to take the initiative and introduce himself to his newfound community via a five-concert series beginning Wednesday night and continuing monthly at the Crane Arts Old School White Space.

“My experience in the past has been that if you go to a new city and give one concert, it just doesn’t make a very big impact,” Bartlett says. “Doing it piecemeal just doesn’t seem to achieve a critical mass. I’m hoping this series will introduce interested people in Philadelphia to what I do.”

The series, dubbed “Sound-Space Audio Lab,” will provide an introduction not just for Bartlett but for his unique, technologically inventive approach to composing and performing. Bartlett’s music augments his five-octave acoustic marimba with high-definition electronic sound, utilizing his 8-channel loudspeaker cube. The system surrounds the audience with eight speakers, allowing for an immersive, highly dimensional sound space.

Bartlett revealed a nascent version of his loudspeaker rig to Philly audiences at a Bowerbird-presented concert in 2006, while he was briefly residing in Bryn Mawr. He’s had several years to tinker with the idea since, and will arrive at Crane Arts with a far more developed set-up this time around. “If you’ve ever listened to a really good, well-made audio recording on a properly set-up stereo system,” Bartlett says, “you’ll notice that the sound exists seamlessly between the loudspeakers. This idea takes that concept, where the sounds can exist anywhere between the speakers, and applies it to a much, much larger and truly 3D space.”

Continue reading →

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Source Tags and Codes: How Trail of Dead created the blueprint for hard rock grandiosity

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead | Photo by Courtney Chavanell
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead | Photo by Courtney Chavanell

When …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead take the stage at Underground Arts on Wednesday, it will be to commemorate the kind of rock music moment that is now all but impossible. This performance inaugurates a small tour around the country celebrating the 12th anniversary of their landmark major label debut full-length, 2002’s Source Tags and Codes.

Already, this is a sort of bizarre event – who does 12th anniversaries? Is this some uniquely significant moment that an already cryptic and idiosyncratic act (all of their albums share a near-anthropological fascination with Asian, Indian, and pre-Columbian philosophical traditions) would be more likely to celebrate? Are they making some self-referential commentary on the process of bands from their era doing reunion tours around supposedly-landmark records by going outside of the normative time frame?

According to singer/guitarist/drummer Jason Reece, the explanation’s a bit more innocuous. “We meant to do it two years ago, but we couldn’t get it together [laughs]. Better late than never, right?” he explains over a crackling cell phone line. He’s caught up in what he describes as some “South-by s***”, his nonchalance apparent when he laughs off the missed opportunity of a ten-year anniversary. His is an indifference that most bands can’t even pretend to afford – dropping opportunities like this means missing out on tremendous press retrospectives, renewed interest in the music, picking up new fans, and all the trappings that come with these near-obligatory “where are they now?” kinds of tours.

Maybe the 42-year-old Reece is a little bit cavalier about what his band has accomplished. From the get-go, they have been very irreverent about the kinds of heights they hit – heights they could only dream of reaching at the strange moment in music history from which Source Tags and Codes was born. This band was otherwise not meant to hit it big. Everything they did, from their incendiary live shows (complete with equipment desecration) to the rotating frontmen to the impossibly long name, seemed like a challenge to the rock establishment. Before the current era of supermassive pop acts putting out intentionally limit-pushing music (what up Yeezus), bands like Trail of Dead (the most common abbreviation of their full name) were the best bet for listeners looking for an intellectually-based sonic assault on the pop mainstream; they were utilizing every resource they had to stick something in people’s faces. Just check out this absurd interview and performance from the short-lived Farmclub television show – the incongruity of the band’s conscious unravelling and the calculated sleaziness of the show’s cool-factor posturing is laughable today, but few bands could have hoped to be so outright confrontational at that time.

Fortunately for Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Codes is an unparalleled masterpiece of its time, an unbloated orchestral record during a time when punk bands weren’t supposed to be so worldly or indulgent. The sound that they developed on their first two indie-released full-length albums, 1998’s self-titled album and 1999’s Madonna, was opened up into something grandiose, cathartic, and incendiary. From the opening static hum and ear-blasting drop of “It Was There That I Saw You” to the string quartet refrain at the end of the album’s closing title track  (structured around the refrain from “How Near How Far”), Source Tags and Codes was designed to push all boundaries. Trail of Dead established the template for punk to go prog and baroque in the service (not disservice) of righteous bombast; without Source Tags and Codes, bands as varied as Arcade Fire and My Chemical Romance might not been as popular as they are. Critics in the know were certainly paying attention, with Trail of Dead gaining one of early-era Pitchfork’s precious few perfect 10s and rave reviews from The Village Voice, Billboard, and the NME.

Perhaps characteristically, Reece acknowledges the impact that the album had on him and his bandmates while cautiously avoiding giving it too much of a broader importance. Continue reading →

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On the Road to Austin with Mumblr: A DIY photo essay about SXSW

Photo by Abi Reimold | abireimoldphoto.com
Photo by Abi Reimold | abireimoldphoto.com

Scott Stitzer lights a cigarette behind the wheel of a big white van as he pulls away from Han Dynasty – the Old City upscale Chinese restaurant where he and his bandmate, Nick Morrison, work as waiters. “The thing that was really apparent about this whole process is that there are people that support us, as people, which is all a human being wants. It’s so gratifying.” Nick and Scott just got off their last restaurant shift for the next week. Not only did Han, the owner of the restaurant, allow them to take off time off, but he also lent them his business van to carry the band and its gear 1,700 miles to Austin, Texas for the 27th annual South by Southwest festival. The band, Mumblr, was invited by their label, Fleeting Youth Records, to play a showcase with local bands from Austin and other artists on the label. Follow along their journey in pictures. [continue]

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Verbatum Jones Brings the Communal Joy #everybodyeats to Philly

Verbatum Jones | photo courtesy of the artist
Verbatum Jones | photo courtesy of the artist

The most characteristic part of a Verbatum Jones gig is the urgent, family-like happiness he throws into the ether. During a concert at Milkboy supporting Halfro, an intensely fun live hip-hop act and some of Jones’s biggest supporters, the 23-year-old emcee turned what could’ve been a throwaway opening slot into a moment-defining wash of positivity. Like a young pastor winning over a new congregation, he enraptured everybody within his limitless enthusiasm. He even got the audience to sing back a whole Mos Def cover – perhaps the highest sign of audience captivation, when you can play another artist’s song with no hesitation from anybody.

The emotionally-hardwired desire to create this sort of communal atmosphere is part of what inspired Verb, born Garry Dorsainvil, to create “Everybody Eats,” a concert/potluck dinner series where the only cost of admission is one dish or drink. The one this Saturday, March 22nd, at a warehouse space in Chinatown North, is the first in Philadelphia (after successful runs in Queens).

“I’m a big fan of music that makes you want to move while you’re eating. That’s how I learned to party, it’s what my cousins taught me. You go, dress nice, say ‘what’s up’ to everybody, great music playing all night…normally, you never paid,” he explains. “A big part of ‘Everybody Eats’ is tailored around that experience from childhood,”

The child of deeply religious Haitian immigrants, Verb recognizes the fundamental, even spiritual links between humans who share the need to eat and dance; “Everybody Eats” is a catch-all for the kinds of experiences and emotions that Verb’s music encompasses, which is why it’s also evolved into a song and a mantra (and, as things go in the 21st century, a hashtag). Rooted in Haitian tradition and expanding into the eclectic tapestry of young Philadelphia, “Everybody Eats” is idealistic and inclusive in all the ways that young community-building art has to be.

“My aunt lived in a very modest shack, and on my first trip to Haiti…she would cook a lot of food when we visited, and we feasted like kings. As she was cooking, and all this music was playing, people would just walk in and introduce themselves from off the block,” he recounts, adding “This was just after the earthquake, and there were a lot of reasons to be sad.” Good times clearly persist in spite of hardship, and it’s hard not to see Verb’s infectious magnetism as an outgrowth of this desire for transcendence.

The cosmic forces behind “Everbody Eats” also guide his artistic trajectory. Having only started rapping a few years ago (after years of being a poet), his initiation at Temple University’s Freestyle Fridays planted seeds that evolved over the release of two EPs – 2011’s (.verb) and this year’s .winter (both of which featured production from Parkhouse Studio’s Kenneth Sullivan). Both releases, available for stream and download from his official website, are rooted in an ethereal sound that echoes of his most obvious influences – human condition-minded emcees from the 90s like The Fugees and Mos Def. Continue reading →

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Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh brings the classical music of Syria to World Cafe Live tonight

 

Kinan Azmeh | photo by Jill Steinberg
Kinan Azmeh | photo by Jill Steinberg

“My personal philosophy is that you make art to experience emotions that you don’t have the luxury of experiencing in real life,” says clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh. In the three years since civil war erupted in his native Syria, there haven’t been many emotions that Azmeh hasn’t experienced. That surfeit led to his taking an entire year off from writing music beginning in March 2011.

“The reason for music disappeared for me,” he says. “There was something by far more major and definitely much bigger than me and the music I make. So I took a step back while I was trying to let it all in.”

Once he was able to take up his pen again, his first new work was “A Sad Morning, Every Morning,” the solo clarinet lament that will open his performance Friday night at World Café Live. “In a time of tragedy, people take a moment of silence at the beginning of an event,” Azmeh says. “For the last few years I’ve been opening every concert of mine with this moment of music.”

The title of the piece reflects Azmeh’s daily experience living in New York, where by the time he wakes up in the morning another day of strife and turmoil is nearly over back home in Damascus. “You turn on the computer first thing when you wake up in the morning in New York and put your hand on your heart, as we say in Arabic, and try to be prepared for the bad news from home. That’s continued for almost three years now.”

Continue reading →