Blown Breeze, Grown Grass and We are Part of the Earth, the first full-length from Semicircle, Reptar's drummer Andrew McFarland and bass player Ryan Engleberger, leaves a mark as a cohesive, introspective collection of folk and mild-mannered indie rock. The project, which has grown from public improvisation — “an attempted exposition of the collective unconscious,” as McFarland describes it — into a relatively concrete band performing the duo’s songs, is an entity completely removed from Reptar's party-starting world pop, save for its shared members.
The 10-song album, recorded by McFarland in Decatur, channels inward the reflections his other band would normally turn out at vivacious levels. The result is a mix of meditative prog-folk. “Underground River of Glass” slowly builds from an arpeggiated acoustic guitar and McFarland’s softly sung observances into an all-out wall of sound with electric guitar fuzz, keys, and dynamic, crashing drums. Mid-tempo guitar grooves such as the Spoon-esque “Remember Me” or the plaintive “Stranger” also appear?
While the songs lean toward the pensive, with lyrical content spanning abstractions on the immaterial world and unrequited love, their arrangements are light even at their heaviest, never feeling labored or forceful in their emotion. It’s as if you’re meant to share in McFarland’s thoughts and experiences, not have them forced upon you on all cylinders. Take the album’s final track, “Part of the Earth,” for instance. At just over six minutes, it’s the record’s longest, but the song’s pristine piano and horns make more for an inviting welcome rather than a bittersweet departure.
Blown Breeze is an invigorating listen showcasing the Reptar rhythm section’s pop chops and strong songwriting — a move toward solidarity, making for itself a beautiful, unique identity.
Atlanta expats Mark Rogers and Mary Byrne return from New York tonight (Mon., Nov. 3), playing songs from their first album together, I Line My Days Along Your Weight (Important Records). The tangle of their respective acoustic strumming and melodies, and Byrne’s austere self-reflection and easy-on-the-ears singing voice, are at once earthy and haunting. Strong hints of Americana and the Avant-garde show up in songs such as, "First Fall Nights," “Hospital,” “A Racing Heart,” and “Sirens Call,” plumbing the depths of shadowy musical and psychological recesses that are more complex than that of the average acoustic duo’s song fare. This is only natural: Rogers’ time playing music in Atlanta included a stint holding down the twisted Spaghetti Western dirges of Myssouri for the album War/Love Blues. Likewise, Byrne honed her rich, often perplexing, but always intriguing lyrical style with long gone local acts Shamgod and Hot Young Priest. For more on her lyrics, just let the album’s title sink in for a few minutes — I Line My Days Along Your Weight. The mental images these words conjure know no bounds, while never offering anything definitive.
On The Jake Leg Chronicles, the duo manages to create something interesting, even though the sound is loaded with familiar signifiers. The rocking twang guitar on “Poor White Trash” activates the Skynyrd synapses, “American Fool” has a very recognizable .38 Special feel, and Kettles’ story songs such as “Blood Brothers,” are reminiscent of more Texas songwriters than you can name. When writers try to deliver a message, it is often difficult to express universal truths in a unique manner, and in a few cases here the clichés are a little heavy handed. But the underlying sincerity is real, and Kettles works hard with his words.
Over the last few years, Larkin Poe have strived for a new identity, let the music go where it wants to go, and ultimately found themselves opening for and performing with Elvis Costello, on stage at Bonnaroo and Glastonbury, and recently signed to a new label after years of successful DIY releases.
Fans of their earlier, gentler, and softer work may be a bit shocked by the big production and percussive wall of sound on their latest album, Kin. Released via Restoration Hardware and recorded in Los Angeles and Atlanta with co-producers Chris Seefried and Damien Lewis, Kin is a remarkable departure from the ladies’ previous work. Co-writing for the first time, each sister brings a personal and unique perspective to the music, and they wear their influences well.
AthFest is developing a legacy for itself as storied as the music scene it represents. The five-day festival is a true grassroots showcase of the finest in Athens music, art, comedy, and cinema. This year offered a formidable lineup topped by locals Reptar, Drivin N Cryin, Elf Power, and the onetime of Montreal sideman Kishi Bashi. The real strength of AthFest rests in the diversity of its undercard. Local bluegrass, punk, hip-hop, electronic, rock 'n' roll, folk, indie, and everything in-between is represented in almost equal parts. It's a cliche, but AthFest truly offers something for everyone.
I stopped by for Friday (June 20) evening's festivities to offer a snapshot rundown of Reptar's headlining show and Flagpole Magazine's excellent showcase at the 40 Watt Club.
Reptar 9 p.m.
A half-hour before AthFest's first headliner is slated to take the stage, a teeming mass of sweaty attendees are already gathered under the solace of the early evening cool in front of the outdoor Pulaski St. stage. Three decades ago, a comparable crowd might have gathered here for R.E.M., a decade after, perhaps Widespread Panic would be the cause for the evening's thick anticipation. But in 2014, the music diehards of Athens gather to see Reptar. Musically, the Athens-native eight piece bare little similarities to the jam-heavy, jangle-pop appeal of their fore bearers, but the one thread that connects Reptar across the decades is their ability to cause people to absolutely lose their minds.
Reptar is hardly the critical darling that other Athens giants have been, but clearly critical acclaim wasn't why the crowd has gathered in droves. From the first song, the group has already claimed the stage as its dancefloor, selling its energy with every bit of confidence that a band can muster. Over the course of an hour, the crowdsurfers rarely take breaks, fans hoot and holler in competition with the speakers, and at multiple points an arsenal of nervous-looking AthFest security are recruited to hold down the barrier so the enthusiasm doesn't turn into a riot.
The group's music falls squarely into the recent advent of what some would call "fun rock." Simply put, this style wasn't made for breaking new ground, exploring new sonic territories, or to further any kind of musical conversation - it's bonafide party fuel. Yes, Reptar's music is often a cringeworthy amalgamation of the kind of over-produced, formulaic, anthem-heavy, starchy post-afrobeat indie that has been co-opted by every band hoping to take the crossover throne from MGMT. But, in a live setting, thoughts of just how much better bands like MGMT, Vampire Weekend, and Animal Collective pull off the tribal-twee shtick dissolve. For this hour, there is only an eight-piece band named after a cartoon dinosaur and an absolutely fervid crowd who devour every second of it.
Grunge nostalgia has never done favors for anyone. The genre is tied to early '90s malaise and Kurt Cobain unknowingly took the sound down with himself, forever serving as a symbol of its demise.
Of course that hasn't stopped a smattering of bands to revive the genre in his wake. Atlanta three-piece Pretty Please is the latest outfit to reinvigorate grunge's formula by infusing it with bits of sludge, hardcore punk, and stoner metal.
At its best, Pretty Please's latest EP Sully advances all of the genres it pays tribute to, at worst its songwriting amounts to faithful imitation. The group's name is a not-so-subtle nod to the fact that its music is anything but pretty. The entire EP revels in the grotesque. Lead singer and guitarist Robee Whitmire's earsplitting screams punctuate the songs and keep the sound gripping even when the riffs falter.
Despite being named after a "bad joke," local progressive jazz-punk trio Pillage & Plunder's title perfectly captures its genre-thieving style. Throughout the duration of its latest single "Hit & Run," the group loots from a number of contrasting sounds, which combined form a sonic Voltron that defies classification.
Over the course of three and a half minutes, the track seesaws from scat-singing lounge-style jazz to early emo reminiscent of Cap N' Jazz's heavier tunes - all connected by headspinning song structures. Singer/guitarist Gokul Parasuram's vocals lend a captivating sultry quality at odds with the gritty guitar breakdown halfway through.
Pillage & Plunder's nimble style-swapping is impressive, but the group never allows itself to get truly cozy in one idiom. There are a number of hypnotizing snippets that never get explored to the extent they deserve. The track can't seem to decide whether it wants its listeners to hold up a martini glass or a bloodied fist.
"Hit & Run" is the latest single off its forthcoming album The Show Must Go Wrong, due out in August of this year. While the track can't seem to get comfortable in its own skin, it's a fascinating preview of promising things to come.
Even though singer/songwriter David Norbery invites his listeners to "come walk with [him] among the dead" on his latest single, the newly released track bursts with liveliness.
His one-man bedroom-pop project Nomen Novum has carved out a niche for itself over the past few years by fusing pop-friendly, sunkissed instrumentation with adventurous textures provided by field recordings and found sounds.
His latest single, "Lookalikes," comes as the title track of his upcoming EP, set to be released this summer by Deer Bear Wolf Records. The song shares a similar optimism to his earlier work but shirks off his penchant for frenzied, glitchy beats and lets his voice lead the track's buoyant energy, to mixed results.
The strongest suit of the track comes through its hypnotizing wash of looped guitars, synthesizers, and samples that swirl around Norbery's voice like the dreamy spiral arms of a galaxy. Right from the first glittery guitar chord, listeners are wrapped in a warm ambiance that simultaneously relaxes and overwhelms. However, the melodies Norbery spins occasionally fail to match the ecstatic glow of the surrounding textures. The repetition of his vocals and the static rhythms are reminiscent of the machinist beats of certain My Bloody Valentine tracks that kept the groove as an afterthought.
"Lookalikes" has countless beautiful moments that can capture the wandering ear, but it would be nice to hear Norbery further set himself apart from the countless dream-pop bands floating around blogs and continue to embrace his taste for sugar-sweet melodies and unconventional production.
Nomen Novum headline The Mammal Gallery for Deer Bear Wolf Magazine's release party on Tues., May 13, with Ladybeard, Narrator, and Tim Kohler. $5 (no magazine), $20 (with magazine). 8 p.m. 91 Broad St. 404-771-6912.
Fans and detractors agree: Future has made people question what qualifies as hip-hop, while serving as default comparison/inspiration for ATL's rising mixtape circuit stars (Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug, Migos). Honest, the follow-up to 2012 debut Pluto, offers proof of the royal family ties seen at Future's Coachella gig - in "Benz Friends (Whatchutola)," he and Andre laugh off Mercedes-digging women nearly 20 years after OutKast's carjacking anthem "Benz or Beamer." More importantly, Honest takes another hard left into the seedy underground. While not quite as ambitious, mostly thanks to goofball features, Honest still shocks while delivering some of the most singular hits rap will reckon with this year.
"I'm a rock star for life, I'm just being honest / Got a check on me right now, I'm just being honest," Future croons over a lone piano in the opulent title track and lead single. The rest of Honest's humble-bragging isn't nearly as subversive. Instead, Nayvadius veers between emotional extremes, from sentimental ballad ("I Feel U") to turbulent banger ("Covered N Money"). Both songs, plus the equally addictive bonus track (and No Sleep mixtape highlight) "How Can I Not," sound as if they resulted from the same, inspired session as the bleak, harrowing triumph "Sh!t," where Future barks sharply as if trapped.
Hip-hop and jazz have been familiar bedfellows for decades, but few groups have been skilled enough to fuse them in an instrumental setting. Even the most talented hip-hop luminaries like Madlib and J Dilla only used the moody ambiance of jazz samples as brushstrokes in their production. Atlanta octet Monkier masterfully elevates the fusion between the two worlds into new dimensions rarely explored by either genres.
Their self-titled debut contains 13 tracks of expertly orchestrated, seamlessly integrated, and consistently adventurous hip-hop that pushes the outer limits of numerous styles. The songs are constructed around a series of loops that are never content to sit still. Saxophone flourishes, virtuoso guitar solos, and lush psychedelic synth buildups all come out to play, switching off between accompanying the multi-talented rapper/saxophonist/keyboardist Zac Evans and taking the reigns of the songs.
Evans raps like a well-trained soloist. Instead of constantly fighting against his bandmates for the forefront, his verses ebb and flow with their unpredictable twists and turns. In the hands of less capable musicians, the complexity of these songs would overwhelm the groove and sacrifice clarity for creativity. But the magic of Monkier comes from its ability to fashion odd time signatures in a natural way, making the skippy seven beat feel of songs like "I Don't Know" and "Stream of Consciousness" seem eminently danceable.
The true standout of the debut is its dense, evolving arrangements. Even though soloing plays a prominent role in the album, the songs are tightly wound fragments deliciously layered to reward new auditory treats upon repeated listening. Monkier's debut acts as a superb living document of Atlanta's burgeoning left field experimental jazz and hip-hop scene.
Four out of five stars
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