Concerts, Music

Oh! What Big Ears You Have: A Big Ears Festival Recap, Part 1

 

By Nathan Smith

Two weeks ago, a landmark event occurred in Knoxville, TN: the Big Ears festival. A festival which could probably be pitched as a festival for people who don’t normally like festivals, Big Ears brought together the old (John Cale, Television, Steve Reich) and new (Nils Frahm, Son Lux, Julia Holter) in experimental music for an altogether singular experience. Although not without some problems, Big Ears is a tremendous step forward for a city known (musically) mostly for hillbilly pickin’. AC Entertainment, most well-known for its organization of festivals like Bonnaroo, Forecastle, and Mountain Oasis, seems to have saved its most unique and maybe most important festival for its native city. Over the next few days we’ll be rolling out our much-delayed coverage of the festival, so clean out those big ears and get ready.

Editor’s Note: My apologies for the blurry pictures. It seems like everyone else gets better shots on their iPhones than I do.

Friday, March 28th:

- So Percussion with Glenn Kotche and Buke & Gase

so percussion1

A solid start to the weekend. I managed to see quite a few of So Percussion’s performances throughout the festival, leaving me with no doubt that they are excellent musicians who take their craft very seriously. But So Percussion kicked off Friday night’s show with a little humor, incorporating field recordings and disposable cameras into the performance before a blast of their full percussive power. I only caught a moment of the Buke & Gase show, but I’m intrigued enough to check out their work.

- Dean Wareham

dean wareham

Probably my favorite performance of Friday night. Although a fan of Galaxie 500, I was almost completely unfamiliar with Wareham’s solo work before his show. Additionally, I felt a little unsure as to whether I’d stay for the whole thing. Despite being in the 1500-plus seat Tennessee Theatre, Wareham embued songs like “Holding Pattern” with an intimacy and quiet majesty most performers could only achieve in a much smaller venue. I’m not sure how many musicians could make a song about Monday Night Football transcendent and deeply moving, but Wareham did, and it blew me away.

- Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog

marc ribot's ceramic dog

I hadn’t planned on seeing this, but I’m glad I did. The house was absolutely packed for Colin Stetson’s show, so I headed for the jazz/funk/metal trio headed by Ribot, who I only later found out has been a long-time collaborator with one of my favorite musicians, Tom Waits. Although I didn’t quite feel Ribot’s occasional shouted lyrics, I dug how easily the group could transition between genres. The music started off heavy when I walked in, but soon loosened up into something more atmospheric, before a transformation into rock and yet another into jazz, with a performance of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” I don’t know if I’d enjoy it as much in recorded form, because these guys were a marvel to see live.

- Body/Head

body head

The new noise project of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon was interesting to see, if mostly because of Kim Gordon. Not to say that the duo (which also consists of guitarist Bill Nace) wasn’t good; the two have a remarkable talent for playing off of one another. But Body/Head definitely wasn’t the best improvisation I saw over the weekend. I had been warned before that it’s the kind of thing that wears on you after about twenty minutes and coincidentally, I only ended up staying about that long (but also because things at the Bijou were running slow for almost the entire festival and I had to rush to John Cale). It’s an intriguing project, with slow but beautiful visual accompaniment, and Gordon has a powerful stage presence. But after awhile, it just started to feel like navel-gazing.

- John Cale

john cale

In preparation for Big Ears, I listened to last year’s Marc Maron interview with John Cale. In the interview, Cale touched upon the influence of “Dirty South” hip-hop on his most recent work. I’m fairly unfamiliar with Cale’s solo work (outside of his production for artists like Patti Smith and The Modern Lovers), but this made his performance one of my most anticipated at Big Ears. I don’t think anyone else picked up on it, but I can see what Cale meant when he talked about Dirty South, what with his show’s pre-programmed backbeats and all. Cale’s set might have dragged on a little too long and given too much time to weird re-interpretations of classic songs, but it touched on a wide variety of emotions that definitely cements Cale’s place in the canon. As I’ll touch on later, Lou Reed’s presence seemed to hang over much of the festival, so John Cale’s performance felt fittingly poignant.

- Tim Hecker

(no picture because it was wayyyy too dark to see anything)

I feel asleep during Tim Hecker; not because I didn’t like it, but because I had to. With hardly any opportunities to let loose, Big Ears wore me out by the end of each day and Hecker’s surprisingly bass-heavy drone created the perfect atmosphere for a much-needed nap. I might sound a little facetious in saying so, but I’m being sincere- few artists can soundtrack sleep as well as Mr. Hecker. That’s probably one of the truest compliment anyone could ever give. Afterwards, I caught a little bit of local synth-rock band Yung Life at Hello City, one of two local alternatives to Big Ears that weekend, which had me feeling tired again, but after Hecker, I woke up refreshed and ready for day two.

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Music, Playlist

smash cuts: PSYCH!

magical mystery tour-1

Yesterday morning I woke up with a strange and sudden urge to listen to Strawberry Alarm Clock, a feeling I had not experienced in a very long time, specifically since my freshman year of high school. My freshman year of high school I was heavy into The Beatles. Not just Abbey Road-owning, graphic tee-wearing, I-watched-A-Hard-Day’s-Night-once-on-TV Land heavy into The Beatles. I mean Really Heavy. For a brief time, I was caught with that all too righteous bug of Beatlemania and soon my whole life started to change in ways that are too long to explain.

One of the unintended effects of this Beatles phase was my sudden urge to devour all things psychedelic, which led me to groups like Strawberry Alarm Clock. I may shudder at it now, but you know what? It might be time to embrace it. In fact, just to show the kind of person I was then, I’ll start this week’s playlist off with a list of things I liked my freshman year of high school: The Beatles, The Beatles, The Beatles, solo albums from Pink Floyd, sitars, Moogs, the Alan Parsons Project, Indian culture appropriated by white musicians,  the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, novelty music, outer space, music inspired by Alice in Wonderland, pretending to be into transcendental meditation, protesting the Vietnam war years after it had ended, romanticizing the 1960s, deluding myself into think another time was more important than my own.

All of these things and more make an appearance in this week’s smash cuts playlist, in which I explore some of the good and not-so-good psychedelic and prog rock I dug my freshman year of high school. At the same time, I attempt in this playlist to draw a line between the music of those artists and of ones I’m into today. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that what we like doesn’t really change, it just appears a little differently over time. Whether I’m listening to Strawberry Alarm Clock and Arthur Brown or Kishi Bashi and Animal Collective, it’s my experiences that reflect how my taste manifests itself. Other than that, I guess I’m still that same Beatles fan at heart.

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Concerts, Music

Concert Review: Oberhofer

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By Clay Snell

“During spring break, Knoxville can feel like a ghost town,” I explain to Brad Oberhofer as we stand outside of the Knoxville Pearl on an empty East Jackson Avenue. The 22 year-old Tacoma, Washington native contemplates grabbing a cup of bubble tea before another band member pops out of the Pilot Light and asks “Brad, you wanna play?” Oberhofer, the band’s namesake, begins to make his way into the building as he greets fans with polite introductions. The singer seems quiet, reserved, and more content standing in the back of the room, graciously thanking those who have come out to the show. Once on stage, however, he turns into the enigmatic, flannel-clad epicenter of the band’s energy.

After finishing a Red Bull and strapping on his noticeably-worn baby blue Fender guitar, he leads the band into a warm-up jam. The only thing tighter than the quintet’s pants is their timing, as they play quick solos that build into a groove before leading into the opening riff of “Earplugs,” my personal favorite off of their new EP Nostalgia. The song is a fantastic set opener. It’s a quick-moving melody that breaks and builds into a booming chorus, in which Oberhofer wails “Can you hear me now?”, an ironic statement considering the emptiness of the streets outside.

Silver-painted fingernails flicker up and down the fret board of Brad’s guitar as the band continues to play their signature surf-pop sound. He plays without a pick due to the pluckiness of his songwriting style and hammers his knuckles across the strings when he reaches the fast-paced choruses. “You get used to it after a while,” Brad Oberhofer tells me post-show after I inquire about the condition of his knuckles. Considering the vigor with which he plays, he appropriately seemed unsurprised by the question.

Oberhofer bounces around like a mad man on stage while the set drifts between melodic guitar harmonies and pop-punk choruses garnished with glittering xylophone runs. The band’s energy continues to fill the room all the way through the twelve-song set. They reach the pinnacle of their effort with the raucous chorus of “Haus,” a song off their debut album, Time Capsules II. This song was the moment in the show where you realize you’ve forgotten the world around you, when the band seems to really hit their peak.

Overall, Oberhofer is entertaining, energetic, talented, and most of all, fun to see. If you can find a band that can make you forget the world for just a while and put a smile on your face, then you’ve found a keeper. I stand by seeing Oberhofer if you’re ever given the chance.

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Music, Playlist

Smash Cuts: big ears, no fears

lou reed-1

By Nathan Smith

I’m not going to say too much on last weekend’s Big Ears Festival, because our own full coverage of it should come later this week, but I will say one thing. While the festival has definite room for improvement, it was still life-changing. I’ve created a playlist to share some of my experiences with you. Not all of the artists on this list were at Big Ears, but those who didn’t have at least some relation to the festival and musicians who played it. Regardless, I think it gives a good representation of what Big Ears is all about. So widen those ear canals and listen to the playlist below!

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Music, Playlist

Smash Cuts: spring break forever

jamesfranco-1

Last week was for me, as it was for many people, one of the best times of the year: Spring Break. I didn’t do anything particularly wild, but I enjoyed the week off as much as the next guy, and I got to go to multiple awesome concerts, spend time with friends, and eat some ridiculously good food. Here’s a playlist inspired by what I was listening to over those nine days, including music from bands I saw live, tunes that helped the drive with my friends to and from Georgia go by a little faster, and selections from a couple of great albums released last week. Take this as a little help to get through the first week back to school. – Jack Evans

 

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Music, Playlist

Smash Cuts: suffocating sky (home with the armadillos)

cadillacranch-1

Tomorrow I head home with the armadillos. For those who don’t know me in the flesh, I’m a Texan ex-pat, but every so often, I have the extreme pleasure of getting to visit my home state. Seeing that Texas has such a rich and vibrant musical history, I decided to dedicate this week’s Smash Cuts playlist to the Lone Star State. Many of the artists on this list are from Texas (Gary P. Nunn, The Octopus Project, Voxtrot, etc.) or have some sort of association with the state, but many don’t. Many just remind me of home. I’d have to dig deep into my personal history to explain why I picked all these songs, but that’s not what I’m here for. So blast our playlist and get back to the basics of love, folks. I hope you enjoy.

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Album Reviews, Music

Review: N.A.P. North American Poetry – Juan Wauters

http://www.spin.com/sites/all/files/131106-juan-wauters-album.jpg

By Nick Kivi

A few weeks ago, Nathan and I sat down and shot the shit about music. We started to chat about what we wanted to review for Smash Cut and how to approach the medium. Critics get handed a silver platter of a job when you think about it. They get to stand back, observe, and decide what’s good or bad from their subjective perch. What gets praised is only embellished by the current norms of cool and many defile albums that people put their souls and livelihood into, just for a few extra clicks. The musician in me here cries out more than the critic, as I’ve done the leg work driving around to open mic nights with black metal bands who screech about meth use and rape. Sometimes I get the feeling some critics only know what it’s like to see bands from the barstool.

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Music, Playlist

Smash Cuts: Real Cute

littlefang-1

We talk a lot about the things we like here, but sometimes I don’t think we share them enough. To help remedy that, I’ve decided to start posting a monthly (or perhaps weekly) series of playlists called “Smash Cuts.” A compilation of cool tunes old and new, each Smash Cuts playlist will have some sort of theme to go along with it. This month’s is “Real Cute.” To add a nice personal touch, I wrote up the track listing in my own handwriting. Just in case you don’t feel like deciphering my scrawl, the playlist is embedded below. I suppose we should at some point make a Smash Cut Magazine Spotify account, but until then, I’ll use my personal one. Feel free to follow me for more music playlists and updates.

real cute scan

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Film, Oscars

Our Oscar Predictions: 2014

AGGGGGHHHHH. There’s just too much to do. We still haven’t even finished our Best of 2013 coverage (which I promise will come soon). I promised to do better this year and I still intend to follow through on that promise, even though it might take me a little longer than I hoped. That being said, something we can’t procrastinate any longer on is Oscar predictions. This Sunday night those little golden guys will find a home and it’s our job to tell you who will win. I’m not even certain why predicting the Oscars matters so much in the film community, but for some reason it does. Previously we’ve only done our predictions, but this year, I think I’m going to include my picks from film overall last year for who should win. Consider it a teaser for our Best Movies of 2013. – Nathan

(Just for your information, I didn’t see Gravity. Or Dallas Buyers’ Club.)

Picture:

Will win: 12 Years A Slave

http://blog.sfgate.com/mlasalle/wp-content/blogs.dir/2272/files/2014/01/12-years-a-slave.jpg

Should win: The Wolf of Wall Street (note: this doesn’t mean it was my favorite movie from last year. I’m not ready to make that call.)

http://www.chicagoreader.com/imager/b/original/11914547/7f99/The_Wolf_of_Wall_Street.JPG

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Album Reviews, Music

We Shall All Be Healed: A Retrospective Review

I come from Chino, so all your threats are empty.

By Alec Lindner

Ten years ago Monday, the Mountain Goats, a North Carolina based indie-rock band fronted by and sometimes solely consisting of singer/songwriter John Darnielle, released We Shall All Be Healed, one of their most unloved albums. This cool reception is certainly due in part to the album’s unfortunate chronological placement in the Mountain Goats’ catalogue; the album was proceeded by Tallahassee, a fan favorite that marked the band’s important transition to recording in a traditional studio rather than Darnielle’s famous Panasonic boombox, and followed by The Sunset Tree, an autobiographical album often considered by fans to be the band’s overall finest. However, the album itself is simply an odd outlier compared to the rest of the band’s oeuvre. A semi-fictional chronicle of Darnielle’s youth as a methamphetamine addict, the album is grimier and more jagged than anything else in the Goats’ catalogue. This is not to say the album is necessarily darker than previous efforts; John’s nihilistic proclamation on Healeds “Palmcorder Yajna” that “if anybody comes into our room while we’re asleep, I hope they incinerate everybody in it” doesn’t beat out Tallahassee’s male protagonist promising his wife that “you are coming down with me, hand in unlovable hand” in terms of sheer abject misery. The difference lies in Healed’s absolute unhingedness. There was at least some meaning behind the actions and lyrics of Darnielle’s previous protagonists; the seven people populating All Hail West Texas were broken, but they were at least making efforts to heal themselves; likewise, Tallahassee’s Alpha Couple may be destroying each other, but at the very least their codependence and dysfunction were based in a recognizable sense of love for each other. The images and characters presented in We Shall All Be Healed are without meaning and without hope; while there are at least recognizable reasons the protagonists in Tallahassee act as they do, Healed presents a scene of pure chaos. Its protagonists have disintegrated to the point where their actions and feelings are no longer comprehensible. The Mountain Goats’ fandom is based largely on its fans’ identification and empathy toward the characters expressed in the band’s songs, and while it’s easy to feel alienated and weird like the teenage subjects of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” or to scream along to Darnielle’s desperate hope for a better future in “This Year,” it is much harder to feel a kinship with a meth addict obsessing over scores of old electrical equipment and forgotten caches of makeup.

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