frontier ruckus @ local 506

frontier ruckus @ local 506

I’ve spent the last two years, since I discovered Frontier Ruckus’ astounding record Deadmalls & Nightfalls, trying to figure out what, for me, and for so many other people, makes them stand out. Partially it’s Matthew Milia’s voice, which doesn’t sound like it should come from him; it’s haunting and eerie and grounded all at once, and if you showed me a photo of Matthew and said he sang like that, if I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t believe it. Partially it’s the tightness of the band, the way they work together to arrange and create, and genuinely like each other and enjoy themselves on stage. Partially it’s Milia’s lyrics, which are so dense they could protect a sleeping beauty, but at the same time are open enough that anyone can feel something moving in their songs. And partially, I think, it’s just magic, the kind of magic that happens when a great band gets the right breaks.

frontier ruckus @ local 506

They were magic last night, on a rainy night in Chapel Hill, and I hope they always are.

magnolia collective @ local 506

Magnolia Collective opened, and in the time since I’ve last seen them, they’ve gotten tighter and more excellent, something it’s hard to do with a band that was already tight and excellent. I love that my friends make great things.

frontier ruckus @ local 506

Full set is here.

because fuck you, that’s why

the corin tucker band @ local 506

“[Y]ou should lie to people to get what you want; you can make things happen for yourself just by acting confident.” — Kathleen Hanna in Girls To The Front, on the start of her writing career

“There was a point when I realized that you could get away with just about anything so long as you do it with conviction.” — Cherie Currie in Neon Angel: A Memoir Of A Runaway

I find both of these statements so, so powerful, in so many ways; in part because to hear it from both of these strong, strong women, it’s a signal that, yes, women have to work harder to get what they want, but in part because that idea of inventing yourself, of behaving like the person you want to be instead of the person you are — or people think you are — is so close to my heart.

I spent years hiding, hibernating, shoving the self I wanted to be under the rug and back to the shadows, because I am also a people pleaser. I don’t like confrontation; for ten years, all of college and a large portion of my adult life, I presented myself as the person — the quiet, polite, conciliatory person — that the people around me wanted to be. In my heart I wore motorcycle boots and vintage dresses, but in my life I wore demure heels and tops that didn’t show too much cleavage.

When I started taking photos, I didn’t know anything about anything. Not about photography, technically; not about how you should build a career. I just … did it. I wasted film, I learned things; I got told no by publicist after publicist when I aimed too high, I aimed a little lower until I got a yes, and then I asked the high points again. I still got told no. I asked again, and again. More and more, I heard yes.

I have never lied outright to anyone. I wouldn’t do that, because it would compromise my integrity. But even when I was begging my friends to pep talk me into sending pitch emails, I acted, to publicists and bands, like I could do anything. I did everything wrong, but I did it with conviction. Then I invented new things to do wrong, fucked them up, and did it with my head held high. When I decided I wanted motorcycle boots, I bought them. I wear them everywhere. Fuck demure heels, I can kick your ass. Tops that don’t show cleavage? Sure, if by “don’t show cleavage” means “vintage dresses that do show off my back tattoo”.

I didn’t change. I didn’t invent myself. I just let the girl with the confidence out to play, instead of being the mousy girl in the corner not causing waves. I’m the photographer in the boots and the dress, the one with the pink hair (well, pink hair in another two weeks). I’m really fucking good at what I do. I faked my way into being good at what I do, but now the truth is that I am good at it. Great at it, even. Sometimes I hold my head high and walk into places I don’t have permission to be. If you act like you’re supposed to be there, people believe you.

It isn’t lying. It’s believing in yourself. It’s knowing who you want to be, and working hard to be that person. Wanting to be someone different than people think you are, there’s nothing wrong with that. Knowing your own skin and finding out how to be comfortable in it, that’s important.

I have a Post-it note taped to my iMac — I have a lot of Post-its taped to my iMac, but one in particular — it’s a quote from Michael Caine. It says, I ran my life exactly as I wanted to, all the time. I never listened to anybody. I listen to people, the people I trust. But I also run my life like I want to. I have grown up, in my 30s, into the woman I’ve always been in my heart, and the woman I was too scared to be in my 20s. I’m me. I do things my way, and sometimes that’s messy and awful, but often it works. I don’t lie, but I am confident and proud of myself and my work. I work hard, every single day, to be great at what I do. To get better. To make things happen for myself. It’s confidence, and hard work, and failure.

And it’s lead me to success, and all I can do is thank the women who came before me, the ones who held their heads high and believed in themselves, for setting that pattern.

antibalas & the brand new life @ cat’s cradle

antibalas @ cat's cradle

the brand new life @ cat's cradle

I’ve had a bit of a week: I’ve shot gothic Americana, kickass lady punk, electro-synth indie pop, and last night, a double bill of great, great Afrobeat. To be honest, I was almost completely ignorant of Afrobeat as a genre or a movement until I started going to see my friend Seth’s project, the Brand New Life, and coupled that with reading Will Hermes’ amazing Love Goes To Buildings On Fire, which gives great service to that scene in ’70s New York, but even despite that, I remained pretty unsure of what it was or whether I liked it.

Then I heard an interview with Antibalas on Bullseye, one of my favorite talky-talky podcasts, and then the Brand New Life scored the gig as the local open for Antibalas’ tour, and that’s how I found myself grooving in a crowd of dancing Chapel Thrillians, which almost never happens. You can’t listen to either of these bands and not want to dance, though, and for that I’m grateful. It was an amazing show.

Full set here.

two sentence reviews of reasonably new albums i listened to in september

anders parker @ haw river ballroom

California Wives — Art History: sparkling, thickly layered guitar pop that makes great use of vocals as instruments, and repeated choruses as sonic texture. Really compelling listening, and the only word for it really is ethereally beautiful. (Saw them this week opening for Stars, and they fucking blew me away. Get this album now, because these Chicago kids are the next big electro synth indie pop thing. Swear to it.)

Nicolette Good — Monarch: a Kasey Chambers-esque baby doll voice with surprising power behind it, backed by an excellently understated shuffling band. With her strong songwriting, Good is a bit of a nice girl’s Lydia Loveless; she doesn’t quite have the same fierce and nasty streak behind her words, but she also doesn’t sound like a woman to be trifled with.

Bob Mould — Silver Age: Bob says this is a big dumb rock record; frankly, I think it’s a big smart rock record. Yes, it sounds more like Hüsker Dü than Bob’s stuff has in years, and yes, Jim and Greg from Sound Opinions, it actually has more of Grant’s flavor in songwriting than it does a typical Mould, but those are good things. This is a big smart rock record from one of the smartest rock and roll songwriters out there, and it’s great. (Aside: between the Grant trip in August and then immediately running into all the press for this record, constant mentions on lots of podcasts where Hüsker is not normally a topic, my head was in a really strange Hüsker place for most of September. I kind of just wanted to hang out with Greg Norton a lot, is that weird?)

Delicate Cutters — Ring: Alabama’s Delicate Cutters made my 2011 best of list with their lovely and powerful Some Creatures, and there’s no reason to expect that 2012’s Ring won’t do the same. Where Some Creatures had an otherworldly Beirut-esque feeling to it, Ring is a deeply swampy, fiddle heavy slice of Alabama backwoods, complete with eerie Southern gothic vocals, and shivering guitars (and the occasional saw). Skybucket Records always has an impressive lineup of artists, dating back to their release of several Dexateens records, but right now the Cutters are probably my favorite of all of them.

Heyward Howkins — Hale & Hearty: odd and richly orchestrated, this debut effort from Philadelphia’s Howkins is absolutely captivating. I can’t put my finger on exactly what about Howkins’ plaintive vocals and almost distinct music is hooked straight into my brain, but it has. Title track “Hale & Hearty” is a great example of what I’m talking about; thick with horns, keyboards, plinking percussion, there’s nothing about its orchestration that matches Howkins’ clean and open vocals, not even hardly in time, and yet: it works. That’s what I can say about this album: it works.

The Pollies — Where The Lies Begin: think early Wilco, kind of; shimmering, fuzzed-out, eerie guitars with a bottle slide edge to them, and hypnotically repetitive choruses. A remarkable debut from a Muscle Shoals supergroup, this is one from This Is American Music that’s definitely worth checking out.

Through The Sparks — Alamalibu: faintly Southern, faintly European flavored, keys and organ-heavy Americana; sharp songwriting that doesn’t necessarily catch you on the first listen, this is a record that requires multiple listens, and preferably on good headphones. Sort of like if Sgt Pepper-era Beatles had collaborated with Woodstock-era the Band. If that makes any sense. Actually, I’m glad I have this EP because I’m really disappointed that collaboration doesn’t actually exist now.

the corin tucker band @ local 506

the corin tucker band @ local 506

the corin tucker band @ local 506

Corin Tucker can flat-out rock. That’s what I took away from last night’s show; it was an aural assault of highly danceable tunes from her airtight band off Kill My Blues, her latest solo release on Kill Rock Stars. It’s excellent, her show was excellent, and I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t tell her how much she rocks when she was sitting by herself at the merch table before the show. I was a little too starstruck, which almost never happens to me.

But, hey, I can say it now: Corin Tucker, you’ve been one of my heroes for a really long time, and thank you for kicking so much ass last night.

Full set here.

delicate cutters @ motorco garage

delicate cutters @ motorco garage

delicate cutters @ motorco garage

delicate cutters @ motorco garage

I still believe in the record label; that is, I believe in finding the small labels curating a select roster of bands and, if you like the bands they have, trusting them to find you new ones. One of those labels, for me, is Skybucket Records out of Birmingham, who used to release the Dexateens’ records before the Dexateens split. I love the Dexateens, and thus, I trust Travis Morgan and Skybucket to introduce me to other Alabama-centric bands I’ll love.

Last year he introduced me to Birmingham’s Delicate Cutters and their record Some Creatures, which ended up on my Top 25 list at the end of the year. They have an ethereal and fierce sound, which is highlighted all the more live with soaring fiddle lines that occasionally get lost on their records. They played to a small crowd in the Motorco Garage last night, but I like to think they made a few new fans, so they’ll come back, because they sure as hell impressed me. And I’d never have discovered Delicate Cutters if I hadn’t trusted a small label to steer me right.

So there’s a lesson for you, and a great new band. Delicate Cutters have a new record, Ring, available now; I’ll have a review up later this week.

Full set here.