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Conduits

posted by kara on April 29, 2012

File this one under “bands to watch.” Conduits is a mostly unknown band out of the increasingly prominent Omaha, NE indie scene. Their self-titled debut, which came out in March 2012 on Team Love, is somewhat dreamy, but mostly melancholy and more than a little depressing. They never get loud or energetic, just mesmerizingly intense.

At first listen, Conduits sounds like a darker, more spellbinding version of Beach House. But that’s just a loose frame of reference for the uninitiated. I’m hesitant to compare Conduits to any other band, or frankly, place them in any genre or label them at all. Even though
they’re playing music, they walk a fine line between appealing to audio and visual senses with their characteristic dark, and quite vivid, swirling sonic journeys. I’d just as soon compare their music
to a painting, or some other highly visual art form. Think, for example, of a dark-toned, very detailed, life-sized painting of war-torn land. Or any visual display that captivates your interest and
reels your heart straight into the scene.

Each song is an elaborate braiding of slow drones, heavy beats, and dark guitar sounds, forming the backdrop for the haunting, feathery vocals of lead singer Jenna Morrison. Not surprisingly, their influences span genres and time periods, ranging from Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin to Spiritualized and Portishead. They have a real maturity about them; they embody a unique style and a distinct sense of direction with their music, almost like they’ve been working their whole lives just to release this one masterpiece.

And yet in reality they are babies on the scene. Though they formed a few years ago, and most members came from other bands, Conduits barely has a website, and their tour schedule is sporadic. But their brief month-long tour with Cursive and Cymbols Eat Guitars was a big step into mainstream indie. Conduits was well-received on this portion of the tour, perhaps because absolutely nothing is lost in translation from album to stage. Now they’re back in Omaha for while. Hopefully they’ll be on the road again soon.

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Conduits – The Wonder (Downloaded 46 times)

Conduit – On The Day (Downloaded 31 times)

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JD McPherson

posted by Jessica on April 27, 2012

Chicago Cubs’ fans have no enviable fate, but JD McPherson’s propulsive performance of “North Side Gal” on opening day had listeners all over the city ready to root for Wrigley Field. The first single off McPherson’s debut Signs & Signifiers is a wicked ride that’s rooted in swinging R&B and rock ‘n’ roll with up-to-the-minute attitude.

Originally recorded at Chicago’s Hi-style studio, an all-analog space built by producer and bassist Jimmy Sutton, Signs & Signifiers was re-released by Rounder Records on April 17th. McPherson was recently kind enough to chat with me about the experience of recording the album. “The quality of the old rhythm mics and tape equipment had a lovely impact on the warmth of the sound,” he said by phone. “On an atmospheric level it was cool stuff to be around. Similar to the equipment, the studio has an antiquey, industrial vibe right down to Jimmy’s record collection. There’s a strong aesthetic quality, which is good because we didn’t really leave the studio during the recording process!”

Growing up, the Oklahoma native was as much influenced by the American roots heritage as punk and surf rock. “There is a ton of great music out of Oklahoma and not everyone is influenced by Bob Willis and Woody Guthrie or the fact that Buddy Holly recorded at Tinker Air Force Base, but it definitely affected me. On the other hand, Jimmy’s first concert was The Ramones and my favorite band was The Pixies.”

For all of its rollicking rhythm and throwback hat tips, Signs & Signifiers doesn’t feel dated but rather timeless. “Early 50’s R&B is the drive and focus we were excited about on this album, says McPherson. “Yet most of the comments we receive agree that the influence feels contemporary. People can tell we’re not coming from a place of falsehood, and that we want to write songs that are relevant today.” This earnestness, it seems, is what invigorates these musical traditions – a return to what made people rock in the first place.

On the seemingly heady album title for an enjoyably forthright style, the former teacher admits to deliberately jabbing his art school background. “In the ideals of post-modern art education you get trained to have to analyze things in code. With this album I was trying to make something that is pretty straightforward.” McPherson’s degree in experimental film and MFA was put to use in the making of videos for “North Side Gal” and the soulful, lingering “A Gentle Awakening.” He and Sutton shot the videos, which he then edited. Although McPherson’s visual arts pursuits are on hold at the moment, he did recently direct a video for Nick Lowe.

Chicago has become something of a second home to JD McPherson. “In an overarching way, it was the perfect place to record this album.” He mentions the musical legacy of the city’s blues tradition, Chess Records, Vee-Jay and the “spiritual sense of influence” their records had on his music. “Chicago is my favorite American city,” he says. “It’s comfortable because it’s still Midwestern but has incredible culture and the best food.”

As for all those aspiring north side gals, the title of his breakout single is not specific to the Windy City. “It can be about Chicago,” McPherson acknowledges, “but it can also be about the north side of Tulsa or Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. It’s for everyone.” McPherson’s music is for everyone – everyone who resonates with a distinctive style and the infectious abandon of new-old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

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JD McPherson – North Side Gal (Downloaded 72 times)

JD McPherson – A Gentle Awakening (Downloaded 57 times)

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White Denim

posted by Nick on April 24, 2012

On the eve of 4/20, White Denim dropped in for a Thursday night show at Chicago’s compact Lincoln Hall. Coming off of a month-long stint of opening for Wilco on its winter West Coast dates, Austin’s White Denim shocked many who were seeing them for the first time, this writer included, with an explosive performance.

Their tempo-shifting grooves and funky temperament are part-Black Keys, part-Allman Brothers with the invigorating precision of an up-tempo bluegrass group, but summon the fidelity of a hot, rusty, dusty garage on a Texas July afternoon.

Led by singer and guitarist James Petralli, the band bulldozed non-stop through the first tracks of their 2011 release, D, including “It’s Him!”, “Burnished,” and the tight, oscillating scales of “Anvil Everything.” The nearly 30-minute raucous medley included a glimpse of “Say What You Want,” from the 2009 album Fits, an album that splits the difference between White Denim’s initial garage-rock focused Exposion and the more harnessed D, a more accessible album that omits none of the band’s earlier, experimental grit.

They said maybe five words the whole show, enough to punctuate the set and reset the audience before slowing things down with “Street Joy,” a mournful lullaby showcasing the Petralli’s sweet vocals. The addition of guitarist Austin Jenkins allowed the two to trade efforts on the guitar, backed by Joshua Block’s acrobatic drumming (did the guy have 7 arms?) and the unassuming but steady thickness of bassist Steven Terebecki.

Peppering the set with cuts from Workout Holiday during the latter half, the band closed with “I Start to Run,” a funky, spastic favorite built upon Terebecki’s bass. The momentum carried into a two-song encore of “Mess Your Hair Up” and “Let’s Talk About It,” where Petralli took the mic and held it under the bass drum, igniting bursts of Moog-synth squeal, leaving the audience sizzling as the band went backstage.

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White Denim – I Start To Run (Downloaded 59 times)

White Denim – Is and Is and Is (Downloaded 48 times)

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  1. Anonymous Says:

    Describes their performance perfectly. I caught them twice during sxsw. Awesome.

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Labrador City

posted by Loren on April 17, 2012

Swimming in gold searching for the shore. The delicate, breezy tunes of Swiss four-piece Labrador City remind you of the treading satisfaction that comes with dissolving the wintertime. Spring brings crashing waves of music, like the lo-fi rock Labrador City creates. Hailing from Berne, the nation’s capital, the band jumps among the current swell of smooth Scandinavian rock with the likes of Kings of Convenience and Whitest Boy Alive (who are pretty much one and the same), all groups that never fail to captivate the same genre and audience of easy listening.

Although surf rock would be misrepresenting the band, the jams of Labrador City bring together images of bubbly vacations and underwater scrapbook moments. I love that the band decided to release their latest EP Volcano on their own label, titled Oh Sister Records, created in 2010. I can’t name a piece of music that manifests the beachy summertime as well as these tracks. If you like it, every release on Volcano is full of the same.

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Labrador City – Feathers (Downloaded 102 times)

Labrador City – French Garden (Downloaded 89 times)

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  1. Nate Says:

    This is Great.

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