The shape of the hole you leave

Earlier this week I wrote about the farewell show of stephaniesid, a local band I’ve loved for more than a decade. You can read the full story here. I’m very passionate about local art, though, and I wanted to share some of my feelings about the connection between the musicians and fans on the Asheville music scene. Here’s a bit of that:

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Photo by Michael Oppenheim Photography

To those who had been listening — remember stephaniesid classing up Bele Chere on the Battery Park stage? Launching Downtown After 5 during a warm spring rain? Workshopping an album’s worth of music during a monthlong residency at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall? — there was raw edge. The sound filled the auditorium, Tim Haney’s drum kit propelled each song forward, Chuck Lichtenberger’s piano was mostly lovely and occasionally wild. Vocalist Stephanie Morgan (who has always explored the capabilities of her voice, cajoled it like an untamed horse, with its danger and might equal to its grace and beauty) danced her way through each song, shaking the lyrics from out of her own being.

Because I can’t be objective — I love these musicians and want to cheer for them as much as I want to weep for them (read their personal blogs and Facebook posts if you want to know the story behind the band’s breakup) — I’ll say this: I wonder what shape hole the absence of stephaniesid will leave in the fabric of Asheville.

Not everyone will feel it. And no band is responsible for forever composing the soundtrack to the town that birthed it. Asheville is a launching pad for those who dare to dream and try and leap; those who leap must make that jump count. So Steph and Chuck and Tim are in mid-leap now. Those of us at Diana Wortham got to see them unfurl their wings and take to the air. I suspect everyone in the crowd felt the liftoff, our own hearts jarred and swayed in that break with gravity.

… Here’s the thing: We Asheville music fans have a special relationship with our bands. They’re our neighbors, our friends, our collaborators. We come to know them and we’re (knowingly or unknowingly) contributors to their sound. We move around, swimming in the same stream of inspiration. We share a language. We touch those who touch us. These songs aren’t just markers of a place in time, they actually tell us something about ourselves. So to love a band in Asheville really means something, because that love comes back to us. And to participate in that chain reaction, to feed art and be fed by it, is a miraculous thing.

Music is the muse

A review of Eleven Dialogues from jazz trio Up Jumped Three, originally published at mountainx.com.

a0080906060_10Those who know bassist Bryan White know he’s a dedicated runner and coffee drinker. So it’s fitting that Eleven Dialogues, the newest release from jazz trio Up Jumped Three, leads with the track “Espresso (Evening).” It opens with a moody run of strings. The double bass is a low grumble and yet its deep timbre is more purr than growl, its lithe skip and shuffle a complex poetry.

That rhythmic voice also serves as a platform for Tim Winter’s guitar and Frank Southecorvo’s saxophone. And while the instrumental compositions of those three seasoned players are an intricate dance of textures and perspectives, there’s also a smoothness of vibe — an underlying warmth and polish that allows the listener to relax into the groove before returning to the headier melodic conversation. That conversation is the centerpiece, though — hence the 11-track album’s name. Continue reading

Music. Writing. Live at The Mothlight by Tin Foil Hat

Music, for me, has long been a doorway into prose. The act of listening and then transcribing both the visceral experience and the internal visualization frees me. Words find their way. A wrong word is a sore thumb, new ways of describing melodies and sonic textures present themselves. The language appears, waiting to be snatched from the air. I like this latest piece, originally published in Mountain Xpress, because it’s creative writing masquerading as an album review.

Every narrative is a story, every setting possesses a landscape. Worlds shift and reveal themselves and open and vanish in a single shuddering breath.

• • •

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Jared Hooker of Tin Foil Hat

The eight tracks of Live at The Mothlight by Tin Foil Hat — the synth-pop project of Jared Hooker — are the sonic equivalent of a series of experimental short films. Immersive, thoughtful and surreal, they unfold along nonlinear story lines and weirdly danceable melodies.

Borrowing from dream-pop, lounge, disco and techno, Hooker’s album is as much a Frankenstein creation as a lush tapestry. But the beauty of one plays off an repulsiveness of the other, and no one song is completely the property of aesthetic appeal or nefariousness. The track “Meet Your Maker,” a burbling, twitchy dance number, changes mood when the lyrics come in. Suddenly the party gives way to a nightmare, though even as Hooker sings, “All I know is I don’t want to die alone,” his voice snaps and pops to match the brisk tempo and crisp beats.

But the eerie fantasy begins with the first notes of lead track “Still Floating.” Lounging and languid, the song builds on gossamer melodies and spacey warbles. Hooker’s vocal rises into a cool upper register. It’s not a perfect lyrical performance, but it’s daring. And the art of this collection is in its risk-taking — how far can music be pushed and still retain elements of entertainment and emotional relatability? Hooker finds that edge and continually prods its boundaries.

The progression of that artistic process plays out in “Whatever.” Hooker sings, “I risk my life for a pipe dream / I want to tell my story / They simply say ‘Whatever, / I think we’ve heard enough.’” The vocal delivery is theatrical, punchy, hinting at jazz hands and arabesques that make full use of the stage. The music, which depicts the isolation and strangeness of experimentation, wheezes and swells. There’s a guttural, scratchy bottom end jabbed by synthy high notes. There’s a tambourine, a snarl of static and a slack-key-like guitar that rises into earshot and then falls away again. Hyper-happy tones grow increasingly frantic and helium-shrill.

The album sails and pitches, its sonorous and smooth moments suddenly colliding with jagged edges, industrial cacophony and roiling monsters of the unfathomable deep. The anxiety-laced “Just Cause” is followed by the darker “Mr. Belmont.” Explosive low notes rumble under Hooker’s gliding falsetto. The track could almost be a James Bond soundtrack B-Side. It’s cinematic and science-fictiony, but the hero seems to be having a bad day — or at least an unfortunate case of vertigo.

“A Day at the Beach,” with its hand claps, snaps and sun-dappled trill, is a welcome interjection. Though also surreal, the song is less haunted, more at ease. This is likely a direction Hooker could easily move in — were he to settle for dulcet tones and placated listeners. There’s a nod to Dent May — to that beachy, kitschy, psychedelic-yet-sweet brand of swoon and sway. “Under the sea were there’s no light no air to breathe / I slowly realized our love can’t be,” Hooker sings. The nightmare is never too far away.

But that’s OK because, as much as the bad dream is uncomfortable, it’s also a source of continual inspiration. Hooker doesn’t shy away from plumbing the depths of each creepy image and disharmony at his disposal. Final track “Go to the Water,” is a rocker at its outset. “Just break those chains / their only in your mind. / Because we’re standing on the precipice of our last life,” Hooker sings. It’s not a warm and fuzzy thought, but it’s a fitting conclusion for this absorbing and imaginative theater of horrors. And wonders. There are plenty of wonders, but Live at The Mothlight would rather thrill, scare, haunt and taunt that be plainly, simply pretty.