Rough Francis recently gave the folks at Fuel.TV a quickie tour of Burlington, highlighting their favorite haunts in and around the Queen City for a show called "Green Label Experience." Among the destinations were Nectar's, Manhattan Pizza, Radio Bean and, no surprise here, the Monkey House. Word is the band has a new release in the works that they hope to unveil this spring. In the meantime, here are the brothers Hackney getting all Lonely Planet, Burlington-style.
The Vacant Lots are scoring some love around the Interwebs on the strength of their newly released Confusion 7-inch. I suppose that'll happen when you spend the summer touring with Sonic Boom's Spectrum, and then sign to a killer label (Mexican Summer).
Following a Pitchfork Forkcast blurb earlier this month, today Pitchfork's sister site Altered Zones dug a bit deeper with some high praise for the local psych-duo as well as an MP3 of the vinyl single's B-Side, "Cadillac." Check it out.
If you've read this week's edition, you know I'm rather enamored with the debut offering from Rutland's Split Tongue Crow. Essentially a revived version of late Queen City outfit Will — minus Connor McQuade, plus vocalist Cara White — STC picks up where that band left off a few years ago, boasting clean, twangy hooks and gorgeous vocal harmonies. STC are touch more subdued, veering more toward melancholy indie-folk than their rowdier alt-country predecessor. But they are also far more polished and refined. I dig it.
The band has a string of loccal dates coming up, starting with this Saturday's gig at the Shelburne Steakhouse and Saloon. (Yes, really.) In the meantime, here's a clip of Split Tongue Crow's "Horizons," from their newly released self-titled debut. Enjoy.
I'm still on a bit of standup comedy kick from Saturday's Higher Ground Comedy Battle. So here is a clip of Battle finalist Colin Ryan from a performance in November. This bit is a lengthier version of some material he performed at the battle this weekend.
I had a great time judging the seventh annual Higher Ground Comedy Battle this past Saturday. I'll get into the nitty gritties in Wednesday's column. But long story short, I came away more impressed with caliber of our local standups than ever before. If it wasn't already, VT standup is legit.
The winner of the battle was veteran standup and co-founder of the Vermont Comedy Club, Nathan Hartswick. Dude was on his game, taking the crown in the most closely contested final in memory. My ballot had first and fifth place separated by about four points — out of a possible perfect score of 30. It was close, and I wouldn't have had a problem with any of the finalists winning. Hartswick certainly deserved to win, but keep an eye out for Colin Ryan and Carmen Lagala as well. They both killed.
Congrats to Nathan and all of the comics who performed. It was truly a banner night for local comedy.
I have been waiting at least two years for someone to kick the crap out of Vampire Weekend. Finally, the Black Keys have obliged.
It's Grammy season. If you were unaware of this fact, it's most likely because the brain trust that bestows the awards, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, has grown comically irrelevant and out of touch. Still, someone has to choose who gets those shiny little gramophones each year. Might as well be someone like Stephen Colbert, right?
Last night, the host of "The Colbert Report" — and bonafide Grammy award winner — attempted to designate a champ for the "Best Alternative Music Album." Outlining the category's parameters, Colbert explained, "For the squares out there, 'alternative' refers to the under-the-radar, independent music that edgy, anti-establishment types can buy at Starbucks."
Colbert immediately dispatched with three of the five nominees: Band of Horses (Colbert prefers a band of humans); Broken Bells ("Get back to me when you fix your bells"); and Arcade Fire ("Those guys were on 'The Daily Show.' Fuck 'em.") That left two contestants, Vampire Weekend and the Black Keys.
Colbert suggested that a Grammy award is really more a tip of the hat for commercial success than a celebration of artistic achievement. But given slipping album sales in the midst of the industry's general decline, it's becoming trickier and trickier to designate any one one band's music as "the best" based solely on units moved. Colbert's solution: grant Grammys based on literal "commercial" success.
What followed was a "sell-out off" between the Black Keys and Vampire Weekend to determine which band had the best placement in TV commercials in 2010. It's hilarious. It's biting satire. And it ends with a good, old-fashioned street fight. Enjoy.
American Flatbread, 51 Main and Two Brothers Tavern are joining forces to host a monster Battle of the Bands in early April. The opening round of the town-wide showdown begins Thursday, March 31 and runs through Saturday, April 2. Bands selected to compete will each perform once on one of the three nights. Winners from each evening's rocking will advance to the final round, to be held Saturday, April 9, at which point they will fight to death, er, rock out for the right to be named the opening act at Middlebury College's annual Spring Concert. Middlebury's Student Activities Board has yet to announce this year's headliner, but it's a safe bet it will be kind of a big deal. Past performers have included the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Cake, Wyclef Jean and … Naughty By Nature? Really? Wow. Midd kids, apparently, are down with O.P.P.
If you, or your friend's band that is really-really-awesome-and-ohmigod-you've-just-gotta-hear-them would like to compete, applications can be submitted at middbattlebands.com. But hurry. Applications are due by Wednesday, February 2.
Perhaps you've noticed, but there was not a new edition of Seven Days stuffed into area newsstands this week. As we do each year, the last issue of 2010 was a double issue, covering both this week and last. (Though if you're jonesing for your "Free Will Astrology" fix, you can catch this week's forecast on the 7D site — the stars, of course, don't take vacations.)
Much to our collective chagrin here at "Vermont's Independent Voice," just because we stop working for ten days doesn't mean you folks stop making news. Or in the case of my particular bailiwick, music. So I would be remiss if I failed to bring to your attention Requited, the brilliant new record from Sara Grace & the Suits, which will be released this Saturday at Burlington's FlynnSpace. Enjoy. [DB]
Sara Grace & the Suits, Requited
Vermonters didn't have to wait long for a great local release in 2011. For years a well-kept secret of central VT music fans, Montpelier-based roots-soul collective Sara Grace & the Suits are set to unveil their hotly anticipated debut album, Requited. Richly orchestrated, imaginatively crafted and expertly executed, the record is a tour de force, revealing the explosive talents of a dynamic local songwriter and serving as a declaration that there may well be more than one Grace to watch for in the Green Mountains.
As its title suggests, Requited is a meditation on finding and then somehow keeping love. The lead track, "Angel," adresses the former with simmering intensity. Asa Brosius' steel lines lap against Ray Paczkowski's organ trills, while a gentle acoustic guitar bobs along in the eddying current. Grace is subdued but compelling as she introduces us to her title character.
"An angel fell from the sky and slipped me a key. / I know she's not mine, not meant for me," she sings, a barely perceptible quiver lacing her delivery. But the promise of love is that even amid despair there is hope. She closes the verse singing, "I need it all, so open the door," as if imploring the chorus of exultant horns that follows to deliver her from self-doubt.
After the ornate arrangements on both "Angel," and the following track, "The Tide," "Behind Shadows" feels bare by comparison. Though the song features a leaner assortment of players, it is nonetheless a deeply nuanced composition. In addition to her veteran backing band, the Suits, Grace has enlisted a wide assortment of guest stars — including vocalist Miriam Bernardo on the lead cut. Here, Anaïs Mitchell's uniquely skinny timbre provides a steely counter to Grace's rich, somber delivery.
Grace was an original cast member in the theatrical productions of Mitchell's folk opera "Hadestown," the star-studded studio recording of which catapulted Vermont's Righteous Babe to international acclaim. Not surprisingly, Grace seems to have taken a few cues from the experience. In particular, her ear for sly, subversive arrangement bears resemblance to that of the opera's aesthetic architect, Michael Chorney, who appears on the record numerous times on baritone sax. The multi-instrumentalist and composer rounds out an impressive horn section that also features trumpeter Brian Boyce, tenor saxophonist Terry Youk and trombone prodigy Andrew Moroz, who, with Grace, co-wrote the album's striking horn arrangements.
From start to finish, Grace proves a sturdy, if direct songwriter. But what sets her apart, what makes her special, is discipline. Rarely are her wounded musings overwrought, and rarely are her more joyful moments — fleeting though they may be — earnest or cloying. Similarly, though she is quite obviously capable of jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics, she is judicious in the deployment of her considerable ability. She teases and flirts, favoring measured cool over inflated histrionics. Of course, that tantalizing tension only makes the eventual release more satisfying, as on the scintillating album closer, "Woman Sweet Woman," which burns and bends with smoldering blues fire as Grace finally indulges her elite chops. Requited, indeed.
Happy 2011, Solid State! I trust everyone had a safe and fun New Year's Eve.
In the hubbub leading up to the last day of the year, I plumb ran out of time to finish off my 2010 ramblings last week. (2011 Resolution #1: find a way to squeeze a few more hours out of each day. There's gotta be a way.) So before we kick 2011 into high gear, I thought I'd take the opportunity to pass along a few more random favorites from the year that was. Only this time, we're expanding our gaze beyond music and looking at some stuff beyond the typical Solid State bailiwick. So without further ado, randomness!
You've perhaps heard Birbiglia as a semi-regular contributor on Ira Glass' radio show/podcast, "This American Life." That's certainly how I was first introduced. But over the last year or so, he's quite possibly become my favorite standup comic. His latest album, My Secret Public Journal — he also writes a blog of the same name — was easily among my most listened to albums in 2010. Not just comedy albums, mind you. Albums, period. I gave my sister his new book, "Sleepwalk With Me," for Christmas, and then read the whole thing, cover to cover on Christmas Day. More storyteller than jokester or satirist, Birbiglia has a rare gift for exposing the subtle absurdities of his own life in a way that connects almost universally — or at least to awkward, self-deprecating white guys from New England … ahem. Anyway, dude is hilarious. Here's a clip from his most recent comedy special. And by the way, he's performing in Montreal this weekend.
Is it just me, or was 2010 kind of weak year for film? There were very few flicks that really stood out to me over the last 12 months — though I have yet to see the Coen Brothers' take on "True Grit." I have high hopes for that one.
"Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" seemed to fly under most moviegoers' radars, which is a shame. Witty, creative and a must for anyone who grew up playing video games in the 1980s and 1990s, it was easily my favorite flick of 2010. Maybe not the "best," per se. But I loved it.
The film centers on Pilgrim (Michael Cera playing, um, basically the same character Michael Cera always plays), a geeky dude in a bad band who, in the aftermath of a bad breakup — and while stringing a long a high school girlfriend, no less — falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Powers. The thing is, to win Ramona's heart, he must defeat "The League of Evil Exes," a motley collection of Ramona's past seven lovers. In other words, it's kinda like dating in Burlington … hiyo! The battle scenes between Pilgrim and the increasingly bizarre Exes are outlandishly inventive. (The showdown versus Ramona's bass-playing vegan ex-boyfriend Todd is especially satisfying.) And the soundtrack is pretty killer too.
I've made no secret of my adoration for ESPN columnist Bill Simmons in these pages. But in 2010, Simmons seriously upped his game. He has always been an entertaining writer and host, but this year he seemed to take a step beyond humorous sports columnist to rising media icon. He had a NYT bestseller ("The Book of Basketball," a mammoth tome, but a great read and surprisingly well argued), produced possibly the most interesting and ambitious series of sports documentaries in history ("30 for 30") and continued churning out great columns week in and week out.
But his podcast, the BS Report, was really where Simmons shined. The mix of sports musings and cultural analysis was pitch perfect all year long, and his lineup of guests expanded from the usual parade of sports-obsessed buddies (Jack-O, Joe House) and sportswriters (Dan LeBetard, Mike Lombardi) to include some fascinating folks from film, music and media (Chuck Klosterman, Jon Hamm, Seth Myers). Don't let the fact that ESPN cuts his paycheck fool you. There is more to the BS Report than just sports. (OK, there's still a lot of sports. But it's wickedly entertaining, I promise.) When I grow up, I want to be Bill Simmons.
2010 was the year I discovered Tom Franklin. I devoured two of his early novels — the gritty "Hell at the Breech," and the astounding, impossibly violent "Smonk" — before turning my attention to a beautiful collection of short stories, "Poachers," over my recent winter break. Fans of local author Creston Lea would particularly enjoy the last. The Southerner writes in a vein very similar to Lea's "Northern Gothic" style. Franklin possess a keen eye for the fragility and, in many cases, futility of subject's lives, painting their portraits with equal measures of kindred empathy and cold prejudice. His latest, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," sits perched atop the stack on my nightstand for 2011.