Vampyric dream sequence

Instagram by Adam Aronson

It’s hard to write about William Basinski without using the words minimalist and mournful. And both were true about his Diana Wortham Theatre performance. Having not seen him before, I was disappointed that he didn’t bring his clarinet or saxophone to the stage, but he did bring his magnificent head of hair and a mostly-greyscale video of a full moon adrift among the clouds.

The soundtrack that Basinksi performed, in the darkened room, recalled at times the peals of distant church bells, tuned against each other. Not exactly inharmonious, but eerie nonetheless. It also would have worked well as the score to a silent film, cuing the moment when a caped vampire alighted in a window frame, inches from his sleeping prey.

But not a vengeful, bloodthirsty vampire. More of an anemic, world-weary monster.

It would be easy to drift off to sleep to Basinski’s music, which isn’t a comment on it being boring. It’s the kind of sonic meandering that would lend itself to dreaming; especially to the twilit passage between wake and sleep, when the breath is shallow and half-formed visions gather just beyond the mind’s eye. And who among us couldn’t stand to rest our over-busy minds? To drift on a sea resonant, atonal notes with no discernible pattern or rhythm for an anchor. Just notes, minimal and mournful, falling like rain on the ears.

Around Mountain Oasis: Pop up shops popped up (Amazing Capes on Woodfin Street and Creative Allies’ T-shirt shop on Wall Street), the Sound & Vision Art Show opened at Apothecary, and late night hot dogs were served up.

Not that Darkside

image

In some bizarro future Pangea where Muscle Shoals, Ala., borders Ibiza, Spain, Darkside will be in every jukebox. The two men standing in cones of white light were Dave Harrington, playing a guitar funneled through a bounty of distortion pedals and samplers, and Nicholas Jaar, on all horizontal instruments. Mountain Oasis was their first live performance stateside since the release of their highly acclaimed debut album, Psychic, but you’d have never guessed a performance that tight from a project so fresh.  

Most of the songs followed a similar structure, opening in wading ambience and building toward club-level thump. Nothing was rushed. The long format — straddling the line between conventional songs and open-ended DJ music — works for the duo because they were patient enough to let the songs develop. While the payoffs were sweet — bone rattling beats topped with guitar shredding to make David Gilmour jealous — it was their subtle approaches that made the show remarkable. Like most groundbreaking musicians before, they played with your expectations, delivering solidly but not exactly what or when you assumed.  Jaar often withheld the bass for a few bars longer than comfortable or tweaked the familiar refrains, keeping the audience on its toes and attentive (seriously, I’ve never seen so many ill-timed fist pumps and so few cellphone photographers). 

A large portion of electronic music fails in a live setting. The performances either lack authenticity or clarity — you’re not sure what exactly the guy on stage is doing. Darkside avoids this problem through juxtaposed musical reference and  focused vision. Harrington’s guitar work recalled traditional blues and jazz, but cast in the relief of Jaar’s club-ready soundscapes, it sounded alien. Likewise, when coupled with the howling guitar, Jaar’s nob twisting gained a musicality typically ascribed to ‘real instruments.’ All of this could have come off as hokey or hack-y if they weren’t so damn good. Fully committed to their performance at Thomas Wolfe, the duo easily sold the crowd on what was actually some pretty weird shit.

Autre Ne Veut, That’s French for “Lady Jams”


Of all the bands I was looking forward to this weekend — trust me, there were a lot — Autre Ne Veut was probably in my top two. He did not disappoint. Arthur Ashin, the Brooklynite singer behind the alias, brought his brand of stubbly yet smooth R&B to the Orange Peel, perfectly crooning his affection in an earthy falsetto that would make Justin Timberlake jealous. Even Bob Boilen of NPR’s “All Songs Considered” seemed pretty smitten.

(On a complete side note, I think Bob Boilen must have some sort of public radio teletransport machine, for his whirlwind tour of every Sunday-night act spanning multiple venues defies the laws of physics.)

R&B might be one of the hardest genres to get into as a listener (let alone as a singer). It’s the Harlequin novel of popular music, ridiculed for its cheesy confessions and melodramatic crescendos. R&B requires its male artists to be clean shaven, sweet and to pour the ladies a glass of zinfandel before proceeding to remove her clothes, so to speak. Say “R&B” out loud and I guarantee an image of Babyface or D’Angelo pops into your brain queue (with Michael McCary, the baritone from Boys II Men, doing that sexy narrating thing). This is where Alternative R&B/Neo-Soul says: enough is enough.

Autre Ne Veut brings the romance without the affect. He’s the five o’clock shadow to Babyface’s … babyface. He can be hungover and still convince his lady that she’s the only one for him. Take another example of a guy who’s breaking new ground in R&B: Frank Ocean. He’s trying to seduce the boys, too (“Forrest Gump you run my mind boy”). It’s not all rose petals and silk sheets for these post-R&B crooners. They’re masculine and melodious and backed by some serious synth.

While most of Mountain Oasis skewed heavily toward dark, heavy electronica, Sunday night’s Orange Peel lineup sprinkled some sugar and soul into the mix. After Autre Ne Veut came How to Dress Well (for me, a disappointment) and Mount Kimbie (pleasant and danceable, though not as heart-wrenching as ANV).

A guy who showed up late to the show eagerly asked if Autre Ne Veut had already played his ultra catchy “Play by Play.” That song begins with a few elongated cries of “Baaaby.” It intrigued me that so many dudes seemed into this R&B singer (there were definitely more males than females at the show), so I asked the guy what he liked most about ANV. He said he reminded him of Prince, in reference to the way he was innovating the genre, not churning out some smooth or plunky butter-greased hits.

When Autre Ne Veut calls you “Baaaby,” he really means it. He doesn’t have to wear a suit and tie and Armani cologne to prove it. A backward baseball cap and sweatshirt will do the job just fine.

AVLephant’s Haiku Roundup

All the bands I’ve seen summed up in verse.

Purity Ring
Ethereal pop.
Light-up orbs and Megan James.
Tricky replacement.

Daniel Johnston
Flipping through song lists.
Girl yells, “You’re cooler than you
think you are.” Show ends.

Deltron 3030
Fun hip hop fusion.
Automator Dan conducts.
Easy crowd pleaser.

Neutral Milk Hotel
Indie icons rouse.
Blaring psychedelic splash.
Why am I yawning?

Tara Busch (I Speak Machine)
I Speak Machine pwns.
“The Silence” is deafening.
Sound monolith chills.

Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor: angry.
Fog machine at 11.
Biceps bulge, glisten.

Autre Ne Veut
Five o’clock shadow.
Stubbly yet smooth R-and-B.
Dude rocks falsetto.

How to Dress Well
How to Dress Well is
not dressed well, looks like waiter.
Friends with Quest Love. Dope?

Darkside
Sunday night highlight.
Muscle Shoals meets Ibiza.
Blues, jazz and club. DANCE!

Mount Kimbie
I danced a little.
Soulful and pleasant enough.
Time to drink with Rich.

Godspeed You! Drunk Festival-goers

For a band that have had to deny claims of being anarchists, Montreal post-rock titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor certainly put on a catastrophic live show. That is to say, catastrophic in terms of how likely their music is to demolish buildings and cause floods as well as in terms of how poorly the Explore Asheville Arena served as a venue for this kind of music.

The apocalyptic set began promisingly with a deafening roar of bass feedback so dense you could practically swim in it. Slowly, the band (which features multiple guitars, two drum kits, an electric bass, an upright bass and a violin) began to shape the feedback into the droning opening of “Mladic” off of last year’s triumphant post-hiatus comeback 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! Accompanied by cryptic black-and-white projections of urban sprawl and typed manuscripts, the Middle Eastern-tinged number unfolded with a truly terrifying fervor—a wordless sermon for the end of days. 

But GY!BE do not dabble in short songs. After the cataclysmic tremors of “Mladic” settled down, the band plowed through a couple more meandering numbers that failed to hold the audience’s attention. None of this was the band’s fault. As post-rock composers, GY!BE are second-to-none. But whereas they can best be enjoyed through headphones, allowing the listener to become enveloped in the subtleties of their music, the arena setting created a great deal of echo and noise that blurred together the guitars and overwhelmed Sophie Trudeau’s beautiful violin-playing. Couple this with the short attention span of most Mountain Oasis attendees, who tend to yearn for catchy, danceable numbers, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I took a break from the set to hit the restrooms and came back to find the majority of the audience getting drunk on Four Lokos and beer while chatting with one another and mocking the spacey Canadians.

Towards the end came a furious drum duel between Aidan Girt and Tim Herzog, but it was not enough to save the proceedings. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s set ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Is Numan a New Man?

In many ways, Gary Numan is the godfather of the whole Mountain Oasis Festival. His synth-bathed hits like “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Cars” opened up possibilities for many new wave bands and industrial acts who would go on to feature synthesizers more heavily, diverting the focus away from the ever-ubiquitous guitar. Of course, Numan kept many pop/rock structures intact within his music, allowing audiences to better embrace the newer sounds. Many electronic musicians before him (and after) were more overtly experimental in nature.

Although he has remained out of the limelight for the past couple decades, releasing a string of albums that expanded upon his signature sound outside the scrutiny of the massive audience who jumped aboard for The Pleasure Principle and Telekon, his influence still lingers to this day, especially in Saturday night’s headliners Nine Inch Nails.

But one must question whether the student has surpassed the master, and in such a way that the master begins to crib notes from the student’s notebooks. With several guitars adding heavy gothic riffage to the bevy of synths onstage and eerie whispered vocals dominating some of Numan’s newer compositions, the electronic legend’s set ended up resembling the one Trent Reznor would pull of with more aplomb a few hours later. This isn’t to say that Numan wasn’t an exhilarating performer, whose over-the-top stage moves shattered any argument you could make for him being a bashful musician hiding behind the crisp, digital anonymity that synthesized music often provides. His tunes invigorated the audience, especially his mega-hit “Cars,” which, though subtly sinister in its day, seemed downright cheery compared to some of his more industrial fare. 

But while Numan won over the audience, it’s difficult to imagine any of them going out and picking up Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), released a few weeks back. Anyone who’d be interested probably already spent their allowance on Hesitation Marks.

(Photo by Rich Orris.)

I never thought I’d see Nine Inch Nails, let alone shoot them. I was one of seven lucky photographers allowed in the pit to get an up close and personal look at the man himself.

Trent Reznor looks like a totally different man than when I started listening to NIN early in high school, but he’s as intense and raw as ever. His performance was spellbinding. Pair that with the most amazing light show I’ve seen and it made for an unforgettable performance.

Out of Juice: On Mountain Oasis’ Pedestrian Beer

Following the model of previous Moogfests, Asheville Brewing Company has created a festival specific beer for Mountain Oasis. Unfortunately, what it lacks in taste, it also lacks in a label — the cleverly titled ‘Moog Filter’ replaced by the blandly branded ‘Electric Pale Ale.’ Don’t get me wrong, it has taste, probably too much of it. The beer reeks of American-style Pale Ale mediocrity, leaving you feeling as though you just made out with a hop vine. 

It’s possible my taste in beer has shifted significantly since I had the first Moog Filter three years ago, but I remember the original Moog Filter being balanced, even toward the malty side. I also thought Asheville’s beer palate was diversifying. With the popularity of Saisons at Wicked Weed, Hi-Wire’s lager and ABC’s own successful use of  jalapeño (Fire Escape Pale Ale), this beer is thoroughly un-electrifying. 

I understand that novelty beers are, in fact, novel and that the beer needs to be sellable, but the Electric Pale Ale is a weak offering — no wonder I’ve witnessed a startling amount of FourLoco consumption this weekend.