In the basement, Lawrence native CS Luxem commenced night two rather promptly at 7:30. Christopher’s voice resonated through the crowd as a sheet of plywood lay propped up behind him showing mundane footage of parades, soft news programming and other things that looked as though they were pulled from a VHS tape hidden in a shoebox for 20 years. Luxem’s songs are quirky without seeming dishonest, and he sings with an earnestness that even provided stability to a brief, poppy allusion to The Temptations’ “Get Ready.” His set up was simply a guitar and bass that he switched between, and a canopied box in front of him on which he placed his hat and a string of lights. The hat concealed the little amount of gear he had, but multiple times throughout the set he was seen switching a backtrack cassette in a player to his left.
John Bersuch and Sterling Holman are a two-piece named Import/Export, and play divisively concordant instrumental rock that borrows only in part from an ideology of jazz meters and a subscription to constant innovation in an evolving music landscape. Bersuch sat behind the kit, expertly facilitating rhythm to keep time while Holman’s guitar sliced through stagnant air with unorthodox vibrance. The songs were distinctively raw in their composure, and were played with an equally coarse tenacity. Within the primordial soup of their songs was a loosely woven anatomy that minute after minute redefined what I previously thought of them through my experiences of listening to only the two-dimensional recordings they provide as some kind of archaic offering, which only served to whet the appetite. In short, they kicked my ass.
I’m almost at a loss for words when attempting to explain the performance from Carnal Torpor. The set opened simply enough (considering the event), with a group of shirtless guys assembled at various stations around the room. A little over half the normal crowd could even gather around due to the tower of junk in the middle of the room that at first glance appeared to be nothing more than a hoarder’s wet dream. On one end of the set up, Colin Leipelt stood quietly and almost entirely shrouded in darkness. On the other, J Ashley Miller sat at a desk scattered with old keyboards and other sound modifying devices. Microphone in hand, Drew Roth paced menacingly back and forth at the front, a wooden assemblage dominated most of the area between the members and the conglomeration of things obscured some almost entirely from sight.
What followed could only be described as primal. The noise created by the group was little more than that, and only assisted the immediate experience the audience was thrown into. A tapestry of vaguely pagan equilateral symbols was draped across the wooden structure, and installed on either side was a wheel that had sporadically placed pegs extending from its outer edge, resting on the strings of guitars strapped into the piece. While Roth would sparingly shout and growl things that could not be understood, Miller remained seated, each note played causing his face to contort, his head and body would twist into disturbing positions, and he would open his mouth and stick out his tongue like a feral being. Roth took pause to pick up a jar of molasses, empty it into his hand, and then began ceremoniously wiping it across his shorn scalp, cheeks, chest, and arms. He then grabbed a sheet of aluminum foil, and with the same paralyzed features tore pieces off and stuck them to the parts of his body recently made adherent.
Upon blindly covering areas of his torso, Roth grabbed a conch shell and began vibrating his breathing into it like a didgeridoo, then climbed atop the wooden tower, grabbed a weighted string and intermittently swung at a cymbal standing up front. While this happened, the band played on in discordant drones, flashes of electronic bliss scarcely shining through like the calm during a storm. The wheels were put to use by Miller and another, who spun them by hand, each peg hitting the strings of the guitar and causing a rigid, never-ending power chord while hands moved up and down the neck. The imagery I’ve laid out may be a bit overwhelming, but there’s more. After a bull’s horn full of honey was passed around to those willing to drink from it (germaphobes unite), Roth emptied the rest onto his head and grabbed an audience member.
He picked up this person and held them in his arms for a moment, then dropped them down on his knee as though he was breaking their back. While the man was still in a daze, Roth ripped off his shirt, threw him on the ground and strapped a gag into his mouth. He grabbed a giant, red gummy worm and, acting as though he was pulling out the man’s intestine, began eating it. Once the music began climaxing, the man still lay on the ground with his eyes closed, Roth moved on to close out their set with some other grunted words which I could not make out. The set ended, and there was a discernible pause before a tempered applause began to come from the crowd, likely because everyone, like myself, was standing with their mouths open in shock after what just happened.
Back upstairs, Tim and Heather Goodwillie conceived an at times harsh realm through the constantly fluid daymare of Goodwillies. The project was helmed by Tim, a Los Angeles native who has performed previously with (VxPxC) and Thousands, both endeavors who like Goodwillies released stretching sound structures almost solely on CD-R and cassette. The husband and wife stood, apoplectic, for the duration of their allotted thirty minutes, the constantly moving visuals pouring over them like an unspoken tertiary member whose purpose was only to invoke a sense that could stray the mind from the agitation being ingested by the ears. I took a brief moment during their set to back against a wall and close my eyes, as only then the subtle melancholy of their ambience could truly be appreciated.
It’s not my intention to denigrate any of the artists from the festival, but something about Andrew Plante‘s set didn’t quite sit right by me. I could make a cheap dig at Sunn O))) and their propensity to voyage into guitar-driven pieces of full-blown, single layered ambient drone, but then that becomes a blanket insult for a handful of those playing, which is neither fair nor intended. I can only provide critique based on the merit of his set alone, and though it did not strike my fancy (more of a time and place thing, really) he certainly enamored a number of those in the crowd. Alone in a spotlight, Plante stood. Though he was nowhere near motionless, his set still fell flat to this observer. He ended the set rapturously, by extending his guitar into the feedback field of his amp, providing the only time, however brief, that the sounds became anything other than monochromatic.
In addition to being the most populous band to perform at the festival, the seven people who stood and represented The Conquerors turned out being likely the most popular band as well. By the time they started, half of their scheduled time had already gone by — and by the time they ended, the night was a full thirty minutes behind schedule. Set times are of no consequence when you have the main room congested with the closest thing to a full house as possible. It also doesn’t hurt when you play crushingly kaleidoscopic psych rock that leaves a sear on the brains of all those in attendance. Their more ample songs could get a throwaway comparison to Thee Oh Sees, but the overall verisimilitude of their craft is an admirable drawing from an era spanning well that they come by honestly and keep riveting through impressive execution.
Now that the night was already thirty minutes behind, the flow of the evening just seemed a bit… off. After a large portion of the crowd spilled out into the street and onto the smoking patio, Lawrence five-piece Karma Vision tore into a pop-filled thirty minutes of their own, wherein they played songs adversely different from those heard above. With the exception of bassist Danny Barkofske and drummer Rachael Mulford, the band seemed entirely listless and detached from the rest of the room. Musically, though, every member was on their game throughout renditions of songs from the band’s quickly growing discography. A highlight of their set was the buoyant “Teeter Totter,” whose organ intro is unmistakable and was one of the few songs which got the rest of the band to move more than normal. I believe I may have even seen a smile or two.
Festival organizer Dedric Moore and his brother had already played before, with both being in Monta at Odds, and Delaney also performing in Twofaced with Sterling Holman (who himself was set to perform once more before the festival ended). I’d cry nepotism if every band the guys participated in wasn’t incredible and wholly different from the last. Enter Gemini Revolution, the Moore brothers’ foray into a downplayed psych more modern, but no less moody, than the soulful Monta. The brothers kept an off kilter electricity of guitar and keyboard centric rhythm between them, but Mika Tayana’s drumming spotlighted some fantastic irregular temporal patterns that ultimately gave the trio the concentrated backbone necessary in order to complete their set as one of the primary stand-outs from the entire weekend.
Justin Wright is typically renown for solo spacial compositions that span from five minutes to more than half an hour and can encompass any variety of emotions, from pure elation to unadulterated dread. This year, Expo ’70 has been collaborating with two other musicians, performing measured illustrations that paint an effigy in sonic momentum. When the normally soft-spoken Wright stands with a stack of amps to his back, he undergoes a lupine change surely brought on by the push of sound behind him. Pummeling is the only possible description for the force with which the music hits– a paradigm to the very word “loud.” I lament even having the knowledge that the three-piece band is only temporary, but I hope it can make an occasional resurgence for some live performances when the finished recordings are made public.
The morning of their performance, Be/Non announced that Jeremiah James had quit the band to pursue other interests. This interest included his new solo project under the name Yuo, which was to perform at the festival the next evening. Why he couldn’t wait another day to quit may remain a mystery, but the unexpected trio made due and played a great set. Brodie Rush is the driving force behind the band. Hell, Rush more or less is the band, and keeps a rotating cast of musicians on deck for when he feels too dormant and wants to switch things up, which admittedly seems to be pretty often. With an eyepatch adorned Ryan Shank on drums, Ben Ruth on bass, and a specially programmed astral projection behind them, the trio cruised through the sounds they’ve been focusing on since the release of the space-funk opus A Mountain of Yeses.
By the time I walked back to my car, I was a short five hours away from waking up and heading in to work. Reluctantly, I skipped the two closing sets from Vor Onus and Kevin Harris. I’m sad to have missed out, but I have zero regrets when it comes to things involving sleep.
Once again, thanks to Leah O’Connor for giving people something to look at on this page. See the rest of her great work here.
I have been waiting more than a month to find out just who will be playing the inaugural KC Psychfest. Announced yesterday, the collective at the FOKL (556 Central Ave) will be presenting 30 bands in their space on May 18th and 19th (the website also lists the 20th as part of the event). Tickets are available now, single day passes for Friday and Saturday are $11 a piece, Sunday is $8, or you can get the all-inclusive weekend pass for only $21. They can also be picked up in person from Earwaxx Records, Zebedee’s, or Love Garden for you Lawrence folk. With record store day coming up this weekend, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to grab a pair for you and your closest warped-minded friend.
As initially announced, the weekend festival will not only include the sanity crushing sounds of various artists from the metro and beyond, but will also contain art displays in the gallery, and what is looking to be a pretty intriguing sculptural video installation. Unfortunately, no specific set times have been announced, but I expect they will be made public before too long. See the full list below. I’ve included links to music and notes where applicable.
KC Psychfest 2012 lineup:
Umberto (KC – Matt Hill is a former collaborator of Justin Wright’s Expo ’70)
Dylan Ettinger (Bloomington, IN)
Expo ’70 (KC)
Mr. Marco’s V7 (KC – Marco Pascolini is an unstoppable force)
Monta At Odds (KC)
Metatone (presumably KC, has collaborated with a local Balinese gamelan)
Karma Vision (Lawrence)
The Conquerors (KC)
Gemini Revolution (KC – members of Monta at Odds)
Vor Onus (KC)
South Bitch Diet (KC – side project from Brock Potucek of Lazy)
Box The Compass (KC – no website that could be found)
Sounding The Deep (KC)
Restless Breed (KC)
Import/Export (KC – one of the many John Bersuch projects)
Kevin Harris (St. Louis)
Surroundher (KC – a project of Sterling Holman of Import/Export and Sky Burial)
Discoverer (KC – side project of Brandon Knocke from Parts of Speech)
Thee Devotion (KC)
Carnal Torpor (KC – project of J Ashley Miller from SSION)
Jorge Arana Trio (KC)
Twofaced (presumably KC, but no website could be found)
CS Luxem (KC)
Yuo (presumably KC)
Kansas City, KS, gallery space FOKL (556 Central Ave) will be hosting the first KC Psychfest this spring, on May 18th and 19th. The full lineup has not yet been announced, but the press release reveals that it will be a two-day multimedia festival featuring psychedelic bands, live VJs, and visual artists from the KC Metro and Midwest.
Thus far, the only bands featured on the bill will be KC mainstays Expo ’70, CVLTS, Goodwillies, Be/Non, The Conquerors, Monta At Odds, and Lawrence band Karma Vision. With a lineup like that, I’ll estimate that additions from Umberto, High Diving Ponies, and LAZY are to be expected soon, as well as what I’d guess will be a handful of decent touring national acts, and a few bands that just happen to be coming through the area this May that may be thrown on the bill for the hell of it. Keep an eye on the venue’s website for more info.
There are few active bands in the region that have committed to churning out a respectably sized discography in the shortest amount of time possible as much as the High Diving Ponies. The band, in its current incarnation, caught my attention early last year by announcing their plans to release not one, or two, but three albums in the year of 2010. Their agenda was pushed into motion with the release of the 10-track Fractals in Heat, a fuzzed out, reverb heavy and, yes, probably substance-enhanced work that was equal parts grunge and shoegaze, a comfort zone giving just as much credence to Sonic Youth’s Evol as the pure wall-of-noise segments present in My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.
The counterpart release to Fractals proper was the same album, mixed by Tim Goodwillie (GOODWILLIES), skewing the levels and creating a feeling the album is either being listened to through a slow-running blender, or the sound is vibrating off the walls of a steel grain bin. Listening to either release, you would expect that the currently played album is how it was meant to be heard, the preference is really in the hands of the audience. As quickly as the first two were made public, a third album was released. This one, titled Casino Economy, showed temperament on the band’s part, demonstrating a much more restrained approach to what was once just an onslaught of reverb. What could easily have been confused as an attempt to cover up a lack of songwriting skills in previous releases, was now stripped down just a little to reveal that underneath all of the noise there was real talent present.
Frontman Josh Thomas is no stranger to the use of reverb and noise as an artificial instrument. Prior to the existence of HDP, Thomas fronted Spidermums, a band similar not only in sound, but in the delivery of their physical product, using stenciled black sleeves to house each of their two CD-R releases (the last of which featured drumming from Gaurav Bashyaklarla of CVLTS), a trend that continued on with the Ponies. You could say that the change was more in name only than in sound, but with a new name came a new lineup, eliminating a cast that had largely been a part of Thomas’ endeavor previous to the ‘Mums, the straight ahead grunge outfit Bodisartha. The band garnered a bit of attention in the mid ‘oughts, and could be frequently found on the lineup at one of midtown KC’s shortest-lived but most documented haunts, The Sleeper Cellar.
Back to the present, and not to be outdone by… themselves, the self-described “danger pop” band released yet another album in November of 2010. Broken Sunbather would prove to be both a continuation of Thomas’ decision to focus on more of the intricacies that were often overlooked in some of his previous work, and a harkening back to the raw, out-of-tune fuzz rock they had built their reputation upon. Many of the nine tracks present on Sunbather had been tossed around in demo form by the band for most of the year, a few even appearing on a live recording the band posted online from a Recordbar show they played earlier that spring.
Little was heard from HDP for a few months. Their Twitter account was updated frequently, but mostly either updated the followers on what ever band Josh was recording/mastering (the previously mentioned CVLTS, as well as Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk) or was limited to a one-line anecdote about drugs or a cryptic allusion to the thoughts taking place in his head at that particular moment. The occasional live performance announcement or a passing remark about a 7 inch would be made from time to time, vinyl had been mentioned as a possible format since the band’s conception, though cassettes were a frequent medium as well. As spring arrived, the discussion of a new analog release was steadily increasing, when last week, the news was out. The band plans to release the lathe-cut Pain Pills 7 inch in mid-June, and its run is limited to a mere 33 copies. They have posted a link where the EP can be downloaded for free. As far as getting your hands on a copy of the 7 inch, well I guess you’ll just have to check back in here after the band announces a release show.
Bonus: download Spidermums’ fantastic cover of The Amps’ “Bragging Party” right here.