YHT Book Club!

Mo' Meta Blues

According to the Kindle application on my phone, I’m 14% of the way through Mo’ Meta Blues, the new memoir from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. And while it would probably behoove me to wait until I’ve read, oh, I don’t know, at least a third of the Roots drummer’s book before I start sharing opinions about it, I can’t help jumping in with a quick reaction to Thompson’s relationship with record reviews.

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NMP album art

I have a friend who seems to know someone in every other band that comes to town. It’s jealousy-inspiring and heartwarming at the same time, but more than anything else, I see it as a testament to how good and generous she is as a person, and how some people are wizards when it comes to keeping in touch. (This has always been a weakness of mine, so when I see that quality in others, it really catches my eye.)

She recently told me about a band she’s friends with that’s set to play this Wednesday, June 26 at Strange Matter, and it took approximately 0.734 seconds of listening to their new album for me to develop a strong desire to probe these people about the hows and whys behind the music they make. They’re called NYMPH, and they’re a 7-piece group, hailing from Brooklyn and specializing in the crazy spaces between jazz, psych- and noise rock. Their new album, New Millennium Prayer, comes out tomorrow, giving you 24 hours to dissect and digest it before they hit the stage at Strange Matter in a colorful cloud of creative energy.

RVA Magazine was kind enough to pick up the interview — I hope you’ll check it out here and listen below to the remix they did of “Golden Heart,” one of the tracks from Neneh Cherry’s outstanding 2012 album, The Cherry Thing.

NYMPH & Neneh Cherry – “Golden Heart” Remix [Spotify/iTunes]

The Most Americans

The Most Americans

There’s this Radiolab segment that’s stuck with me ever since I heard it a few years ago. It’s about how electronic devices are designed to sound — not what comes out of built-in speakers or plugged-in headphones, but the sounds that the object itself makes. That soft, round clap that let you know that your old flip phone was closed. That sharp, plastic-y snap that came from closing and locking your Walkman. These sounds weren’t accidents; they were carefully engineered by human people. Isn’t that wild? People sat around thinking about how the materials of a Walkman should be assembled so that, when it closed, you’d feel a sense of security. This thing is definitely shut. There’s no way my Paula Abdul tape is going to unexpectedly pop out. 

When I’m listening to the self-titled album that Boston-based group The Most Americans recently released, I can hear that snap. It wasn’t used as a found sound on any of the tracks, or sampled to make a beat; it’s the album itself. The whole thing snaps because it sounds like the work of bandmates who have totally locked into one another — the harmonies, the guitars that carefully paint on different regions of the same canvas, the subtle but confident time variations — it all sounds secure and pleasing in a truly extraordinary way.

A flow that natural can seem effortless. But the truth is, as with the electronics mentioned above, it’s actually the result of years of hard, collaborative work by human people, and since I’ve been dying to know more about the album (“Two Dreams” has become one of my favorite songs released this year), I sent the human people responsible for it a few questions via email. The group’s two lead vocalists — guitarist Jon Braun and drummer Kevin Walsh — sent back the following responses:

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Charles Bradley

I knew soul was messy, but I hadn’t seen firsthand how beautiful and messy it could be until last week’s Friday Cheers.

Rain fell all day long, leaving the ground on Brown’s Island a soupy wreck, and when Mrs. YHT and I finally walked across the pedestrian bridge onto Brown’s Island — we’d spent the preceding half hour in the car, delaying our inevitable drenching — I did not expect that the show would actually happen. The original start time had lapsed and the entrance fee had been waived, yet I didn’t see a single spectating soul until the front edge of the stage was in view. There, a dozen or so umbrellas were huddled, the people under them watching Charles Bradley’s backing band — in this context you’d call them Bradley’s “Extraordinaires,” but without Bradley they’re known as Menahan Street Band — tune up. (I imagined that the band was having their own version of the “Is this thing actually going to happen?” conversation.)

Some friends had taken refuge under an unused radio station canopy across from the beer truck, and we joined them and learned that (good news) people were being allowed backstage, but (bad news) Bradley was rumored to be held up in traffic. We didn’t go backstage, but amazingly, just a short time later, we heard Bradley’s Extraordinaires playing what sounded like organized notes, and a few instrumental numbers later (“Summer In The City” being one) there he was. The Victim of Love. The Original Black Swan. The One and Only Screaming Eagle of Soul. (His extended intro, voiced by the band’s keys player, was a show unto itself. It felt more like a wrestling introduction, like how Paul Bettany introduced Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale.)

The rest of the evening was pure magic. The band sounded great, Bradley’s voice was every bit the wonder I’d hoped it would be, and the small group of us that crowded the gravely area near the stage made enough noise for an audience 10 times our size. And while the music was outstanding (the rendition of “Confusion” embedded above was a personal favorite), what Bradley did between songs was most memorable.

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Pretty & Nice

Pretty & Nice

In case you couldn’t tell from my post about Golden Rules for Golden People, I’m rather fond of Pretty & Nice. I’m extremely happy to report that I had the chance to interview them a few hours before their recent show at Strange Matter, and the interview just went up over at rvamag.com. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look it over and learn a little more about how their amazing new album came together.

Just for fun, here’s the Us You All We track I mentioned in the interview, along with its remix.

Pretty & Nice — “Dan’s Heart” [Spotify/iTunes]

Pretty & Nice — “Dan’s Heart” (The Mathematics Remix) [Spotify/iTunes]

The Dixie Cups

The Dixie Cups

I must have run across The Dixie Cups’ version of “Iko Iko” at some point in my 29 years on this planet, but I really listened to it for the first time a few days ago, and I think I’ve listened 15 or 20 times since. It’s totally brilliant. The spareness of the arrangement and the calmness of their voices contrast so nicely with the (literally) incendiary lyrics. It reminds me of how my dad loved that Back to the Future was set in a town called “Hill Valley” — the oxymoronic name creates a sort of void, like the thing cancels itself out and doesn’t actually exist. (He was big on postmodernism in his academic work, and he had a field day with BTTF.)

The crazy thing — ironic, maybe — is that The Dixie Cups’ version of “Iko Iko” almost didn’t exist at all.

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Pokey LaFarge

Pokey LaFarge

The fact that it’s a first world problem doesn’t make it any less true — coming back from vacation sucks. The better the trip, the harder the fall. I don’t know about you, but I can usually sense with bitter consciousness the spell slipping away in the days after getting back, like watching smoke dissipate when someone turns on a ceiling fan.

If you caught my musical away message, you already know that I spent last week in Greece. (And if you actually listened to that Yanni song I posted — wasn’t it kind of fun?) Mrs. YHT and I took something of a second honeymoon, splitting time between Athens and a pair of islands that were just obscenely beautiful. I mean look at that. It’s unreasonable. It’s the kind of vista that makes you feel unworthy. I bet the seagulls even feel lucky to live there. Leaving wasn’t easy, and memories of the near-pornographic views, the absurd amount of feta cheese I ate and the ocean of pleasure reading time I left behind have made for rough reassimilation.

But sandwiched between yesterday’s serving of “welcome back to the real world” reminders was a momentary reprieve — a lightness when the weight of routine and responsibility was settling back onto my shoulders. It came while I was taking “Central Time” — the lead single off Pokey LaFarge’s day-old self-titled album — for a test drive. For a short time, it felt like the tremendous gravity of everyday life didn’t apply to me. The song ended, and I went back to coming back to things, but that weightlessness felt so real, and it seems to me that there’s more at work here than just a happy-sounding song.

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WRIR and Commonwealth of Notions Presents: Volume 3

Commonwealth of Notions

On July 14 of last year, when I was speeding down Monument Avenue on the way to Gallery 5, the air in my Honda Fit was thick with suspense. I was eager to see The Snowy Owls, a band I’d been listening to but hadn’t seen live, and I was just as eager to get my first taste of “WRIR and The Commonwealth of Notions Presents.” Last year was the second for the Shannon Cleary-curated WRIR fundraiser, and it proved to be a dynamite day and night of music, with 10 local bands, multiple stages and perfectly staggered set times. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Richmond music scene better at last year’s event, and it’s become clear that this year’s is going to be even more rewarding.

If Volume 2’s format provided a steady stream of sets, this year’s is more like an angry river that’s going to crest on four consecutive nights at four different venues around Richmond. And while we know the where and when for WRIR and The Commonwealth of Notions Presents: Volume 3 — things kick off on Thursday, July 18 at Strange Matter, followed by Balliceaux on July 19, Gallery 5 on July 20 and Bandito’s on July 21 — the who has been kept secret until the last few days, whereupon RVA Playlist, Sounds of RVA and One Way Richmond began revealing the bands who have signed up to participate.

Today, I’m honored to announce three more puzzle pieces — Wolf//Goat, Way, Shape, or Form, and Heavy Midgets. The dates and venues are listed below, along with some sample tunes to get the anticipation flowing.

July 18 at Strange Matter

In Watermelon Sugar

Wolf//Goat — “Lobocabra” [Bandcamp]

July 20 at Gallery 5
Way, Shape, or Form

Way Shape or Form

Way, Shape, or Form — “Tenants” [Bandcamp]

July 21 at Bandito’s
Heavy Midgets

Heavy Midgets

Heavy Midgets — “Golden Cow” [Bandcamp]

Keep an eye out for more announcements, including information about a very special mystery artist who will be returning to Richmond to perform at Balliceaux on Friday, July 19.

Hope to see you there in July!