- 12/30 Paper Bird – As I Am
The third of the Michigan bands that I’ve been digging on lately. I caught these guys once Floydfest last year where they won the Under The Radar contest. So I’m really interested in checking them out again this year.
- 12/31 Tim Barry – Prosser’s Gabriel
There’s just something about this performance that I love. The intimacy of seeing him do the song in such a small space. I think the fact that there are a handful of people actually makes it work even more.
Side note, did you notice Austin Lucas among the people watching the performance?
- 1/1 Hurray for the Riff Raff – Look Out Mama
This is missing the rest of the band, but, like the previous song, I just like the way this one works.
- 1/2 Micah Schnabel (Two Cow Garage) – American Static
Micah is probably best known for his work with Two Cow Garage, but this track is off his solo album.
- 1/3 Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil – Alibis
DOC! ninebullets.net reviewed their first album and that’s how I found these guys. I’ll owe Bryan a bigger debt then I will ever be able to pay back for doing me that favor. I really need to start planning a road trip so I can finally see these guys live.
- 1/4 Shovels & Rope – Hail Hail
I first heard these guys through a local radio station and then took a couple of months before I finally remembered to track them down. I’ve been digging on their album since.
- 1/5 Megan Jean & KFB – Little Miss Fortune
Ah, Megan Jean! How can you now love this woman? Seriously, explain that to me?
I’ve recently decided that all people are inherently loving and compassionate people, who commit acts that are not loving or compassionate because they are afraid. They are afraid that others will ridicule them if they are loving and compassionate to the wrong person or in the wrong way. They are afraid that someone will take advantage of them because of their loving and compassionate act.
We all have these fears, and they keep all of us from being loving and compassionate people with every breath we take.
Bravery is not the absence of fear, it is acknowledging the fear and not letting it control you.
My goal for this year is to be braver.
Let’s keep the experimentation going. The idea here is to do a weekly wrap up of the videos that were posted the previous week with or with out notes.
- 12/23 – The Crane Wives, “Counting Sheep”
I actually found these guys randomly through that “who to follow” thing that sits on the side of your Twitter page. I saw the name and icon, figured they were a band, and decided to check them out on a lark. Within two or three songs on Spotify I was hooked and I’ve been in love with these guys since. I’m hoping they get booked for Floydfest this year, otherwise I’m going to have to drive to Michigan before year’s end to see them.
- 12/23 – The Ragbirds, “The Bully”
Another Michigan band. I’ve been getting emails from these guys for years because they belong to the Homegrown Music Network and I’m on the mailing list. I remember checking them out several years ago and feeling kind of ‘meh’ about them. Then around late summer I decided to give them another shot and they clicked for me.
- 12/24 Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers – Little Too Late
A name I’ve been seeing for a year or so through various media. It’s only been in the last couple of months that I decided to start paying attention. I’m digging what I’m hearing so far. It’s interesting though, hearing the different geographical variations on a similar sound. Southern CA has a bit more laid back vibe to it, then the south. There’s a cowboy movie quality to it all.
- 12/25 Austin Lucas – “Somebody Loves You”
Austin was another artist who’s name kept popping up for awhile before I finally sat down and checked him out. This song is a good introduction to his lyrical abilities. His word choices are something that I find absolutely fascinating. And the fact that they end up being wrapped around such beautiful songs is why I love this guy so much. Add in the premise of this video, Austin sitting in the back of a car while they drive to a gig in LA, and this just had to be the choice for the video. This won’t be the last we’ll hear from Austin.
- 12/26 He’s My Brother She’s My Sister – Let it Live Free
A recent discovery and one I’m still a little on the fence about, though they’re starting to win me. They name check Edwin Sharpe in their bio though and I’ve just never really gotten into his stuff, so I almost passed on these guys, but then I gave them a listen on Spotify and kind of dug what they’re doing. They throw in a rockabilly curve to the standard So-Cal sound from before that makes it kind of interesting, so we’ll see what happens with them.
- 12/26 He’s My Brother She’s My Sister – The Same Old Ground
Honestly, this got added because I needed to test a IFTTT recipe. Still, it’s a fun performance. BTW, did you notice that the drummer is tap dancing on a bass drum? I missed it the first time. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I’m either going to end up loving this group beyond words, or will quickly loose complete interest in them. I don’t think there’s going to be a middle ground here. And truth be told, I like that.
- 12/27 John Moreland – “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore”
I found Moreland through ninebullets.net After listening to them rave about the man’s song writing abilities I felt like I had to check them out. There isn’t anything on his latest album that wows me, but I keep hearing phrases in his songs that grab me and I keep finding myself leaning in a little closer to the speaker to see if there aren’t more nuggets to be found. I’m not much of a lyric person, so I’m sure I’m not getting all of this man’s greatness, but he makes me wish I was.
- 12/28 Shook Twins – “What We Do”
I was looking through YouTube for videos and randomly came across this one. I kind of like it, so I went ahead and added it. I’m a sucker for female harmonies and creative vocals. I still need to check them out though, so we’ll see if they end up in rotation or not.
- 12/29 Kermit Ruffins – “If You’re A Viper”
Last night was the season finale of the HBO series Treme about life in post-Katrina New Orleans. If you love music, then you need to go back and check this show out. The music here isn’t a spice, it’s a character. And it has a lot of depth and versatility. The first season focuses on the stereotypical N’awlins R&B and trad Jazz sound, but later seasons push past the first impressions and plunge deeper into that subconscious. Touching on bounce, cajun, zydeco, modern jazz, blues, rock, metal, funk, americana, the whole gambit really. The tourist view of New Orleans is a narrow spectrum, but a city as cultured as New Orleans doesn’t turn it’s back on anything. It takes delight in brazen cultural appropriation, and then insists that you stole from it after the fact.
If you have seen the show; there is no other artist that could have been played.
And now, reading back through that little missive on New Orleans and the show Treme; I realize it’s almost poetic that the first week ends here.
At this point, I’ve got over a month of videos lined up for you to check out, and it’s only near the end of that buffer that we see our first repeat (I’m not including HMB/SMS, I specifically chose another track by them when I needed to test the changes). You’re probably already starting to notice the common thread through all of this, but as the videos roll out we’ll push the edges a bit more.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot of geographical variations on this thread. The cowboy movie sheen of the So-Cal take. The bluesy mountain soul of the southern take (with variations for different regions, which we’ll expand on). Michigan seems to have a cleaner, folkier take on it; though I need to dig deeper there. And I haven’t even gotten into New England, the PNW, Texas, the southwest, etc. etc. etc.
New Orleans is one of the touch stones for this thread though. And while I didn’t consciously decide to launch this project at the end of Treme, I can’t say it’s a complete coincidence.
This is just a heads up that I’m going to start posting things to the tumblr that aren’t going to be posted here. Specifically, I’m going to start posting YouTube clips of live music being performed by artists I follow, with the intention of introducing folks to new music.
To start with I’m focusing just on single live tracks that are pro-shot. I may end up relaxing that down the line, but we’ll see. There’s also currently no text beyond the band name and track name. Again, I may change my mind on that down the line, but for right now I wanted to keep it simple.
There will be one video posted to the tumblr each day. So far I’ve got four weeks cued up with a wide assortment of different groups. The whole thing got kicked off today with a double header of the Crane Wives and the Ragbirds, two Michigan bands that I’ve been really getting into lately.
So, if you’re curious about the kind of music I listen to, feel free to start hitting the tumblr. I will continue to post other things here, and those things will be cross posted to there, but this music thing will only live there.
And if you have any tips or comments, feel free to leave them here or drop me a line there.
I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the relationship between the mainstream and the underground and how this relationship shapes our wider culture in general and what it means for nerd culture more specifically. What I haven’t talked much about is the third leg in this stool, something that I call The Weird. The Weird is a diverse collection of individual scenes and subcultures that exist outside of the mainstream/underground paradigm to various degrees; either because they’ve actively rejected this paradigm, or, more commonly, they just don’t see a point in caring about it. They’re happy with the world that they’ve carved out and that’s all they need.
My own interaction with The Weird is primarily with a scene that I lovingly refer to as the freakshow. This is a collection of people who are pushing the boundaries of traditional music in an attempt to create new traditions that reflect current times in the same way that the older styles reflected the times when they were created. That can be found in punks unplugging their guitars to write folk tunes or honky tonk numbers, or hippies merging string band music with things like funk and reggea, or with hillbillies dropping acid and writing songs extolling the virtues of the peace, love, and moonshine. It is a scene that is incredibly weird and foreign to outsiders, yet feels completely natural and obvious to those who call it home.
From the moment I first started to get involved in the nerd culture movement I’ve longed for a band that would bridge the gap between these two scenes. This past weekend at the annual Floydfest, outside Floyd, VA, I think I finally found the group that I’ve been longing for in the form of South Carolina’s Megan Jean and the KFB.
Made up of Megan Jean (voice, washboard, kick drum, snare drum, and occasionally acoustic guitar) and Byrne Klay (banjo and upright bass) the group plays a style of music that may seem simple on the surface but is highly evocative. The band’s fascination with things like zombies and voodoo may come off as a schtick in lesser hands, but their ability to evoke an unsettling feeling with just their music or the way Megan Jean drawls certain words past their intended lengths, elevates what they’re doing beyond a simple schtick. The fact that they also seem to have a firm grasp of the the concept of zombies as metaphors for various society ills also pushes their work well beyond the simple realm of “band that sings about zombies and voodoo.”
The Devil Himself is the band’s second album and was released last March.
Musically the songs on the album hint at a variety of different styles of music. The swinging beat of Mr Boneman and These Bones, or the ragtime feel of something like Idle Hands, or even the early 60s Brill Building feel of Last Days. That said, the overall sound is one that is unique to the band. It’s a sound made up of hypnotic, yet perfect, banjo phrases and the constant beat of the kick drum. Over that is the washboard which in some cases is just keeping time while in other places it provides a much greater degree of swing then one would expect from such a simple instrument. And then of course there is Megan Jean’s voice. Rich and full and powerful enough to strip shingles off a roof with out ever faltering in the slightest. It’s that voice that will first make an impression on you.
Lyrically the band’s most common motif is songs that on the surface tell stories about the dead or stories that have a strong voodoo kind of vibe. At the same time though those same songs leave one with a strong sense that there is much more to them. That, like all good ghost stories, they are about something much more mundane, but also much more dangerous. Personally, I find myself torn between wanting to know what the songs are “really” about and not wanting to ever know, so that I can be left to my own devices to derive my own meanings for them.
Beyond the zombie and voodoo songs, the next strongest motif is the cost of non-conformity. Whether it’s No Good Girl warning others not to judge her until they’ve walked in her shoes. Or the middle finger of Home Town Hero. The refreshing thing about these songs though is that they are not the typical ‘fuck you’ non-conformity songs that one might expect. The songs plainly and honestly acknowledge the costs of non-conformity, the judgement and ridicule that comes with refusing to fit in, but are at the same time defiant in their stance. One comes away with a message that there are costs associated with being yourself, but that the alternative, denying yourself to live an easier life, is not a life worth living. It’s a message that all nerds should take to heart, but that the younger of us should pay particular attention to.
Just as the emergence of folks like Random and Dual Core and YT Cracker, who were already well versed in hip hop before aligning themselves with Nerdcore raised the bar with in that scene. I think Megan Jean and the KFB have the potential to shake things up in the geek rock and post-wrock scenes. If nothing else the band might inspire more touring from the existing bands. At Floydfest MJ-KFB proudly declared that they’ve been homeless for the last two and a half years as they continue their never ending tour. Even mentioning at one point that they played over 250 shows over the last year. And a group does not play that many shows a year without learning a thing or two about getting a crowd riled up.
Beyond that though in my opinion it would be interesting to see some of other bands in the scene to start pushing the boundaries when it comes to the style of music they play. There’s nothing really wrong with bands playing well with in existing genres of music, but given the creativity that already exists in this scene, I’d be curious to see what happens if some of the freakshow were to start rubbing off on more groups.
Perhaps I’m just projecting my own desires on the scene and I should just be happy with what we have, but even if I am, I’ll still present MJ-KFB as a great group with a unique sound that will likely leaving you a little sweaty and a little tired and very happy after hearing them, whether you’re seeing them live or just listening to their CD.
If your still not completely sold, below are a few videos that I pulled off YouTube. There are others out there if you look, but I figured these would be a good taste of what you can expect from the band.
First up is the video for These Bones.
Next up is a live version of the track Skeletons that the band did for a YouTube channel called BalconyTV.
The next two videos are from FloydFest where I saw them play.
First, from their 2012 dance tent performance (which sadly I missed), their version of the mashup Something In The Air/Bed Intruder.
Second, from this years main stage performance (I did catch this one), a new song that they haven’t recorded yet called My Rouge Ran Low.