Flying Hair @ The Holland Project. 1/31/18. A Weeknight Hodgepodge of Sounds and Styles

The massive drum kit on stage before Tresed’s set, refinished in a deep red and sporting horns on its kick drum spurs, suggests a brashness that the young players make good on. They open the Thursday night Holland show with enough fervency to make you wonder about the structural limitations of hickory drumsticks and nickel wound guitar strings, and indeed, during a drum break a few songs in, a stick shatters, though no one seems to care.

That intensity persists throughout their set, projecting a stage demeanor that’s refreshing in its lack of polish. Where many bands rely on sampling pads and perfunctory recitations of the night’s lineup to theoretically liven up any dead-air in their set, Tresed’s tuning breaks are quiet enough to hear strings twang. They smile and crack jokes to their friends off stage.
They’re high school kids. Their braces, white Chuck Taylors, and complete lack of pretense make me realize, perhaps fully for the first time, at twenty-three, that I’m not a teenager anymore. The drummer clicks in on splintered sticks and they go all out: heavy rock riffs and extended instrumental breaks, a random burst from a fog machine, a sans-sticks drum solo. Watching them do it is mesmerizing in that it reminds me of something I didn’t realize I’d forgotten: that playing music, despite its ability to soothe existential sores and express what conversation can’t, is, perhaps most importantly, for fun.

While Tresed is sparse in their gear and stage presence, Flying Hair needs every square inch of Holland’s stage to hold their half stacks and pedal boards. They transition out of sound check with a crescendo-ing alarm effect that their bass player/vocalist pitch modulates with alternating clicks on what look like WWII era radios and sound like bomb raid sirens on an intergalactic air force outpost. The synth rig craps out during their second song, stalling momentarily the galloping, riding-on-a-dragon’s-back momentum that I, still high on Tresed, want to go on indefinitely. The keys are quickly functioning again, and FH’s set, as it continues, becomes more varied. What initially seemed like a set of straightforward, fuzzed-out fist-pumpers is interpolated, exactly when needed, with half-time sections, sluggish triplet fills, closed hi-hat grooves, and palm muted bass breaks.

And soon there’s the sort of moment that only happens in the presence of live music. What had been a driving, backbeat carried tempo descends gradually into glacier paced mayhem: a bent string, twisted pedal-knob drone, a half-time stoner metal crawl that goes on and on, and swelling over everything shrieks an ambient frequency like a radio transmission coming through from another dimension. The moment expands and I no longer worry about what to do with my hands or whether anyone notices that I’ve come here alone.

It’s typical of Holland bills to feature a medley of styles; if Flying Hair is like stuffing yourself on pasta and meatballs, Ichthyosaur, the last band of the night, is the bit of chocolate you crave immediately after. The tone is cleaner, the decibel level significantly reduced. Harmonics, chorus pedal, an acapella Happy Birthday dedicated to the bassist’s father, a Kings of Leon cover. Applause as a yardstick, they’re the crowd favorite. Heads sway with the band’s catchy riffs and three part vocal harmonies, nod along with driving bass lines deftly rendered on a Rickenbacker.

It’s enough, on the drive home, to make the Center Street lights hum with something I’d forgotten to listen for, the reality of tomorrow morning’s shift suspended for a little longer.

Check out Flying Hair’s Bandcamp here.

MGMT - Little Dark Age

All of MGMT’s work since their 2008 debut “Oracular Spectacular” seemed like a reaction to their meteoric success. They could feel themselves becoming trapped in our collective eighth grade nostalgia and needed to escape.

On the title track of their sophomore album  “Congratulations,” Andrew VanWyngarden bitterly sang “It’s hardly a sink or swim/When all is well if the ticket sells.” Their self-titled album sounded dense and joyless, as if they wanted to punish their fair-weather fans. On “Little Dark Age,” their first album in four and half years, they let go of sour feelings and head off in a new direction.

The sonic palate consists of a dancey, psychedelic 80s synthwave. The keyboards, drum machines and bass seem like they originate from a range of cheesy 80s B-movie soundtracks, from ski race to detective thriller to workout tape to romance to porno. Except on acid.

Some would call this pandering to everyone’s wistfulness of the era, but there is something much more sinister at work. The songs are too dark and experimental to allow the listener to become sentimental. Although this album digests easier than their last album, they still include all their oddball idiosyncrasies.

The production on the first three songs is frantic and oppressive, nearly suffocating. It sounds like they recorded the vocals underwater. The title track and “When You Die” have a Gothic flair.

But as the album proceeds, it loosens up and becomes much more open-ended. “Me and Michael,” a kaleidoscopic masterpiece, feels like driving around with the windows down during a July sunset. If the album loses its steam on the second half, it regains its composure in a major way with “Hand It Over.” The track is quite possibly the best song MGMT has ever written and a perfect album closer to play as the credits roll. The instrumentation is lush but the production is minimalist, allowing the chorus to soar into the heavens.

On early songs like “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” it seems like they started with a catchy synth riff, then backtracked. On “Little Dark Age,” those keyboard lines still pop up, albeit more subtly. Their focus has shifted to song structure, melodies and better sound mixing. The songs on “Oracular Spectacular” are for huge crowds at Coachella to jump up and down to. The songs on “Little Dark Age” are for a dance party in your basement with your closest friends.

It seems they refined their focus in nearly every aspect. Their early work concentrated on creating an overarching atmosphere for an album. On “Little Dark Age,” they perfected the mechanics on every single song. Their earlier work painted broad lyrical strokes about the human condition. “Little Dark Age” fixates more on interpersonal relationships. With songs “Me and Michael” and “James” introducing specific characters, it makes the music much more intimate and nuanced. “We can both say who’s laughing now,” VanWyngarden sings on “James.” “It’s yours and it’s mine,” he sings on “Hand it Over.”

The lyrics often become existential. VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser are both 35, approaching middle age. On “When You Die” VanWyngarden sings “You die/And words won’t do anything/It’s permanently night/And I won’t feel anything/We’ll all be laughing with you when you die.” On “One Thing Left to Try” he sings “I don’t wanna die/Wishing I’d done something/Before then what’s required/To last until the sunset.”

A little dark age, in my mind, marks a period in someone’s life fraught with frustration, dissatisfaction and misdirection which they can only appreciate after the fact. MGMT seems to acknowledge coming to terms with themselves on this album. On the title track, he sings “Just know that if you hide, it doesn’t go away.” They discuss the ups and downs of fame on the folk lullaby “When You’re Small.” He sings “When you’re big/And troubles seem so far” … “When you’re low/You reach a certain point/Where you can’t see the point.” I have never been famous, but I would assume one of the most difficult things is the loss of anonymity. He sings “When you’re small/You can curl into a ball.”

The only song I can say I don’t particularly care for is “Days That Got Away” which seems like an unnecessary instrumental interlude on a relatively short album. Otherwise, “Little Dark Age” excites the listener. With each go around, the album continues to unravel, layer by layer. It stands as MGMT’s strongest effort front-to-back and capitalizes on the potential they have flirted with for the past decade.

 

This article originally ran in the Nevada Sagebrush.

J. Pike releases “Powerhouse” single ahead of debut EP

J. Pike, otherwise known as Josh Pike, shares a hard-hitting, floor-rumbling single off his similarly named Powerhouse EP.

“Powerhouse” is the punch in the face that you did not know you wanted, nor needed. All techno- and house-heads will want to hear this one. Complete with a killer build and dynamic drop, I am stunned and excited that his upcoming EP will contain five more songs that further display his mastery of production when this song alone really does it for me.

Cover art by Tiffany Javier.

Both as a listener and longtime friend, I am eager for the release of the entire Powerhouse EP this Friday 2/23 and am confident that Josh will deliver. Stay tuned for our interview with J. Pike also on Friday for the next episode of Inside the Music from 5-6 PM here on Wolf Pack Radio.

Listen for yourself below to “Powerhouse.” You will want to make some room to dance those pants off as you do, trust me.