Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Strategies of Beauty

I'm not sure what I thought Strategies of Beauty would be other than an above average local rock show, but I suppose that I expected it to serve as a microcosmic snapshot of local music, a chance to take the pulse of musicians, scenesters, and anyone else that gives two shits in order to see where this area is musically, and where it might be headed in the near future. Some might respond that this is an overly dramatic, unrealistic and misguided calculation considering that many of the bands that played Strategies have gone more or less unnoticed by 90% of Dallas' local music scene participants, and an even smaller percentage of DFW residents that might consider going to a local show every now and again. But aside from the (only half joking) response that if the majority of Dallas music fans don't dig it then it must be good, I would suggest that the Strategies line up was comprised of a larger percentage of interesting DFW bands than any other show I can think of in recent memory, and despite the relative lack of attention that most of these bands have received thus far from local fans and media, several of them are part of a short list of local groups that actually have a chance to make an impact outside of the area at some point in time.

I think people often forget that while some of the more popular bands in Dallas right now (The Valentines, Deathray Davies, Belafonte, Chemistry Set, etc.) might have sounds that are more commercially viable than the Strategies gang, their chances of going very far outside of being cool on lower Greenville probably aren't very good. Why? Well, its not so much that they're just completely terrible (which several of them are), but more because there are similar bands with very similar sounds in pretty much every large to mid sized city in the United States, and they're all fighting for that one Volkswagen commercial, or that one opening slot on the next Death Cab tour. And while the Dallas version of a watered down Strokes might not be much worse (and could be much better) than the Kansas City or Sacramento versions, it just seems that the competition to reach the markets they are aiming for is much tighter than that for the market that say, Notes from Undergound, Shiny Around the Edges or Eat Avery's Bones might be able to interest. In short, many of the Strategies groups ( and a handful of other local acts) seem to offer something relatively unique, something that might actually catch a Matador rep off guard at SXSW next year. I guess that is why I thought Strategies was sort of a big deal.

And while it might not have been one of the 101 WILDEST parties of the summer in the United States (unless this is an off year for "wild"), the festival was very well attended for a ten hour all local show in a really hot bar (Rubber Gloves: turn on the damn air conditioning!), and most of the acts that the WSJR gang saw were quite solid if not earth shattering, while a couple were extremely captivating.

The show marked the first time I had ever seen Shiny Around the Edges live, and it was really quite impressive. Although it seemed that they were unable to capture some of the doom and gloom ambience of their recorded material (which I'm not even sure is possible in a rock club), they were quite effective in creating tension on stage, building a thin wall of separation between performer and audience that was intense but vaguely welcoming in that it exposed their fragile yet confident personas as they played sparse, minimal songs that built up slowly and broke down quickly. As much as I liked their music (along with the backing pedal steel by Adub), which seems to exist somewhere one the warmer side of Portishead, Broadcast, Palace Brothers and Leonard Cohen, I enjoyed their vocal delivery and subtle stage presence just as much, as it seemed a bit more artistic and thoughtful than most of the Carlos Ds and Karen Os that have come and gone over the past five years, rendering neo post-punk swagger about as boring and predictable as a garage rock yelp. Overall, they are one of the more exciting bands in the area, and their live performance just added to that notion.

Stumptone followed with a capable and at times exhilarating set of shoegaze influenced neopsyche and a slide show background that set a similar mood. How the names Catherine Wheel and Janes Addiction have not been mentioned in a Stumptone review (to my knowledge at least) is a bit of a mystery since they seem to be heavily influenced by both bands, but they don't sound too much like either one to start calling bullshit on anyone. Instead, they really seem to have a good grasp on the shoegaze wall of noise thing, and although the Rubber Gloves mix made it a little difficult to distinguish what they were doing at times, it was clear that they have the capacity to mold and control tuneful noise in a pop context, which to me indicates that they could very well end up being quite successful on a large scale if they can continue to refine and improve on their approach.

The set that seemed the most problematic of the ones we saw came from Fra Pandolf, but it wasn't because the band doesn't have its shit together. The first thing I noticed about them was that their lead singer (Is it Ed? I can't remember) had an exceptionally strong and interesting voice, particularly for a smaller local act. The second thing I noticed was that they didn't emphasize this distinguishing characteristic nearly enough. Maybe it was the fact that the vocals were a bit too low in the mix, but it just seems like their songs would benefit in terms of immediacy and effectiveness if the focus was shifted more towards a structure that centered more around the vocals. Another problem that we noticed right away were the drums: they were simply too busy to accompany what the band seemed to be trying to do otherwise. The drumming was quite good from a technical standpoint, but that was part of the problem: it was much too slick, tight and roll happy for a band that seems to be searching for a little more space in their aggressive guitar layering and impressive starts and stops, which sort of reminded us of Refused with a dose of Chapterhouse and Sunny Day Real Estate. The good news is that these kinds of problems are fixable because the band is obviously more than capable of changing it up and doing less or more where necessary, although the set we saw certainly left something to be desired.

For us, the clear highlight of the night was the closing free jazz/noise explosion set of Notes From Underground, which in about 25 minutes became one of my favorite local live bands, even though I'm not the kind of person that gets easily excited by either noise or free jazz in a live setting. Of course, telling some people that they should totally go check out this noise band with a sax is like telling people that they should go check out getting some dental work done, but I would venture to say that just about anyone with a brain and even the slightest sense of adventure would have been moved by Notes' performance at Rubber Gloves on Saturday. Their free form compositions combined many of the best elements of the other bands that we saw and often took them to new heights. No, it wasn't pop, and you really couldn't tap your feet to it, but I somehow found myself swaying back and forth a bit to songs that didn't really have any kind of constant rhythm, and I was continually impressed with the way they were able to reach ear bleeding levels of noise while still maintaining some kind of melodic element, proving that yes, it can be done. It was one of those rare instances where noise sounded emotional, purposeful, and downright easy to like. And although you can't tell from the picture of them below, they played in an almost completely dark room with a lone white light set against a white sheet in the background, allowing only a slight glimpse at the outlines of the band members as they played. Not only did this add to the effectiveness of their set, but it reminded the audience of the purely abstract nature of their expression, basically leaving well enough alone. I'm sure they're great looking dudes and everything, but I'm glad that all I could do was listen.

I don't know if I was able to pick up on much context surrounding the festival (considering that outside forces caused us to miss half of it), but if local music fans are indeed waiting around for something to happen, I think its safe to say that Strategies at least provided us with something to listen to in the meantime, and who knows: with a little luck, some of these bands could have bright futures in DFW and possibly beyond.


Anonymous ed said...

Joshua sings. I play drums.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Sam Machkovech said...

"telling some people that they should totally go check out this noise band with a sax is like telling people that they should go check out getting some dental work done"

funniest line of the year. no doubt.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The good news is that these kinds of problems are fixable..."

The good news is you're a faceless critic and not a music teacher.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

poop, sob was fun! :))))))

5:53 PM  
Blogger blixaboy said...

I don't think Chris ever got into Catherine Wheel. Just read his myspace page. He is into lots of cool shit. He is far from new to this game. He used to be in a Fort Worth Space Rock band called Lid that pre-dated Mazinga and Comet. They were the first of the old Space Rock scene..... and the best. They later changed their name to MK Ultra and then disbanded. Their drummer plays in a great New York band called High Red Center that kind of sounds like Art Bears or Henry Cow kind of Stuff. Chris's drummer was the 2nd drummer in the original Mazinga and currently also the drummer in Marked Men who just got signed to that dude from Rocket from The Crypt and Hot Snakes label. The other Guitarist Frank was in Sub Oslo. Peter the bassist was in Mandarin. For anyone who has really been following local scene for the past decade Stumptone is really kind of a supergroup. I really wish you guys could hear the unreleased MK Ultra record. By far one of the great lost local records. That's my 2 cent history lesson for anyone who wanted to know. Cheers!!!!

BTW: I am DJ'ing at rubber gloves tonight with DJ Nature. Seeya!!

5:55 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

yeah, I'm not a music teacher. And I didn't think I had to say this once again, but this is OUR opinion peeps... we're certainly not suggesting that there is a right or wrong way to do anything, even if we prefer one method over another.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anony 2:55
those who can do..
those who can't teach..

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eat Avery's Bones was my favorite act of the night -- they are the best parts of Half Japanese (at least the album LOUD) but on meth and coke -- and they all ate from a lucky cookie!

7:14 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

yeah, it sucks that we missed them again.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous zak said...

It was a fun festival with some of the more interesting sounds happening in the area. I hadn't seen any of them live before so it was fun and had that feeling of new that I don't get to experience enough.

I'm glad we went... and looking forward to Vol. 2.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

notes from undergound was amazing. usually are. most impressive thing in denton i've been seening for a while. they're going to blow up that tour coming up. east coast style.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

"there are similar bands with very similar sounds in pretty much every large to mid sized city in the United States, and they're all fighting for that one Volkswagen commercial"

Finally, someone makes a cogent argument for toaster-banging.

And I'm not taking the piss, either.

10:41 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

I think Marcel Duchamp pretty much started and ended these kinds of arguments (about the validity and lack of essential elements in a work of art) a long time ago with his readymades, and his work adds fuel to both sides of the debate: on the one hand, he was making a mockery of art and how something earns such a label, and on the other, he was suggesting that the definition and important interpretations of art in general and specific pieces of art in particular are pretty much in the eye of the beholder, and that it is difficult to be any more objective than that.

Jacques Derrida also did something similar in literary analysis and linguistics, arguing that meanings to be found in language and literature are fluid and defined in relative terms on both a cultural and personal level.

I would say that the same principles apply to music as well, and I would also suggest that much of the "toaster banging" that has existed in the past 80 years or so has been extremely well thought out and executed for purposes that I think it would be very difficult to dismiss.

I think music can serve different purposes in different contexts, and although you might not enjoy noise or free form or toasters banging together with dancing clowns, I don't think it can be dismissed simply because it does not conform to contemporary western ideas on blues based song structure.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmmmmm, i'm starting to think that you guys have a pretty tough job trying to cover the local music scene in the dfw/denton area.

unfortunately, i didn't get to attend SOB, but i am familiar with all the bands who played and i'm also familiar with the dallas bands you referenced as having to appeal to a much "tighter" market.

that said, i think all of the bands you mentioned at SOB are pretty interesting in their own individual rights.

personally, i'm most compelled by stumptone over all the other SOB bands, but that's not meant to take anything away from the rest of the bands.

sorry, i'm trying to formulate a point... but first, i have to take issue with the paragraph contrasting the usual dallas bands market with the SOB band's market.

both "genres" are in a tough battle if they are seeking market viabliity. i don't think that any of the SOB bands would catch a matador rep off guard any more than i think the deathray davies would catch capitol records rep off guard. and both markets are jam-packed with bands trying to appeal to different labels.

major labels have more money to sign more bands and indie labels have less money and sign fewer bands. so, in the end, both genere's chances are about equal. so that's that...

getting back to my point, i sympathize for anyone trying to find really great music in our area. it seems like we're flooded with a bunch of medicore, dated pop or underdeveloped, overly experimental bands who will never appeal to a very large audience.

wsjr, always seems to lean towards the overly experimental stuff, which is better than the dated pop. but, as a result, you guys could be accused of being one deminsional and not very adventureous yourselves.

but what can you do? there's not much else to talk about. there aren't very many bands who bridge forward thinking with pop appeal in this area. bottom line, most bands i hear, not all, but most, experimental or commercial, seem to have obvious sources of influence and an overall lack of originality. kinda depressing. we could at least have some better quality imposters. austin is full of those right now.

there's a few who show promise, stumptone being one, but before i mention any other's, i want to wait and see what they do over time.

sorry to rant aimlessly, i just thought this post did a good job of pointing out the deficiencies in our mucic "scene", whether you meant to or not.

therefore, i'll try not to criticize you guys too much from now on. as long as you keep writing, that's always a good thing. however, i'm not envious of the task you guys have chosen to pursue..

ah, what the fuck do i know? these are just my asshole opinions too..

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. things seem to be looking up though lately, yet still there is so little happening in our scene that we all want to peck each other's eyes out over the whole goddamn thing!

but, if enough people want things to change, they will change.

3:33 AM  
Blogger URN said...

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the SOB fest this weekend, but I wanted to throw out a thought or so.

This is rhetorical and not requiring an answer, but if you have thoughts, I'd like to hear them.

When bands are pegged as noisy or experimental, from what I gather, they are either:

Repeditive-epic-instrumental- sprawling-sevenmembersnotneeded-Godspeedish-type bands that will never be as good as Do Make Say Think....

Or they are all so disassociated from what the other members are playing, they're rewarded with applause by the audience when a guitar player places a drum stick "just so" on or between his strings that it resonates and meets up with the rest of the band members in a sort of cohesive, rhythmic "DUM-DUH DUHDUHDUH".

As our Stonedranger has mentioned, artists such as Marcel Duchamp (one of my personal favorites) have us thinking that "on the one hand, he was making a mockery of art and how something earns such a label, and on the other, he was suggesting that the definition and important interpretations of art in general and specific pieces of art in particular are pretty much in the eye of the beholder, and that it is difficult to be any more objective than that."

4'33'' by John Cage was a great fucking idea in the grand scheme of proving that all surrounding occurrences are as musical as music can be, but it's not until the piano lid is shut that the piece is done. It still has an outro.

Who else can join me in saying that as much as I can take noise for the sake of noise, we all wait for that moment of cohesion where it all comes together.

I stand uncomfortably through a noise set and wonder, "Is this band good or just banging shit?"

I talk to a band member afterwords that goes off on his appreciation of Ornette Coleman or some other obscure jazzist I don't know, and I wonder "Shit, did Ornette have a fucking clue what he was doing, or did he just spontaneously spawn all this, unconscious of all the confusion he would cause?"

As for now, I say, "Yeah, they sounded like Godspeed", or "Well...hmmm...I don't know..." because that's all I can say most of the time. Because "the definition and important interpretations of art in general and specific pieces of art in particular are pretty much in the eye of the beholder, and it is difficult to be any more objective than that."

6:01 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

I would agree with much of what ANON 106 says, and I also agree with just about everything that Urn says.

I often feel the exact same way as far as cohesion is concerned, and I often find it very difficult to judge noise bands in any meaningful way. And that is sort of what I was talking about at the end of the post concerning Notes from Underground. They seemed to pull it off in a way that made it easy to say "wow, this is really good," which is hard to do with a lot of that stuff in my opinion.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

oh my, Derrida. :)

WSJR: So Pomo, Your Ass Has No Idea How Pomo I Am

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

andrea, i went to your myspace to see if you had any naked pics up and i noticed you had horrid taste in music and film. Ok sorry, i think i said enough.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow on this thread. Just wow.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if one more motherfucker uses the word "amazing"...

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So is Eat Avery's Bones like EXTREMELY better live than their songs on MySpace? Because those are absolutely horrible. I feel like I'm the recipient of a practical joke when I'm listening to them.

Also, while I'm here... I want to put this as respectfully as possible. The new site design is very hard to read. The background vibrates and it's very difficult to navigate to the end of a comment, because the breaks between comments are hard to spot. Just my 2 cents. I guess 4 cents, because I don't get Eat Avery's Bones either.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nah EAB are much more retarded live. they are fucken retards. they rule!!!!!

11:19 AM  
Anonymous warren g said...

The EAB mp3s are demos and sound like they are recorded with a handheld cassette -- but they are fuckin' rad in their own right -- youve been raised on candy coated horseshit and need to throw in whitelightwhiteheat or rawpower once in a blue moon and throw this danielson shit out the window... LAYERS MAN LAYERS!!!!! SFXXX! ;)

live EAB is all up in yo' face BITCH -- the drums are all "eat your breakfast" while the bass and guitars are all "Derrida please"

all you maffakas that didnt even attend SOB and are formulatin' thier assholes, i mean kittens, i mean opinions based on a) shit quality gallager squashed myspace mp3s -- i lost my train of thought -- anyways, yer dum -- have fun

11:20 AM  
Anonymous warren g said...

btw, im new around here -- all of my opinions are mean spirited and manipulative -- thas' why ive been layin' low for a decade or more

11:30 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

well, anonymous, i went to your myspace site and noticed you were anonymous, so i couldn't read about your awesome taste in music and film. rats.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I was raised on bands like Sonic Youth, who basically made these songs 20 years ago, but that's not what really bothers me about them. And I doubt a listen to these songs prior their conversion to mp3 would remove what makes them terrible.

And sacrificing corrent punctuation and spelling for ebonics really doesn't get your point across more, maffaka.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That last one was for warren g, btw

11:51 AM  
Anonymous mc said...

MWANZA: what can i do to get a burn of that MK Ultra record? I've been wanting to hear them for decades .... and all i ever heard was that vanilla ex-John Vanderslice SF group of the same name.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous warren g said...

well, i know my point (.) was well recieved -- and I dont think Sonic Youth invented everything with any sort of tension recorded in the last 20 years either -- they, arent exactly the most original band to boot (THEORETICAL GIRLS)

the myspace filter just kills the mp3, and that was directed at the guy with the long winded rant about how overrated a concert... he didnt even go to, was

but, if EAB were able to record several inputs at once, and got the hookup on a rad producer like Dre or that guy from the New Radicals -- it would totally make a difference... uh "dude" (jus' tryin to get into your world)

also, i know you cant see me from your end, but im a cartoon in a human world

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

eab is not doing anything "different" or revolutionary. Its just dumb fun music that epileptics can dance to. They are super nice people and put on fun live shows (thats about it). So dont dig too deep into them or else you will miss the point.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Delmore said...

idi*amin knocked me flat! Im a huge fan of hogwild-screech-sax ala pharoah, ayler, late coltrane, etc.

If you bought one of their CDs youre in for a treat!

12:46 PM  
Blogger jamo said...

chris garver knocked me flat!

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soda Popinski knocked me flat!

2:01 PM  
Anonymous idi trivia dept. said...

You know Idi Amin was formerly a heavyweight boxing champion. I heard he knocked Bald Bull all the way back to Ankara.

2:46 PM  
Blogger zappi said...

I happen to know (from anonymous sources) that copies of the long lost MK ULTRA album can be obtained through the STUMPTONE myspace page. Just send them a message about it, but be sure to use the code words: "SHOOT THE MOON!!"

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing and awesome yet terrible and terrifying. Fragile yet confident. Loud yet quiet. Happy yet sad. I love it yet hate it. This is the kind of writing the Observer breeds. Anyone got a match? Why couldn't The Observer building have been in or at least next to the Arcadia building.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i can beat tyson. code free

... i just hafta play him like, 20 times before i get the pattern down.

who wansa watch me do it?

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 1027am- you are an idiot.
Anon 219pm- you say it better.

8:18 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

yeah, I'll keep loving yet hating things, and he'll keep checking this site every day like a Muslim facing Mecca.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

warren g: you're a dumbshit, stop listening to music please

2:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

new radicals??? oh damn, have you ever pissed yourself from laughing your fucking head off? warren g? try g johnston! guys, that's why they call them records, enjoy once in a while, i guess. but puhleeze stop living in the rearview, m'kay?

2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 618 here. My bad, I thought Anon 219 was referring to a comments post not stonedranger. My mistake, Anon 219 is an idiot as well. We all know this site is our mecca.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

get a brain

12:49 PM  
Anonymous eat avery's boners said...

we agree our recordings blow.
whoever 8:52 is, you rule my friend.

1:13 AM  

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