Album Review: The Birdhorse – “Fool’s Adventure”

The Birdhorse is a Carrboro-based folk act by “singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist” Toni Hartley. In March of this year she released her sophomore album, Fool’s Adventure, a profound indie-folk tour de force. This album touches upon many of the sounds I have come to expect from modern indie folk music. The electronic edge that has found its way into the genre has broadened the scope of what folk music is and can be. Hartley’s sophomore record is very much a coming together of many folk influences, new and old–a brilliant culmination of sounds that she has made all her own.

The album opens with its title track–a feel-good vocally-driven bass- and percussion-heavy song reminiscent of tUnE-yArDs, which should come as no surprise as she sang backup vocals on tUnE-yArDs’ 2014 record, Nikki Nack. [1] Listening to this opening track brings me back to the way I felt while walking around at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012 (a particularly outstanding year–and coincidentally the first time I encountered tUnE-yArDs as well)–unburdened. “Fool’s Adventure” is a free-spirited song as well as a wonderful introduction to Hartley’s lovely voice.

This free-spirited vibe continues throughout the album, but particularly in the next track, “Wrangler Boots”–itself a recollection of times-past and the influence of past experience on present challenges. While also a percussion-driven song, “Wrangler Boots” brings the storytelling tradition of folk music into the album. She reminisces on experiences imprinted upon her mind, which have aided her throughout her life as invaluable lessons in survival. Still–the percussion-driven nature of this album is very intriguing. The third track, “View from the Moon” takes percussion to mean a different thing, however. The track opens with Hartley quite literally making her own beat. Ultimately percussion takes a backseat to vocal harmonies on this track. As the song progresses, the sounds become more intertwined, building up to a crescendo of voices and instruments, reinforcing the “coming together of sounds” theme of this whole album. “View from the Moon” comes to a deliberately simple end with the percussion coming full circle, closing out the song with the solemn heartbeat rhythm of the bass drum.

As I move into the fourth track, “Wild Medicine,” Hartley’s relationship with nature steps into the light. Opening with bird chirps (which continue throughout the song), “Wild Medicine” is a testament to the healing power of nature–“bring back the magic for all of us,” she says. While this song is more upbeat and fast-paced compared to the rest of the album, it is also a self-meditation–the seeking out of healing, the re-evaluation of one’s needs following a painful change of circumstances, like a breakup. Having had my own heart broken not too long ago, I heard this contemplativeness immediately when I first listened. I too sought out the healing power of nature when mending my heart–something many people have done, and with great success. Hartley captures this sentiment well, and in so doing, has created something truly relatable for anyone who has ever been damaged by love.

The next few tracks continue the retrospective evaluation of a failed relationship, a sort of timeline in song following the progression of getting over it. “Lifeboat,” aptly titled, is a somber acknowledgement of the negative, perhaps even toxic, impact of a not-so-good ex-partner on one’s well-being–“you damn near overturned my lifeboat.” I am no stranger to the pain she sings of so beautifully. This song speaks to that initial pain and shock and the prospect of drowning in it–a metaphor of course for being totally overwhelmed by pain and loss. “Say it Out Loud,” the following track, demonstrates the moving forward, the recovery, the learning to see the failed relationship for what it was and the ex for who they really were. With vocal harmonies taking center stage, this song is very much about learning how to say goodbye. “Veiled Language” is the last installment on this timeline of recovery through song. It represents the reclamation of confidence, and once again standing up for oneself following a hard-fought journey–“speak to me in veiled language and watch me walk away.” Damn right.

The final two tracks on Fool’s Adventure are monumentally wondrous. Hartley’s impeccable voice is on full display in “My Darling,” a song that I hope someone might sing to me one day. When I first listened to this record all the way through, it was this song that just completely floored me. Sometimes words are indeed limiting. There is nothing I can say that will adequately capture what I really mean when I say, “this song is beautiful.” When you listen, you will understand. The final track, “One Week of Rain” is a short song, but completely and only vocal, with harmonies almost reminiscent of gospel music.

I feel compelled at this point to say how beautiful Toni Hartley’s voice is. There really is no other word for it. She has a beautiful voice, the kind of penetrating voice that is so powerful and poignant that it elicits a genuine visceral response. The vocals on this whole record are tremendous. I am shocked that more people have not listened to this album yet. (I aim to change that.) While I would most certainly recommend this album to anyone who enjoys folk music, or seriously splendid female vocals, if you have recently gone through a breakup or have had your heart broken in any way, then this album is definitely for you. Fool’s Adventure is absolutely worth the listen (and the purchase!–#supportlocalmusic). More than that, this album and obviously The Birdhorse act as well, are full of potential. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album again and again as I was working to write this review. Listening to this record makes me feel like I’m laying on my back in a field at night watching the stars slowly make their way across the sky. You can call me cheesy if you want. I don’t care. Listen to this album. It is a profoundly enjoyable experience that you will want to have again and again.

Featured image from The Birdhorse, Fool’s Adventure cover.

The Post-Show: Karol Peril, Azulz, Leanna Eden & The Garden Of, at The Station, April 14, 2018

I rolled up in my car at 9:00 sharp. I pulled into an parking empty space near the front entrance of The Station, thanked the Parking Goddess for my good fortune, and headed up the stairs. I ordered a poor man’s Boilermaker (PBR and Bulleit) at the bar and sat down next to a man who looked (and dressed) exactly like Forrest Gump. The weather had finally gotten up to 60 degrees, and people were taking advantage. The Station seemed to be the go-to meetup spot for fair weather, as the college kids and regulars alike were passing through in shorts and mini-skirts.

Karol Peril, the five-piece opening band from Chapel Hill, kicked off the night with twangy rock-n-roll. Cutting to the chase, their set was remarkably seamless and well-rehearsed. No time was wasted with the anecdotes and stage banter that I’ve gotten so accustomed to, and I found it pretty refreshing.

The second set came from Azulz, one-half of the local electro-pop duo Fluorescence and solo project of Azul Zapata. Azul began the set by playing a few songs on piano without accompaniment, then was joined on stage by the rest of her band. Argentinian-born and raised in North Carolina, she sang one song in Spanish, which I (a non-Spanish speaker) couldn’t understand, but enjoyed it nonetheless. I generally appreciate reminders that live music exists in languages other than English, and I wish I could hear it more often. Chill-pop with a hint of jazz.

She explained the song “Sleeps” was written about dreaming of someone so vividly that you wake up feeling the other person must’ve been dreaming of you too. I’ve had my fair share of this feeling, so I’m glad someone finally wrote a song about it.

The final act on the lineup was Charlotte-based Leanna Eden & The Garden Of (cleverly abbreviated as LETGO). I was familiar with Leanna Eden’s solo set, but I hadn’t had a chance to see the full band live until now. I was pleasantly surprised, not just by the loudness of it all, but by the palpable camaraderie of the band! I could tell this is a group of musicians who genuinely care about each other. They listened to each other and everything meshed together naturally. It was perfectly punchy without being out of control. At the end of the night, LETGO’s Alt-Rock delivered just the pick-me-up I needed.

It was such a wide variety of genres on the lineup, and all from within North Carolina. There’s something out there for everyone. Give it a shot, I’m sure you’ll find it’s worth the few bucks.

The Post-Show: Jooselord Magnus, 3AM, Brassious Monk, SNYP Luciano, Konvo the Mutant, Brill Cosby at Motorco, April 13, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018 was a special day. Motorco played host to an epic night of extraordinary local hip-hop talent. Featuring six unique sets from six different local acts and numerous guests, the joint album release show for Jooselord Magnus and 3AM was a truly incredible experience. The good vibes were palatable. I left Motorco after covering the show on our live Twitter column #700wordslive feeling positively elated. I am very pleased to present to you now the compilation of that live coverage here. And please, dear readers, be sure to check out JooseLord & 3AM‘s new albums! #supportlocalmusic

All original photos by The Editor (Matia Guardabascio).

The Post-Show: Boulevards, Zensofly, N’KOGNiiTO at Motorco, April 6, 2018

Introducing #700wordslive, a live show review column from #durhambeat on Twitter. As part of our participatory journalism philosophy and our goal to recreate the experience of being there, please enjoy the inaugural installation of our live music column. You can follow us on Twitter HERE.

4.6.2018: Boulevards, Zensofly, N’KOGNiiTO (NiiTO) at Motorco Music Hall

All original photos by The Editor of Durham Beat (Matia Guardabascio).

The Post-Show: “The Muslims Album Release Show,” April 1, 2018

Sometimes I’ve just got to be the last asshole.

I was the last person to leave The Pinhook on Easter night, following an epic evening of furiously energetic local punk. Of course, I did not intend to be the last asshole, but that can sometimes be a side effect of letting the night decide how you will spend it…

Just prior to arriving at The Muslims Album Release show at The Pinhook, I experienced a very rare thing: I found free money. Cash is king at local shows, so naturally I visited an ATM on my way to the venue. While waiting for my cash to be dispensed, I noticed a $20 bill had been sitting in the dispenser… someone had left it behind, apparently for me to find. Found it I did. Into the wallet it went, and joyfully I moseyed on over to what I had hoped (correctly) would be one of the best local punk shows I have seen so far this year.

I arrived at The Pinhook shortly after 9PM. Dressed in my usual black and sporting the most dapper hat I have ever owned, I entered the venue in victorious stride and used that free money to drop my $7 at the door, and to grab a PBR and a shot of Jameson (keeping it classy). A few minutes later the first act took the stage.

Sister,brother is a Durham-based noise/punk band. For roughly 30 minutes the animated duo crushed my ears and tore into my soul. So of course, I was absolutely delighted. Using samples ranging from political to pure noise, sister,brother brought their definitively unique sound from the stage and into the audience. Vocalist Mark waded into the crowd several times during the set, gracing us with his demonic laugh, and injecting his intensity directly into the crowd. With their heavy riffs, screaming vocals, and their general rageful splendor, I expect nothing but continued bodaciousness from sister,brother in the future.

The female-fronted Raleigh punk trio, Pie Face Girls played the second set. I had been looking forward to seeing this band play after listening to their entire bandcamp page on one angry afternoon recently. Then after reading staff writer Zoe’s excellent write-up of PFG’s show at The Pour House last week, I was even more eager for this particular set. They did not disappoint. Playing songs like “Fuck you, I’m Pretty,” and “Washed Up,” this sparkly ultra femme punk band captured a breed of rage that for me, as a woman, made me revisit the anger I have felt in the innumerable frustrating encounters with some of the captious, dismissive men who have crossed my path over the years. PFG is decidedly unapologetic, as punk rock ought to be, but in a fiercely empowering way for women.

The slow-growing but continuous movement within punk to push aside the long-reigning white male punk rocker and replace him with the rest of us is one of the best things to happen to punk rock since the genre first found its legs back in the mid-1970s. This particular bill of local talent at The Pinhook on Easter night was a testament to this movement and the authenticity of its sound, its anger, and its message.

The night culminated with the much-anticipated set from the Durham-based punk trio, The Muslims, who were releasing their first album. After sound check, the group huddled together on stage, seemingly conspiring (about what I do not know), and then dove directly into their crushing heavy sound and apt political satire. During the set they even dedicated a song to the “white male [piece of shit] assholes” who think they know everything better than the rest of us, especially when it comes to punk rock. Reminded me of my ex… who is very much this breed of asshole, but that is a story for a different setting… Still, the brand of anger that The Muslims represent is that of marginalized peoples, especially those living in the United States where “you’re free as long as you say nothing about pigs killing people because it’s un-American to not kill black people,” the lead singer raged into the mic. It’s true–America has been a force of evil in the lives of countless people who have lived and died here over the centuries. Only recently has the political climate in this country reached a point where the privileged many have been forced to look this evil in the face and acknowledge the extraordinary pain their fellow humans have had to endure. So what better time, what better place for this rage, this contempt, this pain to be expressed than in punk rock, a genre whose sound is inherently aggressive, loud, and, for many people, cathartic. The Muslims are a unique band for many reasons, but what makes them stand out the most is that they are particularly suited to our times. They are very much in the right place at the right time making music that resonates physically, emotionally, and existentially. I, for one, will do everything in my power to make sure this band is heard.

By the time I left The Pinhook on Sunday night, I was feeling quite relaxed, although suffering from a mild tinnitus, to be sure. When I am old, I imagine I will need hearing aids. Knowing me though, I’ll probably point to them and say, “See? Evidence of all the fun I had,” thanks to nights like this and bands like these.

An original photo series by Staff Photographer Larry Jones.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Album Review: Cosmic Punk – “Too Much”

Cosmic Punk appeared on my radar while I was attending a show at The Station in February. The 3-piece female-fronted indie rock band made a considerable impression on me that night, so much so that I’ve been eagerly following their music since then. Earlier this month, the Chapel Hill-based band released a new single, “Too Much”. From the very first note, this song sounded like summertime: the fleeting love interests, the feel-good pop melodies, the urge to dance, dance, dance… The upbeat, almost jolly melody of this track sharply juxtaposes the troubled, angst-driven lyrics of conflicted feelings about a love interest. Anyone who has ever been in love, or in lust, understands the back-and-forth internal plight of interest-to-disinterest and back again. This song is an ode to that internal dialogue, to that personal struggle, something to which most people can relate, but rarely communicate.

too much by Cosmic Punk

“Too much” opens with the excited declaration, “last night was so much fun” like one might read in a text message the day after a really good date. As the song progresses, that excitement wears off and transforms into a back-and-forth dialogue cataloging “these feelings you’ll never know.” The contrast between the feel-good melody and the angst-driven lyrics creates a sense of joyful misery. I am reminded, as I write this article, of a band I covered a few years back from Austin, Texas: Gender Infinity. They released a track called “I’m a Stone,” which was, and still is, one of my favorite songs in the songwriting technique of jovial sounds and angsty words. Cosmic Punk has imagined that sound in their own way here, and in so doing, captured the concurrent feelings of joy and anxiety that often occur in the context of dating, or romantic entanglements, or recurring lustful nights.

This band excites me. I am eager for them to release a record. They have a fun and spirited sound that deserves to be heard. I encourage the reader to listen and, if you dare, to attend one of their upcoming shows. Remember: the best way to support your local music scene is to show up.

Photo from Cosmic Punk bandcamp page cover art.

Album Review: Case Sensitive – “Count Your Blessings”

Album Review: Case Sensitive, Count Your Blessings (Debut)

I first encountered Case Sensitive at their release party at The Station in Carrboro on a Friday in February. The night’s lineup included the newly formed Honey Duchess (and their crunchy punk tunes), and Chapel Hill’s Cosmic Punk (and their spirited indie rock vibe). Following those outstanding opening sets, the 3-piece all-female indie rock band Case Sensitive took the stage and performed their two-sided single, Count Your Blessings, among other songs. Sporting all black attire and a sparkly youthful glow, Case Sensitive put on a highly energetic and wonderfully charismatic performance. Twas an impressive night and I tip my hat to The Station for putting together such a fantastic bill of local talent.

Case Sensitive’s debut two-sided single kicks off with the reverb of an electric guitar and the haunting female vocals of the title track. The drums make their debut a few moments later bringing the song into form. In what I would describe as a semi-nihilistic anthem of self-motivation, “Count Your Blessings” is a nod to the mundanity of daily routine, the seemingly lethargic repetition of “face the day and get up out of bed,” as so aptly stated. This track also captures a sense of self-awareness in that “the only voices that can stop me are the voices inside my head”an acknowledgement of the limitations people place on themselves. This sentiment undoubtedly creates a sense of loneliness, well-captured in this song: “I’m alone in my house in my underwear in the velvet night.” Case Sensitive’s title track speaks to the lonely soul inside of so many people, calls it out, and brings it into the light with truthful tact and an ethereal sound.

The second single on this two-sided release is a much different sort of song. “Six Feet” kicks off with a drone-like ambience, a heaviness like the weight of the ground when buried six feet under while still alive. At several points in this song, the heavy guitar riffs seemed reminiscent of early stoner rock. Now, don’t get me wrong, I dig the song; I dig heavy, especially when juxtaposed with abrupt high-note vocals, creating a sense of eeriness while still being beautiful. Unlike the first track, “Six Feet” is very much a rock song, steeped in a visceral but guarded anger, which culminates in the final 30 seconds with a screeching noise-punk outburst.

Case Sensitive is indeed a promising act. Not only was their live performance spunky and entertaining, but their sound is cohesive; they have chemistry, both on stage and on record. What’s more, they are an all-female rock band in a genre vastly dominated by men. I look forward to hearing more of them and it is my hope that they continue to play live and record music. They are very much worth the listen.

Local Shows: “Local Band Local Beer” Jan. 19, 2017

Local Band Local Beer: January 19, 2017
at The Pour House, Raleigh
Featured Bands:
The Blue Footed Boobies
Milagro Saints
Debonzo Brothers

Before every show I cover, I like to gather my thoughts, loosen up my pen, and remove a layer of inhibition at some local dive. Last Thursday, it was Calavera, which is not exactly a dive, but I had my heart set on some empanadas and tequila blanco. Only a few blocks from the venue, I figured, fuck it, I’ll splurge a little. As usual, Calavera did not disappoint.

Belly full and cheeks rosy, I wandered over to The Pour House around 9:30PM to catch the weekly local showcase, “Local Band Local Beer.” As I approached the venue, I could hear the raw vibrations of the first act emanating from inside. Ah yes, The Blue Footed Boobies, a blues rock duo from the North Carolina coast. I dropped my $5 and headed in, drawn by the Hendrix-inspired roar of the electric guitar. When I stepped through the door, I set my eyes upon the stage where I saw a tall, long-haired guitar player adorned in a floral pattern shirt, accompanied by a heavily bearded and lively drummer.

The chemistry between the duo was apparent. Seamlessly moving between original raw blues from their self-titled album released last Fall, and a few choice coversincluding one of my favorite Beatles songs, “Don’t Let Me Down”the band captured me so fully that I abandoned my notebook, stepped out onto the dance floor, and shed myself of my journalist veil, dancing, dancing, dancing… The Wilmington duo ended their set with a cover of “Wild Thing,” which sparked a small but present moshpit—young punks having a good time. Riled and hungry for more, the crowd started chanting “One more song” over and over, as the projector screen descended from the ceiling and covered the stage. Unfortunately, their efforts were unrewarded and they filtered outside to the cigarette den in the alley. Twas an anticlimactic finish to the best set of the night.

Between sets I did my in the heat of the moment scribbling, and knocked out a quick beer review. I was in a content-driven mood that night. Halfway through the mediocre smoked brown ale I regretfully ordered, the second act, Milagro Saints, came to the stage. In my pre-show research, I listened to some of their tunes and held out hope that the six-man multi-instrumentalist band would put on a good set. They certainly sounded like they had potential in their ultra-folksy jam-style blues. However, that hope quickly faded into disappointment.

The younger crowd who had so fervently participated in the first set now lingered by the bar or fled to the cigarette den, while a more middle-aged audience crept to the front of the stage. Even their ranks were a bit thin. Sporting a sound similar to a Grateful Dead cover band, Milagro Saints sounded a bit too dated for me. Bottom line: there was too much going on between the six of them that no cohesive sound emerged.

By the time their set was over, I had chugged my mediocre beer and went to seek out the first act to give them my congratulations on a fine set. I found them outside mingling with some young ladies. Following a cordial handshake, I tipped my hat and ambled back to the little corner where I rest my head.