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Independent Weekly: The Hot At Nights – Nice Talk


Review of this Raleigh (ostensibly) jazz trio’s debut record. The group’s fronted by Chris Boerner who plays guitar for the Foreign Exchange. There are covers of Joe Jackson and Radiohead and it takes some really weird chances. If you enjoy any relatively straight-forward, contemporary jazz, check it out.

The Hot At Nights are fronted by guitarist Chris Boerner, also of The Foreign Exchange, The Proclivities and a host of other local projects. Like Phonte’s casually experimental soul group, there’s a strange menace underneath this Raleigh trio’s lithe, sophisticated approach to a stalwart genre past its “cool” expiration date, if it ever had one. The Hot At Nights’ template is straight, clinical jazz, down to the sometimes silly song titles (“CisforKaddafi”) and minimalist artwork. Importantly, they also screw around with the style however they see fit, keeping it compelling while moving toward a sound that doesn’t exactly have a genre. It definitely doesn’t fall into the fusion trap, either…

Written by Brandon

October 27th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Independent Weekly: Chris Brown, the haters and how his F.A.M.E. is our fault


Illustration by Chris Williams/Plastic Flame Press

In print, the title of this essay is “F.O.A.D.” (the title above is the subheadline), which was the dude Grayson Currin’s idea and I love him for thinking of it. Dunno, sort just love the idea that this is in a newspaper somewhere. So yeah, me telling you one more time why Chris Brown is an asshole. Enjoy!

To talk about Chris Brown is to talk about “haters.” America’s No. 1 female-assaulting R&B singer threw the word around on a personal webcam video, his first appearance after he assaulted his then-girlfriend, the singer Rihanna.

He’s followed suit in numerous interviews and quite often on his noxious Twitter account. His song “Beautiful People”—simultaneously the best and worst radio hit of the year—finds him belting out feel-good platitudes like “Live your life” and “Don’t let them bring you down.” It’s one of 2011’s numerous fist-pump pop jams, and it’s squarely directed at all the “haters.”

People have good reason to hate Brown: He punched Rihanna in the face a whole bunch of times, bruising her angular visage nearly beyond recognition. Still, he seems intent to pretend that it never happened, as if he were the victim of some great injustice. Brown’s latest album, and the first since his February 2009 beating of Rihanna, is titled F.A.M.E.—an acronym for “Forgiving All My Enemies.” Irony, it seems, has found a new home…

Written by Brandon

September 28th, 2011 at 7:05 pm

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Independent Weekly: Remember the Province, New Musical Visions of the South

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Illustration by Chris Williams/ Plastic Flame Press
I was fortunate enough to contribute to the guide for the second Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, NC, which begins tonight and runs through the weekend. The piece I wrote is something I’m pretty proud of because I’m just unabashedly shilling for the fest’s really sick line-up but also because it’s something of a tribute to my two years living in Raleigh. I learned a lot there and figured out how to chill out about lots of things and met a ton of great people and well, in a lot of ways I still wish I was there. This sorta explains why.

One theory often floated says that the best art rarely ever comes from a major cultural center. Shakespeare was from the small-ass town of Warwickshire. Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan? Both Midwesterners. Sure, provincials eventually end up in a supposed hub of culture, or their brash styles leach into hipper (but, paradoxically, less interesting) locales, but that isn’t where the really excellent, lasting stuff seems to get its start.

With its focus on the local and regional, a citywide music festival like Hopscotch makes a strong case for this pro-provincial theory. More specifically, the second Hopscotch celebrates the full spectrum of the South, flipping the frustrating stereotypes and played-out clichés that don’t need to be explained to anybody kicking around in the Triangle but that, nevertheless, persist elsewhere whenever the area’s invoked…

Written by Brandon

September 8th, 2011 at 4:50 am

Independent Weekly: Out Of Jail And On Tour, Lil Wayne Again Has Something To Prove.

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Obviously I wrote this before Sorry 4 The Wait dropped, which by the way, is pretty fun but also nothing too special. Then again, I don’t think it’s supposed to be more than a one-off so stop being such dicks about it. Anyways, here’s something about Lil Wayne’s post-jail radio output which has been consistently excellent and something we’re all taking for granted. Even “How To Love” has its charms! I was also trying to wrestle with the idea that jail had a positive effect on his rapping because well, nothing positive comes out of the American justice system, but Wayne does seem to be rapping like 2009 and 2010 never happened, so…

Lil Wayne’s a superstar in an almost old-fashioned sense—you can buy a poster of him at Kmart and his T-shirt at Hot Topic—but he’s not too interested in playing the fame game on anybody else’s terms. Tha Carter III’s success came after three-plus years of constant recording (he gave away hundreds of songs for free before everyone was doing that sort of thing) and a ubiquity achieved by handing guest verses over to anyone who asked. He worked really hard on that glut of material, too, often running away with the songs on which he guested. Along with a reputation as a kush-smoking, syrup-drinking workaholic, the ridiculous output transformed Wayne into some sort of outsider artist—the Henry Darger of this rap shit…

Written by Brandon

July 14th, 2011 at 6:09 am

So Wat Cha Sayin: The Hopscotch Compilation

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So Wat Cha Sayin is a hip-hop compilation connected to Hopscotch, the fall music festival in Raleigh. The website for the compilation went live today. I’m involved as a judge along with my dude Eric Tullis, and big guns like Grayson Currin, Mark Anthony Neal, and others. Spread it around and if you know of any NC emcees tell them about it, and if you are an NC emcee, well submit something!

Written by Brandon

June 14th, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Independent Weekly: “Wiz Khalifa’s Nonchalant Rise To The Top.”

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Unlike most of the internet, I think Rolling Papers is pretty great. Even the fratty acoustic jam “Fly Solo” has some charm here, somehow. But unlike most of the internet, I have nothing invested in Wiz, so maybe that’s part of why I’m feeling this so much? No expectations. I’m definitely having a tough time listening to people parse out the songs they think are good from the ones that are “too pop,” because other than “On My Level,” what here isn’t pop? Dunno guys, Wiz made a really blissed-out, one-note, stoner rap album and weaseled everybody from Stargate to his buddies E. Dan & Big Jerm into making the same kind of beats. Ambient rap on a Bruckheimer budget. What’s wrong with that?

In addition to the piece in this week’s Independent Weekly linked below, I have a review of Rolling Papers in next month’s Spin. Also: The dude Wesley Case is running through Rolling Papers one track at a time on his “Louder Now” blog for b free daily.

Before a performance at East Carolina University last fall, rapper Wiz Khalifa, as is his wont, encouraged prospective attendees of that night’s stop on the Waken Baken Tour to “fall thru wit ur finest plant life.” That is, as he posted on his Twitter account, bring your weed. Soon after that show, and just as his soon-to-be mega-hit “Black and Yellow” began picking up steam, he was arrested for possession of 60 grams of marijuana.

Wiz posted bail by the morning and kept doing the same thing: smoking, touring and rapping. By February of this year, “Black and Yellow” was the No. 1 song in the country. This week, as Wiz comes to the Triangle to perform at the Raleigh Amphitheater, he also releases the much anticipated Rolling Papers, his third album and arguably the first major-label rap album of any consequence to come out this year. Ergo, the biggest rapper in the country is a giggling, tatted-up, skinny-as-shit stoner from Pittsburgh. Wiz Khalifa’s scrappy approach to success—unfazed by setbacks or an arrest, steadfastly affable, an unaffected party rapper who’s become a bona fide rap superstar—is pretty much unprecedented…

Written by Brandon

March 31st, 2011 at 12:06 am

Independent Weekly: “Why You Shouldn’t Take Future Islands For Granted.”

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If someone derisively calls Future Islands “a live band,” just punch them in the face. They do indeed happen to be probably the best live band around right now, but too many people sleep on the records or just sleep on the band in general. So, here’s a rant about why that needs to stop:

A Future Islands show begins politely enough. The Baltimore-via-Greenville, N.C., trio—kind of, sort of claimed by the Triangle, too—walks onto the stage and sheepishly waves or nods to the crowd. Sam Herring provides some warm-hearted “thanks for coming” banter; mostly, he just seems out-of-his-mind excited to play a show.

They start: An ominous bouncing beat from J. Gerrit Welmers’ synthesizer drops, and bassist William Cashion allows a grimy, melodic bass line. Herring, the frontman, arches his brows, hunches over and begins stalking the edges of the stage. He smacks himself in the chest and face, like it’s a hardcore show.

For the next 45 minutes or so, Future Islands tear through their damaged, often tragic dance songs for the pleasure of another devoted and seemingly ever-expanding crowd. Herring’s a nut in front of an audience, moving so quickly it seems that he’s teleporting from one side of a usually pretty small performance space to the other. He sings in a strange cadence that’s kind of British but maybe just nebulously fancy, always manic. At the right moment, his voice downshifts into a throaty, demonic wail, raising the emotional stakes of whatever bittersweet song he’s performing. There’s really nothing like it…

Written by Brandon

March 3rd, 2011 at 3:33 am

Independent Weekly: 9th Wonder & David Banner – Death Of A Pop Star


So yeah, this 9th and David Banner album is pretty incredible. Neither artist really sounds hedged here or like, leaning too heavily into the others’ milieu, and they’re both are a little out of their comfort zones, which is a good thing. “Slow Down” is my favorite right now. 9th’s secret weapon: his basslines.

“The Light,” the angriest track on the debut collaboration between Mississippi rapper David Banner and Durham producer 9th Wonder, uses this disdain-filled couplet as its hook: “Started livin’ for money, yeah most of us did/ Rappers turned into singers, preachers touching the kids.” For David Banner, there’s no difference between priests abusing the authority of the church and rappers abandoning hip-hop to sing some R&B (Rap & Bullshit?) to get the wonderbread. The Mississippi rapper doesn’t believe in gray areas…

Written by Brandon

January 13th, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Independent Weekly: “The Foreign Exchange continues its unmitigated risks on Authenticity

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“Y’all motherfuckers trying to get that Grammy again!” That’s Phonte Coleman—the songwriting, singing and sometimes rapping half of the experimental soul group The Foreign Exchange, impersonating the potential detractors of his group’s new, disarmingly serious record, Authenticity.

Their last album, 2008’s Leave It All Behind, received a Best Urban/ Alternative Performance Grammy nomination for the song “Daykeeper.” Nicolay Rook, the group’s producer, laughs at the all-too-real impersonation, stealing a glance away from the heaping plate of hush puppies in front of him. The duo has again rendezvoused on a Wednesday afternoon in late October, at the Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q restaurant in the little town of Warsaw, off Interstate 40’s Exit 364. The stop is equidistant from Rook’s Wilmington home and Raleigh, where Coleman resides.

Coleman and Rook certainly consider that Grammy nod when they make decisions, but not in the way one might expect. “We’re just doing us, and if [something like a Grammy] comes to us, it comes to us,” Coleman says brashly, “but I’m damn sure not gonna come to it.”

Written by Brandon

November 18th, 2010 at 3:58 am

Independent Weekly: “Valient Thorr’s hard rock cosmology comes down to earth”

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A few things’ll be changing around here soon, all for the better (which means less lame links to freelance stuff and more actual content), but for right now, let me direct you to a couple of things. First, my brief teaser for Little Brother’s probably last show in their home state. For real–Phonte and Pooh should teach classes on breaking-up all classy-like and in a sense, giving their fans what their fans want, whether those fans even know it or not.

Also, did this piece on Chapel Hill, NC’s Valient Thorr, who are the kind of band it’s easy to dismiss or laugh-off but are in fact one of the weirdest, most determined, out-there, kinda metal groups around. Quick rant: As the interest in metal from supposedly hipper more “indie” type places grows, it’s avant-garde qualities are pretty much all that anybody talks about: How black metal is like noise. How doom is like drone. How hard rock is like punk. The result is a kind of washing away of all these super-influential, no bullshit bands that work or worked within a typical metal song construct (Fu Manchu, Sleep (other than Jerusalem), Electric Wizard, Masters of Reality, etc.) and indeed, are why bands can now so casually and easily send noise through their amps for hours on end and people stand and watch it. Look, it’s cool and all, but if one more hipster metal or “genuine” metalhead makes fun of post-rock or laptop shows and then tells me how awesome that Boris show was, I’ll cry. The point is, plenty of people see these bands or care about them, but they sorta fall off the edge of “indie” credibility and interest and they surely don’t give a fuck, but metal N00bs please know your history. Anyways, Valient Thorr are very much in this vein. They don’t need to add bagpipes or synthesizers or stretch their songs out to forty minutes to get the job done. They do weird, off-kilter stuff with simple garage rock effects and the urgency of lead singer Valient Himself sends it over the top and they wrap all their basic, heavy influences around a really vibrant, bizarro “We’re from space” concept that allows them to scream about politics and the state of the nation and not come off like dicks. Read my piece here:

In a jean vest with no shirt and bright red wrestling shoes, Valient Himself—the fearless, bearded and wild-eyed leader of Chapel Hill-via-Venus hard rock maniacs Valient Thorr—races to the supermarket on an emergency beer run. His main concern is the legion of parched, patient friends and fans (called “Thorriors”) who’ve come out to a Chapel Hill farmhouse on a Thursday afternoon. The band is making its video for “Double Crossed,” the first single from its fifth and latest album, Stranger.

“Double Crossed” is Valient Thorr—guitarists Eidan and Sadat Thorr, bassist Dr. Professor Nitewolf Strangees, drummer Lucian Thorr and, of course, Valient Himself—very much in their element. A punky but metal-proficient political manifesto chant-along, “Double Crossed” takes aim at the crooked money men and scheisty investors responsible for our economic ruins. The complaint, though, comes in fun, spy movie-treasonous terms.

The video is “a tribute to a lot of old music videos,” meaning the on-the-fly, goofball videos of MTV in its youthful, sincere days. On the way back to the shoot, cases of beer rattling in the backseat, Himself explains that the video is meant to invoke the silly anarchy of Twisted Sister and a rather obscure 1984 movie, The Wild Life. “It’s a fuckin’ terrible movie, but it’s got a really awesome scene where they break down a wall.” For this prattling, philosophizing frontman, the fuckin’ terrible part matters much more than the really awesome part…

Written by Brandon

September 2nd, 2010 at 5:13 pm