The first artist to be announced for this year’s MidPoint Music Festival (which is owned and operated by CityBeat) is one with inexorable ties to Cincinnati. One of the Queen City’s all-time great musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, are set to appear at this year’s MPMF, which returns to the clubs and venues of Over-the-Rhine/Downtown Sept. 25-27. The Whigs are tentatively scheduled to headline the lineup at Washington Park on the Friday night of the fest.
Since forming in the mid-’80s in Cincinnati, the Whigs have continually defied expectations, from its early years on Sub Pop Records, when the band became one of the first non-Pacific Northwest acts on the label, all the way through its quiet dissolution in early ’00s and its remarkable worldwide reunion tour a couple of years ago, during which they broke the “band reunion” mold by sounding tighter and better live than they ever had.
Though singer/songwriter Greg Dulli and bassist John Curley are the only original members in the band (guitarist Rick McCollum parted ways with the group after the world tour), and Dulli hasn’t lived in Cincinnati in a long time, every single article written about the band’s latest album still makes reference to their original hometown. That new, almost universally acclaimed album, Do to the Beast (which finds the band back on Sub Pop), isn’t so much a “return to form” as it is the sound of what the band would be if they’d never broken up. It’s a reinvention, which is unheard of with bands reuniting after an extended hiatus. And it’s going to be awesome to hear wafting through the air in Washington Park this fall, marking the Whigs’ first local appearance since performing at Bogart’s on New Year’s Eve 2012.
Look for another, fuller MPMF.14 lineup announcement next week.
In the meantime, three-day passes for the festival are on sale now at mpmf.cincyticket.com at an early-bird rate that will expire soon. Acts interested in being considered for a performance slot at the festival have until this Sunday to get their submissions in. Find details on how to submit — and everything else MPMF-related — at mpmf.com.
Sleep Gets to the Dark Heart of the Story
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling thanks largely to how the masses consume and purchase music in bite-size bits these days. So it’s beyond refreshing to hear the new release from Cincinnati MC Sleep, Branded: The Damon Winton Story, a collection of eight tracks that tell the story of a young man’s troubled upbringing. It’s not just that Sleep has compiled eight songs that kind of fit together; Branded is a fully envisioned tale that requires the listener to hear the entire album in order to get the total impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a timbre that recalls Jay-Z at his peak) and is supported by the excellent, often hauntingly atmospheric production of Dope Antelope, which brilliantly reflects the dark, chaotic, heartbreaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays things out is also sharply clever. In lieu of titles, each track is labeled as simply “Question,” followed by the track number. The album opens with a police officer hitting “record” to begin his interview with the main character’s social worker about “what could have led up to what transpired with him this past weekend.” To kick off each track, the social worker is asked about a different aspect of the trouble the young man experienced and was in.
Working backwards from the incident, Sleep creates evocative, harrowing slices of life, usually told from the main character’s point of view but with other voices popping in occasionally to give an even bigger picture. The young man’s horrific surroundings are revealed gradually; the listener learns that he has self-mutilated, been molested, lost (or never had) faith or religion and had family involved in drugs. Sleep’s brilliance is turning the smaller stories from the big picture into vivid, cinematic tales in themselves — “If this is grown folks’ business/Then why when you conduct it, there’s a child as a witness,” he raps after it’s revealed that the main character’s mother had substance abuse issues.
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but it’s not what most would expect, making the album that much more powerful. (In the spirit of not ruining the final act, I’ll refrain from giving away the rather graphic ending.)
If you’re a fan of intelligent Hip Hop or just great storytelling in general, you must download (for free or whatever you’d like to kick in) Branded immediately at sleep513.bandcamp.com.
CONTACT MIKE BREEN: firstname.lastname@example.org