When I interviewed Raphaela Platow, the Contemporary Arts Center’s director/chief curator, several weeks ago for this week’s CityBeat story about the institution’s 75th anniversary, I asked about some of the highlights of her tenure.
One was the 2008-2009 exhibition of abstracted and intense figurative paintings by then-octogenarian Austrian painter Maria Lassnig, who was little known in the U.S.
Platow had arranged for the show to travel here from London’s Serpentine Gallery, and it was presented as Lassnig’s first major solo U.S. museum show. It meant a lot to Platow, who as a native of Germany had been familiar with Lassnig’s work, and she was emotional addressing the audience on opening night. (The first CAC show Platow curated, work by Carlos Amorales, also opened that night.)
Because of space considerations, not much about the Lassnig show was included in the story, beyond noting it as an example of CAC’s prescience, since MoMA-PS1 currently has a major retrospective of her work and calls her “one of the most important contemporary painters.”
Lassnig died last week at age 94. So, as a tribute to and remembrance of her, here are some excerpts from the interview with Platow (that was done before Lassnig’s death):
“I had a very personal relationship to the exhibition because I loved the work for many years,” Platow said. “It was really surprising to me she had never had a show in the U.S. I really felt she was one of most prominent female painters there is, and there are not that many female painters of that generation who are not part of the history, part of the discourse.
“In the area of painting, it was always the heroic male creating these amazing canvases, and here was Maria always struggling and staying her course. It meant a lot to me to present this first exhibition, and ever since then she won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, and PS1 now has a big show of her work. I’m happy we sort of spearheaded that.”
Lassnig did not come to Cincinnati for the opening of her 2008 show here. And as Platow recalled, it wasn’t all that easy even to get her paintings to town.
“We ended up taking a show that Serpentine in London put together because it’s extremely difficult to work with her,” she said. “She didn’t want her paintings to fly over ocean.
“We had to separate them out and put them on three different planes. She didn’t want all her work to be on one cargo plane. And she was extremely afraid of the work traveling overseas on a trans-Atlantic flight. It was very strenuous to get it here.
“I was so happy we did it, and it was a beautiful show and very meaningful for me.”
Read more about the CAC’s 75th anniversary here.
A new batch of over 20 artists has been announced for this year’s MidPoint Music Festival, which returns to the clubs and venues of Over-the-Rhine and Downtown Sept. 25-27. The following acts join The Afghan Whigs, who were announced last week as the Washington Park headliners on Sept. 26, at 2014’s MPMF.
New Jersey Indie rockers Real Estate enhanced the buzz they’ve been building on in March when Domino Records issued the group’s latest album, Atlas. The tough critics at Pitchfork, supporters of the band since its 2009 debut, gave Atlas an 8.8 (out of 10) and said it’s “at once their most forlorn album and their most beautiful.” “It is rare, and special, for a band to be this effortlessly and completely themselves,” Pitchfork added.
Noah Lennox is a founding member of Animal Collective but also a successful solo artist under his stage name, Panda Bear. His experimental, psychedelic style will be on glorious display at MPMF as he promotes his latest solo effort, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, due sometime this year on Domino Records. (Fun fact: Panda Bear was a guest artist on Daft Punk’s Album of the Year Grammy-winning Random Access Memories.)
Ambient Electronic artist Tycho (born Scott Hansen) makes critically acclaimed music for the esteemed Ghostly International label. His latest album, Awake, came out in March and reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart (and No. 23 on the general Billboard album chart). In a review of the new album, Consequence of Sound said, “Listening to Tycho is the aural equivalent of exploring a new art museum. The overall effect is one of remarkable beauty and you still have the option of how you’ll take it in.”
Uniquely adventurous San Francisco metallers Deafheaven take a unique approach to Black Metal, which has led to wider acclaim and a more diverse audience than most other Black Metal bands … and, of course, has led to some of the genre’s fans to decry them as “not Black Metal.” Whatever. The group’s fantastic Sunbather was one of the more compelling albums of 2013 (and, subsequently, one of the best reviewed albums of last year, as well). Here’s CityBeat’s interview with the band from earlier this year.
Gardens & Villa
After spending a couple of years touring the world and becoming a tighter, better band in the process, Californian Indie Electro Pop band Gardens & Villa released its second album, Dunes, on the Secretly Canadian imprint earlier this year.
Danish Indie Rock duo The Raveonettes have been buzzing around since 2001, when Rolling Stone editor David Fricke saw the band at a music festival and publicly raved about them. The twosome’s fuzzy Pop sound was an instant hit upon the release of Chain Gang of Love on Columbia in 2003. Over a decade later, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo are prepping their seventh full-length and continue to tour the globe.
Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek first brought his emotive, slo-mo Indie Rock to the masses with the great Red House Painters. When that band dissolved around the turn of the century, the singer/songwriter and actor (he was in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky) continued the vibe with Sun Kil Moon, which released its sixth album, Benji (featuring Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and Will Oldham, among other guests), in February of this year. In July, Kozelek will release a live Sun Kil Moon album.
Barrence Whitfield & the Savages
The Afghan Whigs aren’t the only MPMF band with international acclaim and Cincinnati ties. Vintage R&B/Rock & Roll outfit Barrence Whitfield & the Savages was formed in the ’80s by Soul shouter Whitfield and Peter Greenberg, guitarist for the pioneering Cincy Garage Rock band The Customs (and, later in Boston, DMZ and The Lyres). The twosome reformed the band (with some local musicians in the fold) and released the locally-recorded Savage Kings album in 2010. Building a bigger audience with every tour, the band’s Dig Thy Savage Soul album last year was its best received yet, leading to successful shows across Europe (and a spot of Later … with Jools Holland in the U.K.). Read CityBeat’s feature story on the band from last year when they played a two-night stand at MPMF venue MOTR Pub.
EMA is Erika M. Anderson, a South Dakota native who honed her chops in the California experimental music scene. With EMA, Anderson makes slinky Indie Pop Rock so infectious it caught the attention of indie label giants Matador Records. The label released EMA’s latest album, The Future’s Void, in April to widespread praise.
Ex Hex is the new band from Mary Timony, leader of Helium, member of Wild Flag and also a solo artist (the band name comes from the title of her 2005 Lookout! Records album). The band’s first release, the 7-inch single “Hot and Cold,” came out on Merge Records in March.
Formed by Man Man’s Adam Schatz, Brooklyn’s Landlady became a hometown favorite thanks to consistently great live shows and a 2011 self-released album. In July, the band releases its new album, Upright Behavior, on Hometapes, home to artists like Matthew E. White and Megafaun.
When Massachusetts Indie Rock band Speedy Ortiz had its first official full-length, Major Arcana, released on Carpark Records last year, the band instantly became an audience and critical favorite, landing on many scribes’ “Best of 2013” lists. The A.V. Club called the album “a markedly assured debut, one that makes Speedy Ortiz an act to watch. Like its songs, the band’s detonation is inevitable.” Earlier this year, the band released the Real Hair EP.
Low Cut Connie
After building a strong following in Cincinnati thanks to repeated visits (including a great set at last year’s MPMF), Piano Rock crew Low Cut Connie return for another rollicking show in the Queen City. Read CityBeat’s interview with LCC from March here.
Houston Indie rockers The Tontons hit the touring circuit hard over the past seven years and now, with the release of their second album, Make Out King and Other Stories of Love, earlier this year, the hard work is paying off for the band. The self-released LP received high praise from the likes of The New York Times, Paste and Rolling Stone.
Psych/Proto Punk band Ex-Cult hails from Memphis and recently released its second album, Midnight Passenger, on Goner Records. CMJ says, “This second full-length breathes with a more expansive volume and guitar churn, without resorting to every other current garage band’s habit of just dumping reverb on everything. In fact as this rec moves along, its snaky sprawl sees the band crawling out of its genre garage, like spilled oil and gas seeping into the weeds and cracks in the driveway, making everything a bit more slippery as you approach.”
Brooklyn’s Milagres make Indie Synth Rock for the Kill Rock Stars label. After the success of their 2011 album, Glowing Mouth, the band released Violent Light in early 2014.
Formed by two former members of Reggae group John Brown’s Body, trippy Dance Rock band Rubblebucket self-released its debut, Rose’s Dream, in 2008. Since then, the band has had its cover of The Beatles’ “Michelle” declared on the 50 greatest Fab Four covers of all time by Paste, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and recorded with LCD Soundsystem’s Eric Broucek. The band’s most recent release is the EP Save Charlie.
NYC-based Mutual Benefit is the dreamy project of singer/songwriter Jordan Lee, who grew up in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Last year’s debut full-length, Love’s Crushing Diamond, drew comparisons to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Grizzly Bear.
The Cave Singers
Seattle Indie Folk group The Cave Singers formed in 2007 out of the ashes of the great Pretty Girls Make Graves. The band’s latest album, Naomi, came out last year on Jagjaguwar.
Canadian Indie rockers July Talk formed just a couple of years ago, but already they have an international profile, touring with artists like Billy Talent and Besnard Lakes and catching audiences attention with a great live show. The group recently premiered a new music video for “Summer Dress,” a song slated for a forthcoming EP.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
Alabama Soul ensemble St. Paul & the Broken Bones’ great sound and live show have made them a favorite on the international touring circuit. The band’s debut album, Half the City, came out earlier this year, leading to the group’s appearance on CBS’s The Late Late Show and, more recently, a nomination for Emerging Act of the Year from the Americana Music Association.
Three-day tickets (and VIP tickets) are on sale now at mpmf.cincyticket.com. Today at noon, single-show tickets for The Afghan Whigs’ all-ages (kids under 10 can get in free with a paying adult) concert in Washington Park on Sept. 26 go on sale at the same site.
Ellie Goulding killed it Wednesday night at Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati’s outdoor venue The Shoe. By noon the next day, I was still recovering. I’d feel old, but it’s a sentiment I heard echoed from others who have seen Goulding live.
She sucks all the energy out of you in the absolute best way possible. If her driving, pounding music isn’t enough to propel you to dance, Goulding herself will. From rolls and swishes (oh, to have those abs) to doing the Running Man, for a girl who claimed she’s awkward about dancing, her moves were on full display. She was basically a blonde ball of energy and emotion, ping-ponging across the stage. The crowd fed off that energy and unleashed their own. My feet were trampled, my boobs were elbowed and some very skinny dude almost dropped his girlfriend on my head (twice). And it was awesome!
I’ve often sulked about the lack of enthusiasm at shows from Cincinnatians, but I cannot make that complaint about the Goulding concert. Whether it was the exact right mix of younger people or the fact that Goulding just happens to have cool fans, something made the gathering last night much livelier than your average show. People danced, flailed and jumped with abandon. Even during “Your Song,” kids who were surely not around when Elton John’s original version was released sang along with abandon while drunk guys tried light-heartedly to woo the closest girl.
I must give props where they are due, too, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sheer perfection of The Shoe. Upon hearing that such a madly loved and wildly popular performer was playing The Shoe (with a capacity slightly smaller than my former high school’s enrollment), it seemed not quite right. In retrospect, I couldn’t think of a more fitting venue. A larger venue would have sucked. For instance, the seating angle at Riverbend may be optimal for viewing the stage, but it quickly creates a lot of perceived distance for the performers. The Shoe, sunk down in an impeccably landscaped hole on the edge of downtown and sandwiched between two taller buildings, felt infinitely more intimate. Even when I couldn’t see the actual bouncing blonde head on stage and had to watch the Jumbotron instead, it just felt right.
Whatever your excuse for not being there, I’m judging you. I’m guessing it’s for the best, though. You probably would’ve stood around nodding and not dancing. But, you missed out. Goulding is a cold-blooded killer on-stage. She kicks asses into dancing mode, leans way, way, way back and pulls in all the energy from the audience to get her through the night. Nearly 4,000 people happily offered up their life source for her reaping. Hopefully most of them were lucky enough to sleep in the next day.
A diverse collection of local bands will be performing at the Southgate House Revival in Newport tonight, all to help out one of their own. Tonight’s “full house” Southgate show (with music on all three stages) was designed to raise money for Ed Ackerson, a veteran local musician who has played with numerous bands over the years, including Snowshoe Crabs, Stays in Vegas, Strangelove and Hurricane.
The Northern Kentucky-based guitarist has been battling kidney disease for around two decades — almost as long as he’s been playing out with area bands. Ackerson is reportedly now in complete renal failure, on dialysis and waiting for a matching donor. The funds raised at the Southgate concert will go to help Ackerson and his family in their time of need. (Ackerman is the father of four.)
Scheduled to appear at tonight’s 8 p.m. show — dubbed "Ackfest" — are Prizoner, Hurricane, The Core, Muleshine, Mudpies, Sticky Honey, Kenton Station, Bad Boy Troy, Iconx, Beginnings and more. There will also be silent auction to raise additional funds. Admission is a $12 donation at the door.
There are quite a few good options for theatergoing this weekend. First and foremost, I'd point to The North Pool at the Cincinnati Playhouse. It's a newish script from Rajiv Joseph (his play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a runner up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize), and it's a very timely piece, set in 2007 in a large public high school. Just two characters: a slightly disgruntled, tightly wound vice principal and a student of Middle Eastern descent who's been called in on the eve of spring break for a "conversation." What starts out as awkward but mildly amusing takes numerous twists and turns (the show is about 85 minutes long) and will keep you guessing as more and more is revealed. The teacher says people are like onions: You can keep peeling, but you never quite get down to the essence. You will arrive at a surprising — and moving — conclusion, likely not what you'll be suspecting. That's the kind of writing and performance to be found in this production. Through June 1. Tickets ($30-$75; $25 for teens and students, with the proviso that the show has strong language and mature themes): 513-421-3888.
Cincinnati Alt Funk/Dance Rock quartet Founding Fathers have built a buzz locally over the past few years with their energized live shows and infectious, slanted grooves. The band has been hard at work lately in the studio, recording those grooves for a forthcoming full-length.
Earlier this year, Founding Fathers gave the public its first taste of the new recorded material in the form of a music video for the track “Stop, Drop and Roll.” The clip, directed by Bangout Films, mixes some cool live performance footage with woozy visuals that show a blurry, surrealistic night of barroom debauchery (including some creepy, hallucination-worthy dudes with smiley faces for heads). The video wonderfully matches the blustery, more rocking side of Founding Fathers’ sound, which also shows elements of avowed influences like LCD Soundsystem and Talking Heads. If you remember — and loved — Columbus, Ohio's Funk Punk greats Royal Crescent Mob, “Stop, Drop and Roll” should be right up your alley.
Founding Fathers performs a free show this Saturday night at MOTR Pub and fans in attendance will have a chance to hear even more of a preview of the forthcoming full-length. The band is offering up a special four-track EP/album preview to those in attendance. Saturday’s show starts at 10 p.m. Vito Emmanuel is also on the bill.
For more on Founding Fathers, click here.
The album is an endangered concept in music, with MP3s and streaming encouraging more and more people to listen to tracks “a la carte.” If people aren’t listening to a collection of songs intentionally put together by an artist in a specific order, why should the artist bother trying? It’s one of the reasons releasing EPs seems to have become more popular than issuing full-lengths.
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling amongst Hip Hop artists, many of whom have more fully embraced the hodge-podge “mixtape” format, which is perhaps more in tune with our ADD/social media-plagued culture.
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 tells 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. And it’s quite an impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a flow and 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, heart-breaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays the story 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 had experienced and been in.
Working backwards from the incident (which isn’t revealed until “Question 8,” so the listener is left to wonder what transpired), 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 himself, 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. When the social worker tells the officer that the young man had been bullied over his clothes in school, Sleep echoes that pain with lines like, “The peer pressure to be above the status quo/It’s never ending, it’s never taking sabbaticals.”
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but when his fate is revealed, 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 ending.)
Sleep’s Branded shows just how much power Hip Hop still has to tell a realistic story poetically but without hyperbole. It’s an incredibly moving piece of work that stands as one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of Greater Cincinnati in recent memory. And Sleep shows that if he ever gets tired of the Rap game (which itself would be tragic becomes the genre needs more voices like his), he’ll be able to find some kind of career as a writer, be it an author, a journalist, a filmmaker or whatever field he decides to lend his talents to.
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.
Here is a music video for the track, "Question 2":