It’s funny that The Fray are called what they’re called, because they hardly ever leave any loose threads or ragged edges — whether on their perfectly-produced, radio-friendly songs or live in concert. The piano rock band is so harmless and clean-cut that they probably couldn’t hurt a fly if their lives depended on it.
It’s no surprise, then, that their concert at PNC Pavilion Monday night, opened by Richard Swift and alt-rock band Jack’s Mannequin, felt like a quintessentially American outdoor summer party: laid-back, pleasant and totally innocuous.
There is no mystery in music anymore.
I‘ve been trying to find a scapegoat to blame for this. Most notably, I’d like to blame KISS for taking off their make-up in ’83, unveiling the Demon and Star Child as just a couple of goofy-looking New Yorkers dressed up like extras from a Dokken video.
But as much as I’d love to blame KISS for taking the mystery out of music (Gene Simmons ruins most things so it was a good guess), the problem really lies with the internet and the digital age we are consumed by. (Thanks, Al Gore!) When was the last time you went on Google and couldn’t find what you were looking for? With a few easy clicks, you can find answers to some of life’s most important questions like, "Who was the second guy from Wham?" (Andrew Ridgeley) and was Liam Neeson actually on an episode of Miami Vice (yes, he was).
But even with the constant flow of status updates, tweets and information that has caught Americans in this perpetual technology loop, over the last five months there has been one artist that has captured some sense of anonymity in the music industry. That artist is Captain Murphy.
For those of you who don’t know who Captain Murphy is, don’t worry. No one does.
When Captain Murphy burst onto the scene with his impressive verse on Flying Lotus’ Adult Swim single, “Between Friends," the music media and Hip Hop heads alike immediately got a raging hard-on for the guy. His use of voice modulation and his style, which carries the complexities of MF DOOM’s flow with just a hint of the silly attitude of Tyler, The Creator, caused a sea of speculation about his identity and spawned more gossip than when Honey Boo Boo Child gets pregnant before her My Super Sweet 16 special.
After the release of “Between Friends,” Murphy has intermittently dropped singles over the last couple months, turning the internet into his own personal Gotham City (Murphy playing the part of the Dark Knight) and leaving every music journalist and tons of Hip Hop fans trying to figure out who the hell is playing Bruce Wayne.
Now, Captain Murphy has dropped his mix tape, Duality, which takes the listener on a 35-minute Psychedelic Hip Hop excursion into the mind of a cult leader and has only heightened the anxiety attacks over his true identity.
But what’s the point?
Can we, journalist and fans, just relish in the secrecy of this up and coming artist without freaking the fuck out about it? I know that our job as journalists is to report information that people want/need to know, but I didn’t think obsessing over people who just want to make music and making their lives more difficult was in the job description.
The perfect example is last year’s music industry enigma, Earl Sweatshirt.
When the music media received news that Earl Sweatshirt, the most mysterious figure of the then-exploding Odd Future gang, was nowhere to be found, they began foaming at the mouth. The “Free Earl” campaign and the lack of knowledge of his whereabouts were covered by everyone from bottom feeder music blogs to The New York Times. But while Earl wasn’t even in the country (he was allegedly located at a troubled boy’s camp in Samoa), America was getting their rocks off on glorifying him as Hip Hop’s second coming and propelling him into stardom and fame before he was even old enough to vote.
Sweatshirt tackles this invasion of privacy on his latest single “Chum,” when he spits, “Tolerance for boundaries, I know you happy now/Craven and these Complex fuck niggas done track me down/Just to be the guys that did it, like I like attention/Not the type where niggas trying to get a raise at my expense/Supposed to be grateful, right, like thanks so much you made my life/Harder and the ties between my mom and I strained and tightened/Even more than they were before all of this shit/Been back a week and I already feel like calling it quits.”
It’s a shame that our insatiable infatuation with artists has been pushed to the point where we force young creators like Sweatshirt (and, to an extent, the seemingly fragile mainstream crossover star Frank Ocean) to want to give up on their budding careers, but what if the consequences were more severe? Sure, this constant media intrusion could push Earl to quit rapping and that would be a terrible loss of potential in the Rap game. But what if instead of quitting, this media malpractice pushed him to the bottle and drugs like Amy Winehouse or even a shotgun like Kurt Cobain?
On a smaller scale, it’s the same kind of information-driven OCD that makes people sign off of Facebook only to almost simultaneously check the Facebook app on their phones. Many of us now have an endless need to be in the know.
But in more serious cases, it’s the kind of obsessive behavior that caused fans like Michael Abram to break into George Harrison’s house and stab him in ’99, caused Mark Chapman to shoot John Lennon in Manhattan in ’80 or Nathan Gale to shoot “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott in that Columbus nightclub in ’04.
We have an opportunity to change this "gotta know now!" behavior with Captain Murphy. Here’s my proposal — every copy of Captain Murphy’s first album should include a prescription for Xanax and Prozac (maybe even a spliff or two for our friends out in Colorado). Maybe that would allow everyone to enjoy the music without having a mental breakdown about who is making it.
In the end, if Murphy doesn’t want us to know his identity, then we don’t need to know his identity. So unless the Captain is 2Pac revitalizing his career under this new alias, let’s all just keep calm and enjoy the mystery. While it lasts.
UPDATE: Aaaaand that didn't last too long. No more mysteries! Captain Murphy was revealed to be Flying Lotus (details here).
This week’s CityBeat features the announcement of the first several weeks’ worth of headliners for PNC’s MidPoint Indie Summer Series. The free, every-Friday concert series on Fountain Square again features an interesting array of out-of-town artists and Cincinnati music’s finest. The concerts begin June 3 with local Electronica duo You, You’re Awesome headlining a typically eclectic night of provocative sounds. It’s good prep for 2011’s MidPoint Music Festival this fall. The Indie Summer kick-off is your first chance to get MidPoint ’11 tickets — MPMFers can buy three-day passes at a discounted rate while they last at the events this summer.
Below, take a look/listen to the performers announced so far.
Cincinnati is not known as an Industrial music destination. Unlike San Francisco in the late ‘70s, Chicago in the mid-‘80s and Cleveland in the early ‘90s, the Queen City has never really enjoyed a love affair with the ever-morphing genre of all things dark, mechanical and dingy-sounding.
Ilan Kaim is the man who intends to change that.
Walk the Moon was one of my personal highlights from the recent MidPoint Music Festival, where the band played a high-energy set wonderfully showcasing its dance-friendly beats, New Wave jubilance and Art Pop creativity. As solid as the foursome is live, I was still a bit stunned by how advanced, imaginative and proficient Walk the Moon comes across on its enchanting debut album, i want! i want!, which is to be released Saturday in conjunction with a multimedia event at The Mockbee.
The Hank Williams family Country music legacy is fairly remarkable when you consider how three generations of men have built up audiences that would likely stand aghast at one another. Hank Williams, Sr., is a founding father of Country and Honky Tonk Music as we know it and, rightfully so, a certified historical figure, institutionally and critically bestowed with all the respect due our revered cultural heroes by the Time-Life crowd.
At the City & Colour concert at Bogart's a while back, I watched as a woman in the front row texted her way through both of the great opening acts. I glanced around and discovered that she wasn’t the only one. I figured everyone would surely stop when Dallas Green and the rest of C&C took to the stage. Three songs in and the crowd was still lit up by glowing phones.
Everywhere I looked people were texting, tweeting, facebooking or recording the night away. Often, both members of a couple would be recording the same song. As if the iPhone 12 inches to the left might just capture something different from theirs. I watched as a group of friends passed around a cell phone with a message from another friend who, I assume, wasn’t present (or maybe they were just three feet over). Meanwhile, the band played on.
This left me disappointed in humanity.
This afternoon, the Facebook page of crucial, longtime MidPoint Music Festival supporters, Dewey's Pizza, announced the first handful of artists book to play this fall's MidPoint Music Festival. And, after early-bird discount tickets quickly sold out several weeks ago, the rest of the tickets are on sale now at mpmf.cincyticket.com.
The first batch of MPMF.13 performers is very representative of the bookings for MidPoint the past few years. You've got a Modern Rock legend, a few established acts, several current "buzz bands" and a few acts that, if past years' MPMFs are any indication, will be "buzz-worthy" by the time the festival rolls around, Sept. 26-28.
Here are the first 17 acts booked for MPMF.13, the 12th installment of the ever-growing music fest that utilizes various venues in Over-the-Rhine/Downtown. Below the list, you can check out a song by each artist on our first MPMF.13 playlist.
The Breeders (Dayton, Ohio)
One of the seminal bands of the "Alternative Revolution" in the ’90s, The Breeders are currently promoting the 20th anniversary, expanded reissue of their classic Last Splash album. Though the Dayton-based Deal sisters (Kelley of R. Ring and Kim of Pixies) have kept musically active since Last Splash, with outside projects and The Breeders, the world tour for the reissue is special because it reunites the Deals with the album's lineup — bassist Josephine Wiggs and veteran Dayton drummer Jim MacPherson, who also spent time with Guided By Voices. The Breeders are playing Last Splash in its entirety on the whole tour.
The Head and The Heart (Seattle, Wash.)
One of the top acts of the "Indie Folk" movement, The Head and the Heart formed in Seattle in 2009. An early, self-made recording the band sold at initial shows ended up becoming so popular, local record stores began stocking it and trying to keep up with the surprising demand. The recording began making the music industry rounds, leading to a bidding war for the band. They ended up signing to hometown label Sub Pop within about a year of forming. The group's self-titled album was released to critical acclaim in 2011. The band's warm, ear-grabbing sound has been used a lot on TV spots; you might recognize their "Lost in My Mind," which was the background music for the trailer for the big hit film, Silver Linings Playbook.
Warpaint (Los Angeles)
With an airy, mesmerizing take on Psych Pop, L.A. quartet Warpaint caught the attention of mad guitar genius John Frusciante, who offered to mix the band's Exquisite Corpse EP. That release and a successful CMJ festival appearance led to Warpaint's signing to the legendary Rough Trade imprint. The label released the album The Fool in October 2010 and the band went back to their relentless touring schedule, which included dates with the likes of The xx, Yeasayer and The Walkmen. The band is currently prepping a new LP.
Foxygen (New York, NY/Olympia, Wash.)
Foxygen is the engagingly adventurous duo of Sam France and Jonathan Rado, who formed the group as 15-year-olds in 2005 and self-released a dozen or so albums while learning to play as many instruments as possible. The band's skewered Art Pop (akin to that of MGMT) with retro-underpinnings has been drawing attention since the release of the Foxygen full-length debut for the respected Jagjaguwar Records, the Richard Swift-produced We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, at the start of this year.
Cody ChesnuTT (Atlanta, Ga.)
Singer/songwriter Cody ChesnuTT first came to a lot of people's attention as the lead vocalist on "The Seed (2.0)," a fairly big single off of The Roots' Phrenology album in 2002. That drove a lot of Roots fans to ChesnuTT's full-length from the same year, The Headphone Masterpiece, though what they heard on that album — an underproduced, ambling collection of demo-sounding tunes that surfed a wide range of genres with ADD-like abandon. A decade later, ChesnuTT has returned with a new focus, showcasing a balanced approach based in vintage Soul (vocally, he's quite similar to Marvin Gaye) and Rock & Roll, on the full-length, Landing on a Hundred.
Daughter (London, UK)
Originating as the "one-woman-band" recording project of singer/guitarist Elena Tonra, Daughter — now a trio, which Tonra's husband on guitar and drummer Remi Aguilella — mixes an Indie Folk base with subtle electronics, creating an emotive sound that can be whisper-quiet one moment and epically lush another. After a self-titled EP, Mumford & Son's Communion label released The Wild Youth EP. Often compared to Cat Power due to Tonra's vocals, last year, the band signed to the 4AD label, a fitting choice given the legendarily ambient sound that defined the label's artists in its early years. The label released the trio's debut, If You Leave, in March of this year.
METZ (Toronto, Canada)
Relentless in its sonic attack, Canadian three-piece METZ recalls a lot of the punchier Post Punk bands of the ’80s/’90s, drawing comparisons to Big Black, The Jesus Lizard and any number of acts on the (early) Sub Pop and Dischord labels. After a few years of heavy touring, opening for like-minded bands Death from Above 1979, Mudhoney and NoMeansNo, the band signed with indie label legend Sub Pop, which released METZ's powerhouse self-titled debut last year.
Kishi Bashi (Norfolk, Va.)
Starting his career as a violinist for artists like Regina Spektor and of Montreal, Seattle-born multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter K Ishibashi went solo — under the less-confusing moniker Kishi Bashi — and began touring. Making engaging Indie Pop touched by Classical/Chamber influence, the Joyful Noise imprint released his first full-length album, 151A, last spring. There's a pretty good chance you've hear Kishi Bashi before, even if you didn't know it — his jaunty, Shins-ish single "Bright Whites" was used in a wide-running commercial for Windows 8.
Julianne Barwick (Brooklyn, NY)
Julianne Barwick makes angelic Ambient music based entirely on loops. The Southern-born experimental artist — signed to Asthmatic Kitty Records — creates her compositions by using a loop station and crafting elegant layers of sonic haze, using mostly piano, her voice, some percussion and guitar. Barwick — who recently announced her signing to Dead Oceans and a new album set for August — is an up-and-comer in the Avant Garde/New Music world, recently scoring an invite recently to Yoko Ono's Meltdown Festival in the U.K.
Spectrals (Yorkshire, U.K.)
Spectrals was originally the work of one dude, British singer/songwriter Louis Jones (with just a little help from his brother on drums). Spectrals' wandering sound touches on everything from Nuggets-esque Garage to swaying, elegant Pop (threaded with reverbed-out, Surf-ish guitar). Jones signed to the Slumberland label in the States, which released his first album, Bad Penny, in 2011. For Spectrals' latest, the Sob Story album, Jones, for the first time, had some help from other musicians (who aren't related to him).The album is due June 18.
Dent May (Oxford, Miss.)
Singer/songwriter Dent May makes unabashed Pop music, the kind that forces a smile on your face regardless of your troubles. The Mississippi resident singed with Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label in 2008 and released The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele, which drew comparisons to the likes of The Beach Boys, The Turtles and Prefab Sprout. For last year's self-titled album, May put away the uke and decided it was time to dance. The album is a cooly eclectic collection of dynamic electronic Pop, retaining those classic Pop/Rock influences, but adding elements of Disco, Funk, R&B Electro.
Grandfather Child (Houston, Texas)
Grandfather Child was formed in Houston in 2009 by members of various other local bands. The group hit upon a compelling "formula," creating a kitchen-sink sound that is loaded with influence from R&B, Soul, early Rock & Roll and Gospel music, resulting in a pretty psychedelic vibe. The band is signed to New West Records, which released Grandfather Child's eponymous 9-track album last summer.
The Ghost Wolves (Austin, Texas)
With a blistering sound created by just two people — guitarist Carley and drummer Jonny Wolf (both sing) — The Ghost Wolves traveled many miles across the country to build a fan base one explosive show at a time. The group's debut was the raw and rugged In Ya Neck! EP, which showcased the Wolves' fuzzy take on stompin' Blues Rock expertly, like a two-piece version of The Cramps. The band is getting set to release its debut full-length, Man, Woman, Beast.
Jeecy and The Jungle (Detroit)
Known for their reportedly incredible like show, Detroit's Soul rockers Jeecy and the Jungle represent two sides of Detroit's music heritage, blending a modern-day Garage Rock energy with influence from classic Soul artists. Last summer, the band released its impressive five-track EP, Twist and Scream.
Caveman (New York, NY)
Caveman is an NYC quintet that makes atmospheric Indie Rock with the kind of soft-breeze effervescence found in everything from the best vintage "AM Gold" songs to Fleet Foxes. The band released its debut in 2010, CoCo Beware, built a following and signed to notable label, Fat Possum Records, which re-released the debut and also the recent self-titled full-length, which has been garnering great reviews.
Perfume Genius (Seattle, Wash.)
Perfume Genius is Mike Hadreas, a Seattle singer/songwriter and visual artist whose 2010 debut caught the attention of the Indie music press corps. Quickly signed to the esteemed Matador Records, Perfume Genius' latest is Put Your Back N 2 It, a gentle, intimate collection of spectral, folksy songs.
PHOX (Madison, Wisc.)
Slanted, sparse yet broad Indie/Folk/Pop band PHOX started turning heads this year with consistent touring and a knock-out appearance at South By Southwest. The band recently released its latest EP, Confetti, which also has a companion "video EP," featuring short films for every track that the group members made simultaneously with the musical recording.