Magnetic Flowers, People Person Release New Albums

About two weeks ago the long-awaited (well, at least I’ve been waiting for it for a long time) new album from Columbia, SC’s Magnetic Flowers was posted online somewhat quietly, and I’ve been absorbing it since then. This week marks a slightly noisier new release from another Columbia-based band, People Person. The one-two punch of this potent pair of local bands packs some serious potential and at the least shows the depth of talent and forward-thinking musicians in this sometimes backwards town.

magnetic flowers old cold

Magnetic Flowers’ latest Old, Cold, Losing it is true to their densely elliptical, wordy and inspiring past work while building on that foundation with new sonic techniques. It’s almost not fair to compare the new songs with the band’s prior work since those earlier songs have lived in our ears locally for long enough to become sing-along anthems at their live shows, but I’ll just say that there are a few tunes here that will certainly rise to that status with time. “Dial Tone (…)” jumps out immediately with lines such as “I hope when I’m dead that my books will be read,” repeated with multiple voices and variations on the same theme like an indie-rock “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” singing round.

It’s on “Trout Fishing In America (If a Man Can Eat An Airplane)” where things start to get weird, as the spare synth-like guitar and keyboard figure blips and bleeps under singer Pat Funk relating a bleary-eyed, psychedelic dream of a story. Of what, I have no idea, but it’s compelling in its oddity.

“Whittle It (God Bless You Ernest Becker)” is another aural soundscape with voices used more like instruments in the mix, atop spare percussion and some theremin-like noises.

Just when you thought the band’s post-Replacements spunk had been subsumed by esoteric production values and highfalutin’ concept, “Dirty Grounds (Old, Cold)” rips out of the ether with a breakneck tempo and bastardized Simon & Garfunkel style  “ba-da-da-da-da” on the quickly building choruses, until the breakdown collapses into lines that culminate, “I’m laughing now, because I finally remembered how…”

This one’s going to take a while to sink in fully, but the joy of discovery that has marked my consumption of previous Magnetic Flowers songs will no doubt repeat here, with the bonus that the production values are the best the band’s ever come up with, thanks to Jay Matheson at the Jam Room and a crisp, clear mastering from Kenny McWilliams at Archer Avenue.




Dumb Supper Album Art

People Person is fronted by the punk pixie persona of Jessica Oliver (also the drummer for Can’t Kids), someone I once described as Shirley Temple on acid. Her Goldilocks-style appearance is deceiving, however, as she can snarl and spit cutting couplets with ease. For much of the new album, Oliver tends more toward the sweeter-sounding side, indulging in fuzzy girl-group sounds that borrow from surf rock, the Ronettes, and the Pixies. Like another sonic signpost, Dinosaur Jr., there are melodies in the mayhem that will have you humming along to tunes such as “Portions For Fatties” or “I’m Slimy”, and the production is clean enough to finally hear what Oliver can do as a vocalist, which is quite a bit.

It’s the variety of sounds and textures that surprises the most. The knowing, sly technique of “It Bugs Me, It’s Nothing” melts into the multi-tracked vocals of “Up and Done It”, which boasts a Breeders-worthy bassline from Adam Cullum (Also a member of Magnetic Flowers and Can’t Kids), and then there’s the quiet paisley pop of “Frances”, like a refugee from the 80’s Southern California psychedelic college rock scene.

Whether it’s the new sounds from old favorites Magnetic Flowers, or familiar influences via a new voice in Jessica Oliver of People Person, either way it’s a great indicator of the creatively vibrant indie rock scene that is present in Columbia currently.

My Favorite Local Albums of 2009

I write about music from all over the place for publications and websites that are also all over the place, but I’ve had a particular fondness for the music of my own backyard here in South Carolina, and especially in Columbia. Here, then, are my favorite local releases of 2009:

My Favorite Local Albums 2009

Kenley Young, Standard Candle
Smooth, slick, and sparkling guitar pop.

Magnetic Flowers, What We Talk About When We Talk About What We Talk AboutA glorious mess of an album, like a train barely able to remain on the tracks.

Haley Dreis, Beautiful To Me
About as perfect a pop recording as any to have come out of Columbia.

American Gun, The Devil’s Right Hand
Mark this as the one where Todd Mathis’ twangier material shines the brightest and truly begins to define this band.

Zach Seibert and the Red Wagon, Learning To Drown
The year’s most pleasant surprise, a sweetly rendered, rough-hewn gem.

Justin Smith and the Folk-Hop Band, World Unknown
Less hop and more rock made this a local radio hit, with good reason.

Treadmill Trackstar, I Belong To Me
File under “Welcome return” and turn up the volume.

The Unawares, Pinkie Greene
Raw, unassuming, yet immediate and melodic.

Hannah Miller, Somewhere In Between
Columbia’s most mesmerizing vocal chords.

Danielle Howle, The Swamp Sessions
Stripped down to just her voice and guitar, Howle still delivers.

Various Artists, Christmas At Red Bank, Vol. 1
Perfect local-centric addition to the holiday music mix, with some great takes on classic carols.

Music Crawl 2009 Wrap-Up

The Tenth Anniversary edition of the Columbia Free Times Music Crawl here in Columbia, South Carolina is in the history books, as the saying goes, and as usual there were plenty of good bands to be seen—so many this year, in fact, that even my own usual overabundance of options and overly optimistic plans proved too much to tackle. In the course of six hours, however, I still managed to see and hear seventeen of the Crawl’s thirty-two bands. Apologies to those not in the comments below, I’ll have to catch up with you soon elsewhere.

Here, then, are some thoughts on what I did get to crawl around and experience last night:

Hello Tomorrow—capable, emo-leaning alt-rock; the second band I’ve seen this year cover a Weezer song—that’s ‘classic’ rock for this generation, I suppose. One bone to pick, but it’s with their fans—If the large crowd of teens and parental units outside the fence were there to see this band, as I suspect they were, they could have at least clapped for them once or twice.

Calculator—a debut live listen for me with this relatively new local act; they play a sort of anti-math rock, all angles and jutting riffs like cliffs their herky-jerky stage antics threaten to send them over at any moment. More, please.

Loch Ness Johnny—As dependable as St. Patrick’s Day, this local Celtic rock band is an old favorite that warranted a quick peek. Heard their amped-up take on “Shady Grove” and another staple of their live sets, the Velvet Underground tune “Waiting For My Man.” As always, the group has excellent timing—playing to the back of a lot of heads turned toward the big screen TV in the thick of the Carolina-Georgia game, they managed to end songs at the same time as Gamecock touchdowns on the screen above them not once, but twice, making it appear as if the roar of the crowd was for them, not the game.

Junior Astronomers—One of the few out-of-town acts in this especially strong year for local talent in the Crawl, this Charlotte band poured out the energy on the outside stage at Art Bar. Bonus points for the fact that the long locks of the lead singer made him look like he could be the son of Root Doctors’ vocalist Walter Hemingway.

Sweet Vans—Prepared for this to be awful, I was pleasantly surprised at the sturdiness of the trio’s beats and rhymes, even if they were absurd to the point of causing the regular patrons of Rust to look on in bemused silence. One song, for example, paired the “Sanford & Son” theme song with a Mark Sanford-inspired refrain of “Ar-gen-tina…”

The Restoration—Forget what I said about playing covers at a showcase gig like this, the opening salvo of the Beatles “Come Together” was just what this sometimes delicate indie-folk outfit needed to jolt the football-fixated crowd at the Flying Saucer into paying attention.

Chris Compton—Caught a quick song and a half at the Mellow Mushroom from the Fossil Record singer, who must have incredible powers of concentration to play and sing like that with so many pizza dinners practically under his nose.

Marry A Thief—a stage beneath a wide open expanse of darkened sky was tailor made for Eric Skelton and Marry a Thief; Justin Register (throwing in some pointed, perfectly placed lead guitar fills) is the kind of guitarist who makes everyone around him sound great, too.

Sheem One—Though I’ve lost faith in a lot of modern hip-hop, the ones who attempt it with a live band have my respect and admiration. Sheem One brought the musical entourage, at least a half-dozen band members including three backup singers who treated the crowd to a mini-medley of Motown over which Sheem One proceeded to egg on both the band and the audience.

Haley Dreis—Despite the near-perfect pop of her debut CD, it was almost a relief to see and hear that in person, Dreis acts every bit of her nineteen years of age, giving shout-outs to her mom and talking about “boys.” Also noteworthy is that she can pull off the songs from that debut nearly as well live, without the trappings of a big production budget.

Magnetic Flowers—despite a sound mix and technical glitches that were often horrendous, this set under the stars provided all the proof needed that this band’s not only a great barroom listen, they’re stadium ready, complete with moves like singer/guitarist Jared Pyritz standing on the bass drum and waving to the far reaches of the crowd in the surrounding parking lot.

The Unawares—This set boasted the best sound of the night, in service of this trio’s barely restrained garage-pop anthems. Another band that’s much better live than on disc, which is saying something in this case.

Black Bottom Biscuits—The full-band lineup of the Biscuits gives them the kind of room to roam that they’ve always hinted they needed, and for a half hour they proceeded to ride roughshod over country and rockabilly sounds.

American Gun—taking a cue from the sound issues present for some of the outdoor stage participants prior to their appearance, American Gun did what any self-respecting rock band ought to—turned it up, spitting and clawing their way through an inspired set. Look out this fall, as the band’s releasing a new CD and singer Todd Mathis reports he’s working on a gospel CD with Zach Seibert.

The Heist and the Accomplice—There are bands that get such good press that one has a tendency to take them for granted; the Heist is certainly among those for me. It only takes a couple of songs to remind myself, however, of the throbbing rhythmic pulse that’s at the heart of these indie rockers.

Hot Lava Monster—Their time in California must have lit a fire under Hot Lava Monster, who played a nonstop set of scorched-earth rock, making it look easy in the process.

Josh Roberts & the Hinges—in a loud, late night, boisterous barroom, beginning a set with a quiet, repetitive, nearly a capella number would be a momentum-killer for most musicians. For Roberts, it’s as if he simply does what he wants, regardless of the ramifications. No worry here, however, as the Hinges rocked hard and righteous for the remainder of the evening. One indicator of the stature Roberts and his band enjoy among their peers—the crowd was peppered with performers from the rest of the evening’s entertainers as well as several who were, on this night at least, simply spectators singing along with the rest of us.

2008 Music Crawl Report

No, it wasn’t SXSW, or Bonnaroo, but last night was an overflowing night of great music here in Columbia, South Carolina—especially if you were a fan of local original rock. The Free Times Music Crawl featured thirty bands and solo performers playing some form or subgenre of rock—indie, jam, punk, alt-country, etc. Of the years the Crawl has been in existence, this was probably the best overall lineup in terms of the quality of the individual acts, though there was not as much variety as there has been in the past—no hip-hop, soul, jazz, or bluegrass/country at all. What there was, however, was consistently entertaining and occasionally transcendent music from a wealth of local veterans and newer bands.

My own Crawl experience is typically one of attempting to see a little bit of a lot of bands, especially of the ones I haven’t yet had a chance to see before. Here, then, are my impressions of what I got to see and hear at the 2008 Free Times Music Crawl, in the order that I experienced them:

The Rise of Science—I got to the Art Bar too late to see a personal favorite, All Get Out, but these guys were a good alternative start to the evening. They offered up the first instance of a recurring theme for the night, that of earnest indie rockers asking audience members to do the overhead clap-your-hands thing. Crowd participation rocks, and even with an early time slot this band had them into the performance.

The Decade—Always a fun set anytime they play, this local pop-punk combo were a little looser than usual but they too had an enthusiastic audience.

Will Erickson—An acoustic troubadour in the Edwin McCain/Dave Matthews tradition, Will Erickson had to contend with an early crowd who looked almost surprised to see somebody playing music during their football watching time. Armed with a raft of effects pedals including a vocal harmonizer that made it sound like he had a backup singer, he quickly got the couch-sitter’s attention.

The Choir Quit—Speaking of getting people’s attention, I’m not sure the dinner crowd at the Mellow Mushroom were expecting to be serenaded by the off-key caterwauling of this guitar-drums duo. Interesting stuff if you can get around the uncomfortable dissonance.

Cassangles— A more intentional form of dissonance took center stage with this instrumental trio, probably the best surprise of the night for me. Not since the angular rhythms of Bolt has Columbia seen a non-vocal ensemble that can create such gripping narratives of sound. Yes, they’re playing some things not quite in the “right” key, but it’s most likely on purpose and part of the act. It is extremely difficult to play rock and hold people’s interest without the aid of vocals, but this band had the audience in an aural headlock—probably the reason their set was one of the few at which I stuck around for more than a couple songs.

The Daylight Hours—If you weren’t in the first twenty feet in front of the stage at Flying Saucer, you probably couldn’t hear the gentle acoustic tunes of the Daylight Hours, who were just David A. playing acoustic for this set, accompanied by one of the guitarists from Magnetic Flowers.

Marry a Thief—A headliner on any other night buried in the middle of the show here, Eric Skelton and crew sounded great on the tiny outdoor stage—but then again, they sound great everywhere they play. More indie rock handclapping during this set, too.

The Starseed Project—Mainstream modern rock sometimes doesn’t get the respect it deserves (See Nickelback, for instance), but this local band does it better than most.

The Friendly Confines—Singer-songwriter Rob Lindsey found himself a band, and a good one at that—members of the Cassangles and Magnetic Flowers contribute to make his rough edges go down smooth.

Nick Pagliari—New to town and eager to please, Pagliari had to contend with the non-stage that was the upstairs at Mellow Mushroom. Even in an acoustic solo setting, the polished nature of the songs from his new CD pushed through the crowd noise enough to impress fellow performer David Reed, who was waiting in the wings listening.

Daniel Machado—caught what seemed to be the acoustic segment of Daniel’s set, which meant I missed out on the grandiose pop of his band but still heard his eloquent, almost archaic-sounding lyrics.

This Machine is Me
—Some of the most fun tunes of the night, but somebody please tell the bass player that his singer’s a lot cuter than he is so he really needs to get out of the front and center stage position and let her stay in the crowd’s sight line the whole set.

Testing Ground—Had not seen them since Ryan’s accident and recovery, so I was smiling even during the more menacing parts of the band’s sledgehammer-heavy tunes.

The Private Life of David Reed—Another professional in an almost untenable situation at the Mellow Mushroom, but he too pulled it off nicely—enough that he got a compliment in reply from Nick Pagliari (See the note about Nick, above.)

Danielle Howle—Heard a bit of a new song and a bit of an old one, just enough to remind me why everybody who meets this woman is instantly a friend and a fan of her music.

Venice Is Sinking—Mesmerizing music from this Athens, Georgia group that nearly rendered me motionless after a long night of speed-walking up and down Gervais Street. I’m sure I’m not the only guy totally smitten with the violinist, either.

Magnetic Flowers—Another inspiring set from this group, who just keep getting better. Just when you think they can’t possibly get any more energetic, throw anything else into a song’s arrangement, or come up with a more singable chorus—they do. Notable for me as the only band of the night that I heard an entire set. Bonus points for yet another instance of the indie-rock handclapping crowd participation bit.

Death Becomes Even the Maiden—After trying to explain the concept of postpunk to a casual fan on the sidewalk outside prior to their set, Eric Greenwood and company put on a better primer than I could ever hope to.

Josh Roberts & the Hinges—A harder, more rock ‘n’ roll set than I’m used to seeing from Roberts, with cameos from Nicole Hagenmeyer on several songs that lifted the harmonies into the stratosphere.