Big Thief, Bird Of Youth
Wed, June 1
Doors: 7:00 pm9:30 Club
Nada Surf - (Set time: 10:00 PM)
Having recorded five albums in ten years and toured extensively in support of all of them, Nada Surf — singer/guitarist Matthew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca, drummer Ira Elliot and guitarist Doug Gillard (now official fourth member, more on that later) — opted to follow 2012’s cracking The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy with a brief but well-earned hiatus.
So in January 2015, when Caws informed Nada Surf’s vociferous Facebook following that a new record was just about done, the news was greeted with explosive enthusiasm. The music was in the can, he announced, and all that remained was to finish up a few lyrics and sing a few vocals; something he planned to do on off-days off during an upcoming solo acoustic tour. Caws even included a photo of the recording set-up he was bringing in the car.
“I was so eager to have an album done that I believed in it as it was,” Caws recalls. “But the great thing about being 'finished' is that you can take a breath and evaluate, because the pressure to 'do it' is gone. The more I listened and thought about it, the more I realized that I might want to keep working. Also, I'd sent the tracks to my friend Josh, who runs Barsuk Records, the label we’ve been on since 2002, and he said 'It's great,' but followed that with a pregnant pause. I got the message. I didn't take that as a critique as much as a belief that I could do better. It was very freeing,” Caws continues. “There were already a bunch of songs in the can that we all liked, so I could think more expansively about what the album could be."
Caws’ instinct to heed his inner editorial voice proved to be spot on: he dropped a few songs, tweaked others, and wrote a few more that, “definitely feel different from what we’ve done before,” he says. “Believe You’re Mine” was rejiggered and sped up, while “Cold To See Clear” – originally penned for a collaboration to be named later with Michael Lerner of Telekinesis – was deemed a better fit for Nada Surf. Just before starting You Know Who You Are, Caws had gone to Los Angeles to write with Dan Wilson, who in addition to his success with Semisonic, has won two Grammy Awards for his songs with Adele and the Dixie Chicks. They weren't writing for anyone in particular, they just wanted to see what would happen. Caws felt so good about “Rushing” and “Victory's Yours," that he asked Wilson if he could include them on the new Nada Surf album. Wilson gave the green light, and even offered to contribute backing vocals. When the band returned to Hoboken, NJ for another round of sessions with producer/guitarist Tom Beaujour (Jennifer O'Connor, Amy Bezunartea), the songs were tracked.
And lo and behold, what would have been another really good Nada Surf album (their seventh since getting signed to a major in the go-go 90's and scoring a worldwide alterna-hit with “Popular”) became what could well be the most representative collection of the group’s two-decade career, all while pushing towards whatever comes next. While the band has always had a surplus of horsepower for velocity rockers and an astounding level of confidence live, they've been gaining the discipline and finesses to change gears, more so with each release. Captured in the album’s 10 tracks is every beloved facet of the band, but You Know Who You Are also finds much on offer that stands apart from anything previously heard in the band’s diverse catalog. “Animal” is a stream-of-consciousness Dylan-by-way-of-the-Stones existential love song, while “Gold Sounds” somehow manages to be equal parts Krautrock and folk rock. The latter track had its genesis in a South By Southwest queue as Caws made small talk with a fellow gig-goer who turned out to be General Manager at St. Louis’ independent, non-commercial KDHX. Caws was standing with sometime touring Nada Surf keyboard player and occasional mixing collaborator Louie Lino, now running Resonate Studio in Austin. "Maybe we should make you a jingle,” Caws suggested.
“If you do, we’ll play the shit out it!”
Unable to resist the challenge, Caws and Lino banged out a classic radio theme song for KDHX Program Director Chris Bay’s weekly “Gold Soundz” broadcast. The tune snuck into band practice and then morphed at the Nuthouse from a 30-second ditty into something else altogether, thanks in large part to Elliot's hypnotic beat and the “wild twinkly magic” contributed by Gillard. "I still don't understand how he did that," Caws says. "It’s like Zeppelin flutes played by a unicorn." “Gold Sounds” serves as an ideal reminder if one is required that Caws might be the tunesmith and man up front, but Nada Surf is now and has always been very much a band.
“I may write the songs," Caws says, "but we put them together together.”
Some of the new sonic diversity must be due to Gillard's ever-growing presence, touring with the band since 2010, but a newly official fourth member. While he recorded a lot of overdubs on the last two albums, this time Doug was involved from the first practices onward. Known for his vaunted chops and keen melodic sense, honed as a member of such iconic Ohio outfits as Guided By Voices, Death of Samantha, and Cobra Verde, Gillard adds spark, heft and heightened interplay to Caws’ personal, prismatic songcraft, making a sound that was already melody-rich and hook-filled even richer.
After taking a detour with 2013's Minor Alps collaboration with Juliana Hatfield, his first after thirty years of writing songs, Caws has returned as a writer more willing than ever to follow wherever his gut takes him. Nada Surf are chasing their own worlds, their own kind of connections with listeners. “Sometimes it feels like, to our audience at least, we are two or three different bands at once,” Caws concludes. “It seems some people are looking to feel better, for encouragement getting over their obstacles, for help figuring life out… not that I've done that myself, other people are looking for love songs, and then some others just want to rock.”
You know who you are… Before, Nada Surf albums simply took on the character of the songs that the band came up with at the time. This one was different — there was a plan. "We've always played faster and a little harder live," Caws says, "but we'd play so carefully in the studio. So with this album, we made a conscious decision to preserve what it felt like in the practice room, when you play with that new-song energy. Just embrace it and not worry whether we’re overdoing it, kind of get all the thinking out of the way."
The stars has a somewhat more optimistic, more outward-looking tone than previous Nada Surf albums. On the yearning waiting for something, Caws sings, "This new peace/ I can feel it now," and that serenity — and not anger — is actually what fueled the music's extra kick.
The stars are indifferent to astronomy continues the notion of music as an alternative reality, and songs as things you can keep by your side for inspiration and support. Which is what makes Nada Surf a truly beloved band.
Big Thief - (Set time: 9:00 PM)
Can we welcome an unknown that stretches, terrified, into every direction? Is it safe to grab the shrivelled, mysterious hand that reaches out to us from darkness? A trembling voice speaks the answer clearly. The Celestial Twin. U.F.O.F.
U.F.O.F., F standing for ‘Friend’, is the name of the highly anticipated third record by Big Thief, set to be released by 4AD later this year. The New York-based band, featuring Adrianne Lenker (guitar, vocals), Buck Meek (guitar), Max Oleartchik (bass), and James Krivchenia (drums), has spent the last 4 years on an incessant world tour, winning the devotion of an enthusiastic and rapidly expanding audience. Their songs represent an emotional bravery and realness that weaves intimate relationships with the listener, a phenomenon that has made them one of the most widely-respected bands of the current era. Their first two back-to-back releases, Masterpiece (2016) and Capacity (2017), have been analysed, wept to, danced to, critically applauded, imitated, hummed idly, and shouted out loud. They have soundtracked crowded restaurants, difficult conversations, cowboy bars, yoga classes, night drives, and lonely bedrooms.
In 2019, the members of Big Thief are more deeply bonded than ever before. Their lives have become completely intertwined. Perpetual motion, nightly performance and struggles of the road have led them to develop their own connective language. They wake up and run together each morning; they intuit songs only sung for each other. Perhaps the best Big Thief tune you will never hear is the backstage classic, “I know what you mean. It’s a beautiful thing.” The spirit has never been stronger and U.F.O.F. feels, to Big Thief, like their first record as a fully realized band.
U.F.O.F. was recorded in rural western Washington at Bear Creek Studios. In a large cabin-like room, the band set up their gear to track live with engineer Dom Monks and producer Andrew Sarlo, who was also behind their previous albums. Having already lived these songs on tour, they were relaxed and ready to experiment. The raw material came quickly. Some songs, like ‘Cattails’—written only hours before recording—stretched out instantly, first take, vocals and all. Others were explored in search of perfected moments of dynamic feedback and spiritual, rhythmic togetherness. A careful New Age sprinkle of mystical textures and stabs was added and kept in the mix only when all agreed that each element had become absolutely crucial to the tune. The completed palette feels classic, upfront and honest, with an occasional, welcome glimpse into the magic box.
U.F.O.F. lifts the listener, slowly, into a delicate, celestial mystery, each member of the band adding their own visceral mastery to its skyscape. Adrianne Lenker’s voice finds new resting places, layered like a cloud above itself on album opener ‘Contact’ or crooning low through thick grass on ‘Betsy’. Her finger-picked guitar chords evolve and extend into warming harmony. Her leads beam passion and pain. Buck Meek’s exploratory notes and avant-garde textures slither to the song’s subconscious narrative, while James Krivchenia’s relaxed tempo and snare drum ghost notes possess your head into a steady bob. Max Oleartchik’s bass guitar playing is elusive and rhythmic, either crouching undetected or ripping a quick one for the people. When his bass goes missing from the song ‘Cattails,’ imagine him levitating above the tune in quiet meditation, waiting for that perfect moment to slide back into the mix. The moment doesn’t come till halfway through the next song.
Lyrically, U.F.O.F. is a dream in the dark. Characters and scenery interact outside of time. Names of mystery women appear, then disappear. Cruelties flash. Pronouns meld. There is a darkness here, but it’s not one to be feared. “Making friends with the unknown… All my songs are about this,” says Lenker; “If the nature of life is change and impermanence, I’d rather be uncomfortably awake in that truth than lost in denial.” Every song here casts a shadow, and the direction of this shadow reflects its light source. On ‘Orange,’ we see a woman lost in despair, but it is in recognition of this despair that she is truly loved. In ‘Terminal Paradise,’ death is imminent. Death is a flower; death is beautiful. On ‘Century,’ all of the confusion of a moment leads to a simple truth that “We have the same power”. If song writers are spelunkers of the unrevealed, then Lenker is one of the bravest working today. This is courageous music.
When the album’s final number drifts away into droning, alien invitations, the power to look within our own selves has been fully transmuted. The dreamer awakes and sees for a moment a vibrating figure disappear from the corner of the bedroom. The door is open and future music awaits. It’s morning. Goodbye alien.
Bird Of Youth - (Set time: 7:45 PM)
Did you ever want to burn down your whole life? Just burn the fucker right down to the ground and start over all over again?
On Bird Of Youth's wrenching and inescapably gripping new full-length Get Off, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Beth Wawerna arrives, matches in hand, at a life perched on ruin.
Following on the heels of 2011's debut Defender, Get Off is the second album from Bird Of Youth, released after five years of tribulation, tragedy, missteps and false starts. Midway through the process of rendering the follow up, Beth's father unexpectedly passed away, sending her into a spiral of self-doubt and self-destruction. Some wretched person once advised "eat, pray, love" as the prescription for a life gone off the rails. Bird Of Youth proposes something more like "drink, drug, fuck."
Get Off's ride is at once harrowing and exhilarating, fraught with the wreckage of lost youth and lost life, long narcotic nights and dreams hanging in the balance. From the Imperial Bedroom-style confessional snapshot of "Passing Phase," to the unstoppably catchy kiss-off "Sons & Daughters," to the psychedelic strung-out/freak-out of "Burn," Get Off is both reflective and reactive – a trial by ordeal and self-realization through personal annihilation. As a document of a single season in hell, Get Off is reminiscent of similar breakthrough-by-way-of-breakdown albums like Big Star's Sister Lovers and Harry Nilsson'sPussycats – albums whose total vulnerability both draw you in and leave a bruise.
Whether she's daring to be great or daring to be gone – lashing out or looking in – the high stakes of Beth's songs never feel less than fully engrossing. Like Joan Didion set to the beat of The Pretenders, Bird Of Youth's late night tales seduce you with fantasy and send you home chastened but satisfied. With lines like, "She fakes for dates and they take the bait but she makes them wait for old time's sake / She hates, she breaks and then she leaves," Beth sketches shattered characters that you earnestly root for as they grope through the void for the thing that will fix them – even if it's just a fix. Reflecting the tough dealing of its author, Get Off is both a first person account from an island of grief and the halting first steps towards a new beginning.
This is Bird Of Youth's first release since signing to Kiam Records alongside critical favorites Jennifer O'Connor and Amy Bezunartea. Delivering on the promise of its predecessor, Get Offrepresents the full flowering of Beth as a singular voice. Abetted by stunning arrangements from lead guitarist, co-producer and main collaborator Clint Newman, crackerjack performances from the rhythm section of Johnny North and Ben Lord and expert mixing from John Agnello (Sonic Youth. Kurt Vile, Breeders) and Phil Palazzolo (Ted Leo, Neko Case), Get Off is a sonic triumph commensurate with its emotional impact.
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001