click to enlarge Howling Midnight

Photo by Sierra Reese

Howling Midnight

This Little Underground: Goodbye to Morgan Steele, South Florida reps hard with Denzel Curry and Heavy Drag, and Howling Midnight is week’s surprise local find 

Another blindsiding goodbye this week, this time to local artist Morgan Steele, whose personality was as wildly colorful as his painting. As followers of each other's work, he and I technically knew of each other more than we actually knew each other. But that seeming barrier was heeded far more by me than him – and my world, this world, was brighter for it. There was that one time back in 2008 when he mailed me a package in thanks for getting him hip to a Monotonix show. It contained a splintered drumstick from the concert and a personal note that was electric in language (go to the Orlando Weekly site and see it on The Heard blog).

Though we weren't really friends in the conventional IRL way, he was always around, like some sort of radiant spirit, of another dimension but palpably felt nonetheless. And so he remains. Shine on, you diamond.

THE BEAT

Lots of hot South Florida winds blowing up here this past week. Denzel Curry, for example, is an exciting young Bahamian rapper who was launched by fellow Carol City breakout SpaceGhostPurrp and formerly rolled in his group Raider Klan (or RVIDXR KLVN for those young enough to fuck with fussy-ass alphabetical styling). But he's staking ground now as his own man and coming hard with real underground heat. Here in Orlando, that manifested in a sold-out house of shit-losing, smoked-out kids (April 27, the Social).

His music is the real thing, a forward sound that's utterly now and of the brave new world being forged by Odd Future et al. But unlike the trial-and-error that happens out on the frontier, Curry is proving himself to be a bright exception already, with an ability to stick his landings with impressive consistency. His merge of trap and cloud rap is a deft juggle of dark otherworldliness and technical grit. The new-school style is there, with deep, stuttering beat drops and ominous atmosphere. But there's also airtight technique in his articulated, rapid-fire flow.

Just as remarkable, though, is Curry's live aptitude. Even under the fever of stage adrenaline that magnifies the executional warts of too many rappers, his verbal campaign of compression and fire stayed impressively on rails. Moreover, his custom visuals – a dystopic fantasy melt of The Boondocks, Terminator and first-person shooters – brought multimedia dimensionality to the show. Add it all up and it's total ignition. The kid is legit.

With a gorgeously thick modern psych-rock sound kin to acts like the Black Angels and the Warlocks, Miami's Heavy Drag (April 24, Will's Pub) stole the night last year at one of the Grand Collabs alongside equally excellent brother band the Grey 8s. What I learned later from the head of their label (buzz-worthy Miami upstart Limited Fanfare) is that Heavy Drag are what became of Lil Daggers, who were themselves a very good band that made some waves several years back, impressing in Orlando in 2011 and 2013. Over that time frame, the Daggers' psychedelic pulse had shifted from intensity toward heft, so Heavy Drag is a logical progression.

But while the Daggers buried their edges toward the end, Heavy Drag has threaded a smart needle on their way down into the druggy netherworld, punctuating their narcosis with power, noise and darkness. Their mammoth plod packs every bit of tonnage that their name promises, but they're also soaring and charged with guitars that peak at wuthering shoegaze heights. It's a well-tuned aesthetic and, live, it's gigantic.

The bill yielded a new find in Howling Midnight, an Orlando guitar-and-drums duo that plays dug-in, turned-up blues rock. Unlike the punk and garage underpinnings of the big-name twosomes out there, their strapping sound bears down with more straight rock power. However, despite the range this template usually implies, they actually showed more amplitude than you might expect, ably handling Motörhead-esque velocity as well as traditional rock & roll jump. One of the brawniest two-piece live acts seen around here in a long time, Howling Midnight could ride just as comfortably with the Black Keys as with Queens of the Stone Age. And I'm pretty sure hardly anyone realizes it yet.

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