THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND 


These days, nothing is certain in the music industry. That’s why I’ve been watching RCRD LBL (www.rcrdlbl.com) – an online record label that offers free, legal music – for a while now to see if it would become anything worth your time. Now only six short months old, this baby has blown up. It’s a new business model that lassoes the underdog ethos championed by the electronic revolution. Of course, none of this would matter much if the music was unremarkable. But thanks to judicious curating, RCRD LBL’s roster is anything but unremarkable, with many of the hottest indie artists today comprising its stable of nearly 500 acts. Can’t beat free, legal AND good.

The beat

Got the rope. Got a sturdy ceiling beam. But does anyone around here know how to tie a noose, fer chrissakes? Because listening to dreck like the Aubrey Drive makes me wanna hang myself. The four-piece came up from sunny, moneyed and boring West Palm Beach to gig the Social April 9, where they dog-paddled pathetically around the wading pool of emo-based modern rock. The playing was competent but their concept is bankrupt. Be warned, kids: The seeming harmlessness of this kind of fare is nothing to take lightly. Let it in and it will rob your soul. And give you rickets.

Before them, local act Celebrity Autopsy offered a weird blend of glam, ’80s new wave and bad ’90s rock. What they lacked in music, they attempted to compensate for in wardrobe. The kindest thing I can say about this band is that they made me hungry, but that’s only because the drummer was dressed as a big slice of pizza. Wait, I take that back. Singer Fancy Francis Dangerpance pretty much precluded any sort of appetite by poncing about in a pink jumpsuit that hugged his package in a disturbing Ace-and-Gary sorta way. Nothing gets the skin crawling quite like man-cameltoe … yeesh! The costumes? Worth a chuckle. The music? Errrmmm … no.

The antithesis to this vulgarity came in the form of a bill on April 11 at the stately Plaza Theatre featuring two artists whose work is built on subtlety and intricacy.

The experimentalism of Chicago post-rock act Califone explores folk and blues. In a quality set, their sound was earthy and aboriginal, with banjos and slides, but the musical ideas expressed were abstract.

The big draw, however, was headliner Iron & Wine. It’s extraordinary how something that started out as starkly intimate has blossomed into an indie success story. The early hissy lo-fi solo recordings of principal songwriter and former Florida resident Sam Beam that caught the underground’s attention almost sounded like they were never made for anyone else to hear. However, in the expansion of their increasingly panoramic sound, something’s been lost.

In fairness, the current aesthetic is indeed a leap of light-years in terms of craftsmanship. It’s just that there was a lucidity to Beam’s earlier microcosmic sound that, though barely whispered, could stop you dead in your tracks. It was such an effective contrast to the loud maelstrom of modernity that when he first came onto the scene, I just knew this was something special. At that time, a bar filled to capacity with young people silently transfixed by the quietest of folk music was an astounding thing to see. To be among them, in that same head space, was near transcendence.

That was then. Now Iron & Wine has gone all symphonic on us. Rather than mood and intimacy, the focus has shifted resolutely toward groove and polyrhythmic complexity. The music has adopted distinctly African undercurrents, and though it isn’t nearly as cloying as Vampire Weekend or Paul Simon, there were a few live moments that nudged that line.

I’m not knocking the band, mind you. Their music continues to be interesting, unique and substantive, only in a vastly different way than it started. This performance was an impressive ensemble display – particularly in a proper theater setting – that validated every ounce of acclaim that’s been heaped on them.

Still, despite all the many dramatic instrumental developments in their sound, the richest, most significant development is the expressional deepening of Beam’s voice. What was once quivering shyness – albeit affecting and endearing – is now assured emoting. Imagine how exquisite that voice would sound sitting atop only the most minimal of instrumentation. In the meantime, imagine is what we’ll have to do.

baolehuu@orlandoweekly.com

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