This Little Underground

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This week, I rescued two huge turtles from becoming road pies, so you know some good juju was coming my way. Karma arrived in a parade of five-star local and national acts.

The beat

When Wisconsin's Bon Iver first emerged last year, the debut album by Justin Vernon's abstract folk project was a grower, not a shower. Atmosphere and nuance aren't always qualities that leap out of the noisy white ether. Still, those with longer attention spans were rewarded with a lovely little record.

But live, absolutely everything Vernon's striving for makes complete sense (June 8, Plaza Theatre). At a louder volume and executed by his phenomenal band, his music is totally engrossing. What feels like dream-state drifting on record is powerfully alive and human in person. There's a wondrous infinity in Bon Iver's spaciousness, every movement pregnant with meaning. This is where you can truly hear the sound of one man trying to keep the surrounding cold at bay with his own emotional force. There were even occasional crests that achieved the triumphant emotional heights that Band of Horses does so well. Like Iron & Wine, Bon Iver works quietude into magic, and Vernon's eerily beautiful falsetto is one of the most exceptional voices in music today.

Despite being openly esoteric, NYC's Animal Collective (June 10, Club Firestone) has miraculously caught fire, drawing a capacity crowd here. Their occasionally dazzling sonic embroidery shouldn't be undersold. More than just arty diversions, their layering is an inspired exercise in texture that rightfully places them at the head of the indie world when it comes to sheer imagination. But behind all that sparkling aural weirdness, there's an irrepressible joyousness that can fill your head. Their latest work blends light beams of sound and Gordian interplays capable of limitless unfolding into a celestial blur that occasionally comes into focus to reveal sharp melodicism. When the music was peaking and the visuals were popping, it was an intelligent sensory experience that nearly triggered a flashback. (Just kidding, Ma!) By showing that exploration doesn't have to come at the cost of coherence, Animal Collective has finally reached a fresh redefinition of pop music. Making experimental music a welcoming proposition is a rare ability.

The same thing can't be said about opening act Black Dice, who somehow managed to try too hard despite making very little effort. Being conceptual is only meaningful when there's substance behind the concept. Absent that, it's bullshit, and Black Dice is just arthouse jive. I'm often criticized for my contempt for hollow commercial music, but I have the same lack of patience for faux-intellectual pretension.

Local band History is now precisely that, and all the people who never went to their shows actually came out to their final performance (June 12, Redlight Redlight) in a parting sign of support. Better late than never, I guess. Though it was an impassioned show, I hate saying farewell to one of Orlando's smarter bands. Thanks for bringing ideas to the table, History.

To make up for the loss, lemme introduce you to two exciting new locals: Cotton Candy Cookies & Cream (June 13, Will's Pub) is an outstanding trio whose psychedelic sound, though lush with the obligatory atmosphere and narcosis, still rocks hard. Instead of mere sonic backdrop like many of their ilk, there's an assertive thrust in their propulsive rhythms and noisy guitar licks that makes their peers seem pointless. It's an equation that puts as much emphasis on mind-expanding washes as it does unpredictable sonic roars. Their music's definitely all about the trip, just on harder drugs.

Singer-guitarist Jennifer Hathaway (ex-Fantasie) has always been one of the city's best rockers, female or otherwise, and it's great to see her re-emerge and front a prime contender. This project mines her vocal virtues more than any other band I've seen her in, and that's a good thing.

Opening act Dr. Moonstien is an experimental duo, much like the newly outstanding Handsome Furs, with some eccentricities that might impress Quintron. Soulful, tortured wails breathed maximum drama into a mix of cracked electronics, synthetic rhythms that throbbed with vitality and massive sonic shifts that thrilled as much as Fuck Buttons. With a musical vision that's both original and cohesive, Dr. Moonstien seriously has the stuff to break out beyond the regional level.

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About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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