This Little Underground

The newest sprout in the field of local labels is Second Subject Recordings ( The fact that its founder is Swamburger — the MC of Solillaquists of Sound and a significant scene-builder in his own right — makes it a particularly auspicious entry. Beyond just hip-hop or even music, the roster includes photographers, writers and fine artists alongside musical acts like DJ SPS, S.K.I.P., Kaleigh Baker and Adeem (of Glue). Welcome to the mix. We're listening.

The beat

Speaking of Swamburger, his big birthday bash (April 7, the Social) was a very local affair abuzz with music, art and culture. The bill featured a re-emergence of sorts for local backpacker S.K.I.P., who performed this time with an ace rhythm section anchored solidly by the Oaks' Matthew Antolick. It wasn't the first time the rapper's played with a live band -— he's had full-band aspirations for his musical vision for a long time now -— but the set showed that he has outgrown the basic plug-in-and-rap-over MC show, possibly for good, in itself a very positive development. This performance saw him manning more instruments in pursuit of greater texture. Moreover, some different flavors, like dub and reggae, have entered his vocabulary, giving needed depth and maturity to his game. All these signs make his nearly complete new album (Until the Very End) that much more of an intriguing release.

The generous two-set show by the Juke Joint Duo (April 8, the Social) was a stripped-down, fat-free performance by a couple of very commanding players: "Lightnin'?" Malcolm and Cedric Burnside. Looking at 'em on paper, you just gotta shake your head for Malcolm and utter the words "poor bastard." How daunting must it be to have to hold your own next to the grandson of blues heavy R.L. Burnside, particularly when said progeny has his own powerful, distinctive drumming style (derived from North Mississippi hill country blues)? It's an intimidating prospect, that's for goddamned sure. But listen to their music, especially live, and you'll realize that this white boy straight-up owns the guitar. Together, they make the blues alive again.

The Mississippi twosome may pack a deep respect for tradition, but they're clearly out to kick some ass of their own. Despite their unimpeachable individual chops, though, neither resorted to the kind of braggadocio and masturbation that rockers can't seem to resist. No, these two impress with groove, not wankery. And when they roll, that groove is unstoppable. If positioned right — and there's no reason why they couldn't be — this is one band that could both reinvigorate the old-timers and inspire the new school of indie fans.

And it was good to see an audience that, though small, was enthusiastic and invested, not to mention knowledgeable enough to recognize T-Model Ford's battle cry ("It's Jack Daniels time!") when it was dropped. A mere request for a sip of Beam by Burnside was all it took for both players to be faced with a line of shots from fans within minutes. There's no more universal way to communicate love than that.

Another band makin' it happen with only two members is Australia's An Horse (April 11, Back Booth). This little thoroughbred's just outta the gates with a recently released debut album (the outstandingly tight Rearrange Beds) but their propulsive, melody-driven indie rock is plucked from the '90s. The main reason to love this band is that they don't believe in wasting time — yours or theirs. With an efficient, song-based aesthetic that's as to-the-point as it gets, An Horse is the perfect opposite of self-indulgence. Between Damon Cox's dynamic drumming and Kate Cooper's insistent strumming and uncomplicated vocals, there are no protracted solos or left-field goof-offs, just razor-sharp pop songs that are brisk, tasteful and impeccably tuneful. Sometimes you can't ask for more than that. And it just goes to show that you can add all the players you want, but nothing fills a sound better than the right notes.

Headliner Appleseed Cast provided some moments of sonic enormity that would impress even the best post-rockers. But next to the concision of An Horse, the set by the Kansas act felt rambling and melodramatic.

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