I talk a lot about focus here. It's one of the criteria I respect most in not just art, but in all human endeavor. By that metric alone, Earth should probably be in the hall of fame because likely no other band's mapped the depth and nuance of the riff as creatively and comprehensively as these legendary drone-metal minimalists.
Choosing Orlando again as their only Florida date (Sept. 2, Will's Pub), the venerated Seattle band returned to a capacity congregation ready to be tranced. Bringing these seekers are Earth's famously heavy sonic trips, which reflect anything but the typical song arc. They're barely lyrical and not especially musical. But in experiential terms, it's pure hypnotic sensation.
Live, they alter perception more convincingly than some drugs I've taken. Planetary rotation feels like it tangibly slows once they begin. You start to feel incrementally descending changes – first to your consciousness, then to your physiology. This all sounds like total sweat-lodge babble when I read these words at my desk the next day, but, trust me, it was very real in the moment. Buddhists have their meditations; metalheads have Earth.
Tilling some equally rare soil was opener Holy Sons, the personal project of Grails' Emil Amos. In a wondrously narcotic set, they struck an intriguing and improbable balance that piles deep sonic heft onto ideas that are otherwise atmospheric and spacious to astonishingly natural result. Droning and soulful in thick blues abstraction, it was an emotionally transporting headspace that rolled like a boulder in slow-mo.
Although they need a few more practices, local opener Secret Tracers is definitely onto the right idea. Merging psychedelic doom with some garage bite, they're game to drop a kind of heaviness that no one around here is currently doing. If they can dial it in a little more, they'll be a force.
Cursive's spot in the American indie-rock canon is a pretty easy case. The Good Life (Sept. 1, the Social) – the lesser of Tim Kasher's bands – isn't so much, and it's not because it's intrinsically gentler. Even if the sad-sack stuff isn't your kind of bleeding, the personal emotion is clearly there. The music, however, has seldom matched that urge. While the feelings were complete, the songs were half-cooked and just never quite hit home.
But after an extended writing lull, the Good Life reemerges with surprising new breath on their first new album in eight years (the recently released Everybody's Coming Down). The first revelation is that it's an actual rock record, with a brawnier sonic footprint that includes '90s-style guitars filled with the kind of thickness, groan and left turns that would impress even Pavement. The other is that it's also their first truly collective effort. Turns out, the balanced blood is a very welcome transfusion, producing music that's better built, less insular and just more engaging. And all of that translated live, where they looked and sounded invigorated. Oh, look, I felt something.
Speaking of change, Omaha-connected opener Big Harp is developing quite a reputation for shapeshifting. In principle, I like their stated creative mission of focusing the band only on where they are, not where they've been. The practical results, though, can be disorienting and thwarting. Moreover, artists who change face so impulsively run the risk of seeming forever beta and embryonic.
Since 2011, Big Harp has been crafting woozy alternative twang that started out simmering but has gradually picked up pulse and texture. Now, on their brand-new album Waveless, they've taken their hardest, widest turn yet, completely jettisoning their previous foundation and breaking onto a new plane altogether. Their new fuzzed-out sound is deliriously psychedelic indie rock that would be at home among the more rambunctious rock fringes of the Elephant 6 collective. More unexpected than the pivot, though, is how cogent of a fit it is for them.
At their Orlando debut, they did the new direction justice by cranking it out with even more jump and vibrance in a Technicolor burst of loopy melodic fun and excellent guitar frenzy. Funny how a bull's-eye can resolve everything.