This Little Underground: Forecast on Relief in Abstract

Plus live reviews of Go Radio’s Jason Lancaster, Savannah, a Hero’s Fate, Blackbird Blackbird, Beat Culture

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BLACKBIRD BLACKBIRD - Photo by James Dechert
Photo by James Dechert

More than congratulations, buzzing local label Relief in Abstract – which recently celebrated its third year (June 27, the Social) – deserves credit not just for continuance but for repping Orlando hard. That cover story we did on them last week revealed a potentially consequential revelation: that they never set out to be an electronic label and are specifically looking to outgrow that tag. If that big X-factor indeed plays out, it could be the next major local-music storyline. Stay tuned.

The Beat

Lately, I’ve been fortunate to report on good pop-punk around town, but I know it’s a lamentable minority these days (thanks, Hot Topic and Warped Tour). But, as my casino average attests, all hot streaks eventually end. And my latest one was snuffed by Orlando’s A Hero’s Fate (June 23, Backbooth), who happily bob along – preternaturally so – among the uninspired ocean of mall-stamped bop-rockers. Their melodies are affable in utterly unexceptional ways and their simple songs are riddled with time-stamped clichés. It’s not hard to see why so many kids get their feet wet with this kind of terminally formulaic, entry-level stuff, but no one should be listening to it once they’re old enough to go to the bar.

As dire as pop-punk is, though, pop-rock is even more dumbed by inundation, to the point of near-meaninglessness. However, local band Savannah does it with some dash and distinction, something that a sizable chunk of this crowd already knew. Fronted by – look out, ladies – twin versions of the kind of nice boy that all my ex-girlfriends’ parents probably wished their little girl had brought home instead, this sensitive, well-scrubbed group features open melodies, spilling hearts and, naturally, a piano. It’s music for good kids – which, you know, whatever – but it also happens to be pretty good.

As you are: Photos from Jason Lancaster and Savannah at Backbooth

I don’t want to imply that they’re too marshmallow, though, at least not in the comparative context of a bill headlined by Jason Lancaster. The musician known for bands like Mayday Parade and Go Radio, which dissolved in a cloud of bitter drama, is now solo and local. Longtime fans can board the train because his basic high-gloss emo-pop template seems unchanged, for what it’s worth. There was some nice pedal steel, for which I am a well-known sucker, but even that couldn’t lend his aesthetic much edge. At least he’s got a voice and sense of melody that beam with incandescence.

The calling card of San Francisco’s Blackbird Blackbird (June 24, Backbooth) is a song-smart approach to electronic music that takes pop songs and refracts them through the distilled, treated lenses of electronic genres ranging from chillwave to microhouse.

Onstage, he performs with actual instruments, including that institutional seal of live legitimacy: the guitar. For a one-man electronic act, that’s starting off way in the black. Oh shit, motherfucker sings too? That’s right. So take that, rockists. In so doing, he validates his live card with an organic take on a synthetic form, elevating a generally chill audience into a dance party and actually flashing some live visual appeal.

Rare candy: Photos from Blackbird Blackbird at Backbooth

Although he didn’t bring quite as much to look at, the music of direct opener and world citizen Beat Culture was the most commanding. This vehicle for producer Sunik Kim delivered on its name by strapping his tasteful synth walls with rumbling stabs of bass that kick so hard they’re as likely to loosen your teeth as they are to make you move. But beyond that immediate thunder, the notably well-crafted music on top is remarkable in itself.

After beginning with liquid, melodic breaks that would’ve owned the mid-’90s, he slinked into some modern, time-suspended sounds that are in direct lineage with Purity Ring, until finally riding out on a rising My Bloody Valentine-esque outro of beautiful static. He sings too, but the vocals were way low in the mix, or maybe the music’s heavenly notes and textures are the only things that could penetrate that serious low-end force field. Though he packs less visual spectacle than Blackbird Blackbird, his live technique is much more active and butterfly-fingered than most electronic artists. But that boom? Oh yeah.

Happy birthday, America!

About The Author

Bao Le-Huu

Music columnist.
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