FPSF 2014 Rundown, Pt. 4: Lord Huron + Destruction Unit + CHVRCHES + Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros + tUnE-yArDs + Jack White + More

rebelution1Okay, y’all — after a week of randomly-selected previews (see here, here, and here, plus interviews with Venomous Maximus and New York City Queens here and here (and there’s a more to come on that front), we’re nearly there. Free Press Summer Festival 2014 starts tomorrow, Saturday, May 31st, and runs through Sunday, June 1st, and it promises to be a weekend full of awesome music, great food, cool art, and mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud.

See, if you don’t live ’round here and are visiting Houston just for FPSF — and I know we get a ton of folks from elsewhere in Texas each year — it’s been pouring rain and flooding all week, and Eleanor Tinsley Park is mostly a multi-tiered bowl of, well, dirt and grass, on a good day. On a bad, wet day, it’s muddy as hell. FPSF a few years ago was similarly wet, and it was pretty rough. My advice to festival-goers would be to:

  • Wear clothes you don’t care all that much about
  • Bring a large ziplock bag (or, better yet, a drybag) to quickly jam your electronic and paper items into if the downpour starts
  • Don’t bother with an umbrella, unless you really want to be hauling it around all day
  • Mentally prepare yourself to be wet for multiple hours at a stretch

lordhuron1Beyond that, as well, you should make sure to bring sunscreen and bug spray — despite the water, the sun will burn you like the pitiless ball of otherworldly plasma it is. I’ve neglected the sunscreen a couple of times and always, always regretted it the next day. And thanks to all the water, there are guaranteed to be mosquitoes all over the goddamn place.

Okay, so I know I’m not making it sound real appealing, but even with the muck and heat and bugs, I’m still pretty psyched; you just need to be a little prepared, right? If you haven’t yet gotten your pass, by the way, you’d better do it now, because the FPSF organizers are predicting the whole thing will be sold out before the gates open tomorrow. Yep, for the second year in a row, it’s looking like the festival will be completely sold out. Damn, y’all.

Now, before we get going too far, I figured to hit some more of the coverage going on elsewhere, like we’ve done the past few days; there’s a fair amount of new stuff up today, and you should pay special attention to Houston Calling honcho/all-round good dude David Cobb, as he outlines what you should and shouldn’t bring to FPSF. Here’s the list:

yingyangtwins1Enough of that, but before we start back in with the previews, I wanted to point out that the FPSF folks are doing a something very cool with some of the proceeds from the concessions this year (not sure what percentage): part of it goes to some excellent nonprofit groups, including the Friends of Houston Public Library and S.A.F.E., both of which I happen to like a lot myself, and a whole slew of others. So kudos to Omar Afra and his crew of festival planners for that, and make sure you get your food on while you’re out there, eh?

Right. And now, here we go with the final pile; apologies to anybody we didn’t get to this year:

Rebelution
Alright, so I’d better get this out of the way first: reggae-rock bands are not my thing (unless they’re 24-7 Spyz or Bad Brains, and they’re generally not). So my hackles were raised pretty much right from the first dub-y bass line and languidly down-strummed guitar; visions of 311 and Slightly Stoopid swam in front of my eyes, and I prepared myself to write a quick brushoff of the band and skip on to the next one.

And yet, I didn’t. I still wouldn’t call myself a fan, honestly, but y’know, I’m kinda liking this. It’s obvious these guys truly love the music they’re playing, and they’re far more roots-reggae than rock (although they do have their 311-esque moments, they’re relatively few in recorded form, anyway), which I’m happy to hear. Beyond that, they’re ridiculously upbeat and positive, so much so that I find myself getting sucked into their cheery, heavy-lidded, One Love worldview. What really got me, though, was that on the deluxe version of their 2012 album Peace of Mind, they do a whole set of acoustic versions of all of the album tracks, immediately after the “electrified” versions, and holy crap are those songs nice done acoustically. Suddenly I’m reminded of Venice Shoreline Chris and Bob Marley more than anything, and that’s no bad place to be. (Jeremy H.)
[Rebelution plays at 3:20PM on Sat., May 31st, at the Saturn Stage.]
 

Lord Huron
Another one of my top five must-see acts of FPSF 2014, Lord Huron, who hail from Los Angeles, play widescreen spaghetti Western songs in the vein of Fleet Foxes and FPSF 2013 highlight The Head and the Heart. Lord Huron’s singer, Ben Schneider, has a voice very similar to Jackson Browne and writes catchy, breezy, acoustic-based songs that will be very welcome in the heat of summer. (Jason S.)
[Lord Huron plays at 3:30PM on Sat., May 31st, at the Mars Stage.]
 

destructionunit1Ying Yang Twins
I’ll freely admit to not knowing much about Atlanta’s Ying Yang Twins, beyond the whole Lil Jon association. Hell, I’ve never really been into crunk, to be honest, so this one’s kinda iffy in general for me… That said, the twins are pretty damn good at what they do, mashing together hip-hop braggadocio and lyricism with those Miami-sounding, bouncing-ball house beats and a shitload of sex. It booms and clanks and grinds along like the lovechild of rap and techno, and it’s freaking hard to not move along with it, even if you’re a rhythmless geek like yours truly. (Jeremy H.)
[Ying Yang Twins play at 5PM on Sat., May 31st, at the Mercury Stage.]
 

Destruction Unit
It all makes sense now. I’d been listening to Destruction Unit for a little while before bothering to do any research on the band, figuring I’d let the music speak for itself — and it did, loudly, with a squall of white noise, swirling guitar sounds, bombastic, Nick Cave-ish vocals, and thundering, skull-cracking drums piling on top of surprisingly melodic riffs until they’re damn near invisible. Where the hell did these guys come from, anyway?

Arizona, it turns out, and yeah, that’s where it all started to click for me. See, my Uncle Bill lives way the fuck out in the Arizona desert (my iPhone literally says “screw it” and refuses to show the road he lives on), out where there’s nothing but weird, sketchy little shacks, menacing-looking bikers, meth labs, vultures, and that unrelenting goddamn heat. To me, it sure sounds like Destruction Unit hail from that Arizona, the part out beyond the strip-malls and golf courses where the desert starts to take over. They’re deafeningly loud and messy as hell, a roaring vortex of psych-noise majesty that threatens to melt your brain inside your skull. And when that happens, you’ll love every second. (Jeremy H.)
[Destruction Unit plays at 2PM on Sat., May 31st, at the Venus Stage.]
 

grandoldgrizzly1aGrand Old Grizzly
These days there’s a ridiculously deep well of country-folk/Americana-rock music flowing out of this city, so much so that it’s made me seriously reevaluate my long-held loathing of most things labeled “country music.” People like Buxton and Second Lovers and The Small Sounds and Miss Leslie have all opened my eyes to how great this kind of music can be, in the right hands, and it seems like every few weeks another band appears that furthers that realization for me.

Grand Old Grizzly is one of the more recent arrivals, a pseudo-supergroup made up of four longtime scene veterans who’ve done time in a ton of other bands (especially guitarist/singer Paul Beebe, who’s also in the aforementioned Small Sounds alongside bassist Mark Riddell). That experience shows in the music, thankfully, and it rolls on warm and gentle and effortless; there’s a distinct Uncle Tupelo influence, to my ears, in the story-songs and in frontman Will Thomas‘s low-key-yet-confident vocals. Looking forward to seeing/hearing what they’re like live. (Jeremy H.)
[Grand Old Grizzly plays at 12:30PM on Sun., June 1st, at the Saturn Stage.]
 

chvrches1CHVRCHES
Hot and getting hotter, CHVRCHES, everyone’s favorite female-fronted Glasgwegian synthpop band, played here in town to a sold-out House of Blues (and Cactus Records) only six months ago. How lucky are we to get a repeat visit so soon? The band is among my top five must-see acts at FPSF this year. It’s all thanks to their singer, Lauren Mayberry — her sweet beauty and her even sweeter voice. Oh, and there’s a couple of guys on either side of her playing synthesizers and hitting a bunch of buttons on some computer/music devices. Watching them play, I wonder how much Iain Cook and Martin Doherty are doing live versus what’s a backing track? And are those sequencers quantized, or do they have to hit those tiny buttons at the exact instant they’re supposed to? Definitely catch CHVRCHES this weekend. (Jason S.)
[CHVRCHES plays at 4:30PM on Sat., May 31st, at the Neptune Stage.]
 

MAKE
Dangit. Do you know how freaking hard it is to Google somebody who goes by the name MAKE? I stumbled my way through three different bands called “MAKE” before realizing none of ’em where who I was looking for, which is actually one guy, a Houstonian who seemingly goes both by the name MAKE and MKEBEATS.

I’m liking the latter name better, personally, because it pretty well encapsulates what he does — this is electronic music, definitely, but it’s hard to envision it as EDM, really, unless you want everybody on the dancefloor twitching and convulsing like they’ve been lit up with a live wire. The beats skitter and dodge, weaving in and out in patterns a whole lot more complex than most of the other producers playing this year’s FPSF; think Aphex Twin or Squarepusher more than Skrillex or Diplo. (Jeremy H.)
[MAKE plays at 1:10PM on Sun., June 1st, at the Mercury Stage.]
 

edwardsharpeandthemagneticzeros1Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Quick; imagine what it might be like if there was this messianic, shambolic, Californian (naturally) cult/collective where all the members got up on stage and played songs that sounded simultaneously like old-school soul, Phil Spector-esque pop, and hazy ’60s psych-folk, turning them into soaring, beautifully-layered (but still rough-edged) anthems to the impermanence of things and the beauty of life as it is. Think The Polyphonic Spree but with fewer robes and less sunshine, and a whole lot more real-world . Got that? Yeah, that’s Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros in a nutshell, and what a glorious, sublimely fun nutshell it is. It feels weird to even type this, but “Life Is Hard” may well be the most uplifting song I’ve heard in the last couple of years. (Jeremy H.)
[Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros plays at 6:40PM on Sun., June 1st, at the Mars Stage.]
 

tUnE-yArDs
I almost didn’t volunteer to write up tUnE-yArDs (the brainchild of Merrill Garbus) for this FPSF preview. I love her new album, Nikki-Nack, but dang, it’s hard to find words to describe the music on her amazing third LP. She writes these extremely difficult, almost “jump-rope rhymes,” such as on her first single from Nikki-Nack, “Water Fountain”. I can just picture the double-dutch going on to the sound of it, but these aren’t your average imaginary rope-jumpers. These prodigies are future students at Berklee School of Music in Boston with talent beyond their years. It’s super-catchy, and when it’s over, I hit “Repeat,” and if there was a button called “Three-peat,” I would click that button instead. I can’t wait to see this one live! After a little research, it turns out that Garbus wrote the album in Haiti. Ah, it all makes sense. On other tracks, there’re influences like trip-hop, as on another highlight, “Sink-O,” which also has a playground rhyme feel, too, with unbelievable harmonies and rhythms. Make sure you don’t miss tUnE-yArDs! (Jason S.)
[tUnE-yArDs plays at 3:50PM on Sun., June 1st, at the Neptune Stage.]
 

uhhuhher1Uh Huh Her
To start with, I should say that Uh Huh Her is about as far as I’d expected from Leisha Halley, once upon a time of ’90s indie-pop duo The Murmurs; there’s no alternative pop-rock here, but rather shimmery-shiny, ultra-clean, sultry electro-pop that lives somewhere between Metric and the more overtly ’80s sound of La Roux. There’s an intriguing Tori Amos/Kate Bush influence going throughout, too, especially in the vocals, and some seriously robotic keys — the combination makes new album Future Souls sound at times like some long-lost album of James Bond flick theme songs from the ’80s Roger Moore era. And yeah, that’s better than it sounds, trust me. (Jeremy H.)
[Uh Huh Her plays at 3:40PM on Sat., May 31st, at the Venus Stage.]
 

Carnival Talk
They’re apparently from Houston, but Carnival Talk has managed to fly completely under my radar until now, which (not to toot my own horn or anything) is a little surprising, really. Even now, I don’t know much at all about the band, beyond the fact that they’re apparently a duo — Chris Watts and Molly Gavin — and they’ve only got a handful of songs available so far.

Music-wise, they’re another electro-pop outfit, balancing Gavin’s soulful-but-icy vocals with some weirdly experimental, almost creepy synth beds that click and clack when you’d expect ’em to gush and fuzz out. It’s intriguing stuff, and despite the fact that bands in this genre are thick on the ground this year, they definitely stand out. (Jeremy H.)
[Carnival Talk plays at 11:20AM on Sat., May 31st, at the Jupiter Stage.]
 

jackwhite1Jack White
Alright, alright, so I’m breaking the damn rules for this last one. What can I say? Jack White is — to my mind, anyway — the main headliner for all of FPSF 2014, but my wonderfully random band-selection methodology didn’t have him on the list to preview for quite a while yet. So fuck it: rules are made to be broken, son.

Of course, I’d also suspect that 90% of the people coming to Eleanor Tinsley this weekend are well aware of who White is, whether it’s from The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, his collaborations with everybody from Loretta Lynn to Alicia Keys to Stephen Colbert, or his own solo albums. And if you’ve heard the guy perform, yeah, you’ve undoubtedly got an opinion; he’s just that kind of musician.

For my part, while I wouldn’t go so far as to declare him a genius, I admire the hell out of Jack White. He’s got an undeniable vision of what he thinks music should sound like, and he’s so insanely prolific and quirky and wide-ranging that it’s ridiculous; and with that much music being produced, even if not all of it’s great, a shitload of it is. The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells remains one of my favorite albums of all time, period, and is one of the few I can honestly listen to from start to finish and love it the whole way through.

I haven’t been as keen on The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather, I’ll grant, but I’ve liked quite a bit of the solo stuff, and 2012’s Blunderbuss was pretty excellent, as are the handful of new tracks he’s released this year. The raw desperation of “Lazaretto,” in particular, odd production and all, grabs hold and refuses to let go. Get up front early for White’s set on Sunday, because it’s going to be a madhouse. (Jeremy H.)
[Jack White plays at 8:40PM on Sun., June 1st, at the Mars Stage.]
 

And that’s it for our FPSF Rundowns for this year; see y’all out and about tomorrow & Sunday…

(Photos [top to bottom]: Rebelution; Lord Huron; Ying Yang Twins; Destruction Unit; Grand Old Grizzly; CHVRCHES; Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros; Uh Huh Her; Jack White. Destruction Unit photo by Pooneh Ghana.)


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