FPSF 2017 Rundown, Pt. 1: Mod Sun + Camera Cult + DREAMERS + Us. + Bad Suns + Hurray For The Riff Raff + Tove Lo + Lorde + Cage The Elephant + Solange

Alright, people — we’re doing this, dammit. If this feels like it’s getting off to a late start, well, it kind of is, partly because we here at SCR have been having to shift focus to and from all the other festivals going on around here lately, and that’s pushed this back a bit.

But here we are now, with FPSF looming in the not-too-distant, er, distance (specifically, Saturday, June 3rd, and Sunday, June 4th), and it is time once again for our round of randomly-selected previews of as many acts playing this year’s FPSF as humanly possible without melting our brains/ears. For the moment, the previewage will be handled by yours truly, Jeremy Hart, but I’m hoping to drag a couple other folks into the madness before we finish things.

Before we kick things off, I got word today that the FPSF organizers have released a handful(?) of VIP Tickets for this weekend, which were previously sold out and which you can grab on over here should you feel so inclined.

Now, I’ve only ever had a VIP wristband once for FPSF, and I didn’t realize what all it would get me until it was too late — I was seriously pissed to discover that I could’ve gone backstage (or at least side-stage) with it, although I dunno if it’ll still let you do that these days. The details of what VIP status gets you is here (it’s the second level down, below the Platinum level, which I think replaces the old High Roller level they had for a few years there).

While we’re at it, now seems like a good time to post the official-shmofficial FPSF 2016 recap video, in case you haven’t seen it before now. Hell, I was there and I didn’t see much of this (I was sick and had to leave early both nights, sadly)…

And now, I’d like to offer up a sincere prayer to the Rain Gods, considering the storm that blew through just this past weekend:

O ye weepy majesties of begrayed skies and turgid waters, hear thine benighted servant! Thy faithful believers beseech ye to spare our poor souls, ye masters of all things liquid, to keep thy filthy, destructive floodwaters from our lintels and back patios and vehicles! We humbly beg that thee pour out thy fury on our sere brethren to the west in San Antonio, or better still, to the northwest in Austin, where ye lakes and rivers run low these recent years…

Ahem. Okay, now that that’s done, let’s get moving:

Mod Sun
How’s this for a career trajectory: post-hardcore drummer to pot dealer to drum tech to post-hardcore drummer to laidback rapper opening for the previous post-hardcore band at all their shows? That’s pretty much how things have progressed for Dylan Smith, aka Mod Sun (or “MOD SUN,” since it’s supposedly an acronym for “Movement on dreams, stand under none”), up to this point. Honestly, after hearing about the guy and briefly checking out his nouveau-hippie, trippy, “enlightened” take on hip-hop, I halfway figured it was all an extremely elaborate in-joke.

Now, though, I’m not so sure. This year’s Movies is seemingly unafraid of any damn thing, seeing Smith rapping thoughtfully about life, love, drugs, and all the rest in that languid, half-raspy voice of his, kind of landing somewhere in the middle between fellow Minnesotan Slug of Atmosphere, Macklemore, and the loverman side of, say, Shaggy. The beats are trippy and chilled-out like a retooled De La Soul, the message is positive and just-do-whatever cheery, and yeah, the whole thing is surprisingly addictive. I swear to God, I didn’t think I’d like this at all, in any way, and yet…yeah, I am.
[Mod Sun plays at 12PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]

Camera Cult
Been meaning to see these guys for a while now, and sadly, the timing’s just never worked out, y’know? I’d heard good things, and listening now, yeah, I can see why. The band’s retro-’80s electro-pop isn’t quite what I’d expected to be hearing, it’s true, but damn, it works, even still. It’s bright and shiny and bouncy, like a friendlier, more relatable Chromeo, or near-neighboring Austin band Sphynx but with more of a Prince influence.

Which, to be fair, isn’t really so much my cup of tea, but I can’t help but be drawn in by tracks like “Vice Grips” or new single “Camaro”. The song that really sold me, though, is last year’s “Don’t Hang Out,” which comes off like Hall & Oates but not in a dear-god-please-no kind of way. It’s music that not only sounds like it came from the ’80s but that it would’ve been really freaking good back then, too. Camera Cult aren’t just aping a sound for the sake of money or snark; they really, really love this stuff, and it shows.
[Camera Cult plays at 11:10AM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Mercury Stage.]

I’m kind of torn when it comes to DREAMERS, I have to say. On the one hand, when I listen to 2016’s This Album Does Not Exist, I feel like I’m playing spot-the-influences on every damn track: for “Drugs,” I’m thinking Weezer, or maybe Everclear; “Never Too Late to Dance” sounds damn near like a response to Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance,” right down to the rhythm and vocalsl; “Cry Out for Me” seriously sounds like vintage Interpol; you get the gist. The band jumps between a whole bunch of pop-rock styles, and every time they do, there’re some pretty obvious influences going on. They’re like a modern-day Stone Temple Pilots.

On the other hand, I do like this. DREAMERS may sound like a whole lot of other bands from track to track, but they’re really, really good at it, y’know? Which beats the STP comparison, because I’ve never liked those guys — they always felt like hacks, to me. DREAMERS, for their part, write some ridiculously catchy, entertaining songs, and even if they went through saying, “okay, so this song should sound like Weezer” (which I doubt; I fully expect it’s not a conscious thing), well, they’ve pulled it off amazingly well. Case in point: “Drugs” has been stuck in my head for days now, and it’s sharp and smart and impossible to shake. So maybe I just need to get over my whole influence-spotting thing and take DREAMERS as they are, which is a pretty good band on its own.
[DREAMERS plays at 12:50PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Neptune Stage.]

There’ve been some pretty significant changes since the first time I encountered Us. (or -Us., or US., I dunno which is correct), otherwise known as Avery Davis. Back then, he was more of a folk-pop kind of guy, with one foot in a roots-pop/Americana kind of realm (see “Emory Peak,” from back in 2015 or so, with its gentle guitars and vocals) and the other in a sort of electro-ish, Freelance Whales-esque place.

Nowadays, he’s not only embraced the latter and pretty much left the former behind, but he’s gone a bit further into the whole electro-pop thing, mutating both from the rootsy folk-guitar stuff and the skittering, pretty Four Tet-isms of 2014’s V.XXVII.IX EP into something that’s a whole lot more straight-up synthpop (although yes, there are still guitars peeking in around the edges). On about-to-be-released EP Contact, Davis croons delicately like a vintage New Romantic while fuzzy-edged synths slide in and out, over sparkling-clean, ’80s-inspired beats. And while I was skeptical at first, Davis pulls it together and makes it damn good, all slick sweetness and retro-pop coolness. If you’d told me a few years back where he’d be now, I might not’ve been real excited about it; now that he’s here, I’m all good.
[-Us. plays at 12:20PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Mercury Stage.]

Bad Suns
So, first up, I feel compelled to admit that I thought — for reasons totally unclear to me now — that Bad Suns was a reggae-rock band. Why? Again, I have no freaking idea; maybe there’s a band out there with a similar name, maybe? I dunno.

Whatever reasoning my fevered brain was working under, I wish it had cut that shit out before now, because I am really liking the hell out of this L.A. quartet. They’re warm and melodic in the best way, making me think of Jimmy Eat World’s cheerier moments at times, but with vocals that bring to mind The Outfield at times and later-period Modest Mouse at others. The guitars, for their part, are OK Go-level fierce and right up there in your ears, distorted just that perfect amount to give it bite. Then there’re times when I think of The 1975, or Talking Heads, or…okay, you probably get the idea. Bad Suns take a whole lot of pieces from a whole lot of places, but then they assemble ’em together into something that, while it may not be entirely new, is definitely different from a lot of the cookie-cutter crap floating around out there. I’m sold.
[Bad Suns plays at 1:20PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

Hurray For The Riff Raff
There’s a great, great sense of story to Hurray For The Riff Raff‘s latest album, The Navigator; listening to frontwoman/songwriter Alynda Segarra, I feel like I’m listening to Springsteen unwind his tales of darkened roads and simple, broken people. The songs are gritty and real, like you’re hearing about the true life of the main character (whose name, apparently, is a girl named Navita). All together, it’s strange but sweet, filled with regret but still hoping for a resolution.

On top of that, the music’s astoundingly lush and layered — on “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl,” for one, there’s this perfect horn(?) sound in the chorus, and it comes in out of nowhere but feels like it’s exactly where it needs to be. Once the samba beat kicks in…well, holy crap. And then there’s the tango of the title track, which is all sinister foreboding and yearning, or the street-level rock of “Hungry Ghost,” which heads down the alleyway just to see what the hell’s down there. I almost worry that Hurray For The Riff Raff’s music may not work all that well in the bright light of day, exposed and starkly lit in the H-town sunshine, but at the same time, I’m not going to miss it.
[Hurray For The Riff Raff plays at 1:20PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]

Tove Lo
Then, switching gears pretty monumentally, there’s Tove Lo. Which leads me to a story, actually — see, Ms. Lo (aka Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson) has played FPSF before, back in 2015. At the time, she was riding some pretty mainstream success, in part because her song “Scream My Name” was featured on the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay; my daughter was a fan largely because of that song, and she and my wife both listened to her pretty regularly (well, to an extent, but we’ll get to that). Because of them, I made sure to catch Tove Lo’s set at FPSF, and standing on the outskirts of the crowd, I noticed a whole slew of parent-looking people with little kids, tweens and under, all bopping along to the music and seemingly having a blast.

Which was great, until Lo got to “Talking Body,” and it turns out the version the kid, the wife, and I — and, I’m guessing, most of the kids and parents out that day to see the show — had heard was the radio edit of the song. In the non-radio version, which she does live, the line “If you love me right / We love for life” is actually “If you love me right / We fuck for life”. So during her performance, that’s what she sang, loud and clear, and then proceeded to flash the crowd, on top of that…both of which had a bunch of parents scrambling to grab their little ones and haul ’em off out of earshot. It was really fucking funny, honestly.

Now, as for Tove Lo’s music, I’m mostly pretty “eh” on it, I’m afraid. “Talking Body” is okay, and what I’ve heard so far off the terribly-titled Lady Wood is decently danceable pop, but nothing I’d listent to willingly. I will say, however, that I appreciate her forthrightness about sex; there’s no need for shame on that front, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s cool that she’s as in-your-face as she is about it. In a way, she’s remarkably subversive, this seemingly shiny-pretty pop diva who’s actually very, very dark and sexual, and while I’m not a fan, that kind of boundary-pushing’s no bad thing, in my book.
[Tove Lo plays at 4:40PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Budweiser Stage.]

While she mines a somewhat-similarly dark vein of pop, NZ songstress Lorde is a pretty far cry from the previous artist, although I’ll admit I didn’t think so, at first. I just about dismissed Lorde out of hand the first few times I heard her, tagging her as yet another one-hit pop wonder and moving on to other things.

A couple of years on, now, and I’ve had to revise my opinion, because it turns out she’s a whole lot weirder and — because of that, a bit — more interesting. Her music is addictive, sure, with just the right amounts of melody, clicky beats, and youthful energy, but it’s also combative, with Lorde constantly challenging the listener, the object of the song, or whoever or whatever else. There’s a sharp knife edge to all of it, even the most unassuming pop tunes in the pile, and yeah, I’m liking that; just when you think it’s sweet and pretty and nothing, it cuts you and leaves you wondering what the fuck happened. Only by then, well, it’s all moved on to something else, so you have no choice but to just run to try to catch up. Right?
[Lorde plays at 8:30PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

Cage The Elephant
So, this one’s not quite what I’d expected. Granted, most of what I know of Cage The Elephant is from their self-titled 2009 debut, which was down-and-dirty, kinda-bluesy, city-streets-dwelling rawk (and yeah, “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” is a fine, fine song, even now), somewhere between The Stooges and The White Stripes. Fast-forward to now, though, and 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, and things are a little bit different.

Nowadays, Cage The Elephant is still a rock band, to be sure, but there’s less of the dirt and more of a haze to the music, with the band members reaching back to ’60s/’70s psychedelia, with a bit of a nod towards old-school soul and R&B, as well. I find myself thinking of The Dutchess & The Duke, for one, and The Animals, for another, and I’m totally good with both — I’m finding myself enjoying the heck out of the still-gritty but more pensive, more heartfelt, more thoughtful vibe of Pretty, far, far more than I’d expected to. No idea if it’ll translate live, but heck, it’s got me pretty damn interested to find out, at the very least.
[Cage The Elephant plays at 9:30PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

Despite the fact that she’s from right here in Houston and grew up with probably the single most famous Houstonian, I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard Solange, the younger of the Knowles sisters. That’s not intentional or anything; I’ve just never had cause to really listen to her music before now, honestly. And now that I have, I’m intrigued.

Solange definitely isn’t her sister, and hey, I think that’s a good thing. Her most recent album, A Seat at the Table, is more low-key soulful, more funk, more gospel-tinged, more jazzy, and more straight-up smart than anything coming from that other member of the family. It’s peaceful and mellow, despite the undercurrent of anger and tension simmering right under the surface, with Knowles seemingly warning the listener where the lines are — see “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “Don’t Wish Me Well,” and “Don’t You Wait”. This, along with the little spoken-word interviews with friends and family about racism and being African-American, makes the album feel like Solange is staking out her own personal territory, both musically and philosophically. That’s never a bad thing.
[Solange plays at 6:30PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Budweiser Stage.]

And that right there is Pile #1 done; we’ll attempt to get Pile #2 up online as soon as humanly possible, so check on back.

(Photos: DREAMERS photo by Justin Wilczynski; -Us. photo by Jay Tovar; Hurray For The Riff Raff photo by Robin Laananen; Cage The Elephant photo by Ira Chernova.)

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