FPSF 2017 Rundown, Pt. 2: K.I.D. + Bang Bangz + Aminé + Coast Modern + Night Drive + Grouplove + Rose Ette + G-Eazy + Frightened Rabbit + Echos

Here we are, again, back with another randomly-chosen look at the bands and musicians who’ll be up at Eleanor Tinsley Park (hopefully) on the edge of Downtown this weekend — Saturday, June 3rd, and Sunday, June 4th — for the musical festival-type thing known as FPSF.

This is our second installment, the first being over here if you feel like reading it, as well; oh, and I went and blathered a whole bunch about all of my favorite bands/performances/moments over here, like the time Curt Smith of Tears for Fears talked about how Houston was hot as balls. Ah, memories.

I went looking for other coverage of this year’s FPSF, and weirdly, I wasn’t able to find a whole lot, especially not when compared to the coverage in years past. I will give kudos to the Houston Chronicle and Free Press Houston for writing about the festival, esp. since I know the Chron‘s Andrew Dansby isn’t keen on FPSF this year, and the Free Press folks reportedly no longer run the show (and yes, David Garrick is a freaking machine).

As for the rest, though… I dunno. A lot of outlets that have regularly written about the festival in previous years haven’t posted a damn thing. Some of that’s because a number of them no longer exist, it’s true, but the relative quiet weirds me out a little, honestly, because regardless of how FPSF might’ve changed over the years, and regardless of whether it’s still “relevant” (whatever the fuck that means), it is still hands-down the biggest, best music festival this city has. Criticism is fine — hell, even warranted — but snubbing a festival because it’s not cool anymore or something seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Anyway, here’s what I was able to dig up that’s relatively recent:

Alright, now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on it:

K.I.D.
First off, ever try to Google the name “kid,” or any permutation thereof? Or maybe even “kid band”? Yeah, no, that doesn’t work, and feels pretty weird once all the Kidz Bop stuff starts to come up. To find anything online about Canadian duo K.I.D. (which stands, I’m told, for “Kids in Despair,” and also shows up as “K.i.D.”), I had to dig into my brain and remember they were from Mississauga, Ontario — that finally got the results I was looking for.

Which is good, because K.I.D. are impressive as hell. They wear their fucked-up, decidedly non-shiny upbringing on their collective sleeve, blasting their way through songs that gritty and dirty and loud, occasionally even drifting into Andrew W.K. territory, albeit with Kara Lane‘s astoundingly powerful voice (which makes me think alternately of Pat Benatar and Elastica’s Justine Frischmann). The edges are jagged and rough, none of it sanded away but instead just slathered with layer upon layer of Bobby Lo‘s messy synths, thundering party beats, and oddball bits of strings and garage-y guitar, while Lane sings about boys, bongs, and high school.

It’s kitchen-sink pop music, assuming the kitchen sink in question is in a rundown, trashed-out apartment in a bleak suburb somewhere, half-filled with dirty dishes, empty bottles, and stubbed-out cigarettes. Even with that, though, the music K.I.D. makes is really, subtly beautiful at times, with sweet melodies and anthemic lines lurking beneath the dirt; you just have to be willing to scrape away ’til you get to it, and the effort makes it that much better.
[K.I.D. plays at 12:40PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Neptune Stage.]
 

Bang Bangz
As has been the trend these past few years, the local contingent of acts has shrunk pretty considerably, with only a handful making the FPSF cut each year. So I’m psyched to see Bang Bangz getting nod, at long last, because the H-town-dwelling quartet is one of the hardest-working, most interesting bands this city’s got going. I haven’t heard anything new from them lately, sadly, since they released their “Let Go” single back in 2015, so I’m curious to see what they’re up to these days in terms of recorded stuff.

As for the older stuff, I’ve really enjoyed 2013’s Red City — it’s dark and murky and moody in all the ways I like music to be, damn near perfect driving-at-night music for when you maybe don’t want to speak but instead just want to watch the freeway lights flow past you on either side, while the city lights sparkle light more-distant stars. The band melds ’80s-ish synthpop with more contemporary ambient and pop music, plus a dose of shoegazer goodness; not sure how it’ll work out in the bright sunlight, but I’ve got fingers crossed.
[Bang Bangz plays at 11:10AM on Sun., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]
 

Aminé
Holy shit. Okay, so in trying to get a grip on who the hell Portland, Oregon, rapper Aminé is, I stumbled across a video of him on Genius, where he talks about (supposedly) the meaning behind “Caroline,” his best-known song so far. And it’s the most deadpan-funny thing I’ve seen in a very long time. I can’t even explain it here, except to say that he’s either really high during the interview or just enjoying the shit out of screwing with the interviewer. Either way, I’m good. (Oh, and he also has a cooking show, because of course he fucking does.)

Shifting to the music, Portland may not be your idea (or mine) of a hip-hop mecca of any kind, but I’m liking Aminé’s sleepy, almost hypnotic style and Pharcyde-ish beats, not to mention his sense of humor. The sound’s bright and fun and doesn’t give a single shit, and the rapper/producer himself pretty much fits the same description — he made it just because, on a laptop in his bedroom, never figuring it’d go anywhere but right there. I kinda love that. Plus, I can’t hate anybody who namechecks Adele, Katniss Everdeen, and Black Star in the same damn song. I’m gonna have to see this guy live.
[Aminé plays at 3:50PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Neptune Stage.]
 

Coast Modern
If ever a band fit their name, it’s this one, that’s for damn sure. Coast Modern are a pop band, sure, but they’re a pop band that sounds like a party down on the beach with all your best buds on hand, just chilling and playing on the sand as the sun goes down and the bonfire gets lit. There’re steel drums, almost-reggae-but-not beats, big, rubbery bass lines, sun-fried post-shoegaze guitars, woozy keyboards, hip-hop samples, and languid, heavy-lidded vocals, and it all blends together into a sunshiny, sandy-footed, wide-smiling breed of pop that owes equal debts to the Beach Boys, Sublime, and Bob Marley and knows it full well.

More than anything else, I find myself thinking of Reptar’s early stuff, although with more of a chill vibe than that band’s sex-you-up posturing. Coast Modern don’t care so much about getting with you as they do about everybody having a fun, laid-back, cool-ass time. I’ll admit that the first time I listened, I kind of cringed — seriously, the world does not need another 311. But Luke Atlas and Coleman Trapp are way, way better than that (although I suspect they would share some similar taste in music). 311 are playing the frat-bro party further down the beach, with all the whooping and yelling and bad beer and white-guy dreads; Coast Modern, they’re just hanging right here with you, smiling and serene.
[Coast Modern plays at 11:50AM on Sun., June 4th, at the Budweiser Stage.]
 

Night Drive
I have a confession to make: New Wave electro-pop has really never been my thing, not even the first time it came around back in the ’80s, when I was actually a kid and probably better-disposed to like it. Even now, a lot of retro-electronic stuff makes me cringe at worst or sends me back to the CD rack to find actual music I did like like that Way Back When.

With that said, there’s a small, small handful of bands that break through my defenses, seemingly whether I want them to or not. Austin/Houston outfit Night Drive is one of those bands. Their sound is rooted firmly in the ’80s (or, hell, even in the late ’70s, at points), but they do it so damn well, with such fervor and energy, that I can’t help but like it. I mean, “Young Rivals,” seriously, that one damn song alone is worth the price of admission all by itself. And the starkly cold but still alluring “Easy to Lie” comes in a close second, as does the more club-centric “Sea of Light”, off the band’s 2013 Position I EP.

Besides, I love a band that wears its love of sci-fi firmly on its sleeve, and these guys absolutely do, as evidenced by the video for “Easy to Lie” and, well, pretty much all of their designs. I’m pretty psyched to hear that the band (Brandon Duhon and Rodney Connell) is gearing up at last to put out their first-ever full-length.
[Night Drive plays at 12:10PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Mercury Stage.]
 

Grouplove
It’s easy — way too easy — to take a quick listen to L.A. band Grouplove and think, “oh, good, another loud pop band, just like all the billion other ones out there these days.” Heck, that was pretty much my initial reaction, too, when I first heard ’em. Listen close, though, and there’s a whole lot more going on in there. Yeah, the music on most recent album Big Mess is like a full-color blast of pop hooks, high-pitched girl/guy vocals, snappy rhythms, and giant walls of synths (or, I guess, guitars that sound like synths; no idea for sure), but the lyrics are decidedly real.

Okay, so there’s still a lot of fun going on, especially on tracks like “Good Morning,” which at first blush appears to be all about partying, with lines like “The night is young / the rest is up to you.” On closer inspection, though, it’s actually about the morning after that epic night, dealing with all the grown-up shit you have to handle once dawn breaks and real life starts again.

“Welcome To Your Life” is similar, a shiny, triumphant anthem that wouldn’t sound out of place if played by Imagine Dragons…except that it’s really about uncertainty and fear of being an adult; “Traumatized,” for its part, might be a full-on, snarling garage-rocker…but what singer/guitarist Christian Zucconi and singer/guitarist (and spouse) Hannah Hooper are singing about is the trepidation of suddenly becoming a parent and having to take care of this vulnerable little person. It’s heavy, heady stuff, cloaked in layers of Arcade Fire-worthy melody and Stars-like pop bliss, and put all together, it’s really damn good.
[Grouplove plays at 7:50PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Saturn Stage.]
 

Rose Ette
Stepping sideways from Grouplove, we come to Houstonians Rose Ette, who are a pop band but are far more on the “indie-” end of the pop spectrum. Unlike a lot of the other pop bands we’ve looked at thus far, Rose Ette tend to be quiet and delicate to the point of fragility, with no samples or electronic bass anywhere in sight — just watery-sounding, softly-strummed guitars, low-key, almost jazzy drums (are those brushes I’m hearing?), and echoey, distant, glassine female vocals, the latter courtesy of frontwoman Teresa Vincinanza.

Well, okay, that applies most of the time, anyway. There’s a lot here that makes me think of the glory days of indie-pop, as exemplified by folks like The Field Mice or Belle and Sebastian or, hell, pretty much anything ever released on Sarah or Slumberland Records. But while Rose Ette are a little bit twee-pop on some tracks, but on others they’re messier, eschewing the description I just gave and embracing a noisier aesthetic that’s just a teensy bit punk. At times like those, there’s a bit of a Velvet Underground thing going on, and hey, I’m okay with that, too.
[Rose Ette plays at 12:10 on Sat., June 3rd, at the Saturn Stage.]
 

G-Eazy
With his clean-cut look, slicked-back ’50s hair, and leather motorcycle jacket, Oakland’s G-Eazy looks less like a rapper than a member of the T-Birds, it’s true. But don’t be fooled; the retro-styled white guy is one of the best rappers anywhere these days, wherever the hell you hail from, and in a couple more years, he’s going to be a name as recognizable as, say, Drake. He’s sharp when it’s necessary, personal right when it hits the hardest, sarcastic when things get too tense, and throughout he’s remarkably focused, never lettings things get out of control.

I make the Drake comparison, by the way, because both rappers come from and live in worlds just slightly shifted from the standard, from the archetypical hip-hop success story — they’re oddballs, outliers, not Just Another MC, and that’s no bad thing, not at all. Listening to 2015’s When It’s Dark Out, I’m struck by how dedicated G-Eazy is to what he’s doing; success takes work, and anybody who tells you otherwise is full of shit. G-Eazy (birth name Gerald Gillum) knows it, and he’s headed straight for it, and incorporating that struggle, that confidence and drive, into the lyrics of his songs. Trust me when I say that some day soon, you won’t be able to afford the tickets to see this guy perform.
[G-Eazy plays at 9:30PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]
 

Frightened Rabbit
Here we come to the single most crucial reason I’m psyched about this coming weekend: because I will finally, finally get to see Frightened Rabbit live. Hell, yes. The Scottish band is flat-out one of my top five or so bands at the moment, and with every song and album I get my hands/ears on, that place gets further cemented in my soul. I’ll admit that it’s partly the accent that does it — I’ve got family connections to Scotland, and Scottish accents are just plain great — but beyond that, their music is intense and powerful in the way few bands can ever pull off; it’s tragic but still triumphant, at the same time, especially on tracks like “The Woodpile” or “An Otherwise Disappointing Life”.

I first heard stumbled across the band in 2008, with “The Modern Leper,” a song where singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison sings about his damaged heart and how it damages other people around him; it’s simultaneously joyful and crushingly melancholy, with sweeping melodies and arena-sized choruses, and yeah, it had me hooked from the very first system. The album, The Midnight Organ Fight, is damn good as a whole, too, although, Frightened Rabbit have beat the odds in that each subsequent album has actually gotten better.

I somehow completely missed 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Nights, to my complete and utter shame, but 2013’s Pedestrian Verse is great, and then I’ve been listening more to last year’s Painting Of A Panic Attack more than the rest of the band’s catalogue combined. Looking at the track listing now, I can immediately remember nearly every damn song, from the wide-grinning blast of “Get Out” to the folk-tinged chug of “Woke Up Hurting” to the solemnity of “Blood Under The Bridge” (which makes me think of another favorite band, Ketch Harbour Wolves) to the quieter, more plaintive, Glen Hansard-esque “Die Like A Rich Boy”. Yeah, I love this band. Apologies to anybody who’ll be playing at the same time as Frightened Rabbit this weekend, because I’m gonna be camped out over where they are.
[Frightened Rabbit plays at 2:50PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Saturn Stage.]
 

Echos
Today’s bunch of rundowns closes out with Echos, a Portland-dwelling electronic duo who I’d never heard of before now but who reportedly made their name initially via YouTube before ever actually putting out a “real” release. And listening to their self-titled EP, released last October, yeah, I get why. Singer Lexi Norton has a wonderfully emotive, ethereal voice, with a delivery that makes me think of Eisley (although in somewhat of a lower range), and Tal Richards crafts some seriously great, serene, slowly-unfolding compositions for Norton to sing over.

The end result sometimes comes off like M83 circa Before the Dawn Heals Us (see “Coda” for that), and sometimes like Everything But the Girl — Norton’s voice makes me think of Tracey Thorn’s, with maybe less of the soulful feel Thorn has, and maybe a little bit of Alison Moyet, too, neither of which is a bad thing in any way. Echos are glacially beautiful, mesmerizing, and ridiculously lush, and it’s well worth checking out.
[Echos plays at 2PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Mercury Stage.]
 

Okay, that’s what we’ve got for now for these little FPSF writeup things. At least one more installment to go, and we’ll hopefully make it a decent-sized one; stay tuned…

(Photos: Bang Bangz photo by Daniel Jackson; Night Drive photo by Daniel Cavazos Photography.)


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