FPSF 2017 Rundown, Pt. 3: Kay Weathers + The Wheel Workers + Party Favor + Milky Chance + The Struts + The Shins + St. Paul & The Broken Bones + Miike Snow + Jon Bellion

And now, here we go with what’ll most likely be our last installment of the random previews thing we do every year for FPSF (aka Free Press Summer Festival, although these days it’s minus the “Free Press” part), which will be happening starting tomorrow, Saturday, June 3rd, and running through Sunday, June 4th. It’s gonna be a good damn time, assuming we don’t all get washed off the hillside or evacuated (again) because of lightning.

For those coming in late, you can see the previous two installments of this little series here and here, plus my own little personal FPSF retrospective right here.

If you haven’t already done so, by the by, you should totally download the official FPSF app, which has the full schedule right there at your fingertips. Also, you can supposedly order beer straight from the app this year and avoid standing in line, if beer’s your thing. (Sadly, I have no idea if it works for sodas, too.)

Speaking of food & drink, I’d be remiss to not mention the food at the festival; with a small, small number of exceptions, I’ve some excellent things to eat every year at FPSF, and this year looks to be no exception. I’m told this year the Houston Eats food area will be “curated” by rockstar chefs/restauranteurs Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner of well-respected fine-dining restaurant The Pass & Provisions, so hopefully that’ll make things interesting, although I’ll concede that I have no idea how

One last thing: the FPSF Facebook page reported just a couple of hours ago that Lil Uzi Vert won’t be playing as scheduled at the festival this weekend. If you’re a fan, um, sorry about that.

Anyway, let’s get this shit done before I collapse (and yes, I realize the festival hasn’t even started yet, and I’m kinda doing it wrong):

Kay Weathers
While I’d heard quite a bit about Kay Weathers over the past year or so, I must admit that this isn’t really what I’d expected to hear. I’m not sure why — the face paint, maybe? — but I was thinking this might be a bit more out-and-out pop, probably folky, probably pretty and delicate and all that. But no, this isn’t any of those things, and I’m liking it all the more for that.

The songs have melodies, certainly, and pretty damn good ones, but beyond that, the music Weathers makes — on her Songs for Lucy EP, anyway, which is all I’ve got to listen to of hers — is weightier than that, with lush instrumentation, sultry, swooning vocals, guitars that occasionally drift into psych-rock realms, leaving any thoughts of gentle folk-pop gaping, open-mouthed in the dust. This is more like hazy, shoegaze-influenced trip-hop at points, and I am all over that, believe me. There’re elements here that remind me of Goldfrapp, or Martina Topley-Bird, or more dreampop/dreampop-ish bands like Slowdive or Curve, and put together, the whole is alluring and gorgeous and pretty great.
[Kay Weathers plays at 12:10PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Saturn Stage.]

The Wheel Workers
Words can’t express how proud I am of H-town’s own politico-pop heroes, The Wheel Workers. They’ve transformed themselves from a bedroom-recorded solo project into one of this city’s most dynamic, most engaging bands, and along the way they’ve managed to blend a catchy, whip-smart pop sensibility with sharp, sometimes vitriolic political sentiment. They’ve gotten meaner and louder in the process, too, as evidenced by last year’s “White Lies”/”All My Fault” single, which is full-on about the Trump candidacy and Presidency.

Still, though, singer/guitarist/songwriter Steven Higginbotham and his cohorts don’t necessarily need to punch you in the face with their message. Take “Chemicals,” from 2013’s stellar Past to Present, where the Workers bounce their way through a cheery, jaunty tune full of fuzzy synths…that’s actually about the pharmaceutical industry, the petrochemical industry, agribusiness, and pollution, all at once. Or “Whole Other World,” from 2015’s aptly-titled Citizens, which is a gently bumping, thoughtful anthem that simultaneously indicts this country for, in Higginbotham’s words, “bombing to teach freedom / exploring new frontiers in hypocrisy / while reflecting on our goodness / and wondering why the Hell no one understands.”

Keep in mind, by the way, that that last example was penned a full two years ago, now, before Darth Cheeto seemed even remotely likely to take the White House. I’m thinking The Wheel Workers of 2017 are a different beast, full of righteous fury and stern determination. Fight on, y’all.
[The Wheel Workers play at 11:30AM on Sun., June 4th, at the Neptune Stage.]

Party Favor
So, I hadn’t heard the name Party Favor until I started researching this year’s FPSF lineup, but it turns out I have heard him before — well, his music, at least. It turns out that the DJ (real name Dylan Ragland), a former aspiring actor who discovered his true calling while DJing on the side from his actual TV-backroom day job, is the guy behind “Bap U,” which I know I caught a couple of years back when trap music and twerking had become A Big Thing (remember back then? Damn, that feels like a long time ago, now…)

Happily, Party Favor’s no one-trick DJ, and I’m actually liking the more varied sounds on last year’s Party and Destroy EP, particularly the Skrillex-ish snarl of “Scrape,” with its cool-ass mouth-pop samples(?), the sweet, sensitive turn on “In My Head,” with singer Georgia Ku, and the salsa-/cumbia-tinged “Shut It Down,” which is fast and mines a freaking great rhythm. To paraphrase the old adage: I may not know about EDM, but I know what I like, and this is it.
[Party Favor plays at 4:10PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Mercury Stage.]

Milky Chance
Sometimes when I go see somebody at FPSF, it’s not my idea, strictly speaking. See, I’m lucky enough to have a wife and two kids who are all just as seriously, intensely into music as I am; it’s a really cool thing, although it can cause issues when The Kid wants to hear something and The Younger Kid puts on something else. We have full-on fights in our household about music, no lie.

Because of that, though, I find myself exposed to music I probably wouldn’t hear or give a second thought to. That’s the case with German duo (trio?) Milky Chance — my wife and The Kid decided they both liked the band’s big single, “Stolen Dance,” so we ended up all listening to the song on near-endless repeat for about a week there. And by the end of that week, while I wasn’t a fan, exactly, I was at least interested enough to hear what else the band did. And now, having heard both previous album Sadnecessary and new album Blossom (released back in March), I’m beginning to get the appeal.

It’s the guitar that’s grabbed me, really; I find myself enjoying the percussive style the band uses. The way they use it turns the guitar itself into less of a “true” guitar and more of a real-live percussion instrument, like congas or timbales or what-have-you (and yeah, they use some of those, too). On “Stolen Dance,” in particular, it drives the music like a freight train moving steadily down the tracks — not speeding along, no, but calmly, determinedly getting to where it needs to be. The sound is almost like a funk sound, but without a lot of the actual funk, if you get what I mean. Paired with singer/guitarist Clemens Rehbein‘s husky, Citizen Cope-ish voice, it works really well, differentiating Milky Chance from the slew of other folk-electronic pop bands out there right now.
[Milky Chance plays at 8:40PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Neptune Stage.]

The Struts
Now this is one hell of a flashback. Look: I grew up in the ’80s & ’90s, right at the apex of the whole metal craze that saw bands like Mötley Crüe and Metallica become megastars, and I was (and still am) a huge fan of a lot of that stuff, even the cheesy glam-/hair-metal bands. Heck, I’m probably more of a fan of those kinds of bands than I am of a lot of other kinds of metal.

With that said, I’m a bit sensitive about glam-y metal/hard rock bands these days; it’s always hard to tell who’s playing it because they love it and who’s just doing an ironic pose and making fun of those bands I love(d) so much, and I tend to take the latter personally. So when I run across bands like The Struts, I’m immediately wary. It’s a rare band that, for me, can take that particular sound and make it something real, something genuine.

The Struts, to their credit, are absolutely one of those bands. From the very first moments of “Roll Up,” the lead track on last year’s Everybody Wants, it’s clear that these Derby guys are something different, taking the best elements of Queen, Zeppelin, the Stones, the Scorpions, and, okay, Spinal Tap, and mashing them together into a tight, brightly-burning, flamboyant ball of hard-rock awesomeness. And yeah, I’ll admit I chuckled a few times at some of frontman Luke Spiller‘s affectations, especially the rolled “R”‘s, but Spiller and his bandmates play with such evident sincerity and love for what they’re doing that I can’t help but be won over.

The best part? I doubt The Struts would even give a damn what I think — they’re not in it for me, after all, but for themselves, and for The Rock and everything else that goes with it.
[The Struts play at 2:50PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]

The Shins
It’s been a long, long while since I last checked in on what The Shins were up to. In fact, I think it’s been 7 years or so, since the band released Wincing the Night Away, and even then, I wasn’t feeling all that into it, having gotten somewhat tired of the wave of mellow indie-rock/pop bands that had crested not long before.

Listening to new album Heartworms, though, I’m immediately impressed by James Mercer‘s off-kilter arrangements and lyrics; it’s less straightforward pop and more Talking Heads, or even Pink Floyd at times, and it’s cool to hear how far the band’s progressed from their more Elephant 6-ish indie-pop roots. Mercer, for what it’s worth, pretty much is The Shins, and it feels like the music’s progression mirrors his own, which is a very good thing, because Heartworms sounds a lot more mature than, um, the last time I heard this band (which, again, was several years ago, sorry). I’m psyched to hear it; I was kind of considering giving these guys a pass at FPSF, but now I’m going to go and hopefully see what I’ve missed.
[The Shins play at 6:30PM on Sun., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Everybody needs soul. Jimmy Rabbitte said it best, in The Commitments, when he declared, “[Soul] takes you somewhere else. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite.” That’s exactly what it does. Think about it — if you’re having a shit day, and Otis Redding or Sam & Dave or Aretha Franklin comes on, there’s a part of you that immediately starts to smile, to feel better inside. You can’t help it. That’s what soul music, real soul music does.

And believe it or not, eight white dudes from Birmingham, Alabama, make just that kind of music. St. Paul & The Broken Bones play true-blue soul, heavy with the horns and subtly funky guitar, and fronted by a man (Paul Janeway) who’s like a cross between the aforementioned Otis Redding and a tent-revival preacher (which, coincidentally, is apparently just the kind of church he grew up in). They’re intense and honest and musically deep, filling your ears up all the damn way with sound, and with album Sea of Noise, they’re also sociopolitically, historically deep, too, delivering a gospel-soul look at their hometown’s history and spirit. And when you listen, yeah, it lifts you up above the shite and takes you someplace better.
[St. Paul & The Broken Bones plays at 7PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Neptune Stage.]

Miike Snow
One of the best parts of being a parent, at least to me, is listening to music with your kids. From back when my daughter was little, I’ve done my best to steer clear of forcing the kids to listen to stuff like Barney or Raffi or Laurie Berkner or whoever else; sure, we did some of that, but I’ve always tried to expand their horizons a bit more than that. As a result, they’ve both grown up with their own quirky musical tastes, with The Kid currently being fully into EDM right now and The Younger Kid being fully into ’80s hard rock and metal.

Back before her EDM-loving phase, though, I happened to play the self-titled debut by Swedish band Miike Snow for The Kid, and she freaking loved it. She took the song “Animal” as her theme song and raved about it to all her elementary school-aged friends, not understanding why they didn’t think it was as amazing as she did. Gotta love that kid… Anyway, from where I sit, she wasn’t wrong, not at all — I’ve been a fan of the trio for nearly a decade now, and every move they’ve made in the intervening years has been pretty damn cool. It’s strange to think about, because in some ways modern pop music has caught up with Miike Snow, not the other way ’round, to the point where vocal-heavy, funky, Peter Gabriel-influenced electro-pop tunes are nearly the norm. I’d say these guys do it just about the best, even still.
[Miike Snow plays at 5:50PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]

Jon Bellion
I’ve been writing about music for longer than I’d care to really think about. And being a mostly-amateur/occasionally-professional music writer, I deal in labels, in genres — “this sounds like Band X,” or “this sounds like Genre Y, but maybe with a little of Genre Z thrown in.” It’s just something you do (well, I do, anyway; better writers than me probably don’t) to try to explain to the reader what something sounds like, using reference points they might have, or can at least Google.

These days, though, the whole describing-by-labeling thing is getting harder and harder to do, because all the walls between those labels have essentially been torn down. Nobody now is all one single thing — “See that rapper over there? Yeah, he’s also a singer, too, and he plays piano on some of his tracks. Oh, and Galantis produced his last single, which included a feature by this guy who used to be in a punk band but now also sort of raps.” That kind of description could be applied to practically half the artists out there at the moment. I don’t mean to be down on that, mind you — actually, I think it’s great. A lot of my favorite, lesser-known musicians cross boundaries or break them wide open, and it’s exciting to see that happening in the mainstream music world, too. It’s just harder for me, personally, to talk about ’em and make sense.

Jon Bellion is a prime example of that. He’s somebody who fits in no single box: he does the vocals for a Zedd track, then he raps on his own album, and alternately sings like a freaking angel there, too. Beyond that, he programs beats and samples and plays a keyboard, hangs out with rappers, pop stars, and EDM guys, and is apparently hoping animation company Pixar will one day tap him to do the soundtrack for one of their movies. If you told me he was a champion MMA fighter or swimmer or tap-dancer, too, I wouldn’t be one goddamn bit surprised. He just does everything, it seems like, and on his lone album so far, The Human Condition, he makes it all work, fitting all the pieces together into a whole that’s sweet and personal and triumphant and melancholy and pop and hip-hop and EDM and rock, all at the same time and sometimes all in the same freaking song. Welcome to the future, friends.
[Jon Bellion plays at 4:20PM on Sat., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]

And that’s me done for this stuff. Got one late-running thing to post, probably in the AM, and then I’m on my way out to brave the rain & lightning & dudebros & sunstroke & exploded eardrums & mud & sweet Jesus what the fuck am I thinking doing this again? Deep breaths, deep breaths…see y’all out there, and everybody stay safe.

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