Day for Night 2017 Rundown, Pt. 4: Cardi B + The Jesus Lizard + Kimbra + Tyler Barber + Jamie XX + BOOTS + Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Yep, we’re coming down to the wire, friends — today, Friday, December 15th, is the start of this weekend’s Day for Night festival over at Post HTX, starting with this evening’s Friday Summit and continuing on into two full days of music & art & all kinds of other stuff. I’m starting to get a little nervous, like my old ass always does before festivals like this, but damn, I’m still looking forward to it.

Before diving into Round Four, the likely-final round of our previews/rundowns for DFN (also check out Round One, Round Two, & Round Three, I wanted to real quick point to a couple of things.

First up, Houston Public Media did a really cool video interview with Alex Czetwertynski, curator of the Light side of the DFN lineup, and took a look at some of the visual-art installations, both past and present. Check it out:

Second, I thought it’d be interesting to poke our collective head up and look at some of the non-SCR coverage out there for the fast-approaching festival. Since, y’know, we’re not nearly conceited enough to figure that SCR is the only place you’re looking for Day for Night-related info (yeah, no, not a chance).

And holy shit, there’s a lot of it. Seriously, like a lot a lot of coverage, including from some outlets you’ll probably have heard of, like the HuffPost, Brooklyn Vegan, and the fucking New York Times.

So, while this certainly isn’t all that’s out there, here’s a sampling of what we’ve found that looks cool (caveat time: no, we haven’t actually read all this stuff, because we sure as hell don’t have the time for that, but still):

phew. With that done, let’s get going:

Cardi B
We start off this round with an artist who, I’ve gotta say, has turned out to be something of a booking jackpot for the DFN crew. When they booked rapper Bronx Cardi B, I’m guessing several months ago, she was still in the middle of the pack in terms of hip-hop in 2017; then came “Bodak Yellow,” and holy shit, suddenly she was a superstar, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 — she’s only the second solo female rapper to hit that point, with the other being Lauryn Hill back in 1998. Oh, and she knocked Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” out of the #1 spot, so there’s that.

So, is the hype justified? For me, it’s partway there — I was skeptical at first, but Cardi B’s growing on me. She’s definitely not for everybody, but after a few listens, I’m appreciating the style she’s defined for herself on GBMV2 and “Bodak Yellow”; it’s hard-edged and unapologetically raw, coming from a woman who’s got to prove she’s just as tough as her male counterparts. There’s not a lot of sensitive vulnerability here, but that’s not what this is about; it’s a war cry, a confrontational, fists-up/middle-finger-up statement of purpose, with Cardi carving out her territory and daring any wannabes to try to take it.

Plus, through it all there’s that low-and-slow, nearly subliminal bass groove, sinister, distant keys, minimal, stuttering drums, and an occasional hint of a Caribbean feel (see “Back It Up”), all of it gritty and bleak like the streets Cardi calls home. Check it out for yourself below, and at DFN, when she performs with HoodCelebrityy. (Jeremy Hart)
[Cardi B plays at 6:50PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Green Stage.]


 

The Jesus Lizard
It turns out that I owe the Day for Night folks pretty big. See, while meandering around the Interwebz looking for DFN-related articles, I stumbled across an interview with Mac McNeilly, drummer for The Jesus Lizard, where he basically says that it was the offer to play Day for Night that spurred the band to regroup for the first time in almost a decade; before that, he says, the Jesus Lizard crew hadn’t been talking about doing anything, although they’d been in contact, and when the DFN deal came along, they decided, “we could do this.”

So yes, I owe the DFN booking folks, big-time, because I’m dearly, desperately excited to finally be able to see this band live. It’s been a long damn time coming, too, going on 20 years since I first heard the band while DJing at KTRU; I missed the chance to get to see them back then, and then, they were gone. Which means I’m happy as hell to get the chance once again to see these guys in person.

It’s not an exaggeration, by the way, to point to The Jesus Lizard as the blueprint for pretty much any noisy, raw, sharp-edged rock that’s come along in the last couple of decades. Few bands back in their day were making music like the Lizard, merging David Yow‘s fractured yelp with Duane Denison‘s angular, post-punk-on-acid guitars, David Sims‘ turbulent, muddy bass, and (original) drummer Mac McNeilly to come up with something that was equal parts smirking Texas swagger, gutter-dwelling Chicago noise, and Brit-style post-punk.

Shards of guitar stab in and out, the bass rumbles and bumps, the drums drive straight into the wall, and through it all, Yow howls and yells and mutters; it’s sweaty and noisy and icky and loud and raw and chaotic, and it absolutely, completely does not give a fuck. Which, come to think of it, is what rock music should be. (Jeremy Hart)
[The Jesus Lizard plays at 7:10PM on Sun., December 17th, at the Green Stage.]


 

Tyler Barber
And now, for a bit of a breather, which I kinda find myself needing after falling headfirst into The Jesus Lizard’s back catalog for the past hour or so. Tyler Barber‘s just the thing, it turns out, to provide some respite — in stark contrast to the muddy, loud rock I’ve been listening to, the music Barber makes is gentle and ambient, warm and drifting and pretty, and I’m liking it.

I’ve listened to several ambient-ish artists already for these previews, and weirdly, most seem to veer towards the dark-and-murky side of the ambient spectrum; that’s fine, I’m good with that, but it makes me enjoy this all the more, because Barber’s sound is far more hopeful, more uplifting than most of these other artists. There’s a bit of an M83 influence going on, and some vintage Tangerine Dream, as well, but if I had to make a definitive comparison, it’d be to German shoegaze/ambient/electronic musician Ulrich Schnauss.

He’s the only other artist that pops into my head when it comes to making music like this that’s this bright, this airy, not weighed down by some shadow of bad things to come right around the corner. This is all hazy sunshine, clean, clear wind washing fluid over the plains, birds dancing gracefully in the light and shadow, and sheer, childlike wonder at the beauty of it all. These days, I feel like I need more of that. (Jeremy Hart)
[Tyler Barber plays at 3:40PM on Sat., December 16th, at the Yellow Stage.]


 

Kimbra
So, even if you don’t think you know who New Zealand-born singer Kimbra is, odds are pretty good that you do, since you pretty much couldn’t miss her voice on Gotye‘s “Somebody That I Used to Know” back in 2013. Despite that sudden brush with worldwide fame, Kimbra (born Kimbra Lee Johnson) has been steadily doing her thing since then, not really caring about the attention and just going her own way.

Now, if the Gotye song is the only thing you’ve ever heard from Kimbra, well, don’t go thinking she’s just more of the same; that’s definitely not the case. Instead, Kimbra’s own music is significantly funkier and less straightforward, with rubbery basslines, start-stop rhythms, and a swagger that’s equal parts Prince and St. Vincent (who, I should mention, also makes me think of The Purple One at times). It’s sweet but never saccharine, instead smiling slyly as if Johnson knows full well where she’s coming from and knows you know, too.

And then, just when you think you know the deal, she switches shit up, as on new track “Top of the World,” where she — yes, no lie — raps over a tribal-tinged, crunching track that also features some sultry, slinky vocals, chanting in a language I don’t recognize, and an eerie drone waaaay in the back. It sounds not a damn thing like what I’ve heard from Kimbra up to this point, but I’m liking the hell out of it. You should, too. (Jeremy Hart)
[Kimbra plays at 2:10PM on Sun., December 17th, at the Red Stage.]


 

Jamie XX
I’ve got to admit it: it’s taken me a while to figure out what the hell to say about Jamie XX, British producer, DJ, musician, and member of The xx (hence the stage name). I’ve been listening to 2016’s In Colour on repeat for a while now, trying to get a handle on the guy’s sound, and I’m having a hard time with it. It’s just kind of all over the place, y’know?

There’re parts of In Colour where I think, “ah, okay — he’s trip-hop, then,” but then he gets to songs like “Stranger In A Room,” with its mournful/half-accusatory, soulful vocals (courtesy of xx-mate Oliver Sim), delicately burbling keys, and minimal backing track, or “Loud Places,” which features sweet, sultry vocals from a second xx-mate, Romy Madley Croft, over a swooning, Dido-esque piano-and-bass track, and I’m scratching my head again. Oh, and there’s also the Faithless-ish “Sleep Sound,” which also tips its toe briefly into the ambient pool. What the heck do I call this, then?

But then, as the album rolls on, I realize two things: A) it doesn’t matter what the hell label I stick on this, really; and B) the trip-hop thing wasn’t actually that far off from the reality. Or rather, “trip-hop” as a label was always way too imprecise and vague, used to blanket a whole wide range of performers who didn’t often have anything in common other than they made electronic music and were British (mostly). What makes me think of that quasi-genre, then, isn’t a sound, strictly speaking, but a feeling of a sound.

See, to me, trip-hop defines an era in music more than anything else, an era where those very labels I’m trying to apply no longer mattered very much, or merged together, or mutated into something else. Listen to Massive Attack’s classic Mezzanine, and while some of the songs are stylistically similar, sure, a bunch of ’em are all over the place, ranging from glacial fragility to murky soul. Jamie xx feels the same, at least on In Colour — he doesn’t care about making X kind of music or Y kind of music, but instead just music he wants to make. That’s not a bad thing. (Jeremy Hart)
[Jamie XX plays at 12:20AM on Sat., December 16th (well, actually it’s then Sun., December 17th), at the Blue Stage.]


 

BOOTS
Okay, first things first: BOOTS is not Boots Riley, of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club fame. I, um, got a little mixed up/excited when I saw the name “BOOTS” on the lineup and stupidly assumed that was who was on the bill, so…well, consider this my little PSA to keep folks from getting confused like I did.

Not that I mean to knock down this “BOOTS” in any way, mind you. The guy’s kind of amazing, when you think about it. I mean, how many other people could step up, essentially as an unknown, when tapped by Beyoncé and — if the reports are to be believed — have her be blown away by their music, to the point where she asks ’em to produce the bulk of her self-titled album? That’s a big, big win, right there, and not many people could pull it off, much less move on from there to work with everybody from FKA twigs to Run The Jewels.

In short, it’s clear BOOTS knows what he’s doing, and what I’ve heard so far of his solo stuff — 2015’s Aquaria, primarily — is pretty impressive, a skittering, self-assured collection of intense-yet-chill electro-pop with a lot of soul, R&B, and indie-pop peeking in around the sides. There’re definitely moments where I hear it and can hear echoes of Beyoncé (which makes sense, considering), but this is different, more akin to a darker, sultrier X Ambassadors or Miike Snow at times and, weirdly, Radiohead or Gorillaz at his more paranoiac, future-fearing moments. It’s good shit.

As a final note, it appears that BOOTS is looking forward to his set tonight; he posted the comment “I will be premiering a lot of new music — this will be performance with goals” on his Facebook page. Sounds pretty promising to me. (Jeremy)
[BOOTS plays at 8:50PM on Fri., December 15th, at the Blue Stage.]


 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Another serious, serious throwback band, at least for me, and one that honestly made my jaw drop open when I saw the Day for Night lineup announced. I first heard Godspeed You! Black Emperor back in the late ’90s, courtesy of my friend Doug Dillaman, who is way more versed in the experimental side of music than I am, then and now, and when I listened to their 1996 release, F# A# ∞, on his recommendation, I was floored.

I’d been reading a whole lot of Cormac McCarthy around that time, and GYBE’s sweeping, cinematic, lonesome, out-West-but-not-country vibe meshed perfectly with that, as I noted in my review of the album, which ran in the first-ever, actual-paper issue of Space City Rock in 1999. (Like I said, throwback…) In later years, I heard the band’s sound evolve from that Western motif, although they’ve hung onto at least some of that near-ambient orchestral feel — the band’s undisputed iconic release, the 2000 double album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven kept that but also shifted into a more “rock” vein, reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky or Mogwai at points.

Unfortunately, I lost track of the group a few years ago and hadn’t realized that they’ve been quietly releasing new albums every few years, with the most recent being this year’s Luciferian Towers, which (listening now) is as gorgeous and lush and multi-layered as anything I’ve ever heard, and definitely more full-sounding than the group’s earlier releases. I also realize now that calling GYBE a “band” is a little misleading, since they’re apparently more of a rotating collective of musicians, a la Broken Social Scene or The Polyphonic Spree — they’ve never broken up, apparently, despite the occasional rumors, but have just gained and lost members every few years.

Mark this one on the list of bands (dammit, did it again) you really ought to actually see at DFN, by the way, because supposedly their live shows — I’ve never caught one, sadly, hopefully until now — are full-blown multimedia experiences, with live projections and whatnot incorporated into the set. Seriously excited about this one, folks. (Jeremy Hart)
[Godspeed You! Black Emperor plays at 5:40PM on Sun., December 17th, at the Green Stage.]


 

And with that, we’re outta time. Dang. Well, the Gods of Randomness spoke, and if that meant we couldn’t get to everybody, so be it — hope to see y’all out there this weekend at Day for Night.

(Photos: Jamie XX photo by Jamie-James Medina.)


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