Thrill Jockey's 20th Anniversary in Baltimore

The essential Chicago label throws itself a birthday bash in Baltimore, with a little help from Future Islands, Tortoise, Matmos, and others.

Thrill Jockey Records is almost old enough to drink. How time flies. The Chicago label, while likely not as frequently namechecked as your Merges or your Sub Pops, easily has a back catalog to rival those indie behemoths, as well as a rightful place beside them in curatorial excellence. Post-rock gods Tortoise and the Sea and Cake, eclectic electro-wizards Mouse on Mars, musical polymath Nobukazu Takemura, Kraut-revivalists Trans Am, current personal heroes and saviors of rock music Future Islands – I could go on. This is, in a word, impressive.

The label threw a series of transnational birthday celebrations for itself this past month, showcasing its current roster and allowing for a much-deserved pat on its own back. Baltimore, a city with its own incredible collection of envelope-shredding bands (cheap rents will do that for you, Brooklyn), hosted one of these bashes at its cavernous Rams Head Live. A strange venue for strange bands, but no one onstage seemed to mind. Driving from DC means I missed openers Pontiak and Arbouretum, both acts you should never miss, Beltway traffic notwithstanding. Dan Friel, formerly of Parts & Labor, took the stage to an enthusiastic crowd, sitting with a pedal board in his lap, churning out a pleasantly fuzzy blend of Nintendo-bright synth-pop and droning dissonance, joined at times by a viola to give things an extra melodic kick. He made a strong case for being the mastermind behind his previous band’s hooks, and his solo material will be something to seek out in the years to come.

Next up, recent Baltimore and Thrill Jockey converts Matmos banged out a thoroughly professional, exuberant set of rhythm-centric, offkilter pop, transforming the crowd into a singular unit, bobbing its head as one. M.C. Schmidt coaxed eclectic beauty from his array of keys to fill the huge space several times over, looking diffident and dapper in a dark suit while his counterpart, Drew Daniel, tweaked his own synth array and laptop to help his band find the next in a series of indelible grooves. The transition from Matmos to Tortoise felt as smooth as the bass tone coming from the stage, with the legendary Chicago group burning through a set of its signature post-rock, post-prog, fusion – whatever we should call Tortoise, they’re an irreplaceable live act. The band’s members move from instrument to instrument with every song, often working two drumkits to orgiastic effect, each member simultaneously settling into his own rhythmic zen while contributing to the overall groove.

Local boys Future Islands headlined the show in either a nod to their Baltimore home crowd or to their rising star, easily the act with the most critical and commercial momentum on the Thrill Jockey roster right now. (When they took the stage, the average age of the crowd crammed at the front of the stage dropped by about 15 years, for whatever that’s worth.) I’ll admit to being in the tank for these guys, their unimpeachable output over the last few years almost single-handedly restoring my faith in indie rock. Accordingly, I knew what to expect from frontman Sam Herring’s wild, Brando-meets-Morrissey physicality, exploding across the stage in bursts of calculated, cathartic aggression. Despite having seen the band more than half a dozen times in the last year or two, I was still as thrilled as ever. The set featured a good deal of new material, most of which suggests the next Future Islands record will be something of a return to the freneticism largely lacking on last year’s – still incredible -- On the Water. Whatever its direction, the record will find its place among Thrill Jockey’s supreme catalog. Here’s to another 20 years.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.