Events

Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit (photos)

My only criticism of the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit is that too much great music was programmed at the same time, forcing some difficult decisions about where and when to show up. The 2014 edition cannot come soon enough.


Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit

City: Asheville, NC
Venue: Multiple venues
Date: 2013-10-27

Asheville, North Carolina's Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit, produced by AC Entertainment, Inc. (the producer/promoter behind Moogfest), featured a much broader variety of acts than its name suggests. Though traditional DJ sets were well represented (none better than the Friday night opener by Claude VonStroke), the rest of the bill offered acts for every taste of popular music. The concurrent performances on Friday evening illustrated the eclectic nature of the event, as veteran outsider acts like Half Japanese and Daniel Johnston played in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium while VonStroke, Purity Ring, and Deltron 3030 performed in the larger Exploreasheville.com Arena. The highlight of the evening was Deltron 3030, which is on tour for Event II but played a triumphant, orchestra-assisted set heavy with tunes from the group's eponymous 2000 album.

One common complaint of music festivals is the sound bleed that occurs when two or more acts are playing at the same time. Despite its two main venues being housed in the same structure (the U.S. Cellular Center), the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit was entirely free of that problem -- especially remarkable considering that Neutral Milk Hotel went on stage with Bassnectar playing next door. The Neutral Milk Hotel show was surprising for how rowdy the audience became. Nearly every song was treated to a loud sing-along by a room full of fans. The crowd participation (and errant drummer) distracted from the band's otherwise impeccable renditions of songs from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

On Saturday, the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium featured Zola Jesus and JG Thirlwell, followed by Chromatics. The two acts generated some stylistic synergy because of their singers. Both preceded Animal Collective, which curtailed some of its more experimental live tendencies. The common element on the larger stage was the electric guitar, with a lineup offering several variations on its uses. First up was Bosnian Rainbows, featuring former Mars Volta member Omar Rodríguez-López. Gary Numan was the surprise of the night, as he turned in a dramatic performance full of goth posturing and wry smiles. He seemed to be having a lot of fun as his excellent band filled the arena with a massive industrial rock style. Sharply contrasting with Numan's set was the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a band whose live approach hasn't evolved much over the years but remains as effective as ever. With the lights dim, the members of the band form a circuit, facing one another and playing along to film projections.

Nine Inch Nails was the final act to take the stage that night, in a performance that backed up Trent Reznor's recent claims that he's a very different man compared to the one who became famous in the early to mid-1990s. While many of the group's fans swear by the tours of those early years (and legendary concerts such as the one at Woodstock '94), this current, post-"retirement" lineup is the best live version of Nine Inch Nails to date.

Sunday, the final day of the festival, featured a combination of dance music acts (such as Disclosure) in the arena. But the auditorium was the place to be, as Jessie Ware proved to be the most audience-friendly act of the entire weekend and Darkside practically cast a spell on the crowd with a no-frills setup that concentrated all of the focus on their guitar/synthesizer sonics. Of course, there were dozens of other performances throughout the weekend that haven't been mentioned here. Nor are they documented in the photographs below. Other venues, such as the Orange Peel, the Diana Wortham Theatre, and the Asheville Music Hall all hosted a variety of creative and innovative acts throughout the weekend. Indeed, my only criticism of the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit is that too much great music was programmed at the same time, forcing some difficult decisions about where and when to show up. The 2014 edition cannot come soon enough.

Animal Collective:

William Basinski:

Bosnian Rainbows:

Chromatics:

Claude VonStroke:

Daniel Johnston:

Deltron 3030:

Disclosure:

Gary Numan:

Godspeed You! Black Emperor:

Nine Inch Nails:

Purity Ring:

Jessie Ware:

Zola Jesus and JG Thirlwell:

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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