Like a Fox, Rarebirds, White Rocket, Icy Demons, Kathleen Edwards, Grimace Federation, North Lawrence Midnight Singers + M. Ward
Jay Laughlin wanted to name his new band--successor to the much loved Lenola--the Garden State, but that was before Natalie Portman started changing people's lives with the Shins. Instead, he's now helming an outfit called Like a Fox, whose second full-length, Where's My Golden Arm?, splits the difference between ragged-edged guitar pop and soft, achingly pretty psychedelia. Ex-Lenola mate Dave Grubb adds a baroque touch to 1960s-referencing songs, lacing expansive arrangements with lavish keyboard counterparts. Still, it's Laughlin's tremulous tenor and twisted epiphanies that win you over, like a slyer, more complicated Eric Carmen.
According to the Chinese calendar, 2009 is the Year of the Ox. Here in Philly, though, it's the Year of the Rare Bird. Or, to be more precise, the Year of the Rare Bird Debacle. See, there are two bands in town with virtually the same moniker: Rare Birds, the new outfit fronted by Gregg Foreman (ex-Delta 72, currently in Cat Power's band); and Rarebirds, the long-running, rootsy, dreamy, indie-pop quintet led by Carolynne McNeel, which is the one playing tonight. Based on various local blog wars, neither act is happy about this, nor are they giving up the name. Perhaps a WWE-style Royal Rumble is in order. Our money's on Carolynne and co.
White Rocket isn't the only horn-piano-drums trio making the rounds. In fact, the group's self-titled debut, full of ricocheting rhythms and formal geometry, brings Fieldwork more than a little to mind. Yet New York-based trumpeter Jacob Wick and his Irish pals--pianist Greg Felton and drummer Sean Carpio--contemplate progressive jazz's riddles on their own terms, spinning fragmented lines and harmonies over an obliquely funky pulse. Wick is an edgy, fiercely smart improviser, though not a hyperspeed demon like Fieldwork altoist Steve Lehman. On "Lonely Toad" and "The Fisherman's Song" he ventures a weather- beaten lyricism that suggests Italian master Enrico Rava.
Quirk-pop with a decidedly art-school bent, Icy Demons rattle and buzz like a country carnival attempting Vegas--broad grandeur whose illusion is spoiled by the clatter of gears and jarring blasts of noise, yet still manages an odd elegance. While at its core a keyboard-driven electro-pop act, Icy Demons has an undercurrent of jazzy post-rock angularity that offers an unusual collision. They share an icy emotional distance intersecting at lounge pop/jazz (which the Demons explore in "Bunny's," a frighteningly realized blend of Esquivel and Stereolab). Even if their "Summer Samba" sounds like something out of a '60s Baldwin home-organ ad, they never deign to wink.