The 5th Make The World Better Foundation Benefit Concert
Hop Along, Strand Of Oaks, Karl Blau (solo)
Thu, September 5, 2019
Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 7:00 pm
The Dell Music Center
$20.00 - $55.00
This event is all ages
MTWB is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit founded by Connor Barwin in 2013 working to connect people and inspire stewardship through public space revitalization projects. In the last year, (supported by the War on Drugs show) MTWB completed Phase 1 of construction at Waterloo Playground in West Kensington, featuring Philadelphia's first two basketball court surface murals designed by Carlos Rosa through the Mural Arts Program. The second and final phase of construction is slated to begin later this summer and will include new play equipment, nature-based play elements, new handball wall, pool upgrades, improved gateways and other site amenities. MTWB also recently announced the kick-off to their 4th park project at Vare Recreation Center in the Grays Ferry section of South Philadelphia. All concert proceeds will support MTWB's engagement and park building work in Philadelphia.https://www.r5productions.com/event/1863025/
As addictive songs like breakout 'Seasons (Waiting on You)' turned the world on to sublime pleasures a loyal fan base already knew, this hard-touring band ploughed forward, playing their 1000th show in July 2015 and celebrating their 10th anniversary in February 2016. Now Future Islands returns at the top of their game with new album The Far Field, delivering twelve chest-pounding love songs and odes to theroad as only they can.
The Far Field refines and builds on the breakthroughs of Singles, bursting with undeniable hooks and disarmingly honest lyrics written by Samuel T. Herring (vocals, lyrics), William Cashion (bass, guitars), and Gerrit Welmers (keyboards, programming). The band began writing new material in January 2016 on the coast of North Carolina, and continued throughout the year in Baltimore before road-testing these songs with a series of secret shows under fake names. In November 2016, they settled in with Grammy Award-winning producer John Congleton at Los Angeles’ legendary Sunset Sound, where everyone from The Beach Boys to Prince have laid down masterpieces.
The result is Future Islands’ best set of songs yet, both an emotional summation of the themes they’ve explored over the past decade and a further distillation of their signature art-pop sound. It’s the first Future Islands record featuring live drums by Michael Lowry, who joined the band prior to their viral performance of ‘Seasons’ on Letterman, and whose energy propels the band’s sound to new heights. With Congleton’s production and string and horn arrangements by Patrick McMinn, The Far Field finds Future Islands crafting soundscapes larger and more opulent than ever before, as sonically lush and expansive as they are lyrically raw and direct.
This theme propels the Philadelphia-based band’s third studio record, Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Written over the course of 2016 and 2017 and recorded in the summer of the latter year by Quinlan, Tyler Long (bass), Joe Reinhart (guitar), and Mark Quinlan (drums), the album imagines what it’s like to cast off longheld perceptions, often without being certain about the new ones that will replace them. Much like on Hop Along’s first and second records, Get Disowned and Painted Shut, Quinlan seeks in real time to work through these emotions. On Bark Your Head Off, Dog, she also grasps at something more complicated. “Growing up I was constantly in my head and not a part of the world,” she says. “Now I’m trying to force myself into the world.”
Throughout Bark Your Head Off, Dog, one gets the sense that Quinlan is wandering in the thicket of a forest-a state of being that will feel familiar to longtime listeners-and on this outing, she hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs behind her. The album’s artwork, which Quinlan painted herself, invites the listener into that forest, as well. “There is a terror in getting lost,” she says, “the woods are at the same time beautiful and horrifying.” This curious wandering gives the album, both lyrically and musically, a heightened dimensionality. On “Somewhere a Judge,” Hop Along explores a dancier side to their sound, while “What the Writer Meant” showcases a string section and enormous, full harmonies. “One That Suits Me” welcomes and embraces the sound of a Rhodes and tambourine, but with a syncopated vocal rhythm on top, almost building to a call-and-response. Throughout, the music is full of gratifying, new deviations.
Bark Your Head Off, Dog is, without question, Hop Along’s most dynamic and textured record yet. Self-produced and recorded at The Headroom in Philadelphia by Reinhart and Kyle Pulley, Bark Your Head Off, Dog features the familiar sounds that have always made the band allergic to genre: grunge, folk, punk, and power pop all appear, with inspiration from ELO to Elvis Costello to ‘70s girl group vocal arrangements. This time around, they’ve added strings, more intricate rhythms, lush harmonies (featuring Thin Lips’ Chrissy Tashjian), along with a momentary visit with a vocoder. In more than one place, Mark Quinlan drums like he’s at a disco with Built to Spill.
“We wanted to get back to using the studio as a writing tool and bring elements of that in,” Reinhart says of the production process. “When you’re sitting there and you force yourself to figure something out, in the studio, there are unlimited possibilities.” This visit to the studio often required a lot of throwing things at Quinlan’s new demos, then scaling them back after the fact. “Why are we doing mandolin? It’s 5am. We have to get on a plane tomorrow,” Reinhart says of the thirty-five day recording process. “But then we ended up keeping it.”
On the album’s opening track, “How Simple,” Quinlan wrangles with what it’s like to learn about yourself-which can get ugly. “People romanticize the idea of finding themselves, but when they do, at least in my experience, it can be really difficult. You see how you fail others and how others fail you.” The theme carries through to “How You Got Your Limp” and “Not Abel,” where Quinlan sings about the ways other people can be disappointing, relative strangers and biblical figures. The record also calls upon references that Quinlan has woven throughout all of the band’s albums: the wild presence of animals (rabbits, foxes, dogs, and blue jays all appear on this record) and historical touchstones (from a podcast on World War I to books by Karl Ove Knausgaard). Hop Along’s songs continue to reveal the curiosities nesting in Quinlan’s mind.
Most significantly, Bark Your Head Off, Dog shows the band at its strongest and most cohesive. Hop Along (which originally began as Quinlan’s solo project under the moniker Hop Along, Queen Ansleis) has never sounded so deliberate, so balanced. “Really, there are four producers in the band,” Reinhart says. “Everybody has ideas. Maybe somebody riffs on this thing, while somebody else says, ‘Let’s do it like that, but backwards.’ The last record was a snapshot of a band becoming a band.” On this record, they are truly that: a band. “Our confidence grew in our ability to express what we mean,” Quinlan says.
“So strange to be shaped by such strange men” is a line that repeats on more than one song on the album. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot. That I just deferred to men throughout my life,” Quinlan says. “But by thinking you’re powerless, you’re really robbing yourself. I’m at a point in my life where I’m saying instead, ‘Well, what can I do?’”
In December 2017, Tim Showalter was uncertain about his next record and the shape it would eventually take. With no new songs written and lacking any clear vision, he was unprepared for the message he would receive from his friend Carl Broemel, the conversation that would follow, and the album that would become Eraserland. Leading off with standout track “Weird Ways” and his powerful declaration of“I don’t feel it anymore,” Eraserland traces Showalter’s evolution from apprehension to creative awakening, carving out a new and compelling future for Strand of Oaks.
“This project seemed to just fall together naturally,” said Broemel, guitarist for My Morning Jacket. “I felt drawn to Tim’s positive energy and his albums…I threw it out there that I’d be happy to help in any way I could with the record.” Broemel quickly reignited Showalter’s interest in what would become Strand of Oaks’ sixth full-length studio release, and within 24 hours, My Morning Jacket members Patrick Hallahan (drums), Bo Koster (keys), and Tom Blankenship(bass)were also on board.
Revived by the support of Broemel and his bandmates, Showalter felt the pressure to deliver songs worthy of musicians he had admired long before and after a 2015 Oaks/MMJ tour. So in February 2018, he spent two weeks alone in Wildwood, New Jersey writing and demoing all of the songs that would eventually comprise Eraserland. And in April, he went into the studio to record with Kevin Ratterman at La La Land Studios in Louisville, Kentucky, and with Broemel, Hallahan, Koster, and Blankenship as his band. Jason Isbell also contributed his Hendrix-esque guitar work to Eraserland, while singer/songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle provided gorgeous vocals. Every song was recorded live, with all musicians playing together in one room and working to bring Showalter’s ideas to fruition. “I remember sitting next to Tim and Kevin listening to the final mixes with tears rolling down my cheeks,” said Hallahan. “From start to finish, this one came from the heart.”
Each song on Eraserland sustains an openness and sensitivity that is enthralling, bolstered by the exceptional musicians there to realize it and rekindle Showalter’s passion for music-making. The album finds Showalter successfully channeling the full spectrum of sounds within the Strand of Oaks discography, from fast, synthy tracks like “Hyperspace Blues” to epic burner “Visions, the gorgeous ballad “Keys,” and his devastating acoustic performance on “Wild and Willing.”But Eraserland also has moments of pure, upbeat exuberance, most notably on“Ruby,” a rollicking, understated anthem driven by buoyant piano and one of Showalter’s most infectious melodies to date. Isbell’s magnificent shredding is showcased on “Moon Landing,” Eraserland’s preeminent off-the-wall groove, while the album’s title track finds Showalter resurrecting his long-dormant alter ego Pope Killdragon for a striking, synth-laden duet with Rundle.
But in many ways, “Forever Chords” is the definitive track on Showalter’s magnum opus, and the manifestation of everything he hoped to achieve on this record and for Strand of Oaks as a whole.“When I finished writing ‘Forever Chords,’ I felt like this is either the last song I ever need to write, or the rebirth of Strand of Oaks.” Poignant and heart-rending, “Forever Chords” gradually builds toward an emotional release rooted in our own universal fears about mortality, personal legacy, and music as a saving force.
But it’s that first Eraserland line, “I don’t feel it anymore,” that sets a stunning precedent for the most affecting and fully-formed album Strand of Oaks has ever released. Because despite whatever doubts or reservations Showalter had going into the process, he crafted a series of songs so perfectly matched to the musicians supporting it, and so emboldened by his own doubts and insecurities, that the result is glittering, powerful, and impassioned, a moving rock and roll saga that feels substantial and deeply satisfying, vulnerable and self-assured.
The Dell Music Center
2400 Strawberry Mansion Drive
Philadelphia, PA, 19132