National Acts to Catch

Bear in Heaven

Guitarist Adam Wills, an until recently closeted football fan, had an idea the night they played Birmingham, Alabama, last October.

“I told `frontman` Jon `Philpot`, ‘Announce that we’re Bear Bryant in Heaven,” says Wills, who pulls for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. “It’s going to go over well here.’”

He was right. The crowd, through horn-rimmed glasses, had just seen Bama, the eventual national champions, beat the Ole Miss Rebels up on the big screen at a place called the Bottle Tree Café, the hippest place in town. Now they were about to watch legendary grizzly voiced Bama football coach Bear Bryant in Heaven shimmy through a delicately sung, Twitter-acclaimed synthgasm of space rock. They whooped and hollered and ate it up.

Based in Brooklyn but born and raised in Georgia, Wills, 31, agrees that seeing his fellow southerners seamlessly switch gears from football to songs like “Lovesick Teenagers,” which goes perfectly with YouTube-spliced footage of Labyrinth, is just one of the many signs that the traditional jock vs. hipster line of scrimmage has blurred.

Whatever the reasons, it’s kind OK to like football now.

Another sign?

The song everyone swears they heard playing during a Super Bowl pregame feature on New Orleans’ Saints quarterback Drew Brees was, somehow, “You Do You,” the third track off Bear in Heaven’s new Pitchfork-approved LP, Beast Rest Fourth Mouth.

CBS didn’t ask permission, but Bear In Heaven would have given it.


In 2006 – upon the release of the Danielson Famile’s art-rock opus Ships – Daniel Smith stopped being asked to explain his obsession with Jesus.

“That’s when `music writers` just took that out of the equation,” says Smith, the Famile’s Bible-toting, helium-voiced frontman, while taking a break from building a new recording studio in his southern New Jersey backyard. “Now sometimes people just talk about the music.”

It only took 15 years.

In 2002, Pitchfork gave credit to Secretly Canadian’s re-release of Smith’s 1995 debut A Prayer For Every Hour (put out by secretly Christian Tooth and Nail Records) for “trumping the boredom of status quo American Christianity”… after calling it a great way to kill the mood for sex.

Smith understands the prejudice; growing up in a house filled with folk music, he thought Christian rock was lame, too.

“Once you know what Bob Dylan and the Beatles sound like, it’s hard to convince somebody that’s of the devil,” he says.

Which is maybe why today the members of the Danielson Famile – most of whom are members of Smith’s actual family and who don nurses’ uniforms on stage to signify God’s healing – finally seem so right to mainstream indie-rock.

“We were certainly the laughing stock in a lot of circles in the Christian scene but … I think partly the reason the indie scene took to us was because they heard the Christian scene wasn’t going for it,” Smith says. “It was like, here’s a band with every lyric from the Bible, but the music is so strange to that `Christian` culture, maybe we should check it out.”


Yes, they’ve heard of Japancakes (Athens). Yes, they’ve heard of – even played with – Japanther (Brooklyn). Yes, hindsight is 20/20 – even in Canada (Vancouver).

“Yeah, maybe we would have taken it a little more seriously if we knew what was going to happen,” says Japandroids’ Brian King a few hours before playing a show in Nijemegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands. “But … when you name your band, you’re looking for a name to just put on a flyer to play a show. You’re not thinking that anybody is going to know who you are.”

And nobody probably would have … had King’s fuzz-breathing guitar and pal ’n’ partner John Prowse’s chaotically simple drumming not sounded so freaking good, so freaking sincere, so freaking who-cares-if-they’re-steering-that-hipster-Japan-punwagon.

With buzz-band speed and talent-show humility, the Vancouver-based duo has earned career-making reviews from all the usual blog and print barometers thanks to the no-frill thrills of their 2009 Polyvinyl Records debut LP, Post-Nothing, a throwback to the proto-hipster house-show exuberance of the mid-to-late ’90s.

“Well, I think that’s probably related to something that all those bands have in common,” King says. “It’s that DIY kind of attitude or aesthetic of bands that grew up listening to bands like Fugazi or Sonic Youth … bands into creating our own scene.”

Japandroid’s scene’s gotten big enough to get them to Holland tonight, where the fans just want it loud, and Japuns don’t even translate.

“I mean, Radiohead,” King says. “That’s a stupid band name – it’s not cool, it sounds terrible. If those guys had a chance to go back, what would they think? But it’s sort of like the band is bigger than the name now.”

Les Savy Fav

The greatest thing that happened to Tim Harrington at the Rhode Island School of Design wasn’t a degree, but the formation of Brooklyn’s Les Savy Fav – “the Megadeth of not super well-known ’90s bands,” as he puts it, and one of the greatest things to happen to independent music in the last 15 years, in large part thanks to husky, hilarious Harrington, a bearded, balding, bigfoot of a boy.

As one review of their most recent release, After The Balls Drop – a live album recorded at a NYC New Year’s Eve/Day show at 3 a.m. – put it: “There aren’t many frontmen in music nowadays that would strip down to a Speedo and jump into a teeming mass of 20,000 fans with a Slip ’n Slide.”

“I don’t know,” Harrington says. “I’m like, not a really good singer, but my perspective is that all material is better in real life. Music is always better live. I think the past five years are going to be defined by this weird collision of jammy but informed-by-technology bands that can afford to fixate on the studio and obsess with these studio masterpieces.”

Les Savy Fav doesn’t do that?

“We don’t masterpiece anything,” Harrington says. “There’s only one piece we master.”


When it comes to sheer weirdness, Gwen Stefani’s beloved Harajuku girls have nothing on Peelander-Z, a “Japanese Action Comic Punk” band from the Z sector of Peelander Planet costumed in Power Ranger-esque regalia, driven by an almost Dadaist commitment to juvenilia, and dedicated to the proposition that the Ramones are gods.

The Current recently talked with 10,041-light-years-old and fantastically goateed guitarist and frontman Peelander Yellow.

What’s the worst Peelander show ever?

A couple of years ago we played New Mexico. Albuquerque … that crowd. I jump from the second floor and I broke my foot bone. So it super pain but I had to do all of my show.

You played through the rest of the show?

Yes, I play all of show. Almost couldn’t remember cause big, big, big, pain. That was worst show in my life. I played Bonnaroo and knocked out front of my tooth because I hit my guitar. Then I couldn’t remember what happened. It was weird.

What’s been the best show?

I think most happy thing we did was wrestling. We went to anime convention in Florida long time ago, three years. And local wrestler, he is a champion hardcore wrestler. We always have wrestling but he say “you guys do fake wrestling.” He say “I don’t know you guys, you Japanese people,” and he punched me on stage. And we scared. He like a real wrestler. His manager is scary guy too. But somehow we fall on him and Peelander members just come on his body and we do the count “1, 2, 3.” And the commissioner said, “If you do the 1, 2, 3, you’ve got his champion belt.” So we got a champion belt right now. We have it in our studio. We are so happy.

Sarah Jaffe

“I’ve heard smoky, bluesy,” Sarah Jaffe says, laughing, of her 24-year-old, does-something-to-you voice. “I’m sure I’ve heard husky before, though that’s kind of uncomfortable.”

The “young, virtually unknown Texas singer-songwriter” of a 2008 NPR “Song of the Day” blurb (“Even Born Again,” from the 2008 EP of the same name) spent 2009 stockpiling glowing write-ups about her live-shows from still-hypnotized reviewers, and started 2010 on European stages with big-time fellow Denton folkies Midlake.

Only recently back home “just south of Dallas,” she’s trying not to let the anticipation of her new record, Suburban Nature (due out May 2), go to her head.

“I just want to be humble and never want to let ego get in the way of anything,” Jaffe says, “… but it’s nice to come home and kind of digest all the wonderful things that happened and shows you played and people you met and know you’ve got something ahead of you.”

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

There is a post up on consisting mostly of photos taken at a Brooklyn club on New Year’s Eve Eve. Several of them show Sharon Jones, a smiling, short, voluptuous, middle-aged black woman in a bright red dress, up on stage, microphone in hand, grinding with smiling young white men in horn-rimmed glasses and dancing with smiling young white women with quasi-fauxhawk haircuts. It’s a pretty typical scene at a Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings show, but some people apparently have a problem with it.

The first comment: “wish she would bitch-slap those hipsters back to the midwest...”

The second comment: “Right now, I am so ashamed to be white.”

Third: “You should have way more reason to be ashamed of being white than the fact that those hipsters have no rhythm”

“You know, I read that, and it disturbed me,” says Jones still wearing her makeup from a photo shoot for Beyond Race Magazine. “Most of `the comments` were about race, not how good it was, not how great this show was, it was about race. That was disgusting.”

Jones, 55, has been out there slowly gaining fans on the stages and floors and turntables of what she just calls “college kid” culture since 1996. That’s when she was plucked from wedding singer obscurity (and a line of dead-end jobs including a stint as a Riker’s Island prison guard) by the soul-revivalists at Brooklyn-based Daptone Records after recording background vocals for funk and soul legend Lee Fields. When matched to the label’s house band, the Dap-Kings, the power, style, and vintage Stax and Motown-esque tone of her voice prompted head Daptone audiophile and Dap-King bassist Gabriel “Bosco Mann” Roth to offer Jones her own record deal. Then came movie soundtracks (their“This Land Is Your Land” is featured in Up in the Air), a duet with Michael Buble’s on a recent episode of Saturday Night Live, and backing up Amy Winehouse on her way to “Rehab” in 2007 after producer Mark Ronson realized that the sound of the ’60s and ’70s can’t be achieved with a Pro-Tools plug-in.

“They call it retro soul, but Amy Winehouse ain’t bringin’ nothing back,” Jones laughs.

“I can’t do an interview without mentioning her name,” Jones says. “A few years ago somebody tried to get me to say something bad about her and then said, ‘so you’re following in her footsteps,’ I said ‘I ain’t following nobody. We inspired them. They jumped on our wagon.” — Jeremy Henderson


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