Thursday, June 17, 2010

EP Review: Honored Guests Into Nostalgia

The Honored Guests Into Nostalgia EP Album Art
(Breakfast Mascot Music)

One of the welcome outcomes of the recent implosion of the music industry has been the reemergence of the EP as the de facto release format for independent artists. Enter on cue the The Honored Guests' new release Into Nostalgia, a record not only designed musically for the middle distances of the EP but one that also dives headlong into thematic issues of size, proportion, scale, and measure.

While the Guests’ first two releases, iawokeinacityasleep and Tastes Change, established their bend for the reflective and the understated as well as their interest in notions of maturity, Into Nostalgia is their first fully mature record; it expresses throughout the wisdom of those who have lived a little space beyond the false bravado and certain idealisms of youth. Just a few years ago the Guests were one of the more nomadic local bands, playing shows anywhere from Florida to California; now, they’re comfortably settled down, pleased to spend the long winter making a record and emerging every so often to play a local show.

As the title of the EP suggests, the heart of these songs’ maturity rests in a wholesale understanding of nostalgia. Too often a dress-up emotion donned by young artists, nostalgia is here presented in its proper light, full of both the self-discovery and the self-deception involved in why and how we remember. While the sprightly, Brit-poppish “Jimmy’s A Cop Now” represents frontman Russ Baggett’s clearest and most sustained sojourn into specific memory, it is on the gorgeous standout track “Paper Cuts” where his keen insight into the meaning of these memories finds fullest form. “Taken one by one, paper cuts, “ Baggett sings over a breezily-strummed acoustic guitar, “funny how the world sized me up.”

It is this bittersweet recognition that the world has our measure, despite all of our efforts to the contrary, that shines through here and pervades the beautiful simplicity and space of the Guests’ arrangements. They remind us that it often isn’t the momentous and large-scale lapses that wound us most meaningfully, but the thousand little cuts that the world inflicts. With this recognition, however, comes not bitterness and resentment but a certain happy resignation and even love for the world as it is.

Nostalgia is a fiction, we’re told, an artist’s rendering of the past. Into Nostalgia expresses a devout wish to move beyond the false tones of artifice. “I want you to see through me,” Baggett announces on the EP’s concluding track, “I don’t like how words suggest when the poetry’s right.” Not that the Guests have given up on their feverish dream poetry; see, for instance, the marvelous, lulling “Chasing Some Wild Sheep Chasing the Wasp.” But there is something clear and stark here that propels the six tracks purposefully, something that’s wary of indulgence or saying too much. Something that wants to feel exactly right. --Hidden Tiger

post script
The Honored Guests play their first show after releasing this EP at Nightlight in Chapel Hill on Saturday June 26 with Pros and Cons , and Western Civ. 10 PM $5 cover.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Birds and Josh Starmer and Arrows: or, How Andrea and Pete Learned to Stop Worrying and Drink Barleywine

Carolina Brewery - Pittsboro
May 22, 2010

It's been two weeks since this show, but my memory's not completely shot just yet. Give me a few more weeks guzzling peroxide and eating raw catfish and it may be a different story. Out with it...

The rains hadn't been gone long... but long enough. Pete and Andrea brought their friend, cellist-about-town Josh Starmer, to join them at the first of the Brewery's summer music series concerts. In Pittsboro, as in Chapel Hill, when you say "the Brewery," it means a place that brews its own beer and serves unimaginably tasty burgers. Their hot dogs are no joke either. Their homemade potato chips, if you can get them fresh from the frier, are about as close to religion as I care to tread. Don't get me started on what "the Brewery" means in Raleigh. That lousy place has as much to do with craft beer as a... hold it... I can come up with an analogy here... as a day care? Yeah, we'll go with the day care analogy. That one fits Raleigh's Brewery pretty well.

Close to 7:30 on a 7:00 start time, and it looked like the rain would hold back. Biblical torrents had hit Pittsboro, making loose clay of the red soil that is surprisingly good for cultivation, but the sun was now shining through fitful mountains of cloud as they marched frantically with the wind. Andrea, Pete, and Josh had held back, watching the skies for signs of anger, but none came and they got started. I was interested to see how a band I was accustomed to seeing play regular rock shows - 40-45 minute sets, natch - would do with 2 1/2 hours to kill. Quite the challenge, as the Brewery's time slots had more in common with cover band set times than original bands. But they did it, only pausing briefly to cover a Genesis song before rolling back into their own material.

I had no idea how much of their own stuff they had under their belt, but it makes sense that Andrea and Pete would be so prolific. They're married, Chrissakes. They have all kinds of time to make music together. Plus, their other project (Graveyard Fields).

I didn't think to take notes, so I don't know which songs were played in what set, but I do know that they broke out some new jams - and they're in a sweet new direction. The crowd wasn't what I was used to, a lot more people eating supper and treating the music as their background, but they knew how to work with it. And a drunken philosopher, not far from me, was trying to talk people into boycotting BP. The people weren't arguing with him, but he was to that point of idiotic inebriation where he figured everything was cause for argument. "No, maaaan... just do this one ffffthing for me, kay? No, 'm ser-ee-yusss...." and he babbled briefly and distractedly about how the new generation "doesn't know how to make music, maaaaan..." even as one of Chapel Hill's finest pop duos was kicking ass, taking names, and ruling the monkey bars on every playground within a twenty mile radius. But he can be forgiven for his blather, career alcoholics need an ear every now and then.

This was a fantastic show, especially for people with a love for Birds and Arrows (guilty!) as they played most of their record, as well as most of the Woodgrain Heart EP, if not all of it. And this is a band perfectly at home on an outdoor stage. In fact, they may inhabit an outdoor space better than an indoor one - as their music blends so well into the natural world. Much like all human endeavor, what they do must answer to the forces of time and nature - so they write and play accordingly. Because, even as they were finishing, there were warning flashes in the great distance as lightning asserted itself, illuminating the billowing caverns of faraway stormclouds. And though no more storms came that night, the presence of these big, dark clouds on our evening's periphery were almost directly opposite to Birds and Arrows music: which is a small corner of hope and civilization planted in the overgrown weeds of a graveyard. And just because the cops say you can't play there doesn't mean you shouldn't. Seriously. That's what the dead would have wanted, right? For people to come and spend quality time with them without weeping or getting histrionic or reflective (boring! useless!). The spirits of the departed probably want to see people acting like they're having fun, so it makes much more sense to play hide and seek or to make out among the tombstones than to bring some lousy bouquet of flowers and look sad.

So when, on a rare warm day in Winter, Pete and Andrea got kicked out of the Carrboro cemetery for picnicking there, they wrote a song about it. But this wasn't their life inspiring their music - this was their music being their life. And if that's not genuine, I don't know what is. -Wild Bill Heroic