Trampled By Turtles
Banjodad Records

Trampled By Turtles carries a hemp sack full of expectations when they perform live. In just more than three years, the popular Minneapolis-based jamgrass quartet has developed a following for shows where they sit and play the hell out of mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar and acoustic bass, and the audience spins itself into a tizzy. It’s a formula that plays well in Missoula, and the band deserves another warm welcome when they hit The Loft for the second time in seven months.

But this visit is a bit different: Whereas last time TBT arrived toting a live album, the raucously fun Live at Lucé, this time they’re touring on the heels of a studio release, Trouble. What’s trouble here is trying to bottle their live energy, a trick that’s pulled off only in fits and spurts. The somber “Salvation” is haunting, foot-stompers like “Arming of Infants” and the instrumental “Spoiler” come off filthy and authentic, and the regret-fueled “Never Again” hits a loose tone that’ll surely rip live, but there are too many middling pit stops to make this a joyride. A good example is “Still in Love with You,” a ballad that sounds canned in the studio.

Perhaps Trouble’s tracks just need some room to breathe—there’s a lot to work with here, and the band’s craftsmanship has always been energized on stage. (Skylar Browning)

Trampled By Turtles plays The Loft Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 10 PM. $7.

Earle Brown
Folio and Four Systems

It says something about the much greener Brooklyn-based Zs that they were invited to play on an Earle Brown tribute album, Brown being a great American musical experimentalist who thrived in the 1950s New York scene under the influence of artists like Jackson Pollock.

Folio and Four Systems is a reworking of Brown’s original compositions performed by several avant-garde bands and Brown himself, all of whom add a modern spin to his odd and sparse originals. The Zs bind electric guitar and saxophone to other musicians’ keyboards and bass, and together they often heighten anticipation like an orchestra tuning, scattering subdued sounds in a multitude of disparate directions. “Four Systems 1954” has a dreamlike quality of slow movement; the sludgy drums and popping strings seem as if they’re resurrecting themselves from a muddy hole, pushing through for breath. “November 1952” crackles and buzzes like death revealing itself.

This album is a reminder that the current rise in experimental noise is not a purely contemporary phenomenon, but rather stems from early jazz and decades of monkeying around with the limits of sound and imagination. (Erika Fredrickson)

The Zs play The Loft Saturday, Feb. 3, at 10 PM. Deny The Dinosaur, Riddilin Que and The Legendary Lynn T. Spu open. $4.

James Holden
The Idiots Are Winning
Border Community Records

It’s easy for house music to sound cheesy and mind-numbingly repetitive outside the confines of a club, especially when your buzz has worn off. But a number of emerging producers, including London’s James Holden, have broken up the monotony and added ample doses of melodic clicks, jangles and stutters to the house genre, giving it an experimental edge and listenability beyond the dance floor.

Holden’s latest continues the trend with a pace that constantly morphs and mutates. Several listens to a track like “10101” reveal that he drastically alters the timbre of each rhythmic and melodic element—using spectral processing techniques like filtering and granular synthesis—every few measures, giving the music a strong sense of progression while still maintaining a thumping dance beat.

Holden’s experimental house is similar to that of artists like Sutekh and Twerk, but unlike their work, Holden’s compositions emphasize powerfully emotive peaks and valleys. This is evident throughout The Idiots Are Winning, with the odd exception of “Intentionally Left Blank,” a full two minutes and five seconds of—you guessed it—silence.

Drawn-out pregnant pauses aside, The Idiots Are Winning represents an exciting and unconventional direction for Holden and his genre— and house music you can actually listen to at home. (Ira Sather-Olson)

Spencer Bates
Goodnight Rosebud
Spencer Bates

Spencer Bates spends his evenings playing DC piano bars, satiating the desires of drunken patrons who want to hear—and sing along to—“Tiny Dancer” and “The Piano Man” as many times as the night allows. Turns out that the young, self-taught piano player with dramatic flair not unlike Billy Joel’s or Elton John’s also writes original material, and serves it up just as boldly on a platter of supercharged theatrics.

Listening to Goodnight Rosebud is like watching a musical, mostly because each song seems so epic. Tracks like “Outside Looking Out” and “The Time Must Come” are determined social commentary, while other tunes are crack-the-chest-open ballads. Fortunately, Bates is also quick to throw in funny lines about the PTA and monkeys in the frozen dinner aisles. And somehow it all works.

Though it’s difficult not to compare Bates to FM piano heavyweights like Joel and John, that’s less because he plays piano and more because he has an ear for compositions that sound essential and universal. You may not know the words well enough to sing along, but you feel compelled to try anyway. (Erika Fredrickson)

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