Year after year, we have much to reflect on and plenty to look forward to. As not only a new year, but a new decade is upon us, I can't help but project forward with anticipation.
Tulsa's music scene is constantly in a state of flux and change, just as any other city's, but we've had plenty to be proud of--especially during the past couple of years as we've been blessed with some truly impressive bands and music from every genre and corner of the music scene.
Whether considering the ever-evolving and continually engaging avante-jazz of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, a palette of indie rock that covers everything from the immediacy of Callupsie to the whimsy of GHOSTS and Wighead, the modern rock of My Solstice and the now defunct Congress of a Crow or the unadulterated pop rock of acts like RadioRadio and Stars Go Dim, Tulsa's local musicians have been truly prolific.
So what does that leave us to look forward to? Sure, 2009 ended with the local scene going into its annual winter slumber and a perceived loss of original music venues year after year. Nevertheless, our live music scene is alive and well, even if it has found new and different places to grow. Although we may have to keep our ear to the ground (as some clubs don't advertise their schedules), live music is still vibrant and growing, especially in locales like The Colony and Eclipse, as well as old standbys like Soundpony and Mercury Lounge.
While the influx of new music for 2010 already beginning (see page 43 for info on the release party for Moai Broadcast's latest, hUMAN), I've been privy to a pair of releases that I'm highly anticipating in 2010.
Coming to a Close
I've made no secret of the fact that Vandevander has been one of my favorite local acts throughout the past couple of years. Rising out of the ashes of The Heroes Factor like a phoenix, and perhaps still smoldering or openly burning at times, Matt Fisher's solo project marked a turn from his previous band's modern and occasionally dance-rock oriented sound and embraced a more raw and unbridled sense of urgency and emotion while channeling blues and classic rock.
Vandevander's debut EP, The Great State of Emotion, was one hell of a statement of musical independence. It was also the first step of a trilogy into a harrowing journey through the emotional psyche.
Heart-wrenching and emotionally raw, it ripped its protagonist's heart out and showed it to him--while it was still bleeding. A disc that is still vivid and tangible, the five-song cycle set the bar almost impossibly high for a follow up, yet Fisher didn't blink with The Great State of Denial. In part two, Vandevander stepped out of a bitter and nasty heartbreak with venom and vitriol and a swagger that proved he intended to emerge victorious, if scarred.
The closing act of the trilogy, The Great State of Redemption, is yet to be officially released, but it proves to be everything I'd hoped, never expected and more. Not necessarily fully healed from the heartbreak, Vandevander nevertheless steps forward and into the light with a guarded heart, ready to move forward.
Tinges of blues, gospel and even more greasy, classic rock grooves meld into the perfect conclusion to this trilogy. Whether reconciling his past in the gritty blues of "Devil Man" or valiantly and cautiously stepping forward in "Burning for Love," Fisher still smolders with cynicism and a tinge of hurt, but there's a new hope shining forth--especially as Fisher cries forth "There's power in this love, power in my soul, power in the God that's saying come on home..."
Make no mistake: It's a cautious stepping forward. Closing with the refrain, "Baby if you're ever going to get what you want, you gotta take your time with me" in "Take Your Time, Ruff," Fisher projects the scars and hesitance from his past, but that's exactly the beauty of this trilogy. Emotionally raw and transparent, the song cycle of this trilogy, whether taken individually or as a whole, has consistently been vexing, heart-wrenching and liberating all at once.
Surely, this isn't the end of Vandevander, just the end of a chapter.
Fisher has proved to be an enigmatic and engaging storyteller and proven his own identity with the trilogy--both outside of his previous band and outside of whatever previous relationship that informed and inspired this torturous redemption. While I eagerly anticipate the official release of the disc, perhaps more enticing now is the question of what Vandevander's next step will be. Whatever it is, it promises to be a wild ride.
For as much anticipation as Fisher has created with Vandevander each year, perhaps the only thing that has kept me in wait even more is his musical and creative cohort, Eric Arndt's music project, The Refund Division. After waiting in the wings for nearly three years, the project that has only been hinted at in Tulsa--via Arndt's MySpace page, for the project is due to arrive shortly.
Yes, I can confirm that Refund Division is not a hoax. There is such an entity, and although the group has not appeared in Tulsa to date, as far as I'm aware, I did get to see Arndt front what is was essentially the same formation as Vandevander (with Matt Fisher on guitar and Nathan Price on drums) in 2008. Granted, I had to travel to Austin to witness it, but still -- it was proof that there was something brewing here.
After a sneak preview from Arndt, I can testify that the product is worth the wait-- if altogether not what you'll be expecting. Neither a descendant of Hero Factor or Vandevander, Arndt has crafted something that is wholly and uniquely his own.
Crafted by Arndt and shaped with producer (and former Hero Factor co-member) Chad Copelin, The Refund Division is both enlightening and a breath of fresh air. Granted, I wasn't given a track listing, only a glimpse via a listening party and an unmarked CDR, but the songs easily bear repeated listens and unfold in layers.
Redemptive and hopeful, the songs are reflective of Arndt's demeanor and personality. The big surprise, however, was in the construction of the songs. These are primarily piano driven pop songs--actually, far more keyboard driven than I had ever expected, but it works with a grace and elegance.
When asked how that happened, even Arndt seemed slightly humored and amazed, admitting that the songs were primarily written on guitar. The songs took on a life of their own in the studio, however, especially incorporating the ideas and input that Copelin, amongst others, interjected.
Even after living with the songs for more than a month, I'm still awestruck by their simplicity and beauty. I'm also still at a lack of words to properly describe them. By the time spring arrives, you should be amazed, too. The wait is nearly over, and you won't be disappointed. I predict The Refund Division will prove to be one of the biggest surprises if the year musically.
What else do we have to look forward to? What don't we have to look forward to? Bran Haas and Jacob Fred have been ridiculously prolific as of late, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see yet another JFJO release in 2010. Callupsie is due challenge us and up the ante on the local indie scene again, although I haven't heard anything about a return to the studio.
Looking back to the old Hero Factor camp, I do know that Ben Kilgore has been in the studio working on another worship album and has his own solo work in process. Drummer Nathan Price has also been working on his own indie project, Old Savior with Ben King. After sneak previewing initial tracks, I can only hope that the pair will be able to wrap up and release their material this year as well.
On the rock front, My Solstice is currently on a break but was promising to return to the studio to commence work on album No. 3. Meanwhile, vocalist Brandon Davis is committed to completing the Mercy Street debut this year and has his own solo material, currently dubbed Bravo Delta, which should see more activity and potentially some studio time this summer. Of course, Jakob recently teased with promise of a potential return to the studio for industrial fans, so we'll see where that goes.
And for pop fans, I can't really foresee a full return to the studio just yet, but I don't know that Stars Go Dim already has a handful of new songs completed, so I wouldn't rule that out. The recently revamped RadioRadio is also in writing mode, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Eric and the Adams return to the studio for a sophomore follow-up before the end of the year.
Our indie scene is so prolific as of late that it might be easier to project who won't release something in 2010 than who will, so that always keeps us guessing and on our toes.
As I said, we've got a much to look forward to in 2010. It promises to be a big year for Tulsa music and a great start to the next decade of growth.
It's no secret that it's COLD outside! Even so, however, I'll bet many of us are still getting stir crazy. The cold and the holidays still have many of us (and many of our bands) in hibernation mode, but that doesn't mean there isn't a good selection of shows to choose from if you're willing to venture out. Here are some highlights to get you pointed in the right direction.
Thursday evening, Jan. 14, is a good night to kick-start your weekend. If you aren't settling in for Dustin and Jesse at Eclipse, it's a great night to check out The Televised at Soundpony, or get your dance groove on with DJ Moody at The Marquee.
Friday highlights include Adam Heare with Dorian Mode, two steps Back and Popular Culture at Flytrap Music Hall or Kite Flying Robots, GHOSTS and Brothers Gruesome at Soundpony. Your best bet, however, might well be Ben Miller Band at Mercury Lounge.
Saturday, Jan. 16, has three shows all worth your time. Over at Flytrap, The Televised, Western Heritage, Apollo and The Portrayl all share the stage. Meanwhile, one of Tulsa's best ambient/dance/jam bands, The Moai Broadcast, re-emerges from the studio with the release party for hUMAN at The Colony.
The real sleeper for Saturday night, however, is Flashbulb Fires, playing at Eclipse. These guys from Denver are an eclectic, ambient indie rock act that truly captures your imagination. The new disc, Glory, is a mix of indie rock, Americana and chamber pop that I can barely describe, but I was immediately mesmerized by it. If you get the chance, you've got to check them out.
Finally, wrap up your weekend with Mike Dillon's Go-Go Jungle and Dead Kenny G's at Eclipse on Sunday, Jan. 17 if you're looking for a guaranteed killer drums/bass and dub show. Dillon always kills it.
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