November 18, 2009
Slim Twig, Dirty Beaches, Ela Orleans @ Market Hotel | 11.12.09
JezebelMusic.com @ Market Hotel
November 12, 2009 | Slim Twig, Dirty Beaches, Ela Orleans
Ela Orleans, a Polish musician based in Brooklyn, was a surprise act not listed on the Thursday night lineup at Brooklyn’s Market Hotel. It was a pleasant surprise, however – she quickly mesmerized the audience with hazy melodies; the sampler, guitar, and voice delicately layering atop one another. Orleans held the guitar across her lap and stroked it like a black plastic pet, with reverb giving it a sound somewhere between that of a dulcimer and a theremin, producing high notes that settled tentatively over the undulating backdrop of the opening song. The idyllic beach-house guitar conjured up an atmosphere all twilight and palm trees – a far cry from the stark onstage cluster of sampler boxes in a drafty warehouse. The next song’s preprogrammed percussion and bass supported a creepily climbing scale of vocal harmonies that maintained the tranquility of the opener while hinting at a touch of evil beneath – but playfully, with electronic twinkles and whistles sprinkled around to keep listeners guessing. A thunderclap of sharp electronic noise gave way to an alluring tidal wave of surf-guitar lullaby, but the calming spell was fractured when Orleans demanded a halt to the proceedings due to technical difficulties, stubbornly refusing to work around whatever flaw had nested in her loops until the track could be restarted.
Someone in the audience chose a moment of silence to cackle hysterically, and Orleans flashed that hint of evil again with a nonchalant near-whisper – “Somebody’s laughing? Not after this song…” What followed was no threat, but another quietly delivered harmonic mesh of vocals entwined with barely-there guitar strumming, a barely-alive “I am lost without you” drifting over the music that itself floated like a held breath afraid to let go completely. By the end of the set, the idyllic plucking of the guitar was threatening to lull listeners to sleep, but she naturally drifted to a close in time to prevent the lullaby from becoming literal.
Vancouver-based Dirty Beaches slinked into the sound-system with a sinuous rockabilly bass groove and muted gunshots for beats, one-man-band Alex Zhang Hungtai delivering his lyrics in a distorted, breathy whisper. Soon he was singing along with the bass through layers of effects like the disembodied voicebox of a ’50s crooner, punctuating the tune with claustrophobic shrieks. The music was so minimal it made the previous act sound like a 120-piece orchestra. At times Hungtai even eschewed percussion for just creepy atmospheric tones and his own voice. Fortunately, pieces of near-nothingness were interspersed with upbeat numbers, the creepy lo-fi electronic beats combined with his muttered-afterthoughts-meets-mental-patient vocals invoking inevitable comparisons to pioneering ’70s minimal electro-punks Suicide. When the first real guitar riff finally hit, 15 minutes into the set, it was shocking and seemed almost superfluous, trading off with the compulsively reverbing bass and vocals for precious sonic real estate.
After spending most of the set projecting no further than the knobs on the floor in front of him, Hungtai gave an unexpected shout-out to two estranged cousins in the audience and announced a song about his mother – though the lyrics remained unintelligible, to the dismay of audience members hoping for some juicy oedipal gossip. Another unexpected display of humanity amid the cold jittery electronics came toward the end of the set, when Hungtai entreated listeners to find “someone they care about” and dance, launching into a ’50s-style slow pop shuffle complete with an occasional falsetto warble. “I don’t see anyone dancing!” he protested, but eventually gave up, retreating back into his machines.
Toronto one-man-band Slim Twig immediately tore into his set with a raucous old-time rock ’n’ roll groove, overlaid with frantic dissonant samples from unidentified distorted band instruments and his own manic, choppy vocals delivered with the wide-eyed intensity of a demonically possessed folk singer. Showing no mercy, he plunged into the next track, heavier on the blissfully wrong horror-movie chords and spastic vocals, advising the audience on serious matters of life and love – “If you value your life, stay AWAY from your wife!!” backed with the sounds of a thousand turntables malfunctioning and exploding brass instruments. A particularly heinous dissonant chord slid perfectly into the backing beat of a Wu-Tang Clan song, the contrast fitting amid the chaos of Twig’s music. As with Dirty Beaches, Twig’s voice seemed at times to be emanating from a far-off cage or padded room through several layers of effects, but Twig’s personality was not lost in his knob twiddling—he played his guitar to the audience, not just in their general direction.
From the turbulent sounds coming off the stage, listeners might have expected an uncontrolled beast leaping around smashing things, but Twig was well-behaved, addressing the audience in a polite, coherent monotone between songs, even acting flattered in an aw-shucks vein when several girls in the audience requested songs by name. The last track of the evening slowed in the middle into a drawn-out, tortured, distorted guitar soup . Perhaps it was Twig’s sly way of avoiding immediate demands for an encore, as he picked back up into a still noise-saturated melody only after thrashing around, dying in its own juices for several minutes. Even so, audience members were demanding more as Twig packed up his gear, much to his delight. He didn’t give them any – like a true rock star, he chose to keep them coming back for more.
by Helen Buyniski