High In One Eye: Memory Hoarders

Hi-Fi Octopi, 2012

“Don’t you think it might be a little too messy to actually enjoy?” asked a car ride acquaintance of mine recently after hearing Memory Hoarders, the newest release by New Orleans noise punk duo High In One Eye. I suppose on some level she was right to at least bring it up: Andrew Landry and Evan Cvitanovic aren’t exactly in the business of pleasing ears, certainly not those of the casual listener; with unrecognizably muffled vocals and every guitar effect piped through a Line 6 amp, HIOE exists almost purely to make noise. But I’ll give my friend credit for how she framed her assessment, even if unintentional. She wasn’t talking about noise; she was talking about messiness, which is a different animal altogether.

Is High in One Eye messy? Does she even know what “messy” means when talking about punk rock?  Though I wanted her to love the record as much as I’d come to, I really had no good way of winning her over. So, I asked the only question I could, knowing full-well how stupefied it would leave her: “Have you ever heard Whippersnapper?”

The only reason that question or the band in that question – a defunct Lagwagon/NOFX clone from the late 90s and early aughts – is relevant to the enjoyment of High In One Eye in any way is that in 2002, Whippersnapper made a swansong record, Appearances Wear Thin, in which drummer Pat Kerr abandoned his traditionally tight, jaw-dropping pop punk techniques in favor of some strange, badly recorded and drunkenly executed arena rock drum work. For years I hated (not just hated, openly shit-talked) that record specifically because Kerr always annoyingly seemed to be just a little out of step with the rest of the band or, at his best, would shift tempos so freely that not even singer Andy Munn knew exactly where to place his vocals. It wasn’t until four or so years after the fact that Kerr’s work on that record became one of my favorite drum offerings of all time, by which point I had realized that he wasn’t out of his element but quite the opposite: in the same way that avant-garde guitarists have been toying with negative space for decades, Kerr was subtly stealing the record with negative rhythm, creating anomalous underlayed drum melodies totally independent of the musical subject matter being sung and strummed, but no less accessible or addictive. After all, listeners instinctively know where a punk beat would otherwise go, so why not leave it up to their imagination?

Whippersnapper’s drummer was certainly neither the first nor the last person to so wantonly engage in such experimental frolic. But without that little tidbit of crude perspective enforcing my understanding of modern punk drumming (I’m sure that weird Dave Holland shit from Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance can offer something similar), I – like my friend who complains of High In One Eye’s apparent messiness – would probably have no clue as to why Evan Cvitanovic and Andrew Landry might in fact be one of the tightest, most lock-stepped creative units making music in New Orleans.

Granted, there was a particular time in the last couple of years – when contemporaries Caddywhompus were beginning to subtly veer from their experimental roots and craft encapsulated pop – that High In One Eye certainly began to appear messy in comparison. It’s no secret that Cvitanovic and Landry enjoy the weirder side of things, and – like the aforementioned ‘Whompus – theirs is an interesting deconstruction of pop music, albeit to much vaster and stranger extremes. The not-so-subtle secret at this point, however, is that through six years of exercises in abrasive dissonance, as well as nine releases of varying length and stylistic origin, the duo has slowly but surely begun to flirt with, of all things, “accessibility”. Not surprisingly, Memory Hoarders is the closest High In One Eye have yet come to crafting traditional breeds of punk and rock and roll. So, if “messy” was ever a valid adjective to describe High In One Eye, I’m sorry friend in the car, but this record is the furthest thing from it.

Not to get too carried away, the record is certainly every bit the “experimental post-mathrock death pop” that it purports to be. But with Chinquapin Records’ in-house recording guru Ross Farbe at the helm, High In One Eye seems to have found the coherent personality they’ve been lacking for far too long. At times the marriage is an odd one. “Weep” and “Indifference”, songs that would probably otherwise thrive on their rough recorded edges with screeching cymbals that drill holes in listeners’ eardrums and strings that exist solely in the low and high end, take on a different life under the blanket of Farbe’s production: instead of jagged edges, he creates pillowy low fidelity textures that often resemble an aural blur rather than a blast. In other places, the soft, demure edges aren’t simply interesting or striking but absolutely revelatory. The spacy, low-key single “Clausula” allows Landry’s doubled guitar to breathe while, for possibly the first time in High In One Eye’s existence, you can almost hear what he is singing. And on closer “G-Deny”, Farbe manages to highlight Cvitanovic’s penchant for creating the kinds of rhythms that not only set the beat but seem to exist as separate melodies in their own right.

The most striking detail of Memory Hoarders, however, is its uniformity. From that uniformity High In One Eye manages to avoid the demoishness that plagues the majority of their recorded work, regardless of production value. Above all else, there is a sense that this is less the end product of directionless experimentation than a calculated attempt to derive a collective musical character from their library up to this point. And in that regard the record is a stunning success. As a genuine representation of the band outside of their semi-legendary live show, I’d be compelled to hand a copy of Memory Hoarders to an uninitiated listener before sending her anywhere near High In One Eye’s back catalog.

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Live Picks: 03.29.2012 – 04.04.2012

03.29: Bomb the Music Industry! + The Lollies + Safety + All People – The Big Top > Boyfrndz + Caddywhompus + Sun Hotel + Chicken Gyro – Circle Bar

To be clear, Block Party is going to be the event of the year for the New Orleans punk rock underground, and it will be difficult for any single concert this year to top the twelve hours of non-stop music, records, food and fun that it’s going to offer. But damned if tonight’s double venue whatever-you-call-it doesn’t come close. Teaming up for what amounts to a mini-festival in its own right, the Community and Chinquapin camps plan to give the public a teaser of what’s in store next month on Clio Street.

An early show at the Big Top features – in addition to local melodic punks the Lollies and the debut of Community Records in-house supergroup All People – the formal record release of Safety‘s Night Lights and headliners Bomb the Music Industry!, a New York-based punk collective whose strange mix of off-kilter but forthright stage demeanor and anticonsumerist industry politics seem to serve as the paradigm for the modern DIY punk ethic.

A short walk immediately following that show brings the crowd to Circle Bar, where Chinquapin Records boasts Austin, TX psychedelic freak out rockers Boyfrndz and Jack Donovan’s Brooklyn buddies Chicken Gyro. Of course, representing New Orleans will be noise pop duo Caddywhompus and post-swamp rock band Sun Hotel, both of whom kick off month-long Spring tours tonight.

MP3: Bomb The Music Industry!: “Bike Test 1 2 3”

MP3: Boyfrndz: “Ghost Hits”

MP3: Safety: “Book of One-Liners”

03.30: Coyotes + Mahayla + Crooked Culture – Blue Nile Upstairs

03.31: Gold and the Rush + Mission South + Archanimals + Star and Micey – Howlin’ Wolf Den

04.01: Vox And The Hound + Whom Do You Work For? + No Clouds – The Big Top

04.03: Exhumed + Abysmal Dawn + Arkaik + Ruiniverse

04.04: Merchandise + Heat Dust + Kindest Lines – United Bakery

Check out our New Orleans Music Calendar for a full slate of constantly updated live picks

Punk Rock Matinees Coming To The Big Top

It’s a concept that has been applied many times throughout the past decade or so. The idea of “Sunday Matinees” – early evening, weekend ending concerts capable of catering to both the underaged-with-protective-parents crowd and the aging, late-night-avoidance crowd – has always been a well-intentioned, if not necessary, community-building exercise for New Orleans’ underground punk rock scene. In the early days of Cypress Hall and the live music era of the Ark, it was commonplace for Brian Funck, the city’s all-ages DIY curator, to occasionally institute that exact format of concert series. But whether by lack of galvanization or inoperativeness of a centralized punk rock meeting spot, Sunday Matinee shows would fall out of practice just as quickly as they popped up.

But a lot has changed in the New Orleans music scene since the early aughts, and at this very moment the idea of weekly, all-ages punk matinees seems not just fitting but appropriate given the laundry list of exciting and enriching programming sprouting up all over town.  The newest incarnation of such a project, Punk Rock Takeover, is set to kick off Sunday at Lee Circle-area multipurpose art center The Big Top.  The chosen venue could not be a more fitting home for the planned melange of  indie/underground/outsider/alternative showcases, as the past few years have seen the cozy but versatile space transformed into a DIY music mecca. It’s practically home base for the extensive programming of a long list of show organizers that includes Funck’s An Idea Like No Other and Community Records, who hold their day long, multi-stage Block Party festival in and around the Clio St. gallery.

The strictly all-ages affairs will start at 2PM each Sunday and feature free food, a cash bar and unique bills combining musical acts from all over the subcultural spectrum.  This Sunday’s kickoff features a band that needs little introduction around these parts, Vox And The Hound, but combines them with the punchy electro noise-pop of Whom Do You Work For? and the hypnotic drone-funk of No Clouds.  The lineup for the rest of the month includes everyone from garage rock stalwarts Opposable Thumbs to indie newcomers Pancake to psychedelic bluesmen Black Smoke, and that is hopefully just the start to an enduring schedule of diverse and interesting programming.

Each show is $5 at the door or $3 with a book or non-perishable food donation (for the benefit of Iron Rail and local outreach programs, respectfully), and the proceeds from each event will be given to local non-profit organizations.

Punk Rock Takeover: Sunday Matinee Shows at The Big Top on Facebook

Sun Hotel: 03.02.2012

It has actually become part of Sun Hotel‘s charm, that even in the short time lapse between tracking and the formal release of each recorded work, the band already appears to be waist deep in their next musical act. Without altogether abandoning or disowning past songs, they routinely tweak or tinker with arrangements in a live setting as if modern recording technology is an inherently outdated from of musical expression. But despite this kinetically creative work ethic, each new piece of Sun Hotel material is less of a re-invention than a magnification of their subtle evolution which, when coupled with the band’s relentless touring and gigging schedule, gives a real-time window into the continual growth of a group of musicians with a deep attentiveness to their own songwriting prowess.  Never has this been more apparent than during the quartet’s stripped-down set on Friday evening.

Unlike the acoustic/electric ambiguity of their set at the 2011 Block Party DVD premiere event, in the cozy confines of the band’s garage – a tin-roofed clubhouse cum recording studio cum gonzo circuit bending science lab perfectly dubbed the “Space Bar” – frontman Tyler Scurlock and guitarist Alex Hertz actually wielded acoustics, while drummer Ross Farbe was behind a three piece makeshift kit and bassist Jon St. Cyr piped the low end through a miniscule amp.  There was not a pedal in sight and the show even lacked a PA, with the band’s impressive vocal harmonies crooned au natural and frequently complemented by a sing-along chorus from the thirty or so people seated comfortably on the carpeted floor and mishmash of well-worn furniture lining the walls of the garage.

Sure, this particular incarnation of Sun Hotel’s sound was temporary and custom-built for that evening’s show, but absent the increasingly dense walls of delay that come standard with each of the band’s live performances, the nuances and intricacy of the last and next step in their constantly changing musical disposition came into striking focus.  Standouts from their most recent work – the intense coupling of the breezy “Got Along” and sprawling “Alchemy” from last year’s Gifts EP – revealed extra layers of contemplation in such an intimate, low-decibel environment.  Newer song “Grave”, which started as a haunting Sharks’ Teeth release before getting a powerful full-band makeover in the last few months, may have been at its most compelling with the backing three-part harmony quietly coo’ed around Hertz’s nasty acoustic shredfest.

Above all, the unique environment and minimalist set revealed Sun Hotel’s music for what it truly is: overwhelmingly genuine and startling in its originality.  But even the most emotionally evocative songs in their canon are not treated as precious or sacred.  Informed by an intuitive rhythm between the four members, Sun Hotel confidently dismantles old songs and glides between unique songwriting tropes as they move onward with disarming comfort and ease.