Neko Case / Parquet Courts / Durand Jones & The Indications
Granfalloon

Neko Case / Parquet Courts / Durand Jones & The Indications

Performers:
Neko Case
Parquet Courts
Durand Jones & The Indications
Upland Brewing CoBloomingtonIN
All Ages
Doors - 4pm Show - 5pm

Five years have passed since Case's last solo project, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You. In the interim, she sang on Whiteout Conditions, the 2017 release from longtime bandmates the New Pornographers. The year before that, she released a vinyl box set of her solo work and joined k.d. Lang and Laura Veirs on the case/lang/veirs project.

Recording that record was a revelation, from Veirs' innovative guitar tunings to Lang's skills in studio. “I learned so much experiencing the work ethic of those two,” Case says. She considers Lang “probably the most natural producer I've ever seen. Watching her work was awe-inspiring.”

After their national tour together, Case found similar transcendence in October 2016 sitting on a panel at the first-of-its-kind “Woman Producer” summit in Brooklyn, NY. Between discussions and performances from a diverse group of women who produce music from around the world, she wondered how it had taken such a long time to get to that moment, and why so many female pioneers had been forgotten.

She felt lucky to have worked with the people she had encountered across her career—Darryl Neudorf, Tucker Martine, Craig Schumacher, and Chris Schultz among them—who encouraged her to expand her own skills in studio. But she had also gotten fed up with a world in which women's accomplishments seemed to vanish from public memory. “The George Martins and Quincy Joneses of the recording pantheon deserve every drop of praise and every project they have received,” Case says. “But we can't keep telling the same stories over and over. We need more stories, more inspiration, more flavors.”

She set to work on her next record looking for not just new stories but also new sounds. This time, she wanted to put herself in a setting far away from everything she knew. She recalled Björn Yttling's skill with Lykke Li, Camera Obscura, and his own band, Peter Bjorn and John. “I've worked with the same people so long, I never had to step outside my comfort zone,” Case says. “In this instance, I chose to.”

The two met over breakfast in Washington, DC, and decided to team up. By the time she went to Sweden in the fall of 2017, Case had already written songs with longtime collaborator Paul Rigby, laid down vocal and guitar tracks at WaveLab Studio in Tucson, and built Carnacial Singing, her recording space in Vermont.

But in the middle of her stint in Stockholm, with the finish line in sight, she received a surreal 3am call telling her that her house was burning and would likely be completely destroyed. She felt panicked and helpless.

The fire had started in the barn, where she kept an assortment of belongings, from artwork to old pianos. A friend had managed to get the dogs to safety. After the flames jumped to the house, her home was engulfed, too.

A few hours later, she went into a studio in Stockholm and laid down the vocals for “Bad Luck,” singing the lines she had written long before she realized they would land on her.

Case is now stoic about the fire. “If somebody burned your house down on purpose, you'd feel so violated. But when nature burns your house down, you can't take it personally.” The month before the blaze, Hurricane Harvey had slammed into Texas and flooded Houston. Her home burned just as Puerto Rico was plunged into a nightmare by Hurricane Maria and wildfires incinerated California. “In the big picture, my house burning was so unimportant,” she says. “So many people lost so much more: lives and lives and lives.”

She was hell-bent on not losing sight of the goal, reminding herself there was still beauty in the world and in the process of making music. She had been reading a lot of ancient history, including Adrienne Mayor's The Amazons, and thinking about how for millennia, women have been more central to events than the average history class admits. “We were always there, we were just erased. And I knew it. As a little girl I knew it. As a young person I knew it,” Case says. “Now I know it anew with a ferocious, righteous, razor-sharp tribe of witnesses, and it makes me feel like a super-powerful human being. It makes me feel joy. There's an inheritance there that's really important, and I want to share it.”

She decided to climb inside her role as producer and wield it more directly. It just meant owning what she was already doing.

***

The record that came out of this reckoning with lost stories delivers both familiar Neko Case and something different. Death, extinction, exploitation, tides, animals, and adoration all blend recognizably. Case's trademark narrative gaps, just large enough for listeners to enter each song, likewise remain. As with Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and Middle Cyclone, Hell-On spins away from conventions of story, slipping into real life, with its fierce mess and blind catastrophes.

“I'm writing fairy tales, and I hear my life story in them, but they're not about me,” Case says. “I still can't figure out how to describe it. But I think that's why we make music or write things. You've got to invent a new language.”

There are differences, too. The opening kalimba notes of the first track, “Hell On,” lead into a waltz of deep forces, irresistible as gravity, that refuse to be leashed or controlled (“You'll not be my master / you're barely my guest”). This tornado might not love you.

Case planned this record with a commitment to big choruses and a goal of making them even bigger. The results appear in the anthemic “Last Lion of Albion,” a requiem for every landscape and iconic creature (“last tiger of Tasmania / the last she-wolf to suckle Rome”) erased through massacre and marketing. Rounding out the opening trilogy of false possession is “Halls of Sarah,” a song for unwilling muses tormented by poets who love women “as lions love Christians.”

“Bad Luck,” recorded from the ground up in Stockholm, opens at a gallop and never breaks stride. A song always poses the challenge of when to move away from the groove and how to get back to it. But Yttling pointed out to Case that sometimes the whole song should be the hook—that there's no shame in exploiting the catchiest part. That became the strategy for bringing “Bad Luck” to life. Longtime collaborators Kelly Hogan and Nora O'Connor came up with backing vocals that build a giddy, knowing call and response into the song.

For “The Curse of the I-5 Corridor,” former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan duets with Case on a ballad of memory and departure. Melancholy grooves “Gumball Blue” and “My Uncle's Navy” mark Case's first songwriting efforts with New Pornographers cofounder Carl Newman. And after performing it live for years, Case has finally done a studio recording with Eric Bachmann of his song “Sleep All Summer,” which moved her to pull over to the side of the road and cry the first time she heard it on the radio.

The labyrinthine “Dirty Diamond” opens onto room after room of shifting vocals that soar above a march-like rhythm. “Oracle of the Maritimes,” perhaps the most fairy tale song on the record, floats over a tuning invented by co-writer Laura Veirs, carrying a love that longs to prove itself (“come on sweet girl let's find you an ocean / that goes with your eyes”).

Clouds of mosquitoes rising out of hot tires, a chest of drawers that rides out into the waves, a box filled with unnamed newborn creatures: these songs are bursting with images that can only be understood through peripheral vision, shards of imaginary lives wired into a mosaic.

Later comes “Winnie,” a pirate love song for a woman with a mouth “as sharp as the rib of a star.” The song came from the afterglow of reading Amazons. “There aren't enough songs that are obviously about a woman loving another woman, just loving her, Sapphic or Platonic,” Case says. “I thought there should be one, because I know I sit around loving them all day.”

The record ends with “Pitch or Honey,” winding its way through intimate verses sung over a drum machine before blooming into layered vocals, a bigger beat, and a wall of sound. “Am I making pitch or honey?” fades into repetition of “I love you better when you're wild.”

The record was born at the hands of some three dozen performers in all, from k.d. Lang, Laura Veirs, Beth Ditto, and Robert Forster on backing vocals, to Joey Burns of Calexico and Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices on guitars, and Barbara Gruska and Matt Chamberlain on drums. The sidelong perspective is part of the known Neko galaxy, but the production is more expansive and edgier, moving into new universes. These are songs that can swallow you.

***

When Case returned to the US and walked through the ruins of her home, the fire that had blazed after these songs were written became part of the record. For the cover, she made a warrior's helmet out of cigarettes. Interior and exterior shots of her incinerated house appear on the gatefold and booklet. And a tiny pop-open charred Brothers-Grimm cottage serves as the set for the video of “Bad Luck.”

It was as if nature invented a landscape for Hell-On after the fact: a melted ladder, seared insulation dangling in ribbons, the internal organs of pianos. She thought it should all be included in solidarity with those who had lost so much in the past year.

All the living creatures present at the time of the fire were found alive, and so Case was able see beauty in the bleak scene. “It felt like this out-of-time Jacques Cousteau undersea expedition through a sunken World War II ship. Of course there's some shit I miss,” she says, citing family photographs and a favorite sweater. “But none of it matters.”

And as for those fairy tales she's writing and the history she's remembering: “We need them now more than ever. We need stories from all sectors. Stories without endings. Stories with multiple endings. Stories that don't end happily, cautionary tales, everything. We don't need Disneyfied stories anymore.”

A force of nature, an act of a mercurial, forgotten god, Hell-On is a record sealed by fire, filled with love and rage and dangers that might lay waste to everything at any moment. So if you wake up dazed in a smoking landscape, walking through the detritus of your own lost civilization with the smell of ash in your hair, your favorite sweater gone and a new song in your head, don't say you weren't warned.

Wide Awake! is New York’s Parquet Courts’ fifth record since their formation eight years ago. It’s also their most groundbreaking. It’s an album about independence and individuality but also about collectivity and communitarianism. Love is at its center. There’s also a freshness here, a breaking of new territory that’s testament to the group’s restless spirit.

In part, this may be attributed to the fact that it’s produced by Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse, but it’s also simply a triumph of their songwriter’s art. The songs, written by Austin Brown and Andrew Savage are filled with their traditional punk rock passion, as well as a lyrical tenderness, but are elevated to even greater heights by the dynamic rhythmic propulsion of Max Savage (drums) and Sean Yeaton (bass).

The plan from the start was to introduce new musical ideas previously unexplored by the band. These were varied. For Brown, a few of the touchstones were Grace Jones, The Upsetters, Townes Van Zandt, Parliament and Augustus Pablo. For Savage though, the soundtrack to the sessions in Electric Lady Studios in New York and later at Sonic Ranch in Texas, was different.

“I found myself listening to a lot of ‘80s American punk,” he explains, “I’m talking about Big Boys, Minutemen, The Dicks, Flipper. Bands that were no doubt punk but don’t quite fit in. I’ve always loved the playfulness of Minutemen and Big Boys, and especially the way the latter mixed funk into their sound.”

Two early examples of what these influences meant in practise for the record arrive early. “Violence,” the album’s blistering second song, revisits the proto hip hop of “He’s Seein’ Paths” from 2013’s “Tally All The Things That You Broke” EP. Savage’s furious denunciation of the casual acceptance of violence as part of everyday life is given even greater urgency following the recent shootings in Florida and Sutherland Springs.

“Mardi Gras Beads,” on the other hand, offers a complete different, texturally ambitious standout moment. Brown has never been so vulnerable on a Parquet Courts record, and the band, for all their ferocity, has never played so movingly; it’s a prime example of Brown “writing songs I’ve been wanting to write but never had the courage.”

The band credit their producer Brian Burton with helping them carve out the essence of an idea and bringing his polish to the album.

“The ethos behind every Parquet Courts record is that there needs to be change for the better, and the best way to tackle that is to step out of one’s comfort zone,” Savage says of the unlikely pairing. “I personally liked the fact that I was writing a record that was aggressive and indebted to punk and funk, and he’s a pop producer who’s made some very polished records recently. I liked the idea that it didn’t make sense to work with him, which to me makes total sense as to why we should work with him.”

“I was expecting bringing in a producer would be a redefining element of the band, someone who would pilot us to a new place entirely,” expands Brown, “however where Brian excelled was rather to hold a mirror to the group, and help us bring out our best versions of ourselves.” Indeed it was Danger Mouse, an admirer of the Parquet Courts who originally reached out to work with them.

The record also reflects a burgeoning confidence in the band’s exploration of new ideas in a hi-fi context. For his part, Savage was determined not to make another ballad heavy record like the band’s 2016 Human Performance. “I needed an outlet for the side of me that feels emotions like joy, rage, silliness and anger,” he says. They looked to play on the duality between rage and glee like the bands Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits and Black Flag. “All those bands make me want to dance and that’s what I want people to do when they hear our record,” adds Savage.

For Brown, death and love were the biggest influences. One of the most courageous songs on the new record is “Death Will Bring Change,” a moving elegy, with a chorus not unlike the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” only this time, London’s Bach Choir were 15 twelve year olds from the upper east side being recorded at 9am on a Saturday. “Nothing scarier,” says Brown.

The songs on Parquet Courts new record also make you think of what Joe Strummer of The Clash once said, about why he wrote songs – i.e. “to expand people’s vocabularies.” So set against the likes of the elegiac “Mardi Gras Beads” is the opening track “Total Football.” Named after the eponymous theory of soccer pioneered by the Dutch that requires every player to be able to play every position on the field, it has shout-outs to iconic individualists like the painter Cy Twombly, the poet Mina and sculptor Eva Hesse.

It’s a song about “opposing the tired alpha-male-lone-wolf archetype that too many people rely on as an avatar,” Savage explains, and lauding “creative and inspiring individuals (the song also touches on KoBrA, The Beatles and The Black Panthers) that approached individuality in a way that wasn’t contrary to collectivism, and vice versa.” Much like the band themselves – four individual artists forging a brave new world of sound.

Ultimately then the message contained in Wide Awake! is complex. “In such a hateful era of culture, we stand in opposition to that — and to the nihilism used to cope with that — with ideas of passion and love,” Brown says. For Savage, it comes back to the deceptively complex goal of making people want to dance, powering the body for resistance through a combination of groove, joy, and indignation, “expressing anger constructively but without trying to accommodate anyone.”

That they’ve managed to weave such disparate themes into such a unified whole says everything about Parquet Courts’ achievement on Wide Awake!. This isn’t just another record by them, it might well be the record.

For now anyway.

Durand Jones & the Indications aren’t looking backwards. Helmed by foil vocalists in Durand Jones and drummer Aaron Frazer, the Indications conjure the dynamism of Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, AND the Impressions. This young band of twenty-somethings are students of soul, including guitarist Blake Rhein, who moonlights doing research for The Numero Group. Even with that background, and an aesthetic steeped in the golden, strings-infused dreaminess of early ‘70s soul, the Indications are planted firmly in the present, with the urgency of this moment in time.

On American Love Call, Durand Jones & the Indications’ soulful sophomore LP, the band reckons with how to balance love and fury of modern day America. A fierce, fully-formed thesis, American Love Call is as grand and cinematic as it is focused on fleeting details.

Recorded for $452.11, including a case of beer, the Indications’ 2016 self-titled debut was the product of five friends who met as students at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Having met in 2012, the project was initially intended as a standalone recording project, with vocalist Jones, a native of rural Louisiana, joined by Frazer, Rhein, bassist Kyle Houpt, and keyboardist Steve Okonski. The album was released by renowned Midwest soul label Colemine Records, and quickly picked up steam on the back of the band’s booming live show and the enthusiastic recommendation of independent record store clerks across the country — who moved thousands of copies by simply playing the hell out of the LP in their shops for their discerning customers. The album was given another boost in early 2018 when Dead Oceans teamed up with the band and Colemine to bring the Indications to global audiences.

“Did I expect to do this shit once I got out of college? Hell no,” Jones relays, laughing. “Totally not. But this is what God is telling me to do – move and groove. So I’m gonna stay in my lane.”

American Love Call is the sound of Durand Jones & the Indications arriving. Opener “Morning in America” traverses the bleakest motifs of modern American life, channeled through the band’s own bold vitality: an old-soul croon made new, a glimmer of youth and hope burning at its core. Continuing into American Love Call’s widened scope, “What I Know About You” offers a true-blue, platonic love song while the dreamy, bossa nova groove of “Sea Gets Hotter” is about finding the person you want to be with at the end of the world. “Long Way Home” undulates with a funky bass line, sonics at odds with its somber subject, while “Court of Love” ripples with heartbreak, brooding and swaying. Jones oscillates between high-energy soul, pensive deep ballads, and harmonies, a sharp contrast to Frazer’s falsetto.

A vibrant through-line helping flesh out the Indications’ sound is the band’s love of sonic mish-mashes. Rhein and Frazer initially bonded over a love of crate-digging for rare 45s, and that vast musical appreciation and flexibility injects an accessibility into the veins of American Love Call. Frazer is as quick to point to Nas’ Illmatic and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt as formative listening as he is to gospel, while Rhein is as likely to pull influence from a ‘70s folk-rock song, and Jones has a background in classical music paired with a longtime love of soul, R&B, and pop.

“Soul music’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Jones says. “I remember being a little kid and being in my dad’s truck, and whenever ‘Devotion’ from Earth, Wind & Fire would come on the radio, he’d swerve into the left lane, then into the right lane.” He laughs, pausing to clarify just how rural the part of Louisiana they’d be driving in was. “I remember that just being the most fun experience, when that song’d come on the radio, because he’d do that every single time. Soul music’s just always been present.”

Rhein explains that the Indications use their inspirations the same way hip-hop producers do, borrowing from the sampling mentality. Rhein and Frazer, along with bassist Houpt, all studied audio engineering at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and Frazer credits that to how they craft the Indications’ sound: the ability to listen at a component level, to zero in on what makes a record electrify the listener, and synthesize that with their own work.

As much as the diversion in taste is responsible for American Love Call, it’s where the Indications come together that’s just as vital to their songwriting. From a shared Dropbox the band used to circulate music in 2012 to their current Indications Inspiration streaming playlist, that group-think mentality and collective brain trust is what makes the Indications work, with each song proving a collaborative process.

The resulting American Love Call is a record made the way the Indications dreamed it’d sound, a sprawling and limitless equation. Recorded at Brooklyn’s Studio G throughout a few sessions last July and August, the focus here is on vocals as much as it is a newfound confidence in songwriting. The split leads between Jones’ husky howl and Frazer’s dulcet falsetto and a chorus of backing vocals lend a dynamic punch to the sound, fleshed out by the elegance of strings and an ambition to prove and push themselves.

American Love Call may make sprawling strides both stylistically and sonically from its debut, but thematically, the songwriting is a leap, too. Its title harkens back to “Creole Love Call,” a 1927 jazz standard popularized by Duke Ellington.

“We’re in a time when so many in this country romanticize the past – wishing to return to a place of simplicity and former glory. But the reality of our history can be disillusioning,” Frazer explains. “For so many in America, the past represents violence, oppression, fear and colonialism.”

“As America grows more diverse, we have the opportunity to form the strong, interwoven tapestry that we’ve long claimed. When we find a way to unite across our various movements and see the commonalities of our struggles, we can begin to push forward together. We can begin to see the threads connecting our goals as disparate rallying cries blends into a single song. An American Love Call.”

Venue Information:
Upland Brewing Co
350 W 11th St
Bloomington, IN, 47404