Korey Martin (L) and Dylan Sands (R) play broodingly catchy goth-pop in OCTOBER. Photo Courtesy of October
A dollhouse set ablaze, the fumes of burning paint and polyester choking my lungs until the flames are smothered with shot glasses of tears and piles of broken vanity mirror glass and skittles until a smoldering mass remains, the ashes blown away with a faint sound of wind chimes. This is how it feels to hear Amy Childress read from her photocopied zine on the Bar Deluxe stage last Wednesday night, April 17. The smiling, unassuming girl in glasses warms up with “I Blew at Your Hair,” a brief, romantic poem, before reading “The Lamppost,” an imaginative and visual flash-fiction piece depicting the birth of a giant owl from the ground beneath an old tree. For her next piece, “Torn,” Childress is joined onstage by guitarist Aaron Wolcott. The driving, finger picked guitar is reminiscent of José González and Childress’ powerful visual delivery is like a spoken-word Dalí—together, the two build a fractured and disorienting world of words and sound, which is at once breathtaking and devastating. “Violet” closes out Childress and Wolcott’s set. The guitar backdrop is less foreboding than on “Torn,” and Childress’ expressive fabric is woven with more hope than before, but the ups and downs of the surreal piece ultimately lead to beauty and heartbreak.
“I wrote these because we’re all gonna die,” says Jason Dickerson as he readies his clip-on reading light and adjusts the microphone. I’d seen him read, or heard, rather, here at Bar Deluxe last year. Last time, he was impressive, despite being visibly nervous, the notes in his hands shaking as he read. But this time, he seems like a confident man. He’s been around the block. Dickerson sounds old and world-weary, although he’s probably only 20-something, like me. A definite Beat influence can be seen and heard—it’s a natural, obvious fit, not an attempt to emulate. He reads various poems about everyday things, matter-of-factly describing his life in his old apartment and a brief encounter with a hobo with a green mohawk in the parking lot of Fresh Market. Dickerson’s style is the opposite of Childress’—rather than painting an always-changing picture that is open to interpretation, Dickerson tells it how it is. It’s almost like he’s telling these stories to a child, but he still does it very poignantly. He’s funny, too. Even when things aren’t supposed to be funny, Dickerson’s amused-observer humor shines through. His last poem, “Captains Quarters,” ends things on a wistful note as he describes his room, and thus his life—full of dirty clothes, scuffed wooden floors and coulda-shoulda-wouldas—as a thing of beauty and respectability, despite its shortcomings.
As The Circulars plug in and tune up, my expectations are high. This is their first time playing together in this band, but I’ve heard a few of the band members’ other projects before. Drummer Cathy Foy (Hang Time) and singer/guitarist Sam Burton are both in The Awful Truth and Golden Boys, and synth player Maxwell Ijams plays with Burton in a backwoods country duo called Claude & Gill.
They start with a mid-tempo song that’s reminiscent of mellow ’90s-era Yo La Tengo. Burton’s voice sounds like a mix of Connor Oberst and Roy Orbison but at a lower register, and Ijams plays a gentle electronic beat over Foy’s drumming. Bassist Dyana Durfee, with a bass guitar that’s about as big as she is, keeps slapping the strings onto the pickups, but works it out after the song builds into a triumphant intensity. The second song begins with more drum machine beats and a playful, romantic melody in a style similar to the Chromatics. The audience is either in awe or comatose, because nobody moves as Foy mixes in triggered electronic beats with fierce drumming. Next up is a slow burner, with an electric organ harmony over a slow beat. Burton’s melancholic crooning brings to mind his solo project or the Golden Boys—either way, he makes you want to weep. Penetrating synth buzz and feedback coupled with thick, dirty guitar make up the next song. Burton’s dark, deeply personal lyrics build into screams at the end of each verse as the slowed-down shoegaze song progresses on the backbone of Durfee’s weaving bass.
Burton and Durfee down-tune for the last song and, after fiddling around with handwritten lyric sheets, the band starts into another slow number. This time, the vocals are gentler and a keyboard melody is at the forefront. The crowd should all be slow dancing by now, but nobody can move. Slowly, the drums and bass build in intensity with patient restraint and Burton’s subtle, underwater finger picking turns into a sharp, icy mass as he cuts through the band’s roar with a vicious guitar solo. I could watch Burton wail away like this for another five minutes, but the song ends and with it The Circulars’ set. Aside from a lot of between-song dead time, the band played a very impressive first show. Their tight stage dynamic and complex songwriting make for an exciting live show—one that I expect will garner them a strong following very soon.
From the depths of a drug-addled vampire dance party nightmare crawls OCTOBER, appearing on the stage under two bright white spotlights. The deep, haunting incantation from Dylan Sands’ voice sways with Korey Martin’s tense, sparse guitar in the duo’s stark first song. The damn fog machine won’t work and Sands seems deeply disturbed by this, but they shrug it off and get on with the show. Heavy synth and drum loops pour from the computer, and spooky guitar noodling punctuates the second song, which leads into the furious steel drum and cymbal beat of the next. Metered guitar riffs steadily climb, and Sands’ tortured moans and wails weave throughout the cacophony. An unsettling texture loop and machine gun hi-hat beat introduce the next song, a disorienting, off-kilter trip into the depths of madness. A few people in the crowd start to really freak out. An acquaintance of mine is bobbing and weaving forcefully in front of the stage, like some kind of dancer from the future.
OCTOBER are having a strange effect on everyone—we’re either staring wide-eyed, like myself, or doing complicated dance moves like I’ve never seen before. The uneasy beat gains coherence with some crunk-inspired drum fills and a more regular pattern, providing structure to the meandering, crying guitar and deep, agonized vocals. The performance isn’t as dynamic as their last show at Kilby Court, though. It could be the lack of intimacy in this venue, or maybe the band isn’t feeling it as much. But they’re still relentless as Martin shreds strings and Sands dances like it’s for survival. After the first few seconds of the next song, the crowd starts jumping and screaming—it’s a cover of “We Found Love” by Rihanna. The beat and the melody are the same, but Martin’s longing, twisted guitar and Sands’s morose interpretation of the vocals give a different feeling to the song, more bittersweet than celebratory. The second-to-last song is a sweet and chiming Postal Service romance, with Sands and Martin singing back and forth. Martin’s warbling, longing voice laments, “This isn’t love … It’s just what we’ve become,” and despite the utter despair that I feel from it, I wish that Martin would sing more. OCTOBER have taken us from gothic terror to bubblegum New Order territory and back again. Though they lacked the energy of their Kilby show, I look forward to their next gig in an environment more conducive to a spooky party—if they can get that damn fog machine fixed, that is.