Music from the Film Coney Island
Title and director aside, there's not a lot of information available about Coney Island, Ramen Cromwell's film that's due this spring. That is, unless you count Matt Douglas and The Proclivities' score, which reads and winks much like an elliptical, purposefully ambiguous screenplay. We can infer this much: Coney Island is a love story not far removed from Garden State, and its central characters need each other—at least right now, even if they're at first too weak to admit it.
Things bleed open with foreshadowing, The Ciompi Quartet mourning in the midrange via a prelude to "Red Clothes." That's until drummer Matt McCaughan bounces in, his sunny steadiness mirroring Douglas' naively confident vocals, singing the part of a man who's returning to something he'd thought he'd left long ago. Douglas has a voice that pairs equal parts pop bounce and hearthstone fidelity (much like his friend and collaborator Josh Ritter), and it lends his best songs an empirical credibility that's rare.
Douglas, after all, has written plenty of good songs, both here and on The Proclivities' debut Predispositions, but they've often had trouble coalescing into an album. Until now, at least. Coney Island—often harder, more complex and altogether more effective than its predecessor—feels like an unorthodoxly communicative picture, its oscillation between perfectly pleasant tracks about epiphany and relief (closer "Anyways") grinding against moments of turmoil. "Oubliette," which finds our hero's neuroses torturing his previous interests and strides, slinks into a stepwise crawl but eventually spears its narrator, sheets of electric guitar crippling Douglas' lyrics. He has to overcome, and—by disc's end—he does. Especially telling are the irresolute instrumental themes, notable for their humility or grace. Second track "Guy Theme" trips over its chord changes through an electronic haze, much like Christian Fennesz' Endless Summer. But the penultimate "Mermaid Theme" offers a reciprocally open, welcoming framework, proffering the lover that is ready for acceptance.
When Douglas promises "Love is a song that sings real slow" by way of introduction to the closer, you get the point: This band—much like the hero you may imagine for this film—needs its foil and some support, just like everybody else. The Proclivities found that in a movie, and they're notably better for the experience. So much so that someone should give them some help in making their next "film." —Grayson Currin
The Proclivities play The Pour House May 2 at 10 p.m.
Big Fat Gap
A Brief History of the Big Fat Gap
Looking toward the future isn't a bad thing, but living in the past ain't so rough either. The boys of Triangle bluegrass collective Big Fat Gap certainly aren't afraid to look to their past for future inspiration. After all, Big Fat Gap is less a band and more a family of friends who share bluegrass as a middle name. A revolving-door policy has kept band members in a constant flux over the years, and their appropriately titled debut album, A Brief History of the Big Fat Gap, is a dig through that winding history.
Collecting the best moments from three previous recording sessions into one solid unit of blistering bluegrass, A Brief History unfolds as a reverse timeline of the band's structural and musical growth. It works from the (near) present (spring of 2006) into the recent past (summer and fall of 2004), capturing some of the finer recordings of fiddle virtuoso Bobby Britt and guitar/ mandolinist Jon Stickley in the process. The dynamic, mandolin-heavy instrumental "High and Dry" is some of Stickley's and the band's best work, and Britt's fiddle floats gently around Miles Andrews' lonesome nasal croon on "American Pilgrim."
Big Fat Gap's interest in its past is fitting here: Several tracks are deep-seated in traditional 'grass styles with auditory nods to the trusty staples in each banjo rumble and fiddle slide, and blankets of memories cover love-lorn lyrics and darken even the sunniest arrangements. The tinny textures of "The High Side of Life" turn momentarily sour when Andrews delves into memories of a broken heart, and the bittersweet "University Station" sends out a homesick lyrical sigh. The instrumental cut "No Exit" is a dark explosion of sound as smatters of mandolin, banjo, fiddle and guitar twist together into kaleidoscopic patterns. But the boys aren't always blue: Instrumental back porch jams "Thornpipe" and "Bill's Hill" give a sonic warmth to the album that coexists naturally with its take on heartache, reflecting the bittersweet realities of life. —Kathy Justice
Big Fat Gap plays two shows May 5: Nelsons in Raleigh at 4 p.m. and The Cave in Chapel Hill at 10 p.m.
Beloved Binge showed up in Durham from Seattle, and quickly locked into the surrounding DIY music scene, where folks were busy inserting their personal and political convictions into the city's arts. This couple/ duo delivers plain-spoken, pensive songs spackled together with spare guitar and drums. They embody some of that "getting shit off your chest" joie de vivre that sounds not just therapeutic for the performer, but downright thrilling for those on the receiving end. You probably recognize this as a Pacific Northwest ethos from bands on Kill Rock Stars and K.
Similarly, Beloved Binge excels when pointed and propulsive, knocking out stripped-down punk dissonance in mid-tempo stabs. Self-named "home-cooked, animal-free music," they assert their passion as vegans. Centerpiece "Freedom or Death" glides on an ebullient call and response anthem line between Rob Beloved and Eleni Binge, and sudden tempo changes, though capable of distraction, ultimately add spice. When they casually riff on tracks like "Stuck," Eleni chiming in conversational tone, it's all rag-tag charm. The ramshackle spirit of BB just underlines the ethos they hold dear. —Chris Toenes
Beloved Binge plays 305 South May 12 at 6 p.m.
Eyes to Space
From the Bureau of Robotic Affairs
Bands like Eyes to Space restore faith in the saying "There's one in every crowd." Or at least they make you save hope that adage holds true for all music scenes. Resident aliens in the Triangle, Eyes to Space are a fun (but not sloppy) rock band that—both onstage and on their first LP, From the Bureau of Robotic Affairs—want you to know they have a great time making music. That joie de vivre is contagious at best, the band's propensity for zealousness translating into magnets songs built on alternating parts prog rock, hair metal, electro pop and perhaps polka. Somewhere between the big barrel basslines, jaunty keyboards, shredding guitars and arena-ready drums, Eyes to Space builds a joint station where The B-52s, Polysics and the grainiest (color) science fiction you can find rendezvous. This is a band with a theme song, after all, not to mention that it calls on backward counting, synthesizers worthy of a snorkel dance and a finger-tapped guitar solo. Chapel Hill's not afraid to crack a smile, right?
Of course, keytar, shredding and lyrics of outer space, robots and electric dogs can be dangerous, creating a thick shtick capable of ensnaring the most well-meaning creators. DEVO reached a point where they could do little more reputably than that which they had already done, and you have to wonder about the reaction of the new clique of Flaming Lips fans if Wayne Coyne ever returns to earth. Eyes to Space seems aware of this trap, and every track here doesn't chase the same asteroid, even if the quartet's technical prowess does hit a blurry tizzy sometime around mid-album. For every outlandish story or sarcastic social reaction they launch, the band meets itself in the middle, making it clear that this is the stuff of allegory and personal panacea—that is, new-age/wave constructs for dealing with mundane difficulties. You've heard political polemics, but few have ever extended the invitation to dance quite like the bouncy synths and million-note-a-minute guitars of "Dear Sir." Or what about "Chainlink Fence," a six-minute epic about a dying man who wants to meet his lover in the reaches of outer space just in case heaven is a bust? Now there's a faith to hold. —Grayson Currin
Eyes to Space plays Slim's May 8 at 8 p.m.