Distiller Promo Showcase 2015: Death By Unga Bunga, Worriers, Gospel Machine, Palehound, Laura Gibson, The Great American Canyon Band, Valley Maker

October 15, 2015 | 7:00 pm | 484 Union Ave | Brooklyn, NY | 21+ | FREE!  
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Line & Circle – (Set time: 12:00 AM)

Line & Circle was born of the collaboration between Brian J. Cohen (vocals, guitar) and Brian Egan (keyboards) — Ohio natives who met in the Midwest before departing for Los Angeles.

With two critically acclaimed singles under their belts, Line & Circle returned from a west coast tour last summer with a wealth of new material. Looking to capture the rhythmic urgency and emotional restlessness of these new songs, the group, which also includes guitarist Eric Neujahr, drummer Nick Cisik, and bassist Jon Engelhard, quickly entered the studio with producer Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast’s “Crazy For You”), who also produced the band’s earlier singles.

Recorded live to tape in Los Angeles and mixed in Philadelphia, Line & Circle’s self-titled EP is the result of these sessions, comprising three new compositions: “Wounded Desire,” “Mesolithic,” and “Beauty Is Exhausting.”

With particular attention paid to atmosphere and negative space, basic tracks were completed quickly during the initial two-day recording session, leaving time for the group to experiment with sonic nuances including cutting and layering tape loops. As with the band’s singles, there are musical nods to early 4AD dream pop and chiming I.R.S. Records-era guitar rock, woven around Cohen’s melodically rich vocals.

The band is currently finishing recording and mixing its debut LP in Philadelphia with Brian McTear (The War On Drugs) and Jonathan Low (The National). The album also features production from Pesacov.

Death by Unga Bunga – (Set time: 11:15 PM)
Worriers – (Set time: 10:30 PM)

Worriers are a punk band from Brooklyn, New York. The band’s music is centered around the songwriting of Lauren Denitzio, the former vocalist/guitarist of The Measure [sa]. Worriers remains Lauren’s primary band with Mikey Erg, Rachel Rubino, Audrey Zee Whitesides, John McLean, and Lou Hanman, among others. They have released records with Don Giovanni, No Idea and Yo-Yo Records. Worriers’ first full-length is out now on Don Giovanni Records, produced by Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!

Gospel Machine – (Set time: 9:45 PM)
Palehound – (Set time: 9:00 PM)

Ellen Kempner, the 21-year-old guitarist and songwriter behind Boston based project, Palehound, is even more prodigious than her age suggests; influenced by her musician father, she struck out on the songwriting path while she was still in elementary school. “I was kind of a shy kid,” says Kempner. “Music was a good way for me to express myself – I had a hard time socially, and it was a way for me to feel like I could contribute something and impress people in some way.”

“I envy 10-year-old me,” she laughs. “I would sit in my room for an hour, write a song, and be done. Now, it takes more time.” The eight songs that make up Dry Food, which Kempner wrote from 2013 to 2014 and recorded with Gabe Wax (Wye Oak, Speedy Ortiz) last summer, are wry and confessional, full of unexpected twists and turns. Kempner’s whispery alto gives the album a raw, confessional feel, even on louder tracks like the crashing, reverb-augmented “Cushioned Caging.” That’s partially because Dry Food is a snapshot of a time in Kempner’s life defined by instability and shifting, leaving Sarah Lawrence before her eventual move to Boston.

“I was coming off a transitional time in my life,” says Kempner of the period when Dry Food was written. “I was struggling in college, and with mental health issues. The album is a snapshot of a weird time for me, where I was transitioning from being in college to getting a job.

“The year between 19 and 20 is this weirdly insignificant time – you’re kind of an adult, but not a real adult. That was kind of hard for me, to think, ‘I’m not a kid, and there are things in my life making that very, very obvious to me, but I also can’t really fathom being an adult yet.'”

Despite the underlying factors, though, Dry Food is confident and cohesive, full of sophisticated songwriting and guitar playing. Kempner cites Elliott Smith and Kim Deal, as well as Angel Olsen and her childhood musical hero Avril Lavigne, as songwriting influences. (“I was obsessed with Let Go, and I still love that album,” she declares. “I was in third grade and would wear ties to school.”)

The glistening, complex guitar work on the dreamy “Cinnamon” and the fuzzed-out textures on album opener “Molly” makes plain that Kempner’s musical roots grow deep. “Wes Montgomery is one of my biggest guitar influences,” she notes. “I studied his music in college, and I still will pull up a chart of his and try to figure it out.”

Kempner played everything but the drum parts on Dry Food, but live, Palehound is rounded out by drummer Jesse Weiss, of the gnarly Boston act Grass Is Green, and bassist David Khostinat, who had previously worked with Weiss in the band Supervolcano.

Teaming up with Weiss and his crisp, steady drumming was, for Kempner, serendipitous. “I heard [Grass Is Green] when I was 16 or 17, and I thought they were the best thing I’d ever heard in my life,” she says. “Particularly the drummer. I saw them live for the first time right after I’d turned 18, and I watched Jesse the whole time. I worshiped him.

“He has this innate sense of how to work his kit. I can just get onstage and know that he’s going to play perfectly, and I can rely on him.”

While Dry Food chronicles a particularly rough patch in Kempner’s life, it does so with verve and grit, not to mention sterling musicianship and wry lyrics. Dry Food is a flag-plant by a young woman with a lot on her mind and talent to burn.

Laura Gibson – (Set time: 8:15 PM)

Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter LAURA GIBSON is at work on her fourth album for Barsuk Records and will be performing a very special solo show which will include some of her new songs. Gibson recently moved from Oregon to New York, and the new album was recorded between semesters studying fiction writing at Hunter College’s esteemed MFA program.

The Great American Canyon Band – (Set time: 7:30 PM)

Canyon Enthusiasts // More Crazy Horse Than Harvest

Valley Maker – (Set time: 7:00 PM)

Life rarely provides obvious answers. But if you appreciate
the beauty and wonder of exploring its complex mysteries, then Seattle’s Valley Maker deserves your undivided attention. Recorded over two summers on opposite ends of the country, and composed during a nomadic period spanning two continents, When I Was A Child (out 9.25.15 on Brick Lane Records) features twelve originals that contemplate life, love, and death, faith and doubt, time and space. “Songwriting is a way to approach unanswerable questions, these experiences that don’t have easy conclusions,” says Austin Crane, the 27 year-old multi-instrumentalist and songwriter behind Valley Maker. Distinctive finger-picking, unconventional tunings, and plaintive vocals anchor Crane’s music. Throughout this record, longtime collaborator Amy Godwin intertwines her voice intuitively with his; the end result sounds less like two individuals harmonizing than one who sings with astonishing depth and dimension. Pairing senses of immediacy and space, some songs mesmerize the ear with little else than voice and guitar, while others are fleshed out with bass, drums, and piano. Ambient noise imbues. When I Was A Child with cohesion via a sense of being in the same room with the musicians.

Crane grew up in Florence, South Carolina, where I-95 intersects I-20. The oldest of six children, he spent his childhood in a tight-knit evangelical community. Music opened up the world to Austin when he received a guitar at the age of thirteen. As he grew older, his tastes settled and matured towards key influences like Bill Callahan (Smog), Will Oldham (Bonnie “Prince” Billy), Chan Marshall (Cat Power), and Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia). Valley Maker began in 2010 as Crane’s senior thesis project at the University of South Carolina. Big existential ideas marked this first collection of Valley Maker songs, which explored the humanity and mystery of Biblical origins stories from the Book of Genesis. Eventually Crane posted this material online. While it pleased him that others connected with these songs, and he played some shows around them, he didn’t imagine Valley Maker would carry him into the future after graduation. Instead, he embarked on a series of international aid internships, Eastern European adventures, and graduate studies that led him to Colorado, Bulgaria, Kentucky, Ukraine, back to South Carolina, and ultimately Washington.

As his travels continued, so did the music. “Songwriting became a way to stay in touch with other aspects of my experiences and my interior life. It would be disingenuous to say I never intended to record or play these new songs live, but I really didn’t have a concrete plan when I wrote most of them.” After completing his master’s degree at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, the vibrant music scene of the Pacific Northwest influenced his decision to come to the University of Washington for his Ph.D. studies in Human Geography – a field which happily affords him more opportunities to ask big questions. Balancing the two disciplines suits him fine. And the open-ended nature of this songwriting project permits him to showcase it live in different configurations: solo, in a duo with Godwin, or as a full band. Because as When I Was A Child affirms, when the questions you ask – and the art they inspire – remain fluid, moments of great truth and beauty ensue.

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