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Sounds from the fringes

Sounds from the fringes
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JOEFF DAVIS
Image Nurse’s bleak sonic vision
!!Hardcore standouts defy definition
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Nurse sets the style for a goth-afflicted punk movement of the moment. The quartet plays a dark and aggressive take on hardcore punk that’s rife with expressive lethal energy. The group’s dreary-but-snarling sound is fast, sharp, and laced with doom and distortion. Songs often clock in around two minutes each.

An internet joke made by Josh Feigert of local bands Wymyns Prysyn and Uniform gave this sonic approach a label that Nurse frontman Aaron Smith resents: funeral hardcore. “Funeral hardcore is not a thing. Every review that comes out says we made up a genre,” Smith says. “We play dark hardcore punk, but we ain’t naming this shit.”

A 7-inch EP released in May via Scavenger of Death features four songs that reach into even darker terrain than the band’s 2014 demo cassette. The searing riffs and guttural screams on new songs “I Can See You” and “Pressure” defy easy labeling. Nurse’s willingness to stretch the limited boundaries of hardcore makes it one of Atlanta’s most challenging and exciting punk bands. Each new development in the band’s sound is driven by the musical adaptability of Charlotte ex-pat Dave Michaud (bass) and former Cheap Art members Bryan Scherer (guitar) and Andrew Wilson (drums).

Smith joined six months into the band’s run when his previous band Manic’s inactivity had him itching for a new creative outlet. During shows he takes the stage like a man possessed. His onstage screaming and thrashing fits leave him bloodied from bashing the microphone against his face.

Sure, Nurse shows only last for about 20 minutes, but the short set times make each song all the more thrilling, powerful, and beyond categorization.

— Bobby Moore

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CHAD RADFORD
Image Blue Tower’s urban frontier
!!Industrious trio crafts lightning-fast punk songs
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It’s easy to associate noise-punk trio Blue Tower with Atlanta’s West End. The band takes its name from the familiar landmark looming over the Metropolitan Lofts complex. For bassist Laremy Wade, it’s an ideal neighborhood for DIY musicians. “With the industrial decay, it’s kind of like the purest form of Terminus City,” Wade says. “Plus there’s a history of punk that’s been here since the ’80s that’s still circulating in the sinews of this place. There’s a lot that can go on here for pioneering people.”

Blue Tower was born in 2013, when Eric Centore’s lightning-fast drumming inspired singer and guitarist Jason Lee Vaughan to flesh out song ideas he’d conceived over the previous 15 years. Wade joined last fall.

Blue Tower’s songs are jagged, workmanlike ’80s punk and hardcore, with scant pop elements buried in lo-fi grit and waves of distortion. Vaughan’s vocals are mostly shrouded in a haze of trebly guitar tones that turn into mosh pit shout-alongs, such as the group’s first song to leak onto the internet, “Maybe I was Crazy!

Wade runs the Southern Soundclash Distro and Taaang! Records Music Lounge record store in the Metropolitan Lofts. His self-sustaining DIY hub also houses a recording studio and an intimate music venue that has hosted countless late-night punk shows and one massive trap karaoke event.

Songs recorded there will be released as part of the Live at Southern Soundclash series of records and tapes, beginning with Blue Tower’s forthcoming live cassette.

Like the early punks who created scenes from scratch, Wade and his bandmates are taking measures to keep the music they love in the West End’s warehouses, long before industrial decay gives way to high-priced condos.

— Bobby Moore

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LEAH ROTH
Image CLAVVS live the dream
!!Amber Renee and Graham Marsh just want to make dark and beautiful music
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Atlanta’s music scenes have become so interconnected that it’s rare for a new group to surprise with a bold, fully formed sound that stands apart from local trends. But singer Amber Renee and producer Graham Marsh come on strong with the spacey ambiance of CLAVVS. “Sit You Down,” from their debut Halfblood LP (released in May), builds at a slow-motion pace. Renee eases into the song’s chorus chanting a telling mantra: “We do what we want, we do what we want.”

Marsh is a four-time Grammy-winning producer who has worked with an impressive roster of artists at Jermaine Dupri’s Southside Studios, including Janet Jackson, Gnarls Barkley, T.I., and others. His experience shows in the bed of staccato beats of songs such as “Throats” and “Spectre.” Each one bears a worldly take on Atlanta’s signature trap DNA — floating in trip-hop amber. “I try to steer away from typical pop sounds,” Marsh says. “I try to slip in some West African stuff or some Indian stuff.”

Renee and Marsh met at a house party in 2013, and have made music together ever since. Their musical friendship became a professional partnership and a relationship — but don’t expect to see them making out on stage. Renee has been singing for as long as she can remember, putting on mini concerts for her mom’s friends when she was a kid, and later performing solo and with the short-lived duo Portmanteau at Smith’s Olde Bar. CLAVVS is her most ambitious project to date.

Renee’s haunting and seductive voice drifts over Marsh’s soundscapes. Each song exists in its own universe where creativity remains unfettered by label influences. Their potential for mainstream success is obvious. But amid the lush and hypnotic songs they create, making it big isn’t on their agenda — they just want to have a good time making beautiful music. “Our ultimate goal is not having a hit single,” Marsh says. “All that stuff is great, but if you can make a living doing the music that you do, and just live how you’re living, that’s the dream in music.”

— Meagan Mastriani

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CHAD RADFORD
Image Caesium Mine at maximum volume
!!Andrew Wiggins revels in the aesthetics of noise
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Andrew Wiggins is no stranger to Atlanta music. In the mid-aughts, he was the new guy, sharpening up math rock outfit Blame Game. Then he added lacerating guitar tones and aggressive riffs to post-hardcore and noise-rock acts Hawks, Wymyns Prysyn, Uniform, and lately with the more sedate Thousandaire. Since October 2014, however, he’s been playing solo shows under the name Caesium Mine.

As Caesium Mine, Wiggins takes the stage sans guitar, instead leaning over a table armed with a midi sequencer, synthesizers, a drum machine, and effects pedals. When the lights dim he unleashes a spacious, abstract wall of droning noise and subtle ’90s Memphis hip-hop beats shrouded in blown-speaker ambiance. The two songs on his debut cassette, Alia’s Fane, carry a sci-fi aesthetic that reaches deep into the psyches of both audience and performer with a sound that’s part psychedelic, part transcendental experience.

Wiggins’ interest in crafting quasi-industrial avant-garde soundscapes comes from a need for change. “I got tired of playing bully rock,” Wiggins says. “I love playing aggressive music, but it’s not the aggressive qualities that I’m drawn to. I like sheer volume, I like the physical aspects of an amp being turned up to 10 and pushing my jeans back.”

As Caesium Mine, Wiggins adopts a shifting, exploratory, and improvisational nature when approaching sound. But experimental music this is not. Throughout Alia’s Fane a billowing cloud of grinding distortion and serene melodies is delivered with maximum volume. Every sound is intentional: When it comes to sculpting noise music, Wiggins knows full well the value of a focused aesthetic and composition.

“I can’t just ad lib and twist knobs while I’m doing this,” he says. “I do write songs, but it’s more like a loose outline of what I want to do — the more I do it the more structured it becomes.”

— Chad Radford

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KELLYN WILLEY
Image Midnight Larks’ fiery first year
!!Psychedelic rock trio finds new life in music
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Midnight Larks’ success as a psychedelic rock group came as a godsend for three musicians who found a new lease on life through music. The story begins when singer and guitarist Sasha Vallely wanted to get back into writing and playing music. The Birmingham, England, native moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to play keyboard and drums with neo-psychedelic rockers the Warlocks. She guested on tambourine with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and sang, played keyboard, sampler, flute, and percussion for Spaghetti Western psych-rock outfit Spindrift.

Major spinal surgery derailed her work. She moved to Atlanta in 2013 to be near her family and her boyfriend. Much of her body was paralyzed after the surgery, but dexterity returned slowly.

Guitarist and vocalist Nikki Speake was also looking to start a band when her country outfit Sioux City Sue broke up. The two were introduced while hanging out at rehearsal for a Misfits cover band called 30-Year-Old Women from Mars. Despite Vallely’s lingering physical discomfort, the two picked up guitars and Midnight Larks was born.

They crafted songs together inspired by a shared love for harmonies, psychedelia, and old-fashioned country storytelling. Speake settled in on acoustic and rhythm guitar and bass, and Vallely took on lead electric guitar.

Drummer Pietro DiGennaro completed the lineup when he joined in June 2015. It gave him new purpose following a self-imposed departure from the band he’d been playing with, rock and soul purists Black Linen. It had been a tough decision for DiGennaro, who moved to Atlanta from Baltimore in 2013 to join the local rock scene.

“For a month and a half I wasn’t playing music at all,” DiGennaro says. “Then a PBR representative named Luis Sandoval came to me and said, ‘I have this great band that really needs a drummer. Give it a listen.’ I said, ‘Eh, it’s alright.’ I couldn’t imagine what they’d sound like once I got ahold of their rhythm. But this band completely saved my life. I was drinking a lot. I was totally that sad VH1 ‘Behind the Music’ cliché.”

Speake’s psychedelic country influence in “Endless Valley,” and Vallely’s upbeat “Gunfighter” and the James Bond-esque surf anthem “Loner” take shape in a maelstrom of fiery tones and DiGennaro’s garage and soul drumming. Each harmony and reverb-driven song finds new life during live shows. “We’re not tied to a certain sound like a lot of Atlanta bands,” DiGennaro says. “Our next album could be a country album or it could sound like it was recorded in a shoebox.”

Midnight Larks recently completed tracking its debut album at the Green House in Marietta. The title: 13 Songs of a Lark. A new Mike Molly-directed video for the song “Gunfighter,” featuring clips from the Western film 6 Bullets to Hell, is in the works as well. Until then, Midnight Larks will continue burning up stages across the city with phoenix-like power.

— Bobby Moore

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REGINALD LEVY
Image Sea Ghost’s community values
!!The rising noise-pop group rallies the local scene
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Sea Ghost snared early attention when a tweet at rising hip-hop star iLoveMakonnen led to a fluke internet hit, “Running Away.” A feature story in the FADER and widespread internet exposure propelled the band to release this year’s debut album, SG. “It put pressure on me to put out a project that had to be really good really fast and that was stressful,” says the group’s singer, keyboard player, and guitarist Carter Sutherland. “But it made me think really critically about what I was doing, which helped.”

Mixed by Larry League rapper and producer Ariel Silva, aka SenseiATL, the record creates a melodic landscape suited as much to a lonely headphone walk in Oakland Cemetery as a drive down Moreland Avenue, blasting at full volume. Bleak lyrics such as “I want to know that empty space” or “You’ll never be my friend” seek solace and joy in shared alienation. These lyrics are paired with an underlying noise-pop buoyancy that makes the room move.

Reverb-drenched instrumentation and Sutherland’s expansive voice help the melancholy go down easy. As Sutherland reflects on the sadness and joy of being a young man, Brandon Chester (guitar), Jonathan Morningstar (drums), and Jay Harris (bass) reinforce the mood through the music. The tones and tempos reflect a contemplative narrator — a soundtrack for those lost in thought.

Sea Ghost cherishes being the underdog. The group happily carries a divergent young scene that includes the laid-back rock of King Guru, Femignome’s lo-fi indie rock melodies, and the dreamy electronic soundscapes of Dog Lover 420, all scrappy DIY acts connected by a desire to find, build, and hold on to a community.

Even while flirting with mainstream success, Sea Ghost has stuck to its communal roots. Sutherland is a leading figure in this year’s JORTSFEST summer music fest, and the band still plays more barns and art spaces than traditional venues. The group is ramping up for a few tours this summer to see if its sound brings about new connections up and down the East Coast.

— Billy Mitchell

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BOBBY MOORE
Image Rod Hamdallah expands his horizons
!!The rockabilly-blues guitarist has an outlet for every riff
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When Rod Hamdallah isn’t on the road playing guitar with Nashville’s Legendary Shack Shakers, he pours his precious downtime into two separate projects. One is a burgeoning solo career. Hamdallah began taking the stage on his own more than a decade ago, exhibiting the classic blues guitar and voice techniques he’d learned as a teenager performing alongside late blues guitar prodigy Sean Costello.

These days he incorporates elements of classic rockabilly and garage rock into his songwriting.

“I’m still into the blues heavy, but I’m also influenced by the Sonics and old punk rock like the Clash,” Hamdallah says. “Still, it’s mainly soul and the blues that I sing.”

The 2014 release of his Think About It EP and the “Doing Me Wrong” b/w “Stay Awake” 7-inch released last spring document his growth as a distinct voice amid well-worn musical terrains. “Stay Awake” best captures Hamdallah’s blues roots while incorporating soulful howls and more contemporary garage rock riffs.

Hamdallah also plays guitar and sings for fledgling garage-punk outfit the Gartrells. Born in 2015, the group also features Black Lips’ singer and bass player Jared Swilley, Swilley’s brother and fellow guitarist Jonah of Black Linen, and drummer John Kang. The band takes its name from ’60s singer and widow to the Mighty Hannibal, Delia Gartrell. Hamdallah’s contributions owe a debt to Delia’s late ’60s and early ’70s songs such as “See What You Done Done (Hymn No. 9),” “Fight Fire With Fire,” and “Starting a Movement.”

Whether crafting fresh riffs at a Shack Shakers sound check, plotting his next solo release, or composing new music with the Gartrells, Hamdallah has a creative outlet for almost any blues, garage, or soul riff or melody in his growing arsenal.

— Bobby Moore

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