Harpooner, Sun Seeker
1 Cannery Row
Nashville, TN, 37203
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 18 and over
It's not uncommon for musicians to grow and evolve between releases -- but even by those standards, the Districts' Popular Manipulations is stunning. The Pennsylvania-borne band's third full-length represents an exponential leap in sound and cohesion, an impressive and impassioned burn with a wide scope that threatens to swallow everything else surrounding it. Perhaps it's a cliché to say so, but while listening, you might find yourself wondering why people don't make indie rock like this anymore.
The total electric charge of Popular Manipulations is just the latest evolution for the impressively young quartet, whose founding members -- vocalist/guitarist Rob Grote, bassist Connor Jacobus, and drummer Braden Lawrence -- have known each other since attending grade school together in the Pennsylvania town of Lititz. After deciding to form a band in high school, the Districts gigged hard in the tri-state area, releasing a slew of promising material (including the rootsy 2012 debut Telephone) before catching the eye of venerable indie Fat Possum. 2015's A Flourish and a Spoil found the band refining their embryonic sound with veteran producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Kurt Vile) -- and looking back on that release, there are glimmers of Popular Manipulations in chrysalis form to be found on it, hints of the fence-swinging anthemic sound they'd soon make wholly their own.
After touring behind A Flourish and a Spoil, Grote began "playing with different ideas" in his own songwriting by making demos at a prolific pace. "We knew that we wanted to change some things musically, so we were trying to come up with as many songs as possible to narrow the direction we wanted to take the material," he states. In total, they ended up with 50 song ideas, and so they were off to LA in May of 2016 with new guitarist Pat Cassidy in tow to log more recording time with Congleton, with four of Popular Manipulations' songs coming out of the sessions.
"We have a lot of overlapping tastes and preferences for how things are made," Grote gushes about working with the notably reliable studio wizard -- but acceding all credit to Congleton (who also handled the record's mixdown) would be shortchanging the Districts themselves, who went on to self-produce the remainder of the record in Philadelphia with engineer Keith Abrams. "Something we took from working with Congleton was ideas on arranging songs," Grote explains, and they certainly learned a lot: Popular Manipulations is a raucous and impressively thick-sounding album, overflowing with toothy melodies that pack a serious punch.
The distinctly intense sound of Popular Manipulations -- charging guitars, thunderous drumming, and Grote's searing vocals -- was brought on by a few cited influences, from shoegaze's aggressive swirl to the Velvet Underground's impeccable drone-rock sound. There's a distinctly Canadian flavor to this brand of indie rock, too; Spencer Krug's anthemic, lushly inscrutable work in Wolf Parade and his defunct Sunset Rubdown side project comes to mind, as does 2000s Toronto barnburners the Diableros' overlooked 2006 gem You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts.
But don't mistake easy comparisons for a lack of originality: on Popular Manipulations, the District are in a lane entirely their own, exploring lyrical themes of isolation and abandonment in a way that ups the music's already highly charged emotional quotient. "Capable" finds Grote turning his focus to the ruinous aftermath of divorce, and "Before I Wake" is, in his words, "About coming to terms with being isolated or alone -- even though we have a whole group of voices singing the whole time." Grote explains that even the title of the record touches on these universal concerns: "It hints at how people use each other, for good or bad, and the personal ways you manipulate yourself and other people in day-to-day interactions."
For such weighty thematic material, though, Popular Manipulations is purely life-affirming rock music, bursting with energy that cuts through the darkness of the world that surrounds us. "We're a much better distillation of who we wish to be as a band," Grote reflects on the journey that has led the Districts to this point. "We've figured out how to distill the things we've been trying to accomplish as a band, musically and lyrically. We've always viewed making music as something we're trying to do better the whole time." Mission accomplished.
Frontman Scott Schmadeke (vocals, piano, Mellotron, guitar) formed the band in 2013 in Bloomington, IN with fellow former Indiana University students. Bloomington's rotating tight-knit community of musicians, artists, and writers gave Harpooner a freedom of expression and fertile ground to form a network of basement-show locations close to the IU campus.
Recorded at Blockhouse Studios in Bloomington by Schmadeke and Andy Beargie, Rose Park digs into strange voicing and textures as an homage to the work of artists like Leon Russell's Carny, Harry Nilsson's Nilsson Schmilsson, and Wings' Speed of Sound. Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Benjamin Booker, Natural Child) was enlisted for mastering duties at The Bomb Shelter in East Nashville.
Seated and singing close-up on the microphone, sometimes underneath a brimmed hat, Schmadeke delivers his cosmic awareness with a tenderness toward sensitive issues and big questions like a Jeff Lynne that grew up in the suburbs of Indianapolis in the 90s. On All I Get Back and Bigger Thoughts he weaves the band in and out of sophisticated movements that shimmer and punch right on time the kind of arrangements traded-in long ago by popular music for high-gain marketing strategies. He grapples with racial inequality on songs like Carolines and Immigration but not so that the songs become fodder for corporate social campaigns. Many of the songs on the album spring from a small fictitious midwestern town that Schmadeke imagines as a canvas for the ideas he and the band have picked-up along the way.
Schmadeke has quickly built a good reputation in the music scene having toured as pianist for national acts Houndmouth, Diane Coffee, and Andrew Combs.
Sun Seeker has drawn applause for their unhurried breed of Cosmic American Music and with BIDDEFORD (Third Man Records), their long awaited debut EP, the Nashville-based band more than affirm their promise. The EP – which follows Sun Seekers widely acclaimed Third Man debut single, 2016s Georgia Dust b/w No One Knows (TMR322) – sees Alex Benick (guitar, vocals), Asher Horton (bass guitar, vocals), and Ben Parks (drums, vocals) exploring nostalgia, melancholy, and emotional turmoil via laidback psychedelia pollinated with tight harmonies, classic folk songcraft, and country rock spirit, an ageless approach that is simultaneously archetypal and now utterly their own. Songs like With Nothing (But Our Last Words) and the yearning Wont Keep Me Up At Night meld Benicks candid lyricism and stark melodies with creative arrangement and production technique, fashioning a sonic world to match their interior emotional scope. The bunch of musical friends at the core of Sun Seeker have been collaborating in some sense since eighth grade. The trio formed a loose collective of combos, playing together in each others bands, with Sun Seeker officially convening in January 2013. The band became fast favorites on the Nashville scene, earning word of mouth and a fervent fan following via an electric live presence and a striking collection of songs. Sun Seeker will celebrate BIDDEFORD with intense national touring, not dissimilar to the approach they took in building a hometown following. The band plan to use the time between runs to record their now eagerly anticipated debut album, still determined to keep venturing forward, developing and expanding the distinctive parameters of their own intrepid sound and vision.