Sofar Sounds NYC // Bushwick 7/22/16

Review: Parisa Mahdad

Photography: Tracy Rivas

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Friday was a scorcher, but it helped that you could see the sky. In the place of skyscrapers were petite houses. It’s Bushwick after all and Bushwick always feels far away from cityscape.

And the people who live there feel familiar and not attached to place. They too feel far away. As soon as I walked in, a guy took note of my shoes. He was wearing a T-shirt with an illustrated scene of Cleveland, Ohio on the front. This wasn’t worn for irony, he was from Cleveland and owned it. His name was Charlie, and he was hosting the evening with his beauty of a roommate, Tracy. They made the evening feel like everyone’s home, a place to roam the rooms, put your beer in the fridge, and sweat on the furniture, because you know…it was 95 degrees out and the AC buzz would interfere with the music. Everyone was serious about hearing the music.

When a group of strangers are sitting on the ground in an apartment sweating through their clothes, you get comfortable pretty quickly. The audience wasn’t afraid to ask questions in between songs or joke around with the band. They also hailed from far away- Boston, Brazil, Chicago, California, etc. 'Tis the beauty of Sofar Sounds

The night began with Truth of a Lyre, a duo between Josh Taylor and David Ash. The Boston-based boys were soulful, folky, and ambient. Their song, “Loving You,” highlights Taylor’s raspy vocals that can also transform into a very enticing falsetto. A chorus as suggestive as “Let’s get down and freaky baby. Let’s get restless baby. C’mon get crazy with me,” was on par with Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” David Ash played electric guitar to keep the groove of the song.

 Photo Credit: Tracy Rivas

Photo Credit: Tracy Rivas

The charming duo describes their sound as soul acoustic. During their second song, “Let Go,” Taylor began by using the wood and fret of his acoustic guitar as percussion.  One index finger tapped on the same note intermittently through the song. Ash on electric echoed this note creating a very spacious ambient effect.

The duo’s final song showed the power that their sound could reach. Whereas most of the duo’s set focused on love, “Devil’s Wine,” offered more depth with political undertones subtly penetrating the lyrics. The crowd joined in on the chorus singing “Well I will sit here with you all. I will sit here and watch it all fall.” Ash added electric, psychedelic interludes between the chorus and verse.  Taylor switches between sly and smooth vocals during the verse and powerful, bluesy belting during the chorus, laying on the rasp thick a la Joe Cocker.

The second act of the evening was Laura and Greg.  “Those aren’t actually our names. We’ll tell you our names later,” they joked.  

Their first song, “Once Out Loud,” features Greg on electric guitar playing a steady motif throughout the song. Laura has a powerful but sweet voice and the duo harmonize brilliantly together starting in the second verse, Greg taking the high harmony. A catchy chorus, “Once out loud, once softly, ten times in your head repeat every word you said” rounded out the song as a great introduction to the musical pair.

“Masha” begins with driving guitar ascending in chord progression. Vocals and guitar are steady as is Laura & Greg’s eye contact with one another. The duo’s harmonies are reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel, the duo’s music finding influence from early 60s rock. The song’s lyrics are straightforward and honest, “I see you are a broken one. I see you don’t think you have one. You have me. You have me. You have me.”

Laura whips out the Casio SK-1 sampling keyboard in “T Song,” adding a layer of bended, bright sound while Greg fingerpicks a darker, more twisted pattern. “Stranger” also features the SK-1, the vibrant instrument interluding between lyrics such as “You’re like a fucking stranger…If you want to leave here I won’t say anything. I’ll let you go.”

Laura and Greg are fascinating to watch live. Their eye contact with one another is intent but gentle. Laura is able to walk the fine line between straightforward in her delivery but not harsh. She is able to pair strength with vulnerability.  She has a self-assured confidence that is quiet but felt.

 Photo Credit: Tracy Rivas

Photo Credit: Tracy Rivas

The duo’s harmonies are rocking but subdued. Laura and Greg have mastered the art of balance. With little chit chat between songs, the duo lets their music speak for itself. And their music has a lot to say, expressing the emotions we all experience in a very straightforward way. They make our confusion clear.  

Laura and Greg ended their set with “Forever For Sure.” Harmonies and fingerpicking are present throughout the whole song. Vocals are unwavering but vulnerable as they sing “I am me no more. I am gone forever for sure.”

When asked who their musical influences have been, Laura did not hesitate to assert “The Beatles.” Vampire Weekend and Fleetwood Mac have also inspired their sound.

The duo are working on a full length album to accompany their current EP and LP discography. Their next show will be at Silent Barn on August 4.

The Beatbox House finished the night out strong. The group is comprised of 6 (5 members were present that evening) beatboxers who met at the American Beatbox Championships. All of the members have competed against one another, and each has won the championship at one point in time. Instead of competing against one another, the group decided to join forces, forming a band and living together in what they call “The Beatbox House” in Bed-Stuy.

The group began their set with a freestyle that they improvised on the spot. The audience made gasps of awe as sounds of crickets, police sirens, heavy bass, and sharp percussion began the song. The group seemed incredibly attuned to one another as the song increasingly crescendoed, then wound down to one beat before the beat dropped again with power and whiplash. The showstopper of this freestyle was a unique high-pitched sound similar to a siren, or a sound effect out of a Nintendo game. A whisper from the sea of bopping heads in the crowd emerged, “This is too fucking good.”

 Photo Credit: Tracy Rivas

Photo Credit: Tracy Rivas

The Beatbox House was one of the more incredible musical wonders that I have experienced.  “Everything you guys are hearing is from our mouths” is the group’s tagline after every song, a reminder of the versatility of the human anatomy.   

The group’s set was mostly made up of freestyles or material they came up with a few days prior. The Beatbox House lives and breathes their craft, which comes through in the ease with which they create on the spot together. Their set was marked by the sheer speed of their beats as well as the heavy, distorted bass that often times completes their groove. From hip-hop to reggae, to electronic and pop music, the group sources inspiration from all genres.

Words make an appearance in some of their songs as well. On “We Nice,” distorted beats and bass are overlaid with wooden percussion sounds before a voice interjects with the hook “we nice.” Percussion, sirens, and all effects are in full force before stripping down to a slow motion end to the song.

The group’s last song was a mash up of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River.” Just as the group’s voices are indistinguishable to recorded beats, Kenny Urban’s voice gives Justin Timberlake a run for his money. This was a crowd favorite, the set ending in thunderous applause.       

The Beatbox House has been known to periodically perform on the street and in the subways. They also have a upcoming show on August 18th at LPR.