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2016 : Music Rules The Fort
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
Despite it being a rough year in terms of, well, nearly everything, the year locally was pretty stellar. Downtown Fort Wayne continues to progress into something we can all be damn proud of. So many people are coming together in the Fort to make the city a diverse and unique place where we don't feel the need to leave town to find something to do. The happenings are happening right here. A big part of that is the local music scene. It's always been a vibrant and eclectic scene and seems to only be getting better as the years pass.
As a way to put a cork in genie bottle that is 2016, here's a few of the musical highlights of 2016. If you haven't heard these albums, do yourself a favor and seek them out.
Void Reunion : EP1 and EP2
Void Reunion came together as a catch-all from other much-loved Fort Wayne bands and created a whole new brighter musical entity. Imagine Death Cab For Cutie with a slightly darker vibe. Like they had come out of New York's Captured Tracks label instead of the Pacific Northwest. A little bit of Beach Fossils, some Walkmen, and a touch of jangly early R.E.M. inform the bands two 2016-released EPs. Singer George Gardner comes across like an airier Ben Gibbard, while the rest of the band sounds like the Walkmen floating in space somewhere. "Bondage" takes flight on EP 1, while "Suicidal Defense" on EP 2 comes across like Built to Spill and Broken Social Scene. The Void Bois' flavor is jubilant melancholy.
March On, Comrade : March On, Comrade
March On, Comrade formed from the ashes of Ordinary Van, an indie pop rock outfit that called it quits after singer Paul Bates moved back to his home state of California. So Ryan Holquist recruited friend John Ptak and took the music into a more atmospheric, albeit catchy direction. The result came in the form of their self-titled debut. Tracks like opener "Pool" and "Archer" bring to mind bands like Sigur Ros, Explosions in The Sky, and This Will Destroy You, but with more of an emphasis on songs instead of existential pondering. The results are pop songs with an intellectual lean.
Shade : Self Titled
Ian Skeans' Pink Balloon Band had created quite the hardcore fanbase over the years. His brand of Weezer-inflected pop was the stuff of local music legend garnering him fans from all over. Skeans recently put PBB to rest and now his full attention is on current musical skin called Shade. Skeans formed Shade with former Wickerwolves drummer Kiah Gerig and the sound is decidedly different from either's former musical gigs. The self-titled Shade debut is a dirge of slow-churning doom pop. It's far heavier than the Pink Balloon canon, but Skeans hasn't forgotten that musical hooks are important, no matter how many speaker cabinets you're running through. Check out "Rembourser" or "Recuperer" for further proof of that. It's like Motion City Soundtrack on a Sleep kick.
The Legendary Trainhoppers : Family Tree
You know, just because we grow up and acquire things like family, responsibility, and 9 to 5 jobs doesn't mean we have to leave behind our passions and creative instincts. The Legendary Trainhoppers were local musical legends a decade ago when they decided to call it quits. In 2015 their core members decided to light that musical flame once again and conceived their triumphant return album titled Family Tree. It's a return to their roots, a mixture of twangy Americana and countrified rock and roll. "Keep A Light" buzzes and shakes like a juke joint revival, while "My Come Monday" sounds like a cross between The Band and Wildflowers-era Tom Petty. It's a soulful revival of musical ghosts ready to knock back a few beers.
Heaven's Gateway Drugs : Rubber Nun
Heaven's Gateway Drugs have been twisting minds for a few years now, and with Rubber Nun they seem to have found their perfect sonic footing. With album number three HGD have found the perfect balance of psychedelic buzz, drone-y freakouts, and pure pop catchiness. Derek Mauger and Ben Carr being the two remaining original members have reformed HGD like some psychedelic Voltron with the help of bassist Brandon Zolman and drummer James Wadsworth. Rubber Nun hits hard with tracks like "Thee Heathen Twist" and "Fun & Games", while mining some serious pop hooks on "Copper Hill", "Rubber Nun", and "Only Child". Freaking out never sounded so good.
Slow Dakota : The Ascension of Slow Dakota
PJ Sauerteig's Slow Dakota is a musical project of lush arrangements and an astute attention to detail. It feels as much a literary project accompanied by music as a musical project accompanied by poetry. Sauerteig is a student of the written word but is also a songwriter of the highest order. Bright Eyes, Grizzly Bear, and Sufjan Stevens comes to mind while listening to The Ascension of Slow Dakota. A mixture of folk, electronic, rustic stringed music, and spoken word come together to make an album rich in what feels like history. "The Lilac Bush" and "I Am Held Together" are eloquent musical statements. They're like coming across a hidden study in a house you've known for years. Its dusty walls covered with literary works not read in a lifetime, and a record collection not heard in a century. Slow Dakota make music you can hear with the eyes and ears.
Omaha, Alaska : Omaha, Alaska
Omaha, Alaska is the newest musical project by C. Ray Harvey, and the first musical outing he's been involved in since his departure from Heaven's Gateway Drugs. The self-titled debut is a singer/songwriter vehicle that is raw in it's depiction of making mistakes, trying to make amends, and trying to move on all the while the music is a heavy dose of piano pop. Harvey put together a top notch band to help him create his odes to soaking in loneliness and looking for some light in a darkened bedroom. "I'm Not Missed" talks of "whiskey courage", while "Of Course You're Doing Fine" is a frank conversation with a lover. Omaha, Alaska is a stark but lovely musical picture painted by memories. Some good, some not so good.
Middle Waves Festival
No Fort Wayne "best of" list in regards to local music in 2016 would not be complete without mentioning Middle Waves Music Festival. Before this year, I don't think anyone could've imagined that the Fort could pull off a festival like Middle Waves, let alone it being a smashing success(though, I think there was a select few that knew Fort Wayne was more than ready for something like Middle Waves.) Hosting acts like The Flaming Lips, Best Coast, Oddisee, Jeff The Brotherhood, and Tanlines alongside a bevy of local Fort Wayne talent Middle Waves proved the naysayers wrong(were there naysayers?) Middle Waves felt like that pivotal moment where everything changed for the city, and for the better.
Middle Waves 2017, here we come.