I’m not usually one for live coverage. There are those that do it well and photographers with a better eye and I’ll usually leave it to them. This, however, being my fourth year in attendance at Soundscape in a town I’ve called home for as long, it feels fitting to at least weigh in. This might be even more true given that the mass that descends on Hudson is so often swept up in telling you to check out this “cute” hamlet nestled by the river that they forget to stop and reflect on who and what Hudson really is. So, while I’ve always appreciated Soundscape for giving an easily accessible glut of great artists (both literary and musical) it’s often hard not to grit at the parade of weekend goths gawkin’ up real estate prices during Fall Musical Recess 2017 sponsored by Warby Parker clear frames.
Hudson is, in its way, the cute burg that Time Out NY wants to sell you on as “Brooklyn North.” It’s filled with distractions both culinary and collectible – if your habit is acquiring home goods on an exorbitant budget. However, it’s also a city (technically speaking) that’s been rushed to relevance and could use less good ol’ tourism and a bit more community healing and growth. It’s expanded quickly as a respite for transplants, but that alone has given the city its place as a microcosm of American politics for the current age. Within blocks there are the liberal artists, rural conservatives and disenfranchised lower economic class that every head talking out there today would like you to believe don’t sidle to the same bar.
This is what runs through my mind while I enter Soundscape every year. I’m sure that for others, its less heavy, but again, I do appreciate the artists’ work outside the context that weighs on me as I crunch through the pavement of the parking lot. This year it’s a collection of artists that are both high bar favorites and newcomers that I see needing to prove something. So I’m eager to check out both on that account. I won’t bog you down act by act, but as a hit or miss reel this is how I saw it.
Friday’s always a slower day for city goers and by turns a lighter crowd. I’d walked in knowing that Yves Tumor had just signed a deal with Warp and was excited to catch the prophetic grind of his particular set. Though in comparison with the purely electronic setups I witnessed his seemed rudderless and mechanically antiseptic. Thou were suitably brutal in their own metal shred, a scream from the bowels that worked in the small, packed meat oven of the back room. For me, the anticipation laid on TriAngle newcomers serperntwithfeet. I’d come hoping for an elegiac bout of R&B tethered to a soaring and searing palette of minimalism. I’d come looking for chills, but was left a bit wanting in his live version of “adult storytime.” While “Four Ethers” slayed, I walked away feeling some doubt about how a full length would shake up.
Saturday packed out the warehouse in a more fitting fashion and there was plenty to look forward to on the bill. Priests commanded the stage, and I’ve always loved their political bent, but I sill find their particular packaging hard to swallow aesthetically. Katie Greer stalks the stage as a revamped and politicized Karen O, but their Cheap Trick duality of cool drummer/singer vs blank canvas bassist and GL on guitar, who has taken on the seeming persona of a sweaty Jonah Hill pushing bonds in Wolf of Wall Street, tends to pull my eye and ear away from the aural assault.
Second up in the proving chair is everyone’s favorite, Protomartyr. I went in unconverted to their previous catalog, but having never seen them in the room, decided to finally let that be my litmus. The band, to their credit, heave and sweat a post-punk pound that’s worth its weight in glowing reviews. However, I have to take issue with Joe Casey. The singer swans in with all the charisma of Dave Coulier fresh out of rehab and buying beer on a 10-minute chit. I can, frankly, see why writers in particular are swooning over this lot, primarily because we all want to imagine that we can be the frontman barking insinuations over a frantic fray. I’m still not rushing to the merch table here and you’ll find Protomartyr reviews forever pending on RSTB, but good on ’em for upholding the tradition of brittle Midwest punk.
John Maus is a name I’m glad is up in lights again. Been quite a few years since I’ve (or frankly anyone) have seen him out on the stage but he hasn’t lost a step. Maus’ style has always seemed to have been summed up in the delirium scenario of – “your college TA took PCP for the first time and started a stynth punk band that, you have to admit, really fucking slays.” He brings the same sweat-soaked Oxford-clad devotion here, but ditches his old CD player backing band for a trio of fresh faces that make the music vibrate on a whole new frequency and let you somehow rage to a reminder that someday your pets are all gonna die.
The real highlight, musically, as may have been mentioned elsewhere was the apocalyptic fury brought by Blanck Mass. The ex-Fuck Buttons solo project turned the one-man electronic setup into a fiery celebration of sonic sweat. If there is, in fact, an impending apocalypse I want Blanck Mass soundtracking it, because if the roof had lifted off the building then and there I’d probably have taken the fireball in stride as long as Benjamin Power’s continually exploding set was blowing in my ears. With the amount of smoke and light in the room, it may well have been a State emergency and I just missed the alert.
Taking the night down in true style, Zola Jesus brought Okovi alive through a shrouded setup that emphasized numbing static. Danilova’s voice is only more chilling in the room and she brought every track alive with her goth goddess presence. The set feels almost too restrained for the power coursing through her music, and while I know that she might not be on the stadium stage she deserves, this closing set felt like the distillation of Soundscape’s ethos. Surrounded by a hanging menagerie of sheet metal paper airplanes that made me almost check to see that my life insurance payments were up to date, I lost myself in Zola’s transference of pain and catharsis.