MidPoint Music Festival 2014 kicks off this Thursday and we've been showcasing some of the Critic's Picks from our official MidPoint guide (which will be available throughout the fest). While most of attendees are likely very familiar with some of the bigger headlining acts, these suggestions mostly focus on some of the lesser known gems. (If you're in doubt, any act with "Cincinnati" next to their name is a slam dunk.)
12:15 a.m. @ Arnold's
Baskery (Stockholm, Sweden)
Sweden’s Baskery formed in 2007, but the members didn’t have to go far to find each other. The group consists of sisters Greta, Stella and Sunniva Bondesson, who dub their unique spin on Roots/Country music everything from “Nordicana” to “Banjo-Punk.” But descriptions are especially difficult when it comes to Baskery; the trio’s third album, this year’s Little Wild Life, finds the sisters spinning a wide range of American Roots music styles into their own distinctive, wildly diverse sound. One second the group is showcasing its vocal harmony prowess a capella on the haunting “Northern Girl,” the next its strutting swamp boogie a la Southern Culture on the Skids on “The NoNo.” If you’re tiring of Roots music that doesn’t go off the same exact blueprints established a century ago, Baskery will show you just how far Americana can be taken.
You’ll Dig It If You Dig: The Dixie Chicks without boundaries, The Beatles reborn as a sister act fascinated by Americana. (Mike Breen)
7:15 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. (Outdoor Stage)
Ancient Warfare (Lexington, Ky.)
Ancient Warfare’s dark and quiet intensity transcends the band’s tough-chick exterior. The quartet designs a sonic atmosphere the same way Saul Bass once designed logos: with elegant simplicity and ferocious creativity. The psychedelic aspect to Ancient Warfare’s presentation is more about texture than actual sound, as their languid, fuzzy melodies drift through their ethereal yet solidly constructed songs, like the heavy smoke in an opium den. The palpable weariness of Echo Wilcox’s gloomy vocals and haunted guitar, the intractable pull of Rachael Yanarella’s hypnotic violin, the subtle thunder of Reva Williams’ bass and the exquisite filigrees provided by multi-instrumentalist Emily Hagihara swirl and combine to make Ancient Warfare’s enveloping totality and assure that their imminent debut album, The Pale Horse, will be one of the fall’s most anticipated releases.
YDIIYD: Sixteen Horsepower reimagined as the Velvet Underground by P.J. Harvey, Aimee Mann and Hope Sandoval. (Brian Baker)
10 p.m. @ Christian Moerlein Brewing Company (Indoor Stage)
Apache Dropout (Bloomington, Ind.)
Like all good college towns, Bloomington, Ind., is forever dishing up awesome bands with fresh, new music. In the case of Apache Dropout, that “new” sound is perfectly and thankfully reminiscent of some of the best music of the past. Their newest album, Heavy Window, comes from Magnetic South, co-owned by band member Seth Mahern. The guys pressed 1,000 copies of Heavy Window, one of their largest printings yet. Fun fact: The first half of those records feature glowing eyes on the eerie-cool cover. It’s the ultimate tell-tale sign of the drug-addled, paranoid Rock & Roll boogie on the inside.
YDIIYD: The Who on acid, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. (Deirdre Kaye)
11 p.m. @ The Drinkery
Xoe Wise (Chicago)
At 19, Xoe Wise moved from her North Carolina home (the first song she wrote was for a sick goat on her family’s farm) to Chicago and immediately became a fixture in the city’s burgeoning scene. Wise’s debut album, 2010’s Echo, generated a pile of positive local press, while its follow-up, 2012’s Archive of Illusions, earned her a sell-out crowd at Schuba’s, a spot on WGN-TV and a feature in the Chicago Tribune. Wise’s third EP, Breakfast, hit the Top 20 on iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter chart and she’s currently at work on her third full-length, irresistibly titled Racecar Orgasm. Wise plays solo acoustic or with a full Electro Pop crew, but either way she creates a dreamy and undeniable vibe.
YDIIYD: Imogen Heap and Suzanne Vega play Twister on a musical game board. (BB)
11:15 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Tontons (Houston)
Big-haired Texas and its Rock & Roll-loving youngsters have eaten up and loved every second of their time with The Tontons. Now the band is out touring the nation and conquering ears and hearts across the globe. The group’s sultry Rock is just good enough to make The Tontons Cincinnati’s favorite band, too. “So Young,” off 2011’s Golden, feels like a modern, youthful, rockin’ spin on elevator music or like Henry Mancini decided to start a female-led Rock band. Asli Omar’s one-of-a-kind voice and perfect squeal makes each song on this year’s Make Out King and Other Stories stand out.
YDIIYD: Blonde Redhead, wearing leather to Tiffany & Co. (DK)
8:45 p.m. @ Mainstay Rock Bar
The Nepotist (New York, N.Y.)
Good luck trying to find a one or two word descriptor for the music made by NYC trio The Nepotist. Actually, don’t even try — the group’s uniqueness and sonic diversity is what makes them so enjoyable to listen to. The Village Voice called them “Alt Soul,” a term the band has embraced and works well enough given the soulful vocals and rewired Steve Cropper guitar riffs. But then you have a track like the recent single “Kids,” which has bubbling banjo and harmonies befitting a Folk band. It’s a delicious stew that is blissfully unpredictable. The trio (formed by brothers Chris and Hayden Frank) has only been together a couple of years but has already drawn loads of glowing press thanks to its pair of EPs and various singles released just this year alone. A full-length is due early next year.
YDIIYD: Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens, Dr. Dog. (MB)
10:30 p.m. @ Memorial Hall
Saintseneca (Columbus, Ohio)
When Saintseneca canceled an appearance at the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus this July, the quintet made national headlines not for its music but for its social politics, because the members were against sex offender R. Kelly performing at the fest. Met with vicious protests, Kelly eventually pulled out (no pun intended) of the fest. This is one of many ways the folksy Appalachian Pop group has become famous this year, along with releasing the new record Dark Arc (produced by Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis), recording a NPR Tiny Desk Concert and gigging across the country. From grassroots house concerts in central Ohio to performing at national fests, it won’t be long now before everyone knows their name and music.
YDIIYD: Weird instruments like the bouzouki, the dulcimer and a bowed banjo playing lilting harmonies with a Ben Gibbard-y vocal affectation. (Garin Pirnia)
9:45 p.m. @ MidPoint Midway Stage
Low Cut Connie (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
If you think Piano Rock is all Billy Joel and Elton John, sorry will be a much easier word for you after you’ve experienced the 88-key onslaught of Low Cut Connie. Featuring the manic piano fireworks of Adam Weiner and the ambidextrous drum/guitar magic of Dan Finnemore (and a full band’s worth of mayhem on tour), Low Cut Connie entertains with a vengeance and accepts nothing less than total surrender. Their first two albums, 2011’s Get Out the Lotion and 2012’s Call Me Sylvia, are loaded with catchy numbers that feature a lot of humor but stop well short of being simple novelties and showcase the duo’s disparate influences (Jerry Lee Lewis and Iggy Pop for Weiner; British Punk and Garage Rock for Finnemore). Low Cut Connie’s latest triumph was a spectacular version of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” on the Nilsson tribute This is the Town earlier this year, and rumors of a third album continue to swirl. But right now, the play’s the thing. See Low Cut Connie and marvel at the things a piano was never meant to do but should have been doing all along.
YDIIYD: Ben Folds dipped in speed and forced to play Replacements and Stooges songs in a seedy cabaret. (BB)
8 p.m. @ MOTR Pub
Wyatt Blair (Los Angeles)
Power Pop gets short shrift in any serious discussion of music because of its relative simplicity and perceived lack of gravity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Coming up with hooks and lyrics that get the job done in under three minutes and stick in the head like brain taffy may be among the most difficult musical tasks. Wyatt Blair doesn’t seem to have any problem at all, and his latest album, the confectionary Banana Cream Dream, is solid evidence of his lo-fi Power Pop ambitions (he also works with Peach Kelli Pop and Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel). As Andy Partridge once noted so succinctly, this is Pop.
YDIIYD: Rick Springfield channeling T. Rex, produced by Tommy Keene. (BB)
10:45 p.m. @ Ballroom at the Taft Theatre
Earth (Seattle, Wash.)
Much like the planet itself, the band Earth has been through a lot in the past 25 years. Guitarist Dylan Carson founded the primarily instrumental band in 1989, cribbing the name from one of Black Sabbath’s early monikers. The band’s 1993 debut, Earth 2, has long been considered the launching pad for what Carlson dubbed Ambient Metal, a feedback- and distortion-drenched drone that influenced a subsequent generation. In the mid-’90s, Carlson shelved the band to deal with heroin addiction; it would be nearly a decade before the release of 2005’s Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method, which retained a Doom Metal structure but incorporated Country and Blues motifs and was also heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian. Earth’s next albums, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II, were shaped by Carlson’s love of Pentangle and Fairport Convention, while the just released Primitive and Deadly finds Carlson moving in yet another new and different direction, incorporating straight Rock and even Pop elements into his long droning jams. With 16 lineup changes in a quarter century, it’s not unusual that Earth would shift identities, but even if the personnel had been stable throughout, Carlson would have retooled the band’s sound in any event and made a new, glorious noise to confront the world.
YDIIYD: God’s guitar, Gabriel’s amp, the Devil’s road crew. (BB)