On the scene at the 'I'll Be Your Mirror' ATP festival day 3: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Oh Sees, and more

Image Credit: Kristin Klien

Day three of I’ll Be Your Mirror: The big names are gone. The numbers are dwindling. Only the devoted remain, and they are duly rewarded.

Jimmy LaValle’s solo project, The Album Leaf, lulled the complex into a meditative trance with his (mostly) instrumental electronic compositions. Utilizing syncopated, minimalist structure – persistent repetition of simple motifs – LaValle and his backing band crafted elegant fugues that were both introspective and expansive.

Their sound melds the glitchy electronic patterns of Four Tet with the yearning symphonics of Sigur Rós (with whom LaValle has toured extensively) on songs such as “There is a Wind” and “Descent.” Truly lovely, full of longing, a soundtrack to remembrance

Afterward, the tone shifted from cerebral to spastic: Thee Oh Sees. This San Francisco quintet have been making a stir of late with their campy surf-rock psychedelia. Huddled closely together on stage in an orgiastic freak-out, they looked like the cast of The Devil’s Rejects: tattered clothes, high-waisted suspenders, garish tattoos. It was a visual aesthetic that complemented their performance – punchy two-minute album cuts like “Block of Ice” became extended ten-minute frenzies, while vocalist John Dwyer yelped and hooted his way through the flower-power revival of “Goodnight Baby.”

Lee Ranaldo, the very important co-founder of the very important Sonic Youth, followed indoors. Playing before an audience of balding men in Jesus Lizard and Swans t-shirts, the stately herald of alt-rock ran primarily through his recent solo record Between the Time & the Tides, but made sure to appease Youth devotees with “Genetic,” and flexed his rock muscle with a cover of Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues.” I went into the show anticipating those infamous SY “walls of noise,” but was surprised by the rather tasteful production. During “Hammer Blows” I jotted down, “spare and somber,’” only to cross it out almost immediately when the song spun into a freewheeling feedback barrage. Yep, he’s still got it.

Autolux, a quasi-shoegaze outfit, did their best My Bloody Valentine impression, with vocalist Eugene Goreshter mewing softly over mountains of guitar drone. I found their noisy imitation act to be wholly forgettable until they played “Highchair,” a moody electronic trip-hop track with a muted, sensuous groove. The song belongs in the echelon of Massive Attack; it felt like a standalone success in an otherwise insignificant catalog.

The Make-Up, from Washington, D.C., call themselves many things, including “a renowned group of revolutionary malcontents for whom the standard rules of rock mean very little.” That may be true, but they would do well to adhere to a few of those “rules of rock” — namely, talent. They’re one of those bands whose allure rests on the bedazzled laurels of a charismatic frontman, and Ian Svenonius is so enamored of his own pizazz, shrieking and flailing and doing his damndest to channel Prince’s falsetto bravura, the he seemed to fail to recognize his group’s mediocrity. Take away those histrionics and all that was left were stiff R&B covers.

Back outside, the recently revived Hot Snakes whipped out furious thrash rock, or, if we’re playing the genre game, “hardcore garage punk.” Did they actually conflate those three separate-but-closely-linked rock forms? Yes, perhaps; I’m not totally sure, but it was certainly fast and loud and post-something. Rick Froberg shredded his vocal chords like a homespun Dave Mustaine, belting out the Snakes’ anthemic nihilism: “Who Died,” “Suicide Invoice,” “I Am My Own Master.” When they finished with the deliciously tongue-in-cheek “Think About Carbs” and the youth-revolt “Lovebirds,” I watched aghast as the crowd stood totally motionless. A hardcore show is supposed to be a borderline riot, not a theater piece.

Ushering the weekend to a close, was Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This is the kind of band that music writers salivate over because they’re so wonderfully oblique and evocative. Taking the stage one at a time beneath a hideous industrial drone, the eight musicians worked in tandem to concoct colossal tides of sound. Their performance subjected the rapt audience to two hours of hallucinatory, dystopian ambience, made more immersive by the bleak images projected behind them: mug shots, corpses, carvings of the words “Hate” and “Fear.”

Their set seemed to evoke Lucifer himself – beckoning to the deepest, darkest regions of the subconscious. During a period of immense abstraction, the guitarists stroked their instruments with screwdrivers and handsaws, while one of the bass players simply hugged himself and rocked back and forth in his seat.

After what could have been days, or moments, the band returned from the formless cosmos and finished with notes of mournful fury, hammering out a death waltz on twin drum sets. It may sound like horror-show shtick, but in fact it was deeply unnerving. Leaving at the end felt like climbing out from a kind of nightmare, shaken and transformed.

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