Friday, April 22, 8 PM
Book Of Wyrms (Photo by Joey Wharton), Night Goat, Foehammer @ Wonderland – $10
There are a lot of underrated bands at work in Richmond’s music scene these days, but I think stoner-metal quartet Book Of Wyrms deserves special recognition within that cohort as a band that has never let the hometown love they haven’t gotten slow them down. Forming back in 2015, a time when doom metal was at a relatively low ebb in the wake of the genre’s having reached hipster saturation point in the early 10’s, Book Of Wyrms blazed their own trail, building up a cult following within the world of metal and sticking with what they knew they did best, regardless of which way the trend-wind blew, for seven years.
In 2021, Book Of Wyrms released their third album, Occult New Age, on Desert Records — an album that didn’t get much local attention until it showed up on the short list for the Newlin Music Prize a few months ago. Having not caught up with what they were doing in a few years, I was duly impressed by its expansion of the sonic territory laid out by these headbangers. They’ve certainly not let their fundamental grounding in the primeval riffage of Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, and Hawkwind stop them from upping the tempo and bringing in more modern textures — notably synthesizers, which are generally used to create abstract layers of space noise and heightened atmosphere on an album that really benefits from their inclusion. And of course, the riffs that stand as the bedrock of the entire sound remain absolutely top-notch.
At Wonderland this Friday night, Book Of Wyrms will be celebrating the long-awaited vinyl release of Occult New Age (when you hear that pressing plants take a year to fulfill orders for vinyl, that’s not an exaggeration) with a show that’s sure to be full of pounding riffs, soaring vocal crescendos, and volcanic amplifier rumble. Their efforts to shake the foundations of Shockoe Bottom will be joined by Ohio noise-rockers Night Goat and VA-based Khanate-style apocalyptic dirge-metal merchants Foehammer. If you haven’t seen Book Of Wyrms live before now, there’s no shame in that — but if you miss this show and continue to wallow in your ignorance of their excellence, that’s an extremely shameful decision. Don’t blow it.
Wednesday, April 20, 8 PM
Greet Death, Infant Island, Downhaul @ Richmond Music Hall at Capital Ale House – $10 (order tickets HERE)
If you know what’s up, you surely recognize that Michigan quartet Greet Death take their name from an Explosions In The Sky song. Therefore, it probably wasn’t a surprise, if you tuned in to what they were doing a few years ago, to find a band with a decidedly shoegaze-influenced approach to their melodic, emotional songs. On their first two albums, they derived some of their power from how loud their guitars got even in the midst of the catchy choruses they wrote. However, the pandemic has clearly changed some things. Over the past six months or so, Greet Death has taken the first steps toward following up 2019’s New Hell, releasing four stand-alone singles with a decidedly less noisy and at times downright acoustic feel. It’s almost as if they stripped away the shoegaze noise to reveal an indie-folk band with atonal tendencies, like Wilco circa Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or something.
Now, that’s not a complaint — personally, I think the new Greet Death singles are all brilliant, especially “Panic Song,” which still retains some of the fuzzy guitars we came to know and love from previous Greet Death releases. Even at their softest, though, the latest music from Greet Death carries forward the band’s facility with pop hooks and indelible choruses. At the end of the day, the best part of previous Greet Death material was the tunes that got stuck in your head all day. Rest assured, they still have plenty of those. And traditionally everything is louder in the live environment, so if you want to hear the new Greet Death tunes at their loudest and most raucous, the time and place to do so is tonight at Richmond Music Hall. You’ll fortunately get to catch a set from Fredericksburg screamonsters Infant Island as well, and while this excellent quartet brought us not one but two LPs back in 2020, I’m definitely hoping some new material is in the offing at this show. Only one way to find out.
Thursday, April 21, 6 PM
Smino, Kaash Paige, Kidz At Play @ Bon Secours Training Center – $25-35 for students, $35-45 for general public (order tickets HERE)
Y’all, I try to keep up. I really do. But the fact is, I’m 46 years old, and I don’t necessarily always know what the kids are listening to. Therefore, it might be a little more understandable when you hear that I didn’t really know about Smino until only a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, once I heard he was coming to town, I knew I needed to write about it. Because where modern sounds in hip hop music are concerned, Smino’s music strikes me as near the top of the heap. MCs who seem to croon over their beats as often as they rap have become quite common in the past several years, but the results they get from this technique are mixed, at best. After all, just because you can spit killer rhymes with a perfect cadence doesn’t mean you can hit a note worth a damn.
Smino can, though. If you need evidence, look no further than his two most recent singles, “Rice N Gravy” and “I Deserve,” both of which came out in 2021 and both of which have been in heavy rotation for me lately. Both of them mix melodic grooves and R&B-style sung choruses with quick, assured rhyme flows that burrow into your brain and don’t let go. These two singles are supposedly the first two singles from Smino’s forthcoming third LP, Luv 4 Rent, but whenever I google things like “Luv 4 Rent release date” what I get is Reddit threads speculating that it’s coming out in February of 2022. That clearly didn’t happen. So I can’t tell you when the new Smino album comes out, I’m afraid. All I can do is send you to Bon Secours Training Center to see Smino live and in the flesh. If there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s that the music at this show will keep you dancing.
Friday, April 22, 9 PM
Vinyl Conflict Presents: Ekulu, Division Of Mind, Richmond Vampire, DJ Hip Hop Henry @ Fuzzy Cactus – $10
Here’s a welcome sight: a straight-up hardcore show at Fuzzy Cactus. It’s not that odd, really; Fuzzy’s all about the raging punk circle-pit action, as you know if you follow this space. However, the introduction of Ekulu and Division of Mind into this space might just be the outright heaviest core action this place has seen yet. And I love everything about it. Ekulu may hail from New York, but they have some strong connections to Richmond, with at least one member having also done time in RVA’s own Candy. Regardless of where they’re from, though, it only takes one listen to their debut full-length, 2021’s Unscrew My Head, to see that these guys are on some next-level shit. Personally, the album’s title reminds me more than anything of the late-80s Suicidal Tendencies single “Trip At the Brain,” and that’s appropriate since Ekulu have successfully reincarnated the same crossover thrash sound that created such an amazing musical movement back in the late 80s and early 90s. On Unscrew My Head, I hear echoes of everything from Suicidal Tendencies and Anthrax to the Cro-Mags and Agnostic Front, all of it delivered with a vicious aggressiveness that makes extremely clear that this is not music for the faint of heart.
Richmonders Division Of Mind, who co-headline this bill, made this same thing clear about themselves on their self-titled debut LP, released back in 2019. The territory these guys patrol is decidedly darker and heavier, even slightly noisier, but what DOM has in common with Ekulu is a similarly aggressive, confrontational sound that’s sure to wake you up if you’re dozing off in the back of the club between bands. I realize that to some readers, these descriptions might not be all that inviting. However, if you’re the sort of person who walks through every day feeling assailed by the millions of ways in which modern American life is a depressing, alienating shitshow, this is the show for you. You’ve got some frustrations to let out, and these are the bands to help you do so.
Saturday, April 23, 7 PM
Blake Layman, Dogwood Tales, Wifipassword @ Richmond Music Hall at Capital Ale House – $12 (order tickets HERE)
When I saw the notice for this show, I didn’t recognize the name Blake Layman. However, in the process of giving things a listen in order to decide which shows to pick for this column, his single “Unhistoric Acts” grabbed my attention and made me want to dig deeper. Layman’s music is quiet, delicate, and focused on melody; and his warm, pleasant vocal tones and undeniable guitar-playing talent are obvious as soon as you pay attention. The fact that he turns out to be the bassist for Frames, the Richmond quartet whose 2021 LP, Every Room, was probably the biggest pleasant surprise of the Newlin Music Prize shortlist for me (more on that in the next blurb), helped me understand how it’s possible that this singer-songwriter dude I’ve never heard of is releasing music this good without me hearing it before now.
Layman’s new LP, the release of which he is celebrating with this Richmond Music Hall show, is called Goodness Littered. And to be fair, it’s been out a while — the digital release was last summer. But, you know, something something pandemic. Indeed, this show is a rescheduled version of a January show he postponed during the Omicron wave. So is the music we’ll be getting here worth all of the waiting we’ve had to do to receive it? My magic 8 ball says “It is decidedly so,” and I couldn’t agree more. Layman and his band, which features close relatives and members of Frames, will recreate the delicately beautiful sounds of Goodness Littered live on stage, and we’ll all be the beneficiaries. Assuming, of course, that we show up. You know what you must do.
Sunday, April 24, 7 PM
Good Morning, Packs, Frames @ Richmond Music Hall at Capital Ale House – $18 (order tickets HERE)
I think I discovered Australian duo Good Morning through one of my nerdiest middle-aged loves: the KEXP Song Of the Day podcast. I can’t be sure at this point, but what I do know for sure is that hearing one of their songs sent me hunting for their 2021 album Barnyard, which I loved as soon as I heard. This indie-folk group manages to simultaneously evoke groups like Okkervil River or Iron And Wine, and others like Parquet Courts or The Velvet Underground. Even as they strum their acoustic guitars overtop shuffling minimalist drumbeats, even as they sing sweetly in the manner of fellow Aussies The Go-Betweens, they bring an undeniable slacker-rock drone to the proceedings. The mix is perfect for disaffected rockers who want to mellow out a little before they go crazy, and for folky types who wish Camper Van Beethoven would make another album already.
Meanwhile, from Canada (specifically Toronto) comes Packs, the quartet led by singer-songwriter Madeline Link, who started the project on her own but has definitely been aided by the project swelling into a quartet. The ramshackle jangle-pop of 2021 LP Take The Cake can at times evoke everything from Courtney Barnett to Courtney Love, but what unites it all is the flawless melodic sense Link brings to the group, which always keeps listeners tapping their toes. The third band on this bill is Richmond’s own Frames, who I mentioned above, and whose relatively under-the-radar status here in Richmond is baffling to me now that I’ve heard last year’s Every Room. This album’s evocative emo-pop tunes are sure to come alive in glittering detail at this Richmond Music Hall performance, and it would be a damn shame if you weren’t there to see it. So come to this show, and make sure you show up on time. There’s no better way to wrap up your late April weekend.
Monday, April 25, 7:30 PM
Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Photo by Grywnn, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia) @ The National – $25 in advance, $30 day of show (order tickets HERE)
I’m thankful that Godspeed You! Black Emperor have become a musical institution these days. Back in 2003 when they went on hiatus after Yanqui UXO, it was hard not to think of how much more they had in the tank, how much more amazing, uncategorizable, almost indescribable music they could surely have left us with. And of course, they’ve proved that suspicion correct on the four albums they’ve released since their 2011 return, beginning with 2012’s ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! and showing up most recently with last year’s G_d’s Pee At State’s End! The uninitiated among you may wonder what this band’s about; the rest of you are now about to snicker under your breath at my forthcoming attempt, which will surely be ham-fisted, at describing and categorizing a band I’ve already admitted are indescribable and uncategorizable. Nevertheless, here’s a valiant attempt.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor are, if nothing else, anarchist both in musical and political intent. Their strong left-wing consciousness comes through clearly in their music despite its almost complete lack of lyrics and vocals. They act as a huge collective featuring ten or so members, who augment the standard rock instrumentation of guitars and drums with everything from violins and French horns to tape loops and film projections. Their sonic foundations are in hardcore punk, but their epic, often 20-plus-minute compositions operate more like classical symphonies building slowly into entrancing grooves that seem particularly appealing to post-rockers who love Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky. But there’s something there that has a strong chance of appealing to just about any music fan, whether they’re into Mahler, John Coltrane, Talking Heads, or Black Flag. Or even if they don’t like any of that stuff. What I’m saying is: if you care about music at all, in any form, seeing Godspeed You! Black Emperor is something you should do at least once in your life. Why not this Monday night? After all, who knows when they’ll make it to town again?
Tuesday, April 26, 7 PM
The Story So Far, Joyce Manor, Mom Jeans, Microwave @ The National – $50 (or… more?) (order tickets HERE)
OK, for this show, I need to start out by saying that I’m not really sure what’s up with tickets. It sure appears that tickets aren’t available at face value anymore. However, the ticket vendor who sells tickets for The National will still absolutely sell you a ticket for this show; when I checked last night, it looked like you could get one for about $50. Which is steep, especially for bands that you could once have seen for $10 at a VFW hall — or maybe for $5 at the gone-but-not-forgotten Bike Lot right here in RVA. Whatever — this is apparently the price you’ll have to pay to see them now, but considering that’s still only $13 or so per band, and all four of these bands are brilliant, I think there’s a good argument that it’s worth it regardless.
The Story So Far are our headliners, and they’re the sort of band whose melodic emo-punk means so much to its fans that they can all tell you a story about which song or album helped them through which hard time they were going through when they first heard it. For me, it’s “Empty Space,” which got me through a really terrible Christmas in 2013, but anything this band has ever done has that sort of power. As for Joyce Manor, this frenetic punk band have survived multiple disappearances and overjoyed their many fans this year with the sudden appearance of their sixth album and first in four years, 40 Oz To Fresno (yes, that’s a Sublime joke). Indie-punk quartet Mom Jeans also just dropped their first LP in four years, Sweet Tooth, and it’s got the same strong melodic sense this band’s always had, but with a more profound musical depth that sees them taking their sound to a whole new level. Microwave are the heaviest of these four bands, but the emotional resonance of their music is easily matched with the others on this bill. Overall, this gig is an embarrassment of riches, and is well worth what it takes to get you there — even if that is fifty bucks.
Email me if you’ve got any tips for me about upcoming shows (that take place after the week this column covers -– this week’s column has obviously already been written): [email protected]