These days, surviving as an independent label is a tall order. It’s a business based mostly on faith, fronting the cash to press a record by a band you love with nothing to back you up but your gut. It’s a game of stretched wallets and bruised livers, and surviving it necessitates that you know your audience and believe in your artists. This fall, we at Durham’s Churchkey Records will celebrate five years of beating the rock ‘n’ roll odds, and we want you to help us celebrate.
Churchkey V hits the Pinhook in Durham on Aug. 25 with performances by Last Year’s Men and Wood Ear. Wood Ear owns our latest release, Steeple Vultures — a gorgeous collection of road-worn, Southern-tinged indie rock. The Independent Weekly’s Grayson Currin called Steeple Vultures “a perfect nexus of the Triangle’s dual indie rock and alt-country legacies.” Last Year’s Men released an LP on Churhckey in 2010 and also happen to be one of the best garage rock bands in the South. The Washington Post’s David Malitz said of Last Year’s Men, “There’s an optimism and energy that helps separate (the) band from its peers.”
Tickets for the show will be set at the low price of $5. That same quintet of Washingtons will buy you any one of the label’s 14 releases at the merch table. We’re grateful to have gotten to work so many wonderful rock ‘n’ roll friends these past five years. Consider this party a rough and rowdy “Thank you.”
Our year-end wrap-up continues with Jordan Lawrence, Churchkey’s publicist and lone employee. Here are his top ten live sets from 2011.
1. Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio – Fletcher Opera Theater, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Why it was so good: The endless momentum and mind-bending textures of Chatham’s signature minimalist statement couldn’t have been more tremendous reverberating through this magnificent setting. It had the effect of an aural narcotic, numbing my brain and distorting my sense of time. Amazing.
Signature moment: Among the 10 imposing guitarists performing Chatham’s masterwork, Horseback’s Jenks Miller was the only one to rock out. His impassioned headbanging assured me that at least one other person was as overwhelmed by the experience as I was.
Why it was so good: The singular combination of Tobin’s lush, pounding electronic composition and the awe-inspiring projection set-up a team of top artists cooked up for Isam‘s performance is tough to put into words. Just watch:
Signature moment: The first time the geometry of the projection lined up with Tobin’s cube-constructed screen such that it appeared to move. I literally took two steps back.
3. Swans – Fletcher Opera Theater, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Why it was so good: The set underground legends Swans laid down at Hopscotch was a dark monstrosity of punishing minor-chord riffs and the menacing clang of powerful chimes. It was forceful and transfixing, and in every way lived up to the band’s reputation.
Signature moment: Singer/guitarist Michael Gira stomping out the tempo during the concussive opening to “No Words/No Thoughts” with all the fury of a drum major from Hell.
4. Ty Segall – Kings – Raleigh, N.C.
Why it was so good: Polished but raucous, Ty Segall’s sublime March display at Kings was everything a great garage rock set should be. The San Francisco sensation and his band tore through songs with precision, lighting them up with powerful yet economical instrumentals that accentuated his tight and aggressive hooks. In other words, he showed everybody how it’s done.
Signature moment: I can remember few sets of straight-up rock ‘n’ roll that have left me so amazed. Hard to pick one moment that was more signature than any other.
Why it was so good: Suicide all but invented synth-pop and inspired Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska with their 1977 debut, so seeing them playing it from front to back would have been a thrill even if had been mediocre. It wasn’t. Marty Rev’s chugging, churning keyboard lines found a perfect middle ground between caustic and catchy as Alan Vega found new fury in a voice worn ragged by the intervening years. It was untamed and unforgettable, a timeless display of (still) youthful intensity.
Signature moment: Vega bumming a cigarette from a girl in the front row and then grunting his lines through a veil of smoke — in clear violation of the N.C. smoking ban.
6. Earth – Kings, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Why it was so good: The strung-out desert metal of Earth’s fantastic 2011 LP Angles of Darkness, Demons of Light I was even better live, manipulating tired festival minds like soft clay. The set drifted on for two hours and retained an amazing feeling of tense calm throughout, providing an experience that was as impressive as it was absorbing
Signature moment: Guitarist Dylan Carlson reprimanding photographers for using flash after he’d asked them not to and making them look like spoiled children.
7. Wolves in the Throne Room – Studio B – Greensboro, N.C.
Why it was so good: Wolves’ soaring gusts of black metal guitar are a wonder live. They transformed a ritzy art gallery into a stormy woodland with their stunning guitar architecture and Nathan Weaver’s potent caterwaul.
Signature moment: The slow build to the band’s first song built anticipation to a fever pitch before the band laid into their devastating attack.
8. Hiss Golden Messenger – Nightlight – Chapel Hill, N.C.
Why it was so good: M.C. Taylor and a top-notch band, which included members of the Black Twig Pickers and William Tyler, rendered the smooth trip through American sound of his new LP Poor Moon into an amazingly potent live force. The ensemble was tight, allowing each player in the seven-piece band to shine through wonderfully.
Signature moment: William Tyler’s guitar fills were a delight, filling in gaps in creative bursts without ever overshadowing the songs or the other instrumentalists.
9. Naked Gods – Legitimate Business – Greensboro, N.C.
Why it was so good: The tempered Wilco-meets-Dinosaur Jr rock of their LP No Jams explodes live, and never more intensely than at this gem of a Thursday night gig. Guitars bent tones in wondrously stoned harmonies as choruses were transformed into shouted exhultations. Rock ‘n’ roll energy doesn’t come any more pure and powerful.
Signature moment: Singer Seth Sullivan beating the heck out of his tambourine and letting his eyes roll back during the ridiculously tight guitar work on “Shaq & Diane.”
10. Thee Oh Sees – Krankies Coffee – Winston-Salem, N.C.
Why it was so good: This set was raucous in all the best ways. Thee Oh Sees’ fuzzed-out psych rock was rough but fluid, roaring down catchy pathways with staggering dexterity. The crowd responded in kind, erupting in a jubilant mosh pit that consumed most of the venue.
Signature moment: Running to the back of the club for a much needed glass of water and looking on at the writhing crowd. I’ve seen few audiences so excited.
Apache Dropout – Deep South, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Brain F≠ – Slim’s, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Gunn-Truscinski Duo – The Pour House, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Frank Fairfield – Flanders Gallery, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Fucked Up – Kings – Raleigh, N.C.
Mikal Cronin – Duke Coffeehouse – Durham, N.C.
Nobunny – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, N.C.
Reigning Sound (New Year’s Eve) – Grey Eagle – Asheville, N.C.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival – Pittsboro, N.C.
Sidi Toure – Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival – Pittsboro, N.C.
Whatever Brains (LP Release) – Kings – Raleigh, N.C.
William Tyler and Wooden Wand – The Pour House, Hopscotch Music Festival – Raleigh, N.C.
Our look back at 2011 continues with input from Churchkey co-founder Steve Jones. Here are his top ten favorite records from the last year:
1. Mount Moriah – Mount Moriah (Holidays for Quince)
2. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)
3. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador)
4. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)
5. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread (Drag City)
6. Apex Manor – The Year of Magical Drinking (Merge)
7. King Louie’s Missing Monuments – Painted White (Douchemaster)
8. Black Lips – Arabia Mountain (Vice)
9. Jacuzzi Boys – Glazin’ (Hardly Art)
10. Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Merge)