“It’s pretty brave to have a festival in February. I like it.” – Lisa Molinaro of Talkdemonic
While “pretty brave,” the Cumulus Music Festival is also pretty genius. February in Seattle is the perfect atmosphere for an experimental music festival centered around expansive instrumental rock bands. Twelve such bands from Portland, Seattle, and Davis, California played over the last three days at Mars Bar and The Funhouse. Crowds were relatively small but enthusiastic, increasing as the festival went on.
I took a moment between sets at The Funhouse to discuss with founders Mark Schlipper and Levi Fuller how the festival was going. They were very pleased with how the bands sounded and how everyone was enjoying themselves. There was a question as to whether the festival would happen this year or not, as third founder Kenny Day was in Alabama, so they were feeling like it all came together very well, especially given short notice.
This was my second year at the Cumulus Festival and I enjoyed the lineups this year just as much as last. This year seemed more organized into different themes each day where last year had a little slice of everything each night. However, this year was still widely varied and quite good.
On Thursday, it was tough to pick a favorite. I missed Paintings for Animals‘ experimental electronica, unfortunately. The Luna Moth was magnificently unrelenting with their crescendos and repetitious songs. Joy Wants Eternity was epic, melodic, had a beautiful mkII Rhodes sound augmenting the guitar, and was the crowd favorite. Yet, something about Scriptures (formerly This is a Process of a Still Life) made them stand out for me.
Scriptures were a little faster and a little more country than the others that night. Pedal steel, alternative percussion, and a keyboard augmented the standard guitars and drums. They seemed to craft songs about wide spaces in middle America. Formerly from Missoula, they obviously have experience with these landscapes. With deeply layered melodies and interspersed marginally chaotic parts, they create the perfect soundtrack for driving across Montana. I, for one, am glad they made that drive and relocated to our fair city.
Friday night was great. Hosting the festival was seminal Seattle punk venue, The Funhouse. Seeing melodic instrumental bands at a venue that I’ve seen many punk bands at was a playful change. Schlipper and Fuller mentioned that they’d scheduled all the loudest bands for Friday where possible. It suited the Funhouse well.
Though The Ever Changing Sky, Elders, and This Blinding Light were pretty fantastic, my favorite of Friday was AristeiA, from Portland. Perhaps, because I had seen all those punk shows at the Funhouse, AristeiA fit the best with my musical tastes. A little like a hardcore band finding its melodic roots, AristeiA played with emotion and power. They were exciting to watch and were clearly into what they do. Their beards were well suited to their rocking Pelican-esque tunes, just a little bit edgy but keeping them from rocking out too much lest they get too warm. It was a great set and I’m looking forward to their next visit.
Saturday night started slow back at Mars Bar. As the night progressed, more people filled in the small space and the temperature rose. We created our own little shelter from the cool February rain outside. The bands on Saturday were more experimental, playing with strange instruments (viola? sampler?) and banks of effects (no guitarist had less than eight pedals, it seemed). The largest crowd of the festival loved it all.
I enjoyed the guitar experimentation of Bill Horist, the surf-jazz-rock-smoke machine mashup of Diminished Men, and the tight musicianship of Talkdemonic, but the standout for me was Bronze Fawn. Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of Bronze Fawn since pretty much the beginning–before that, even–since Vermilion led to Joules led to Bronze Fawn, I suppose. Their sound is perfectly complimented by a live video editor. I probably could have stopped that sentence just before “ly complimented” because their sound is perfect. Occasional high melodies over a fuzzed-out bass line with delay and reverb everywhere on top of the clean, yet forceful rhythm of the drums. Their songs make you think of arctic adventurers or the paths of whales. Yet not just about the things that happen, something deeper than that. Like what whales think about or what someone walking to the North Pole would really experience. A meta-adventure, if you will. Their new record is a little less on the melodic side, but just as ambitious and amazing. If you haven’t picked it up or seen them live, do so now.
Cumulus Festival, you rule. Thank you for bringing us a slew of bands we’ve never thought to go see, thank you for expanding our concept of rock music, and thank you for being so brave. See you next year.
** Old SunBreak comments **
February 14, 2010 at 3:14 PM
Don, you rule, and thanks once again for braving all three nights with us.
I also had to point out the irony of a relationship between “Cumulus” and “Sun Break”. :)