If you've been wondering about the origin of those white-on-black, animal-shaped flyers that have been plastered on telephone polls and vacant buildings throughout the city since last December, then you're in luck, because the culprits are coming out of the closest.
Those ubiquitous images -- a turtle and a sheep, seemingly -- are the guerrilla marketing tactics of Makeshift Records, a local label/collective founded by young musicians Josh Hicks and Brad Postlethwaite. The animal images are the cover art for the label's new compilation, Makeshift #2, a 19-song collection that delivers a wonderfully diverse and idiosyncratic snapshot of the city's musical underground.
Makeshift debuted around this time last year with a compilation called, appropriately, The First Broadcast. That record collected 17 cuts from local musicians working solo, starting with Hicks and Postlethwaite and their circle of friends and branching out from there. The idea was to provide exposure to local artists operating outside the scope of the city's musical establishment. The non-profit label's second collection focuses on bands rather than on individuals and presents a much broader and more representative view of the Memphis indie scene. All recordings featured on the Makeshift compilations are previously unreleased and are donated by the artists. The label is celebrating the compilation with a series of release parties, the first held last week at Shangri-La Records. The celebration continues this week with three straight nights of music -- Thursday, July 5th, and Saturday, July 7th, at the Hi-Tone CafÇ, and Friday, July 6th, at the Young Avenue Deli.
The artists who stood out most on Makeshift's first compilation -- Alicja Trout, J.D. Reager, and Postlethwaite -- offer standout tracks the second time around as well. Trout, whose "Waste of Breath" was the strongest track on The First Broadcast, has her hand in two of Makeshift #2's highlights. The Lost Sounds, which Trout fronts along with Jay Reatard, deliver the compilation's most compelling performance with "A Foreign Play," a slice of typically dark new-wave garage rock that is startlingly ambitious. This epic cut is a three-part, home-recorded tour de force with an ominous electronic prelude dissolving into a hard keyboard and drum middle section which opens into a finale melding almost classical group vocals and raw, pre-punk guitar locomotion in an inspired mix of sacred and profane. Trout returns two tracks later as Mouserocket, teaming with Big Ass Truck drummer Robert Barnett on "Darkest Hour," a twisty, keyboard-driven blast of new wave that recalls her performance on the first Makeshift compilation.
Leading off Makeshift #2 is Johnny Romania, led by some-time Flyer contributor Reager. The band's "I Fall" is a subtle, smart, and emotional example of the kind of low-key and tasteful indie-rock style that is most prevalent on the record. Most of the other bands on Makeshift #2 that are of this ilk -- Palindrome, Loggia, the Passport Again, and Pleasant Orbitings -- are the least well-known artists on the collection but may well represent a burgeoning indie scene divorced from the blues, country, and garage-rock roots that more typically feed the city's rock subcultures.
Postlethwaite is captured here with his band, Snowglobe, on "It's a Wonderful World." Postlethwaite, an extremely talented singer-songwriter probably unknown to most in the larger Memphis music scene, finished 16th in the Flyer's local music poll earlier this year on the strength of rapturous support from those within his subculture. Solo and with Snowglobe, Postlethwaite produces gently psychedelic music and some of the prettiest melodies Memphis has to offer these days. Snowglobe and Liftoff, which is essentially the one-man-band project of Tim Regan, present a side of Memphis music more akin to Elephant 6 bands such as Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel than anything else happening locally. Liftoff's "Dreamworks" is one of the compilation's most memorable cuts.
Other rock subgenres on Makeshift #2 come in pairs as well. Jetty Webb and the Satyrs, who once shared a 7" single, present similar brands of atmospheric art rock. Jetty Webb offer the spacey "Caravan Passes," and the Satyrs make an appearance with the typically droning and beautiful "Where Devils Aren't Known." Instrumental rock is represented by Delorean, whose "soundtrack rock" earns the title this time with "Jonny Cargo," a theme from the recent local independent film Strange Cargo. A more active style of instrumental rock is found in the dub leanings of Reginald's "Die By Design." Reginald has since morphed into the Cloots, who will be playing one of this week's release parties.
Other offerings stand alone. Lucero is probably the most high-profile band on the compilation and their offering, "Poor Heartache," is one of their purest country efforts, making it a radical departure for Makeshift. An outtake from the recording sessions that produced the band's recent debut album, "Poor Heartache" features the North Mississippi Allstars' Luther Dickinson on lap steel and Jim "East Memphis Slim" Dickinson on piano. Another of the more recognizable bands on the record, American Deathray, come through with the stylish, organ-driven garage rock of "You Make Me Sick."
But the most welcome element of Makeshift #2's diversity is the inclusion of hip hop into the label's view of the Memphis indie scene. Local DJ collective Memphix work the wheels of steel on "Music or Noise," cutting instructional-record vocal samples over a hip-hop beat. Hip-hop crew Genesis Experiment offer "Free Your Style," a song they gave an incendiary performance of at last year's NARAS-sponsored Urban Music Showcase.
The result of all this is a glimpse at a diverse, art-first, commerce-second underground music community. You could see this community in the flesh at Makeshift's first release party last week at Shangri-La as Memphix spun hip-hop cuts like Nas' "It Ain't Hard To Tell" in between indie performances from Loggia and Reager. The Cloots and American Deathray capped an afternoon that boasted a welcoming, community-building vibe. Here's hoping that same vibe carries over to Makeshift's series of release parties this week, where Friday's triple bill of Lucero, the Lost Sounds, and Snowglobe (now featuring Liftoff's Regan), in particular, promises to be one of the most intriguing local lineups of the year.
Makeshift #2 is available at Shangri-La and Last Chance Records for $10 and can be bought at the release shows this week for $8. For more information on Makeshift, see the label's Web site at www.makeshiftrecords.com.
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Makeshift #2 Record Release Parties
Mouserocket, Pleasant Orbitings, Mito & the Aryan Race
Thursday, July 5th
The Hi-Tone CafÇ
Lucero, The Lost Sounds, Snowglobe
Friday, July 6th
Young Avenue Deli
The Cloots, Palindrome, Johnny Romania, The Passport Again
Saturday, July 7th
The Hi-Tone CafÇ
by CHRIS HERRINGTON
Beanpole were the big winners Saturday night at Newby's in a battle of the bands sponsored by the artist development company Rockstar 2K and organized locally by radio station WMFS 92.9. This Memphis showcase was part of a national contest organized by Rockstar 2K, whose parent company, McGathy Promotions, claims credit for discovering current platinum-selling rockers Creed and 3 Doors Down, and by Refuge/MCA records, which will offer a recording contract to the winner. Bands that win local contests around the country will have their music available on the company's Web site, rockstar2k.com, where listeners can vote for their favorites. In August, two bands will be chosen by popular vote and three more by MCA's A&R staff to compete in a final showcase in New York. The finals are scheduled for August 25th.
Seven local bands competed at Newby's Saturday, whittled down from 46 entries, according to WMFS's Baker Yates. The station promoted the contest on air and through the station's Web site as well as through local music stores. The station then convened three panels of judges, none of whom are employees of WMFS. The first panel picked 14 finalists from the 46 initial entries. The second panel picked seven of those 14 to perform at the contest, and the final judging panel chose the contest winner.
Each band performed a 20-minute set at the showcase, with Beanpole emerging as a deserving winner, delivering by far the most polished set of the night. For those unfamiliar with the band, which has been a presence on the local music scene for several years, they play pretty straightforward, mainstream rock with occasional roots flourishes. The band would compare favorably with success stories such as Matchbox Twenty and 3 Doors Down -- less faux-sensitive than the former, considerably smarter than the latter. Beanpole's set was highlighted by "Changed," a song currently in rotation on WMFS, and "How Much Longer," a rootsier number with guitarist John David Morledge taking over lead vocals. On this night, Beanpole were not only the best band to take the stage but also the band that would seem to have the best chance to win the national contest -- and those two qualifications aren't necessarily the same.
The night's second-best set came from Crash Into June, who delivered the strong, pretty melodies that they're known for. The band's brand of Big Starish pop was an anomaly on a night when metal and hard rock dominated the stage and the crowd, and the band seemed a little nervous about being so out of its element. But their music still came across very well. Also making a fine showing were The Internationals, an interesting new local band who seem to be able to merge the city's generally divided hard rock and punk camps. Sporting a sound that might remind some of prime Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, this all-male three-piece delivered the night's most entertaining performance with their crowd-pleasing original, the lascivious "Hey Man, I'm Sorry About Your Girlfriend."
The other four bands on the bill were metal/hard rock bands and didn't fare quite as well. The best of the bunch was Bullet Theory, who looked quite a bit older than their metal competitors and, consequently, played a more straightforward style of metal than the other hip-hop- and industrial-influenced bands. Bullet Theory had the night's largest fan base, most of them wearing brand-new Bullet Theory T-shirts. Logic 34 and Dead Tight Five played similarly trendy brands of pop-metal -- with Logic 34 being more cohesive and more fun to watch, while Dead Tight Five had more memorable songs. Opening the show and making the least impression was Mrs. Fletcher, whose over-the-top light show and comically misplaced and overdone smoke machine obscured their music.