On a recent cold night, Hookah Joe's hosted Paper Tiger and The Melanaster Band, each group offering trippy, down-tempo beats and minimalist sounds that showed why they're two of Asheville's most unique and promising bands.
Paper Tiger created a seductive mood from the start with "Folded Laundry," a song centered around DJ/producer MINGLE's classic '70s disco guitar samples and the breathy whispers and jazzy confessions of singer Molly Kummerle (aka RubySlippers). The obvious creative chemistry between the duo continued throughout their set as they played material from their forthcoming debut, Me Have Fun, creating a laid-back atmosphere that resonated perfectly in the intimate, smoky hookah den. Highlights included "Lost & Found" and "Deep Sea," which combined an introspective red wine-sipping vibe with old school hip-hop and restrained electro-sexiness.
For most of the set the duo was joined by drummer Dave Mathes, best known as a member of local live-electronica band Sonmi Suite. Mathes added heft to the beats, but was often a bit too high in the mix, his live snare and cymbal hits often overpowering the subtleties of Kummerle's vocals and MINGLE's tastefully layered instrumentals.
Also contributing to the performance was video artist neb.Cinema, whose stylized, dreamy live projections perfectly captured and amplified the subtleties of Kummerle's heavily eye-shadowed facial expressions and the sly movements of her glittered-up black gloves.
The ensemble finished the set with the album's title track, its catchy Rhodes flourishes and chorus of passionate pleas between lovers making it a single that could earn the group wider recognition come early 2010. Fans of Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation take note — Asheville now has a deeply sexy lounge act of its own.
Next up was The Melanaster Band, a new group orchestrated by the recently turned-local singer/songwriter/DJ/multi-instrumentalist Marley Carroll. Named after a species of jellyfish, the group bears the same moniker as Carroll's 2007 debut album (Melanaster), which was praised on NPR as "gorgeously subdued glitch-pop."
Carroll spent four years meticulously crafting the album; writing, recording and playing all the songs (and instruments) himself. To recreate them live, he recruited some of Asheville's top musicians to help, including Billy Cardine (Biscuit Burners), Barrett Smith (Town Mountain), Ryan Lassiter (Jonathan Scales Fourchestra) and Jake Wolf (Cabo Verde). This was only their second performance together, but you never would've known it from the quality of their playing.
They performed Carroll's brilliantly composed songs like "For North Carolina" and "Highway Hearts" with sophisticated precision and natural builds, the layers of guitars creating tension with subtle textures rather than cliché and aggressive licks. Together, they masterfully sculpted the album's melancholy, under-the-ocean mood, Wolf's bass lines gently bubbling along amidst the swirling currents of Carroll's keyboards. Cardine's piercing Dobro slides often sounded like the cries of whales, or rays of sunlight piercing the ocean's depths.
Carroll's submerged voice gently guided the way as he navigated the lyrical dark waters of isolation, displacement and identity without ever allowing himself to drown in his own depression. There was a sense of wonder and a determined beat at the heart of the watery explorations that helped keep them afloat. The Melanaster Band wasn't yet quite as sophisticated or precise as Radiohead (an obvious influence), but on this night they proved themselves to be similarly adept students of manifesting a complicated range of human emotions into ethereal sounds.
Paper Tiger plays The Rocket Club on Jan. 15. More at myspace.com/thepapertigermusic.