It’s time again. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass arrives this weekend, and we thank our lucky California stars for living in San Francisco, where massive free festivals happen. Check out the lineup and schedule here and prep yourself with these must-see shows:
Scott Hutchison’s dark, intimate anthems make for the best kind of therapy. He engineers profound moments with simple tools, and brilliant turns of phrase come soaked in tears and whiskey. What started as his solo late-night confession project has evolved into a proper band since he started 10 years ago. Where he was once a Dylanesque tourbadour, now Frightened Rabbit is a fully realized and polished product. Think The Dodos, but Scottish. The group's recent album, Pedestrian Verse is only one of a handful of compelling front-to-back works in his oeuvre, but somehow their best.
Man Man is not your average … well anything. Living on the fringes allows this bizarro-world two-piece to reinvent and reinvent, assuming no identity can be an identity. The band’s latest reinvention is called On Oni Pond, a poppier, hook-filled experiment outfitted with Pow Pow’s bossa nova fills, Honus Honus’ brain-twisting lyricism and even Balkan brass instrumentation. Yes, those are their names. Weird, but cool.
Stroll inside Zachary Shigeto Saginaw’s surreal world of mischievous sound and imagination. The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based electronic producer constructs rich, extraterrestrial landscapes that beg for exploration. Much like his fellow Ghostly label producer Tycho, Shigeto’s lyric-less experiments somehow build narrative, where you start to believe every sample and odd piece of syncopation has a purpose. Visual accompaniment or not, there’s real value to closing your eyes and taking a peek inside Shigeto’s reflection of the human psyche.
By now a regular at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Conor Oberst is the posterboy for such righteous Americana happenings. He plays a Friday set at HSB, but I’d recommend setting aside some time Saturday evening to see Oberst play a full, proper set. His catalogue is rich and long. You’ll want to be in a place where you can listen to every word of his philosophical musings, and as many songs as possible. This is a legend in the making, after all. Few speak to the times like Oberst, and to call him the poet of a generation isn’t hyperbole.
One of the finest under-the-radar albums of the year is Youth Lagoon’s Wondrous Bughouse, the mind-numbing sophomore act of Trevor Powers. If The Year of Hibernation was closet indie pop executed to a T, Wondrous Bughouse was an upside-down T, psyched out and tripped out songs made inside-out. Powers is a wonder to behold live thanks to his hipster 3.0 look, his keyboard multi-tasking, his otherwordly voice, but do yourself a favor and look into your own mind’s eye during these spaced-out jams and let Powers guide you on a surreal journey.
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