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What We Learned at Noise Pop 2014

Photo Courtesy of Lord Huron 

Noise Pop 2014 is over. Long live Noise Pop.

The dizzying, thrilling, sprawling Bay Area cultural institution is impossible to comprehensively summarize, but here’s what we learned from this year’s seven-day celebration of music, art and film:

Lord Huron is huger than huge.

Won’t lie, I was surprised to learn this show sold out so quickly in early December. But now I get it. Lord Huron is on the verge of a tipping point. The band had zero problem filling up the Fillmore’s sizable halls with a deceptively expansive melange of string instrumentation and vocal harmonies, much in the same way Band of Horses or Local Natives can decorate huge spaces with lush, layered audial tapestries. Just when you’re ready to stick to straightforward hee-haw rock comparisons (in part based on lead singer Benji Schneider’s Tom Sawyer likeness), they go all Paul Simon on an audience, with Afrobeat-y steel drum accouterments and epic guitar solo breakdowns.

Put Papercuts on your radar now, you’re already late.

San Francisco’s Papercuts share the same aesthetic DNA with bands that could have existed anytime from 1960 to now: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Velvet Underground, and The Smith Westerns come to mind immediately after taking Papercuts in live. Bandleader/singer Jason Robert Quever channels something peculiar onstage, his gaze focused on The Chapel’s rafters Wednesday night, his consciousness located somewhere beyond the wooden ceiling. The whole is clearly greater than the sum of the parts, as simple day-dreamy riffs gather momentum organically, building into subtle moments of sublimity.

Com Truise plays atop an Aggro Crag.

It’s hard to say what Seth Haley, aka Com Truise, is doing behind his laptop when he’s onstage, but who cares. At the Mezzanine on Thursday, he stood atop what nearly looked like a miniature Aggro Crag from that Nickelodeon show Guts, flanked by beaming “C”- and “T”-shaped structures. The setup was the real star of the show, a visual spectacle that seemed to come alive with every synth thrust, most of which came from the endlessly captivating 2011 album Galactic Melt.

Cold Cave is best served dark.

Slim’s is a reliably dark venue, perhaps the darkest in the city. The dark place lurking in the subconscious also happens to be exactly what Cold Cave preys upon. Friday night at Slim’s the neo-new wave band tore through a series of songs old and new, but bandleader Wesley Eisold’s message is as clear and unsettling as it’s ever been. Literally. Highlighted lyrics to many songs were displayed behind the band. Eerie stuff. Also: San Francisco’s Painted Palms may have garnered a larger crowd than Cold Cave, unsurprising and deserved for their stunning set. Big things to come from this imaginative pop band.

If you see one music documentary this year, make it Mistaken for Strangers.

Come for the story of The National taking over the world on tour, stay for the story of a black sheep younger brother of a rockstar trying to prove himself to his family. Lead singer Matt Berninger’s younger brother Tom went on tour with the band as a roadie a few years ago and decided to document the behind-the-scenes action, to hilarious and also heart-wrenching effect. It’s a rare, unfiltered, perspective of one of the world’s most respected rock bands.