This column used to be known as Rock Since The Bee Gees, and it was about all things “indie,” whatever that even means nowadays. It’s now called Map Ref. 39° N 76° W, a nod to the aerially inspired song ‘Map Ref. 41°N 93°W’ by post-punk gawds Wire. The coordinates in the title bring the latitude and longitude closer to Baltimore (in full they are 39.2833° N 76.6167° W); if you plug the song’s original coordinates into Google Maps you end up in southeastern Iowa.
All types of indie music will still be covered in this space. In its origins, the word “indie” often alluded to the garage-y rock such as Guided By Voices, Pavement, and other “120 Minutes” fare. Now, it’s come to take on a lot more styles, bringing more weirder, arty acts with traces of club and avant-garde music into the fold. Fittingly, the two artists whose shows I describe below don’t incorporate a guitar at all.
There’s something about discovering a new band that’s addicting. The whole experience floats around your brain for hours, days, weeks after the show, leaving you searching for more. You scour Soundclouds and Bandcamps and make it your business to see the band at their next gig. This is especially true when someone sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and especially especially true in a live setting when an opener you know little about suddenly leaves you gobsmacked.
It’s really the best feeling. In a matter of moments, you’re immersed and enthralled with something that, mere seconds before, you were unaware existed. This happened to me recently when I saw Amy Reid, of Chiffon, play a solo set during a show at The Crown two weeks ago. Full disclosure: This show was actually part of a birthday party a friend and I put together. But I had somehow managed to never see Reid perform solo before that night.
Hosting duties, such as bouncing around the room to greet people and carry on conversations, became less important and I sidled up to the stage, where Reid sang passionate, alien-sounding R&B vocal parts over droning electronic beats. The songs were a bit more isolating and soulful compared to Chiffon, the futuristic dance-club duo Reid is a member of with Chase O’Hara, who also played a solo set (which was a bit more of a glitchy noise kinda thing). Something about those robotic-yet-beautiful sounding melodies drew me in immediately.
Unfortunately, Reid doesn’t have any of these songs on her Soundcloud account (soundcloud.com/amsies), but there are some great head-nodding electronic tracks on there to hold you over until she records this newer solo stuff.
Somewhat fittingly, the band that came on after was Blacksage, probably the last local band to completely catch me off guard and then floor me with one fell swoop. This particular euphoric feeling I’m talking about doesn’t happen terribly often. I first caught Blacksage at a Friends Records showcase back in the spring, and their combination of Drew Scott’s murky darkwave production and Josephine Olivia Herbst’s hiccuping, Bjork-esque voice singing dark tales of sex and drugs hooked me immediately (I ended up profiling them for the paper in “Sexsomnia, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll,” Music, June 4).
In the time since then, Blacksage has developed a much more dynamic live show, with Herbst developing an utterly compelling stage presence. Scott has also given new muscle to the beats, adding some new tricks and layers of wubby bass. And that’s the real payoff of these new artist discoveries. While that initial rush is there and gone in the span of a 30-minute set, there’s the ongoing reward of watching a group or artist grow and develop and hone their craft.
Really, there’s multiple levels at work here: discovery and rediscovery. Both have their own rewards.