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Album Review: Avid Dancer – 1st Bath

 
By on Friday, 17th April 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Avid Dancer 1st Bath coverJacob Dillan Summers is something of an unlikely songwriter. Having evolved through a sheltered fundamentalist Christian childhood into a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps and from there into an ill-fated love affair that led him to Alaska and back, Summers eventually found himself in Los Angeles, where he took on the unlikely moniker Avid Dancer and wrote an equally unlikely debut album, titled ‘1st Bath’.

On first listen, ‘1st Bath’ has all the trappings of a record written in Southern California: mellow guitar tones and light, laid-back vocals recorded in a gauzy haze of distortion and distance. More generally atmospheric than evocative of a specific emotion, the album has the pleasant warmth of a sun-soaked day along with the mildly disorienting effect of the sun shining into your eyes. I had my first full listen to ‘1st Bath’ during a trail run in the Tucson desert, and it occurred to me in that setting that the album is aurally equivalent to the bright shimmer of midday sunlight, its sharp clarity initially obscured by the glare.

Opening track ‘All the Other Girls’ sets the tone for the album with an echoing background vocal melody over a groovy foundational bass and Summers’ detached double-tracked vocals opposing the intense emotional longing of the main guitar riff. This track also sees the first of several surprising instrumental choices, in this case the sax solo that extends to the end of the song. Early single ‘All Your Words Are Gone’ has a ’60s acoustic folk vibe, and Summers’ singing is mildly reminiscent of Paul Simon over the lines “find your joy / find your joy today / don’t have to look so hard / don’t have to look so far”. The vibraphone melody in the ending adds a very delicate and genuine quality to an already outstanding example of songwriting.

In the middle of the tracklisting, Summers dials up both the tempo and the emotional intensity of the album. The distorted guitars and skittering percussion of ‘Not Far to Go’ relay a more anxious feeling, while ‘All the Things You Keep’ tosses aside the previously relaxed pace for a prominent bass groove and restlessly pounding drums. By the time the buzzing synths of ‘Medication’ kick in, the vibe of the album has definitely sharpened to a harder edge. ‘I Want to See You Dance’ completely abandons the shimmering effect of the earlier tracks and takes on more of an ’80s synth pop style with a vibe that feels almost more punk than folk.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/mqTKs2FlAm4[/youtube]

From this point of denouement, Summers backtracks through gentle folk ballads (‘Whatever’s on Your Mind’) and California dream pop (‘Nobody Else’) before touching on the vaguely country twang of ‘Why Did I Leave You Behind’ and closing with the edgier electric guitars and discordant harmonies of ‘Up Against a Wall’. The wide stylistic variety is balanced by the album’s consistent melodicism, in both the vocal and instrumental lines, and its overarching lo-fi production quality.

Avid Dancer emerged from the ashes of Jacob Summers’ previous life, and his songcraft clearly continued to evolve over the course of writing ‘1st Bath’. The album is a carefully constructed and well thought out collection of songs which manages to experiment with a variety of styles while maintaining a sense of flow and cohesion very rare in a debut. Its summery sonic combination of glimmering sunlight and breezy detachment will no doubt make a perfect accompaniment for vacations at the beach or cruises along the coastline with the top down.

8.5/10

Avid Dancer’s debut album ‘1st Bath’ is available now via Grand Jury Records. Our past coverage of Avid Dancer, including his appearance at SXSW 2015 and my interview with him in Austin, can be found here.

 

SXSW 2015 Interview: Avid Dancer

 
By on Tuesday, 31st March 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

The Wednesday of SXSW 2015 week marked the opening of the inaugural FLOODfest at SXSW showcase at Cedar Street Courtyard in downtown Austin. Although I previewed the 4-day, 3-night set of events, I was only able to attend the Wednesday afternoon show, which opened with percussionist-turned-singer/songwriter Avid Dancer, known offstage as Jacob Dillan Summers.

Summers has an unusual and interesting history leading to the fairly recent start of his music career, including a strict religious upbringing, a stint in the United States Marines and a period of time spent in Alaska before he decamped to Los Angeles to complete the collection of songs that would become his debut LP ‘1st Bath’, due out on the 14th of April on record label Grand Jury. (In case you missed it, we at TGTF recently featured the video for album track ‘All Your Words Are Gone’.)

I sat down with Summers on a sunny street corner outside the FLOODfest venue for an interview before Avid Dancer’s opening set to chat about his plans for the week in Austin, his tour dates with fellow SXSW showcasing artists Delta Spirit, and the upcoming album release. Summers’ colorful personality certainly came through in the interview, particularly when a minor injury prompted him to recount the tale of a dramatic childhood trauma. Despite the potential distractions surrounding him in Austin, Summers seemed squarely focused on his current task of touring and promoting his album, even revealing that one of the best songs he’s ever written isn’t on it. The song did, however, appear in his FLOODfest set, and I will agree that it was the best track I heard him play. Stay tuned to TGTF for my full review of Wednesday afternoon’s FLOODfest show, including details of Avid Dancer’s performance.

(Note: in the interview streaming below, Summers mentions wanting to see one of his Grand Jury label mates who played first on the Thursday afternoon FLOODfest lineup. That band was Minnesota four-piece Hippo Campus.)

Many thanks to Erin and Jeremy for arranging this interview.

 

SXSW 2015: Wednesday afternoon at FLOODfest, Cedar Street Courtyard – 18th March 2015

 
By on Tuesday, 31st March 2015 at 10:00 am
 

The weather in Austin during most of the SXSW 2015 week was smattered with clouds and occasional rain showers, which had us keeping our jackets and umbrellas constantly at the ready. But the Wednesday morning and afternoon turned out to be bright and sunny with a slight cool breeze, perfect conditions for attending the inaugural FLOODfest event in the open air Cedar Street Courtyard. I arrived to the venue early for an interview before the show started, and I got settled inside just in time to catch the end of the Dutch Impact showcase preceding the afternoon’s official activities.

Taymir at FLOODfest 18th March 2015

Bright guitar pop band Taymir rounded off the Dutch delegation with a lively and upbeat set including their catchy singles ‘Aaaaah’ and ‘What Would You Say’, both taken from their debut album ‘Phosphene’. The group of fans filtering into the courtyard for the afternoon showcase soon found their toes tapping and hips shaking to Taymir’s sharply energetic pop tunes, which were a perfect preliminary to set the mood for the stellar lineup ahead.

Avid Dancer at FLOODfest 18th March 2015

First on the set proper for FLOODfest was Los Angeles songwriter Jacob Dillan Summers, known here by the stage name Avid Dancer, with whom I’d had a nice interview outside the venue before the show began (if you missed it, you can stream the interview here ADD LINK). As he mentioned in our chat, Summers played in Austin with two bandmates, and his set at FLOODfest highlighted tracks from Avid Dancer’s upcoming debut album ‘1st Bath’. Both Summers’ singing voice and his songwriting are tenderly melodic, but his songs have a very definite lo-fi grit that gives them traction in the ears and the hearts of their listeners. Outside the confines of ‘1st Bath’ tracks, the real gem of Avid Dancer’s set was a recently written track that didn’t make the album, which I believe he called ‘Gazing’.

Skinny Lister at FLOODfest 18th March 2015

In the 2:00 PM time slot was English folk punk collective Skinny Lister, who really got the party started with their exuberant set, which included a delightful blend of pub rock sing-alongs, rollicking sea shanties, and old style dance tunes. When you see a band whose instrumentation includes both an accordion and a stand-up bass, you don’t necessarily expect crowd-surfing as part of the festivities, but at one point bassist Michael Camino dove right into the audience, trusting himself and his double bass to our enthusiastic hands-on support.

Singer, multi-instrumentalist and self-described “show-off” Lorna Thomas stole the show with her high-spirited dance moves, even closing the set with an interactive waltz in the middle of the crowd. If you didn’t catch it previously, we featured Skinny Lister’s video for ‘Trouble on Oxford Street’, which shows off exactly the kind of hair-on-fire shenanigans they put on display at FLOODfest, along with their signature brand of over-the-top, rock-infused folk music. Skinny Lister’s new album, ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’ is due out on the 20th of April via Xtra Mile Records; watch TGTF for more coverage of the band, including my interview with them on the Thursday of SXSW 2015, in the coming days.

Geographer at FLOODfest 18th March 2015

After Skinny Lister, the mood at FLOODfest took a slightly more mellow turn with San Francisco-based Geographer, whose sensual synth pop sound recently took the form of a new album called ‘Ghost Modern’, released on Roll Call Records. I was taken off guard by frontman Michael Deni’s smooth falsetto and cool vocal delivery as his singing blended seamlessly with the silvery legato of the keyboard, cello and guitar lines. Geographer’s set list included the broadly expansive, airy texture of older track ‘Kites’ as well as the more percussive recent single release ‘I’m Ready’.

Carl Barat at FLOODfest 18th March 2015

The audience in the Cedar Street Courtyard had begun to fill in during Geographer’s entrancing set, and by the time Carl Barat and The Jackals took the stage, we were rammed tight into the open air venue. There were clearly a few long-time fans in attendance, excited to see the former Libertines frontman with his new band. Barat took the stage in true punk rock fashion, dressed in a black leather jacket that he eventually had to remove in the heat of the afternoon. His drummer, Jay Bone, played the set entire set shirtless and was still drenched in sweat by the end, which is a testament to the frenetic energy of the new songs on ‘Let It Reign’ (reviewed here back in February by editor Mary). Barat did manage to squeeze in a couple of back catalogue tunes on his FLOODfest set list, most notably Libertines track ‘Death on the Stairs’, but the band’s heavy emphasis on ‘Let It Reign’ was thunderously well-received, especially the ominously prescient track ‘A Storm Is Coming’, played as clouds started to build up over the courtyard’s outdoor stage.

Frank Turner at FLOODfest 18th March 2015

After Carl Barat and The Jackals’ hard-edged set, our appetites were whet for FLOODfest’s final performer of the afternoon, Frank Turner. Appearing in a solo capacity with only his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, and admittedly still recovering from a slight hangover (he actually described himself at one point as “sweating booze”), Turner eased into his set with a few old favourite tracks before launching into a pair of brand new songs, which he said would feature on a new album expected for release later this year.

One of the new tracks, titled ‘Silent Key’, is a stark yet transfixing recollection of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which, though exquisitely written and performed, was a difficult listen, and I found myself gritting my teeth through its turbulent emotionality. The other new track, a rebellious four-to-the-floor belter called ‘Get Better’ was released on YouTube the following Friday, coincidentally just as I was finishing up a quick chat with Turner; watch the new video just below, and stay tuned to TGTF for the audio of my interview with Turner in the coming days. ‘Get Better’ seems a perfect follow-up to Turner’s recent hits ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and ‘Recovery’, which were both vivid highlights of the afternoon’s final performance, as was set closer ‘Photosynthesis’.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB4Avdlz3lk[/youtube]

 

(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #1765: Avid Dancer

 
By on Tuesday, 17th March 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

Header photo by Cara Robbins

Jacob Dillan Summers, better known by his nom de musique Avid Dancer, is set to release his debut album ‘1st Bath’ on the 14th of April via record label Grand Jury. Ahead of the album release, he has unveiled a video for the hauntingly melodic track ‘All Your Words Are Gone’.

Summers and his band will play songs from ‘1st Bath’ at SXSW 2015 next week, including a show at the inaugural FLOODfest on Cedar Street tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday the 18th of March. Following their stop in Austin, Avid Dancer will tour America as support for fellow SXSW 2015 band Delta Spirit.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/BAvSsZUTqoQ[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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