By Grant Golden:
1. Sylvan Esso
Homebase: Durham, NC
Where: Thursday @ 10 PM at Memorial Auditorium
Sylvan Esso is one of the most promising acts that North Carolina has had in years. The duo consists of Nick Sanborn of Megafaun and Amelia Randal Meath of Mountain Man, so one would naturally expect them to travel down the beaten-down folk path. However, Sylvan Esso has instead crafted a sound all their own, combining the pulsing hip-hop inspired beats of Sanborn’s solo project Made of Oaks and Meath’s irresistible twee-folk vocals. Though the duo has only release two tracks thusfar, they’re slated for a tour with Justin Vernon’s Volcano Choir immediately after Hopscotch. With sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum already picking up on this blossoming act, you should hop on the chance to catch them before they explode.
Homebase: Winston-Salem, NC
Where: Saturday @ 9 PM at Berkeley Cafe
Estrangers are a group that first caught my attention at last year’s Hopscotch with a dazzling set at The Hive during one of the festival’s day parties. Estrangers evoke hazy memories of sun-soaked summers with their reverb washed vocals and infectious pop stylings. Vocalist Phillip Pledger’s melodies feel reminiscent of 50s pop while the band’s instrumentation draws upon a sweeping blend of surf and indie-rock. Though the band goes on shortly after Spiritualized is set to begin at City Plaza, some of the best Hopscotch acts are hidden in nooks and crannies just like these.
Homebase: Carrboro, NC
Where: Friday @ 10 PM at Deep South The Bar
If you’re looking for gripping, new-wave inspired tunes to immerse yourself in on Hopscotch weekend, then look no further than this fantastic group from Carrboro. The Human Eyes combine deeply personal lyricism with an alluring sound that compels listeners to dance along despite the darker undertones. With soft elements of 80s pop combining with folk foundations and occasionally uplifting rhythms, The Human Eyes provide an emotional rollercoaster of an evening. Slow churning tracks like “Let Me In” showcase the introspective side of songwriter Thomas Costello while bouncing rhythms like those found on “It’s Not The Same Without You” feel like lost tracks from Talking Heads. It’s a wonderfully diverse experience from a band that excellently combines the classic with the contemporary.
Homebase: Raleigh, NC
Where: Saturday @ 5:45 PM at City Plaza
The Lollipops have quickly become one of Raleigh’s most beloved acts. The brainchild of songwriter Iggy Cosky, The Lollipops began as a lo-fi project that stemmed from an involuntary stay in a mental hospital. The frantic frustration is abundantly clear on Cosky’s early recordings, but as the band has evolved The Lollipops have crafted a brilliant balance between the manic energy of their early grit with the sweet pop sentiments that make their songs so damn catchy. Cosky has recently been exploring new sonic territory, reaching into funk-inspired territory while still retaining plenty of the band’s trademark sounds. The Lollipops burst onto North Carolina’s scene after an impressive performance at last year’s Hopscotch at The Love Language’s day party, and now in one year the band has found themselves with a marquee slot opening for Spiritualized and The Breeders.
Homebase: Durham, NC
Where: Saturday @ 9:30 PM at Memorial Auditorium
The Dead Tongues’ songwriter Ryan Gustafson is one of North Carolina’s gems. The brilliant songwriter released a mesmerizing solo LP Donkey four years ago to unheralded acclaim, the expectations were high for the gifted folkster. Although the lengthy period between albums could be viewed as a momentum killer for some, Gustafson jumped right back into the game like nothing had changed. His new project The Dead Tongues released a stellar album Desert back in February and it’s an album filled with nomadic tendencies both lyrically and aurally. These alt-country anthems provide a riveting peek into the life of this earnest songwriter, tracks like “Depression” boast catchy melodies while their lyrics have a stinging sense of sincerity. Gustafson has compiled a crew of local favorites to form the backing band for this new project and their performance at Hopscotch, opening for John Cale, is one that’s sure to leave new fans with an insatiable desire to consume more of this rambling songwriter’s fantastic material.
Homebase: Greensboro, NC
Where: Saturday @ 9:00 PM at The Hive at Busy Bee
Casual Curious’ sounds can simply be described with one all-encompassing word, fun. This Greensboro based crew combines electronic foundations with soaring horns and driving rhythms to make for an absurdly dancy output. Casual Curious is filled with rich sonic exploration that makes it easy to lose yourself in. Beach Boys-inspired vocal melodies wash over the dense soundscape and while their studio tracks are heady blends of jazzy electronic stylings, their live shows are nothing short of a sweat-filled dance party. Casual Curious quite simply brings the noise to their performances, and with a lineup that consists of Jamaican Queens and Majical Cloudz, I’d expect them to set the bar high for the evening with an exhausting performance for both the musicians and concert goers.
Homebase: Chapel Hill, NC
Where: Thursday @ 9:30 PM at Contemporary Art Museum
One wouldn’t expect Hopscotch’s most vivacious shows to take place at an art museum, but by god they’ve most certainly done so. The spacious room allows for fans to go as wild as they please and for local favorites Last Year’s Men one can expect just that. This garage rock quartet played smaller venues of the festival like Slims last year and packed it out wall to wall, leaving fans dripping with sweat by the end of their performance. Last Year’s Men take their straight forward punk-tinged pop tunes and turn them into sprawling live performances that beckon concertgoers to embrace their inner punk and succumb to these urgent rock tunes.
Homebase: Carrboro, NC
Where: Friday @ 11:00 PM at Tir Na Nog
One of the most impressive and diverse acts throughout the state, Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba provide an absolutely joyous live experience. Lead by Senegalese musician Diali Cissokho, this group serves as a testament to the state’s rich musical pool of talent. Cissokho’s compelling vocals erupt over a mystifying blend of African dance rhythms that can overtake even the shyest of concertgoers and leave the crowd dancing and swaying to the rich sounds of this fantastic act. Cissokho masterfully plays his kora, a traditional African harp, while local musicians provide astounding accompaniment. While Kaira Ba has some stiff competition on Friday night, those that wouldn’t ordinarily get to see this brilliant group should most definitely pop into Tir Na Nog to witness this magical act first hand. It’s a truly transcendental experience that will leave you begging for more.
9. Ama Divers
Homebase: Durham, NC
Where: Thursday @ 9:00 PM at The Hive at Busy Bee
Ama Divers are an act that seldom plays throughout the state, as a matter of fact they’re one of the hidden gems throughout the lineup that I’d only discovered because they were playing Hopscotch. However, this under appreciated act is comprised of a handful of beloved local musicians from another underrated North Carolina group Filthybird. Renee Mendoza Haran’s vocals create a haunting texture that fits in perfectly with the ambient backgrounds crafted by her husband Brian Haran. The two typically create sprawling Americana music in Filthybird, but Ama Divers displays a deeper side of the band’s sonic territory, Ama Divers produce music that listeners can immerse themselves in. Minimalistic instrumentation finds itself lost amongst the soaring sounds of Renee’s voice, but at the same time the vocals are encapsulated in this undulating wall of sound. The band wonderfully balances simplicity with grandiosity, making for an immersive live experience.
Homebase: Durham, NC
Where: Friday @ 10:30 PM at Five Star
Airstrip is a band that rose from the ashes of a lost love, vocalist Matthew Park was best known for his work with the swiftly rising duo Veelee before the two abruptly ended both their relationship and their band. Park channeled this frustration and heartache into an abrasive psych-pop act that blends elements of hard-hitting rock music with pop melodies. The band’s live show produces a thunderous wall of sound, but their stellar songwriting doesn’t get washed out by the aggression. Airstrip are an aptly titled band that have the capacity of simultaneously blowing away their listeners with a swift blast of sound whilst allowing them to soar with their lush melodies. Opening slots for bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and nods of approval from Spin Magazine serve as a firm backer that this band is one you’ll definitely want to pencil in for your Hopscotch weekend.
Grant Golden is curator of The Bottom String, a North Carolina based music site covering both local and touring artists in the region.