Last Thursday night's round of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase got off to an unusually late start, a delay that left audience members and judges alike on edge, trading whispered conspiracy theories over darkened tables of beer and chicken fingers. From one judge, in hushed tones, I heard that one of the semifinalists had emailed him recently to ask, "Is it true that the Times knows which band is going to win beforehand? That it's rigged?" Rigged! I only laughed at this, because of course we would never admit it even if it were true. Which it isn't. Right?
The holdup was due to Fayetteville art-rock band The Brothel Sprouts, the first act of the night, but they showed up soon enough and offered an apology to the crowd that had something to do with "community service" and "cleaning up dog shit." I didn't catch all of the details, but I don't think anyone was bothered. Dog shit aside, they were the sharpest dressed band of the night by a considerable margin, with three ties and two suit-vests between the four of them. They played wild, antic, loopy indie rock, singing animated hooks in wordless falsetto and acrobatically trading instruments mid-song. Judge Mitchell Crisp captured the sentiments of the audience exactly, noting, "I think I want to buy a CD of The Brothel Sprouts, so I can smash it, and then sleep with it under my pillow."
Next up was Landrest, a Hot Springs band that played bass-heavy punk-funk, or what judge Shayne Grey described as "mellow, intellectual rock." Judge Derek Brooks saw shades of Pat Benetar and Stevie Nicks, while Grey thought of 10,000 Maniacs and Bjork. Anyone confused by this seemingly random set of descriptors and influences can check for yourself at Landrest.bandcamp.com.
The night's winner was ambient metal group Becoming Elephants, perhaps not coincidentally the only band of the night to feature a saxophone and about whom Brooks wrote, "They felt like an experience." Grey called them "some of the best technical musicians of the Showcase so far." Their biggest fan on the judging panel, though, was definitely Mad Nomad's Joe Holland, who called them his favorites of the Showcase to date and wrote, "I've been wanting to get my face rocked off and now I'm pretty sure I'm lying on the floor in front of the stage."
From my vantage point, the night's breakthrough was the last performance, by local rap collective Young Gods of America, who in a half-hour delivered one of the most admirably reckless, visceral and chaotic Showcase sets I've ever seen, full of glorious self-sabotage ("Fuck the Showcase") and even better music. There were failed stage-dives, more cameras than felt comfortable, and appearances by Taylor Moon, Reggie Gold, Cool Chris and Fresco Grey, plus some timeless grandstanding by Goon des Garcons, who genuinely looked ready to spit on us. More importantly, they had what Mitchell Crisp termed "camaraderie" — they clearly enjoyed making this stuff together, and that came through, even when they were all onstage at the same time dancing to a song they didn't even make (Rae Sremmurd's "No Type"), which may be against the rules, not that they mind.
Here's the lineup for Round 4, which will be at Stickyz starting at 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19:
Five-piece Little Rock progressive-metal band Space Mother met in a laundromat and bonded over what they describe as a mutual desire to "supersede the template of popular modern rock." They aim to lead us, they say, "through a cosmic sinew of inquisition, tribulation and resolution."
The Casual Pleasures
Members of Ezra Lbs, Groovecluster and Color Club last year joined forces to start The Casual Pleasures, releasing a self-titled EP of music that James Szenher, in the Times, called "a swirling concoction of twisted pop music that pushes the boundaries of what's catchy and fun."
Fayetteville indie rock band High Lonesome, named for the collection of short stories by Barry Hannah (the band's first album is named for the opening story, "Get Some Young"), made a playlist for the Times last year that included songs by George Harrison, Ween and Frank Ocean, which should give you some sense of their aesthetic tradition: They make endearing, slacker garage pop full of references to other pop songs and general college-town boredom.
Formerly This Holy House, Conway's American Lions was formed by a pair of brothers and make indie rock rooted in what they call "humble hearts and southern charm." Anyone doubting their all-around moral seriousness can check the title of their first record: "Love and Hope in the War Times."