Denton Musicians Take a Seat At Their Tiny Desks for National Competition
We in Denton have the fortune to be surrounded by talented musicians, but sometimes, you wish your non-Denton friends, family, and just general populace could tune in. Ten Denton acts submitted videos to the NPR Tiny Desk concert this year for the chance to have an NPR Tiny Desk concert taped in Washington D.C., appear at a taping of NPR's Ask Me Another, and to tour the US with NPR and sponsor Lagunitas. While the honor went to New Orleans group Tank and the Bangas (who are absolutely worth checking out), the work these Denton acts put into their videos should not be forgotten. With that, read up on all ten and check out videos for nine of the submissions (Andrew Rothlisberger's video is no longer available).
This intimate entry makes me sleepy in the best way possible. Kevin Sluder’s video shows a side angle as he plays his keyboard and sings along to the words on a sheet of paper that sits on a desk behind the instrument. Before beginning, Sluder tells the camera he teaches string orchestra at Lewisville High School, then promptly but sensitively begins tapping keys. The entirety of “Reconcile in the Light” has a sweet and oh-so-soft tone that will bring out some feelings sitting inside that you didn’t know you hadn’t resolved. The song tells people to get some rest and essentially stop worrying, and after watching this heartfelt little video, it might be best to lie down and do just that.
The video begins with five of the six band members seated among a campfire-like glow, though what’s really at their feet is a cluster of effects pedals, large theatrical lights, and cables. Chance Maggard asks someone off-camera to check that the computer is still recording, and once that's confirmed, they immediately launch into “First Born.” Their performance is loud yet touching, and when all six of them harmonize, it’s beautiful. They’re invested, and cutscenes of everyone laughing as they prep for the video are sprinkled throughout, so you get to see every side of authentic Biographies in this track.
This rock group positioned their camera above themselves á la a security camera angle. With a red wash over the group—who fit inside the frame just right—they settle in, give separate glances up and into the camera, and begin “Uncomfort.” Mercedes Ann’s voice is powerful and soars throughout, whether she is mid-yell or just barely singing above the instrumentation. Daniel Meza’s drumming provides meaningful punctuation, and Mykey O’Neil, Nick Laracuente, and Brooks Campbell bring skill on guitars and bass, especially near features at the 2:42 mark of the video. This might lack in production and sound quality, but that is all but made up for in rawness and the genuine experience Idler brings in just four minutes.
With absolutely no intro, Josh Halverson’s video starts the music immediately with the videography of a pro. White words appear on the screen saying “Josh Halverson ‘Just Enough’” and the bottom of the frame offers the title of his new album. Different frames switch between his band playing their designated instruments and him sitting solitary on a couch with his guitar, headphones, and a microphone. His raspy folk voice tells a tale about his lady love and how she doesn’t do everything he would like, but regardless, he loves her because there it is, the name of the song: she gives him just enough. This attractive tune and video of impeccable production quality display Halverson, eyes closed, making passionately pained faces as he shows the viewer the full scope of his considerable talent.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve watched this video a ridiculous amount of times. I’m just in love with the slowly roving cinematography of the video, showing these masters of their craft playing the ever-endearing “LittleBig” as if the cameraman is gently swaying throughout the song. Isabel Crespo’s voice croons away innocently as she sings one of her simpler yet still poetic pieces, with lyrics like “You shouldn’t worry, you don’t have to be sad/You can be small, it’s really not bad/You can squeeze your way through crowded rooms, and no one minds.” While the instrumentation is brilliant and delicate throughout, features from Mike Luzecky on bass and Greg Santa Croce on piano really stand out.
Along with two other members of their band the Birds of Night, the group channels a live show feel. The video begins with Rothlisberger mimicking a clapperboard towards his band mates as the show begins. Simply performing to a camera, each member feeds off each other’s energy here. The cool thing about live shows is how magical of a thing it is to see artists just playing to play, and obviously having a great time doing it. This song (“Blisters”) is dark and catchy and invokes the appropriate head nods from not only a viewer, but the band members as well. When not singing, Rothlisberger turns to his band mates and plays his guitar towards them. However, the true star of the video, in my opinion, is the bassist, sprinkling his hip movements and shimmies throughout the performance.
Jesus Chris + The Beetles
The video begins with a focus on Rob, lead singer for JC+TB, reading a book and promptly looking up to tell the camera the classic line, “Oh, hey, didn’t see you there!” The yellow button-up-clad band filmed in Recycled Books, making their performance an antithesis for the setting surrounded in books. “Love is Degrading” begins as eccentric as the band is. It's obvious throughout the video how much they all believe that title and have been drained by the topic itself. Notably, the camera angles for this video are special; it’s comparable to when you actually see them perform and Rob is singing in everyone’s face. With well-placed light flickers and close-ups on a book titled Beyond Viagra, this video is a representation of Jesus Chris + the Beetles in full form: talented, strange, uncomfortable, talented, and funny (did we mention talented?). The video finishes with Rob pointing to the desk and asking “Is this desk tiny enough?” before taking a swig of water. Beautiful execution. These guys got a shout-out from the NPR Tiny Desk judges, and we can see why.
Emil Rapstine of The Angelus begins “Another Kind” at a solitary, tiny desk. The simplicity and muted nature of the setting aids and complements this song. Rapstine’s somber, bone-chilling voice brings viewers lyrics that match it to a tee. The song conjures up despondent imagery and parallelism, including “Give up your darkness/give up your sun/For a love of another kind” and “Still it fits you well/Your downcast crown/And your crestfallen brow.” It’s an intriguing video from start to finish, and will have you searching for when you can see the entire trio in action.
Flannel and fedora intact, Edgar Derby sweetly strums his guitar as the video begins. Derby sits on a chair in an intimate corner, facing the camera with Miles Davis hanging behind his head. “Find Your Voice” is a nice ballad with a moving chorus, including lines such as “take your time while you’re singing your song, and I’ll wait ‘til you’re ready for me to sing along.” At the end of the song, Derby has an intense guitar breakdown that lays down the law as he, now with more conviction, prompts one to “Find Your Voice.” His voice commanding, yet so meaningful and soft, breaks through and makes for a sincere performance.
Kites and Boomerangs
Drummer Hagen Hauschild welcomes viewers to this video, reminding NPR firmly yet kindly that they are playing this song for them, for us, and for them. Really. The band seamlessly moves into “Ain’t No Way.” It plays out as if you’re catching the group at a house show, where everyone can afford to—and somehow does—keep a fair distance from the band. And given the song, its volume, and staying power, it’s a perfect representation of Kites and Boomerangs. They’re jamming, they’re having a great time, and they’re giving you a great song.