And yet, the Athens of today in some ways barely resembles the late-’70s embryonic hotbed of restlessness and creativity from which Michael Stipe, Ricky Wilson and Pylon’s Randy Bewley —among many, many others— both drew inspiration and channelled frustration.
For decades now, folks have formed upstart rock, art and jam bands in this slightly bucolic college town 45 minutes from Atlanta — many of them with high hopes of at least approaching the level of success typified by the aforementioned bands and a couple handfuls more. Of late, Modern Skirts seem to be one of the few Athens-based acts to be drawing substantial critical attention both far and near.
On the national front, they’ve been championed by Paste Magazine (one of the hippest and most consistently impressive American music mags on stands today), and locally, they recently swept the 2006 Flagpole Magazine Music Awards, walking away with Best Pop Band, Album Of The Year, Best Album Art, and Band Of The Year. Guitarist and vocalist Phillip Brantley says the band has received nothing but kudos from the rest of their brethren.
“The response has been very positive. We certainly appreciate the show of support from the hometown crowd. Even though success at a local awards show is measured on a small scale, we like to think that it can be achieved on bigger level.”
There are many others who seem to agree. Critics, fans and bloggers are quick to point out stylistic similarities between the group’s full-length debut Catalogue of Generous Men, and the work of other brainy, inventive —and successful— pop music architects such as The Shins, Jellyfish, The Beach Boys and Ben Folds Five.
Astute listeners point to the Skirts’ penchant for non-traditional chord progressions, unexpected vocal harmonies, and diverse instrumentation (many of the band’s four members switch instruments throughout the album and their live shows) as examples of the ways in which this sometimes perplexing combo seems to resemble those assumed influences. Brantley says the band appreciates being likened to artists who’ve made a mark on the public consciousness, but he’s not so quick to agree with the pundits who think they know what’s in his —and his bandmates’— heads.
“I love how so many music journalists make comparisons based on strictly topical similarities,” says Brantley. “The Ben Folds comparison comes around quite often, but I think it’s pretty off the mark. Not to say that I don’t like some of his music, but I can’t compare us pas the presence of a piano. I’ve read some recent comparisons that I had never drawn, but that I feel are pretty thoughtful. One critic recently cited Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello (as influences). Of course, we love it when someone hears Brian Wilson in our music. We’re all pretty taken by his work.”
Despite the fact that Modern Skirts regularly sell out the fabled 700-person capacity 40 Watt Club in their hometown and enjoy strong followings around the Southeast, they have —to date— found it extremely hard to break into Savannah. In fact, this upcoming show (at an Irish Pub that’s branching out into a wider variety of live music) will be their first in our area since their local debut over a year ago at The Jinx. Their appearance should be welcome news to some diehard fans who’ve been driving to Athens for their shows.
“We all love Savannah and have many friends there,” Brantley offers. “We’ve heard from several folks who had almost given up on us coming around. They seem excited, and we can’t wait to play for them.”
Modern Skirts play Murphy’s Law Friday at 10 pm. Fellow Athenian Nate Nelson opens the 21+ show. To sample their music, go to www.modernskirts.net.
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