The Black Fortys
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The Black Fortys

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"Nightlife Article"

The Black Fortys not only played a show last weekend at the New American Music Union Festival in Pittsburgh, where the bill featured Bob Dylan, the Raconteurs, Gnarls Barkley, the Black Keys, and the Roots-- the local progressive-pop quintet won first place in the fest's college-band contest.

"We didn't expect that at all," says band member Josh Murphy. "It was pretty surreal."

"They were really gracious and down to earth kids," wrote critic C.C. Chapman of the Black Fortys. "They said this was their first show outside of their home town. It is too bad that after winning they couldn't have played a couple of songs on the main stage. I think that would have really blown their mind and given them even more exposure."

As a result of their winning performance, the group will receive a chance to record in Los Angeles, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In addition, Murphy tells Nightlife that the group will get to perform at a showcase in New York City for Rolling Stone magazine.

Watch video of the Black Fortys' performance at <http://www.ae.com/musicfestival>
- NightLife Carbondale, IL


"NAMU Festival (pittsburgh)"

Local Scene: The NAMU winner
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
• Those attending the New American Music Union Saturday at the SouthSide Works encountered a double stage set up in the plaza near the Cheesecake Factory for the college band contest.

In all there were 16 bands from colleges across the country, with styles ranging from pop-punk to noise rock to indie-folk.

I served as a judge along with editors from Rolling Stone and CMJ (College Music Journal), a curator from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, folks from HUM music in Los Angeles and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (previously known as a big Toby Keith fan).

The winner, announced Saturday afternoon by festival curator Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was The Black Fortys, a stylish power-pop band from Southern Illinois University with a singer who sounded much like Mick Jones from The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite.

My ballot had them in second place to The Elizabethan Report, a thoroughly spastic Afro-punk band from Brigham Young. The only local representatives, Nothing Unexpected, played a set of pop-punk that was similar to too many bands you'd find on the Warped Tour.
- Pittsburgh Post Gazette


"Yes But No But Yes review"

Anyway, yesterday the weather held for a full day of back to back music. Starting at 11am the college bands on the second stage competed for a recording contract and the chance to have that single sold in all American Eagle stores, which is quite a big launching stage. Lots of great bands - I particularly liked the Bears - but the winner, The Black Fortys from Illinois, was very well deserved. The band seemed very gracious and surprised, most notably because this was the first time they'd ever played outside their home state. Anthony Kiedis presented the award - yes but no but yes


"The Black Fortys: Making the News More Interestings"

It's rare to put on a record for the first time and know it is going to be special from the first few moments. Hype is senseless, and quite honestly, the most annoying aspect of any kind of music criticism. It can turn unoriginality into the "wave of the future." Simply put, the Black Fortys' new album Helicopters (And other Unfortunate Understandings) is distinctly original and, in this writer's opinion, the best collection of songs to come out of this area in a long time. What's more, it deserves attention.

The Black Fortys will play a CD release show Saturday, February 24 at the Hangar 9 with Skinny Jim and the Number Nine Blacktops and Dallas Alice. They will also be on WDBX 91.1 FM radio show Mitch's Brew-- which starts at midnight-- Friday, February 23.

The group recently adopted a new name after they discovered more than enough other bands who shared their previous moniker of Watson. The Watson lineup remains intact (Josh Murphy on vocals and guitar, Marcuss Hall on lead guitar, Carly Lapin on bass and vocals, Olivia Hall on vibraphone and various other instruments, and Kevin Ohlau on drums). The Black Fortys as a recording unit, however, is a bit more abstract. Helicopters is the result of a collective effort of too many to name. It would be an uphill battle-- as well as a painstakingly boring task-- to document the names here. In fact, the record itself proves to be the most interesting subject.

The songs, adorned with intricate, abstract lyrics, are basic in their structures. Similar to the way Bob Dylan focuses on words, the Black Fortys' tracks are often verse-heavy. The recordings triumph over repetition by making themselves musically interesting. While the drums often sound lo-fi, they fit the songs (and isn't that the point?). The studio is certainly being used as an instrument here. Live performance seems to be the last thing on Murphy's mind. Layers of guitars, vibes, organs, and noise fill each track to capacity. The opener, "Their Last Names," combines pop smarts with endlessly intriguing lyrics ("They said your mother was a banker's man"), making for an Arcade Fire-esque feeling. The bass and guitar lines work well with the manic drum part. The organ adds a quirky feeling. The track dissolves into minor and augmented chords and the beat changes to a waltz. Beatle-esque vocal ahs take listeners to the end.

"Electric Mile" is upbeat and-- for those who use their imaginations-- danceable. The tune incorporates several simple guitar riffs that combine to fill sonic space much more interestingly than one or two straightahead parts could.

If "Electric Mile" is a potential fan favorite, "Red Bellies" is the songwriters' pick. The devil is an ever-present topic in music, and it's hard not to make ol' Lucifer sound cliché in song. With eerily striking lines such as "It's the devil/Holding bruises still/Changing all the wills" and the accusing "It makes the news more interesting," the song easily earns a place on this writer's list of Top Devil Songs for this year.

"This song, I don't know what it is, but it haunts me," Murphy tells Nightlife. "I feel that every time I play it, it sort of kills me a little-- like I got too close to something I shouldn't know yet, or shouldn't be allowed to expose. I don't like it when bands are whiny. You know, 'Oh, poor me, isn't life horrible.' I hate that. 'Cause it is, and everyone knows it is. But there are good things, and there are gray things and mysteries."

The gravity of the song is magnified by the late-night, raspy-voiced vocal, but if gravity isn't your style it's easy to ignore the words and head straight for the impressive reverb-drenched lead guitar.

"Blacktooth" follows with its Modest Mouse space guitar (which meshes well with an equally spacey vibraphone part) and a great drum part from Ohlau. The Beatles' "Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite," the only hidden track on Helicopters, comes next. Listen to it for what it is: a fun break from the album and a decent version of one of the Beatles' untouchable classics.

"You Can't Charm a Ghost" is a country song that ended up receiving quite a different treatment. Like more recent efforts by Wilco, the track benefits from deconstruction (Jeff Tweedy would call it destruction, but he's a bit melodramatic). This writer happened to be present for much of the song's recording. When the country-rock mood wasn't cutting it, Murphy picked up a guitar, began to make massive amounts of looped delay noise, and pressed record. Nobody moved for about five minutes until he cut the sound and said "Sigur Ró s." This noise track swells in and out of the song throughout. The song ends with an explosion of guitar drums and organ and the line "I don't really feel like dying."

"Santa Maria," originally intended for an acoustic disc, is a simple folk song. A bed of acoustic guitars and bells make a perfect resting place for Murphy's Lou Reed-like vocal (think "Candy Says"). The song is heartbreaking. The opening lines say it all: "Santa Maria never combs her hair/She calls you on Christmas and never says a word."

"Time Spent Breaking down Walls" is a rocker in the Kings of Leon vein, and manages to work with only two chords. "Egyptian Queens" flows surprisingly quickly through seven verses on seven different subjects. The track is very similar to "You Can't Charm a Ghost," but the string arrangements set it apart. As seems to be the case with most of the quieter Black Forty songs, this one erupts into a cacophony of sound at the end. The arrangement is wonderful and almost sounds like the indie-rock version of a film score.

Helicopters deserves praise. Period. It would fit nicely alongside anything in the Drag City or Merge catalogue. So often (and much more often than most would like to admit), an album by a local band is looked upon as just that: another local album, an excuse to have a CD-release show, a reason to write a "meet the band" article. The creation itself isn't given the time of day, much less expected to be an artistic achievement. It is measured against a "local" ruler and given an A for effort.

This is a problem. If Carbondale wishes to claim itself as a musical center, the community must recognize-- and actively seek out-- worthwhile music. Nightlife suggests that this trend begins with the Black Fortys' Helicopters (And other Unfortunate Understandings).


- NightLife


Discography

Jnana Veda - 2008

Helicopters (& other unfortunate understandings) - 2007

Photos

Bio

here there are trees and whispers and ghosts and vampires the likes of which will remain unknown to most. unknown for the ones who could see any place as a town full of the dead. with that in mind, kevin hitched trains to canada to learn from exiled jazz musicians, josh scaled the midwest looking for mystery and the true essence of song. carly danced to egyptian rythms and filled her mind with the works of door salesmen and gutter poets, david killed three giants with sounds from the nether regions we dare not speak of, and nate guards his holy hands with pantomimes, the sweat of his forefathers and the speed of an absolute retaliation. all these aforementioned people have played music in many forms for many years with many people, respectively. we sound like everyone and no one. a sound that could only come from the midwest. a formula that can only exist with these five people. five people giving their interpretation of what they think they heard.

Influences include: Silver Jews, Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, The Beatles, Kings of Leon, Pixies, Beck, Jana Hunter, Radiohead, Castanets, Mississippi John Hurt, Miles Davis, Neu! & Cocorosie