True / False Film Fest 2021: 10 must-see musical artists
The only traditions present in the musical lineup of each year’s True / False Film Fest are eclecticism and personality.
Bands and buskers fill the spaces around the film screenings with warm and adventurous sound, subverting and meeting expectations at the same time. This year, music will be more important than ever to the True / False experience.
Performers will fill the air around Stephens Lake Park May 5-9, adding a dimension to a festival showing fewer films than usual due to space and format adjustments.
This year’s music roster is packed with fascinating choices (Floor Courts member A. Savage, Missouri rabble-rousers The Hooten Hallers, fluent lyric operator J. Artiz, et al.). Here are just 10 artists – among many – you should not miss if they are playing a concert or stage near you.
Who: Originally from Saint-Louis, this superlative rapper-singer-storyteller shapes hip-hop, jazz and soul together like clay. Collaborating with artists like Tef Poe and other like-minded artists, Blvck Spvde emphasizes both art and community.
What you will hear: Well-crafted soundscapes – some exhilarating, others plunging into sorrow and obscurity – frame the poetic performance of an artist who cares about every word.
For fans of: Internet, Jamila Woods, Black Thought
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Who: This Chicago band has won over fans like influential NPR scribe Felix Contreras with a soulful sound infused with Latin, psychedelic and rock influences. The group works on the adventurous International Anthem label alongside Makaya McCraven and Damon Locks.
What you will hear: Misty grooves punctuated by crisp percussion, roaring organs and rough guitars. This music swells and swirls to the point of enveloping the listeners.
For fans of: Chicano Batman, Calexico, Mother Hips
Who: Perpetually at the head of the class of local songwriters, the talented and generous Earle is one of the best in Missouri – and can keep the best songwriters from any part of the country company.
What you will hear: The physical and the metaphysical blend in history songs rendered in folk, rock and jazz tones. Earle is fluent in several emotional and lyrical languages, offering jubilation and gravity in English and occasionally in Spanish.
For fans of: Paul Simon, Josh Ritter, Andrew Bird
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Who: Midwestern cellist and singer, Hamilton performs with and around modern hybrid and more traditional symphony groups. His solo work merges forms even more.
What you will hear: A set of lyrical strings united with marvelous flourishes drawn from the worlds of jazz, soul, neo-classical and pop music.
For fans of: Portland Cello Project, Esperanza Spalding, Eighth Blackbird
Who: The Montreal singer-songwriter is orienting her group towards an indie-pop sound that is long in both style and substance.
What you will hear: Iyer’s luminous voice dances on, around and with textures that oscillate between – and sometimes merge – the intimacy of chamber music and the dramatic sweep of more cinematic expressions. Iyer isn’t afraid to chase strange impulses, but his songs still retain an accessible core.
For fans of: Big Thief, David Byrne, Destroyer
Who: The Chicago-based singer-songwriter met other innovative artists on this scene, including Spencer Tweedy and Ohmme (see below).
What you will hear: A paradoxical power-pop which strikes a balance between sad lyrics and brilliant, catchy sounds. Glorious pain is central to Kazar’s songs, while nimble guitars and buzzing synths work around the edges.
For fans of: The New Pornographers, Ben Kweller, Eric Slick
Who: From Brooklyn to the Bay Area, Nappy Nina (aka Simone Bridges) delivers confident hip-hop style just abstract enough to keep listeners on their toes.
What you will hear: A thoughtful and deliberately contained production focuses on an artistic and underground side of hip-hop while introducing elements of jazz and soul. Nappy Nina’s delivery is direct but cerebral, calling listeners to lean in.
For fans of: Talib Kweli, Unnamed
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Who: Chicago Duo Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart create spiral indie rock that subverts traditional elements of folk and pop. The group’s most recent album, Fantasize Your Ghost from last year, finds it “louder and more assertive here, even when they ironically sound their most uncertain,” AllMusic noted.
What you will hear: Rich, otherworldly harmonies matched with quirky guitars and rolling rock grooves.
For fans of: Saint-Vincent, Wilco
The other years
Who: Louisville, Kentucky musicians Anna Krippenstapel and Heather Summers reconnect with mountain music traditions and murderous ballads to create string music in the present tense.
What you will hear: Sad strings and earthy harmonies frame songs animated by an inner resilience.
For fans of: Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin, The Avett Brothers
Who: The Virginia-based guitarist and songwriter will be familiar to some Columbia listeners who saw her appear at the Columbia Experimental Music Festival a few years ago. Williams’ 2021 album “Urban Driftwood” is a fingerstyle guitar wonder.
What you will hear: Weather and landscape, melody and harmony – all played by one guitarist.
For fans of: Andy McKee, John Fahey, Nickel Creek
Find the full artist lineup and learn more about this year’s True / False music program at www.truefalse.org.