Spring Silver
Spring Silver aka K Nkanza; Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Friday: Spring Silver at the Runaway

Spring Silver is all over the place, in the best possible way. The band, which mostly consists of K Nkanza and a rotating cast of guest performers, brands itself as they/themcore on Bandcamp, and that’s as good an identifier as any, since the way their music frictionlessly shifts between grooves and styles serves as a great reminder that genre is like gender … a useful descriptor until it isn’t. For context, music publications have referred to Spring Silver as metal, post-emo, and hyperpop, all of which feel relatively appropriate depending on which song you’re listening to. “Little Prince,” for instance, the earwormy first single from Spring Silver’s latest album, does for metal what “bubblegrunge” did for fuzz-punk. Meanwhile, Nkanza describes another track on the same album as “Undertale-Meets-Fleet Foxes,” a combination you didn’t know you needed until reading that just now. Nkanza binds the meticulously curated bouquet of influences together with guitar and bass. (They’ve been playing guitar since they were 11 years old, and, as a result, they are a seasoned shredder.) Nkanza started out in the DMV scene, playing in the School of Rock program as a kid before dabbling in EDM and dream pop. On Spring Silver’s latest album, I Could Get Used to This, even local heavy hitter Bartees Strange provides some guest support. Spring Silver plays with Grady at the Runaway on July 15. The show starts at 8:55 p.m. on July 15 at the Runaway, 3523 12th St. NE. therunawaydc.com. $10. —Will Lennon

Friday and Saturday: Native Gardens at Silver Spring Stage

Chris Galindo, Alexandra Bailey, Sarah Holt, and Scott Holden in Native Gardens; Credit: Ira Levine

With border disputes and polarization more relevant than ever, Mexican D.C. resident Karen ZacariasNative Gardens, running at Silver Spring Stage for its final weekend, takes the problem of neighbor against neighbor to the literal and local level. In the 90-minute play, ethnic, social, political, socioeconomic, and generational differences manifest in fences between neighbors and the gardens they keep. When longtime District residents Frank (Scott Holden) and Virginia Butley (Sarah Holt), an elderly White couple, welcome Pablo (Chris Galindo) and Tania Del Valle (Alexandra Bailey), a Latinx couple in their early 30s, to the neighborhood, they invite them over for chocolate, fine wine, and small talk that foreshadows a shift from micro to macro aggressions between the Butleys and Del Valles. Pablo, a goofball husband and a lawyer trying to make partner in his firm, overcompensates by inviting the entire firm to the so-not-ready house for a barbecue while his very pregnant wife prepares to finish her PhD in anthropology. This invite, together with Tania’s commitment to create a “native garden” with endemic plants—a foil to Frank’s manicured flower collection next door—brews trouble when the young couple learn they’re entitled to two more feet of land, right on top of Frank’s garden. The escalation plays into physical comedy as Virginia rallies Frank to step to their neighbors armed with squatters’ rights and the zeal of entitlement, perceived neighborliness, and Frank’s long held dream of winning the local garden competition. A fence-cutting crew, legal threats from both couples, and a chainsaw on the scene fuel the ensuing Wild West showdown. But what keeps the tension from the first to last scenes is the same undercurrent of differences that exists among D.C. neighbors in rapidly gentrifying spaces: the wokeness warriors that rub some residents the wrong way with their sense of moral superiority, the neighbors who fail to acknowledge their privilege and tacit complicity in perpetuating inequities, the natural misunderstandings that come when good intentions meet spacing limitations, sharply contrasting lived experiences, and fractious philosophies. Under Matt Ripa’s direction, the narrative of White against Brown, progressive against conservative, old versus young, is further complicated by gender, nationality, and socioeconomic status: Tania’s pointed remarks about how her Latinx experience growing up as the daughter of a house cleaner is different from that of Pablo, the son of a wealthy family in Chile, explore some of these nuances. A pouty Frank prone to tantrums, and a Virginia who can captain through this storm better than any Phillips or Pablos, steal the show. Native Gardens runs through July 16 at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. ssstage.org. $23.25–$26.25. Ambar Castillo

Monday: Janel Lepin at Rhizome

Janel Leppin; courtesy of the artist

Whatever your expectations might be for a cello player, Janel Leppin has probably already dashed them. Leppin is a luminary of the D.C. improvised music scene—and that’s as close to pigeonholing her as anyone will get. Her music variously incorporates jazz, rock, folk, ambient, electronic, psychedelia, noise, and yes, chamber classical. And it’s not always easy to predict which direction she’ll take. Sure, one knows that her guest work with Messthetics (which features her husband, guitarist Anthony Pirog) will skew punkish, and that her solo project, Mellow Diamond, will be haunting art rock, but those are broad categories. Imagine, then, how vague one’s guesses have to be with her Ensemble Volcanic Ash, a band that incorporates every category she’s ever touched. The lineup is jazz-heavy, with jazz heavies: Alto saxophonist Sarah Hughes, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Larry Fergusen join Leppin, Pirog, and harpist Kim Sator. Yet it’s clearly the leader that defines the band’s stylistic flow and choices on their self-titled recording (Cuneiform). Often it changes mid-song: “Woven Forest” begins as a postbop theme, but halfway through Fergusen ratchets it up into a speed-metal ruckus. “Volcano Song” is a long mood piece with long sax and guitar solos (and subtle harp fills) until its final moments, when Leppin turns it into an avant-garde inquiry; “Silvia’s Path” is alternately an urgent klaxon and a rumination for strings and alto sax. Is there a through-line? Of course there is: It’s Leppin, who—even as she refuses to constrain her bandmates—stamps her vision on their every zig and zag. Janel Leppin’s Ensemble Volcanic Ash performs with LIGAMENT and Bushmeat Sound, at 7 p.m. on July 18 at Rhizome, 6950 Maple St. NW. rhizomedc.org. $15-$25.Michael J. West

Wednesday through Saturday: The Algorithm Will See You Now at Transformer

From The Algorithm Will See You Now

Social media is a cesspool. Going online means being bombarded with a never-ending crush of content of questionable value, and your phone is spying on you. Get off the internet, and if you can’t touch grass, touch some different devices instead. The Algorithm Will See You Now at Transformer features interactive computerized works and digital sculptures by artist Chris Combs that satirize and warp our tech-driven reality. Using everything from AI image-generation programs to a neural network he trained himself, Combs creates works that reflect the possibilities and pitfalls that rapidly advancing technology creates. The results are a funhouse-mirror version of the ways that existing technology monitors, categorizes, and evaluates us. The works raise fascinating questions about the ethics of data mining, algorithmic bias, and the kind of world that computers are creating. In “Illegal in Illinois,” faces scanned from the street outside the gallery are projected onto mannequin heads, some of which are 3D printed (the data isn’t stored for longer than 15 seconds). In “Morale is Mandatory,” a facial recognition scanner checks whether visitors are smiling or not, and a needle on a meter adjusts its readout accordingly, suggesting a surveillance state in which not only thoughts are policed, but emotions too. “Feedback Loop” allows users to choose from lists of headlines that resemble the cross-promotional spam content at the bottom of some web articles. As the user makes choices, the machine spits back an analysis of their preferences. Fittingly for these times, there’s even a selection of images generated by DALL-E Mini using corporate titles, creating what looks like an employee page from a nightmarish company website. Some pieces take digital ephemera and make it tactile, like a fluttery wall of paper chains printed with information from the artist’s Google profile. And though devices like “Feedback Loop” and “Morale is Mandatory” use modern tech and somewhat complex programming, they’re packaged in satisfyinging analog containers, complete with push-buttons (remember those?) rather than touchscreens. The Algorithm Will See You Now runs through July 23 at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. Wednesday through Saturday noon–6 p.m. transformerdc.org. Free. Stephanie Rudig

Through July 24: Cold Warriors by Tom Sliter at Multiple Exposures Gallery

Credit: Tom Sliter

In his exhibit of photographs of Cold War-era airplanes, D.C.-based artist Tom Sliter presents images that are oddly animalian. One image captures a rotund portion of a plane that suggests a manatee; another shows an armored nose shaped like that of a shark; a third captures a pointy extrusion that is a dead ringer for a narwhal. (Appropriately, Sliter’s images share a washed-out gray palette with the dimly lit aquarium photographs of Henry Horenstein.) When Sliter’s planes aren’t looking like sea creatures, they sometimes offer pleasingly minimalist arrangements, such as one image that consists mainly of a thin arc of white set against a fuselage and the sky, both of which are nearly black. Sliter’s artist statement says he seeks to pair the “inherent beauty” of these war machines with “the complicated, darker story of the forces that drove these designs.” He largely succeeds in communicating the planes’ splendorous geometries; save for their lack of color, his loving, often decontextualized portrayals of machine design are not unlike paeans to the smooth lines and curves of the cars of yesteryear. But without further elaboration on the history, viewers who want to explore the “darker” side of this nuclear-trigger era will need to bring their own Cold War backstories to the exhibit. Cold Warriors runs through July 24 at Multiple Exposures Gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 N. Union St., Studio 312, Alexandria. Daily 11 a.m.–5 p.m. multipleexposuresgallery.com. Free. —Louis Jacobson

Thursday: Wild Hearts Tour—Julien Baker, Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen at Wolf Trap

Julien Baker; Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

It’s no exaggeration to say that music got me through the worst of the last two and a half years. And one artist, in particular, has risen to the top of my go-to-list when I’m feeling dejected, lost, or overwhelmed by—gestures around—everything. Julien Baker released her third album, Little Oblivions, in February 2021 to critical acclaim. Unlike her previous works, the indie singer-songwriter (who’s been labeled indie-folk, alt-rock, slowcore, and post-rock) made Little Oblivions a more fleshed out, fuller-sounding album thanks to a backing band. But the emotional intensity of her voice and raw honesty of her lyrics builds a kind of intimacy that I can only describe as similar to being locked in a room with my best friend spilling our guts. It’s safe and painful with various tempos, including upbeat swells, thanks to the new addition of drums, that sometimes suggest optimism, hope. “That way I can ruin everything/ When I do, you don’t get to act surprised/ When it finally gets to be too much/ I always told you, you could leave at any time,” she sings in “Hardline” as the beat builds. It’s no wonder Baker’s latest has had such an affect, written largely pre-pandemic, the queer artist grapples with addiction, codependent relationships, and mental health—“Ringside” deals with her anxiety and OCD that’s caused her to hit herself uncontrollably at times, she told Apple Music, and the embarrassment she’s felt after. Singing along with the album has brought me the same type of catharsis that crying to my best friend brings—without dumping all my baggage on someone else. “When the drugs wear off/ Will the love kick in/ Would you stay out long enough/ Start again?” she sings, almost desperately in “Repeat.” Like any good love affair, my obsession with Little Oblivions has led me to savor the young artist’s entire discography and that of many of her contemporaries including Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, who’ve both released beautiful, legitimizing music during the pandemic, including their fiery 2021 duet “Like I Used To.” So seeing Baker join forces with Van Etten and Olsen for the Wild Hearts Tour is certain to bring the greatest musical relief possible. The tour comes to Wolf Trap on July 21 and tickets are, shockingly, still available. So consider joining me for an all out sing-along that’ll make everything feel ok for at least a few hours. The Wild Heart Tour starts at 7:30 p.m. on July 21 at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna. wolftrap.org. $32–$152. —Sarah Marloff