Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Big Beat 'cast 12

I learned that by living in Austin, SXSW is really a three week commitment: one to prepare, one to execute, one to recover. Enjoy the first post-SX Beat 'cast, featuring a few of my highlights plus the return of that Burial fellow.

FRIENDLY FIRES "Live Those Days Tonight" (XL), from Pala - While I personally prefer their more blatantly funky tunes like "Photobooth" and "Skeleton Boy", the first track from their upcoming second record has a smooth groove similar to "Jump In The Pool" and "Kiss Of Life". Energetic live, the band's poised to make great strides in the US with an 11 date tour starting in Philadelphia on May 24th. (TBB coverage)  

LANTERNS ON THE LAKE "Lungs Quicken" (self-released), from Lungs Quicken EP - Hazel Wilde,  lead singer of the six piece orchestral outfit, delivered one of the quips of SX by introducing themselves being from the north of England "which you can probably tell from our sunburns".  Recently signed to Bella Union, they trade in shimmering dream-pop with a folk undercurrent, conjuring imagery of a pastoral, English countryside.  Seeing them play inside Austin's Central Presbyterian Church, with its superior acoustics, was a treat.  A bit more like a recital than a concert, mind you, but perfect for their at-times fragile sound.  Most promising.

EDWYN COLLINS "A Girl Like You" (Setanta), from Gorgeous George - During SX, I tend to favor bands that rarely tour and otherwise normally wouldn't get a chance to see, thus explaining why I usually end up seeing so many European artists.  That goes ditto for artists those I've never seen and may never have the chance again.  That said, I felt I had to see Edwyn Collins.  It's been six years since a double brain haemorrhage left him seriously debilitated forcing him to, among other things, relearn how to speak.  Yet here he was, playing SX to promote his new record Losing Sleep, recorded with help from Johnny Marr, Roddy Frame, and members of Franz Ferdinand, The Cribs, and The Drums.  So with the opportunity presented, I felt it mandatory to pay my respects.    Seated on a stool at the front of the small stage, he led his band through a set culled from both his solo career and his days fronting the seminal Orange Juice.   In a word, courageous.  I really got to see the extent of his affliction as he left the stage, walking with a cane and a very pronounced limp, his right hand clinched unable to be used normally.  In a second word, inspirational.  This video, shot in Austin, best demonstrates Collins spirit, both in conversation and performing his 1987 single "Don't Shilly Shally".   

THE JOY FORMIDABLE "Whirring" (live), courtesy of NPR. Original on The Big Roar -  At nearly two weeks out, I haven't detected too many bands - no one, really - that caught lightning in a bottle during SX.  The actual music making seemed to take a backseat this year to the crowd problems, overt starfucking of whistle stop celebrity appearances, and the surge in attendance of the Interactive portion of the festival.  One band you could put on a shortlist of possibles, though, would be The Joy Formidable.  Still very unknown in the US, they played to a highly energized crowd on Friday night that provided my longest wait time to get into a show all week.   To me, they have a little of the vibe that Silversun Pickups had a few years back: indie, but with a big rawk sound ripe for crossing over to mainstream alt-radio.  Couple that with an expressive, kewpie-like front woman who happens to be able to shred like a mother, and I'm thinking that TJF will be on a lot of people's lips come summer.  Worth noting was that Mr. & Mrs Joy Formidable, Ritzy and Rhydian, were pressed against the stage at the Edwyn Collins show the night before, Ritzy introducing herself as he exited.  Much respect.      

BURIAL "Street Halo" (Hyperdub), single & BURIAL, FOUR TET, + THOM YORKE "Mirror" (Text), single - Basically, if you liked Untrue, then you oughta like the man's new single and b-side as well as the three-song collab with Four Tet and that Radiohead dude.

WILD FLAG "Future Crimes" (live), courtesy of NPR. Original on 7" single - I work across the street from Austin's Urban Outfitters, and they've always booked solid afternoon lineups during SX. Before heading downtown on Friday, I caught the new band that featured 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney and Mary Timony of Helium. Glad I did. Now, I've read a few reports claiming Wild Flag don't sound anything like Sleater-Kinney and I have to disagree. To the possible relief of many, Corin Tucker and her omnipresent shriek aren't part of the band but with Brownstein on gtr/vox & Weiss on drums, it's not like they all of sudden sound like Warpaint, a'ight? If anything, Wild Flag is a little more riff-rock friendly, as if they're allowing their secretly collective classic rock influences to come to the fore. This single serves as a teaser to their Merge debut later in the year. Their "Racehorse" may have been the best new song I heard all week.

LAS ROBERTAS "Back To The End" (Art Fag), from Cry Out Loud - Girls (Vivian and Dum Dum) inspired fuzz pop from Costa Rican trio. Read my SXSW review and catch earlier TBB coverage. CAPSULA "Hit 'n' Miss" (BCore), from In The Land Of Silver Souls - I don't think I saw a band as happy as this Spanish trio to be playing SX all week. A simple, no frills rock band, they were a refreshingly unhyped discovery. (TBB coverage)

THE WEEKND "What You Need" (self-released), from House Of Balloons (via Mu-sique) - From Toronto, this trio is the latest to go from obscurity to the toast of the blogosphere in a few short months weeks days. With a free 'mixtape', yours for the download, their nocturnal R&B is equal parts sexy and sinister. A convergence of styles: hip-hop & trip hop, dubstep and electro-pop, it's a fascinating debut. Siouxsie fans will dig the sample of "Happy House" that provides the framework of the record's title cut.

LOWER DENS "Hospice Gates" (Gnomonsong), from Twin-Hand Movement - I'm late to the party on this Baltimore based band, receiving an extra bit of notoriety here in Texas since lead singer Jana Hunter's a Houston native. I'm unfamiliar with her previous solo work (can't win 'em all) but I'm diggin' this track in particular from their debut. A nice exercise in restraint, it's a perfectly executed 4:06 of ringing guitar, a slippery bass line and a silky vocal, all the while gazing squarely at your shoes. Currently on tour in Europe through mid-April.

  [STREAM] Lower Dens, 'Hospice Gates' by guillerninia  

STILL CORNERS "Parallels" (self-released), from Remember Pepper - When I charted my course for SX, my must-see acts were Psychic TV, Friendly Fires, The Joy Formidable, and Still Corners, with the last two coming on the same night. Recently signed to Sub Pop, I caught the London-based 5-piece (boasting Australian singer Tessa Murray and American guitarist Greg Hughes, also the main songwriter) outdoors at Club de Ville in what initially seemed an odd setting. Surely, I thought, here was a band that should be playing at one of the acoustically pristine churches that were doubling as venues. Instead, they were on a short stage set on asphalt next to the back of a bar. Hmmm...well, it's SX.  Let's get on with it.

(Photo by Sebastien Dehesdin ) 

With all credit to the tech team, the mood and lighting actually turned out to be pretty great. The warm Texas evening yielded a comfortable breeze, and the film projection was set against a wall of exposed rock behind the stage, making for a soft-focus visual treat.  Even though I've been big upping the band for a while, I came away even more of a fan after seeing them live.  Beach House seems an easy comparison, but Still Corners  is the creamier of the two.   A more girly Beach House, perhaps.  The unexpected delight was hearing more of a authentically psychedelic sound, as if someone in the band's favorite album is Pink Floyd's Meddle.   You'll hear a bit of that in this track from their debut Remember Pepper?, which slipped out 3 years ago to almost no one's notice.  That'll change.         

ANNA CALVI "Suzanne & I" (Domino), from Anna Calvi - Despite a wealth of positive reviews, I can't help but feel a lot of folks are letting this disc pass them by. Her hand injury forced her to cancel SXSW and postpone US dates until May. A real missed opportunity. I almost wonder if her sound is bit too mature and simply not indie enough for a strong enough embrace from the Pitchfork (7.8) crowd?  It ain't no Panda Bear, youknowwhatI'msaying? In any event, I hope Domino takes the long view on promoting her and her record. The fact that she's a really fine guitarist should earn notices from those who appreciate the craft. If you doubt she can shred, I'll offer up this clip from her days fronting the band Cheap Hotel. This is one of the go-to cuts on her debut, my favorite CD of the year to date.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friendly Fires: New Song + SXSW Report (Thursday)

Friendly Fires (Photo by Ian Witlen)

The debut from English trio Friendly Fires was one of my favorite records (#4) of 2008 and by making their first visit to SXSW, they made my short list of must-see bands.

After catching Capsula, Las Robertas, and about 15 minutes of SUUNS (not bad), I hoofed it down 5th Street and under the I-35 overpass to ND Studios. Exiting the crisp night air and straight into a wall of humidity, I sensed this might end up a sweaty mess. As it turned out, I was right on the money. Assisted by a trumpeter and a saxophone player, the trio hit the stage and got right down to it.

Dressed in crisp white oxfords, Friendly Fires strike a balance between Talking Heads' white boy funk and 80's dandies Spandau Ballet. Mixing tracks from their debut and forthcoming follow-up Pala (May 24th; UK May 16th), singer Ed MacFarlane bounced around the stage for the full 30 minute allotment to an appreciative crowd. The new material didn't seem to have as many sharp angles as found on the debut: a little smoother, a little more fleshed out. Cue the horns. In all, the audience ate it up. With a frenetic live show and a solid second record, they should be able to take a huge step forward this year.

Check out the first track from Pala, "Live Those Days Tonight":

[STREAM] Live Those Days Tonight - Friendly Fires by grouppiekid

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

SXSW Report - Las Robertas (Thursday)

Thursday night's showcase at Nuvola was presented by Primavera Sound, the annual festival held in Barcelona, so it was no surprise that half of the bands on the bill were from Spanish speaking countries. Following Capsula, and making their first US appearance, were Las Robertas. Quite possibly, the only musical act from Costa Rica anyone's ever heard of.   In fact, the band was the subject of the fifth-ever entry on TBB last June.

The one-time quartet, now a trio, also don't do anything you haven't heard before.  They just do it with a palpable sense of innocence and charm.  I don't claim to know the ages of the young ladies, but it's pretty apparent that they are young.  I wouldn't be surprised if they were students on their own spring break, not unlike the thousands of revelers who'd descended on Austin, making SX their own vacation destination (more on that later).   Published interviews reveal, unsurprisingly, that they're fans of fuzzed out, amped-up femmes like the Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, and that's pretty much the template they follow.  Like Capsula, they sing in English, barreling through songs from last year's Cry Out Loud (Art Fag) debut.

No fancy moves, not much in the way of charisma, just girlish charm and happiness at getting to play their music for the first time away from home.  Imploring the crowd to dance was a sweet touch, noting that that's the norm from fans back home.  It conjured images of the band playing back in Costa Rica (think house parties and after-school events) and now here they were at the largest music festival in the world, as if they couldn't believe their luck.
If anything, Las Robertas are raw, which isn't unusual for a young band.  Many of their songs, while catchy, are awfully similar.  Injecting a bit of space into their songs would greatly vary their repertoire.  They have nice harmonies and Cry Out Loud is definitely a promising start, so keep these (Best) Costa Ricans on your list of ones to watch. (TBB rating: 6.5/10)

Sample a few tracks from their debut:     

[DOWNLOAD] Las Robertas - Street Feelings by Hypetrak

[DOWNLOAD] Las Robertas - Back to the End by Surfing on Steam

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SXSW Report - Capsula (Thursday)

I won't lie. The last week took a lot out of me. Between work and volunteering at the SXSW Trade Show, it's a wonder I had anything left in the tank to go see bands at night. But as this was my first SX in years that I wasn't part of an all-day radio broadcast, I'd psyched myself up to go at this year's fest with almost everything I had and yet, I still couldn't do it all.

Wednesday was out from the get-go due to a work commitment - one I was more than happy to take, thankyouverymuch - so, it was on to Thursday. My friend (and avid TBB reader) Giselle sent me a note saying that Surf City had to pull out of the festival, so that left my 8p slot open. Instead of scrambling for a replacement, I simply decided to camp out at the club where my 9p pick, Las Robertas, were playing and boy, am I glad I did.

I'd never heard of Capsula before tonight, although I came to learn that they were SX veterans. A garage rock trio from Spain (via Argentina), they hit the tiny stage armed with songs from the just released In The Land of Silver Souls and played like they were headlining an arena. With a big sound, big licks, and 50 years of rockstar cliches in their arsenal, they just came out and ROCKED it. Singing in English, Martin Guevara must've studied a lifetime's worth of Iggy Pop videos, as he preened and shimmied across the stage. The show's highlight was his parting the crowd and running his guitar strings along the bar while accepting a swig of beer in the process. Top notch, sir.

Capsula certainly weren't anything you hadn't heard before but in bringing their A-game, to me, they epitomized what SXSW should be about: stumbling upon a band, being pleasantly surprised, and emerging a fan. Here's a relatively obscure band from Spain - not exactly a hotbed of rock - for which playing SXSW is probably considered a career highlight. Perhaps mine is a minority opinion, but fuck secret shows (Foo Fighters) and last-minute gigs by superstars (Kanye West) looking to slipstream on SX's notoriety. There were 2000 bands in Austin last week and I'm glad Capsula was one of them. Their ear-to-ear smiles, including that of sultry bassist Coni Duchess, were memorable. Captured at random. (TBB rating: 8/10)

Sample a few tracks from In The Land of Silver Souls:

[DOWNLOAD] Capsula- Hit 'n' Miss by BCore Disc

[DOWNLOAD] Capsula "In The Land of Silver Souls" by BCore Disc

Monday, March 21, 2011

SXSW - Prelude to Recap

I'll summarize my SXSW experience shortly but until then, this is who I saw. And yes, I'm exhausted.

Jamie Woon
Psychic TV

Das Racist
Asleep At The Wheel
Las Robertas
Friendly Fires
Edwyn Collins

Wild Flag
Lower Dens
Still Corners
Lanterns On The Lake
The Joy Formidable

Friday, March 18, 2011

SXSW Recommendations - Friday

I pretty much stayed on point Thursday night. Surf City's visa problems opened my 8p hour, so I decided to take it easy and hit Nuvola to await Las Robertas at 9p. Glad I did too. I'll have a review of last night's gigs soon.

My schedule for tonight is slightly more cut and dry, with the 9 to 1 block all can't miss shows for me. Nevertheless, ya gots to have a backup plan and SX always provides a bounty of choice. My priorities are in bold

The Big Beat's SXSW Recommendations - Friday

08:00 Lower Dens (Klub Krucial)
08:00 Dirty Beaches (Kiss & Fly)
08:15 Colleen Green (Red 7)
08:45 No Joy (Klub Krucial)
09:00 Still Corners (Club de Ville)
09:00 Millionyoung (Malverde)
09:30 Puro Instinct (Klub Krucial)
10:00 Lanterns On The Lake (Central Presbyterian Church)
10:30 The Dears (Mellow Johnny's)
11:00 Ringo Deathstarr (Easy Tiger)
11:10 The Joy Formidable (Buffalo Billiards)
11:15 Tamaryn (Klub Krucial)
11:20 Dum Dum Girls (Red 7 Patio)
12:00 Little Dragon (Lustre Pearl)
12:00 Jeff Lofton (Elephant Room)
01:00 The Answering Machine (512 Rooftop)
01:00 The Jim Jones Revue (Emo's Jr.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SXSW Recommendations - Thursday

Tonight's must-see show: Friendly Fires

So, a few of you have been kind enough to ask what my recommendations for SX are.  Rather than detail every last band, let me do so by simply mapping out my own schedule along with a few backup choices.  I mean, I could list 10 bands for you but if they all play at the same time, it isn't going to do much good.  Unless you've a Star Trek-style transformer room (or a Segway, those things are badass!), chances are you're going to miss someone you'd like to see.  Oh, the decisions!

Now, I have daytime obligations anyway and slugging it out making RSVP's and standing in lines are so not my thing, so I won't be listing them here.  But you can pick off a lot of your to-see list by hitting them up. My priorities are in bold.  Honestly, tonight's 10p & 1am slots present some of my toughest choices of the week.  Hope to see you there!

The Big Beat's SXSW Recommendations - Thursday

08:20 Surf City (Red 7)
09:00 Las Robertas (Nuvola)
09:00 Jamie Woon (ND)
10:00 Glasser (Central Presbyterian Church)    
10:00 Mt. Kimbie (ND)
10:00 SUUNS (Nuvola)
10:00 OFF! (Club de Ville)
11:00 Friendly Fires (ND)
12:00 My Little Pony (Esther's Follies)
12:00 Edwyn Collins (Nuvola)
12:30 TV On The Radio (Stubb's)
01:00 Thee Oh Sees (Red 7 Patio)
01:00 Peter Murphy (Marchesa)
01:00 James Blake (Central Presbyterian Church)
01:00 Erland & the Carnival (Maggie Mae's)
01:00 Surf City (Easy Tiger Patio)
01:20 Errors (Latitude 30 - aka British Embassy)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

SXSW Report - Tuesday

Ah, it's been a rough few weeks for TBB.  With a new work assignment (gladly) filling most of my time, the blog has taken a bit of a temporary back seat to day to day living.  Never fear, your intrepid new music hound hasn't gone anywhere and, after months of waiting, the music portion of SXSW has finally began, just a few short miles from my front door.  The techies that saturated the Interactive portion of the Festival have, by and large, departed and as of last night, the professionals have arrived.

Jamie Woon played what I believe was his first ever US show last night, kicking off Pitchfork's lineup at Emo's Jr.   He played an abbreviated set - although standard for SXSW purposes - that saw several songs discarded from his printed setlist, jumping straight to closer "Lady Luck" near the half-hour mark.  A decent enough performance in front of a chatty room, especially at the back, Woon definitely has the pipes.  Make no mistakes, the guy can flat out sing.  The opening numbers smoldered with his silky, neo-soul crooning atop the 'microstep' laid down by his ably competent backing band.  A few mic glitches hampered the performance.  Woon definitely has commercial appeal, and I saw him as the type of act who'd do well to reach for an opening slot on the upcoming Sade tour.  He has an adult kind of restrained cool that should play extremely well to that audience.  Don't think his sound or frankly, his major label status, will permit him to chase indie kids for any length of time.  (TBB rating: 6/10)

Weekend was next, outdoors on the larger Emo's stage.  The San Franciscan trio have all of the sound, but perhaps not yet all of the songs.   Singer Shaun Durkan howled into the mic as much as he actually sang during the performance.   Still, the Joy Divisionesque sound throbbed throughout the venue, theirs as authentic a post-punk sound as has been revived in recent years.  Not much in the way of interacting with or involving the audience, the sense being that Weekend is still a work in progress.  The foundation has been laid.  The direction they head will be interesting to hear. (TBB rating: 6/10)    

Finally, I ended the evening with Psychic TV.  A band I first saw a lifetime ago (1988), they were appearing about 18 months after Genesis P-Orridge announced his retirement from performing.  Don't know what caused the change, really.  The (wo)man has been through a lot, primarily the death of his life partner Lady Jaye Breyer in 2007. Nonetheless, the first time I saw them, they led me on a pulsating, psychedelic mindfuck that remains one of the best shows I've ever seen.  Unfortunately, the PTV of then is not quite the PTV of now - an unfair expectation, really - and the shortened SXSW set limitation really never gave the band a chance to fully flesh out their performance.  And, as expected, the music has changed.  Hyper, tribal beats were replaced by songs of love and loss, mournful at times.  The 4-piece PTV band was, it should be noted, absolutely electric: tighter than a set of lugnuts on a '57 Chevy after years in the Texas sun.   The band attracted a variety of, ahem, veteran concertgoers seeking to celebrate the gothic industrial noise of their 80's glory and to them, they didn't disappoint.   (TBB rating: 7.5/10)       


Thursday, March 10, 2011

SXSW...almost here!

I won't even use the phrase 'with all due respect' to compare another music festival - anywhere - to SXSW. Quite simply, none of 'em stack up even a little bit. On the other hand, if you think a 3-day outdoor fest is your idea of heaven, it's my idea of hell. Mind you, my notion of camping is staying in anything less than a 3-star hotel. Outdoors? Tent? Get the fuck out.

SXSW officially kicks off today with the Film & Interactive portions leading the charge. The Film Fest has blossomed nicely in the past few years, and the Interactive has literally exploded beyond anyone's imagination. Last year, registrations for Interactive exceeded that of Music. There are countless reasons for this. One, while plenty are both, it's a pretty surefire argument that the tech nerd is the new music nerd. Second, the endless supply of free dayparties, a rare occurrence just a few years ago, guarantees tens of thousands will flock to Austin without any need or desire to purchase an official badge. In a way, the Festival only has themselves to blame. The cost of obtaining 'official' access (i.e. a Music Festival badge) will run a walk-up attendee a cool 750 bucks. Meanwhile, countless sponsors with promotional money to burn underwrite unofficial afternoon events with cherry picked, and arguably stronger, band lineups for no cost at all.  Why spend the money if you don't have to?   Indie rock spring break indeed.

But above all, SXSW is a happening. There's the overriding sense that something is going on, and it's only going on here. A private Foo Fighters show? Check. Old skoolers Duran Duran, OMD, and Edwyn Collins? Got that too. Every shit hot buzz band from both sides of the Atlantic? For the most part, yeah. And a persisting Kanye West rumour? Wouldn't be the first time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Big Beat 'cast 11

It's a full-on New Tunes Tuesday this week. I've front loaded the 'cast with the heavy hitters (Radiohead, Lykke Li, TV On The Radio), but the real goodies are the lesser known, emerging artists later on like Milagres, BNLX, Jamie Woon, Hella Better Dancer, Fixers, and Summer Camp. Press play to get at it now or download it and get at it whenever. Feel free to leave a comment and as always, tell a buddy and bring a friend.

LYKKE LI "Youth Knows No Pain" (Atlantic), from Wounded Rhymes - Starting with the tribal thumping of "Get Some" and the dark, driving synths of follow up single "I Follow Rivers", the Swedish singer bolsters her resume with a solid second effort. Reuniting with Youth Novels producer Bjorn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn and John), this song opens the CD, which is packed with beat-heavy pop and lush, sometimes somber, ballads. (TBB coverage)

[STREAM] Youth Knows No Pain by LykkeLi

TV ON THE RADIO "Will Do" (Interscope), from Nine Types Of Light - The first song from their forthcoming Nine Types Of Light is a slow burning jam that reminds me of "Love Dog" from Dear Science. These guys have never disappointed me, so I'm really looking forward to the April 12th release. (TBB coverage)

[DOWNLOAD] KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS "Hauntin' Me" (Transparent), single - The newly released single from the little known yet fast rising Greek duo. My favorite new song of the moment. (TBB coverage)

RADIOHEAD "Morning Mr. Magpie" (self-released), from The King Of Limbs - The reviews are in and, for the most part, give Radiohead a passing grade for The King Of Limbs. If anything, it should signal any fans hoping for a return to Bends-like anthems, of which In Rainbows had more than any record since OK Computer, that glitchy, experimental electronica is more where their collective heads are at. Tour? King Of Limbs Part II? Stay tuned.