Frank YangWhat day was this? Friday? Only? If one thing was becoming clear to me as my eighth SXSW ploughed forwards, it was that I was not as young as I once was and the physical grind of the festival was taking more of a toll than it had in years past – even with the previous night’s itinerary consisting only of sitting in a padded chair for four hours, standing in line for 90 minutes and then sitting cross-legged in a church for a bit. Hardly a triathlon.
Even so, I was glad that my day’s programme was relatively easy, both from a running around town point of view and writing the bands up that I was planning to see – after all, I was quite familiar with them all. Particularly Shearwater, whom I’d seen back in Toronto less than a month ago – maybe it was unnecessary to see them again so soon, but their Animal Joy remains one of my favourite releases of the year and seeing them in their hometown has become something of a SXSW tradition – this would the fifth year I’d done so. They were up early for a radio session in the Austin Convention Center – maybe not the most rocking venue on paper, but a room with great light, sound and sightlines and to hear Jonathan Meiburg tell it, a far better venue than the show they’d played late the previous night; a show where glow sticks abounded, their lead-in act was a rapper and which he described as the wrongest show of his life as a musician. Ah, SouthBy. Their set was compact, comprising just “The Snow Leopard” leading into side A of Animal Joy, and while not the fieriest performance one could have imagined it was still plenty elegant and satisfying.
An hour or so later, which I spent exploring the exhibition portion of the conference, the same room played host to Anglo-Swedish combo Fanfarlo. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’d completely forgotten that I’d originally discovered the band at SXSW 2009 – hell, at the time I was calling them one of the highlights of the fest. Sigh. Anyways, this time they weren’t the unknown band from overseas winning over the unsuspecting, but the established act who’d achieved a goodly amount of success with their debut Reservoir and had just released the follow-up, Rooms Filled With Light. It couldn’t have been an easy record to make, with the band surely aware that repeating the moves that made Reservoir such a joy would also basically doom them to be regarded as Arcade Fire-alikes forevermore, but turning their back on those strengths would potentially cost them their hard-earned fanbase.
So the band can and should be proud that with Rooms, they’ve managed to strike just about the right balance between the two and establish a sound that’s marginally less immediate but arguably as rewarding but more importantly, more definitively their own. Live, they shed some of the gloss of the new record – it’s sonically shiny, but not excessively so – and reined in the old material a bit so as to stand more uniformly in line, though they could still pull out the dramatics and exuberance when they needed that extra bit of punctuation. It’s funny; though I loved Reservoir when it was new, it didn’t have the shelf life I would have liked. Though Rooms took a while for me to warm to, I suspect I’ll be listening to it longer. Fanfarlo bring their new record to town for a show at The Mod Club on Saturday, March 24.
It was then time to hoof it from the Convention Center auditorium to Stubb’s outdoor amphitheatre where Spin was hosting their always-anticipated day show, just in time to see another London-based act who’d just followed up a successful 2009 debut, The Big Pink. In their case, it was A Brief History Of Love that had to be matched and unfortunately, Future This has not been up to the task. Granted, History was no monument in the annals of songwriting, but it had a big, electro-shoegaze sound that was immediately appealing and some mammoth hooks in the singles – more than enough to make a good impression. Future This tweaks the formula some, but doesn’t hit the sweet spot and it simultaneously feels more bombastic yet slighter in substance. It’s not a fatal miscalculation, but a disappointing one all the same.
Luckily for them, those shortcomings matter far less in a big festival setting, where bombast is your friend, than they do through the headphones. Unluckily for them, their set was in the middle of the afternoon where the light show and smoke machines that defined the aesthetic of the History tours were non-starters, leaving them fully exposed as a four-piece that’s really a two-piece, with Milo Cordell and Zan Lyons manning their laptops and leaving the actual performing to guitarist/vocalist Robbie Furze and drummer Victoria Smith. Furze gave it his best to be an engaging frontman but came across as enthusiastically awkward, particularly when he set down the guitar and busted out some dance moves. None of which mattered, of course, when they busted out “Dominos” – it must be nice to have a song in your back pocket that’s an instant party.
The appeal of Best Coast has always perplexed me some. I mean, I get why people like them; Bethany Cosentino writes some pleasant pop tunes, but there’s not a whole lot to them. But maybe it’s that simplicity that draws people in? I don’t know. All I know is that upon the announcement recently that it existed and would be out May 15, their second album The Only Place became one of the more anticipated records of 2012. And while the fact that it was produced by Jon Brion gives some hope that if nothing else, it will be more sonically interesting than Crazy For You, that growth wasn’t necessarily on display during their set.
Though they were now operating as a four-piece – they were but three when I saw them at Pitchfork 2010 – their sound wasn’t especially different, nor did the new material come across much differently from the old. From the stage banter, Cosentino seemed equally chipper and punchy, perhaps trying to get a rise out of the crowd who were enthused but also a bit lethargic; maybe it was the heat.
No, not a busy Friday day, but I would make up for it in the evening.
The new Spiritualized video comes with the requisite “NSFW” warning, but at least it’s for violence and overall grimness rather than just flashing a pair of ta-tas. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is out April 17 and they’re at The Phoenix on May 5.
Video: Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”
The Modfather Paul Weller is playing just three North American shows in support of his new album Sonik Kicks, and the only one not in New York is May 21 at The Sound Academy – tickets are $59.50 for general admission and $79.50 for VIP balcony.
MP3: Paul Weller – “Around The Lake”
Video: Paul Weller – “Green”
Video: Paul Weller – “That Dangerous Age”
The Cribs have rolled out a new video from The Brazen Bull, out May 8. They’ll preview it at Lee’s Palace on April 11.
Video: The Cribs – “Come On, Be A No-One”
Paste welcomes Wild Beasts for a video session.
Pretty heady days for Teenage Fanclub fans – first Norman Blake put out the Jonny collaboration with Euros Childs last year, next Gerard Love’s Lightships releases its debut Electric Cable on April 17 and now comes word that Ray McGinley, along with Fannies collaborator Dave McGowan, has a new project called Snowgoose that will release its debut album Harmony Springs on vinyl come April 21 for Record Store Day and with other formats to follow in May. Note that McGinley is not the vocalist in this project, but he can’t help but add some magic to it nonetheless.
Video: Snowgoose – “Sycamore”
Drowned In Sound gets a track-by-track walkthrough of Blood Red Shoes’ new album In Time To Voices, out next week in the UK. They also recently rolled out a video from the release.
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “Cold”
If you had to pick a band to play a concert at the Large Hadron Collider, who would it be? British Sea Power, of course. The Quietus talks to the band about the soundtrack they’re writing for the 1999 film Out Of The Present and which they’ll be performing at the CERN labs in Switzerland.