Frank YangOstensibly, SXSW is a festival meant to expose new music to the world and vice versa, so the fact that I’d spent the past evening and afternoon seeing established artists – I think Springsteen counts as established – rather than seeking out something new wasn’t lost on me. So the festival’s Friday night was devoted wholly to discovery. Onwards!
Los Angeles’ Tashaki Miyaki are working the “mysterious” angle, declining to offer information about their identities – she sings and drums and goes by Lucy, he plays guitar and is called Rocky and at Latitude 30 they were joined by an unnamed bassist/vocalist – and letting the music speak for them. I’d briefed myself with their debut EP on the way down to Austin and was led to expect some lo-fi, fuzzy garage pop but live, they were much cleaner and more precise with the vocals more up front, the harmonies intricate and the guitars reminiscent of Neil Young at his Crazy Horsiest. Their debts to The Velvet Underground are obvious – “If Not For You” is basically “Sweet Jane” – but they spend it in a boutique dealing in ’90s shoegaze. Despite looking, um, great, they weren’t the most charismatic outfit and are operate in a pretty clearly defined niche – it just happens to be my niche.
The longer you go to SXSW, the more venues show up on your no-go list; some rooms are just terrible for seeing a show. Of course, that the rooms seem to change names every year or so makes it difficult to maintain said list – it has happened that I’ve gone to what I thought was a new room and discovered it was an old hated room, Vice/Exodus I’m looking in your direction – but rarer is finding the same name in a different location. So it was that I gave Karma Lounge another shot, seeing as how it was no longer a gross upper level on 8th St but a new (?) street-level bar on 5th. So of course when I got there, everyone was dancing to Ginuwine. Maybe ironically. I don’t know. The point of this story is also unclear to me. But I was there, I was a bit confused and I was waiting for New York’s Fort Lean, whom I’d not heard but had heard good things about. And once they got underway, they were fine but not especially inspiring. The musicianship was impressive and there was clearly lots of ideas and creativity at work, with a base of old school rock’n'roll and jazzy/r&b flourishes to the vocals, but the songs seemed to lack passion. It’s not something that I’d say was specific to Fort Lean but is rather endemic in American indie rock nowadays. Wonder what things are like in, oh, Norway?
Well if Razika, playing the Iron Bear not far from where the original Karma Lounge was, were any indication, ska-pop is much more in vogue in Bergen – at least amongst the early-20′s girl-band set. Okay, probably not a good sample group but still a fun time. They were playing their seventh and final show in three days and despite being justifiably and visibly tired, they mustered up the energy for a strong finish. They played simple, bouncy pop tunes – clean and strummy without a distortion pedal in sight – and though the Norwegian half of their bilingual set was incomprehensible to me, the singalong qualities were pretty clear – you don’t need Google Translate for “whoa whoa whoa”. Basic but plenty likeable, even beyond the foreign novelty factor.
Here’s a thing about SXSW – where else can you see two young Norwegian bands, back to back, in different venues? Besides in Norway, that is. Post-Razika, I hoofed it back to the chaos of 6th St to see Oslo’s Team Me, whose debut To The Treetops! had gotten a worldwide release at the end of February. The musical gang of exuberant youths angle isn’t any new thing – every country seems to have at least a few – but if you were to put Team Me into a Hunger Games/Battle Royale scenario against, say, Los Campesinos!, I would give the edge to the Norwegians and not just because they come from Viking stock. Like their peers, they specialized in amped up twee-pop that made it feel like a drag to be old, but they managed to keep things on the right side of the enthusiastic/annoying line throughout the course of their set. I’d only heard their EP before arriving in Austin so I was pleased to hear by way of the unfamiliar material that they’d already matured in the songwriting department from those tunes. It’s to their credit that the irresistible fun of their performance was able to get me to shelve my, “I’ve seen/heard this before” reservations and just enjoy it.
Minnesota’s Howler came into the festival with a pretty good head of hype behind them – mostly thanks to the enthusiasm of the UK music press – and were perhaps even ready for the backlash stage of the media cycle; I get the sense that some would have been perfectly happy for them to fall flat during SXSW so they could play the “overrated” card. That backlash may yet happen, but it wouldn’t be because of their official showcase back at Latitude 30. They looked a combination of stylishly tousled and lazily disheveled but didn’t come with any sort of pretense – the Strokes comparisons they’re frequently saddled with certainly didn’t extend that far. Instead, they were exactly what they purported to be – five young men with a sharp if occasionally sophomoric sense of humour and a propensity for writing and playing good rock music and having a blast doing it. They blew through their 30-minute set with gusto and no small amount of anarchy – more than you might expect from their debut America Give Up and largely thanks to the axe flailing – meant in the best way – of lead guitarist Ian Nygaard. Despite liking the record, I counted myself somewhat skeptical heading into the show – consider me convinced. Howler play The Drake Underground on April 5.
The venue went from Brit-beloved to Brit-bred for the final act of the night, 2:54. Led by a pair of sisters, the four-piece has been framed as a dreampop/shoegazey kind of band but really, they’re more aggressively seductive than dreamy, with dark, goth-y tones. Lead guitarist Hannah Thurlow might prefer to examine her shoes than put on a show, but guitarist-vocalist Colette Thurlow has no problem making eye contact and holding it, all with a bit of a snarl; certainly more Siouxsie than Slowdive. I could do with a little more melody and less moodiness in their sound, but with the band having just signed with Fat Possum for the North American release of their self-titled debut on May 28, I’ll probably be hearing more of them either way.
See? All new bands on Friday night. Get off my case.
Elsewhere: Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard have reconvened as Dead Can Dance and are targeting a Summer release for a new record. So confident are they that this will be the case, that they’ve booked a North American tour – their first in some seven years – for late Summer that includes an August 23 date at the Sony Centre in Toronto, with tickets at the $49.50, $67.50, and $99.50 price points.
Video: Dead Can Dance – “The Carnival Is Over”
Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine tells NME that there may some sort of collaboration with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange in the works. Blood Orange is opening up some of her dates this Summer, though not August 2 at The Molson Amphitheatre.
eMusic and The AV Club chat with David Gedge of The Wedding Present. They’re at The Horseshoe on Sunday night, March 25.
So those My Bloody Valentine remasters/reissues that have been promised since the band reunited four years ago but have been constantly pushed back? Well DIY reports that they’re finally really truly going to come out on May 7, and in addition to the double-disc sets of Loveless and Isn’t Anything, there’ll be a third release entitled EP’s 1988-1991 which, as the name cryptically implies, collects the EPs and singles of the era as well as some unreleased material. I guess we may as well believe it will happen because it doesn’t really make a difference if we don’t.
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Soon”
Whilst we’re back in the UK of the ’90s, let’s meet up with PopMatters who’ve a piece on the greatness of Swervedriver and another one that celebrates the 20th anniversaries this month of The Charlatans’ Between 10th and 11th and Ride’s Going Blank Again. Twenty. Yes. Old. You. Me. All.
Taking the noise-pop and eading back to Norway, Drowned In Sound talks to The Megaphonic Thrift, who’ve just released their second self-titled album last week.
Stream: The Megaphonic Thrift – “Raising Flags”
Video: The Megaphonic Thrift – “Moonstruck”
The Village Voice and The New York Daily News profile First Aid Kit, in town at The Great Hall on April 4.
eMusic talks to the founders of the great Swedish label Labrador. Who’d have guessed that a desire to not sign Stars would lead to their “Swedes only!” roster policy!