March 31, 2006

I yell, you yell, we all yell for PANTS YELL!

My indie-pop heart has fallen hard and fast for the cuties in Pants Yell!. Their music is cute and cuddly indie-pop that has a bit of a folky edge to it, but it's not really folky. If anything, they remind me of very early Aztec Camera and, occasionally, they kinda-sorta-but-not-really recall Belle and Sebastian. Their new record is called Recent Drama and it comes out next week via Asaurus and Paper Cities. Our good ol' pal Eric Wolf gushed over their previous album, Songs For Siblings, and I'm just now catching up, because this, their third album, is simply magnificent. The songs are all about love and falling out of love and being in love and all sorts of various love-related themes, and songs like "Our Weather" and "You Want Trouble" are gentle but not too weak; strong but not too macho. Come to think of it, these song titles all sound tough, talking about how they rule and how you don't rule and how you can't mess with them, but the songs really aren't. You can't help but relate to lead singer Andrew Churchman; he's indie-pop's everyman, if ever there was one. Better yet, Pants Yell! never tries to overextend itself musically or overstay their welcome; listening to these eleven songs will take only twenty-six minutes of your time, but they'll take more, because you'll definitely be hitting repeat, especially on "It's Been Done," my favorite song on the new record.. A great band that deserves not to be so damn obscure, and if Voxtrot can make it big, then there's plenty room for Pants Yell!.

Listen To: "It's Been Done"



Yesterday, I bought a ticket to see Dinosaur Jr. play live this evening in Houston. It was a $22 ticket, but Ticketmaster tacked an $8 "convenience fee" AND a $5 "order processing free" onto it. I ended up paying $35, the second most expensive ticket I've ever bought for a single show.


All I know is that Dinosaur Jr. had better SLAY tonight. J. Mascis had better solo like his fingers are on fire. I'd better feel Lou Barlow's bass in my chest. Murph had better beat on his drums like O.J. beat Nicole! If the show doesn't meet these three requirements, somebody's gettin' SHANKED.

What is the most you've ever paid for a single show? Was it worth it? Feel free to hit up the comments section with your thoughts.

March 29, 2006

SXSW Report #31: Pattern Is Movement @ Lava Lounge

After Oxbow’s set, I walked to the Lava Lounge to see Philadelphia quartet Pattern Is Movement. This band spent even more time sound-checking than Luminous Orange did on Wednesday. Bassist Andrew Thiboldeaux made the rest of the band play the first 30 seconds of at least three different songs, and asked the audience which instruments needed to be lower or higher in the mix. I wanted to shout at them to start the set already, but once they actually did, I realized why Andrew was being so picky.

Put simply, Pattern Is Movement might have the most fitting band name in rock history. All of their songs felt like experiments in syncopation; they depend entirely on the odd juxtapositions that occur when each instrument plays in a different meter simultaneously. You can’t dance to their music, and if it wasn’t for Andrew’s soothing tenor (the only link that their music has to conventional rock), you wouldn’t be able to sing along to it either! The musicians needed to hear each other; one missed cue could’ve thrown Pattern Is Movement down a cliff into the lowest depths of suckdom. That missed cue never came, though.

Joseph sarcastically refers to bands that sound like Pattern Is Movement as “rehearsal rock.” In this band’s case, though, the designation is a compliment: it takes a LOT of rehearsal to sound as precise as they do, especially when your songs are intent on placing square pegs in round holes.

SXSW Report #30: Oxbow @ Emo's Inside Stage

After This Moment in Black History, I drove back downtown to see Oxbow at the inside stage of Emo’s. This band takes the abrasive, jazz-trained squall of the Jesus Lizard and pushes it to new levels of intensity. I warned the two ladies with me not to get too close to the front, and (fortunately) they listened to me. As their set progressed, vocalist Eugene Robinson took off his pants and unbuttoned his shirt. He mumbled and hollered like a demon-possessed man, occasionally shifting into a pitch-perfect falsetto that sounded even weirder. Before long, Eugene’s hand was all the way down his underwear, and it looked like he was masturbating to the music. As scary as his performance was, it wasn’t entirely humorless. After a particularly vicious song, Eugene told the audience: “I tracked the man this song is about down. When I found him, I discovered that he was in prison for triple murder. I decided to let bygones be bygones.”

SXSW Report #29: This Moment in Black History @ Gene's Deli

I began Friday evening by driving to Gene’s Deli to see Cleveland quartet This Moment in Black History. I knew we were in for an interesting set when I saw singer Christopher decorating his keyboard with raw shrimp (not even kidding). As soon as the first song began, he jumped off the stage and started running into random audience members. Chris’ voice switched from a gruff bark to a full-throated wail a la Cedric Bixler. When he actually stayed on stage for more than 30 seconds at a time, he’d flat-hand his keyboard to produce piercing sound effects. Guitarist Buddy’s playing was a fuzzy mess of power chords and quick leads. It was up to bassist Lawrence and drummer Lamont to hold the music together, and they did a superb job. The band’s MySpace profile lists them under the genres “Punk,” “Hardcore” and “Comedy,” and for good reason! The stage banter often lasted longer than the actual songs, and most of it consisted of the band members getting into silly arguments with the audience AND each other. “Don’t worry about the audience,” Chris said; “We can be like Bikini Kill and talk out our problems on stage!” Halfway through the set, an audience member let Chris take a sip of his can of Sparks. “Thanks,” Lawrence sneered; “You just f*cked up my evening by doing that.” I loved the band’s energy and goofiness. On the other hand, a friend of mine who was with me said that Chris reminded him of someone he hated in high school. He might need to get some counseling for that.

SXSW Report #28: Robert Pollard @ Pok-E-Jo's

As soon as Torche’s set ended, I drove back downtown to catch Robert Pollard, one of my biggest living musical heroes, play on the outdoor stage of the unfortunately named BBQ place Pok-E-Jo’s. His new solo album From a Compound Eye signals an artistic rebirth --- now that the albatross of his previous band Guided by Voices is off his back, he is free to experiment with his music and put more vulnerability into his writing. I had read reports on the GBV e-mail list Postal Blowfish about the shows he’s been playing with his new band, and all of them said that they’ve been tighter and less boozy than the average GBV show.

After a brief and hilarious stand-up routine from Patton Oswalt about Cirque du Soleil (“It’s what a gay Frenchman sees in his head when he’s tired and horny”), Pollard and his new band walked on stage and got down to business. “We don’t have much time to f*ck around,” Pollard said to the audience. They played 13 songs from Compound Eye, two songs from his upcoming follow-up Normal Happiness, and one song from his Circus Devils side project in under an hour. When one song ended, Pollard would introduce the next one, take a swig of beer and shut up. His laconic stage presence actually reminded me of the first GBV show I ever saw (in New York City 12 years ago), back when he was too shy to say much to the audience.

The Blowfish were right: Pollard’s new band is, from a technical standpoint, the best that he’s ever played with. Lead guitarist Tommy Keene may not have Doug Gillard’s chops, but the songs on Compound Eye don’t require them. Keene’s a better backing vocalist, and when he switched from guitar to keyboard, he added a lightness to Pollard’s songs that never came across at GBV shows. Jon Wurster’s drumming was rarely flashy, but he kept the tempo going with a steadiness that GBV’s last few drummers failed to. Guitarist Dave Phillips and bassist Jon Narducy resembled Nate Farley and Tim Tobias, both in looks and in stage presence. Unlike Nate and Tim, though, I never had to worry about Dave and Jon forgetting the chords to any of the songs. Pollard was the only one who drank onstage, and even then he didn’t get carried away. As with every GBV show I've attended in Texas, he addressed me on a first-name basis, gave me the microphone to introduce songs, and even let me take swigs from his bottle of tequila.

All tolled, the band’s performance was so great that no one in the audience seemed to care that they didn’t play a single proper GBV song. You already know I was rocking out to it; watch their rendition of “The Right Thing” on YouTube for proof!

SXSW Report #27: Torche @ Sound on Sound

Part Chimp was upstaged rather quickly by Torche, the Floridian quartet that immediately succeeded them. Their guitarists used Marshall and Orange amps that were taller than everyone in attendance, and tuned their guitars so low that the bassist’s mere presence seemed excessive. I couldn’t hear him that well anyway, even though he played through a fuzz pedal. I also couldn’t hear the vocals; it was as if a prankster had disconnected the microphones from the PA right before the band walked on stage. The only thing I could focus on was the riffs…and they were MIGHTY. The guitarists didn’t even bother to solo --- they just let their riffs collide against each other like reckless bumper cars. There was one song during which they employed a technique called “the bomb string,” which is exactly what its name implies: a broken, floppy string that, when run through enough distortion, can sound like a bomb detonating. Torche were the loudest and heaviest band I saw at this year’s SXSW, hands down. Florida, for some strange reason, churns out metal bands like a factory; I’m far from a metal expert, but I’m willing to bet that Torche is among the cream of the crop.

SXSW Report #26: Part Chimp @ Sound on Sound

On Friday afternoon I went to the Chunklet/Buddyhead/Monitor party at Sound on Sound to see Part Chimp, who is often referred to as England’s loudest band. Their recent release I Am Come was the most potent blast of nihilistic fun I’ve heard from that country since Mclusky’s final album; whereas Mclusky took most of their cues from the Pixies, though, Part Chimp are a much sludgier affair. The vocals on I Am Come are buried, whereas the detuned guitars and shotgun drums are mixed to speaker-shredding levels. Volume takes precedence over melody and hooks (although their songs have lots of both), and their live show was no different. Before the end of their first song, I felt like my brain had turned into cotton candy between my ears. Singer/guitarist Tim broke a string every other song, but he didn’t let it hinder his (or the band’s) momentum. Most of Part Chimp’s songs are in the same key, so they all ended up blending into one mammoth riff, which got slightly altered every four or five minutes. After a while, I stopped paying attention and just let the waves of fuzz overtake me.

Southern Arts Society "Southern Arts Society"

I've spent most of this dull and grey Wednesday afternoon listening to the excellent self-titled debut of Spain's Southern Arts Society. A big part of the reason why I'm in love with this record is because it reminds me a lot of Piano Magic. There's a reason for that, though; not only does the group share a label with Piano Magic, but Glen Johnson, the mastermind of Piano Magic, appears on here. Oh, and so does occasional PM collaborator Angèle David Guillou. Even though they appear only on two tracks, the influence is definitely there. Mastermind Andrew Jarman has the power to capture a depressing mood, and all throughout his debut album, he does so quite deftly. Haunting atmospheres and melancholy melodies gently encasing thought provoking lyrics sung by depressed boys and sultry girls, mixed with lightly pulsating electronics and ever-so-subtle beats? How could I resist?!

Listen to: "Heart Shaped Shrine"
Listen to: "Turbulent Heart"

March 28, 2006

Free Diamonds to Tour USA!

Forget all those other boring yet puzzlingly popular quirky British pop bands...Free Diamonds is the real deal! This band won us over on our very first listen, and we think you'll love them, too. And they're coming to (part of) the USA in a few days! If you're one of the lucky bastards in the touring schedule, GO SEE THIS BAND ASAP! They just released their excellent debut album, There Should Be More Dancing a few weeks ago via Deep Elm. We'll be talking this band up for a while....

Listen To: "Blind Boys"

Tour Dates

APR 07 - Fond du Lac, WI @ Arbuckle's
APR 08 - Dekalb, IL @ House Show
APR 09 - St Louis, MO @ Lemp Community Arts Center
APR 10 - Spartanburg, SC @ Ground Zero
APR 11 - Charleston, SC @ Cumberlands
APR 12 - Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern
APR 13 - Chapel Hill, NC @ The Nightlight
APR 14 - Charlotte, NC @ The Milestone
APR 15 - Charlotte, NC @ Lunchbox Records (in store!)
APR 15 - Wilmington, NC @ Soapbox Laundro Lounge
APR 17 - Washington, DC @ The Velvet Lounge
APR 18 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Be Happy House
APR 19 - Brooklyn, NY @ Trash Bar
APR 20 - New York, NY @ Lit Lounge
APR 21 - Brooklyn, NY @ Northsix Basement
APR 22 - Jamestown, NY @ Mojo's
APR 23 - Chicago, IL @ No Exit

March 27, 2006

SXSW Report #25: Volcano @ Ruta Maya

After the Bats’ set, I drove even further into South Austin to see Chicago trio Volcano play at Ruta Maya. If there was one band that I and my friends were all hell-bent on seeing, it was this one...and for good reason! Their debut album Beautiful Seizure was released in November; a mere two weeks after buying it, only the Weird Weeds' Hold Me could keep it from being my Album of the Year. Beautiful Seizure couldn’t be more aptly named --- it basically sounds like Thom Yorke at his most spastic fronting Deerhoof at their most aggressive.

Volcano’s live show was exactly what I expected from them. As soon as drummer Sam Scranton counted in “Easy Does It,” it was on like Donkey Kong in my life. My friends couldn’t believe that there were only three people on stage making that big of a noise. Scranton crammed tumbling fills everywhere, stretching the meter of the songs like rubber bands. He augmented his kit with an assortment of bells, blocks and bowls until it serves as both timekeeper and sound effect generator. Aaron With stood at the back of the stage, cooing and wailing and thrashing at his guitar like his plectrum was caught in between the strings. Bassist Mark Cartwright stood behind two tables’ worth of laptops, mixers and gadgets. When he wasn’t playing bass, he created sheets of white noise that ricocheted around the venue’s large PA system until it felt like we were being engulfed by ocean waves.

Volcano played five songs from Beautiful Seizure, as well as an excellent new song. They sounded great, but it didn’t surprise me that half of the audience left before the first song ended. I, on the other hand, kept eating the free tacos and enjoying the music.

SXSW Report #24: The Bats @ End of an Ear

After the Weird Weeds' set, I braved the crippling traffic and drove down to South Austin to see the Bats play at the End of an Ear record store. It’s not often that a New Zealand band gets to tour on these shores; the fact that said NZ band is also one of the biggest institutions in that country’s independent music scene made seeing them a priority for me. The Bats are one of those bands that write the same four or five songs over and over again, but their fans don’t mind because they’re all good ones!

Chief songwriter Robert Scott kept his sunglasses and baseball cap on throughout their set, as if he didn’t plan on staying at the store long enough to take any of it off. He strummed three or four chords on his guitar and sang in a voice that was as plain and plaintive as his lyrics (“It doesn’t look good/and I’m feeling like a block of wood”). Drummer Malcolm Grant played steady yet understated rhythms; Kaye Woodward added simple lead guitar parts and sporadic harmonies. I think that bassist Paul Kean was the busiest musician of the four, which isn’t saying much. When it comes to the Bats, what you see is what you get: four nice people playing unpretentious pop songs. I liked what I saw enough to buy a copy of their compilation Thousands of Tiny Luminous Spheres from them after the set.

SXSW Report #23: The Weird Weeds @ the Spiderhouse Cafe

Running on a mere four hours of sleep, I began Friday afternoon by trekking to the Spiderhouse Café to watch the Weird Weeds kick off the I Eat Records party. If you don’t already know how dear this Austin trio is to Joseph and I, you really don't read this site. This was the 11th time I've seen them play live, and they played one of their better sets. Guitarist Aaron Russell even gave me an opportunity to make whatever changes I wanted to their set list, but I chose not to because they played every song that I wanted to hear at that point. They played my three favorites songs from last year’s Hold Me (“Paratrooper Seed,” “$50,” “Holy Train Wrecks”), two songs from their recent EP This Is Not What You Want and a smattering of songs that will appear on Weird Feelings, the album they’re due to release in August. Aside from a couple of flubbed words at the end of the countrified “Broken Arm,” their set was perfect. They looked like they could get swallowed up by the huge stone columns and disorganized plant life that surrounded the outdoor stage. It was the perfect setting for their tense, pastoral music.

SXSW Report #22: Nomo @ Habana Calle 6

After His Name Is Alive's set, three-fifths of the band remained on stage to play with the subsequent act, Nomo. Nomo is a nine-piece instrumental ensemble (a four-piece horn section, a guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and two percussionists) that plays Afrobeat-inspired grooves in the same vein as Antibalas. The set began with one of the members playing two syncopated melodies on an amplified thumb piano. One by one, the other band members walked in and added their respective instruments to the mix. Within five minutes, their showcase became the closest thing that SXSW would come on Thursday evening to a bonafide dance party. Even the songs they played without an actual drummer were so propulsive that I couldn’t help but move along to them. The bassist bore a striking resemblance to Lil’ Jon, and he knew it; he punctured the silence between songs with shouts of “YEAH!” and “WHAT!” It’s such a shame that they were only given an hour to play because I could’ve listened to any of their songs for hours at a time. They seemed to feel the same way; after they were told to get off stage, the horn section formed a conga line in the audience and played without microphones for 10 more minutes.

SXSW Report #21: His Name Is Alive @ Habana Calle 6

After Xiu Xiu's set on Thursday evening, I went to Habana Calle 6 to see His Name Is Alive’s showcase. They’re not a proper band as much as they are a loose collective of musicians headed by writer/producer Warren Defever. Thus, they don’t play live often, which made this showcase a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.

I’ve been keeping up with them since they released their fourth 4AD album Stars on ESP 10 years ago. That album abruptly shifted from synth-pop to gospel to Beach Boys imitations to noisy dub. Almost everything they’ve done since has been characterized by such stylistic inconsistency. After two surprisingly streamlined albums that paid tribute to classic R&B to mixed results, their latest release Detrola found Defever diving back into the sonic gumbo of his ‘90s work. Obviously, I didn’t know WHAT to expect from their live show.

They began with a free jazz instrumental, during which Warren handed percussion instruments out to random members of the audience. They followed that with the Prince-ly electro-funk workout “Seven Minutes,” during which Warren obscured the pretty singing of his female vocalist by unleashing blasts of grinding distortion from his guitar. They ended their set with “I Can’t Live at Home in This World Anymore,” the gospel tune that reappears in various forms on Stars on ESP. The only unifying thread in HNIA’s performance was Warren’s total refusal to take himself seriously. He introduced the jaunty piano-based song “Get Your Curse” as “a song about how I wanted to kill myself after my mother died,” and went on a hilarious rant about how Detroit is a more dangerous city than Austin.

In short, HNIA were just as unpredictable live as they are on record. I was very pleased!

Airport Cathedral "Jetlag"

I have a suspicion--and it's only a suspicion, based upon absolutely nothing but instinct--that Airport Cathedral mastermind Andy Fitts is well aware of his limited singing abilities, and he doesn't let that stand in his way. That's not an insult; many very talented musicians (such as Neil Tennant, Nick Cave, and Stephin Merritt) do not possess a wide vocal range. Considering that the vocals on Airport Cathedral's debut Jetlag--out now on Burning Building Recordings--never ventures into anything beyond a dark, slightly countrified groan, it's easy to come to the conclusion that Fits is well aware of his own capabilities. It is better for a singer to stay within their abilities, than to experiment and fall flat.

To put it in perspective...I have a box of really terrible CD's that should never have been released and will never be reviewed, and two out of three of these records are in this box for one reason: the signing. Singing ability is important, people! The line between cool and crap is very thin, and so many of these records might be passable if only someone had told the singer that they were simply doing things that nature didn't intend; if you can't sing in tune as a tenor, do you honestly think you're going to be a better singer if you sing as an alto, or, God forbid, in falsetto? I THINK NOT.

But back to the record at hand. So we've got a guy who doesn't have much of a vocal range, and considering how restrained his singing sounds, it's easy to assume that he knows he doesn't have much of a range. What, then, would be the correct answer to the "what should they do" question? It's simple: focus on songwriting and composition. It is within this element that Airport Cathedral succeeds. The first song, "Cure-Alls," hooks you in with a deep yet powerful opening tag, and Fitts' voice--a smokey, melancholy croon not unlike scene neighbor David Bazan--rests comfortably within the confines of the song's melody. The next song, "Dagger," is even stronger; this song bears--nay, demands--repeated listens, because each listen seemingly sheds light on something new. Understated piano and understated guitars might be understated by themselves, but when mixed with Fitts' understated singing, the combination makes for a haunting, brooding song that would have/should have overcaffeinated labelfolk screaming "THIS IS THE DAMN SINGLE" to hapless and helpless college radio programmers and/or any person unfortunate enough to cross their path.

Listen to: "Daggers"

"TKO" continues this one-two punch, placing Fitts and company in line with the apt comparisons to luminaries as Pedro the Lion, Jets to Brazil, and Damien Jurado. Originality is overrated; it's what you can do within the confines of a song that makes you special. The key difference, though, is that it's better to sound "inspired by" a band than it is to sound "just like" a band. Fitts and company might find inspiration in a well-developed style and sound, but it's to their credit that they've steered clear of being simply more than a new addition to a long line of imitators. It doesn't hurt that Airport Cathedral has some talented friends, as he's had help from Rosie Thomas, as well as members of such great bands as The Prom and Crystal Skulls, but the heights that are found on the first half of Jetlag are indebted to nobody but Airport Cathedral.

Every high comes with a low, though, and after the steller-but-not-as-magical "The Tease," Jetlag starts to lag, and it feels as if Airport Cathedral is merely running in place, neither breaking any new ground nor living up to the challenge and the promise of the first few songs. Know what, though? That's perfectly okay. My advice to Fitts is simple: keep it up. This is a promising debut, and considering Fitts knows his weaknesses, and if he's found his voice--and I suspect he has--the only thing left to do is modify it, play around with it, and make it better. The hard stuff's out of the way. Listeners, enjoy this now, but let's give Fitts a little bit of space so that his music can grow even further.

ps. if i were your label, i'd lose the cute description of your group as a 'bar band.' that's just tacky, and it sells you short.

March 26, 2006

SXSW Report #20: Xiu Xiu @ Emo's Annex

I stuck around after Erase Errata’s set to see Xiu Xiu play. They’re one of those bands whom I love dearly, but don’t talk about often. Their debut Knife Play is one of my favorite records from the last decade. As much as I liked their subsequent releases, Xiu Xiu didn’t live up to that’s album promise until they released last year’s masterpiece La Foret.

I was curious to see Xiu Xiu’s performance because I knew that they’ve had a bad history with Texas in general. The first time they played Houston, one of the members got punched in the face by someone in the audience. The last time they played at Emo’s, they opened a mismatched bill with Okkervil River and Azure Ray. Half of the crowd loved them; the other half threw lit cigarettes at them. This evening, though, they played to a very appreciative audience, and deservedly so!

Jamie Stewart and his partner Caralee performed songs through the band’s history with an arsenal of guitars, keyboards and percussion instruments. They were augmented by backing tracks that rarely sounded like the studio versions, which added a nice element of surprise to the performance. I didn’t even recognize “Don Diasco” until they got to the chorus! Caralee did a lot more singing this time around (even taking the lead on a new song!), and her quiet, plain alto contrasted nicely with Jamie’s histrionic tenor. She and Jamie huddled around the same microphone to sing “Fabulous Muscles” together. I never thought a song with the words “cremate my body after you come on my lips” could sound so tender!

SXSW Report #19: Erase Errata @ Emo's Annex

After Rahim's set, I walked to the annex of Emo’s to see neo-“riot grrl” giants Erase Errata play. The last time I saw EE live, it was at a gay-friendly club on the outskirts of Denton. This was shortly before the release of 2003's At Crystal Palace, when they were still a quartet. The joy that those four ladies got out of making noise was contagious enough to capture the entire room. They’ve undergone many changes since then. Singer Jenny assumed guitar duties after original guitarist Sara left, and the band drafted a MALE vocalist! That lineup’s performances received disastrous reviews, so they kicked him out and regrouped as a power trio, with Jenny singing and playing guitar. I was already curious to see if they could cut the mustard live without Sara, but when I read that they planned to release one final album before breaking up in August, seeing them became an absolute MUST. (I recently found out that they have since reconsidered their decision to split --- thank God!)

This evening, they were hampered by technical difficulties: Jenny broke two guitar strings, and had to get someone else to change them for her. While he did that, they performed guitar-less versions of “Owls” and “Retreat the Most Familiar,” which I greatly enjoyed. The rest of their set consisted of new songs that bore only a tangential resemblance to their older material. Jenny does a lot more talking than singing now, and the lyrics are blunter and more political than ever. Her guitar parts aren’t as complicated as Sara’s were, but they fit the songs well. I’m not going to say that Erase Errata were firing on all cylinders this evening, but I do think that I’m going to like their next album A LOT. I’m glad that they’re still with us.

SXSW Report #18: Rahim @ Soho Lounge

The first showcase I saw on Thursday evening was Rahim’s set at the Soho Lounge. A friend turned me on to this Brooklyn trio last summer when they released their debut EP Jungles. Jungles was an above-average slice of minimal, tuneful and vaguely danceable post-punk. However, I knew that I would have to hear an album’s worth of their material to decide whether they were truly something special, or just another notch on the Frenchkiss label’s belt. After the set they played this evening, I’m leaning toward the former.

Most of the material they played came from their upcoming full-length Ideal Lives. To be honest, both their album and their live show reminded me of Q and Not U circa Different Damage — when they were still getting used to the absence of their bassist, before they put a bit more funk in their music. However, the guys in Rahim are better singers, and they know a bit more about the power of a catchy chorus than Q and Not U did. Rahim’s bassist only played when it was absolutely necessary to, often switching to keyboard and auxiliary percussion depending on the needs of the song. The singer played single-string guitar riffs that sketched the barest outline of a chord progression. The drummer held his end up nicely with playing that was creative, but not flashy. I think my favorite songs of their set were the anthem-like “10,000 Horses” and “Forever Love,” which wasn’t as corny as its title would imply.

SXSW Report #17: The BellRays @ the Victory Grill

As the Thursday sun began to set, the BellRays walked on the Victory Grill stage and gave me my second truly mind-blowing SXSW 2006 experience.

I remember reading about how Tina Turner gradually grew bored of her then-husband Ike’s songs during the early ’70s, and wanted to pursue a more rock-based sound. Unfortunately, she went the MOR adult-contemporary route after leaving him. In a just world, her solo material would’ve sounded like the BellRays: loud guitars and drums mowing down the listener’s ears like a train on a track, with Tina’s soulful wail functioning as the conductor’s horn would, cutting through the racket to capture the passengers’ attention.

My only prior exposure to the BellRays was hearing their song “Stupid F*ckin’ People” (from their 2001 album Grand Fury) on the Splendid E-zine jukebox. I adopted that song as a personal anthem --- with a title like that, can you blame me? I never thought to pick up any of their albums, though. What a fool I was for neglecting them for so long!

It goes without saying that singer Lisa Kekaula has a voice that’s as big as her Afro, and powerful enough to strip paint off of a car, and that her male comrades are all black belts on their respective instruments. What REALLY impressed me about their performance was the sincerity and passion behind it. This wasn’t a United Colors of Benetton gimmick, a diluted “neo-soul” approximation of rock or an ironic “post-R&B” pastiche (I’ll be polite and refrain from naming names). When they write the words “soul is the teacher, punk is the preacher” in their CD liner notes, they back it up with their music. When Lisa sings “You are a star!” to the audience, she sings it over and over again until she feels that everyone has gotten the message.

I danced so hard to their music that a screw popped out of the rims of my glasses. I had to run to a nearby convenience store to buy some black electrical tape to put them back together with. I don’t think I missed more than two songs of their set. I bought their latest CD The Red, White and Black after their set, and Lisa thanked me for dancing up front. I apologized for leaving in the middle of their set, and showed her my taped-up glasses. “That’s the best reason I’ve ever heard for leaving a show!” she said. It is rare to run into a band that exudes joy and conviction, both on and off the stage. The BellRays are one of them.

SXSW Report #16: Afrirampo @ the Victory Grill

On Thursday afternoon, I saw Afrirampo play their first-ever set in Texas at the outside stage of the Victory Grill, another Vice Kills Texas venue. A friend of mine recommended them to me, but I didn’t exactly rush to check them out. His taste in music is pretty obscure; I have often joked that he only listens to "limited-edition CDRs of Japanese people farting into distorted microphones." A cursory glance at Afrirampo only increased my suspicion. Two pretty Asian women wearing face paint and skimpy red outfits while playing experimental noise? It sounded like one of my friend's wet dreams gone wrong.

After I actually listened to their 2005 album Kore Ga Mayaku Da, though, I changed my tune. Their set at the Victory Grill was even more impressive. Guitarist Oni began each song by playing quiet, simple riffs and making onomatopoeic noises with her mouth. Drummer Pikacyu followed her lead with loose yet steady rhythms. Together, they gradually upped the tempo and the volume, until the music reached a climax of shrill screams and head-banger riffs. Both ladies played in a way that betrayed their impressive technical skills, but never came across as flashy. I got the feeling that they could morph into the female version of Hella at any moment, but wisely chose not to.

Between songs, Pikacyu gave a brief speech that managed to be both corny and profound:

“We are happy to be in Austin with so many people who love music…but don’t forget to listen to the music that is all around you. Listen to the birds chirping in the trees. That is the REAL rock…not the people with guitars and drums.”

She and her comrade went right back to screaming and shredding after that speech.

SXSW Report #15: The Joggers @ the Longbranch Inn

After the Beautiful Newborn Children's set, I left Emo’s and drove to the Long Branch Inn, one of three venues where Vice Magazine held the first of its two mammoth “Vice Kills Texas” day shows. Mere minutes after I walked into the inn, Portland quartet the Joggers began their set. Their most recent album, With a Cape and a Cane, was 2005’s best album to play air guitar to. I was dazzled by how their six-strings wandered recklessly up and down scales, eked out chiming chords, bended notes long enough to induce nausea and harmonized with each other at the most unpredictable moments. The band members also engage in three-part vocal harmony while wrecking shop on their instruments, a feat of multitasking that should be impossible considering the business of their playing.

They are no less dazzling live than on record, so when Ben Whitesides and Dan Wilson played the opening riff to “Since You’re Already Up,” I was already expecting to get my face rocked off. What I didn’t expect, though, was for them to follow that song with a note-perfect YES MEDLEY. As soon as I recognized “Long Distance Runaround,” I called my best friend --- the biggest Yes fan I know --- to let her hear it through my cell phone. When they segued into “Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” I knew that I was witnessing the first truly mind-blowing moment of my SXSW 2006 experience.

The two or three Julian-Casablancas-fronting-Polvo originals they played afterward rocked hard, but couldn’t help but pale in comparison to the Yes medley. The Joggers definitely know how to use the element of surprise to their advantage.

SXSW Report #14: The Beautiful Newborn Children @ Emo's Inside Stage

The first show I saw on Thursday afternoon was a set by German punk-pop quartet the Beautiful Newborn Children. Their 2005 debut Hey People! sounded like the Strokes playing at Motorhead speed (with some Jesus and Mary Chain guitar noise thrown on top). The liner notes didn’t reveal much about the band, but Internet research revealed to me that singer/guitarist Michael Beckett has made a few electronic records under the name Kpt.Michigan. I heard one of them a couple of years ago and found it lacking, so I’m glad that Michael has put down the laptop and picked up a guitar instead.

Live, the Children’s guitars jangled and screeched just as beautifully as they do on record. However, the band ran through their songs so quickly that Michael could barely sing them! The melody to “Paper Tiger” was annihilated, with Michael simply shouting the words like a nerdy version of Mark E. Smith. On one song, the band invited a friend of theirs on stage to scream through a distorted microphone. They sounded almost exactly the same as they did when Michael was singing.

Although it’s only 26 minutes long, Hey People! ends about two or three songs after their loud-fast-and-fuzzy aesthetic starts wearing thin. Fortunately, the band played a few new songs that found them taking more chances with tempo and key changes.

The Beautiful Newborn Children had more energy than a room full of hyperactive toddlers. I hadn’t even been awake for two hours when they played, and I was already sweaty from jumping around to their music!

March 23, 2006

SXSW Report #13: Art Brut @ the Parish

After the Gena Rowlands Band's set I ran back to the Parish so that I could catch British meta-rock goofballs Art Brut. I knew that this showcase would be packed, so I made alternate plans in case the venue was at capacity. I remember what happened at last year’s SXSW at the Futureheads showcase, during which I stood way too long in the wristband line, even though they weren’t even letting people with badges in at that point. Fortunately, I only had to wait in the badge line for about 10 minutes before the bouncers let me in. I even managed to maneuver my way through the crowd and get a nice spot in front of the stage.

Four-fifths of the band walked on stage and began a shocking instrumental rendition of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The drummer and rhythm guitarist, both clean-cut blondes, looked like the kind of guys who normally wouldn’t be caught dead near the spiky-haired punks who played bass and lead guitar. When oddly-mustached vocalist Eddie Argos walked on stage in a gray suit, black loafers and pink socks, he looked like the kind of guy whom the other four members normally wouldn’t be caught dead near. The lack of a uniform image suits a band know for writing songs that blur the line between irony and sincerity, between making fun of rock excess and reveling in it.

As soon as the Metallica cover segued into the opening chords of “Formed a Band,” everyone in the audience got CRUNK…and justifiably so, as Art Brut’s songs are made to shout along to. They played two-thirds of their debut album Bang Bang Rock & Roll, along with two decent new songs. On the impotence lament “Rusted Guns of Milan,” Argos interrupted his verses with asides like, “How do you apologize for that sort of thing?” He interrupted “Emily Kane,” a notorious ode to a childhood flame, with a rant about how he finally got over her after reestablishing contact with her.

Argos jumped into the crowd during “Modern Art,” leaving the rest of the band to jam for a couple of minutes while he wandered around the club, singing the chorus directly in people’s faces. Their set was an invigorating fusion of driving post-punk and self-deprecating comedy that ended the first official evening of South by Southwest with a bang.

SXSW Report #12: The Gena Rowlands Band @ the Karma Lounge

After Serena Maneesh’s scorching set, I quickly left the outside stage of Emo’s and walked to the secluded Karma Lounge to see the Gena Rowlands Band. Although I was dismayed at how few people were at the Lounge (especially since local favorites the Weird Weeds had just finished their showcase shortly before I arrived), I was glad that I could watch the GRB perform without a mob of photographers obstructing my view. The GRB recently released The Nitrate Hymnal, an album of songs taken from an opera that singer/guitarist Bob Massey wrote with a full orchestra. Because of their compact quartet lineup, though, they could only play one song from it this evening. Everything else in their set came from their equally amazing 2005 debut La Merde et Les Etoiles.

After gently urging the audience to stand closer to the stage, Massey played the opening chords to “Garofalo C’est Moi,” a song that made me cry the first time I heard it, even though I knew it was a sarcastic ode to a comedienne. Massey’s sonorous tenor oozed wistfulness and resignation. The violinist played weepy fills that underscored the pathos in lines like “I finally found what love is/Love is only in the movies/Now everything in this house is on fire.” The keyboardist played dense clouds of low end that drifted in and out of the music, compensating for the absence of actual bass. Nick Hennies subbed for GRB’s regular drummer this evening, and it was the first time I’d heard him play outside of his work with the Weird Weeds. He navigated the song’s frequent stops and starts so well that if he hadn’t told me that he only rehearsed it once, I wouldn’t have known. Whether it was the straight 4/4 of “The Last Words of Lesley Gore” or the arrhythmic frenzy of “Kong Meets His Maker,” Nick’s playing served the songs perfectly. Instead of talking between songs, Massey flipped through elaborately decorated poster boards with the song titles on them, which I thought was a nice touch. I also liked his decision to sing the last song of his set far away from the microphone. He successfully quieted the audience and drew them even closer to him. The GRB wasn’t the loudest band I saw last Wednesday, but they were certainly the most affecting.

SXSW Report #11: Serena Maneesh @ Emo's Outside Stage

After the Young Knives’ set, I trekked back to the outside stage of Emo’s to catch Norwegian shoegaze sensations Serena Maneesh. The venue was packed like sardines; although I managed to get a spot close to the front, my view was obscured by the swarm of photographers standing in front of me. I had to do a Stretch Armstrong imitation and reach over them to take decent pictures of my own.

I think that Maneesh’s set this evening was as close as I’ll ever come to having that same feeling that people in the mid-‘80s did when they first saw the Jesus and Mary Chain live. They sounded like a train wreck, but in the best possible way. The vocals were barely audible, chord progressions struggled to rise above the morass of distortion and feedback, and songs slowly devolved into guitar-strangling tantrums. “Selina’s Melodie Fountain” was played way faster than on the record, whereas “Un-Deux” was played way slower. The thing that stuck out the most about Serena Maneesh, though, was that they were one of only TWO bands I saw at SXSW that had a female bassist who looked like she was enjoying herself. An absurdly tall Nico clone, she unceasingly bopped around the stage without flubbing a single note on her instrument. People kept their eyes on her, even when the guitarists were slamming their instruments into the ground and against poles.

SXSW Report #10: The Young Knives @ the Parish

I have a friend in Norwich, England to thank for turning me on to the Young Knives. She sent me an mp3 of “Decision,” the song that they’re most famous for in England, and it made me want to hear more. They play the kind of upbeat, strummy and tuneful guitar pop that the writers at Pitchfork would label as “post-Wire.” However, the limitations of their power-trio format keep their songs from being as dense as those of Maximo Park or the Futureheads. Guitarist Henry and bassist House keep their instrumental parts rather simple, which puts the spotlight squarely on their contrasting voices. Henry sings in a high-pitched wail, whereas House employs a deeper croon that occasionally shifts into a brusque bark. Their set consisted mainly of songs from their two most recent EPs. Stand-outs included “Weekends and Bleak Days” and the title track of their most recent EP Here Comes the Rumor Mill. Their performance was great until “Decision,” during which Henry’s voice started giving out. Shortly thereafter, a string broke and knocked his whole guitar out of tune. Like a trooper, he stormed through the song with no loss of enthusiasm. They ended their set before anything else could go wrong, which was probably a smart move.

March 22, 2006

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: "The Exchange Session, Vol. 1"

Last year, Sean went to see Four Tet on their Everything Ecstatic tour. Instead of performing the lovely, gentle electronica he is known for, Kieran Hebden delved straight into an off-putting blend of electronica and free-jazz. It failed miserably; Hebden was heckled, and a good portion of the audience walked out on the set. Even Sean's patience was tested--and he's been known to tolerate even the most abrasive of music. At the time, it seemed quite inocongruous, but later that year, he was a featured performer on Spirit Walk, the latest album by legendary jazz drummer Steve Reid. That record is an instantly impressive collection of modern jazz, and Hebden surprisingly fit right in. It's no surprise, then, that the two men would decide to collaborate.

The cover boasts that these songs are "live takes with no overdubs or edits," and it's instantly obvious. The first track, "Morning Prayer," starts off slow; considering Reid's connection with Coltrane, it's also not surprising that the song sounds not unlike Coltrane's final period; though there are definite patterns to the composition, it's quite difficult to make them out. . Track two, "Soul Oscillations," finds the two men building each other up. At times, it feels as if they are allowing the other to showcase their abilities; a few minutes into the song, the percussion falls into the foreground, and Hebden's twiddling takes over. Though there's a groove, it's a rather rough groove that feels slightly off and out of sync, but maybe that's the point. It's on the third track, "Electricity and Drum Will Change Your Mind," that the true magic of this collaboration is found. Hebden's twinkling electronics and throbbing bass drone mixes quite well with Reid's joyous drum beats, and unlike the previous two tracks, here the drums and electronic combination melds into one solid, addictive groove. For the next fifteen minutes, the two men mix their talents together, and this grand finale makes the previous fifteen minutes seem less self-indulgent. At times, it would be easy to think that the first two compositions were nothing more than rehearsals for the final number.

If you're expecting this to be a breezy Four Tet-style record, you might be in for a bit of a shock. Don't be afraid of The Exchange Session, Volume One; it's a wonderfully complex record that will reward those brave enough to listen. That this record is listed as being "volume 1" certainly whets the appetite for the second volume.

Note: it simply seems wrong to attempt to post an mp3 from this record, as it is only three tracks. However, to give you a taste of the spark of this collaboration, we've included a track from the Steve Reid Ensemble collection Spirit Walk. While not quite as intense as The Exchange Sessions, Vol. 1, "Bridget" does drop a very big hint as to what would come next. Enjoy!

Artist Website:
Label Website:

Cross Words: Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah!

And now, for your entertainment pleasure, it's the very first crossword puzzle of hate! Today's victim, the inexplicably critically-acclaimed band, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! So get out your pencils, gather up your animosity, and have fun! Click on the puzzle for zany wackiness!

March 21, 2006

SXSW Report #9: The Chalets @ the Parish

Once Luminous Orange's set finally ended, I walked to the Parish to catch the Young Knives. When I got there, I found out that they were to play an hour later than advertised, with unnamed “special guests” assuming their original time slot. These “special guests” were a quintet from Ireland called the Chalets.

The band was fronted by two impressively dolled up women: a blonde named Peepee and a brunette named Pony. They sang honeyed harmonies and occasionally played xylophone and keyboard. Of course, all of the photographers (including myself) paid more attention to Peepee and Pony than they did to the three guys in the band.

However, the guys provided rousing backing vocals and formed a hard, driving rhythm section that provided a necessary counterpoint to the girls’ stereotypical tweeness. My favorite song of theirs was “Two Chord Song,” which lived up to its name and threw in some sarcastic lines about how easy it is to form a band. The band’s Betty-Boop-meets-the-Fall sound won me over quickly. The only reason why I didn’t buy their CD Check In was because they were selling it for a ridiculous $20.

It was during the Chalets’ set that I had my week’s first encounter with an obnoxious drunk. The guy next to me kept extending his hand to Pony, shouting “f*ck you” to her every time she refused to shake it. He then saw the notebook I was writing in, and decided to give me some suggestions.

“Are you a writer for a magazine? Well, here’s something you should write: SXSW SUCKS BALLS FOR LOCALS. Why? ‘Cause if you go outside to smoke a cigarette, you can’t get back in without waiting in a long line!”

SXSW Report #8: Luminous Orange @ Habana Calle 6

After the Double’s set, I walked to the Tonevendor/Clairecords showcase at Habana Calle 6. Tonevendor is my favorite online record store, hands down, and it was great to meet owners Dan and Heather in person after giving them so much of my money over the last few years. While I chatted with them, Japanese quintet Luminous Orange was on stage checking the sound. They played the introduction to the first song of their set over and over again until they were satisfied with the mix.

I have been a fan of Luminous Orange ever since I heard their most recent album Drop You Vivid Colours in 2003. That album (and the band’s music in general) is a seamless synthesis of every great noise, shoegaze and dreampop band of the 90s, from My Bloody Valentine to Stereolab to Sonic Youth. Singer/guitarist Rie Takeuchi writes pop songs of prog-like complexity, with an attention to detail and order that only Japanese bands consistently muster. Her band’s live show followed suit by sounding exactly like the records, but louder.

Their set drew mainly from Vivid Colours and the two EPs that preceded it, with a promising new song or two thrown in. Unfortunately, they exceeded their time limit and forced the soundman to cut off all of their microphones in the middle of “Starred Leaf,” my favorite song from Vivid Colours. They kept playing anyway, and even though Rie could barely hear her voice over the din of guitars, her pitch never wavered.

SXSW Report #7: The Double @ Mrs. Bea's Patio

Although the Double’s set at Mrs. Bea’s patio was technically part of an afternoon show, I consider it the first evening set I saw on Wednesday because the sky was completely dark when they started playing. Last year, this Brooklyn quartet came into its own as both a recording entity and a live band. Their latest album Loose in the Air garnered many Interpol comparisons (due mainly to bassist David Greenhill’s throaty warble) but, in my opinion, both the band’s ear for melody and distortion fetish put it closer to mid-period Flaming Lips. I find it strange that one of Matador Records’ best and newest bands didn’t land a spot on the official showcase that the label held at Stubb’s that evening. They’re certainly a better pick than, say, Jennifer O’Connor. Alas, merely setting Mrs. Bea’s ablaze would have to do for them. They played a much noisier (and sloppier) set than they did the last two times I saw them. The second song, “What Sound It Makes the Thunder,” couldn’t have had a more appropriate name. During it and many other songs, the band sounded like their amps were about to secrete streams of liquid fuzz at any moment. There were some technical difficulties and off-key vocals, but overall the Double wrecked shop!

March 20, 2006

SXSW Report #6: I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness @ Emo's Outside Stage

Once Meneguar’s set ended I walked back to the outside stage of Emo’s to see local band I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness. This awesomely-named quartet has been creeping on a come-up for the last three years. I realized how long I’ve been following this band when I started arguing with the guy standing next to me about how much one of their original members sucked.

Chosen Darkness has slowly built up a fan base large enough to command headliner status (at least in their hometown), while simultaneously honing their sound to the point where they now do a better Interpol than Interpol themselves. It helps that, unlike Paul Banks, guitarist Christian Goyer can actually sing.

Their set focused exclusively on songs from their recently released debut album Fear Is on Our Side. It was the first Chosen Darkness show I’ve seen in a while in which I could actually hear all three guitarists in the mix! As much as I love going to shows at Emo’s, I have to admit that their soundmen usually can’t handle lineups more complicated than a power trio. It was beautiful to finally hear the swirling reverb-drenched interplay exactly as it was intended to be heard.

SXSW Report #5: Meneguar @ Mrs. Bea's Patio

After the Skeletons' set on Wednesday afternoon, I walked back to Mrs. Bea’s to see Meneguar. I’d been looking forward to seeing this Brooklyn quintet live ever since a friend turned me on to them about a month ago. Their debut EP I Was Born at Night is a thrilling blend of the hooky hollering of Superchunk and the pitch-imperfect guitar interplay of the Swirlies. Why they didn’t get an official SXSW showcase is beyond me. They made up for it, though, by playing four day shows this week, of which this was the first and only one I saw.

Their sound wasn’t as huge live as it is on CD, but that was probably because none of their instruments were miked. Nonetheless, they played with just as much energy and precision as I expected them to. Their EP’s first two songs (“House of Cats” and “Kids Get Cut”) are their best and, fittingly, they got the most response from the crowd.

NYC indie-pop scene queen Shirley Braha filmed their set for her “New York Noise” program. I'm pretty sure it was tough for her to keep still while holding the camera.

Meneguar are already on the verge of greatness, and I have the feeling that they’ll only get better from this point. By this time next year, music bloggers all over the country should be creaming over them.

SXSW Report #4: Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys @ Emo's Inside Stage

After People's set, I returned to the inside stage of Emo's to see Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys. I’ve greatly looked forward to seeing ever since I heard their last album Git. However, their set barely resembled the Xiu Xiu-like blend of gamelan, synth-pop and rock that characterized that album. Instead, they played a bunch of long and swirling songs that would've pleased more open-minded jam-band fanatics. Singer Matt Mehlan (who alternated between second drums and third guitar) possessed an ethereal tenor that recalled My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Whenever one guitarist laid down a funky Afro-beat riff, Mehlan and the third guitarist would scatter atonal chords and shards of noise all over it. It was a disorienting yet danceable experience, one that I hope to relive when they release their next album.

SXSW Report #3: People @ Mrs. Bea's Patio

Once the Arm’s set ended, I walked across Interstate 35 to the Todd P/Rambler party at Mrs. Bea’s. It was odd to see the bar’s regular patrons, most of whom were old Mexicans, intermingling with the young white hipsters. The music, though, was even odder.

“We are People,” drummer Kevin Shea said, “and we are playing music on the stage while you are sitting in front of us. People often ask us, ‘What is music?’ Well, we’re not here to answer that question.” He and guitarist Mary Halverson then launched into a set of songs that suggested what the Shaggs would sound like if they were music majors.

Mary sang awkward melodies in her pitch-perfect alto while playing obtuse chord progressions. Meanwhile, Kevin played constantly shifting rhythms that resembled an endless Max Roach solo at triple the speed. He’s the kind of drummer who always knows where the one is, but frequently disregards it. Mary’s guitar playing did more to outline the rhythms of the songs than his drumming did. Kevin is also able to generate a multitude of tones from a shockingly minimal setup (kick, snare, cymbal and hi-hat). He’s just as weird, though, as he is talented. He referred to the first song as their “encore,” and narrated the rest of the set in reverse order. He also undercut his own stage banter by beginning songs in mid-thought.

Overall, People struck me as the kind of band that takes joy in confusing everyone who hears them. Of course, this means that I love them to death!

SXSW Report #2: The Arm @ Emo's Inside Stage

I began Wednesday (the first official day of SXSW) by watching local favorites the Arm play an afternoon set. I have frequently referred to them as Austin’s best answer to the Fall, but they’ve become so much more than that over the years. First of all, they play with the kind of speed and force that Mark E. Smith and company could never muster, not even in the late ‘70s. Second of all, front man Sean O’Neal can actually sing when he sets his mind to it. On one of their new songs, he hit notes that I never thought he was capable of reaching! It also helps that they’ve gotten better at utilizing dissonance without becoming unlistenable. Because of that, their sophomore album Call You Out (which comes out next month) is my most anticipated local release this year. Despite the fury of the Arm’s performance, though, I ended up paying more attention to the young child dancing in front of the stage as if Emo’s was his favorite playground. Between songs, he shouted “Yay, Daddy!” at the drummer. It was the festival’s most heartwarming moment.