SxSW: Day Four

Saturday, the final day of SxSW, brought about a big surprise: the weather. What had been perfect sunny skies and 70 degree weather turned gray, windy and cold.  Frigid in fact, people were walking around in winter jackets and avoiding outside shows like the plague. Starting to feel the fatigue, we got a late start, opting to check out the record and poster fair at the convention center before seeing any music.  The record fair was pretty much a bust, but it was cool to see the myriad of posters and it was warm in the convention center.

We made our way over to Trailer Space Records for Wounded Lion, arriving a little early to a packed store for Zola Jesus.  With no stage in the shop, it was hard to see tiny singer Nika Danilova.  She rectified the situation by climbing the walls as she sang.  The mood at Trailer Space was loose with free Colt 45’s flowing, I think someone could have walked out with an arm full of 45’s and no one would have been the wiser.  Wounded Lion wasted little time setting up after Zola Jesus and were off and running, blasting into Belt of Orion.  I mentioned earlier how the Blue Aeroplanes were missing their dancer Wojtek, they could have borrowed the guy from Wounded Lion who played a bit of bass, but mostly just danced.  More bands need to revive the Bez/Wojtek dancer guy, it’s instant karma and energy.  As for sound, the band are a combination of Modern Lovers, Velvet Underground and Echo & the Bunnymen, but obviously don’t take themselves too seriously.   Their upcoming record on In The Red is the best thing I’ve heard this year and this performance only made me like them more.

Next stop, Beerland, possibly the darkest bar in the world.  It took my eyes about 10 minutes to adjust, so I bumped my way to the front of the stage to await Memphis, Tennessee’s Magic Kids.  To date they’ve got one single that’s pretty great.  Live they’re a bit goofy, reminding me of a garage version of Roman Holiday minus the sailor caps.  The singer, who is about 6′ 5″ liked to get out into the crowd  as well as get on top of equipment to sing, this took some coordination with his lanky frame and limited space inside the packed Beerland.

Leaving Beerland with dilated pupils we headed over to Max’s Wine Dive where you can eat hamburgers, fried chicken and hot dogs paired with you favorite wine.  We headed into the basement for the Black Iris show.  Abe Vigoda was playing as we descended the stairs.  I’m a fan of their more ambient songs like last year’s Reviver, and less a fan of their more cacophonous stuff.  Their set was a mix of the two, and kept me in a love-hate relationship with them.

The basement noticeably filled up as the time neared for Best Coast to play.  The Vivian Girls were in the house, this may have been the second or third time we had been at the same show, though I’m sure they weren’t wondering who the geeky looking guy with the camera was since that was just about everyone at every show.  After having Seen both Dum Dum Girls and Frankie and the Outs this week it was a pleasure and a surprise to hear singer Beth Constantino belt out her songs without any noticeable reverb on her vocals. I hope they record the album with her voice front and center.

The plan from here was to head over to Red 7 for the Wooodsist show, but Bill got us to detour to check out the Uninhabitable Mansions at Latitude 30 aka the British Music Embassy.  That’s term fits loosely since Uninhabitable Mansions are from Brooklyn and contain members of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Au Revoir Simone.  Their set of bright shiny pop was a nice surprise and I ended up buying their CD.

I rushed out of Latitude 30 to make it in time to see Fergus & Geronimo.  I’m a fan of this Denton, Texas band’s handfull of singles and was looking forward to seeing them live.  They were kind of a let down though.  The more soulful songs sounded great like Powerful Lovin’ and Blind Muslim Girl, but songs like those were few and far between with the rest of them sounding like generic garage rock.  I’m hoping it was just an off night.

We stuck around for Moon Duo, who are indeed a duo. Erik Johnson of Wooden Shijps on guitar and Sanae Yamada twiddling knobs, they’re like mountain man and woman doing Loop/Spacemen 3 without the hooks.  I have no doubt they would have been really good in altered state, but my mostly sober self got a little bored.

Like with Abe Vigoda, I’m a half fan of Woods.  I like their pop songs, while I don’t really get their jam songs.  I also don’t really get what the guy who was hunched over on his knees on the stage did to contribute to their sound.  He seemed to be singing into a pair of headphones and at one point was blowing a trumpet into them to no audible difference.

At this point our group collectively had our fill of jams, so we decided to forgo Real Estate and the Fresh & Only’s and head back to the British Music Embassy to take in some Wave Pictures.  You could argue that Wave Pictures have the potential to jam, but they reigned in the temptation tonight and blew their Thursday afternoon selves out of the water.  It’s no fluke what an enthusiastic crowd can do for a band, and Latitude 30 was certainly on their side, whooping, hollering and singing along to most every song.  Everyone got a good laugh too, when drummer Jonny Helm came out from behind his kit sporting cowboy boots with pant-legs tucked inside to sing God Bless The Reverand Gary Davies.  He looked kinda funny, but sounded sincere.

We stuck around for about half of Slow Club’s set, but the band seemed fatigued and just going through the motions.  So was I by this point, so we headed home for bed and an early 8 am flight back to Seattle.

Coastal Girls

Vivian Girls, Best Coast & TacocaT at the High Dive, Seattle | 13 February 2010

It feels like every time  I click a link three’s a new lo-fi girl group that I’m smitten with.  It all started back in 2008 with the Vivian Girls and their reverb-laden harmonies that brought back memories of the Shop Assistants and Black Tambourine.  The Dum Dum Girls soon followed and grabbed everyone’s attention last year with their version of Phil Spector girl group who has a thing for the Jesus and Mary Chain.  Just to prove that things move pretty fast these days, Best Coast appeared late last year firing off three quality 7 inch records that are good enough to almost make you forget about Vivans and Dum Dums.

What makes Best Coast so good? There are the songs themselves with their aching hallucinogenic quality that seem to conjure sun bleached images of days gone by, but it’s Bethany Cosentino’s voice that carries it all home.  She uses reverb like everybody else these days, but she doesn’t need it.  Borrowing Vivian Girls drummer Ali Koehler Best Coast hit all the high points, and there are quite a few, of their four singles, they also played a few new songs from their upcoming album.  One of them was called Crazy, or some variation, and as Cosentino repeated the chorus, I couldn’t help but think of Patsy Cline.  Not because it sounded country or had twinkling piano in it, but because Cosentino’s voice sounded so good, transcending the lo-fi aesthetic that she’s chosen to drape the songs in for the time being.  Cosentino’s foil in Best Coast is Bobb Bruno who plays a baritone guitar which they thought was stolen the night before in Vancouver, but later found after the gig.  The band seemed quite bummed out by the loss of Bruno’s guitar and apologized more than once for not being able to deliver the full Best Coast sound.  Bruno tried to replicate on his riff’s on a borrowed bass guitar form Katie of the Vivian Girls, doing his best Peter Hook imitation.  He mostly persevered, but sometimes had to resort to playing tambourine.  It really didn’t matter, Cosentino’s voice and songs were more than worthy of taking center stage and no apology was necessary.

mp3: Best Coast – When I’m With You (from the Black Iris 7″)

After Best Coast, the Vivian Girls had their work cut out for them. The two bands are cut from the same cloth, but where Best Coast’s melodies prevail, the Vivian Girls bury theirs beneath heavy bass and guitar. Sometimes I don’t even think that there is a melody to be buried.  That wasn’t always the case.  I think their first album could be considered a classic, but the set they played focused mostly on their newer material which is a bit more difficult.  A lot of the songs seemed to blend into one another, with Katie’s bass dominating everything.  We got a break from the drone when they put down their instruments and did their a capella cover of the Chantals‘ He’s Gone. It was a break, but not a very good one, especially when you compare it to the original.  The set wasn’t a total bust, Lakehouse, Can’t Get Over You and Tell The World stood out, but it wasn’t their best. I worry that the band are struggling to come up with songs that match the magic of their debut and by focusing on their newer material it made that fact all the more painfully obvious.

mp3: Vivian Girls – He’s Gone (B-side to their upcoming 7″ on Wild World)
mp3 swiped from gvsb

TacaocaT started the night off with their updated, more humorous version of riot grrrl, sprinkled with a little bit of Young Fresh Fellows.  They played some new songs as well as old favorites Leotard, Dry Land Is a Myth (the Kevin Costner song), Volcano and Basement, an ode to their ‘condo’.  Great fun even if they didn’t play Peeps, which Katie from Vivian Girls kept shouting for.  If you haven’t heard their album Shame Spiral, do yourself a favor and get on over to their label Don’t Stop Believin’ and order yourself up a copy.

mp3: TacocaT – Peeps (from Shame Spiral)

Singles Of the Year, the Top 40 Countdown (10-1)

Part 4 of 4: Here’s the mother load, numbers 10 through 1. An excellent year for the 7-inch single. I don’t think it’s been this good since sometime back in the 90’s. To me the 7″ is the perfect pop medium.  It’s immediate and somewhat inexpensive to procure one, though prices are increasing especially compared to the 99 cent mp3. Every label I ever hear discuss singles says that they’re money losers, but they keep releasing them. Obviously this kind of music has relied on the obsession of the very few since it began, and the labels putting out singles these days are doing it because they love the medium. Being an old schooler, I much prefer holding onto the record sleeve as the record spins.  I’m not sure how many kids these days are buying actual singles, I know albums are back in fashion, but the single, not so much.  If it happens, once your bitten by the bug of the 7 inch single it’s hard to find a cure. If you haven’t been bitten, check out my favorite 10 singles from this year and odds are you will be.  Here’s to deep pockets and a love of the pop rush!

1. Sea Lions – Let’s Groove (Yay!)

The Sea Lions remind me of two things: I had a cassette of Surf Classics when I was a kid that got endless play through many snowy Ohio winters on my walkman. I vaguely remember what songs were on it, but more than anything I remember the sunny-warm vibe I would get from listening to it.  The second thing they remind me of is 7 Seconds, well, more like the mellow younger brothers of 7 Seconds, a band that got me through my high school years.  The Sea Lions aren’t quite surf, not quite punk, and not quite twee.  What they are is ballsy to make the A-side of their first single an instrumental, but the Sea Lions seem to know what they’re doing. In a year where sun, surf and sand were recurring themes around the indieverse the Sea Lions did it the best. No trendy reverb or washed out vocals, just straight up pop. The instrumental Let’s Groove is punk informed version of the Ventures while the two B-sides shoot the curl of pop perfection.

mp3: Good Feelings

2. Crystal Stilts – Love Is a Wave (Slumberland)

I thought the Crystal Stilts were all gloom and doom, but this song has to be the most upbeat thing the band have ever done.  They almost sound happy, but surely not complacent. This single literally will set off sparks from your record player, or maybe it’s just JB’s guitar.  Last year the Crystal Stilts were riding high after just releasing their first album, and this single shows that record was no fluke.  In fact Love Is a Wave pretty much lays down the gauntlet for what other bands must surpass to become great.  It’s that good.

mp3: Love Is a Wave

3. Magic Kids – Hey Boy (Goner)

Hey Boy starts off with a chorus of  angelic girls singing, “Hey boy where’s your girlfriend, she needs your attention, hey boy where’s your little girl tonight?” I know I throw around Phil Spector’s name quite a bit, but this song will make you believe  he’s either out of jail or the Magic Kids went to prison to record this.  This was their first and only single, but it was so good that it had people thinking that they were contrived to fool the indieverse (We later found out that the Magic Kids are a Barbara’s spin-off band.)  How else do you explain two songs that excel so well in doing that trippy, melody laden Brian Wilson thing.

mp3: Hey Boy

4. Fergus & Geronimo – Blind Muslim Girl (Tic Tac Totally)

Fergus & Geronimo have the dubious honor of being the only band to appear twice in this year’s countdown. For being a part time band Jason Kelly and Andrew Savage (of Wax Museums and Teenage Cool Kids) have easily surpassed both of their other bands. This single, like so many other songs here, is 2 minutes 45 seconds of undeniable pop. Blind Muslim Girl is the pop side and Powerful Lovin’ is the soulful b-side. If these guys would turn up the production a bit, they could go gold.

mp3: Blind Muslim Girl

5. France Has the Bomb – Invisible Angle (Hozac)

Wow! Invisible Angle is like lightning in a jar. The riff on the A-side just slices through the air straight to my brain. I love the scratchy in your face  guitars and the big fat chunky bass solo right in the middle.  France has the Bomb were a much needed jolt of electricity in this sludgy, hazy, distortion heavy year of music.
mp3: Invisible Angle

6. Rose Elinor Dougall – Stop/Start/Synchro (Elefant)

A Former Pippette, now out on her own and all the better for it. It starts out sounding like the Divine Comedy, then morphs into sweet dancy pop that St. Etienne use to make. This was my favorite of the three single she released this year. Album due next year, absolutely can’t wait.

mp3: Start/Stop/Synchro

7. Best Coast – Sun Was High (Art Fag)

Last year the Vivian Girls seemed to set off the imaginations of a whole bunch of girls in their bedrooms who up until that point were content with listening to the Ronnettes, Shangri-La’s Crystals, Shirelles and Black Tambourine by themselves. That is no longer the case and Best Coast are one of the finest examples of the post Vivian Girls girl groups sweeping the nation. Three songs drenched in minimalist girly reverb. I’m wondering if I’ll ever tire of this stuff.

mp3: Sun Was High (So Was I)

8. Emil & Friends – Downed Economy (Transparent)

This is easily the best single that Hot Chip never released. It’s funky, so funky it’ll have you dragging your friends onto the dance floor. The b-side is nearly as good, but not in such an obvious way, more 70’s disco than 80’s sythn. Emil & Friends could be the most fun you’ll have from two sides of vinyl all year.
mp3: Downed Economy

9. The Cave Weddings – Bring Your Love (HoZac)

Cave Weddings is an appropriate name for this Albany, New York band. They’re a little rockabilly, a little Flying Nun and a little a umm, wedding in a cave. It’s a bit damp and dark, but mostly it’s a blast because you you can smash stuff up and get wild because after all, it’s a cave and you don’t have to worry about keeping the place tidy.

mp3: Bring Your Love

10. tUnE-YaRdS – Hatari (4AD)

The Tun-Yards album came out last year, but the record got picked up by 4AD and was reissued this year with bonus songs. 4AD also put out this single of one of the best songs on the album with a herky-jerky remix of Hatari on the b-side. I love the way Tune-Yards effortlessly meld African style chant into a pop song while throwing in the kitchen sing for good measure.

mp3: Hatari (Karn Remix)

[40-31] [30-21] [20-11] [10-1]

Commentary While Listening

Sometimes just blurting out what you think is more fun than actually thinking things through and formulating an opinion. I was down in the basement tonight listening to records and what follows are my stream of conscious reviews of what I listened to.

Mantles Bad Design – Cave-like rock, reverb vocals (looking forward to this trend winding down).  Nice guitar solo.  This is as poppy as Don’t Lie, the best song on their album that came out on Siltbreeze.
MantlesRachel – A little heavier and more warped than the A-side, but it still has that ringing guitar that lightens it up a bit.

(Art Fag)
Best CoastSun Was High (So Was I) – And to think I almost didn’t buy this. Wow what a great A-side. Again with the reverb vocals, but it’s not too distracting.  I hope the reverb vocal isn’t to the late aughts what the echo/synth drums was to the 80’s.
Best CoastSo Gone – Simple song that could have easily been a Shangri-La’s song 40 years ago.
Best CoastThat’s the Way Boys Are – This single is easily 3 for 3.  Love the heyyy-eyyy’s.  This record is pretty perfect and the cover of a 70’s jammed LA freeway is nice too.

Girls At DawnNever Enough – First thought: Tiger Trap.  If you thought the Vivian Girls sounded like Tiger Trap you were wrong.  Girls at Dawn do. Very minimalist guitar strumming, a bit of organ and little girl singing. Catchy, especially for record collector geeks like myself.
Girls At DawnEvery Night – Lots of Da Da Da’s and lyrics about dreaming about you every night…that’s why they call it a b-side.

Nat Johnson
(Damaged Goods)
Nat Johnson & The FigureheadsWonderful Emergency – Okay, finally someone that doesn’t hide behind reverb’d vocals.  Nat has left Monkey Swallows the Universe, but is still walkin’ on sunshine.  It’s bright and poppy with a bass solo at the bridge.
Nat Johnson & The FigureheadsDon’t Worry Baby – Yes, it’s a Beach Boys cover, from Pet Sounds no less.  Not sure about it though, it’s kind of a non-event.  I think my mom would like this song, but she would prefer the original, as do I.

Fergus & Gernimo
(Tic Tac Totally!)
Fergus & GeronimoBlind Muslim Girl – I have no idea what this song is about but it is catchy as hell.  “Blind Muslim girl, if you like me then I will guide you around the world”.  This song is so fast paced that I thought I had it on the wrong speed.  Love the bouncy guitar parts at the bridge.
Fergus & GeronimoPowerful Lovin’ – Blues organ and singing, not unlike the A-side to their Transparent 7″.  These guys bring it, love the soul aspect to their songs.

(Underwater Peoples)
Frat DadGreg the Nerd – This one’s noisy and devolves into more noise.  I like the team singing and the geeky enthusiasm.  They’re like a lower-fi Nodzzz, singing about elementary school.
Frat DadFreak In Nature – Much mellower b-side, well at first, then it swells into a big bombastic chorus.  I like the restraint and then the wild abandon.  B-side wins!

Signed PapercutsOf My Heart – Airy guitars that remind me of St. Christopher.  This song evokes wind in your face and swirling leaves in a one of those mini-tornadoes and the Icicle Works.  Big Wedding Present-ish crashing guitars at the end. Whew, I’m out of breath!
Signed PapercutsSound of Silence Pt. 2 – The guitars sound almost exactly the same as the a-side except the song isn’t as good and neither is the singing. The a-side is definitely what you want here.

Explode Into ColorsCoffins – This band is supposedly the best new band in Portland.  Will hyperbole never die?  It’s got a cool drum thing going on.  Big booms, lots of big booms. The singer has this kind of old lady southern drawl to how she sings/chants.  I like the drums.
Explode Into ColorsSharpen the Knife – More drums and more tribal-like chanting/singing.  She’s got kind of a Siouxsie thing going on, but enough to make me really like this.

The VibrariansRed Light – Great guitar riff. Can’t understand a word the singer’s singing for all the reverb, but that’s not the point I don’t think. This could be an Oh Sees song, in fact you could tell people that and they might believe you. This came out a while ago but didn’t seem to get much attention, probably because Olympia isn’t cool like it was back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
The VibrariansModern Walker – These guys are all about the riff and sound. This one’s like a marching riff with vocals echoing all over the place. Did I mention they sound like Thee Oh Sees?
The VibrariansThe Woods – I can actually make out a few lyrics here, but I still don’t care because the song just rocks in that same cave stomping style of the other two . I wonder if they take the Liz Frasier approach to lyrics?