In a word: exhaustion.
Tornado Rider at Momo’s. Awesome. If you do not know who these Californians are, find out. I’d call their music folk metal. (Could there be any two more disparate genres?) Rushad Eggleston (a.k.a. “The Sneth Goblin”) prances around in pink striped spandex pants and a hat that looks like it came from Sherwood Forest whilst wearing — yes, wearing — a cello. He’s Eddie Van Halen meets Robin Hood meets Yo-Yo Ma’s headbanging bastard cousin from Appalachia. Graham Terry (“Grammeecious the Black”) counters Eggleston’s hyperactive energy with a heavy bass groove (and a coonskin cap), and Scott Manke (“Baron Skatogious von Doodooheimer”) on drums harnesses the mayhem into a Mötorhead-esque driving thrash rhythm. And they’re hilarious. It’s brilliant.
In a puzzling stroke of luck, I scored an artist wristband because for some reason my band Love Crushed Velvet was registered in the SXSW database. Our lead singer A.L.X. discovered this upon arriving in Austin and “checking in” at the convention center. He and I immediately put the wristbands to good use at the Pitchfork party at Emo’s, where we saw No Joy and Weekend before heading to Spill, where I bailed, but A. stuck around for Diamond Rings and reported back that the set was strong.
The day of kickass female singers and ass-kicking metal.
Paste party: Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea, at Stage on Sixth. What a voice this girl has. Later, I migrated with a cadre of New Yorkers to the SPIN magazine loft for a solo acoustic set by Jewel, who was stunning — and (who knew?) hilarious, relating personal anecdotes between songs with a charmingly understated sense of humor.
Hit Barbarella in the evening for a metal showcase. Lo-Pan gets my SXSW award for favorite new discovery. Agalloch, the one band I really wanted to see this week (and the only show where my wristband really came in handy), killed it on the outdoor stage; their dark, abrasive ambience engulfed the audience for what seemed like a relentless eternity.
(Note: do not go from a death metal concert to a church. I did this. It made me paranoid. I caught the end of City and Colour‘s set at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, and, while the acoustics were fantastic, I kept expecting an evangelist to take the stage and guilt trip me for having just enjoyed several hours of “evil” at Barbarella.)
The SPIN Party. Backstage pass courtesy of Electric Child, whose performance hypnotized the crowd and, if the number of email addresses collected is any indication, turned many of them into new fans. Other highlights were, of course, The Kills with their set of new songs, DJing by Moby, OMD, and TV on the Radio. The latter I like much better in this smaller venue; the first and only other time I saw them was in 2006 when they opened for NIN at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston. Up close, their music is more danceable.
Charlene Kaye at El Mercado. Interview forthcoming! Tried to sit in Auditorium Shores long enough to catch some of Bright Eyes, but the band before, The Felice Brothers, were so not to my liking that I couldn’t stick it out long enough to see the headliner. I don’t understand why The Felice Brothers, from New Paltz, NY, would have Southern-ish accents and sound like Bob Dylan with a backing band and a hangover. Sorry, guys. Didn’t do it for me.
I did hear the beginning of the Bright Eyes show as I was leaving. Lots of spoken stuff, from what I could tell. Felt like I didn’t miss much by leaving.
Decompression. Day of silence. No crowds. A journal. Four dogs. Wristbands off. Relief.
First, I have to apologize for the belatedness of this post. Life happens, blogs get neglected, etc.
Openers Gamble House hail from Los Angeles. Throwing self-censorship to the wayside, I’ll describe their music as your standard aesthetically inoffensive indie rock, which nowadays is another way of saying easy-listening music for 20-somethings. Still, I appreciate the fact that all band members were wearing relatively loose-fitting jeans. It’s nice to see guitar-wielding young men who don’t look like they’ve tried to squeeze into their girlfriends’ pants.
According to their bio, Gamble House seems to be a vehicle for lead singer Ben Becker, who began writing the band’s songs while he was still living in Brooklyn (a fact that also seems to explain why this California band has that all-too-common “Williamsburg sound” of sensitivity mixed with pop songs played by a four-piece). I heard a bit of a Beatles influence in their tunes, and I do have to give significant props to the smoothness of Becker’s and guitarist Ben Cassorla’s almost-falsetto harmonies. Their voices blend well, producing a less-fey-sounding Wild Beasts effect.
Shortwave Society, from Knoxville, TN, couldn’t have been more different from the opening act. Other than brass horns, there is hardly a type instrument that the five band members don’t play. Simultaneously, they employ a cello, an acoustic guitar, a synth keyboard, a violin, a laptop, drums, and an amped and distorted old telephone receiver. There’s also a xylophone, an electric guitar, and vocals. And on Friday night, the whole shebang ended with a segway into “Science Fiction Double Feature”–the closing credits version–from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now, I’m all in favor of avant-garde music. It can be thrilling to hear unexpected combinations of instruments, styles, or techniques come together in a way that challenges the listener and stretches the boundaries of what we normally consider to be music. However, making the avant-garde or the experimental make sense is not an easy thing to do–not that sense is a requirement; it is, however, a means of helping the listener understand the musical ideas behind a song.
My point is that, with so much happening in their music at once, Shortwave Society have taken on the hugely complicated task of attempting to organize all of these sounds, all of these dissonant notes, all of these individual parts into a cohesive whole. And, for me, the myriad parts never quite…gel. While there is structure to each song, the motifs change so quixotically that the mind never gets to relax into a groove. Often, I couldn’t figure out why the individual players’ lines of music were happening, except that there was, for example, a cello onstage, so it might as well be made use of during the entire song. Although the band members appear to be listening to each other, the separate parts played by each musician frequently sound as though they have nothing to do with what anyone else is playing. I don’t mean that there are occasional clashing moments like those that occur in jazz improvisation; I mean that it sounds like someone determined the key of the song, outlined the structure, and handed each person a metronome set to the same tempo; then everyone went into separate, sound-proofed rooms and came up with their respective parts.
I hate to be excessively critical of a band that’s new on the scene, but I feel that the obviously high technical skill level of the members of Shortwave Society merits my respect in the form of an honest response, with my reasons for not entirely “getting” what they’re about articulated to the best of my ability. I have nothing but high praise for the band’s dexterity–especially that of violinist Sarah Hurd and cellist Alexia Pantanizopoulos, the latter performing with a gusto that is wonderful to watch. Maybe my ear lacks the sophistication required to fully understand their music. Or maybe “not understanding” is exactly their point. I have no idea. To me, that indicates that, despite the prowess, passion, and intelligence of the players, the thrust of the music remains unclear.
…Stay tuned for my recap of Adam Matta‘s performance…
Update 9/7/10: Please see Original Hipster’s interview with Adam Matta in lieu of part 2 of this blog post.
I’ll also openly admit that the first time I listened to any tracks by Sleigh Bells was this morning (before reading the Voice review) after seeing them mentioned on Brooklyn Vegan. I’d heard of the band before. Just hadn’t bothered to check out their music. The music is fine.
And I basically don’t care.
Now, I’m trying to wrap my head around this. According to Harvilla, people were screaming in worship of these new hipster gods. But to me, Sleigh Bells sound like bits and pieces of NIN, The Kills, Amanda Blank, and all those female pop singers on the radio whose names I don’t know because they all sound alike–sampled, stirred around a bit, and (per Harvilla) played at an excruciatingly loud volume. Frankly, I’m bored.
This blend of sonic components we’ve already heard in other contexts does not juxtapose genres that are disparate enough to be interesting when combined, and the combination is not cohesive enough to sound to me like anything more original than a Girl Talk mashup. (To be fair, Girl Talk has a heck of a lot of skill–arguably more than Sleigh Bells.)
My point is, if you put carrots, onions, kidney beans, and potatoes into a pot with some water, you haven’t created a new food in the way that you do when you turn flour (and other ingredients) into a pastry via a chemical reaction in your oven. When you make a stew, you chop stuff up and mix it together, but it all pretty much retains its original character, just in smaller pieces and in a different, randomized array. But when you take something as basic and mostly flavorless as flour, yeast, eggs, etc., and turn them into a wedding cake that looks like a Japanese pagoda–well then you’ve done something magnificent.
And that’s how I feel about Sleigh Bells.