With a lurching haunted house beat, the new Swans song “A Little God In My Hands”, it’s hard to tell if you should be scared or dancing. Explosive blasts of noise and horns are layered over the steady pattern, brought to futuristic swamprock heights with a repetitive, muffled chorus of robotic voices and sonic screams of feedback. Their new album To Be Kind comes out on May 13th, with collaboration from St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, among others.
Known for recording songs while improvising on the first take, Damon McMahon took the alternative route for the new Amen Dunes album Love, spending over a year writing material and collaborating with other musicians to produce an album that sounds dreamy and personal, but with a more robust sound than his past recordings. The video for the second single off the album was shot on 16mm film and directed by experimental filmmaker and Godspeed You! Black Emperor collaborator Karl Lemieux in the chilly winter of Montreal (musicians from GY!BE are also on the album. While it’s black and white and dreary, the bright hopefulness of the song is a nice juxtaposition, and the one rhythm groove structure gives the song a trance feel that smoothes the edges of the agitated cinematography. It calms all the voices in your head for a spell. Love comes out May 13th on Sacred Bones.
As every media outlet has been writing for years, SXSW is a big bloated corporate monster that had some standard organizational problems this year, but it didn’t stop me from seeing 50 bands, there are problems every year. Years of attending and deep, former drunk knowledge of 6th Street from my college days helped me out immensely (miss you, nasty ole’ Treasure Island), as I bobbed and weaved through crowds and skipped the big elaborate shows to see bands I’d never seen before. I flew in Monday night to catch the tail end of Interactive, but mostly because I love watching the change in people as you move from Tuesday into Wednesday; blazers, jeans and Google Glass quickly turn into black skinny jeans, black t-shirts, and black hotpants. The streets were packed, but once you got inside most venues it was really roomy thanks to fire marshal capacity levels, and the bands were always happy to chat. Out of all those bands, these were the ones that stood out the most to me, and I can’t wait to watch their future career trajectories.
Mozes and the Firstborn: My favorite parties of the festival were definitely the Netherlands showcases at Bar96. Polite people, loud authentic garage rock and a food trailer inside made me keep coming back to them. I’ve been listening to Mozes and the Firstborn’s latest album a lot lately and expected them to be good- they ended up blowing me away. Walking a fine line between control and chaos, this Dutch garage band had top notch showmanship, a big crunchy sound with catchy hooks, and most of all skills. I do my best to dance and make other people know it’s ok to move, sometimes it works out to awesome photos like the one above of him pointing at me. They were one of the first bands I saw, and made a lot of the garage rock bands I saw after them seem like a bunch of fakers.
SKATERS: As you can see, photos of shows at night turn out pretty bland and boring with the same official SXSW banner behind them, so I mainly just shot photos during day shows. When I walked into the SKATERS show and saw some mega-hot rocker babes, I knew they were going to be good, and probably good looking. Right on both counts, this New York punk group had some of the catchiest melodies like an East Coast Rancid, and their cool, confident energy was so addictive that a rowdy mosh pit was going through most of the set, much to the chagrin of the young ladies that pushed their way to the front row then quickly were spit out to the sides.
Temples: Temples were one of the bands I was most excited to see, and they didn’t disappoint. Calm and confident on stage, their sound is gorgeous and full live, and people were singing along to every word. In a week filled with throwback 60’s psych acts, they were the most polished and the sweetest. Very composed.
Quilt: Gorgeous psych-pop out of New England, I walked myself out to East Austin to attend the Austin Psych Fest showcase to see them since they aren’t hitting up Denver this tour. They really got much wilder live than I expected, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off the calmly beautiful Anna Fox Rochinski (loving the black/navy/brown combo). Unfortunately, their tour van was just totaled, so if anyone has an extra dollar to help a band finish their tour, it’s more than appreciated by the band and the fans:
Birth of Joy: Amsterdam’s Birth of Joy played a blistering set that caused me to text a friend I just saw “come back here now!!” When I wrote about their newest single I thought it sounded Doors-esque. Seeing them live did nothing to change that opinion, and that’s a great thing. Entertaining as hell, rowdy, psychedelic fun in nothing but music set without a moment to breathe. Less pomp than the Doors, more down to earth, straight up melt your face rock.
While I was away, the Village Voice published my Guide to Phish’s Hand Signals piece. It’s just a little entertainment piece, not meant to actually be considering some official guide. Most are from the Red Rocks show filled with one-offs because I didn’t want to give too many of their secrets away (plus, it’s hard to find video of the signals, most Youtubes start when the music starts). Obviously, they don’t use signals all the time, but it’s a fun treat to catch one. Read the humor piece at the Village Voice here:
UPDATE: over 100,000 views on this article! Thanks to my wonderful, goofy readers!
- Ten Songs To Listen To Today
1. Mystic Braves “Born Without a Heart”- bright, energetic 60’s throwback sound
2. Galactic with JJ Grey “Higher and Higher”
3. Blitzen Trapper “Coming Home” – sweet country swamp funk
4. Miniature Tigers “Swimming Pool Blues” – sunny indie pop
5. Little Racer “Punk Life”- reverb drenched chill surfpsych
6. Charles Howl “Garden Train” buzzy lofi garage rock
7. Cloud Nothings “Psychic Trauma”- pretty rock noise with punk energy
8. J. Roddy Walston and the Business “Heavy Bells”
9. FUZZ “Raise”- heavy, muffled fuzz
10. St. Vincent “Regret”- aggressively cool guitar driven pop