Lately there seems to be a shortage in good new folk music releases. Post-SXSW I went to see Albert Hammond Jr. at Stubb’s BBQ and was surprised by the opening band, Streets of Laredo. They hail from New Zealand but are based in Brooklyn. Streets of Laredo are led by the Gibson brothers, but as a 7 piece group have a strong sense of family and solidarity; in the folk genre those aspects are important. Folk music in the historical sense is music you can sing along with, thump your foot, or maybe just close your eyes and mouth the words even if you don’t know them. At least that’s how I define it. Folk bands are built on tradition and if a band can create that intimate feel on stage and drive that force organically when performing live, you have a wonderful folk band like Streets of Laredo.
They currently have two EPs, Volume I and II available for free download at their website. Vocals are lead by the younger of the two Gibson brothers but there is strong chemistry between the brothers. Streets of Lardeo are vocally driven group, laced with the older Gibson’s harmonica, deeper vocal tone, and drum thumps that are a thinly layered among the band’s composition. Streets of Laredo strength derive from how well each member compliments each other whether by instrument or backing vocals. Their sound is earnest and lyrical themes builds off motifs constructed around relationships to oneself, each other, environment, and change. The only female in the group, provides a distinctive musical texture to the bands’ already vibrant palate. The band doesn’t flood the listener with one too many instruments, instead they construct a soundscape not too heavy on the horns or clumsy on musical arrangement that you often see with emerging folk groups. Volume I has the same depth as Volume II, with great songs like “Laredo” “Girlfriend” and “Need A Little Help” their songs are all over the emotional musical spectrum, but like most of their tracks, when I listen to their music, their harmonies keep floating not just on the surface but inside the part of my heart that still dreaming and searching for a link to translate the fleeting thoughts that trouble my mind. Streets of Lardeo is exactly what this generation of modern folk lovers need.
Download both EPs here: http://www.streets-of-laredo.com/
My quest to complete the El Paso Rock series has not been an easy one. Hurricane Sandy ruined a lot of Norton Records inventory in 2012 and it has been difficult to find many volumes of the series. Luckily, I obtained Volume 6, Black Out and Volume 9, Sand Surfin’. It truly is an amazing series that features rarities that Norton Records was able to obtain. My favorite artist in the series is Bobby Fuller, who was raised and began his rock ‘n roll career in El Paso, Texas. He never reached commercial success but if not for his death at the age of 23, Fuller could have competed with the best of the ‘60s music like the Beach Boys. His music derives from rapid improvisation on guitar and vocals that reverberate with every riff played. Then there are albums in the El Paso Rock series that are purely instrumental rock tracks with little or no vocals. The beauty of surf rock was the use of vibrato and the position of the humbuckers to create whimsical, light-grit sound. This compilation series is a distinctive and it is a must-have of border town music.
Bobby Fuller - I Fought the Law
Norton Records - Hurrican Sandy Damage
It only took two years, but I finally found the German-made bootleg of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. After setting back the date of the record release, Def Jam decided not to follow through with the vinyl printing. It’s a shame because it was one of my top albums of 2012 and deserved to be owned on vinyl. Channel Orange drove Ocean to major commercial success with little effort. It is a sharp album that burns with desire, whether that is about love, religion,money, drugs, sex, pain, or happiness. The sounds Ocean experiments with help thrust his lurid imagery into what is ultimately an album that is raw in all facets. As for the bootleg, buy it if you find it, because who knows when and if they will ever press an official version; and of course the sound quality on the bootleg is pretty good. But make sure it is one of the 750 “limited edition” black pressed records from Germany, because the not-so-cleverly pressed orange-colored record will leave you disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to go seeking bootlegs but the album is incredible and with many people looking for any illegal version of the album, that should indicate to Ocean and his team that the album in record form is in high demand.
The Red Bull Sound Select at The Belmont on Friday, March 14th was the highlight of my SXSW experience. I caught three acts, Sleigh Bells, Tink, and Tapioca and the Flea. It was absolutely the best show I have been to in the 3½ years that I have lived in Austin and that includes a few ACL festivals. I only caught part of Tapioca and the Flea, but I was impressed. They are a band that combines funky-sounding synths with dulcet bass lines, which is an agreeable combination with their vibrant guitar riffs. Tink was absolutely delightful; she has this flirtatious vibe that transcends her vocals as she raps and often sings. Her songs are honest, yet, quite fun. Best of all, though, she has a bit of auto-tune in her beats and the synth touches all the right places.
Sleigh Bells unquestionably dominated the stage in what felt like an endless set, which during SXSW is almost unheard of because it’s all about bands cramming in 20-minute sets all over town to get noticed. Maybe Sleigh Bells isn’t a band that most people would say needs to be playing SXSW but I am so glad they did because they are an underrated group with a lot of talent. Alexis Krauss came on stage like a woman with one mission and that was to jam out as if the group had nothing to lose. Krauss bounced around like she had gulped her share of Red Bull before hitting the stage, but I assure you, that brilliance on the dance floor is all natural. Krauss’s stage presence is a force you do not want to mess with; mute the music and she will still pulsate through your ears and fingertips. She is riveting with her jumping, spinning, and at one point she had Tink join her and those two made the crowd lose their marbles.
It would not be Sleigh Bells without her band mate and guitarist Derek Edwards. The arrangement of their harmonics and hooks is aggressive, clunky and very edgy. Their noisy riffs sound almost manic and the synths help deliver simplistic lyrics with attitude. Contrast that with Krauss’s energy and aura and BAM, the Brooklyn duo is unstoppable. Sleigh Bells is noise rock pop but with elements of hip-hop that have dominated their tracks since their debut release, Treats. Sleigh Bells is a band you cannot take in sitting or standing but, rather, in the air, catching your balance from the waves of sound that linger long after their set is done. Sleigh Bells is great music with great albums that, after their performance, are no longer standing in the shadows.
As for the rest of SXSW, it was fantastic and I managed to capture a few shots. And although this year unfortunately seemed saturated with “big names,” it was nice to catch bands that are ready to break out.
Today there was still unofficial sxsw stuff still going on, but the weekend really does mark the end of SXSW 2014. Sometime this week I will be doing my SXSW wrap up. Until then, these Jimmy Kimmel clips sum up the scene from the week pretty well.
SXSW 2014 - Twin Shadow, Childish Gambino, Destruction Unit, Turboweekend, Jessy Lanza, Glass Animals, Tyevk, Zula
Unfortunately, I’ve been sick and these are a little late, but I promised 30 “must-see” bands for SXSW. Here they are; the last 15 are brief descriptions. I had a lot of fun listening to over 200+ bands; there was a lot of good but definitely a lot of bad. Ha! Happy SXSW-ing!
Twin Shadow has two albums and though I swear he frequents Austin, I’ve never seen a full performance. His sound is fantastic, jerky melodies and undeniable‘80s sound. Twin Shadow is a great flashback to what made ’80s dance-rock different.
Childish Gambinowas an artist that I wanted to like but couldn’t take him seriously for a long time. I kept imagining his character from Community trying to do hip-hop in his teen-age bedroom. I was wrong. His latest release, Because of the Internet is deeper and more focused than what he has put out in the past. The arrangement is unique and the delivery on each beat is powerful. Gambino’s beats and verses are reflective; this is smart hip-hop.
Destruction Unit combines punk beats and adds a twist by layering it with psychedelic meets metal undertones. I know many will say that a lot of their riffs and melodies can come off a little repetitive but it serves a purpose. Destruction Unit uses the space that the repetitive riffs and feedback gives off and hits you with pounding music vitality.
Turboweekendis another emerging “dance” band. The band has a few records in their resume and each shows they are still trying to evolve and find their sound. But one thing that has remained solid has been the vocals. They are entrancing and there is no doubt it is the strength of the band that will keep Turboweekend propelling forward. They are enjoyable and mellow, and though they produce heavy electronic music, it isn’t made for dancing but simply closing your eyes and listening.
Jessy Lanza’sdebut album Pull My Hair Back, gets into your subconscious as well as tingles your skin. Lanza crafts songs that, unlike some great female synth electronica vocalist are very accessible and the lyrics are actually intelligible. The beats and use of synth are what drive this entire album but it isn’t drowning or crushing. Although the synth is what drives each track, the way she puts structures each song is rather subtle. She has a lot of soul and touches on elements of the R&B genre but she puts a new-age spin on it.
Glass Animals’ sound is sexy. Yes, sexy. They have a very sultry and atmospheric sound that can be very distracting to your thoughts. They are definitely dance-heavy but like a lot of good synth, smooth drum kits, and dance music coming up, they channel R&B, which is a dangerous combination when done right. Glass Animals is very organic and if you let them hypnotize your ears, their sound can be a little sci-fi.
Tyevk is a band from Detroit, Michigan. If music history has taught me anything, good music comes out of Detroit. Tyevk’s musical composition is like a 7 layer bean dip. It has the nice gritty and crunchy ‘70s punk on the top then fuses as you listen deeper into their music. Their trajectory continues with a scruffy and gritty punk but adds some soul, funk, hip-hop, and even jazz to the mix. But it isn’t a rip off of that great ‘70s punk sound, but rather a whole modern sort of garage, very percussive punk rock.
Zula is a psychedelic pop-rock band. They have a very dark presence that, at times, can sound very elusive and mesmerizing. This mysterious sound adds a dimension to a genre that can usually come off very aloof and not well structured. The band shares instrumental duties, using both somber voice and synth but the noteworthy highlight of this band is the bassist and drummer. The low tunes combined with brisk drum thump, compliment the vocal abilities of the group.
SXSW 2014 - Dum Dum Girls, Diarrhea Planet, Young Fathers, Hyenaz, Charli XCX, Good For Grapes, Glitches
Dum Dum Girls performed last year at SXSW. I saw them play a 4-song set on the eastside of Austin. Playing in a record store definitely wouldn’t serve any band justice because the acoustics in certain spaces are not that great. However, Dum Dum Girls wowed me. They had a noisy up-tempo drive and rawness to their harmonies. Their lead singer Dee Dee’s vocals and stage presence are phenomenal. I usually do not dig the nasally sound but the Dum Dum Girls stand right beside their late ‘80s greasy and scratchy counterparts.
Diarrhea Planet, I love the sound but hate their name. But it would be wrong to dismiss them solely on their name because these guys are pure, dirty and grungy punk rock. And as someone who has a sweet spot for that messy rock ‘n roll, Diarrhea Planet shoots out exhilaration with guitar riffs that soar among the messy melodies. The band knows how to excite people. They have intense power chords and a tempo that is so indulgent, who wouldn’t love 4 guitars piercing your ears?
Young Fathers is a trio from Scotland. They have a very experimental sound that is difficult to categorize other than saying it is weird and bizarre. Young Fathers is not rap nor hip-hop but more of a spoken word with intense tiers of synths that help develop the group’s catchy hooks. The trio has a lot of talent and the potential is apparent. They take a lot of influences and mix and match them like a 6-pack at your favorite local liquor store. After listening to them, your insides will be warm with the influence of all types of genres and you will be thirsty for more fused tones.
Hyenaz are not going to be for everyone. This progressive metal/synthesizer sound is very creepy but darn good. I gave them a few listens because the first few times I was blown away by this digital-sounding monster. The vocals and soundscape will make the hairs on your body stand up, your skin tremble. If you are sitting, you will be at the edge of your seat and if you are standing, you will feel like you’re floating. You will definitely shudder at each track, but that isn’t a bad thing.
Charli XCX is sugar for your ears. I didn’t expect to be a fan of music that has subtle bubble gum pop elements. But she is far from the Lady Gaga’s and Katy Perry’s that practically make you want to throw up with how overproduced and radio-ready the music is. Yes, Charli XCX is catchy and her melodies are tangy in their tones but I can only imagine how good she would be live. As I have said before, there is nothing wrong with a little guilty pleasure of pop melodies. Some are actually respectable and fun.
Good For Grapes is the folk band I couldn’t seem to find during my SXSW 2014 listening. I’m glad I didn’t give up on finding some good folk music. This Vancouver group presents the elements of folk that make it the one genre I can always count to make me feel emotions from top to bottom but still leave me with optimism at the end of the tune. Good For Grapes is heartfelt and express genuine love for the instruments they play. From the guitar to the bass to drums, and even the keyboardist and accordionist; every member of the band brings it when they jam. There is no stale air when this group plays, it’s hard not to sing-along.
Glitches only have an EP but it is another indie electro band that caught my attention. They are the dark side of electro–music, their lyrics and rhythm have a unique dazed feel and with just an EP, they have a lot of oomph. Glitches are very bass-heavy blended with warm and fun tones. The blend seamlessly lingers in the bass lines and the combination creates a very smooth, dark, even haunting sort of sound. Their lyrics are equally as poignant with recurring chorus lines that are just catchy enough to have you hum along.
Hablan Por La Espalda is a band from Montevideo, Uruguay that hasn’t released an album since 2009 but I can’t blame them, a few of their releases are not accessible to many people. Unfortunately, because of the language barrier, audiences won’t take a second listen because they don’t understand it. They are missing out because American audiences need to gulp them up. Lyrics aside, music is also about the sound and to the modern ear, one would immediately label it as punk. While it does have some punk elements at the surface and even some surfer-rock, Hablan Por La Espalda channels Afro-Uruguayan elements that make their compositions stand out from the typical punk rhythms and noisy chords. Their release Fistful of Rock contains English-lyric tracks that are not as captivating as the Spanish tunes, but musically you can recognize their distinctive tone, a very elusively structured sound that makes you do a little call-and-response and fist pumping. Even though their last album is 5 years old, do not dismiss them during SXSW, it is a different sound than most have probably heard.
Perfect Pussy’s debut album, Say Yes to Love will be released right after the music portion of SXSW finishes up. But if you are lucky, you will get a taste of this roaring band that is a lot of shock factor — and not because of the name. Trust me, my first attempt to find them online didn’t produce the results I wanted. Please note that you should add band to the end of their name for all your online searches if you are looking for the band or not.
Perfect Pussy is a lot of feminist thunderous power and a nice flashback to the ‘90s punk and it’s all bundled and layered in a lot of brash noise. I’ll be honest, sometimes the vocals are garbled and not very articulate but it doesn’t need to be coherent. The message is in the band’s aggressive, muffled melodies, static feedback, and vocals that make you squirm. It’s all topped off with drum playing that ruptures your ear buds at every strike but juxtaposed with all their elements, Perfect Pussy’s soundscape feeds your musical taste buds too. And if you can’t wait, their EP is available for $5 download and their debut on NPR’s First Listen.
Vance Joy only has one EP titled, God Loves You When You’re Dancing. but it captivates the inner parts of the dreamer that lives in everyone I have ever met. The “IF” questions are hard to erase and they echo as Vance Joy pulls at your seams and makes you listen all those things you cannot forget. “Where else would you be if not here?” “Who else could you be if not them?” “What if you took the leap instead of taking a stroll?” And, “if not now, then when?” Joy is a great example of finally living for what your heart wants and not what you think is the path for you. I mean, he did the school thing and the law thing but as the EP shows, he was unfulfilled until this raw energy that I assume was buried in him was released in this beautiful, well-arranged 5-song EP. Joy is a little folk and a little alternative rock but a lot of spark in terms of his vocals and music. The EP will give you hope but also break your heart. The LP is going to be beautiful, I guarantee you the LP is a love affair in the making.