We live in a truly bizarre time. Without getting into politics, isn’t it weird enough that O.J. Simpson’s ’90s saga crushed the critics as both a documentary and a primetime drama?—and that the riptide beneath the drama owes more to misogyny than to race? Time travelers from the ’90s would be shocked by what happened to the Kardashian family, yet might note that the attitudes towards women is at about the same temperature as it was back then—only way more trendy. That’s the bizarro-world twist: It’s trendy to talk about it, trendy to protest against it, and—even more upside-down—it’s trendy, in certain circles, to say that “grabbing them by the pussy” is no big deal. Time travelers from the ‘70s are laughing at us.
Who needs another rock band? Well, pretty much everybody, by the look of it—they just keep popping up in Brooklyn, the “Brooklyn sound” shows no sign of fading, and the kids moving here for college and starting bands show no sign of cutting it out, either. Which is by and large a good thing—most bands don’t make it, and almost none of them stay together long enough to produce more than a couple of good records, so keep ‘em coming.
The Britanys deliver simple, satisfying garage rock that properly pays respect to Iggy Pop, with vocals that are surprisingly mature, like singer Lucas Long must smoke a lot of cigarettes.
Annie Hart’s SoundCloud page says, “Putting all the synthesizers in my basement to good use,” which is a wonderful description of what she’s quite obviously doing—with emphasis on “good use.” Her low-fi, gossamer sound is like starched sheets stretched tight over brittle rock candy drum—resonant, tender, and not too sweet. The tendency towards fuzzy, underwater tones is cut by her clear voice that breaks through and pulls in the daylight.
Most Beautiful Island is that rare movie pitched as a “psychological thriller” that is truly a psychological thriller: the best parts happen in your mind while you’re watching it, as the filmmakers refuse to tell you what’s happening and you’re forced to assume the worst.
Sons of an Illustrious Father was playing their electrifying track “Extraordinary Rendition” as a line down the block inched into Maggie Mae’s in Austin. The song set the tone: a thumping bass line played on a keyboard by Josh Aubin (bearded, wearing a speedsuit), alternating with a deliberate hiss on the hi-hat. The back and forth rhythm was intensified by the chords from guitarist Lilah Larson, fierce in black jeans, black T-shirt, Joan Jett cool. Over the top were the plaintive lyrics from the drummer, who wore what I believe was a solid-tone green dashiki but read from the floor like a boxer’s slick robe. The band treated these outfits as uniform, and wore them at every show at SXSW.
With literally thousands of bands to choose from at South by Southwest, even the most casual enthusiast has to become a music critic—just to decide what to see. It can be hard to turn off during shows, as people scan their phones—and their homemade spreadsheets—to gauge whether to bail and hit the next band on the list. In the midst of all this, I somehow managed to see 26 bands from New York and scribble down some thoughts while hiding out at Casino el Camino. (Thanks, Brittany!)
When I first hit play on A Smurf at Land’s End, the new album from Howardian, for a fraction of a second I thought I was listening to some early Flaming Lips—then there was a Talking Heads sample before it spun off into low-fi raggedy rock. I managed to catch the latest band from artist and rabble-rouser Ian Vanek at their official SXSW showcase late Saturday night in Austin.
New Myths, made up of Rosie Slater on drums, Marina Ross on bass, and Brit Boras on guitar, claim to blend electronic elements with “fuzzy guitars and haunting vocal melodies,” and pull it off. They released their first album, Give Me Noise, in 2014, and got some nice CMJ write-ups that year from both The New York Times and The Guardian.
Brooklyn’s paperwhite is a “dream pop” brother and sister duo, Katie and Ben Marshall, about to drop their second EP, Escape, well-teased by the catchy and airy “Unstoppable.” More of-the-moment than some of their previous work, it makes one wonder where they might go from here—more EDM, more Ting Tings, or more Julee Cruise? While Ben’s other band, Savoir Adore, played several shows at SXSW this year, paperwhite had a single showcase at the Hilton Garden Inn on the eighteenth floor, which boasts the best view in Austin.
Baby Shakes released their second full-length record, Starry Eyes, last August. With Mary on lead vocals and guitar, Judy on lead guitar and vocals, Claudia on bass and vocals, and Ryan on drums (they eschew last names) they’ve toured the US and Europe, and just toured Japan in February.
ASTR got started a little late at the Speakeasy Cabaret in Austin, but were determined to bring the straggling individuals together into a crowd—not always easy after midnight at South By Southwest. The Cabaret is a funky venue—way Brooklyn, with a couple of actual bowling lanes upstairs, plus foosball, natch—and the bands play on a small stage wedged behind one end of the bar, visible from right-up-front or the overlooking balcony.
They started strong, with vocalist Zoe ASTR (nee Zoe Silverman) coming on heavy and emotive. They certainly brought a few fans of their spage-age R&B (their megafan had flown in) and early into the set the crowd was trying to move; by the fourth song there was definite swaying and sashaying, and when Zoe offered to buy the whole crowd tequila shots, none of the front line moved. She was just busting chops anyway.