February 26, 2013
Now that we're knock-knock-knocking on March's door, SXSW is officially here. You've taken out the bank loan to pay for that jacked up Austin accommodation, started RSVPing to Day Parties, and even circled a few can't-miss acts. From here it's all (free) beer and skittles. Except: as any veteran adventurer knows, keeping your ear-to-the-ground for last-minute buzz-building is a mandatory part of the South-by experience. Hell, making this 'Last-Minute' list two whole weeks out feels dangerous; I'm sure some new buzz band I currently haven't heard of will arise in that time. But below is a list of humans —from the almost-entirely-unknown to venerable indie legends— who've either just put out a really good record or are just about to, and will arrive in Austin at an opportune time.
Chelsea Light Moving
Carlos van Hijfte
Chelsea Light Moving are the new band for (ex-?) Sonic Youth leader Thurston Moore, and they sure sound a lot like Sonic Youth; all irregularly tuned guitars riffing at odd angles and Moore reciting his beat-poetic tales of New York City ghosts over the top. Yet, the debut CLM LP is also the most defiantly rocking
record Thurston's helmed in decades; a clear reflection of his post-divorce mood. "The band is ready to detonate any birthday party, wedding or hullabaloo in any country, planet or stratosphere that doesn't support right wing extremist NRA sucking bozo-ology," Moore claims; a boast Brooklyn Vegan readers took him up on
. And, coincidentally enough, Austin is —mid-March— the world capital of hullabaloos; verily filled with basements, birthdays, and shindigs ready for detonation. Or, at least, the presence of Indie Rock Royalty.
Coming out of the same Montréal scene as amazing Canadians Grimes
, Mozart's Sister
, Blue Hawaii
, Sean Nicholas Savage
et al, Doldrums makes music that turns (sometimes iconic) samples into pop-songs that border on the cacophonous. On songs like "She Is the Wave
," that cacophony creates jittery, uneasy rhythms; and, live, Airick Woodhead —the Toronto native who just is
Doldrums— draws from the boisterous energy of DIY parties. Yet, Lesser Evil
, his much-buzzed-about longplaying Doldrums debut, finds moments of tenderness, silence, and isolation amidst the mania. It feels like an album of these online times: twitching with overstimulation and powered by communal spirit, yet fundamentally solitary and, in turn, lonely.
Former Festival sister Lindsay Powell's first album under the name Fielded comes out on April 25, and, well, let's let her explain its title. "Ninety Thirty Thirty
comes from a cinematic, science fiction dream I had while was on tour," Powell explains, amazingly, mid-press-release. "I was the founder of a cult in post-apocalyptic America called Ninety Thirty Thirty. Ninety represented the Uterus and Thirty Thirty the ovaries. What a code to unlock, I thought." That code is unlocked across a suite of songs (like "Chapel of Lies
" and "Eternal Hour
") that layer Powell's multitracked voice over dramatically-appointed compositions. In a fashion similar to Julia Holter, Powell uses synth sounds akin to orchestral instruments; only bypassing the gentle classicism of Holter's compositions and going straight for a plasticky, ersatz, neon-lit, utterly-synthed-out, turn-of-the-'80s sound.
The Flaming Lips
J. Michelle Martin Coyne
The Flaming Lips long ago cemented their reputation as one of the great live acts in indie music; their shows explosions of confetti, fake blood, love, weirdness, and soaring-if-wonky pop-song singalongs. Yet their thirteenth LP, The Terror
, is being billed as a bummer; endlessly enthusiastic frontman Wayne Coyne calling it a "bleak, disturbing record
." The Terror
is released on April 1, so The Flaming Lips' SXSW showcase is a showcase for this new material; the band's chance to unveil it unto the waiting world from on stage. I'm guessing that, when the innate joyousness of their live shows collides with the party atmosphere of March-in-Austin, the jams from The Terror
aren't likely to sound so terrifying. And even if they do, Coyne still has that inflatable ball, right?
Trouble In Mind
Jacco Gardner's debut album, Cabinet of Curiosities
, was made in a bedroom in Amsterdam in 2012, but it sounds like it was made in the Strawberry Fields of 1967. Drawing from The Beatles, The Zombies, The Association, The Left Banke et al, Gardner employs the dusty tropes of Baroque pop, with an army of harpsichords, organs, and mellotrons bubbling away over his approximation of breezy, California harmonies. Were this some inert, museum-piece-ish recreation of past sound, it would all be quite pat, but there's a sense of perverse postmodernism at play on the Dutchman's debut disc. Like Ariel Pink
—the veritable Godfather for a whole new generation of young bedroom acts— Gardner explores old sounds as a form of pop-cultural time-travel, not out to glorify the past but study the passage of time as measured through the decaying of dusty LPs.
Three years after Kisses delivered their delightful debut, The Heart of the Nightlife
—which was, lest we forget, one of 2010's Best Albums
— these Los Angeleno lovers are back with their long-awaited follow-up full-length. It's called Kids In L.A.
, it's out on their new label Cascine come mid-May, and it's been produced by Pete Wiggs of legendary house/synth/soft-poppers Saint Etienne. The two singles from Kids In L.A.
, "Funny Heartbeat
" and "Hardest Part
," are a pair of impressive pop-songs, bubbling along on bright beats, buoyant melodies, and Jesse Kivel's beautiful, bruised-heart croon. When The Heart of the Nightlife
dropped, Kivel and foil Zinzi Edmundson had to work out how they were going to do it live; but, this time around, Kisses will hit SXSW as tested —and impressive— live act.
The five years between LPs for Portland orchestral-pop oddballs Parenthetical Girls have hardly been idle. After 2008's brilliant Entanglements
, the band —Zac Pennington
and all who sail in her— set about making a run of related EPs. From 2010's Privilege, pt. I: On Death & Endearments
to 2012's Privilege, pt. V: Portrait of a Reputation
, the series chronicled a band in flux; members/collaborateurs coming and going, with styles —manic jangle, blippy synth-pop, new-romantic balladeering— proving just as fluid. Yet, this sprawling saga soon become a taut story: the newly-assembled Privilege (Abridged)
LP whips the material into evocative, narrative shape. (Abridged)
, the songs show Pennington —warble more wild, lyrics more scandalous— as an artist merely, merrily borrowing the form of a band, not being beholden to it.
After debuting last year's impressive "Gonna Get Her
" single on Lefse, Chicago synth-pop act Psychic Twin has come with an even better second 7-inch, which has just been pressed up —just in time for SXSW— by Polyvinyl. On the glorious, swelling A-side "Strangers
" and the sweet flipside "Dream State
," Erin Fein summons childhood memories of new-wave videos on MTV, but minus the tedious retromania. Here, these sparkling synths are nostalgic, but in a personal, not pop-cultural, fashion. Fein views the sounds of the pop-parade past through the opaque haze of distant memories, and recreates them not with smirking cockiness, but a hesitant diffidence. Which means: along with the bright keys and carolled melodies, there's lots of echo, dreaminess, and melancholy.
Calling yourself Young Dreams is making a statement: the name one that evokes all kinds of romantic notions of longing, yearning, and ambition, of an adolescence in the The Suburbs
spent imagining a bigger, better life awaiting out there, in the indefinable, unknowable future. Young Dreams —a Bergen-based big-band built around Matias Tellez, and containing seven-ish members— don't sound like Arcade Fire much at all; they are, rather, hugely indebted to the pop-song compositions of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, and claim as much influence from Bach, Mozart, and John Adams as they do, like, Belle and Sebastian
. But the comparison is, in its own way, apt: like the Dreams of Win and Regine, these Young Dreams —as heard on their Between Places
LP— are the kind that could move mountains.
In an era in which blog buzz descends on budding bedroom acts, Young Galaxy are hitting hype-band status at far more sedate pace. Their debut, self-titled LP came out in 2007, way back when Bon Iver
hadn't left the cabin, Cloud Nothings
were still in high-school, and the summer of chillwave
was two years away. Across their first LPs, they've tended to a sizeable profile in Canada, but barely bumped the blog-buzz needle. All that will change with their fourth album, Ultramarine
. Due out in April —just after SXSW, at the gateway to warmer weather— it's a sweet, summery romance mixing new-wave synth ballads with Balearic Swede-pop. The two singles thus far, "Pretty Boy
" and "Fall for You
," are two of the best of 2013, and, on the back of them, a Young Galaxy breakout surely —finally— awaits.