Pairs Well With…The Shins, Damon Albarn, Portugal. The Man
James Mercer and Danger Mouse’s Broken Bells has established itself as more than a side-project with this year’s After the Disco, a solid combination of rock-structured songwriting and indie pop production.Mercer is an artist who makes it look easy, crafting personal, world-heavy lyrics that match Danger Mouse’s smart, rounded-off production.After the Disco leads a relatively straight path from Broken Bells’ debut, perhaps a reason the record has been relatively overlooked – a stark contrast to Broken Bells every-weekend, main stage festival gigs this summer.Front to back, After the Disco succeeds by dipping into a variety of genres - alt country, dance-pop and moody indie rock included.It’s synth music that not quite new wave, but commands a space where those 80s influences are transitioned to the duo’s sleeves.The road show continues this fall with a nationwide, headlining tour through the end of October.From there, hopefully the pattern of rotating records with The Shins continues – these two are as reliable a bet as can be made.
Pairs Well With…Grouplove, Neon Trees, Foster the People
We’ll go beyond megahit “Safe and Sound” for coverage of indie pop band Capital Cities, an act that pays off more with a little big of digging.Fantasy melodies and electronic inflections inform Capital Cities’ music, ultra-bright synth action with a foot in each of the last three decades.New wave, 80s pop underscores much of debut In a Tidal Wave of Mystery.Simple and effective hooks instinctually insist office-chair dance grooves, best shown on unapologetic pop songs like “Center Stage” and “Origami”.This actually makes experimental curves like stuff-white-people-like ode “Farrah Fawcett Hair” stand out more; an indication of a band that goes for broke even in a neutral mode.Capital Cities spent the summer on festival main stages and the quick rise comes with increased expectations, an interesting spot to be in with sophomore horizons in the near future.
Today’s grouping includes a couple of big names as the top recommendations, with a few notables tagging along in the middle.Highlights:
Broken Bells (9) - James Mercer and Danger Mouse’s Broken Bells has established itself as more than a side-project with this year’s After the Disco, a solid combination of rock-structured songwriting and indie pop production.Mercer is an artist who makes it look easy, crafting personal, world-heavy lyrics that match Danger Mouse’s smart, rounded-off production.
Captial Cities (7) – We’ll go beyond megahit “Safe and Sound” for coverage of indie pop band Capital Cities, an act that pays off more with a little big of digging.Fantasy melodies and electronic inflections inform Capital Cities’ music, ultra-bright synth action with a foot in each of the last three decades.
The Ballroom Thieves (6) – The Ballroom Thieves have roots-folk leanings, but their songs take more from blues-rock than coffeehouse ballads.The Boston outfit is very percussive, using all of their instruments to drive points forward on songs like “Armada” and “Droves” – stomp your feet at will.
Bunji Garlin (6) – Bunji Garlin has a surprisingly light touch considering his dancehall-pop genre.Reggae rhythms and structures are turned into upbeat, electronic anthems, cleanly produced for the ultimate party vibe.
The Bixby Knolls (5) – The Bixby Knolls are a mix of modern rock and indie pop.Moody guitar tones and distorted electronic melodies are the highlight on the LA band’s latest EP Tomorrow Never Comes.
Brenmar (5) – Hip hop DJ Brenmar’s latest is High End Times Vol. 1, a collaborative record that blends Southern traditions with NYC punch.It’s a pretty commercial effort, but doesn’t hesitate to go hard both in production and the guests’ rhymes.
The combo of Dam-Funk and Snoop Dogg yielded a jazzy hip hop record in 2013, highlighted by hints of 70s funk and soul.Dam-Funk drops smattering of inventive electro-tones into the mix, but 7 Days of Funk ultimately acts as a new Snoop record.It’s a cohesive one – Dam-Funk has a signature sound that naturally melds with Snoop tracks from the last decade.Fundamentally loaded with swagger, 7 Days of Funk is a great party record, familiar and fresh.The single sound that 7 Days of Funk represents shouldn’t be understated – this is the first Snoop record to he helmed by one producer since 1993’s Doggystyle.Check their studio record on Stones Throw and a full taste of the duo’s SXSW showcase with 7 Days Of Funk – Spotify Sessions, including some killer takes on a few old classics.
Pairs well with…Kaskade, Alan Braxe, Treasure Fingers
OEB deep disco house favorite Amtrac made another run through SXSW this year with AM Only, opening a prime showcase of reliable, forward-thinking artists.His latest is a pair of trance-pop singles in “Undefeated” and “Primal”, proving there is strength in EDM without relying on a dubby drop.
2013 Review: Amtrac is a solid house producer and DJ.The sound is something of a vocal deep disco house with brushes of sustained lo-fi synth and the occasional break from the 4x4 pattern.The vibe is part poolside, part lounge, part mainstage, depending on where the needle runs.If you ever loved house music, if you enjoyed that moment in the early 90s when slower-tempo house tracks from Crystal Waters and Robin S vibed through your radio speakers, if you’ve ever warmed up to house from a cautious distance—-Amtrac is an opening to rediscover the genre.Let it bring you back to a moment when you were floating and bopping about the dancefloor or dorm room, when you were chanting along without knowing quite what you were chanting.House music can be a youth-preserving, effervescent force, a beautiful melody that holds your chin up even when times are tough.
Pairs Well With…Patty Griffin, Sahara Smith, Phosphorescent
Folk, jazz, country, blues – it is clear singer-songwriter Ali Holder has done her homework.Her latest record In Preparation For Saturn’s Return emits a coffeehouse vibe from a distance, but I’m enamored with the level of detail in both the instrumentation and Holder’s textured, technical vocals.Most of these songs lay within tall grass, peeking out instead of overpowering either in a pop or a traditional sense.Holder is further on the scale towards Americana than indie, but the emotionalism embodied in her songs grounds this away from pop country territory for sure.Ali Holder’s reach hasn’t stretched much beyond Austin yet, so it is a worthy introduction to the broader music community with In Preparation For Saturn’s Return.
Alt country, hip hop and disco house all find a place in the top of today’s diverse mix of last-minute SXSW 2014 adds.Highlights:
7 Days of Funk (8) - The combo of Dam-Funk and Snoop Dogg yielded a jazzy hip hop record in 2013, highlighted by hints of 70s funk and soul.Dam-Funk drops smattering of inventive electro-tones into the mix, but 7 Days of Funk ultimately acts as a new Snoop record.
Amtrac (8) - OEB deep disco house favorite Amtrac made another run through SXSW this year with AM Only, opening a prime showcase of reliable, forward-thinking artists.His latest is a pair of trance-pop singles in “Undefeated” and “Primal”, proving there is strength in EDM without needing to rely on a dubby drop.
Ali Holder (7) - Most of these songs lay within tall grass, peeking out instead of overpowering either in a pop or a traditional sense.Holder is further on the scale towards Americana than indie, but the emotionalism embodied in her songs grounds this away from pop country territory for sure.
Alejandro Escovedo (6) – Austin rock veteran Alejandro Escovedo is spending the year with new outfit The Fauntleroys, teaming up with Ivan Julian, Nicholas Tremulis and Linda Pitmon.Their EP I’m in Love With Everything is expected loose, high-talent friends who could write a good rock song in their sleep.
Aaron Lee Tasjan (5) – Pleasant and natural, Aaron Lee Tasjan’s debut EP Crooked River Burning is a fine listen.Acoustic picking and Tasjan’s tender voice are front and center in throughout the songwriter’s record.
Alex Gow (5) – Alex Gow is half of Oh Mercy and is a left-field SXSW addition as I couldn’t locate any solo tunes from Gow on the web.Oh Mercy is a plaintive folk rock duo with an open disposition, so I imagine Gow’s solo set would follow suit.
Pairs Well With…Sharon Van Etten, Waxahatchee, Angel Olsen
Your Friend is singer-songwriter Taryn Miller, a minimal artist with immediate emotional heft.Your Friend’s songs often start with a minimal electric guitar line and Miller’s rich alto, a lonely yet powerful tone.It’s a soft presence, one that layers in alt rock instrumentation to swell above a tender pulse.Your Friend’s debut record Jekyll/Hyde holds up as a cohesive story, a personal collection of pained reflections.Miller’s production, alongside Hospital Ships’ Jordan Geiger, draws visions of dimly lit basements, pin-drop concrete to lay an open soul.The best moments on Jekyll/Hyde are the ones that peer over a bursting, rock and roll cliff, only to catch grip right before a drop into the musical abyss.The Kansas native has a few local gigs lined up for late summer, but hopefully Jekyll/Hyde draws a national presence and expanded reach to the deserved, emerging artist.
Producer Tropics covers a wide range on his latest Home and Consonance.Though the trance jams of “Fleeting Haunt” doesn’t strike too many heart-tones, the slinky, electronic R&B of the title track and “Courage” are steeped in inventive programming and songwriting.In fact, when Tropics goes for a more traditional song-form, he succeeds the best – the experimental elements stand out even more.This is soul music at its core, though Tropics is quick to detour into lounge pop and watery reverb.The jazz juxtapositions in “Courage” and “Don’t You Know” are especially promising – it’s something unique yet sonically grounded.This is a change in direction from Tropics’ earlier dance-oriented tracks (the producer is about five years into his released career), a move that completely works and hopefully translates organically right to the stage.
Pairs Well With…fun., The Neighbourhood, MyNameIsJohnMichael
Tysson has been gigging for only about a half-year, but dual singles “Bigger” and “Lost” have established what could be a forebearer to a future mainstream hit.Regal percussion, harmonized vocals and anthemic peaks are the concrete of Tysson’s sound.While Tysson is a new band, songwriter John Michael Rouchell has laid a healthy, rock groundwork from his previous unit MyNameIsJohnMichael.The New Orleans songwriter’s pop sensibility is pretty remarkable on both songs – everything falls so nicely in its handcrafted home.The builds and handclaps seem to amalgamate so naturally – I’m betting Rouchell took in some buzzing bands on prior years’ festival runs to influence this new direction.Tysson’s next date is at Halloween weekend’s Voodoo Experience festival, so keep an ear out for new music from Tysson this fall in anticipation.
In a twist to the normal SXSW story, I actually wasn’t too drawn in from a chance set with Zella Day during an early afternoon day party this year, but a listen to her introductory tracks released since has presented a pleasant change of mind.Day’s sound is one of minor melodrama.Pop-focused production elevates bangers like “East of Eden” and “Sweet Ophelia”, a mainstream sound that could fool a hipster into becoming a fan.Latest track “Compass” takes an opposite approach, a true-to-form piano ballad of one-on-one introspection.Day has a beautiful tone to match, pretty and naturally melancholic.Every one of Zella Day’s songs are a little different (four originals – a de facto debut EP is glued together), a good sign for what’s to come in that each is strong and relevant in its own way.
Wayne Kramer (6) – The latest from the MC5 frontman is a dense, prog/jazz-rock adventure alongside the Lexington Arts Ensemble.The heaviness of the guitar (though don’t sleep on the meditative solo on “13th Hour) counterpoints free horn solos throughout the fiercely eclectic record – an impressive feat for the storied artist.
X (6) – Influential punk rock band X has continued to make the festival rounds almost thirty-five years after their hallmark debut Los Angeles, including a stop at SXSW this year for an eclectic lineup alongside Tyler the Creator, Les Claypool and +++ (Crosses).It’s been over twenty years since X’s last release, so the nostalgia will be strong anytime the reunited band hits the stage.
Young Magic (6) – Young Magic continues to improve on their sound with their latest dream pop effort Breathing Statues.It’s a spacious and mannered record that bubbles electronic and vocal harmonies in a conjoining manner.
Pairs Well With…Lykke Li, David Byrne, Sleigh Bells
St. Vincent’s 2014 self-titled record will hold up as one of the best from any artist all year.Industrial stamps and flowing electronic rock intermingle in African dances and mini-feedback freak-outs throughout St. Vincent.Front to back, St. Vincent is coherent, inventive and forthright – a major accomplishment for a talent who isn’t scared the blow the roofs off, albeit in a controlled, future-class way.Every song here is a single, though some are charting in a parallel universe somewhere where people dress like Elizabeth Banks in the Hunger Games.Wildly, if you peel back all the sonic goodness, St. Vincent’s tracks are classic rock/pop songs, an unbreakable core for all of forty minutes.St. Vincent’s live show, one that has somehow eluded this listener all year, has received rave reviews, mixing choreography and rock jams for something artistically new and unique.St. Vincent is on a world tour that continues all the way through December, so no excuses from here on out – check this one out at the top of her game.
Hip hop, R&B and down-tempo electronica – all elements of emerging producer STwo’s impressive concoctions.STwo is a beatmaker and remixer by trade, but his tracks are so well rounded that they work as complete pieces without accompaniment.His music is easy on the ears, minimizing body-shaking intentions for massaged melodies and understated rhythmic anchors.Latest track “Aura”, released just this week, is perhaps STwo’s most spacious yet.While this follows in STwo’s mostly instrumental foundation, be sure to give a listen to “Lovin U” for a fully formed, down-tempo R&B-pop song.At just twenty years old, STwo is overflowing with potential – keep an ear out for this early streak of strength to continue into the next few years.
Sweater Beats – “Where You Are” (w/ Vindata and Bella Hunter)
Pairs Well With…Ryan Hemsworth, Esta, STwo
Some more pop music from the future comes from Sweater Beats, another strong entry into the world of R&B electronica.Sweater Beats’ music is often accompanied by sexy, mysterious vocals as complete tracks, but the intricacies of his intricate production is what makes these tunes so warm.Whether going for punch or patience, Sweater Beats puts his own spin on the open genre.Melodies are unique and come from left field, understanding that the beat is just the start of the music experience.Some songs are full-on dance numbers (“Where You Are”, “MLLN DLLR”) and are complemented by minimal tracks, a yin-yang counterpoint without losing some pop accessibility.2013 EP That Feel has already been followed up by some choice collaborations and remixes, a sign of things to come for sure from this promising NYC producer.