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Thursday Showcase Picks

SXSW Music Fest preview guide

March 16, 2007, Music


Astralwerks

9:30pm, Antone's This is the showcase to beat if you're a fan of the artsier side of pop. Astralwerks' A&R folks have a sharp ear for pop acts with smarts and class, and tonight's offerings are the cream of the crop. The Small Sins are a Toronto quintet that those of us below the Mason-Dixon might not have gotten a whiff of yet. A pity, as the gorgeous, layered harmonies and New Wave-inspired un-hooks on 2006's self-titled debut are captivating. Norwegian sensation Sondre Lerche just released his fourth LP, Phantom Punch, which finds him slinking gracefully from the loungey vibe of his previous work toward a coarse-pop aesthetic that still embraces sunshine. L.A.'s the Little Ones are currently earning themselves a mountain of indie cred by touring with Tilly & the Wall and the Kaiser Chiefs. Of course, the quintet's silky-smooth pop certainly stands on its own. Their debut, Sing Song, came out late last year and has been building a tidy little buzz ever since. At the top of the bill is Sparklehorse, who might as well just move to Austin for local gigs, as Mark Linkous and friends basically have done in the months since Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain was released. And really, what more can we say about Linkous' brutal and brilliant Dreamt? Only that it's flawed perfection. – Melanie Haupt


Goner/Shattered Records

8pm, Beerland Like a sleep-deprived, tantrum-prone child hopped up on Cocoa Puffs, 3-year-old Goner Records can't stand still. As the hub for all things Memphis punk, the record store/label claims an impressive roster of past bands, from the Reigning Sound and the Oblivians (former Oblivian Eric Friedl runs Goner) to King Khan & BBQ Show and Guitar Wolf. Along with brother label Shattered, their collective motley crew is true Memphis scuzz. Young'uns Boston Chinks are no strangers to Austin, kicking down doors with their steel-toed rawk. N'awlins one-man band King Louie loves you with diamond-studded harmonica blues and a touch of nervous twitch. Straight outta Tuscon, Ariz., Yuma Territorial Prison Guards dust off Raising Arizona-style bike punk, while fellow Tusconite Digital Leather (Sean Foree), a rare electronic Goner, synthesizes Kraftwerk and Gary Numan in an Applebee's bathroom. He's spawned hits such as "She Had a Cameltoe" and "Angst in My Pants." Atlanta quintet the Carbonas are equally classy and Frothing at the Mouth, all they need is their cue in the form of 1-2-3-4. The night's headliner, Jay Reatard, he of the Reatards and formerly of space-punks the Lost Sounds and God knows how many other bands, put out a fantastic album last year called Blood Visions, 15 three-minute blasts that border on British punk and power-pop. His whoa-uh-whoa is right on. Doesn't get any more gone than this. – Audra Schroeder


Red House

9pm, 18th Floor @ the Hilton Red House Records keeps the flame when it comes to contemporary acoustic music. That leaves a wide swathe of genres to cut through, and the label is up for the challenge this year with a small but lush crop of artists. Lynn Miles hails from Ottawa, Canada, where her music has already netted a Juno Award plus two Canadian Folk Music Awards for her most recent CD, Love Sweet Love. She's also been featured on NPR's Day to Day and performed on Mountain Stage. Miles' warmth and intelligence make for satisfying listening in any mood. The St. Paul, Minn.-based act known as Storyhill hearken to the best of duos throughout the years – Simon & Garfunkel is the name most often cited. Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson bend their acoustic pop into a variety of shapes and wrap the music around rootsy blues and country influences on their self-titled CD, released last month. Topping off Red House's 2007 offering is Austin favorite Jimmy LaFave, who claims both Texas and Oklahoma roots. That's a solid clue to his "red dirt music," a tightly knit blend of grassroots folk in the Woody Guthrie tradition. LaFave's first recording for Red House was the acclaimed Blue Nightfall in 2005; his second for the label is slated for later this year. – Margaret Moser


Barsuk

10pm, Buffalo Billiards They've become synonymous with indie-pop heroes Death Cab for Cutie, but Seattle label Barsuk is more than a one-trick pony. Named after Christopher Possanza's late canine buddy and now-mascot, Barsuk began as an outlet for co-founders Possanza and Josh Rosenfeld's band but evolved into one of indie rock's heaviest hitters. With DCFC safely floating with Atlantic, Barsuk brings the lonesome songwriting of Seattle's Rocky Votolato, a Texas expat with a penchant for beautiful, rural melodies. Last year's Makers is the tearjerking kin of Damien Jurado, half autobiography, half fairy tale. Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter takes the singer-songwriter out of milquetoast territory and back to the era of Carly Simon and Patti Smith with the help of former Whiskeytown guitarist Phil Wandscher. The Seattle quintet's third LP, Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul, reflects alt.country against the uniquely weathered and rustic vocals of the longhaired artiste. David Terry's popalicious Aqueduct is a subway ride away from the Decemberists. The new, keyboard-driven Or Give Me Death, Terry's second Barsuk release, is as catchy as it is true. The only non-Seattleites making an appearance are Portland, Ore., technological pop masters Menomena. This year's fantastic trip of loop and sax, Friend and Foe, adds complexity to the trio's 2004 debut, I Am the Fun Blame Monster! And if they bust out that album's opener, "Cough Coughing," we dare you to stand still. – Darcie Stevens


Gigantic Music

9pm, Parish II Gigantic's oddball lineup of musical freaks and geeks is a lot like pornography: Damned if you can define it, but you'll know it when you hear it. Letting loose everything from Aa to Zynth, G showcases Brooklyn's experimental scene and challenges critics to mash up genres like an orgy of musical Madlibs. Neo-noise tribal electro-fusion? Post-hillbilly junk punk? Psych-soul art-rock? That just about covers it. O'pener O'Death flirted with Gigantic but remains self-released with their follow-up to last year's debut, Head Home. Finding the Avett Brothers by way of Man Man, O'Death pillages the Appalachian tradition of their namesake but fully in the service of raucous, shrill folk, complete with a metal gas can for a snare drum. Dragons of Zynth work the opposite side of the same tangent. Preparing for the summer release of their not-to-be-missed debut, Coronation Thieves, which was produced by TV on the Radio's David Sitek and Kyp Malone, DoZ takes TVotR's jolting rhythms and angular beats to Afro-tech heights of aggressive, fuzzed-out psychedelia. Aa takes home the mindfuck award, as any band with three drum kits should. Like a rabid Animal Collective, their upcoming debut CD/DVD, gAame, is a rambunctious din of electronics, furious beats, and synth all climaxing in primal shouts of ecstasy. After all this, the Pogues-ish folk-garage grooves of the Boggs' third release and Gigantic debut, Forts are the perfect come down. – Doug Freeman


Yep Roc Roots

8pm, Continental Club Let's be clear here: "Roots" isn't a euphemism for "boring" or "old." Exhibit A: the Moaners, a duo of former Trailer Brides, frontwoman Melissa Swingle and drummer Laura King. With the guitar/drums tandem, the easy comparison would be the White Stripes, but a more accurate nod would go to fellow Carolinians the Flat Duo Jets. And great googly moogly, Yep Roc debut Blackwing Yalobusha is dirtier than German porn. Also on the unkempt side is American Princes. The Arkansas quartet's debut, Less and Less, is the perfect complement to chain-smoking a hangover away. Toward the other end of the age continuum is Texas legend Doyle Bramhall who, along with the Vaughan brothers, laid the groundwork for Austin's blues legacy. In a nod to either Bruce Springsteen or Guns n' Roses, songwriter to the stars Jim Lauderdale simultaneously released not one but two albums last year. Fresh off last year's original-lineup X reunion tour is John Doe, who, over the past coupla decades, has amassed a nice solo catalog. Plus, he's John frickin' Doe. Going south of the border via Nashville is America's premier Mexican-wrestling-mask-clad instrumental band. Los Straitjackets released their first Spanish-language album with the curveball title Rock en Español Vol. 1. Big Sandy of Fly-Rite Boys fame gets credit for the assist. – Michael Bertin


Asthmatic Kitty & Friends

8pm, Emo's Lounge This crowded bill features abbreviated sets from a few smaller local acts, but quality trumps quantity. The Field Guides offer fuzzy, dark, banjo-based tunes from their self-released EP, Songs in the Key of Nine. Austin trio Weird Weeds, meanwhile, investigates some Weird Feelings on their second LP. Portland, Ore.'s experimental quartet Old Time Relijun releases its seventh album this fall on K Records. Kicking off the Asthmatic Kitty portion of the showcase is Rafter (and friends), which is really just Rafter Roberts of San Diego and some support helping out on tunes from last year's Music for Total Chickens. And if chickens like spacious, kinda out-there "indie rock," then that title is spot-on, chaps. Vancouver's Shapes & Sizes released their self-titled debut last year and will soon release Split Lips, Winning Hips, a Shiner, which features more of the introspective, noodly tunes that just scream, "Canada." Shara Worden is otherwise known as My Brightest Diamond, and the New Yorker has been part of Sufjan Stevens' support crew for quite a while now. Her solo work tends toward the angsty-yet-sassy, and her newest album, Tear It Down, just dropped. Castanets, otherwise known as Raymond Raposa, is what happens when someone gives a genius a guitar. The result is introspective "country" music that creeps and seeps. Vine, the follow-up to 2005's brilliant First Light's Freeze, appears later this year. – Melanie Haupt


Vice Records

10pm, Flamingo Cantina Every March, the Vice empire invades SXSW, doling out its hipster how-to guides from on high. In 2005, the label birthed Bloc Party; in 2007, they throw their own benders on the Eastside, and Norway's 120 Days gets the party started with a trance. The young quartet's self-titled debut propels slowly with the pulse of Kraftwerk and the scintillating oscillations of Silver Apples while building synthetic drones that will erase the rest of the night. Panthers' cat-scratch fever tears straight for the flesh on raucous fourth album The Trick, packing 10 songs into 30 minutes. The Brooklyn quartet reinvigorates the stale clichés of sex, drugs, and rock & roll with an excess of testosterone, adrenaline, and scorching guitars. That wouldn't be enough for Atlanta quintet Black Lips, who set new standards in live recordings with the raw power of Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, recorded as they crossed the border into Tijuana for a tequila-fueled night of dirty punk rock. Pee Thugg and Dave 1, the fresh and clean Montreal electronic funk wizards behind Chromeo, close with their Fancy Footwork, a tongue-in-cheek Eighties throwback unabashedly making love to Death From Above. – Austin Powell


Undertow Records

8pm, Habana Calle 6 Patio The Undertow Collective began in 1997 as an aggregation of artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and creative managers sharing space in the old garment warehouse district of downtown St. Louis. It's since grown to include offices in Champaign, Ill.; New York; Nashville; Boston; and now includes a record label as well as an artist and producer management firm. The label leans toward the heartland with its premier act arguably being Chicago's Dolly Varden. Led by Steve Dawson and his wife, Diane Christiansen, the quintet has released one fervent collection of rootsy rock/country/soul after another over the past decade. The Panic Bell, their first in five years, lands in April. St. Louis quartet Waterloo has a love/hate relationship with the Midwest. They gig infrequently, preferring the recording studio, and released Out of the Woods in mid-2006. Also from St. Louis, Magnolia Summer demonstrated their louder, rawer, more spontaneous side on 2006's From Driveways' Lost View. The foursome's sturdy guitar rock has drawn comparisons to Wilco, R.E.M., and Built to Spill. The pride of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Glossary crosses Southern and indie rock in a way that recalls Dinosaur Jr. stomping on Drive-by Truckers. 2006's For What I Don't Become was produced by Centro-matic's Matt Pence. A side project for members of Milton Mapes, Austin's Monahans release its debut, Low Pining, in June. Their songs weave anthemic melodies through ambient tranquility, rhythmic intensity, and a nautical theme. – Jim Caligiuri


Mint Records

10pm, Light Bar New York, London, Paris, Vancouver, everybody talk about pop music. OK, Vancouver doesn't work as well as Munich, but does anyone there play anything that isn't sugar-frosted pop? It's a little-known fact that the offices of Mint Records were ground zero for a freak Tootsie Pop explosion in the late Seventies, and their roster shows the aftereffects. Shane Nelken and whomever he captures in a temporary orbit, the Awkward Stage, might have a sincerity problem. Specifically too much of it (both of Nelken's parents are psychiatrists). So last year's pop pastiche, Heaven Is for Easy Girls, was his attempt to sort through some issues. When it comes to Canadian power trios, only one band stands above titans Rush and Triumph, and that's Immaculate Machine. The Victoria outfit comes off like Jonathan Richman had he been gifted more instruments as a child. Keyboard player Kathryn Calder's moonlights as a New Pornographer. If the left coast Canadian confections are too sugary, then Novillero is the coffee that sugar goes into. The Winnipeg quartet has made a concerted effort to remind us that indie pop doesn't always have to be cute or dainty. That guitar has a volume knob. Turn the darn thing clockwise. The exception proving the rule is Carolyn Mark. Shouldn't she be on Bloodshot? Kelly Hogan vocalizes on The Pros and Cons of Collaboration, but how is it possible to cut a roots disc called Just Married: An Album of Duets without a Jon Langford collaboration? Plus-one to Mark for the line, "I'm more in love with this cigarette than I'll ever be with you." – Michael Bertin


Relapse Records

9pm, Room 710 Relapse began as a grassroots metal imprint run by rabid fans from western Philly. Bigger and savvier, with a bulging ... catalog, their founding spirit remains. The house of Mastodon, High on Fire, and Jucifer won't feature these bands at their sixth consecutive showcase, but start with the side project of the Dillinger Escape Plan, Jersey's Prada Killers, a guitar/keys and drums duo unleashing improv jazz-metal. Putting a drop-tuned patina on punk, Louisville, Ky., trio Coliseum glean from Motörhead. They don't have a Relapse title yet, so they'll pull from their catalog, including Goddamage (Manic Ride). Proving that something interesting wafts from central Illinois, Peoria/Chicago-based quartet Minsk engages in The Ritual Fires of Abandonment, drawing from Dead Can Dance, 16 Horsepower, and Swans. Founded in 1993 in Pittsburgh with the crazed notion that drums could lead an instrumental outfit, Don Caballero signed with Relapse after some personnel changes, the quartet offering up World Class Listening Problem. Take heed, Albini and Dysrhythmia fans. Asked by label ponies Alabama Thunderpussy to tour, Little Rock's Rwake just released Voices of Omens, their label debut and third. Moog synthesizers, samples, and female/male vocals distinguish this sextet's Southern growl dusted with acidic tinges. Excuse me, did you say Pussy? Relapse cleanup hitters Alabama Thunderpussy represent with their sixth, Open Fire, showcasing new mic-jockey Kyle Thomas (Exhorder, Floodgate). This Richmond, Va., quintet's patented brand of moonshine metal has never gone down so smoothly. Relapse's common denominator? Conviction. – David Lynch


Secretly Canadian/jagjaguwar/dead oceans

8pm, Mohawk/Mohawk Patio From that hotbed of indie goodness, Bloomington, Ind., comes a showcase so packed with buzz that the folks at Pitchfork might be camping out at the door, so they get in first. Referred to by many as the home of some of the best experimental pop and rock in the U.S., Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar, whose biggest success story so far has been Antony & the Johnsons, is run by Ben Swanson, Chris Swanson, Darius Van Arman, and Jonathan Cargill. They recently teamed up with Austinite Phil Waldorf, formerly of Misra Records, to form Dead Oceans, a new imprint starring psychedelic trio Evangelicals, avant-garde Dirty Projectors, and hooky popsters Bishop Allen among its first signings. Austin's innovative Okkervil River and melancholy quintet I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness are musts. As are Montreal's the Besnard Lakes, whose The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse has already been proclaimed a contender for Album of the Year 2007 in the blogosphere. Oregon's Richard Swift proves he's not another whiner but rather a singer-songwriter who proudly follows the trails blazed by geniuses like Burt Bacharach and Van Dyke Parks on February's Dressed Up for the Letdown. Vancouver's beer rockers Ladyhawk, Sweden's ivory tickler Frida Hyvönen, and Chicago's David Vandervelde add quirk, but will Chicago trio Catfish Haven be as soulful in person as they are on Tell Me? – Jim Caligiuri

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