I’m a nostalgic person. I love anything that reminds me of the classic rock, country, and introspective singer-songwriters, like Joni Mitchell or Simon & Garfunkel, I listened to growing up. Having wiled away many a day to the sound of harmony-laden songs playing through a radio, the overwhelming feeling of delight and pure bliss that washed over me when I heard Athens-Atlanta folk group Cicada Rhythm for the first time took me right back to the slow, late summer days of my childhood.
Melodic and unassuming, Cicada Rhythm has a way of subtly blending the sweet simplicity of ’60s and ’70s folk music with the hustle and bustle of 21st century life between the slide of fingers on acoustic guitar strings, the swell of a standup bass, and crisp harmonic vocals. Founded in the most Americana of manners by bassist Andrea DeMarcus and guitarist Dave Kirslis, Cicada Rhythm has wandered far from its beginnings in the sleepy college town of Athens, GA, sharing the stage with the likes of modern folk heroes The Wood Brothers. But rest assured, the group’s roots run deep.
I got the chance to catch up with Andrea and Dave following the latest installment of their Stuck in My Head cover series, the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Cecilia,” to talk all things touring, musical guilty pleasures, and brand new Cicada Rhythm music.
AF: How did the magic that is Cicada Rhythm get together? Was this the first band for both of you, or were you in bands before?
AD: This was my first band! Dave had played in multiple bands, mostly local acts. We met when Dave hopped off a freight train and called my friend to pick him up. I was in the car! From there, we would casually share songs we had written and eventually decided to play together.
AF: How did you fall in love with music in the first place?
AD: I played piano from an early age and sang in the church choir. At 11, in my elementary school musical program, I chose to play bass in the orchestra. After that, I had many encouraging teachers who helped me pursue classical music as a career. Dave picked up the guitar around age 11-12 because his dad found one on the side of the road. He mostly taught himself to play, and is just generally still fascinated by the instrument. He plays every day and jamming with his friends evolved into playing in bands and booking shows.
AF: You guys tour all the time; how does being on the road affect you as writers? Do you write while you’re touring, or save it for the off-season?
DK: Writing on the road is something that I want to learn how to do. Reading or writing in a vehicle has always made me feel dizzy, but it’s something I’m trying to overcome. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road this year. In the past I’ve mostly written at home, but I’ve learned that has to evolve and I’m excited to change the environment I create in. Andrea is prolific and can write a song in her sleep. I’ve seen her create them at home and on the road!
AD: It’s true, I have written a song in my sleep! But I have to wait until the muse strikes me. Songwriting has never been something I can prescribe myself daily. I can write on the road, if I’m feeling that spark, but mostly I write at home. I feel like my writing has changed a lot since we started performing with more band members and on bigger stages. So much more is possible! But, writing is very emotion-based for me. I think it stems from the necessity of wanting to explore my deepest goings on, my true thoughts.
AF: Cicada Rhythm is based between Athens and Atlanta. What’s it like to be part of the music history of Athens and the booming music scene of Atlanta at the same time?
DK: The music scenes of Atlanta and Athens are vastly different and uniquely special. Surprisingly there is not much of a connection between the two scenes, despite only being 70 miles from each other.
In Athens, there is Point A to Point B. In Atlanta, there is Point A to Point Z5. Atlanta is so spread out and the music scene is not centralized like in Athens. Athens is a couple square miles packed with studios and venues whereas Atlanta has a massive surface area encompassing many outside cities in its music scene, with artistic spaces scattered among them. We feel lucky to have been deeply connected to both music scenes; they are both so special and filled with talent, and a lot of that talent is under the radar.
AF: If you had to pick one place in Atlanta and one in Athens for a great show, where would it be?
DK: For me, Northside Tavern in Atlanta and Georgia Theatre Rooftop in Athens.
AD: Well, The Earl has a special place in my heart. And in Athens, I would also pick the Georgia Theatre!
AF: Now for the fun question: any musical guilty pleasures?
DK: I love some John Anderson songs. I drive [the band] crazy listening to “Wild and Blue” or “Seminole Wind.” His voice just does something great for me.
AD: My guilty pleasure is definitely the Dixie Chicks! I know some of those songs by heart!
AF: What’s next for Cicada Rhythm?
AD: Cicada is looking forward to our next recording project! We hope to have it done sometime in 2020, so keep your ears open!
Cicada Rhythm is currently on tour with Kishi Bashi (see dates below). Follow them on Facebook for ongoing updates.
CICADA RHYTHM TOUR DATES:
11/1 – Norwalk, CT @ Wall Street Theater
11/2 – Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
11/3 – Boston, MA @ Royale
11/4 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
11/6 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
11/7 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom & Tavern
11/8 – Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre
11/9 – Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theater
Though some form of International Women’s Day has been around since 1909, the holiday celebrating women around the world has really gained traction over the last decade. This year’s theme was #BalanceForBetter, seeking to promote a more gender balanced world. Here’s how our favorite ladies in the music world celebrated.
Cardi B made a playlist on Apple Music for the occasion, featuring visionary women (including Grace Jones, Madonna, Tina Turner, and Solange).
Ariana Grande tweeted a short video by director Hanna Lux Davis, reminding everyone a few tweets later “it ain’t feminism if it ain’t intersectional.”
Rihanna looked powerful in a black blazer.
Miley Cyrus shouted out some of her favorite bad ass bitches:
… while Lady Gaga paid tribute to her mama.
Maggie Rogers and Mavis Staples both reminisced via this photo with Phoebe Bridgers and Brandi Carlile.
Dua Lipa had some tea for those who fall short of protecting human rights.
And Micropixie released a video for Como Mínimo (#YesIsTheMinimum), from her upcoming LP Dark Sight of the Moon, out April 9.
The Fallout of Leaving Neverland
The explosive HBO Documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged child abuse, Leaving Neverland, aired last weekend, and unsurprisingly, folks are divided on its message. Though the allegations are nothing new (Jackson settled a child abuse case out of court in 1994, and was acquitted in a similar case with a different victim in 2005) the harrowing testimonies of two men who say they were abused by Jackson when they were 7 and 10 are hard to dismiss. Radio stations have pulled Jackson’s enduring pop hits, The Simpsons producers have pulled iconic episode “Stark Raving Dad” from the syndication due to Jackson’s guest voice over, and a Chicago run of biographical jukebox musical “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was cancelled, though its team said this occurred due to scheduling difficulties and that they’ve set their sights on Broadway in 2020. Jackson’s daughter, Paris, seemed unfazed in a series of tweets in which she told folks to “chillax” – implying that even if Jackson’s legacy took a huge hit, his $500 million estate would ultimately be unaffected by the doc (though they’d previously filed a lawsuit to block it from airing). Meanwhile, debate continues to rage regarding blame placed on the victims’ parents, the degree to which Joe Jackson’s horrific behavior absolves his son’s various issues (including the alleged child abuse) and, of course, the idea that Jackson himself is an innocent victim of a slanderous campaign. One thing is certain: Jackson’s story is ultimately one of the saddest in pop music history, taking into account his tarnished childhood, various tabloid scandals, untimely death due to physician-sanctioned drug abuse – and it’s only compounded by the suffering of his alleged victims.
That New New
Solange has blessed the world with the (semi) surprise release of When I Get Home, her follow-up to 2016’s show-stopping A Seat at the Table.
Cementing their legacy as Jersey’s favorite pop punks, The Bouncing Souls released the second single from their forthcoming 30th anniversary EP Crucial Moments, out March 15. Their massive tour kicks off the next day at Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall.
Vampire Weekend have shared two new tracks from their upcoming Father of the Bride LP, out in May
Mac DeMarco announced his next record Here Comes the Cowboy with a single called “Nobody,” giving Mitski fans a little déjà vu; both artists (and their shared PR team) say it’s just a coincidence.
Bedouine is back with a one-off single that reflects on the aftermath of her gorgeous 2017 self-titled debut.
SOAK has released another lovely singled from April 26 release Grim Town., announcing some US tour dates (including two at SXSW) to go with it.
Alan Vega’s final recordings have been released to benefit the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, which provides teaching materials to educators seeking to engage students by teaching pop music history. The Suicide co-founder passed away in 2016.
Everyone loves a corgi – and that includes illuminati hotties, who are very honest about the fact that sometimes doggos are are the only thing keeping us in a mediocre relationship. They’ll be in Austin next week for SXSW.
Stef Chura has announced her sophomore record Midnight with its lead single “Method Man.”
Blushh shared a one-off single to get folks pumped for their upcoming SXSW dates as well.
Toronto punks Greys have announced third LP Age Hasn’t Spoiled You, out May 10, sharing its first single “These Things Happen.”
Rick from Pile remains the biggest babe in all of DIY indie rock; this week the band released their latest single and announced forthcoming LP Green and Gray, out May 3.
In other DIY news, Patio ready themselves for the April 5 release of Essentials with their latest track, “New Reality.”
NOTS have seemingly recovered from their recent lineup changes and shared the first single from their upcoming LP 3, out May 10. Two of its members are also releasing an LP this year as Hash Redactor.
The National have announced a new collaborative project with director Mike Mills entitled I Am Easy To Find. It’s essentially an hour-long companion album to a 24-minute short film of the same name starring Alicia Vikander. The first track on the album, “You Had Your Soul With You,” has some guest stars as well – Sharon Van Etten, Kate Stables of This Is the Kit, The Brooklyn Youth Choir, and longtime David Bowie bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey lend vocals. The band have announced a bunch of tour dates with Courtney Barnett and Alvvays supporting.
Local Natives released two videos this week, one of which stars Kate Mara. Both will appear on the April 26 release of Violet Street, a follow-up to 2016’s Sunlit Youth; they’ve previously announced a slew of tour dates.
Sky Blue, a posthumous collection of unreleased material from celebrated singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, arrived March 7 to commemorate what would’ve been his 75th birthday.
Kishi Bashi returns with new LP Omoiyari on May 31, and has released the album’s first single, “Summer of ’42”.
Charly Bliss have shared a video for “Chatroom,” the second single from their upcoming record Young Enough, out May 10.
CupcakKe keeps it topical with a new single entitled “Bird Box,” referencing the recent Netflix horror movie and the Jussie Smollett controversy alike.
Having penned Grammy-nominated hits for Ariana Grande and Janelle Monae, Tayla Parx is poised to break out on her own with a highly anticipated solo debut on Atlantic Records, We Need to Talk, out April 5. Her latest video for “I Want You” follows earlier singles “Slow Dancing” and “Me vs. Us.”
Christian Fennesz, who records electronic music under his last name, returns to basics with a new 12-minute track called “In My Room,” from forthcoming 4-song LP Agora, out March 29.
Ahead of the April 12 release of No Geography, The Chemical Brothers share a video for “We’ve Got To Try.”
Festival faves Marshmello and CHVRCHES have collaborated on a sugary new single titled “Here With Me.”
Dido’s first record since 2013, Still on My Mind, is out today; her first tour in fifteen years hits the US in June.
The Prodigy singer Keith Flint was found dead of apparent suicide at the age of 49.
NYC concert-goers spontaneously burst into song on the ACE platform following a sold-out Robyn show at MSG.
Speaking of Robyn, she’s been announced as one of the headliners for Pitchfork Music Festival, which takes place in Chicago from July 19-21. HAIM and the Isley Brothers top Friday and Saturday’s bills respectively, with Stereolab, Mavis Staples, Belle & Sebastian, Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Tirzah, Kurt Vile, Low, Julia Holter, Rico Nasty, Neneh Cherry, Snail Mail, Khruangbin, Soccer Mommy, Amber Mark, CHAI, and more set to play as well.
While we’re on the subject of festivals, Variety has leaked a potential lineup for Woodstock 50 and it’s not exactly overflowing with “heritage” acts; Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, and Black Keys look like likely headliners.
Elton John tweeted an definite release date in October 2019 for his upcoming memoir.
Massive Attack have rescheduled some of the North American Mezzanine reunion tour dates due to illness.
You can buy the hospital gown that Kurt Cobain wore during a legendary 1992 Reading Festival Nirvana performance for a mere $50,000.
L7’s Donita Sparks emerged as a hero when, in true punk fashion, Marky Ramone and Johnny Rotten nearly came to blows at a panel discussion on upcoming John Varvatos and Iggy Pop-produced Epix docu-series Punk.
Morrissey is taking his upcoming covers record California Sun to Broadway.
Taylor Swift stalker Roger Alvarado was arrested for breaking into the pop star’s home again, fresh off of a stint in jail for the same charge (bringing his Swift-related arrest total to three).
Arcade Fire will reportedly cover “Baby Mine” in Tim Burton’s live-action Dumbo remake, and it’s a real family affair.
Mark your sundials – Red Hot Chili Peppers will stream a live concert from the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt on March 15.
The music we’ve come to expect from Kishi Bashi has a certain flair for the ethereal, the magical, and the adventurous. His latest album Sonderlust isn’t a deviation from this; rather, it jumps right into the style and sound that embodies this talented musician.
Sonderlust begins with the single “m’lover,” introducing the album with a gentle tinkling of keys and strings that’ll prick your eardrums and immediately captivate your heart. Pips and pops scattered throughout the track behind Kishi Bashi’s charming vocals as he seductively croons about wanting someone to be his lover—listening to it is pretty much a necessary aural experience. (Seriously, this track is just so many different types of sexy.) The next song, “Hey Big Star,” is as sparkly and otherworldly as a track with the word “star” in the title should be. It’s a true toe-tapper, with an easy-t0-follow beat and a poppy, addictive rhythm. The following track holds a more analog feel to it, sounding like a song from an old Super Nintendo video game soundtrack. It’s a slower jam to groove to, one that feels reminiscent of a chill 80s love song in certain ways. “Can’t Let Go, Juno” holds an air of impending drama, with its heavier (yet still beautifully ethereal) sound. Toward the end, it breaks off into an entrancing keyboard solo, carrying you through its space and time with delicate tinkling.
In the middle of the album, you reach the climax and resolution of the built-up tension from the previous track in “Ode to my Next Life.” It feels alien and galactic: like you can see yourself walking along the surface of the moon in a spacesuit, defying gravity while this soundtracks your life. It’s a confidence boosting, ego touting song, which, if we’re being totally honest, should probably become a necessity on all albums moving forward. “Who’d You Kill” is smooth and savory, yet quirky, calling to mind the type of music you might hear in a movie like “Ocean’s 11,” but with a very Kishi Bashi twist added to it. “Why Don’t You Answer Me” has a sense of urgency to its fast-paced beat, as if something depends on an answer to its posed titular question, and “Flame on Flame (a Slow Dirge)” feels like a perfect continuation of the previous track. It flows together perfectly, slowing the previous vibe down in a natural way where a listener won’t feel disjointed or jarred. Sonderlust closes out with Kishi Bashi’s fun, energetic single “Honeybody.” It’s a pop song that reaches out and grabs you, then holds you close to dance you around the room. It’s a fantastic way to end an album because it leaves you in a place where you need to hear the entirety of it again immediately and will probably find yourself clicking replay as soon as it closes.
So what are you waiting for? Hop on the Kishi Bashi bandwagon (if you haven’t already, that is).
Another year of South by Southwest has come and gone. It was a landmark year for us at AudioFemme, as we hosted our first ever SXSW showcases. It was certainly a learning experience, to say the least. Just as we have in years past, we met a wide array of musicians, promoters, industry folks, and music fans from around the world, an experience as enriching as ever. But networking and seeing as many bands as one can in five days aren’t the only things that go into the SXSW experience. At its heart is one weird little city redefining the festival experience. Here’s a rundown of our best moments from Austin, TX.
Most Memorable Performances:
The sun doesn’t shine in the UK the way it does in Austin, and the visible sunburn on these three lads made me feel an empathetic sting. I caught the post-punk trio at El Sapo, a newly-opened hamburguesa joint on Manor Road, hosting showcases curated by Austin local radio station Music For Listeners. The showcase included performances from Dublin-based noise pop quartet September Girls, Manchester rockers Pins, and Mississippi psych-pop outfit Dead Gaze, all of whom were arresting. But there was something especially captivating about the sparks flying during Traams’ frenzied performance, with frontman Stu channeling Alec Ounsworth’s frantic wail. The boys worked up a real sweat blasting everyone with pummeling pop.
The Baltimore synth punk outfit has long had a reputation as a hardworking and talented live band who’ve released some great albums over the last seven years. Singles is out March 25th on 4AD and the band took to SXSW for their first time ever to showcase the material, resulting in heaps of long-deserved attention. I caught their triumphant final performance of eight at Impose’s free Longbranch Inn party, and the vibes were stellar. Lead singer Samuel T. Herring was absolutely brimming with joy, repeatedly stating how good the energy in the room felt, promising to belt it out until his vocal chords gave up. The crowd loved him back, bouncing up and down to some stellar new songs, pumping fists, crowd surfing, and begging for another jam before the bar closed for the night. Future Islands obliged with a hushed version of “Little Dreamer” from 2008’s Wave Like Home.
When we previewed “Wire Frame Mattress” we knew that the UK band were not be missed, and the boys did not disappoint. Blending surf, sludge, and rockabilly elements with a healthy dose of reverb, The Wytches embodied worst-case-scenario teenage angst like we haven’t seen since watching The Craft at sleepovers.
Jon Dwyer reunited his early aughts garage rock group and it felt so good. Eschewing stages as often as possible, Dwyer & Co. preferred to set up shop in the Austin dust and totally wreck it. I saw them once at the Castle Face Records showcase (that’s Dwyer’s label, which is set to re-release Coachwhips debut Hands on the Controls this month) and again on Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, after which Dwyer set off fireworks during Tony Molina’s set. Dwyer sings into a mic that looks more like a wad of tape, resulting in a scratchy, unintelligible, yet somehow glorious garble, the short songs every bit as good as those from Thee Oh Sees catalogue but faster, looser, and somehow more primal.
Another Baltimore act that’s been around for years, steadily releasing unnoticed but beautiful records, Wye Oak’s folk-inflected synth pop impressed many a South by audience. Andy Stack did double duty on drums and keys, using one hand to play each simultaneously. Just think about that for a minute. Try to mime those motions. It’s a good deal harder than rubbing your belly while patting your head, but Stack never missed a beat. Add to that Jenn Wasner’s honeyed voice, and space rock guitar riffs, and you’ve got a template for the galactic anthems of Shriek, the duo’s fourth studio album. It comes out April 29th on Merge.
Our inaugural SXSW showcase was a success! There’s no way we could thank everyone involved, but extra special thanks go out to eight bands who came from all over the world to play breathtaking sets for us and for our fans:
Worst Venue to Throw a Showcase: Upstairs on Trinity
It’s not actual a venue, it’s a wine bar. After reading the fine print on a very misleading contract, we learned that we’d have to rent an entire soundsystem to even have a show. We had to hire our own sound guy too. Even after pulling off both these feats (no easy task considering our out-of-town status), we weren’t allowed to set up until after 7pm, pushing our showcase back an hour. There weren’t even extension cords at the “venue” so I had to haul ass down 6th to a CVS to purchase whatever they had in stock. When psych rockers Electric Eye finally took the stage, their unravelling guitars definitely eased my frayed nerves.
Followed by Cheerleader’s uplifting pop punk, I was starting to feel a little better – until technical difficulties resurfaced. Live, learn and shrug it all off with some whiskey, that’s what I always say.
By the time we worked out our sound issues and Samsaya hit the area where a stage might have been in an actual club, I was admittedly wasted, but not enough that I failed to notice how inventive her acoustic set was, featuring musicians from all over the world, and how everyone in attendance – including the bartenders – responded to it. Leverage Models followed her lead, encouraging some seriously rowdy dancing with their artful antics, only helped by the (still) flowing libations. I didn’t get any decent pictures of the dance party because of the shitty lighting but also because, you know… libations. It all ended with me crying alongside I35, unable to get a cab, unidentified cables draped around my neck like someone’s pet python, ’til a random Austinite took pity on us and gave us a lift back to The Enterprise where I passed out in bed still wearing a leather jacket. We go to pick up our equipment the next day and the venue attempted to overcharge us for an event they had no business booking in the first place and hijacked our rented equipment as collateral while we disputed the bill. The process of getting it back took up a significant chunk of the rest of the week. All in all, it presents a gross example of the worst of SXSW profiteering. But wonderful performances from the bands who played the showcase are what saved the day, so big thanks to them!
Best Random Austin Moment: Salute!
Embattled with the venue from Hell, I was feeling a bit depressed – in part because the show hadn’t gone as planned, we’d inconvenienced Austin friends kind enough to give us rides while juggling insane work schedules, but also because I was missing out on a lot of bands I wanted to check out while going through the whole retracted process. I smoked some weed a bartender had given me the night before, ate a veggie burrito from Chillitos, and stumbled into The Vortex, a theater/bar in a barn hosting a party that featured Italian bands and a Patrizi’s food truck. I sat in the sun and took in the sounds of Omosumo, an electronic outfit that could be the lovechild of Led Zeppelin & Daft Punk sent away to boarding school in Palermo.
Runner Up: When Red 7 played The Hold Steady on the soundsystem right before The Hold Steady played
Queerest Showcase: Y’all or Nothing, Presented by Mouthfeel & Young Creature
Listed as a showcase for “not-so-straight shooters” the bill at Cheer-Up Charlies on Saturday night was stacked beginning-to-end with impressive performers, thoughtfully culled from queer scenes in Austin and beyond. There was a palpable feeling of community and camaraderie in the air and the evening was all about fun. Gretchen Phillips’ Disco Plague opened the night on the outdoor stage, situated in a white-stone grotto that forms the venue’s patio. Her improv dance-punk got the entire crowd going. Meanwhile, performance art duo Hyenaz brought glammed up electro to the inside stage, and it only got crazier from there. Austinites Mom Jeans‘ quirky pop punk had me beaming; they dedicated songs to John Waters, weed, and Satan. Leda introduced her band Crooked Bangs with the declaration “I’m a woman, and I don’t know what that means” before proceeding to mesmerize everyone watching with bass playing so nimble I still can’t get over it. BLXPLTN’s industrial punk-meets-hip-hop vibe is every bit as brutal as Death Grips, their lead single “Stop & Frisk” lambasting the racist practice. Big Dipper rapped. Ex Hex rocked. We deeply regret missing performances by TacocaT and Christeene and Sharon Needles due to some ongoing drama that needed taking care of. But we wish we could’ve stayed forever.
Not because I’m a stalker, just because they got to play early slots on some really rad bills. They were on point every time. Hopefully this means a lot more attention for the Philly-based trio in the upcoming year.
Best SXSW Tradition: Bridge Parties!
Night one I saw Perfect Pussy throw a bass into the Colorado while Meredith Graves wore a sparkly ball gown, followed by bang-up performances by Nothing and Ex-Cult.
Night two was the aforementioned fireworks display courtesy of John Dwyer while Tony Molina played. The cops don’t seem to care and I want to be friends with everyone on that bridge forever.
Best Venue for Charging Phones: Cheer Up Charlie’s
Newly inhabiting the former Club DeVille compound as Wonderland has taken over its old East Side location, this is a haven for anyone with a near-dead battery, though Hotel Vegas was a close second. Both had multiple outlets that were conveniently accessible (rather than behind a bar that forced you to bug your bartender every time you wanted to Instagram something), often times in full view of a stage where bands were playing so you didn’t have to miss the fun.
Worst Venue for Charging Phones: Red 7
Home of Brooklyn Vegan’s day parties, not only was capacity over-policed after Tyler, the Creator incited a riot at Scoot Inn, but Red 7 has a peculiar sparseness that makes finding outlets nearly impossible. And you couldn’t just hand your phone over to the bartender without paying a $5 charging fee. A particularly hostile sign on the sound booth discouraged the uncharged masses from inquiring therein. Now, I know you don’t have to be able to snap a selfie at a show to have a good time. I was content to simply watch these lovely performances with documenting them. But ranting and raving about newly discovered bands enriches that fun and hopefully generates some buzz for the artist, which is kind of the whole point of SXSW. And communicating with friends still waiting in lines outside is pretty paramount, so cell phones at shows count as a necessary evil and everyone kind of has to get used to it.
Best-Kept Secret: Chain-Drive
This little-gay-bar-that-could is hunkered on a quiet street off the main drag of Rainey District. Met Christeene and Gretchen Phillips and Big Dipper on Tuesday, but the venue hosted out-of-control, unique line-ups every night.
Most Inflated Price: $6.99 Non-Bank ATM fee at 7th & Red River.
As in, $2 more than non-badgeholder admission to a show steps away at Beerland, where I caught Connections before heading to Hotel Vegas for Forest Swords.
Number of Chase ATMS in the immediate downtown area: 2
That were able to dispense cash: 0
Best Food: Gonzo
Every year I have to stop by Gonzo’s food truck at the East Side Fillin’ Station for a “Pig Roast” – sweet pulled pork topped with provolone, tangy carrot slaw, and spicy brown mustard on Texas toast. As I ate my annual sammie I literally found myself thinking about how ingenious Texans were for inventing really thick white bread grilled with butter on it. Austin’s first-ever In-N-Out location was a close second, because a Double Double Animal Style really is a life-changer.
Best Metal Band We Stayed With But Didn’t See Live: Christian Mistress of Portland
They were all very nice but their hair made us jealous.
Best Movie We Saw While Charging Phones/Re-Charging Selves At Jackalope: Daughters of Darkness
Best Austinites: It’s a tie!
Jenn from Guitar Center rented us four monitors, two speakers with stands, six fifty foot cables, a sixteen channel mixer, two DI boxes, and two mics with stands within a days notice, and didn’t change us extra when a snafu with the shittiest venue in Austin forced us to keep it longer than we’d planned. In general she was super understanding, knowledgable, professional, and friendly.
Chris English of Haunted ATX gave us a lift whenever we needed it in a hearse tricked out into a six-seat limo. We flagged him down out of a cab line a mile long trying to get from the downtown Hilton to the South Lama for Ground Control’s famed Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge punk party. The TV in the back was playing Dune. The next night, after another bridge party was announced, we texted him for another ride and he showed within fifteen minutes, giving us the same deal. Then he came in with an assist in The Great Equipment Rescue of SX2014 when none of our friends were able to help us schlep our equipment from venue to where we were staying, and he gave us a mini-tour of an Austin cemetery because that’s what he normally uses the limo for – haunted tours of Austin.
Best Non-Austinite: Giselle from Vancouver
…who came to our Tuesday showcase. Bowled over by our line-up, she proclaimed it was one of the best at SXSW and couldn’t understand why anyone would “wait so long to see Jay-Z ” when they could have been partying with us. Giselle is a little older, probably in her 40’s or maybe early 50’s. Having recently entered my thirties, I’ve often wondered if I was too old to be so invested in such a youth-centric industry. Giselle gives zero fucks about that. She isn’t even in the industry; she told me she “just likes to go to shows”. She makes trips to Austin each year (as well as to New York for CMJ), travels for other events and festivals and attends shows at home, where she uses her iPhone to snap pics of up-and-coming bands she started finding “when the internet came around and made it easier to discover bands”. It might be that Giselle is actually myself from the future, sent to the showcase to give me the hope and reassurance I need to keep going. If that’s so, I’m here to tell you that based on her outfit, normcore will be bigger than ever in fifteen years.
Best Almost-Brushes With Celebrity:
I was invited to go to Willie Nelson’s ranch and was hoping to hang with the country legend, but thanks to the showcase debacle didn’t make the limo. Annie almost interviewed Debbie Harry of Blondie but the Queen of New Wave rescheduled and switched to over-the phone.
Number of Wrist-bands Accrued: Only one.
A friend said to me, “That’s kinda sad and kinda really amazing.” But between putting on our own showcases and going to everyone else’s, I didn’t have time to wait around in lines for wristbands, then wait for lines to get into a venue, then wait for lines to get to the patio of the venue where bands were actually performing. And in what little time I did have, I chose to attend smaller events that lacked the corporate sponsorship necessitating said lines and said wristbands. So someone else was the one to Instagram Lady Gaga getting puked on; meanwhile I got to see shows unobstructed by big-box advertising that felt way, way more personal and memorable. For instance: I closed out SXSW at The Owl, a DIY space on the East Side with Eagulls, Tyvek, and Parquet Courts headlining.
Number of Messages on Thursday morning asking if I was safe:
Lots & lots; truly felt loved. Our hearts go out to those that didn’t get a message back.
An Alphabetical List of Bands I Saw:
Amanda X, BLXPLTN, Big Dipper, Big Ups, Bo Ningen, The Casket Girls, Cheerleader, Coachwhips, Connections, Crooked Bangs, Dead Gaze, Eagulls, Electric Eye, Empires, Ex-Cult, Ex Hex, Far-Out Fangtooth, Fenster, Forest Swords, Future Islands, Gretchen’s Disco Plague, Guerilla Toss, Habibi, HighasaKite, The Hold Steady, Hundred Waters, Hyenaz, Jess Williamson, Juan Wauters, Kishi Bashi, Leverage Models, Mom Jeans, Nothing, Parquet Courts, Perfect Pussy, Pins, Potty Mouth, Residuels, Samsaya, September Girls, SOLDOUT, STRNGR, Tony Molina, Traams, Tyvek, Vadaat Charigim, Warm Soda, Weeknight, Wild Moccasins, Wildcat Apollo, Wye Oak, The Wytches, Young Magic[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Anyone who’s worked in retail can tell you what a headache Christmas carols can be. You’re working eight hour shifts surrounded by irate customers who forgot the meaning of holiday cheer in a rush to get presents for their shitty boyfriends and picky sisters. These people have no regard for the fact that you’re stuck in a mall neatly folding the pile of t-shirts they just demolished instead of out getting sloshed with your friends or exchanging gifts with your loved ones. And all the while, that awful Mariah Carey song is just blaring. Over and over and over again.
I’m of the opinion that not even David Bowie could save “Little Drummer Boy” from being the most annoying piece of music ever composed, and that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is basically a rape-carol. But that doesn’t mean the whole Christmas catalogue is a lost a cause. There have been a handful of songs (usually lesser known and therefore less overplayed) that can still manage to put me in the holiday spirit instead of making me want to gouge my eyes out with a nutcracker. These are my personal favorites.
The Kinks – Father Christmas: Somewhere along the line, I stopped asking my parents for gifts around the holidays and started requesting practical things instead: a trip to the dentist, a gift card to Target, rent money. These things would keep me alive whereas candles from the Dollar Store would not. So I am not sure if I side with Ray Davies or the antagonistic children who mug him while he was playing Santa, but choosing sides isn’t the point. On the one hand, threatening violence is not cool, children can be terrifying, and machine guns are not appropriate gifts. But what these kids really want is jobs for their dads or the cold hard cash that will allow them to survive their harrowing, impoverished existences, rather than dolls or blocks or whatever. They’re just trying to check some volunteer Santa’s privilege (and ours) by reminding us that there are plenty of folks out there who can’t put food on the table at Christmastime (or any other time). But this isn’t some depressing ballad; the message comes in a catchy rock ‘n’ roll wrapping, its riffs Xmassed up with some cheery chimes that make a nice foil for Davies’ ragged snarl.
Sufjan Stevens – Christmas Unicorn: The thing about Sufjan is that all of his songs are about 10,000% better if you just imagine he’s a singing unicorn. And from the first line of this song, he presents himself as not just any unicorn, but a Christmas unicorn, with a mistletoe nose and a shield and a gold suit. Sounds cool right? But wait: Sufjan as the Christmas Unicorn is actually a symbol for American hypocrisy, out-of-control consumerism, Christians adopting Paganism, Baby Jesus, drug addiction and insanity. But this outlandish gem from last year’s epic (what isn’t epic with Sufjan?) Christmas-themed limited edition six LP vinyl boxset Silver & Gold doesn’t stop there. It goes on for twelve minutes and gets so weird it needs a play-by-play. After the introductory takedown of hodgepodge Anglo-American Christian-Pagan ideals, there’s an expansive instrumental break that falls somewhere between swirly space rock and something you’d imagine playing over loudspeakers at a Ren-faire, flutes and all. About halfway through, the meandering melody grows pegasus wings and starts flapping around all wildly a la those choruses from “Chicago”. And eight minutes in, it becomes a Christmasified cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. This song is the best kind of holly-jolly trainwreck.
Joni Mitchell – River: Easily one of the most gorgeous songs in Mitchell’s oeuvre (and of all time, pretty much), the power of “River” lies in Mitchell’s ability to evoke nostalgia via her contemplative lyrics and her timeless voice. She’s alone on Christmas due to perceived failures on her part, ruminating on a recent breakup and feeling detached from the festive mood of the approaching holiday. It’s an anthem for any adult’s first Christmas away from home, the first holiday where those carefree childhood days have faded and you can no longer escape all the grown-up responsibilities you have in the simple act of lacing up a pair of skates and taking to the ice. Extra points on the shout out to all the evergreens slaughtered for the sake of Christmas spirit.
The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping: The Waitresses had two songs. One was the theme song for “Square Pegs” which famously starred Sarah Jessica Parker (before she was famous). And the other is this Blondie-esque narrative about a semi-Scroogey girl having a frustrating holiday/life. See, all year long she’s been bumping into this cutie, and because of her first world problems (like sunburn – ugh!) she’s never actually able to connect with him. The daily stresses keep piling up until she just, like, can’t even with Christmas. I mean, her turkey was all in the oven and she forgot cranberries! But in a fateful trip to the only all-night grocery, she finally finds love; her crush is in the check-out line, having also totally fucked up his grocery shopping. Bright brass and zippy guitar lines are the perfect accent for this tale of bitterness diminished by serendipitous Christmas magic.
The Sonics – Don’t Believe In Christmas: While it seems like any number of bands (especially those on the Burger Records roster) might write a song like this today, it was released in 1965, a decidedly un-scuzzy era for rock n’ roll. It’s snarky and skeptical and goes beyond greedy to straight up entitled, moving about a mile a minute all the while. When you don’t get cool presents or kisses from the ladies, there’s simply no reason to celebrate. Ironically, the single finds its home on an Etiquette Records compilation entitled Merry Christmas, also featuring The Sonics’ singular contemporaries The Wailers and Galaxies. Most of the songs are brilliant originals completely overlooked every December. It makes sense that they don’t play The Wailers’ scathing anti-consumerist romp “Christmas Spirit???” in Saks Fifth Avenue but “She’s Coming Home” and “Maybe This Year” evoke melancholic hope with a slightly psych-tinged execution. That sound carries over into the Galaxies’ unique covers of Christmas favorites. Elsewhere on the record, Santa stiffs The Sonics once again; lead singer Gerry Roslie asks the titular Claus to bring new guitars, money and babes in his sack but gets “Nothin’! Nothin’! Nothin’!”, according to Roslie’s embattled cries. Looks like not believing in Christmas didn’t stop the guy from trying.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Happy Xmas (War Is Over): Shortly before the rest of The Beatles started recording Christmas fluff, John Lennon furthered his anti-Vietnam War protest efforts by releasing this 1971 single featuring Yoko Ono and Harlem Community Choir. Lennon believed that coating the political content in sweet, sugary Christmassiness would make his message easier to accept (his Christmessage?). It was not an instant classic, but endures today as a reminder that we should all just get along. It also reminds us that the English say “Happy” instead of “Merry” which shouldn’t fuck with my head as much as it does. The track was produced by Phil Spector (who certainly did not get along with Lana Clarkson, the actress whom he murdered). If you’re going to listen to traditional carols, though, you can do no better than 1963’s A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records on Spector’s label. There’s even a bearable version of “Frosty the Snowman” by the Ronettes.
The Everly Brothers – Christmas Eve Can Kill You: It’s not just the twangy pedal steel that gives this song its melancholy mood. Its emotionally devastating lyrics are narrated by a sad hitchhiker trying to catch a ride on a frigid Christmas Eve, ignored by drivers in a hurry to get home to their families. The moral of the story is that you should really be kind to your fellow man, especially in the winter, and even more especially on holidays. But let’s also be real – it’s actually dangerous to pick up hitchhikers; they can kill you too.
The Fall – (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas: Okay, so this bizarre offering from The Fall is way more cryptic and terse than say, “Dashing Through The Snow” – what is a Protein Christmas anyway? We may never know. It’s a reference to (and a rewrite of) “Proteinprotection” but, just like a previous episode of Lost, we had no idea what was going on the first time around either and were basically left hanging without answers to the mystery. It might have something to do with DNA, or aliens, or both. But Mark E. Smith’s atonal poetics and Scizophrenic laughter punching through meditative, repetitive bass rhythms make for a great debate winner with your punk friends who think they’re too cool for Christmas.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – There Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects: No one’s gonna make a fool out of Sharon Jones. Least of all her mother, with that trifling explanation of how presents wound up under her Christmas tree. Replete with a jazzy sax solo that revisits “Jingle Bells”, this groovy soul number from the prolific funk revivalists takes a cynical look at all the continuity errors in the Santa myth while simultaneously pointing out economic inequalities that don’t simply end with a lack of fireplaces in housing developments.
The Flaming Lips – Christmas at the Zoo: In this hazy, lazy jam from Clouds Taste Metallic, Wayne Coyne sings about freeing animals from the zoo Brad-Pitt-in-12-Monkeys style. Zoos are sad fucking places, it’s true, but something about listening to this song is akin to flipping through and filling in a coloring book with your most psychedelic crayons. Rubbery guitars waver like the bars bent back on peacock cages, trumpets sound like liberated elephants. Coyne’s Christmas obsession didn’t fizzle after the release of the song in 1995; they released a secret Christmas album in 2007, re-recording one of the tracks (“Atlas Eets Christmas”) four years later with Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band. And then there’s Christmas on Mars, a film Coyne wrote, directed, and starred in with other members of the Lips. It debuted at Sasquatch Festival in 2008.
Joey Ramone – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight): This is the only worthwhile selection on Joey’s 2002 Christmas Spirit… In My House EP. It’s got to be one of the few Ramones-related songs that separates “want” and “to” instead of using the stylized “wanna”; I was under the impression that the Ramones had no idea such a thing could be done. Yet here it is, right at the intersection of Christmas cheer and heartfelt pleas to your significant other to end the bickering for once. The reason this song is listenable when the others on the EP are not is mainly because it hearkens back to Ramones glory days, only trading a bit of the usual grit for some shades of Doo-Wop and festive jangle.
Crocodiles/Dum Dum Girls – Merry Christmas Baby (Please Don’t Die): Dum Dum Girls’ collaborated with Crocodiles in a 2009 all-night recording session that resulted in this Yuletide look at love and mortality. Christmas, no joke, is a time when a lot of people struggle with depression, and this song is particularly sweet in that it addresses a lover who seems to have fallen prey to those demons. Real-life couple Dee Dee and Brandon Welchez take turns spreading the cheer in this garage pop jam, which should be enough to rouse even the saddest bopper.
Kishi Bashi – It’s Christmas, But It’s Not White Here In Our Town: In this short and swoony number, the multi-instrumentalist with a heart of gold longs for an idyllic, frost-covered wonderland, the reflections as dreamy and romantic as a tape on rewind. Kishi Bashi’s vocals are extra angelic, layered airily over sweet strings. It could have been a great opener for one of those claymation Christmas specials, maybe one in which the protagonist has to fight to save the town from a snow-less winter. But in a real-life heroic move, the musician donated all proceeds from sales of the snowflake-shaped flexi-disc to Ear Candy, a charitable organization that provides kids with used instruments.
The Pogues – Fairytale of New York: There really aren’t enough Christmas songs with the word “faggot” in them. JUST KIDDING, THERE’S ONE TOO MANY. Kirsty MacColl’s cavalier use of the epithet almost disqualified it from the list, but this song is a fixture on so many lists already because all anyone associates with it is ending up in the drunk tank on Christmas and those triumphant “And bells were ringing!” chorus declarations from Shane MacGowan. I considered including Wham!’s “Last Christmas” or The Vandals’ “My First Christmas (As A Woman)”, decided that the latter did more harm than good and that the former represents the kind of annoying things I hate about Christmas songs in the first place. Incidentally, there is no such thing as the NYPD choir. According to the song’s Wikipedia entry, the NYPD does have a Pipes and Drums unit but they didn’t know “Galway Bay” when they appeared in the video for “Fairytale”, playing the Mickey Mouse Club theme instead.
So there you have it. These songs go above an beyond the cloying carols dripping with good tidings. Whether political or personal, they represent a more thoughtful, far less narrow view of what Christmas is about, embracing the controversial and updating the conventional.
In other news, Iggy Pop wants you to have a happy holiday, or go swimming, or cuddle with his cockateel, or something.