SXSW holds an embarrassment of riches – so rich, in fact, that it’s simply too much to take it all in. Also, it’s impossible. The best way to experience it is to simply wander around and see what might be found. Sure, you can plan and prepare but often the best stuff you’ll discover by simply stumbling into it. Although, to be fair, this is true of life in general. Anyway, this week at SXSW I saw a lot of music – some of it I’ve loved for years and others I’ll now love for years to come. Here’s a small selection of artists that have caught my attention.
Alt-country and indie Americana are crowded genres these days. I’m not complaining – quite honestly, I can’t get enough of it. If you’re like me, sometimes this is simply best music for those long meandering and aimless drives and, if so, Wisconsin rockers Field Report will be right up your alley. Ponderous and hazy, they’re the sort of band built around vast landscapes contemplated in the back of dimly lit bars. A bit like The War on Drugs if they weren’t obsessed with the 80’s sound, Field Report are a great act if you’re in the mood for some indiscriminate rumination and rustic rambling.
California indie-rockers Mt. Joy certainly have the SoCo sound down pat with the stomp-and-holler orchestration but what sets them apart is their sense of groove. Their folky jam, bolstered by some truly impressive harmonies, will certainly satisfy indie fans looking for a bit of diversity in the genre even if their not outright reinventing the wheel. What impressed me most, however, is just how BIG they sounded on the massive convention stage. While I’m sure they’d sound great in a smaller venue, I got the distinct impression that they’d developed their sound to be festival ready and it shows by how they filled the entire room with a steady command of their sonic landscape.
Easily my favorite new discovery of the week, Faye Webster hits all the right dreamy bedroom pop infused Americana notes. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Webster is surprisingly a part of DIY hip-hop label Awful Records (she even covered a Father tune) but, from her easy listening ethereal twang, you’d certainly never know it. Constructed seemingly out of the very skin of those slow southern nights, her band’s dulcet harmonies struck deep in my Georgia heart. I really cannot recommend enough checking out her self-titled sophomore album which is now retroactively one of the best of last year for me.
If you give a fuck – are you really punk? If so then San Diego, California outfit The Frights are fucking punk. Fueled by gleeful chaos and charming absurdity, The Frights are the sort of band who’d destroy your living room show but you’d thank them for it. Wearing their California heart like a band patch, the band switches from classic punk to boppy surf in a heartbeat and sweeps the audience along with their tide. In fact, according to their live rendition of the breezy song “Tungs,” did you know that Cali invented reggae, skate boarding, and the beach? Apparently it’s true. This winking playfulness continued in full force as they ended the set with an extended medley of My Chemical Romance, Outcast, Fresh Prince, Green Day, Yellowcard, Smash Mouth, Tom Cochran, and, of course, Sublime. And yes, it was seamless. A seemingly unstoppable amount of energy easily make them an absolute must see show, The Frights might burn out from going full force one day but they’ll leave a hell of a blaze in their wake.
Hometown heroes Ghostland Observatory went on hiatus back in 2013, leaving many to wonder if they’d ever get to witness their incredible laser light show bombast again. Luckily for all of us, one of the best Texas live acts to ever exist are back in preparation for an upcoming album. Driven by thumping hard-edge electro beats, fuzzed out rawk guitar, and, yes, a whole hell of a lot of lasers, Ghostland Observatory deservedly drew a massive crowd hoping to witness the spectacle once again. While they, of course, played some old favorites, it was a real treat to hear some of the new tunes which were delightfully hook driven and certainly left me wanting more. Can’t wait for the new release so I can get back to telling everyone I know that you simply *have* to see them live.