There is so much good music coming out of this town; it's madness. I do my best to get out there and see as much of it as I can, but there are limits given my own rehearsals, commitments, and work.
What can we do about it? Well, I know what I'm going to do - if I can't make a show I'm going to listen to new releases, then I am going to write about them and share it with all of you. Everybody wins.
I'll be back each month with five short reviews of music from Austin - adding them to the Five on Friday 2019 Spotify playlist.
For folks in the ATX, this will be a good way to meet your local musicians, in a curated way. It's no substitute for getting out there, but you can do it from the comfort of your own home, your car, or your exercise routine.
If you live elsewhere, welcome to our "pride and joy" (couldn't resist). Music is the best export from Austin, Texas (followed closely by beer, tacos, & barbeque).
So here we are. First, let me share the playlist so you can follow along at home:
"The Way You Remind Me" by SMiiLE
If you've had the luck to catch SMiiLE live you know that this tune is a staple of their set, with a dramatic middle section that builds slowly over an ostinato vocal, "the way you are, the way you ah ah are". The recorded version eschews the deconstruction of the arrangement for a pure take on progressive pop. That's not to say it's straightforward at all. There is a mysterious off-kilter feel to the song brought to us by an unexpected 3/4 beat. I love a good tune in 3/4 where the break up of the beat challenges the concept of the waltz -- a strong 1 followed by 2 weak beats. Here we have a very strong duple feel, so instead of the feeling of being drawn back into the downbeat, we feel almost as if a 4/4 bar has been cut short. This tune is great ear candy, and while the vocals and harmonies (of Jake Miles, Annie Long, and Mary Bryce) and the lyrics are the focus of this song for certain, close listening will reward you with one of the best rock rhythm sections in town: Harrison Anderson on the bass and Everett Bergstedt on the drums. The stereo ping pongs of the synth are a nice touch; they blend very smoothly with the twisty tremolo bar guitar hook from Jake.
"Dance Floor" by Moving Panoramas
Moving Panoramas' "Dance Floor" makes me feel like a teenager again. It's the sound of 4AD, the Damned, or My Bloody Valentine. The wash of distorted guitars, the swelling of the keys, and that reverb and delay-soaked guitar hook provide the musical equivalent of an impressionistic painting. This musical swirl is the perfect backdrop for Leslie Sisson's vocal and the harmonies on the chorus. The lyrics are filled with an intimate relatability with memorable lines like: "It's OK if you can't - I used to could not too". I get that. So much of our time as musicians is spent playing music, not dancing. So there is this expectation that if you know music you should be able to dance, but it took so long for me to be brave enough to go out there, when I finally did I found that I love dancing. I relate heartily to the sentiment. There is a joy that soaks through this song and the vocal. The song is fun, and I mean that in the best way. It wouldn't be out of place leading into Lush, Luscious Jackson, or The Pale Saints on a playlist and for me, that checks all of the boxes.
"I Need You" by The Watters
From the moment the "Brownsville Girl" reminiscent horn lick begins, you know the Watters are masters of southern soul. I love arrangements that transport you, and this one takes me to a dimly lit club, close to the stage, where a full band with horns, two keyboards, and a warm spotlight presents a single siren, singing her heart out. Jenna Watter's voice is nectar, and this tune captures it beautifully. Daniel has really hit his stride with his songwriting. You have the sense that you are listening to a classic, but the arrangement breathes. It winds up and down, like the breakdown around 3:10: the arrangement drops down to a lovely piano and vocal line, eventually building, adding the full band piece by piece. The dueling keys--piano and organ--that Daniel and Jenna added for this album give a real sense of motion as they trade licks between stanzas. The song is mixed by Steve Christiansen, and he's done a great job. It's clear and has both character and transparency, a difficult balance. What the mix does is it allows you to hear everything the Watters and their band bring to the table. That's a lot - maturing artists reaching out with their best output yet.
"Black Moon Rising" by Black Pumas
I think if you open up your front door, go to your yard, pick up a rock, and toss it, you'd probably hit the momentum the Black Pumas are putting out. These guys were the darlings of the recent SXSW festival. Notice I said 'momentum,' not 'hype,' and that's because all of this attention is well deserved. Eric Burton's voice is a doorway into the psychedelic soul of Adrian Quesada. It's like James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" meets the Doors' "Crystal Ship." The rich traditional RnB instrumentation of the verses gives way to strings coated in an old hall reverb and the thin pulse of an organ playing minor chords. "Every time you get dressed in black, you give a grown man a heart attack" Burton croons, recalling the Homerian echoes of lyrics traded between Delta blues artists. That's not such a stretch. This tune has really great text painting and programmatic treatment. You feel the night of the "Black Moon Rising," the loneliness and edge of heartbreak. The keys solo (around 2:35) has an understatedness that reminds us of Ray Manzarek and his mood first playing. Take a listen. In fact, listen to "Fire" as well. We are all waiting for more from this great collaboration.
"Small Talk (Feeling Control) by White Denim
White Denim has this way of pulling together all of these threads from the 70s, 80s, and 90s and weaving them into something you've never heard before but which fits like a well-worn leather jacket. The congas and drum break of the intro give way to big chords and a glam rock-inspired guitar hook only to slap you out of your groove when the vocals enter and suddenly the entire song drops into complete silence. I love the fearlessness and sonic exploration of White Denim, how the squishing static explosions and 1950s robot sounds play against the lyric - "feeling control." Perhaps that's the difference between feeling and knowing. There is boldness and aggressiveness in that feeling. At 1:23 we get a triple division over 2 bars, pounding out a 3+3+3+3+2+2 for the 16 beats of the two 4/4 bars. It's a page taken from Genesis or Steve Morse - but again, it feels fresh. Some of that is by choosing to pair the complex divisions and arrangement with a punk rock energy instead of a drier, restrained progressive rock base. At 2 minutes 32 seconds, the song whizzes by, but that will give way to repeated listenings. Pull this tune up as you get ready to hit the town. It's the kind of energy that will bring you up and out.