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(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2337: Big Thief

 
By on Monday, 10th April 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

After an appearance in 2016, Brooklyn’s Big Thief made a repeat visit to SXSW last month. They’ve got some big news to share now, too: following the release of their 2016 debut album ‘Masterpiece’, they’ll be releasing the new LP ‘Capacity’ on the 9th of June on Saddle Creek Records. ‘Mythological Beauty’ is an early taster of the upcoming album, which you can check out through its promo video below. To read more on Big Thief here on TGTF, go here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejzzO51e4xI[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: Wednesday night’s marathon, with stops at Lambert’s, Clive Bar, St. David’s Bethell Hall and Elysium – 15th March 2017

 
By on Monday, 10th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Wednesday night at SXSW 2017 was always going to be a test of my speed and endurance, with a veritable smorgasbord of choices on the schedule at venues spread widely across downtown Austin. When I nailed down my own agenda for the evening, I was a tiny bit cranky at the prospect of so much walking, but in the end, the shows I saw were entirely worth the athletic effort. (To give you an idea of how much walking was involved, my smartwatch recorded over 20,000 total steps and 10.5 miles’ distance on Wednesday!)

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After a brief dinner break, I ventured west of Congress Avenue to Lambert’s, where the SESAC showcase was being held. I would have happily stayed for the entire evening, as the SESAC docket included several favourites of mine, including Ciaran Lavery and Silences. However, the crazy Wednesday night schedule didn’t allow me to stop that long, and I only stayed long enough to satisfy my curiosity about singer/songwriter Allison Pierce. Formerly of sister-act The Pierces, Allison Pierce has stepped out on her own as a solo artist, and from the sound of her set at Lambert’s, she’s gone country. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given her Alabama upbringing, but this was definitely more of a streamlined, pure country sound than the psychedelic folk I last heard from The Pierces. Pierce followed her SXSW appearance with a run of live dates supporting The Wind and the Wave, and her debut album ‘Year of the Rabbit’ is due out on the 5th of May.

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My next stop was on the other side of downtown Austin, at Rainey Street’s Clive Bar, which was hosting the Showtime ‘I’m Dying Up Here’ launch party. Mary had warned me that the Showtime event would be a madhouse, and when I arrived at the Clive Bar after walking all the way across downtown from Lambert’s, I was disheartened to find a long queue outside. Surprisingly enough, the line moved quickly, and I was able to secure a spot close to the stage for Los Angeles indie rockers Magic Giant, with whom I’d had this lively interview earlier in the day.

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As advertised in the interview, Magic Giant’s live show exuded a brilliant energy and included a cacophony of creatively-devised sounds. Despite my prime spot at the front of the stage, I found it difficult to take photos, as none of the three band members (lead vocalist Austin Bisnow, multi-instrumentalist Zambricki Li, guitarist Brian “Zang” Zaghi) were in one position for very long. The momentum of the music and the quick rotation of instruments kept them in constant motion, even finding them down in the middle of the crowd at one point for what might be called a low-level acoustic mosh.

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Magic Giant’s incredibly organic indie folk debut album ‘In the Wind’ is due out in May, and the band is planning to be on tour for the rest of this year. Keep an eye on the Tour section of their official Web site for upcoming dates, and be sure not to miss them if they pass through your area.

My mood improved considerably by Magic Giant’s vibrant set, I left the Clive Bar and embarked on the long uphill walk to St. David’s Episcopal Church. Though I’d seen several shows at the church over the past three years at SXSW, I hadn’t yet been inside Bethell Hall, and I was initially taken aback by the very minimal set up of the stark room.

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The stage area, such as it was, was positioned in the front of the room, with a grand piano and an electronic keyboard, along with a soundboard and a projector screen for visual effects. Despite some technical difficulty in the initial setup, this was perhaps a more natural situation for Ryan Vail, whom I’d seen earlier in the week at the Output Belfast Boat Party. Vail took advantage of the lovely grand piano in Bethell Hall to play tracks from his piano-oriented debut LP ‘For Every Silence’, which is described on Soundcloud as “the story of a piano that was made in England in 1927, shipped to Derry in Northern Ireland, cherished by Ryan’s wife’s family and restored for use on a stunning debut album, where the warm, well-loved character of the instrument takes centre stage.” I was pleased to see a new facet of Vail’s talent, namely his genuine skill as a composer, shine through in a different context than what I’d previously heard.

My last stop of the evening was at Austin dance club Elysium for the end of the KCRW showcase. Earlier bands on KCRW’s lineup had included Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Aquilo (see Mary’s past coverage of her Wednesday night covering the two of them here), and Mondo Cozmo, who I’d already seen earlier in the afternoon. By the time I arrived at Elysium, there was an impressive queue for hotly-tipped Aussie band Middle Kids, and I wasn’t sure I’d get in to see them, but once again good fortune prevailed.

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It’s always a pleasant surprise when a heavily-hyped band actually lives up to its billing, and such was the case with Middle Kids. Their indie rock sound leans just enough toward the pop side to be catchy, but aside from being eminently listenable, it’s also charmingly quirky. Lead singer Hannah Joy doesn’t go out of her way to do anything weird just for the sake of being noticed, which is refreshing in a time when female frontwomen are definitely feeling the pressure to stand out in the growing crowd. (I did, however, take notice of Joy’s Hendrix-style left-handed guitar technique.)

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Los Angeles alt-rockers Cherry Glazerr immediately positioned themselves on the opposite end of that continuum when their lead singer Clementine Creevy did a spidery commando crawl onto the stage and announced her presence by bellowing “Hey, assholes!” into the microphone. This was an immediate turn-off for me, but many of the punters in the crowd responded positively, both to her deliberately obnoxious demeanor and to Cherry Glazerr’s raucous, rebellious grunge. Judging by the reaction to the creepy Kewpie-style doll attached to Sasami Ashworth’s keyboard, I’d say their track ‘Nurse Ratched’ is well on its way to being a sleeper summer hit.

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After overcoming the seemingly standard technical issues faced by electronic artists at SXSW, London-based SOHN closed out the night at Elysium with a delirious 1 AM set that swayed between sensual and sweaty in a room drenched in dim red lighting. I always feel bad for artists who get stuck in the final time slot after a big-name act, when the room invariably empties, and SOHN was no exception. But in a proper club atmosphere, this would clearly have been a better-received set, and I’ll wager that fans of electro artists like Jack Garratt (who faced a similar situation at SXSW 2015) will catch onto SOHN in the very near future.

 

SXSW 2017: Wednesday afternoon at the Convention Center and Lustre Pearl’s Feed the Beat day party – 15th March 2017

 
By on Friday, 7th April 2017 at 3:00 pm
 

The Wednesday afternoon at SXSW 2017 was rather a mixed bag of events. If you’ve been following our coverage, you might be sensing a theme in that regard. But variety is the spice of life, as they say, and one can never go too far wrong with all the great acts at SXSW.

My day started with an early interview at downtown Austin’s W Hotel with Los Angeles indie folk rockers Magic Giant. This year marked their third consecutive SXSW, and Wednesday was their last day in town, so I was fortunate to catch them for the interview. After our chat, I was more intrigued than ever by the sound of their forthcoming debut album ‘In the Wind’ and excited to see them play live later in the evening at the Clive Bar. (Coverage of that show, and the rest of my Wednesday night, will post soon.)

"Aldous

Following my appointment with Magic Giant, Mary and I headed to the Convention Center to see singer/songwriter Aldous Harding on the International Day Stage. Harding seemed a bit more comfortable with the Convention Center atmosphere than A.S. Fanning had the day before, and her all-white attire created a rather dramatic effect on the large stage, even so early in the day. Even more striking were the repeated lyrics of her recent single, ‘Horizon’. The track is set to feature on her forthcoming LP release ‘Party’, due out on the 19th of May via 4AD / Flying Nun, but you can preview it just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/m4dVkoOMjLo[/youtube]

From the Convention Center, Mary and I both headed down to Rainey Street, but we parted ways shortly thereafter. I decamped to the Lustre Pearl for the Feed the Beat day party while she went next door to Bar 96 (you can read Mary’s recap of Wednesday afternoon back here) The bill at Lustre Pearl for the afternoon included several bands on my “must see” list, and the sunny weather made for a very pleasant couple of hours’ worth of music listening.

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The first act on the bill, New York four-piece psych-rock band Maybird, was completely unfamiliar to me, but they set the tone nicely for a casual outdoor party atmosphere. Their latest track ‘Keep in Line’ was recorded in Nashville with The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney at the production helm, which is as good an indication as any that Maybird is a band on the rise.

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English band The Big Moon (pictured in the header photo at the top of the page) were next on the afternoon docket, and they took the stage with a decided air of confidence, despite the sun shining directly into their faces while on stage. The devil-may-care grunge rock of songs like ‘Sucker’ was perfect for the beer-and-tacos atmosphere at the Lustre Pearl, and lead singer Juliette Jackson’s heart-shaped sunnies made a strong impression on the daytime crowd. Don’t miss The Big Moon’s debut LP ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’, due out on the 7th of April.

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Los Angeles alt-rocker Mondo Cozmo (known offstage as Joshua Ostrander) had already made a big stir ahead of SXSW with recent single ‘Shine’, and his set at Feed the Beat didn’t disappoint those of us who already had high expectations. ‘Shine’ was naturally the best known of his tracks, but for my money, songs like ‘Higher’ and ‘Chemical Dream’ were equally effective. Mondo Cozmo will be on tour with Bastille through mid-May, ahead of a slew of summer festival dates here in America.

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I’d been excited to see Brooklyn-based rock collective San Fermin since I reviewed their recent single ‘Open’ back in January. In live performance, the vocal interplay between co-lead singers Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye was even more dramatic, and the vibrant full band brought life to tracks both old (‘Emily’) and new (‘Better Company’, ‘Bride’). San Fermin’s new album ‘Belong’ is out on the 7th of April via Downtown Records.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/eERWM_7_-XI[/youtube]

After San Fermin’s rousing set, I stopped off at the Chi’lantro food truck for some beef bulgogi tacos (hey, a girl’s gotta eat!) on my way back to the Convention Center. I ended the afternoon listening in on a featured conference session with Mick Fleetwood and David Fricke; you can read my previous summary of that conversation right back here.  Stay tuned to TGTF for my review of Wednesday evening’s music events as our coverage of SXSW 2017 continues.

 

(SXSW 2017 flavoured!) Album Review: The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension

 
By on Friday, 7th April 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

The Big Moon Love in the 4th Dimension album coverThere’s been plenty of buzz around The Big Moon, which comprises Juliette Jackson, Soph Nathann, Celia Archer and Fern Ford, ahead of their debut LP, recorded in London. They’ve toured with fellow alt-rockers VANT and Inheaven, as well as supporting The Maccabees and The Vaccines on tour, and have been releasing solid, engaging tracks since they first came together in 2014. It’s been a long wait for ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’, but a worthwhile one. The new record features plenty of the tracks that The Big Moon have released over the past couple of years, including ‘Cupid’, ‘Sucker’ and the more recent ‘Formidable’. It’s the kind of album that’s easy to enjoy for its edgy alt-rock moments, as well as the accessible subject matter of love and relationships in the lyrics.

As you might have come to expect, If you’ve previously heard any of the band’s stuff, you won’t be disappointed by this display of heartfelt pop/rock, produced by a well-oiled machine. There are energetic and brash moments, like on the retro ‘Silent Movie Susie’, and chilled out and easy-going spells such as on the hazy ‘Zeds’, featuring vocal harmonies and a groaning guitar riff. Title track ‘Love In the 4th Dimension’ has the laid-back, confident attitude reminiscent of that of The Last Shadow Puppets’ tracks.

The album begins with ‘Sucker’, which opens with fuzzy guitar before we hear lead singer Juliette Jackson crooning in her distinctive cool and throaty vocals. ‘Sucker’ was first released way, way back in 2015, a time when the UK separating from the EU and the prospect of a wildly coiffed President of the United States were nothing but strange and disconcerting dreams. Like other tracks on the album, ‘Sucker’ tackles the emotions around relationships: “It got darker / Every night / But I wouldn’t change my mind / I’m a sucker for you”, as the title of the album might suggest.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6t3vNfl85E[/youtube]

Another single released from the album, ‘Cupid’, is the oh-so-listenable track that details the oh-so-relatable experience of building something up so much, it’s inevitably not quite going to live up to expectations. It’s as playful as it is bittersweet, with lyrics like, “I’m gonna get this perfectly right / He said, “I’m gonna shoot the perfect bulls-eye” / Draw the arrow back / Steel yourself”. Similar is ‘Happy New Year’, which hits on those feelings of being wistfully aware of growing older and changing, while trying to enjoy the moment. In the chorus, Jackson sings over and over, “I’m never gonna be this young”, hitting on those weird thoughts that we have at the approach of midnight on the 31st of December.

Standout ‘Formidable’ is a bit of a self-affirming powerhouse. The verses are pretty chilled out and steady, before quickly building towards the passionate chorus. Jackson sings, “I am not invisible / I’m on your side / I’ll be formidable”, before almost yelling out, “you let me heal your battle scars”. Supporting someone in time of need and the willingness to be there for them isn’t just a formidable act, it’s an admirable one.

There’s not a song on the album that isn’t likable, and I think it goes to show what a talented group of people can achieve when they have the chance to give time to working on an album rather than rushing to get one put together. All in all, Love in the 4th Dimension is a seriously fun listen. The tracks tie together real emotions and feelings, matched with addictive hooks, simple yet effective lyrics and an obvious love from the band towards the music they play.

9/10

‘Love in the 4th Dimension’, the debut album from The Big Moon, is out today on Startime International / Columbia Records. To read more of TGTF’s past coverage on The Big Moon, go here. Stay tuned for Carrie’s review of the band at SXSW 2017 last month, coming soon to TGTF.

 

SXSW 2017: Tuesday night at the British Music Embassy and Blackheart – 14th March 2017

 
By on Thursday, 6th April 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

I started my SXSW 2017 Tuesday evening at Latitude 30 for the BBC Radio 1 / PPL and PRS for Music showcase, emceed by BBC radio presenter Huw Stephens. Stephens himself curated the acts on the night’s British Music Embassy showcase, and he couldn’t have chosen a better act to open the showcase than London art rock trio Dream Wife (pictured in the header photo above) Their music is in-your-face and unapologetically feminine, with songs like ‘Somebody’ and ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ driven by an unrestrained defiance of male-centered societal norms and a bold rebellious streak. In the ever-growing mix of desperate-to-be-taken-seriously female rock bands, Dream Wife doesn’t need to beg for your attention; their combination of raw talent and focused intent simply leaves no room for other alternatives.

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Sensual dance-rock band SWEAT followed Dream Wife, and they were a somewhat easier listen, in the sense that their hypnotic sensuality didn’t require a lot of thought to invoke swaying hips and waving hands. Their sound was no less intense, but more immediately visceral, bypassing the brain and going for a straight physical response. Lead singer Dante Traynor combined smooth, sexy vocals and serpentine dance moves that could barely be contained on the small Latitude 30 stage.

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The mood changed considerably with the next act, experimental pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma. They were heavily hyped coming into the evening’s set, and Stephens himself was excited to introduce them to the British Music Embassy crowd. Their eclectic mix of vocal harmony, widely varied folk instrumentation, and electronic backbeats is an interesting one on paper, and it should have been a winner in live performance. But following on brilliantly flashy acts like Dream Wife and SWEAT is difficult in the best circumstances, and Let’s Eat Grandma’s more cerebral style ultimately fell a bit flat. Still, they’re one to keep an eye on if your tastes lean toward the more introverted side.

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I took the shift in momentum as my cue to exit the British Music Embassy and head down to Rainey Street’s Blackheart for American duo In the Valley Below. The Blackheart stage perhaps wasn’t ideal for the pair’s atmospheric rock sound to begin with, and technical problems led to their set being significantly delayed. Co-lead singer Angela Gail was clearly rattled by having to cut the setlist short, and she promised a better set at the band’s next gig. But for my money, her vocal interplay with Jeffrey Jacob and the duo’s anthemic rock dynamic were a hit despite the truncated show.

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I might not have gone out of my way to hear Atlanta rock band Big Jesus, but they were next on the Blackheart stage, and they rocked the venue to its fullest advantage. Their testosterone-fueled rock, light on lyrical content and heavy on gritty guitar riffs, appealed particularly to the men in the crowd, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it at least a little bit myself.

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The final artist on my agenda for the evening (or early morning, as it was by this point well past midnight) was eclectic “cowboy soul” singer Odetta Hartmann. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how to classify her music into a genre. There is a definite folk element, on one hand, with the violin and banjo taking center stage. On the other hand, there is an electronic component that is vaguely similar to acts like Sylvan Esso, but without the sensual dance groove. And Hartmann’s wild vocals defy easy description as well, running the full gamut from yodeling to growling. Maybe it’s best if I let you have a listen for yourselves.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/hXYw5iJKMVo[/youtube]

 

SXSW 2017: Tuesday morning and afternoon spent with Irish artists and an exceptional English band – 14th March 2017

 
By on Wednesday, 5th April 2017 at 5:00 pm
 

The Tuesday morning of SXSW 2017 found me out the door early, headed across the Colorado River to the Hyatt Regency Boat Dock, which the launching point for the Output Belfast Boat Party. The Boat Party, a collaborative event among several agencies including Generator NI and the Belfast City Council, is quickly becoming a Convergence tradition at SXSW, popular among attendees from across the Interactive, Film, and Music categories.

I was lucky to get onboard, as the boat quickly reached capacity. I had only just made my way to the upper deck when I was approached by one of the morning’s performers, electronic musician Ryan Vail. I recognised him from his press photos and felt a momentary panic, worried that I would be expected to say something intelligent about electronic music and drawing a complete blank. Fortunately, Vail was knowledgeable enough for both of us, and he kept the conversation afloat until the official festivities began.

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The morning’s distinguished emcees included our friends Mark Gordon of Generator NI and Belfast city Alderman Guy Spence (pictured above), as well as Help Musicians UK CEO Richard Robinson. All three were cordial but brief in their remarks, wanting, like the rest of us, to get straight to the music performances. Vail took the stage, such as it was, first. Balancing his sensitive electronic equipment on the gently rocking riverboat was something of a challenge, but Vail managed it beautifully, setting a soft and mellow sonic atmosphere for the rest of the show.

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Alt-rocker Jealous of the Birds (pictured in header above) returned to Austin this year after a successful debut at SXSW 2016, this time with her full band accompanying her. For this brief semi-acoustic riverboat set, she was joined only by keyboard player, Hannah McConnell who also provided lovely backing vocals. I found myself whistling along to the now familiar ‘Goji Berry Sunset’ and hanging intently on the literary-leaning lyrics of ‘Tonight I Feel Like Kafka’. You can check out another SXSW 2017 performance of both tracks, courtesy of NPR, right here.

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Final performer Ciaran Lavery opened with an a capella take on ‘Let Bad In’ that had me in tears before he had even completed the full song, which made it a bit difficult to take photos. He acknowledged that his songs aren’t exactly upbeat “dance numbers”, but his richly-textured vocals and stark acoustic arrangements felt pleasantly warm and inviting in the early afternoon Texas sunshine.

After the boat party was complete, I took a few minutes to sit down with the three featured artists for this impromptu interview, then I headed quickly back downtown for another interview with a band from the Republic of Ireland, Dublin’s Picture This. I was few minutes late to reach them, but fortunately they were gracious enough to wait, and band members Jimmy Rainsford and Ryan Hennessy gave this fascinating introductory soundbite. They exuded confidence and swagger, which immediately struck me as unusual, but in a positive way, very different from the self-deprecating humility of so many artists I meet. I wouldn’t have the chance to hear Picture This play live until the Thursday afternoon of SXSW, but needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.

From there, it was back to the Radisson for me, where I had arranged an interview with Reading quartet Sundara Karma. They were fresh on the SXSW scene, having only arrived in Austin hours before, but they were chomping at the bit to immerse themselves in the experience. In contrast to Picture This, Sundara Karma seemed genuinely unaffected by the hype surrounding their SXSW appearance. Click here to listen back to my poolside chat with band members Oscar Pollock and Haydn Evans.

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Interviews complete for the afternoon, my next stop was at the Convention Center Next Stage, where I met Mary to catch Irish singer/songwriter A.S. Fanning. Later in the week, (in this interview) Fanning would describe the Convention Center vibe as more like a lecture hall than a proper gig, and I have to agree with his sentiment. The large stage and open seating area was almost too spacious for Fanning’s dark, intimate songwriting, but his captivating lyrics and resonant baritone vocals very quickly minimised the emotional distance between himself and his audience.

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Keep following TGTF’s continuing coverage of SXSW 2017 in the coming days for more on all of the excellent artists featured here: Ryan Vail on the grand piano at St. David’s Bethell Hall, A.S. Fanning and Picture This at Thursday’s Full Irish Breakfast, Ciaran Lavery at the Output Belfast day show, Sundara Karma at Stubb’s BBQ, and Jealous of the Birds on Saturday’s Music for Listeners showcase at El Sapo.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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