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TGTF Guide to SXSW 2018: best bets among American artists showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Wednesday, 28th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats by Brantley Gutierrez

As you might expect with an American music festival, SXSW is typically heavy on American showcasing artists, and SXSW 2018 won’t be any different. This year’s music festival lineup features a load of big names that you’ve probably heard before, along with a few new ones that, if they’re not familiar already, likely will become so very soon.

Our ongoing preview coverage of SXSW 2018 has already highlighted a few up-and-coming artists on the showcase schedule, including grunge rock band Bully and alt-country singer Courtney Marie Andrews. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is elusive Los Angeles alt-rock trio Lo Moon, who made mild waves with their SXSW appearance last year. I expect them to make a bigger splash this time around, on the strength of their just released self-titled LP, which includes new track ‘Wonderful Life’.

Among the major players heading to SXSW 2018 are a handful of TGTF alums who have broken through to mainstream success. We first covered songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff way back in 2011, but the course of his career dramatically changed in 2015, when he convened a new band called the Night Sweats and released their hit self-titled album. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently announced a brand new LP called ‘Tearing at the Seams’, which is due for release just before SXSW on the 9th of March and features lead track ‘You Worry Me’.

North Carolina alt-pop duo Sylvan Esso previewed songs from their 2017 album ‘What Now’ at a surprise SXSW 2016 show; their appearance this year could once again herald new music on the horizon. Austin native David Ramirez wasn’t in top form when I saw him at SXSW 2017, but he may be in better shape this year, playing songs from his beautiful recent album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, which he has toured extensively since its release. SXSW 2015 showcasing artist Natalie Prass has just announced a brand new album ‘The Future and The Past’ due out on the 1st of June; she will presumably highlight its soul-tinged single ‘Short Court Style’ on her showcases in Austin next month.

Among other past TGTF mentions on the SXSW 2018 list are Nashville singer/songwriter Liza Anne, who will release her new album ‘Fine But Dying’ on the 9th of March and Milwaukee quartet Field Report, whose new album ‘Summertime Songs’ is previewed in the stream of ‘Never Look Back’ just below. Fellow Nashville singer Tristen and Philadelphia duo Vita and the Woolf, both acts we’ve coincidentally covered in conjunction with Irish alt-rockers Bell X1, also made the showcase list for this year’s festival in Austin, along with New York’s Sunflower Bean, who showcased at SXSW 2016, and L.A. rock band Warbly Jets, who made an appearance at SXSW last year.

American artists new to TGTF include Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes fame, and Buck Meek of alt-rock band Big Thief, neither of whom we’ve seen in a solo capacity before. Satellite radio listeners here in the U.S. might already be familiar with Mt. Joy and NoMBe, who have both been featured on SiriusXM Alt-Nation, while public radio devotees will no doubt have heard Portland singer/songwriter Haley Heynderickx and New Orleans funk/soul group Tank and the Bangas on NPR.

For dedicated indie fans, a pair of duo acts, Denver’s Tennis and Baltimore’s Wye Oak have made the SXSW shout list, along with the always eccentric Okkervil River. In the heavily represented Americana category, sure winners include a trio of Nashville acts: singer/songwriter Nikki Lane, country rock trio Liz Cooper and the Stampede and veteran country/bluegrass collective Old Crow Medicine Show.

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2018 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook or official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

 

Album Review: Big Thief – Capacity

 
By on Wednesday, 7th June 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo by Shervin Lainez

Big Thief Capacity coverBrooklyn indie rock quartet Big Thief evidently believe in striking while the iron is hot. Just over a year ago, they released their debut album ‘Masterpiece’ to critical acclaim, including accolades from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and NPR’s Bob Boilen, among others. Fresh from a second consecutive appearance at SXSW back in March, lead singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker and company have wasted no time following up on their initial success with a second LP titled ‘Capacity’.

Oddly, given the above-stated timeline, ‘Capacity’ sounds anything but rushed. Where ‘Masterpiece’ was raw and almost painfully gritty, picking at the scabs of past abrasions, ‘Capacity’ is more introspective and refined, more deliberately considered but nonetheless seething with emotion. Musically, its razor sharp guitar riffs slice clean and deep, while Lenker’s half-mumbled, half-yodeled vocals have become clearer and more prominent in the audio mix, allowing her lyrics to make a full and forceful impact.

What is most striking about ‘Capacity’, on first listen, is the juxtaposition of delicacy and stark brutality in Lenker’s fragile and tortured vocal melodies. In the album’s title track, her voice is emotionally distant, almost disassociated, as she sings “do what you want with me / lost in your captivity / looming capacity to make believe that everything is real . . .” Her metaphors become a bit more concrete in ‘Watering’, where the lines “he cut off my oxygen / and my eyes were watering / as he tore into my skin like a lion” are underlaid with a ominously serpentine guitar riff. The acoustic intimacy of ‘Coma’ implies a dark and guarded secret, with underlying lyrical allusions to violence and trauma and the haunting repeated lyric “you won’t recognise your house / will you recognise me?”.

The album’s first single ‘Mythological Beauty’ is vibrantly expansive, unwinding gradually over the course of five minutes’ duration. Despite its relative length, the song capsulises the emotional quality of the album as its lyrics progress from a past trauma, “you cut the flesh of your left thumb / using your boyfriend’s knife / seventeen, you took his cum / and you gave birth to your first life”, to Lenker’s revelation that “I have an older brother I don’t know / he could be anywhere”.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/G5OV1JPqlNQ[/youtube]

Ethereal current single ‘Mary’ (streaming above) could be seen as the matched pair to ‘Mythological Beauty’, with its poetic verbal imagery evoking a sense of melancholy reminiscence over a deeply heartwrenching piano motif. (You can read NPR’s fascinating interview with Lenker, where she discusses ‘Mary’ in more detail, right through here.) These longer tracks are where the plot line of the album, such as it is, reveals itself, while the shorter songs surrounding them provide both aural and emotional context. Early single ‘Shark Smile’ (streaming below) is constant and propulsive in its driving momentum, while its sister track ‘Great White Shark’ is brightly shuffling but warped and distorted. Final track ‘Black Diamonds’ is similarly upbeat in its combination of psych rock and classic country, once again belying the heavy sense of conflict in its lyrics.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/w1QlOfYxykI[/youtube]

On further consideration, the main evidence of Big Thief’s musical growth isn’t so much in Lenker’s lyrics on ‘Capacity’, but rather in the album’s impeccable synthesis of lyrics and music. Lenker’s verbal expressions are more poetry than prose, more allusive imagery than concrete plot, and Big Thief’s musical settings are accordingly ambiguous. There are very few clear-cut choruses here, few established or expected chord sequences, and no firm song forms to latch onto. Rather, we hear a free-flowing collection of sonically compelling and delicately balanced musical motifs somehow synchronised with Lenker’s disjointed, yet extraordinarily powerful, vignettes of love and loss.

8.5/10

Big Thief’s second album ‘Capacity’ is due out this Friday, the 9th of June, on Saddle Creek Records. They toured the UK in back in February, but if you missed them then, you’ll have more chances this summer, when they visit Europe with Conor Oberst. You can find a full list of Big Thief’s upcoming shows on their official Facebook. For more TGTF coverage of Big Thief, including a live review from way back in 2015, follow this link.

 

(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]

 

Big Thief / February 2017 UK Tour

 
By on Tuesday, 22nd November 2016 at 9:00 am
 

Brooklyn singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker and her partner in musical crime Buck Meek, better known collectively as Big Thief, have announced a list of UK tour dates for early next year. Their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Masterpiece’ was released back in May of this year on Saddle Creek Records. Below the tour date listing, you can watch Big Thief perform three songs from the record, ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Paul’ and ‘Lorraine’, as part of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.

Tickets for the following shows are available now. TGTF’s previous coverage of Big Thief, including a live review from SXSW 2016, is collected through here.

Friday 3rd February 2017 – Bristol Louisiana
Saturday 4th February 2017 – Sheffield Leadmill
Sunday 5th February 2017 – Edinburgh Mash House
Tuesday 7th February 2017 – Manchester Soup Kitchen
Wednesday 8th February 2017 – Nottingham Spanky van Dyke’s
Thursday 9th February 2017 – London Lexington
Friday 10th February 2017 – Brighton Hope & Ruin

[youtube]https://youtu.be/D0E5vMkDfOI[/youtube]

 

Album Review: Big Thief – Masterpiece

 
By on Thursday, 26th May 2016 at 3:00 pm
 

"MasterpieceWe at TGTF have had our ears on Brooklyn indie rock band Big Thief since last autumn, when I saw them open for Here We Go Magic at the Valley Bar in Phoenix. Six months on from that show, Big Thief are quickly garnering fans from across the musical spectrum with songs from their genre-stretching debut album ‘Masterpiece’. An imaginary Venn diagram of the album might depict an intersection of alt-country, indie folk and psych rock, with ‘Masterpiece’ falling squarely in the centre.

Frontwoman and songwriter Adrianne Lenker has crafted a series of songs around what she describes as “the process of harnessing pain, loss, and love, while simultaneously letting them go, looking into your own eyes through someone else’s, and being okay with the inevitability of death.” Her constantly shifting character perspective keeps the quell of emotion inherent in those themes at a measured distance, and her bandmates (Buck Meek on guitar, Max Oleartchik on bass and Jason Burger on drums) create a discordant and disorienting sonic backdrop for her hazy existentialism.

The album’s eponymous track and lead single ‘Masterpiece’ is a full sonic realisation of Lenker’s artistic vision, with bold, round guitars, heavy drums, and a catchy chorus under the blunt desperation of her verses: “you whispered to a restless ear / can you get me out of here? / this place smells like piss and beer / can you get me out?”. Lenker’s singing voice, like her lyrics, isn’t exactly pretty, but its half-whispered, half-yodeled tone is both poignantly fragile and vividly evocative.

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

The album’s current single ‘Real Love’ was a live standout when I saw the band play on the Ground Control Touring showcase at SXSW 2016, and it’s a highlight on the full album as well. Lenker’s haunting vocal melody fluctuates between pure country (“mama got drunk and daddy went to prison”) and unadulterated realism (“riding in the back seat, watching my spit fly”), and her delicate singing is punctuated by gritty, strident rock guitar riffs.

The estranged father-daughter ballad ‘Interstate’ is somewhat lighter in texture but its sonic undertones are harshly discordant, particularly under the wistful line “you could go back in time”, which is underlaid by disorienting shifts in harmony. Lenker takes on the perspective of a sympathetic onlooker in the lyrics, “she is getting thin / you are going grey and white / and you don’t know how to tell her as you say good night”, but you get the sense throughout that she might in fact be the daughter, especially when the track fades to a child’s voice innocently chanting, “I like our truck”.

A pair of love contrasting love ballads sits at the heart of the album, the acoustic-flavoured ‘Lorraine’ and the bittersweet ‘Paul’. The former is a brief wisp of memory, perhaps of a fleeting romantic encounter that never developed into anything tangible, exemplified by the lyric “like we were hummingbirds screaming at ravens, you started to move me from fact into fable”. The latter is an edgier electric-flavoured track about another doomed love affair, this time from the opposite perspective: “I’ll be your real tough cookie with the whisky breath / I’ll be a killer and a thriller and the cause of our death.”

‘Humans’ returns to the harder, harsher tones of the earlier tracks, with a distorted bass and guitar foundation under Lenker’s slurred, mumbled verse lines “humans in the honest light / love is a cold infection, right”, while a piercing guitar riff brings the repeated chorus lyric into sharp focus. Conversely, ‘Animals’ is fuzzy and obscure throughout, with shifting harmonies and tempo keeping the listener consistently off balance. Final track ‘Parallels’ features another brilliantly written verse, “caterpillar on the floor / can you teach me to transform . . . I can’t say I’ll miss my human form much” juxtaposed with a simple, relentlessly repeated chorus.

Appropriate to the title of its closing track, ‘Masterpiece’ is an album of parallels and juxtapositions. It never attempts to come full circle or to establish a definitive direction, but Adrianne Lenker’s uniquely crafted songs and distinctive vocal style nevertheless leave a lasting impression, both in live performance and on this studio recording.

7.5/10

Big Thief’s debut LP ‘Masterpiece’ is due out tomorrow, Friday the 27th of May, on Saddle Creek Records. Our previous coverage of the band is back this way.

 

SXSW 2016: Wednesday night at the first half of BBC Introducing and second half of Ground Control Touring showcases – 16th March 2016

 
By on Thursday, 31st March 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

The Wednesday night of SXSW 2016 turned out to be quite a busy one, with no shortage of interesting showcases to choose from, including stages hosted by Music from Ireland, Austin record label Modern Outsider, Paradigm Talent Agency, Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union Records, Dine Alone Records, and Communion Music, just to name a few. Mary and I had conferred at length about how to use our time most wisely, and it transpired that I spent my Wednesday evening at two venues, our beloved British Music Embassy for the BBC Introducing / PRS for Music Foundation showcase, and the Sidewinder (formerly Red Eyed Fly), a new-to-me location playing host to the Ground Control Touring stage.

BBC 6 Music presenter and indie artist champion Steve Lamacq was left with the rather daunting task of leading into the BBC Introducing showcase with a tribute to Warrington indie pop band Viola Beach, who were tragically killed in an automobile accident while touring in Sweden in February. Viola Beach had been scheduled to play the BBC Introducing stage on this Wednesday night; instead, Lamacq opened with a very brief eulogy emphasising the band’s promise and potential.

Lamacq closed his remarks with possibly the most appropriate commentary he could have made, reminding us that it’s not too late to listen to the brilliant music Viola Beach made before their untimely passing, and that our finest tribute to the band would be in doing so. Following Lamacq’s short speech, we were treated to a skillfully crafted video montage featuring live clips of Viola Beach, including their November 2015 studio session at Maida Vale, which you can view in part just below.

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

The night’s first live set was then left to up-and-coming singer/songwriter Isaac Gracie, who was introduced to the British Music Embassy stage by BBC Radio 1 presenter Huw Stephens. Gracie took advantage of his audience’s somewhat sombre mood, opening his set with an as-yet-unreleased song called ‘Down and Out’ before proceeding into the heartfelt ‘Terrified’. He saved his more upbeat tracks for the end of his brief set list, in particular ’Running on Empty’ and ‘Last Words’, which I had the chance to discuss with him in this brief interview before he hurried off to his next engagement.

Isaac Gracie at British Music Embassy Latitude 30 SXSW 2016

Next on the docket, BBC Radio 2 host Jo Whiley shepherded the youthful and somewhat shy singer/songwriter Billie Marten, who played a lovely handful of songs and impressed me with the sweetness of her singing voice and her delicate touch on the guitar, despite having to work through a bit of a battle with her own nerves. Marten played tracks from her 2014 EP ‘Ribbon’ before switching to last November’s EP release ‘As Long As’, which includes the female-centric track ‘Bird’ and the eponymous title track. Steeling her nerve, she also played a remarkably effective cover of Royal Blood‘s ‘Out of the Black’ before diving into two new tracks, ‘Milk & Honey’ and ‘La Lune’.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/iJx8dGYbGBc[/youtube]

After Billie Marten’s set, Mary and I swapped places, as she came over to the British Music Embassy for the end of the BBC Introducing show, which would feature Sheffield indie pop quartet The Sherlocks, Oxford songstress Frances and Welsh punks ESTRONS. Meanwhile, I headed down East 7th Street to the Sidewinder to catch three American bands on the Ground Control Touring showcase.

Your Friend at Sidewinder SXSW 2016

I arrived just in time to catch the end of avant-experimental act Your Friend, who I wrote about in my preview of the Savannah Stopover Festival back in December of last year. Your Friend, aka Taryn Miller, hails from Lawrence, Kansas and released her debut LP ‘Gumption’ in January on Domino Records. Miller was accompanied on the small and dimly lit Sidewinder stage by a full band, notably including a flautist, who helped her to realise the drones, loops and thick textures of the songs on the album.

Big Thief at Sidewinder SXSW 2016

Following Your Friend was a band I’d seen before in Phoenix, Brooklyn-based quartet Big Thief. Led by frontwoman Adrianne Lenker and guitarist Buck Meek, the band played almost exactly the same set I’d heard from them on that previous occasion, when they had opened for fellow Brooklynites Here We Go Magic. Lenker hadn’t been particularly chatty with her audience on that evening at Phoenix’s Valley Bar, concentrating her energy instead on the songs, but on this night at the Sidewinder, she was even more subdued, playing through the set in a pair of large headphones. As I found out later, Lenker had burst an eardrum just before playing the aforementioned Savannah Stopover festival prior to SXSW. Despite the obvious difficulty, Lenker and company made it through their set without any major problems, and their latest singles ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Real Love’ were among the highlights of the night.

The final act of the evening on the Sidewinder stage was the much-hyped, Chicago-based indie pop band Whitney, who had come up in conversation earlier in the day during my interview with singer/songwriter Roo Panes. Despite their billing as a duo comprising Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek (both formerly of the Smith Westerns), Whitney somehow managed to cram no less than six band members onto the Sidewinder stage, with Ehrlich’s drum kit shoved to the front so he could double as drummer and lead singer.

Whitney at Sidewinder SXSW 2016

This might normally have been an engaging setup, but on this particular occasion it opened Ehrlich up to a bevy of proffered beverages from the female audience members at the front of the stage, and he appeared to have had plenty to drink already. Not that the band weren’t tight on stage – guitarist Kakacek seemed especially sharp – but they trudged through their 1 AM set in a rather uninspired manner, and I have to admit that to my own ear the songs were largely indistinguishable from one another. Nevertheless, the crowd inside the Sidewinder were eager to hear them, grooving along from the first notes of the set through to the final strains of Wednesday night.

 
 
 

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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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