To prep for the 2009 South By Southwest music festival in, I’m arming myself with a list of the groups performing and an active Internet connection with the goal of listening to top tracks from as many bands as possible and offering my impressions here.
The reactions will be quick and dirty, reflecting my own musical taste and ignorance, but if they save me or anyone else from accidentally sitting through a performance of Hey, How’s Your News, then they will be worth it.
They are: A New York City–based folkie band with drums, guitar and bass.
Sounds like: Mostly Iron and Wine, with maybe a little stripped-down, unfrenzied Dirty Horse thrown in.
The tracks (Rhapsody):
A dreamy lament, with picked guitar, light cymbal taps and a little steel-guitar drone to close her out.
…are those cricket sounds and bird calls?
Yep, they are.
Well, it’s a hidden track, so it starts with the obligatory two minutes of silence (thanks, guys!). The track itself is leisurely, unspooling string arrangements and clean electric rambles over a strummed acoustic timekeeper. It’s nice, and sad, and quiet.
Before and Again
Kicks off with a bright, picked acoustic pattern and moves into hummed vocals, electric beeps and a little tin whistle. It spins a thin, delicate, beautiful thread before closing with an upbeat bongo jam.
The Verdict: Unrushed and melodic, the band gives each component of its sound room to breathe and be heard. It’s headphone music, songs you need to surround yourself with—tunes that might make you close your eyes and daydream for a while. It’s a great sound—I want to listen to more—but it seems best suited to a small, hushed venue.
They are: “From Minnesota via Los Angeles and now based in Chicago, twenty-three year old Anni is an exciting prospect. Having been classically trained since aged three, Anni is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and has been performing as a solo artist for the past few years.”
Sounds like: A slightly squawky Alanis Morrisette with a violin
The tracks (Rhapsody):
A plucked violin provides the push for the track, with Rossi offering breathy, trilled vocals. The backing sounds like something Andrew Bird would record in his bedroom, but the singing is too slippery for its own good.
A Vegas lounge swing on organ in punctuated with a bassoon and stiff snare beats. The lyrics quiver, but you just want them to hold still.
Kicks off with a nice woodwind/drum groove, which alternates with a rough, swelling string country waltz. The end goes uptempo over a frenzied violin pattern
The Verdict: It’s a bit punk rock, but the vocals are more grating than attention-grabbing. Andrew Bird has nothing to worry about.
Department of Eagles
They are: A band fronted by the lead singer of Grizzly Bear and his college roommate, who retained the itch for music after many years in an office job, giving hope to schlubs everywhere (or at least schlubs with former college roommates in successful bands…step to it, guys!)
Sounds like: Nice, high and soothing…My Morning Jacket meets Of Montreal? (Pre sex-soul explosion for both)
The tracks (Department of Eagles web site):
No One Does It Like You
The tune marches along with a dreamy strut. Strong lead vocals, falsetto backups and a steady lead make for a nice, Gorrilaz-esque track.
In Ear Park
Opens with a range of rippling acoustic patterns that cede to a dreamy, wavering vocal. Evocative and soothing.
Another acoustic track, one that makes gorgeous use of vocal overlays. It’s still light, with a more conventional drum backing, but there are a lot of interesting sounds in the margins.
The Verdict:Great production and a polished sound. They might be a little soft for a live setting, but they could also unleash some fuzzy firepower. An intriguing band.