Photograph by Steven Walter

South by Southwest is kind of like the Twitter of music festivals. It’s peppy, popular, easy to mock, highly corporate and desperate to hide that fact with little stabs at techy subversiveness. The scene on the ground is as though social networking itself was suddenly given life by a trickster god, as musicians of every flavour and every level of grunginess mingle with industry suits and club kids on spring break. Iffy metaphors aside, the festival deserves its widespread reputation as a hipster-heavy network-a-thon that saturates Austin from downtown to the sticks with more man-hours of music than could possibly be experienced in a standard human year. It’s fun.

I arrive in Austin before the official beginning of the music festival, while the interactive tech and film expos are still in full swing, and before you can say “Wes Anderson” I’m comfortably installed on a patio, chatting with a group of Portlanders about different brands of free-range chicken. I’m off to a comfortable head start on all my stereotypes.

The main drag on Sixth Street is already fairly happening, though it’ll get exponentially more clogged as the week goes on. I spy a familiar face through the open window of the Bat Bar: it’s icon of awkwardness Michael Cera, playing bass with his supergroup-of-a-sort Mister Heavenly. The band is rounded by members of the Unicorns, Man Man, and Modest Mouse, but it’s pretty clear who the gaggle of college girls are crowding around to see, cell phones straining upwards for photos like a curious herd of electric giraffes.

Mister Heavenly – Mister Heavenly

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— , May 10, 2011    3 Comments

If you’re anything like us here at Ca Va Cool – meaning you get a lot of your music from blogs and CBC “Top 10!” Radio 3 – you won’t be able to avoid Mother Mother’s new single ‘The Stand’ for very long. You may as well check out the album that surrounds it, too. Eureka is the third release for the quintet from Quadra Island, BC, and like Touch Up and O My Heart it’s driving and unsettling pop music, tailored to dark moods and indie dance nights. Menacing three-part harmonies and the quirky personalities of frontman Ryan Guldemond and his little sister Molly continue to define the band’s style and edge.

Where Mother Mother’s songs have usually been frantic and folky with plenty of mid-song changeups in time and key, Eureka keeps things steadier and adds a generous handful of synths. The outstanding opener ‘Chasing It Down’ folds in a bit of John Lennon, while ‘Calm Me Down’ channels the Strokes circa First Impressions of Earth, flaring out in an anthemic chant and marking the first time Mother Mother has offered up an excellent closing track. The band’s not afraid to reach into its bag of used tricks — some melodies in particular will strike the dedicated fan as more than a little familiar, which would be troubling if the entire album was just a tinkering rework of older stuff, but it’s not. It’s definitely evolutionary, like a new actor playing a familiar role, and the recycled material sounds different enough among the synths and stronger beats.

Back to ‘The Stand’: Mother Mother has this curious tradition of picking highly challenging radio singles. They tend to be grating, infuriating, and fascinating, both in music and lyrics, and ‘The Stand’ could hardly fit in any better. ‘Polynesia’ was nonsensical and ‘Hayloft’ was violent, and ‘The Stand’ is bizarre in its own way: a defensive, mean-spirited, awkward, sexually charged conversation between the male Guldemond and a legion of fans – critics? doctors? good old-fashioned disembodied voices? – trying to get into his head. It’s catchy as hell, which is why you’ll probably encounter it soon through one medium or another if you haven’t already. Guldemond only reluctantly starts spilling his neuroses as the track begins, but here he is releasing the damn thing as a single. Add to all this the fact that the challenging lines are given voice by the guy’s baby sister, and you’ve got a psychoanalyst’s dream — and an infectious song that I know I’ll get sick of at some point, but certainly haven’t yet. As they begin to deal with expanding crowds and rising expectations, this weird earworm of a single, and to a lesser degree the album that surrounds it, further establishes Mother Mother as an excellent source of whimsy and affable creepiness.

Mother Mother – The Stand
Mother Mother – Chasing It Down

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— , April 7, 2011    2 Comments

Beast

Hailing from Montreal, Beast is the partnership between Betty Bonifassi and Jean-Phi Goncalves. Together, they’ve fused trip-hop, rock, and part funk to make one of the most unique self titled albums to come out this year. Bonifassi mixes up her powerful deep singing with rap and spoken word. At times it feels like Saul William’s Niggy Tardust, but darker and even more aggressive. I feel like I’m watching them on stage in this huge amphitheater in complete darkness, slightly unnerved but at the same time riveted, unable to pull away.

Beast – Ashtray
Beast – Finger Prints

Duchess Says – Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs

Simply put, this is Yeah Yeah Yeah’s on speed. Screaming guitars, moaning bass, unrivaled vocals. This Montreal-based band is full of dance punk rock that’ll keep you on your toes, your hair looking ravaged, and a few pounds will be lost too from rockin’ out so hard.

Duchess Says – Teneu non neu
Duchess Says – Rabies

Mother Mother – Oh My Heart

Oh My Heart is the sophomore album from this now four piece talent based out of Vancouver. The album is full of surprises, jumping styles like nobody’s business…going from indie, to rock, to pop, to folk, to acoustics and overall just creating this wonderful melange of musical goodness. This album is full of great harmonies and fantastic vocals which lull you into a blissful dream. It makes me want to take a trans Canada road trip with the windows down watching the wheat fields roll by…=)

Mother Mother – Burning Pile
Mother Mother – Sleep Awake

Emiliana Torrini – Me And Armini

Can any artist out of Iceland go wrong? Like, really? Her sweet voice is absolutely beautiful but don’t let that fool you as she can be villainous and menacingly dark too. Her songs range from exuberant positively thump-your-feet joyful to distorted, sad, and introspective. She is lyrically and rhythmically diverse but doesn’t abandon or alienate the listener in the process. And in the end, the gloominess is lifted and you are left feeling a lot lighter than you did before.

Emiliana Torrini – Gun
Emiliana Torrini – Jungle Drum

Asa – Asha

I saved the best for last.

Africa, like the world’s pulse…
Africa, like a troublemaker…
Africa, like a cry of hope ringing in your ears…
Africa, like Asa.

Asa sings about her country, the troubles of Africa: the domestic violence, the wars, the rape, the killing, the poverty. She is the voice for the silenced, the nameless, and the ones who have passed away. Despite this, her songs are filled with empowering truths and soulful lyrics. They are positive, beaming with hope, realistic optimism and prayers for the peace of her people and her country. Her music displays the resiliency, perseverance, and beauty that resonates in Africa despite chains that, in many places, bind freedom and flourishing. Every time I listen to this album I well up inside and am overwhelmed with emotion. I can’t help but pause everything and just listen. Truthfully, this is one of the most heartfelt albums I’ve heard in a very long time.

Asa – Subway
Asa – Eyé àdaba
Asa – Fire on the Mountain

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— , December 18, 2008    7 Comments