This was a tough one. Despite how many times I’ve listened to this Vance Joy EP, I haven’t been able to pick a true favorite to share. Each song is so beautifully crafted – Vance has literally not wasted one second on filler content. It’s this very “seize the moment” attitude that captures the spirit of his music.
To make it easier, I chose the two songs that he opted to release as singles, “Riptide” and “From Afar.” “Riptide” is an immediately catchy folk-pop song, complete with howl-like “oohhs” (which everyone likes), a propulsive beat, and Michelle Pfeiffer mention (ha). I’m pretty sure there’s also a djembe in this song – a personal favorite.
“From Afar” is a slow-building gem of a tune. Right around the three minute mark, the song goes from good to great. And not even :30 seconds later, great to excellent, when Vance lets go and repeats, “It shouldn’t come as a surprise – what I’m feeling, what I’m feeling now”.
Listen to the Melbourne native’s entire God Loves You When You’re Dancing EP here and you’ll get what I’m saying.
In light of my recent SXSW excursion, it seems more than appropriate to share a highlight reel of my intensely stimulating time in the mighty state of Texas. Before I delve into the music, a brief summary of my SXSW in numbers:
In preparation, I listened to the 2,000+ SXSW bands which took approximately 44 days. I narrowed those down to 336 bands that I deemed “worth a damn” (122 of which I was familiar with and liked pre-SXSW listening frenzy, 214 of which were new to me). I continued to whittle the unfamiliar 214 bands down to 96 that I considered “worth it” enough to try and schedule (alongside the 122).
The end tally: in 3 days I saw 39 shows and walked a total of 30 miles.
*The walking part is important to note because I could have seen more bands had I stayed in one place or stuck to just a few showcases; however, I felt determined to stick to my schedule and see precisely the bands I set out to see.
Since I was quite thorough in my band-filtering process, I can safely say that every band I saw perform (that I intended to see) met or exceeded expectations – maybe one or two missed the mark. So to make things easier for you, I am presenting the “daily winner,” so-to-say, of each of the three days. This is based off of overall performance, sound (a serious issue out there), panache, audience involvement/response etc…
*Also to note: there were a few other bands that should make this list, but I’m keeping this non-work related and thus unbiased.
Day 1, Sir Sly & St. Lucia:
This day was a tie. I was extremely impressed with Sir Sly’s set up and the rich sound they achieved. I was kind of expecting a dude with a computer and another dude with a drum machine. Much to my excitement, it was a full band with real instruments. Yes, there was obviously some knob-turning to realize some of the sounds, but definitely not what I envisioned. They were totally entranced and were undoubtably able to suck everyone else in with them.
St. Lucia was a jaw-dropper. Similar to my expectations with Sir Sly, I was anticipating a relatively canned performance, but then received a giant (figurative) blow to the temple when Jean-Philip Grobler proceeded to sing. He is gifted with one of those voices that legitimately sounds as crystal clear live (if not better) than his recordings. Lest I forget to mention how energetic and passionately he and the rest of his band performed. Complete dance party.
Day 2, Bernhoft:
Good heavens this guy blew me away. And it wasn’t because I haven’t witnessed an artist use a loop pedal before – I have. His commanding presence and natural ability to engage the audience were not only tremendously entertaining, but unteachable and made all the difference. It’s much like bedside manner for a doctor; there are plenty of great doctors out there who know their shit, but few combine knowledge and compassion. Unfortunately this video doesn’t do his live performance justice. Bernhoft managed to conjure that rare feeling you experience at truly great shows, where suddenly you know you’re involved in something much larger than yourself and your personal identity seems to float away into the common unit of “now.” He earned an extremely well-deserved standing ovation. I left smiling ear-to-ear and feeling like I witnessed a Norwegian version of Prince.
Day 3, PEACE:
The band I walked away most excited about right here. These young Brits have been on my radar since last year with their phenomenal EP “Delicious” (if you recall here). Their debut full length album “In Love” comes out March 25th and it is huge. These guys shred live. No bells and whistles – just absolutely killer music. I left both shows (yes, good enough to see twice) completely revitalized in the name of rock. Can’t help but categorize them as a dirty Oasis with balls…and a touch of Nirvana influence.
Not to extend this post much further…but two extremely talented artists that should be mentioned are Dan Croll & Emma Louise. Totally floored by their performances.
I can’t help but think of this track as a modern day, vibey take on classic slow dance lounge music. “Missing Reward,” the first track released by Baltimore’s Mt. Royal, notably starts off with a drumroll-esque intro that completely smashes into a dreamy, blues-tinged tune.
The instrumentation/diversity of sound in this song stikes me as particularly intriguing. Mt. Royal creates an orchestral, synthy background and combines it with brassy guitar accents, heavy bass tones and a funky beat…add the intermittent piano parts and probably countless other instruments I am missing, and you get the point. Then you have Katrina Ford’s vocals; they lie somewhere between Victora Legrand from Beach House and Dusty Springfield. And that, right there, is certifiably bad ass.