I’ve been following the exceptionally talented Emma Louise for four years. I saw her captivate an audience at the crumbiest venue at SxSW 2013 and was convinced then and there that she’d make a massive splash. The three lead tracks off her upcoming release Supercry are further evidence of that. She has grown into her voice. It’s a powerhouse yet still laser-fine enough to cut glass. These three tracks bring the velvet hammer down in entirely new ways. “Underflow” breaks your heart in all the right places at just the right times – it physically pulls you in. Everything her voice does, you feel. “Talk Baby” is a sultry, hypnotic, bad girl anthem that is as delicate as it is fiery and sexy. “West Side Kids” reminisces in a bittersweet stroll through relationship nostalgia.
Something else to note: her videos for both “Talk Baby” and “Underflow” are next level. Dylan Duclos, the man behind the videos, should be lauded for his flawless visual accompaniment for such heavy, beautiful music. Claps all around. Emma Louise’s July 15th release cannot come soon enough!
Ok, here we go – this year’s SXSW roundup! So let’s get to the numbers (sadly, I forgot my UP band this year which totaled my walking mileage each day)…referring to last year’s official SXSW statistics, I listened to likely 2,200+ bands this go-around in an insane 15-day binge. I siphoned it down to 224 bands worthy of a deeper look. Those 224 bands garnered a second listen, and from that point I got the number down to 102 bands that I attempted to schedule alongside about 180 already-familiar bands (of the 2,200+). I managed to see 41 bands in 3.25 days. I had 10 clear favorites (one of which was Typhoon, which shouldn’t count since I’ve seen them before, but I couldn’t resist as they performed in a church), so without further ado, in no particular order:
Ásgeir – Iceland
Sylvan Esso – USA
Mighty Oaks – multinational, based in Germany
Nick Mulvey – England
Rare Monk – USA
Hozier – Ireland
Leif Vollebekk – Canada
Highasakite – Norway
Spanish Gold – USA
Typhoon – USA
To elaborate on a few of these…
His performance was hauntingly beautiful. I remember being so confused when he announced his final song – it felt like he had just begun. It was as if he hypnotized the crowd, with a voice even more crystal clear and heartbreaking than in his recordings. He sang a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” that was simply bone-chilling. I am very touchy with covers, especially those of legendary bands, but this was an extreme exception. Ásgeir reinvented the song in all the right ways without losing its integrity, and though this video does not even come close to the performance I witnessed, at least it gives you a solid idea.
These guys were such unexpected performers! For music I was originally considering to be of the mellow persuasion, I am now dubbing it “thug Feist.” This was an all-out dance party. Having seen the Durham-based duo create this music in a live setting, it’s obvious that this is the area where they shine. Their recordings don’t do this art justice in the slightest. If they are in a town near you, even if you are on the fence about their music, GO. You’ll be wildly impressed.
No words really. This Brit is something special. It was just him and his acoustic guitar at the alter of the St David’s Episcopal Church. He was able create such immense, beautiful sounds completely solo. It felt like he was wrapping the audience in a warm blanket and with each song that passed, he drew everyone closer. I was entranced watching him keep a bass line with his acoustic guitar all while plucking these amazingly intricate melodies that kept building on top of each other, layer by layer – no loop pedal, no other accompaniment. It was magical to gaze at this man creating.
My love for Mighty Oaks runs deep. Having been a fan and follower since 2012, I was long overdue to see them perform. Fantastic doesn’t really cover it. They play with such intensity and passion, it’s infectious. Though their album isn’t out in the US yet, expect huge things from these guys in 2015. Huge. For now, enjoy these two favorites.
This band was a total crapshoot. I figured I’d take a chance on them and holy shit I am so glad I did. They finished playing and I looked over at the person next to me and said, “What just happened?!”. A wall of paralyzingly gorgeous, complex sounds and harmonies disarmed me and everyone surrounding. I have since learned that they are Norweigen, have a forthcoming album out April 7th (worldwide, yay!), and are now on a US tour with London Grammar…so basically, you’ll be hearing a thing or two from Highasakite before long!
I won’t draw this out any longer, so for the four bands that didn’t receive my complete debriefing, I want to stress how excellent they were. Hozier was mind-blowing – so captivating and so piercing live. He exceeded my expectations and totally confirmed all the hype. Rare Monk was inventive and intense. They were able to successfully pull off some extremely intriguing effects and vocal distortions, including the least chill version I’ve ever heard of “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Leif Vollebekk was a complete treat and solidified a permanent space in my (figurative) singer-songwriter favorites file. Spanish Gold was rocking and got everyone moving. The zillion people in line to see their show at Stubb’s was yet another reminder that people still care about rock –very much so. And they give good reason!
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.