Woodlock “The Garden”

Here’s a moody, captivating track from the Aussie trio Woodlock. I like how subtle this tune seems to be at first listen, yet after each spin, you start to pick up on all of the gorgeous ambience and melodic growth hidden behind every twist and turn. There’s a certain backbone and mystique to Zech & Eze’s voices that leads me to believe this group has the potential to make a serious impact.

Jesse Woods “Ugly Dress”

There’s something about this short tune (2:30) by Austin-native Jesse Woods, and I can’t put my finger on it. Not sure what it is, but it may be the loose, echo-y feel where you can nearly hear the vibration of each guitar string, or perhaps Woods’ crooning vocals or wistful lyrics — likely a combination of it all. It just seems perfect for some steamy summer weather.

Tenterhook “Chemicals”

Archie Faulks, 19 year-old British frontman to the new band Tenterhook, will be making some waves this year with his upcoming self-titled EP release this September. If this demo is any indication as to what the finished project will sound like, the Tom Odell’s and Ed Sheeran’s out there are in for some major competition. I can see this song topping charts in the not-so-distant future, so keep your eyes out for this one!

Yeo “KOBE”

As of late, I’ve struggled to listen to anything that sounds even remotely sugary. Perhaps the undeniable hook of Yeo’s “Kobe” carefully folded within the questionably EDM sounding drum machine/effects/synth wall of sound is strong enough to surpass the songs out there that clearly aim for similar, but end up spoiled with too much sweetness. There’s a majestic feel to the song right off the bat with the organ-sounding pounding chords – I can’t help but think of it as the perfect combo of Arcade Fire’s “Intervention” + Django Django’s “Default.” Yeo does well creating musical texture through layers without alienating the underlying melody. Expect a release from the Aussie at some point this year.

The Careful Ones “Easy Tiger” + JMR “Pioneer Of Your Heart”

This is the second single from The Careful Ones’ upcoming LP The Foxes and The Hounds. Lead singer JMR has a very evocative vocal delivery, much like my Icelandic fav Ásgeir, so naturally I am drawn to the moody tunes of The Careful Ones, who hail from Central Florida. If you like JMR’s voice, but dig a less traditional, more experimental, soulful approach, JMR has a self-titled solo project that The Careful Ones very avidly cross-promote. I recommend a listen of his song “Pioneer Of Your Heart.”

Pepa Knight “Rahh!”

This ethereal tune by Pepa Knight uplifts your soul instantly. Pepa’s soaring vocals contrast (yet beautifully complement) the driving percussion, creating a luscious and inspirational palate of sounds. Apparently this track, and the rest of the forthcoming album, was inspired by his travels through India. If you recognize Pepa’s voice, he is the frontman to the Australian band Jinja Safari (also excellent). Though I am not sure what the future holds for Jinja Safari, you can at least expect more flavorful tunes from the solo Aussie later this year.

SXSW 2014 highlights: Ásgeir, Sylvan Esso, Mighty Oaks, Nick Mulvey, Rare Monk, Hozier, Leif Vollebekk, Highasakite, Spanish Gold, Typhoon

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…

Ásgeir


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.

Sylvan Esso


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.

Nick Mulvey


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.

Mighty Oaks


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.

Highasakite


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!

Happy listening…

SPEAK “Be Reasonable, Diane”

SPEAK is a four-piece art rock band out of the mighty state of Texas – Austin to be specific. I love the way this song moves through several stages of development and isn’t fully realized until the very end. It twists and turns and keeps you intrigued the entire time. Fingers crossed for an EP or full length in the near future!

Bear Hands “Bone Digger”

Bear Hands is a Brooklyn-based alt-rock band with just the right amount of punk to make everybody bounce. In case you missed “Giants,” the excellent first single off of the new album Distraction – never fear, I bring you “Bone Digger” just in time for album release day! “Bone Digger” stands out as a clear favorite. It grabs your attention right from the start with Dylan Rau’s sharply defined, insistent vocals and has a hook that lives with you for days. If you like the song, pick up the whole album…you’ll thank me later.