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Noise-Pop, Rachael Ray, and the Magic Box: SXSW 2008

They’re here for the thousands of bands flooding downtown Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival. The church is just another venue. And Sparhawk and his onstage buddies—the appropriately named Retribution Gospel Choir—is just another band. It’s only Thursday evening; it’ll be a long, grueling forty-eight hours before the festival wraps up on Sunday, March 16.

The Purest One: Iva Bittová with the Bang on a Can All-Stars,

I once received a book of poetry from a fan in Prague after a concert. The book was written by the Czech poet Vˇera Chase…A few years later, I was searching for inspiration for my new music, and I found her poem “Elida.” I was inspired by the provocative and somewhat erotic nature of the poem. Also, I feel there is some humor in the lyrics, which I always like:

The Monday Night Band: Recording Live at the Village Vanguard

And slowly, they start stepping in. The staff throws the door open to the usual cast of outsiders and insiders—natives and tourists, scholarly purists and dreadlocked adulterers, every configuration of man, woman, and child. They give the money to the door guy, a tattooed young man with a somber five o’clock shadow: $35, cash only, one drink included. The seating guy—a veteran staffer who tends the bar the rest of the week and designs handbags during the day—weaves the guests through the aisles and wedges them into butting wooden chairs.

Passionless Play

Merritt’s entire songwriting project has more than a hint of cynicism to it. He churns out his love songs with assembly-line efficiency, a fitting work schedule for a guy who idolizes prolific, professional tunesmiths like Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, and anyone who ever toiled nine-to-five in a Brill Building cubicle. His songs are his product, and he makes no attempt to hide that—rather, he emphasizes the artifice of his songs by compartmentalizing them in thematically tidy albums.

The Kids Are Badass

In this case, Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat, who’ve been a prominent part of the New Orleans music scene since 1994, were playing second fiddle to a pack of wily boys from Atlanta called the Black Lips. This crowd was young—probably just old enough to legally buy the plastic cups of beer they were holding—with a preference for tights pants.

Alain Neffe’s Potlatch Music

I’ve generally been ambivalent about the way so many current rock bands are appropriating elements of previously subterranean eighties styles, from postpunk to minimal synth to noise and industrial music. I guess I just don’t believe that the way to be original in 2008 is to copy obscure bands from twenty-five years ago (or forty years ago, for that matter). The good thing about all this retro-ness, however, is that some excellent musicians who were almost completely ignored in the eighties are finally getting attention.

A Bridge That Will Bring Us Together (Again)

Then, in 2003, they stripped it all down to just the two of them and began performing under the name Shellshag. It’s a special connection, to say the least, and evident in the way they sing into each other’s eyes on stage, sharing a DIY (and patented) Flying V mic stand that allows them to face one another while beating on their instruments. Whether screaming or crooning, they never blink.

Brought to You by the Letter G

Decemberists, Colin Meloy, and Bishop Allen as reference points. Darnielle doesn’t shy away from letting his imagination explode everywhere on this album: “San Bernadino” is a surprisingly sweet tune about a couple who checks into a roadside motel to give birth in the tub. “Heretic Pride” might be the point of view of the avenging angel at the end of the world who is relieved that it’s finally all over: He “can taste jasmine” again


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2008

All Issues