Friday, April 2, 2010

We're moving!

Hello, blog readers. The Cedar recently launched a new website, and we're incorporating this blog into it. This means that we won't be posting to this blogspot page anymore. Instead, our blog will live here:

The URL is being redirected to our new site, so you can still use that to find us.

You can still read, post, watch, and all the rest. Please feel free to email me at adorn at with questions or comments. Thanks!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Bright Side of the Moon

News stories abound about the changing music-commerce landscape. A couple of recent ones caught my eye, not least for offering a delicious rice-and-beans complementarity given that they centered on two EMI acts, one from the old world and one from the new:

Pink Floyd successfully sued EMI over the label's attempts to sell their songs a la carte. Here is an editorial from my local paper about this issue. I enjoyed the author's purism.

This is a fun subject to tussle over. Personally, I tend to side with the artist in just about any ol' dispute over content control and royalties. On the other hand, Pink Floyd suing to preserve the integrity of their albums inspires about as much empathy as The Eagles cutting exclusive distribution agreements with Wal-Mart.
Really? I gotta buy all of 'Ummagumma' just to have the live 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun?' Guys, have you actually listened to 'Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave' recently?

And another thing. Most MP3s (or AACs) are sold with a sample rate of 192 or 256 kbps. That is a drastic compression from the original CD, itself a compressed file. The point is, we're being sold museum gift shop postcard reproductions. Artistic integrity has already been compromised in the name of commerce.

I don't know which one of you gents is Pink, so I'll offer this to you en masse: you just blew a lot of money on legal fees preserving a principle that might not be worth the blacklight poster it's printed on.

(Boy, I'll bet they and their lawyers found that argument compelling.)


On the sunny of the moon, perhaps you have read or heard about the contretemps between EMI and their band OK Go. In short:

If you have ever blogged about music or read about the subject on this and other blogs, you know the coin of the realm is embedded content ('embedding' means content is available for the reader to watch or listen to on a blog site itself rather than as merely a link to, say, YouTube). This is the medium by which a catchy tune can go viral if the planets align. Sometimes, though, the blogger is confronted with the dreaded words, 'Embedding disabled by request.'

OK Go's Treadmill Video is an example of a band breaking big because their imaginative video spread like the proverbial wildfire. Much of this was due to embedding. However, as that success resulted in OK Go having more fans and name recognition, EMI put the kibosh to embedding of their more recent 'This Too Shall Pass' video.

I mention this not because I have much of an opinion one way or the other (artists' track records (or lack thereof) are big factors when choosing promotion tactics), but because of OK Go member Damian Kulash's January open letter to the world about the issue. If you have any interest in the challenges artists and labels face navigating today's shark-filled waters, it's worth a read.


Our crawl has brought us to the Three-Dot Lounge, where everything is A1 on the jukebox and nowhere on the charts:

Update on my Borders search for the Tammy Wynette biography, 'Tragic Country Queen.' A subsequent visit found the book neatly Literature/Fiction. While this might be one more teeny-tiny example of the fraying in the once-great book retailer's fabric, one must consider that this placement might be a statement. Tammy Wynette's is no more a true-life story than Dolly Parton's ... Speaking of mass-market retailers and the surprises they can hold: I was in Safeway the other day loading up on buck-a-bag spinach, when I suddenly screeched my cart to a halt. For on the PA, the 'muzak' was 'Sometime After Midnight' by The Airborne Toxic Event. In Safeway. Talk about yer clash o'cultures. Next thing you know, the Cedar will be promoting in-performance contests for most imaginative audience ringtones ... Personal to Mama E Dub: my music library includes about 10% compilations and 10% individual tracks. My clear preference is for full albums I can then shuffle into the deck. I've decided that the music I want played at my funeral is whatever's next on 'random play' ... This blog has seen a bit of commentary about Massive Attack's latest. I must agree: it has something of a paint-by-numbers feel. This is best exemplified by Martina Topley-Bird's guest vocals. Back in the day, she sounded like she was sequestered in Tricky's chamber of horrors while suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Here she sounds, um, nice ... While polishing this floater I've been listening to Longital. What fun! ... Considered going to the Dead Meadow show the other night, but stayed in and watched 'The Hurt Locker.' Guess it was gonna be a heavy psych night no matter what. Great movie, but I required back-to-back sitcom episodes as a digestive before bed.

Here is a bit of what I would have heard had I decided to stay up late on what is ordinarily Ovaltine night at Chez Fever:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When DID we turn that corner?

Another fine performance by Habib Koite and Bamada last night. Some audience members might have been itching for more high energy dance tunes, but I very much enjoyed the rather mid-tempo set they turned it. Chock full of great balafon work, although I'm pretty sure that was not Kélétigui Diabaté back there, it was also highlighted by the band pulling out more trad instruments like a smallish kora, and a kamale ngoni. I missed the violin they sometimes bring along (pretty sure that's a Diabaté thing) but you always gotta love his crazy talking drum player. No matter how many times bands say how much they love The Cedar, I still got a big kick out of Habib pausing early in his set and looking around the hall, saying, "This place... indeed is like a home to us." Thanks, guys - and enjoy those new West Bank/West Africa t-shirts, OK?

Here's a little clip of Diabaté ruling the balafon. Our guy last night had hair.

* * * * * * *
OK, I'm over my crush on the Smoke Fairies...well, maybe I just have a additional crush on one of our intrepid reporter crew's other SXSW superstar picks. The recent release Gloria by Slovak bowed guitar/poppy hooks/weird samples duo Longital has stolen my heart away this week. Or at least my earbuds. Daniel Salontay and Shina (Šina Lo) aka Jana Lokšenincová say "We play the soundtrack to a psychedelic version of the happy end of the world, where fish fly over the rivers filled not with water, but with music streaming into the seas." Creating these soundscapes at their place on the hill called Dlhe Diely in Bratislava, the listener enters into their slightly off-kilter, but cozy world. ("Longital" is a version of the old German name of the hill - and it was a lot easier for non-Slovaks to say.)

I had a nice map graphic here - FOR A DAY! on the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia. What's up with the link? I cannot tell. But you can learn more here.

The sing-along (no, you don't need to know the language) hooks work great in loud situation like doing the dishes, and the playful (without being annoying) little found sounds are fun discoveries when you pull out the headphones. They have gotten me EVERY TIME with that weird birdcall? broken machinery? clicky percussive thing partway through the otherwise classically pretty "Sinko stupa/The Sun is Rising." I think "What the heck is going on outside... oh yeah, it's in that song." Listen for the loud cat purr at the beginning of "My dve/Two of Us", too. Really, why not lead into your beats with a purr?

Darker tracks like "Cervena Modra /Red Blue" had me hitting that repeat, but I really am liking the catchy upbeat songs, too! They're weird enough to keep me interested; the bowed guitar can come off like a butch cello but he can go all Hendrix with it, too. Salontay was a math teacher/jazz musician and Lokšenincová studied engineering before they quit their day jobs, and according to our Angel of Rock, they did have very cool techno gear along with her fretless bass and his various vintage guitars and double bass bow. Just don't ask me if I would be as into this if the lyrics were in English...because you know I really don't want to hear about anybody's relationship. In Slovak, the words just float on by as another color on the palette.

Let's hope another U.S. tour in on the Longital agenda soon.

* * * * * * *

When did we turn that corner? When did you really stop caring whether you had the physical music source rather than the file? Was it last time I was told to "Put away your cds! They make the living room look messy." ( What - and Lego don't?) Was it when I received a gift card for the Electric Fetus and it's still in my wallet months later? Was it when I ordered the new Carolina Chocolate Drops a few months ago because there was one low price for 320 bit files PLUS a bunch of files of live tracks PLUS the actual disc. What did I need that disc for? It's sitting in the kitchen gathering dust. I should probably give it to my mother-out-law or leave it in Lisa's car.

While it is still sounds great - once in a while - to crank up something on the actual stereo with real big speakers and everything, a vast majority of the time it really doesn't matter to me any more. My car is wired for the Pod. We have a handy little Bose Pod player in the dining room. I have numerous sets of groovy ear buds. The only thing I can imagine buying the physical disc for anymore is something like the Analog Africa stuff that come with big fat booklets, archival photos, hidden tracks, etc. (BTW, his next compilation comes out April 12; Colombian accordion stuff called Mambo Loco.)

It's certainly partly about paying for the song instead of the whole disc. [Say, Ms. Fever - Do you really have a terabyte of individually chosen SONGS? Or are there a lot of entire albums in there?] To any of you, c'mon, name up some recent releases where the entire disc is essential.

Some things never change. I have a very clear memory of standing before the tiny record rack at the dime store in Horicon, Wisconsin at about age 9, gazing longingly at Sweet's Desolation Boulevard. How did I know there were enough "good songs" to to fork over my hard earned $6.99? Wouldn't it be safer to spend 99 cents apiece to buy the 45s of "Fox on the Run" and "Action," since I already knew those were "good songs?" This mathematical evaluation was repeated several times in diverse locations such as the Shopko in Beaver Dam and a K-Mart near Grandma Wheeler's in Des Moines. I never did buy the album, but I did have those singles around for a long time. (In an aside, I actually bought the files of "Fox on the Run" and earlier Sweet hit "Ballroom Blitz" a few years ago. They sounded... a little...slowww 30-some years on.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Recap: SXSW

I deliberately did not write my sxsw recap immediately after returning to Minneapolis. I couldn't. I was still taking everything in and attempting to make sense of it all. So much for my career as a journalist in the fast-paced world of chirps and Myface.

66 bands. 3.5 days. 36 degree weather in Austin, TX. Yikes.

Main Figurehead and I saw a number of the same acts. If I were to list everyone I saw on Saturday, it would look much the same as his post for nearly the whole day. So instead, I'm only going to tell you about the favorites. The cream of the crop.


Doll & The Kicks: I saw this group play on a boulevard. A Karen O lookalike with a good UK rock sounding band. Stopping to watch gave me some time to finish dinner.

Dustin O'Halloran/Hauschka: These two piano men played back to back in one of the best sounding venues, St. David's Bethel Hall. O'Halloran plays contemporary classical piano and Hauschka prepares his instrument - at its best when he had a pile of little stones that he dropped one by one into the body of the piano. They had recruited a string quartet to learn both their material in a single day. While the compositions didn't blow me away, it was a nice break from the abrasive rock happening outside, and I loved hearing about how Hauschka got his first piano (from his grandmother under the condition he would only play classical music. He promptly joined a band. He didn't give the piano back).

Strange Boys: I hate to admit that I almost missed this show. I ended up finding their name in my list after leaving another underwhelming show after only two songs. When I got to the venue, there was a line, and a "one in one out" waiting period. But I made it, and they were wonderful. Youthful but unfazed. Raw. Gritty. Saxophone. Mmm.


Carolina Chocolate Drops: What can I say? These three are old favorites that do not disappoint. At this show I was especially struck by the bones. For me, it really conjures the image of a Grateful Dead-like dancing skeleton. It seems as though the instrument is just an extension of his body. Chilling - even at 10:30 a.m. in a hotel lobby.

Delhi 2 Dublin: ENERGY. Super fun. But the crowd was not matching their efforts. Thank you to the one aging punk in full leather and studs who swerved and sweated without ever cracking a smile.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: She is the real thing. A soul queen. She has me wrapped around her microphone stand, and I'll do anything she tells me to. Wish I would have stayed for her full set.

Fishtank Ensemble: Sassy, sexy strings with gypsy flavor. They had their look down too: A saw-playing lady in red flanked by rockabilly boys in black.

Daniel Martin Moore and Ben Sollee's Dear Companion project: Sigh. Dear Daniel, I still have a crush on you.

Gringo Star: This is a band I followed because I loved one song. Surprisingly, despite that set up they pulled through. High-energy rock and roll. A REALLY tight, well-versed band. They switched instruments after nearly every song.

Mountain Man: Chilling three-part harmony from lovely girls. I can picture this at The Cedar in the middle of winter before an audience bundled up in bulky coats drinking their steaming cups of tea. It reminded me of an early Rachel Unthank performance I saw - stark but stunning.

Surf City: Garage rock at its best. No frills.

Olof Arnalds: The former member of Mum took a different route than band mate Kria Brekkan who performed a highly experimental set in a rock club on the other side of downtown. Arnalds played spooky, beautiful, folk-tinged tunes with hints of Sigur Ros. Lovely lovely lovely. Another one I hope to see at The Cedar.

The Pines: Local boys still doing Minneapolis proud. I was glad to see they brought their banjo player with them.

Wye Oak: Another set I wish I could have watched in full. Jenn Wasner started with a solo song that was shockingly honest. I thought I saw tears in her eyes, but I could have been mistaken. The full band stuff was just as good. Hoping to catch them in town very soon.

MNDR: Per the request of blogger Princess, I stopped in on a set by this DJ. She really is that good. Read Princess' take here.

Phantogram: This New York duo is getting plenty of hype. I don't need to add to it. They were fun. The crowd LOVED them.


Efterklang: They normally have a string player (violin? viola? I so don't remember) but for SXSW had Camera Obscura's horn player sitting in. Really cool. Like a hybrid of Beirut and Sigur Ros. Young, bouncy, fun. Smiles all around.

The Living Sisters: Freaking beautiful. On all counts. Read what Main Figurehead had to say here.

Jenny Owen Youngs: So cute. Like, I want to hug her and then make her be my friend. But I wish her biting sarcasm and witty remarks would come through more in her music. Pretty music, pretty/smart girl, smart/funny banter.

Son Lux: I had never heard this Anticon artist before, and was disappointed to come in after Dosh had finished. But Son Lux delivered despite having trouble with the sound engineer. Anyone who can hold my attention while plinking away at a laptop is doing something right.

True Widow: Perfect. This band is just exactly what I am looking for; just the right combination of Autolux, Low, slow, dirge-y grunge rock, and a badass female bass player. Oof. Seriously amazing.

Dengue Fever: I have waited a long time to see this group, and it was well worth it. The Cambodian singer is maybe the most beautiful woman on the planet, and the band found their groove and is sticking to it. A great way to close the night.


Longital: Read about them here. SO SO SO good. A prize for anyone who can succinctly (and accurately) describe what this group sounds like.

Malachai: One of their first performances in the U.S. You can watch the very first one here. SO eccentric, so smooth. I have had a hard time listening to anything but this band after returning home.

Miss Li: The Swedish version of Alice Russell + Annie. Bubblegum lyrics, soul-style belting. A backing band of cute swedish boys. Not bad.

Smoke Fairies: Again, Figurehead summed this up pretty well. So I'll suggest you read his take here. This group is enchanting, and probably the one I would be most excited about seeing at The Cedar. Here's hoping.

ChocQuibTown: Really fun. I almost had to dance. Made me want to listen to the record more.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Help with English 12

So my sister is visiting with her kids this week, and while our boys spread Lego all over the entire house, we are catching up a bit. Being a high school literature teacher, she's always revamping her reading lists and trying new methods to get the learning into the kids. We talked about her new version of World Lit (a term that means about as much as our favorite descriptive phrase World Music) and how she wants to incorporate more art and music into the syllabus.

Which of course got me thinking about music that is culture clash, music that's on the threshhold, music of diasporas and the other topics she plans to cover. Being a music gal, rather than a lyrics gal, I would love suggestions from all of you readers of artists and songs that might fit within those ideas.

I'm thinking more about tunes where the music itself is crossing borders and genres and ages rather than lyrics about those topics set in a standard song format, but any suggestions are welcome. Say for example , if she's doing Everything is Illuminated, maybe Gogol Bordello might be an obvious choice because they were in the movie. But really, as far as the book goes, maybe Warsaw Village Band gives more of the peasant vs. technology idea. Or what about Ukrainian "Kozak Rock" band Haydamaky? They're named after peasant rebels whose struggle was immortalized in Taras Shevchenko'sHaidamaki, an epic poem about the armed struggle of the Ukrainian Cossacks and peasants against the Polish feudal gentry. Not quite the history of the village of Trachimbrod, but closer. Or maybe some Polish reggae like VavaMuffin? Cultures are aclashin' there. The more I think about it, perhaps the dark klezmer of Krakow's Kroke would better capture the deep sadness in the book.
See what I mean? There are a lot of ways one could go with this. It'll be fun to help my sis winnow through ideas and find music to match up/contrast with the books! I'll hope to post the actual book list next week, but here's her description of what she's looking for.
"It might be threshold as border, liminal space, neither-nor space, undefined otherspace, outlaw or beyond-the-pale space or it might be threshold as the linking point or hinge in fusion and hybridity. I think as a resonant metaphor it can work fruitfully in either direction."

Wait! Doesn't that describe all the music I love? Anyway, if a tune strikes you as a fit to the loose set of ideas, let me know.

Funny how the latest posting TransGlobal Underground sent out to their fans was about their new A Gathering of Strangers project covering the same territory. ( Wait. Doesn't it always, for these guys?) Mostly I was psyched to see bands like French world percussion/techno guys Recycler and Polish techno/trad Village Kollektiv on their list of collaborators along with the usual suspects from the Celtic lands and the Balkans. While I'm not always super-into TransGlobal's finished results (often a little too slick), I do admire their collaborative spirit.

Here's what Hamid Man Tu and Tim Whelan say about Gathering of Strangers.
"Out of that came the idea of searching out songs about movement, emigration and exile, and sending those songs themselves into exile, to have them apply for residence abroad, struggle with unexpected customs and accents and wander through the studios, bedrooms and DJ booths of Europe, with only a dog-eared out of date passport to confirm their original place of musical birth."
Amongst the artists appearing so far: JIM MORAY (UK), YANKA RUPKINA (Trio Bugarka, Bulgaria), BALKAN FANATIK (Hungary), THE PERUNIKA TRIO (UK/Bulgaria), MARTIN FUREY (Ireland), VALRAVN (Denmark), VILLAGE KOLLEKTIV (Poland), RECYCLER (France) with more yet to be confirmed. The project is introducing artists to each other and to old tunes along the chosen theme, and seeing what happens. Release date in mid-May...just guessing that's only in Europe.

TGI is always ready to jam with anyone from anywhere at any time.

Not unlike old Cedar pals Ale Möller and Bruce Molsky. When is that show they're doing together at our place? Coming up May 27. When you look at their names, don't you wonder if they're distantly related somehow back in the day?

* * * * * * *

Whee! I am having great time here listening to the artists Main Fig. highlighted in his SXSW post. M. Takara right now. Thanks for all the links. WHOA! Loving the Longital!!! Eagerly anticipating the posts from our other roving reporters.

* * * * * * *
RIP Charlie Gillette. The long-time BBC radio presenter and music writer died on St. Patrick's Day. Here's a bit from the obituary from the Guardian. "Charlie wrote the first serious history of rock'n'roll and went on to become a central figure in drawing together the confluence of international sounds that became known, to the benefit of many artists whose work might otherwise have remained in obscurity, as world music." His was a name that always seemed to pop up when I was Googling around for some obscure information about a band. Seemed like he'd already played them - last week- and made helpful program notes online. Although I guess he's quite famous for breaking Dire Straits to the world, I think of him more as the guy who turned BBC listeners on to global sounds from Tinariwen to Imam Baildi.

* * * * * * *

When I saw the image of the Altan stamp in the March Cedar newsletter, I had to get the backstory. How often do musicians, much less living musicians make it onto a stamp?A couple of years ago An Post (that's the Irish Post office) issued four stamps each featuring a different Irish group that have been instrumental in bringing Irish music to a worldwide audience. The stamps feature The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, and Altan.

The Celtic tribes will gather for the Altan 25th anniversary show this coming Sunday. I'll be the one in the back, pouring Guiness. Yikes! It's been about 20 years since I first saw Altan at eh Cedar! They really do call the Cedar their "home from home." Sláinte everyone!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Full Report

Before I upload my full report on SXSW 2010, with short notes on every artist of which I saw at least one full tune, here's the overview:

FAVORITES: Smoke Fairies (did not disappoint), Efterklang (as previously reported), and Vadoinmessico are my top three.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jackie Oates, M. Takara 3, DM Stith, Longital, Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore's Dear Companion Project, Dengue Fever, and Dan Mangan.

GOOD TRENDS: The complete irrelevance of record company showcases.

BAD TRENDS: "Folk Orchestras" with 6+ people vainly in search of one good song.

BEST STREET VENDOR: A guy with a cardboard sign that said "SHITTY ADVICE."

THE USUAL PET PEEVE: Why go to a music bar at a music festival and just talk loudly with your friends while the band plays?

KUDOS: The folks at NPR Music, who provide incredible coverage before and during the conference, and can be regularly spotted running from showcase to showcase, tweeting, recording, snapping photos and taking notes. These people really work their asses off.

OK, here's the Full Monty:

Day 1

5pc w/piano/guitar, banjo/guitar, fiddle, cello, dbl bass, drums, some vocalizing. Pretty but BIG. Nice instrumentation but a bit to simple musically.

Zoë Keating
Solo cello with loops. But again, basic 4/4 stuff, nothing particularly interesting going on musically.

Madi Diaz
Madi has a truly great voice, I just wish there were more stand-out tunes like "Let's Go."

Trespassers William
Mostly duo from Seattle. Nice female voice and guitar atmospherics. Interesting, but wore a bit thin for me after a a while.

Dustin O'Halloran
Piano with string quartet. Again, just a bit too simple musically with sting arrangements.

M. Takara 3
Very cool Brazilian trio, electronics, guitar and percussion. Some vocalizing but mostly instrumental. Experimental at times, but always with a groove. A favorite.

Bomba Estereo
Columbian dance band, very uptempo with Spanish rapping. High energy, crowd very into it. Lead singer works it well, although her voice works better rapping... is a bit shrill when singing.

Delhi 2 Dublin
Another high energy crowd pleaser, Canadian band who fuse Indian, Celtic, and beats. Over-the-top stage performance... a bit too much for my taste. But again, the crowd loved 'em.

The Chapin Sisters
Nothing like sister harmonies (Abigail and Lily are daughters of folk singer Tom Chapin and their half-sister Jessica Craven's father is director Wes Craven). Only two of the three though, as Jessica is on maternity leave. Still, great harmonies and acoustic guitars. Too bad it was a noisy bar with bad sound.

Suzanne Vega
I couldn't resist catching the end of her set in St. David's Historic Sanctuary. That voice, and those songs, are like comfort food for me. A short treat!

DM Stith
Now we're talking. A string quartet put to good use! Really interesting music going on here, and Stith has a very listenable voice, and likable demeanor. A nice way to close Day One.

Day 2

Carolina Chocolate Drops
We caught the end of their morning showcase, broadcast live on KUT from the Hilton. An impressive crowd for 10:30 am, who were very enthusiastic. Their star continues to rise.

Brooklyn Rider
NPR Music showcase. Another string quartet, but one with an indie buzz. Great players, supplemented here with dbl bass and percussion. Very impressive. Look for them at the Southern this summer.

Another folk-influenced indie band, this one from North Carolina, with a nice sound. Worthy of further listen, although the two songs I was able to hear were fairly unremarkable.

Sharon Van Etten
Female s/s with a guitar. Very nice voice, haunting songs. But a bit lost to the outdoor stage setting at a park on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

Julianna Barwick
Etheral looping vocals. Spacey, pleasant. But again, too much activity in the park for this.

Fishtank Ensemble
Cross-pollinated Gypsy music from California. The instrumentalists in this quartet tear it up! And the singer plays the saw. Fun!

Ben Sollee and Daniel Michael Moore
"Dear Companion" quartet coming to The Cedar. This is really gorgeous stuff. Both guys have beautiful voices, write strong songs and have thoughtful arrangements.

The Black Atlantic
Dutch folk/pop orchestra. Nice sound, but lacked variety. Seemed like every song was in the same key...

The Besnard Lakes
Maybe it was the setting (large, outdoor stage at Stubb's Bar-B-Q), but it sure sounded like arena rock. I was wondering if I was in the right place until they introduced themselves...

Grand Hallway
8-piece folk orchestra. Nice sounds, thoughtful arrangements, but a complete lack of hooks. A lot of these bands make some interesting music, but they need to spend more time writing good songs than arranging them.

Sally Seltmann
Finally, real songwriting! Catchy, clever, compelling. Worthy of further exploration. She co-wrote "1234" with Feist, so you get the idea.

Broadcast 2000
Quirky British pop. Reminded me of Micachu a bit. Lots of fun, but a bit unrelenting.

Superb set. If the crowd size and response is any indication, with their new record on 4AD, these guys could be on the verge. *UPDATE: I've now listened to the record, Magic Chairs, and while it's worthy of further review, it does lack the energy they delivered with the material live...

Slovakian duo, completely original and exciting. Electronics, funky bass, good tunes, and shredding guitar, sometimes bowed.

The Very Best
African folk music with an 80's rap presentation, propelled by a British DJ. A great way to introduce a new generation of kids to African music.

Day 3

The Deep Dark Woods
Canadian Americana. Nothing particularly distinctive going on here.

Soulful voiced s/s from Chicago. That voice sets her apart.

Dengue Fever
Psychedelic rock with trad Cambodian female singer. Unique and cool. Strong live show.

Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles
Bluesy country-rock from Boston. Not my thing, but a fun set with good energy.

The Living Sisters
3-part vocal harmonies by three "sisters" (Becky Stark, Eleni Mandell and Anara George), somewhat reminiscent of The Roches. Great harmonies, and that's what it is.

The Watson Twins
This one was a major clunker for me. Neither the music nor the twins' vocal talents were to my liking.

Black Prairie
Acoustic mish-mash side project with 3 members of The Decemberists. Maybe a bit too much of a mish-mash. It felt like a side project.

Harper Blynn
N.Y. power pop quartet. Catchy songs, high energy, strong 3-part harmonies. Well done.

British folk revivalists. Nice stuff, but I wish they would lose the drum kit. Hand percussion would be much better suited.

Tyler Ramsey
Guy with a guitar and a nice voice. Nothing more.

Lost in the Trees
N.C. folk orchestra. Again, full of musical ideas, way too earnest... and a lack of tunes. Maybe some humor would help?

Irish genre bender with folk orchestra ambitions but with electric instruments. Just caught the end of the set but it held my interest well.

Admiral Radley
Caught two songs of this new Jason Lytle project. Honestly, it did nothing for me.

Jackie Oates
A former member of the Rachel Unthank clan, she struck out on her own and has accumulated her own awards and accolades. It's easy to see why. This was an exquisite set of largely trad Brit folk. Gorgeous.

Unni Lovlid
Norwegian trad singer, with a percussionist and electronics wizard dude, together they create atmospheric and experimental mind trips. Too bad this one was in a bar.

Son Lux
Electronic and compositional whiz-kid, here with a drummer. A creative composer whose brilliant at dynamics on his recordings. But in a club setting it was mostly loud beat music. Still interesting.

The Unthanks
A new band, with the two sisters, violin and piano as before, supplemented here with bass (acoustic and electric), cello and drums. New material stretches out a bit- for the better.

Day 4

Allo Darlin'
Bouncy British pop, with a ukulele. Fun and energetic.

The Crookes
More high-powered pop, this time with an array of influences, but nothing that convinced me to stay past two songs.

The Middle East
Interesting folk-rock ensemble from Australia. Good vocals, nice harmonies.

Rogue Wave
Strong mid-tempo pop, some good lyrics and songwriting. Pretty timeless. And good humor.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit
Solid U.K. troubadour with 4-piece. Good songwriting and strong playing. A touch of British Folk with blues and pop.

Excellent London-based band with distinctive lead vocalist, influences all over the map and some great songs.

Merideth Bragg
Male s/s with keyboard player and drummer. Nice voice, but largely unremarkable.

This Will Destroy You
"Post Rock" with some noise thrown in. Not one of the more particularly interesting bands of the genre, at least not outdoors at 40 degrees and a stiff wind.

Sebastian Schuller
Singer with electronics. Bleeps and boops. I actually nodded off.

Maine acoustic couple. Very quiet, wispy music, very pretty at times, but often a bit too unsubstantial.

Dan Mangan
Vancouver s/s with great songs, poignant and humorous, yes, finally, some humor! Great backing band as well. A highlight.

Smoke Fairies
What a great sound, two female voices with timbre and harmonies evocative of classic British folk music, backed by a smokey, bluesy, distinctly American sounding groove. I'm hoping we'll see these guys at our venue soon.

Colombian dance, hip-hop flavored band. Another one that had the crowd going, was more 80's rap crowd call-and-response and hip-hop flavored than anything distinctly Colombian. But they kept the crowd moving!

Can I nap now?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quick Dispatch from Austin

Greetings Friends! I'll have to save my more extensive SXSW post for my return, but here's a quick update. I have one very long day to go, which I think is about as much as this body can handle. But of course I've got some favorites *so far.* The Thursday night set by Efterklang from Denmark is on the top of my list. If their set was any indication, their new record on 4AD comes in somewhere between sigur rós and Radiohead, which is not a bad place to be, and they are about to blow up. Great sound, great set.

British folk singer Jackie Oates, once a member of the Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, wins for the most exquisite. She goes a bit more trad than the Unthanks, and her trio delivered a truly gorgeous set.

And for sheer off-the-wall enjoyment, I really enjoyed M. Takara 3 from Brazil. It was just the right mix of electronics and real percussion, of experimental and dance groove, of weird and tuneful.
Much more will follow!

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Let me clarify my call for respectful blog postings about music: I'm not advocating Minnesota nice, and I'm also not concerned with the potty talk. My pet peeve is completely dismissive criticism. Go ahead and tear something apart if you want, just back it up. When I made my now infamous "shlock" comment, I think I was pretty clear that I was complaining specifically about unimaginative and overly saccharine orchestral arrangements. I also mentioned what I liked about both Peter Gabriel and Frank Sinatra. I think we can all still be provocative (if that's the intent) while still giving substance to our criticism. And whether we think the artist will ever play at our venue or not should not be relevant.