Tag Archives: Tune-Yards

Top albums and artist discoveries of 2011

Once again I had a hard time counting to 10 as I started thinking about my favorite albums of 2011, because I continue to commit the sin of buying whatever music I want, without considering whether it’s new or not.

So, here are my here are my top five albums:

1. Tune-YardsWhokill
Unique album from a talented and creative artist. There’s something naive and complicated at the same time about Tune-Yards’ African-influenced indie rock. It’s as if Merrill Garbus found some uncontacted tribe in the African rainforest and instead of going the Deep Forest ethnic-ambient direction, turned it into something off-kilter and funky. I guess I would have to say this is not for everyone, since a couple of people I tried to turn onto this album didn’t seem to take to it. Maybe they’ll come around.

2. Rebirth Brass BandRebirth of New Orleans.
This was an impulse buy at Waterloo Records. I picked it up last July and I still can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s a jazzy mix of New Orleans second line, funk and hip hop. Mostly instrumental, but with some great shouted choruses, in songs like “Why Your Feet Hurt” and “I Like It Like That.” I gushed about the the band a little bit in in a blog post which includes an awesome video of the band in the streets of New Orleans.

3. Sarah JaroszFollow Me Down
Very impressive sophomore album. I love her voice. Her original material continues to impress me, but her covers are amazing, especially her cover of Radiohead’s “The Tourist.” I also love “Annabelle Lee,” adapted from the poem by Edgar Allan Poe. She also has some really good bluegrass musicians backing her up.

4. Pickering PickTiger Balm

This one caught me off guard. Sam released this in June, but I just discovered it a few weeks ago. As always, excellent songwriting, beautiful melodies and sweet vocals. This time he had a new studio and you can really hear it in the production. He’s busy updating the equipment, so the next album will sound even better. I love every song on the album, but “Like a River” is truly amazing.

5. Daughters of the SunGhost with Chains
Nice album from one of my surprise discoveries at this year’s Psych Fest. And by the way, they are very impressive live. It’s partly psych, partly ambient, but with tribal-sounding percussion and shoegaze vocals. To look at them, you expect some kind of heavy metal, but instead you get this hypnotic psychedelia. Catch them if they come to your town.

And here are my top five artists discovered in 2012:

1. Sleepy Sun. I found this group at Psych Fest in Austin back in April. Awesome, trippy, acid-drenched blues. Fever has become one of my favorite albums and it would’ve made my top five of 2010 if I had discovered it in time. Check out their website which has an embedded live version of “Marina.”

2. Atash. Kickass Austin-based group I discovered almost by accident during SXSW. I was hunting for free and cheap shows and was just about to give up when I found them giving a free performance at Central Market on North Lamar. They put on a HELL of a live show. Their music seems to have Gypsy, Persian, Indian, and other influences. I downloaded Republic of Love off Amazon.com and I’ve really been enjoying it.

3. Chubby Knuckle Choir. A great local find. As I said about them in June, they have such an odd fusion of sounds, yet they sound like roots music, like roots music from a country that never existed – but should have. They are performing in Bastrop, Elgin and in the Austin area. You can hear what they sound like and download some of their tuns on their Reverbnation page.

4. Dana Falconberry. One of the musicians featured in the wonderful documentary Echotone. There were actually several new artists in that soundtrack that impressed me (Belaire was another), but Dana’s “Possum Song” was especially wonderful. I got a free soundtrack album from Paste Magazine (I think it still works – enter your e-mail and see) and I’ve been playing the hell out of it for months. She just came out with an EP, Though I Didn’t Call It Came, which I have yet to get my hands on.

5. Jogja Hip Hop Foundation. This was a recent discovery, one of those truly startling discoveries. The idea of melding hip hop with gamelan music never even occurred to me. They’ve created something unique and vibrant and I think we’ll be hearing from these guys for years to come.

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Down and dirty at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011

Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 came along at just the right time for me. I’ve been going through a bit of a musical drought as well as a real one. (I think a lot of folks will probably refer to the weekend event as “dust fest.”)

When I first got to Auditorium Shores on Friday night, I thought the place was full of revolutionaries — I guess because my mind has been “occupied” by current events lately.

Every other person had his face covered by a bandana. After eating about my second tablespoon of dirt, I finally figured out what the deal was. The grass is gone after about a year of very little rain and the wind constantly blasted us with dust. I soon had my own bandana. It was some protection, but I still inhaled enough dirt to start a garden. Chris, my concert buddy, had to miss the last day due to allergies.

I saw a lot of great shows, but the hip hop acts seemed especially enjoyable and relevant for me. Strange, since that’s not my main genre. Public Enemy and Kool Keith kicked a lot of ass. Also really enjoyed Henry Rollins’ spoken word performance on the last day.

Friday night, Nov. 4

We arrived a bit late and missed some good acts, but I enjoyed the hell out of Public Enemy. I thought it was interesting to see how mixed their crowd was, and how white. The fact that they were even at the same festival as Slayer tells you something about how much our culture has changed since the early days of hip hop.

Public Enemy performed a many of their old favorites and were political as expected — many mentions of “Occupy” and a rant about the unjust treatment of immigrants. “Fight the Power” seemed especially relevant given the social protests going on in the country and around the world right now.

Danzig Legacy (Glenn Danzig and members of the Misfits and Samhain) were scheduled to play at the same time as Public Enemy, but were a huge letdown for a lot of fans. Glenn Danzig was a huge primadonna, bitching about the stage and making unreasonable demands.

He went on stage more than 40 minutes late. The band was just starting to get on a roll when they cut the power at 10 p.m. Then he fought with people backstage and tried to start a riot and took off in a van. Always thought he was a prick. Lucky for me, I was more into Public Enemy anyhow and didn’t bother with the Danzig show, but my friend Chris really wanted to hear the Misfits and Samhain stuff and was really disappointed, especially since he forked over $80 to get into the festival on Friday.

Another group that deserves a mention: Four Tet. Some very good electronic music that made me think of ’90s Detroit techno. Somehow it made me think of revolution. I think that’s the rabble rousing music for the Internet age.

Saturday, Nov. 5

I finally got a chance to actually see Tune-Yards. Last time I “saw” them live I only got to see the top of people’s heads, but heard enough to get me permanently hooked. I thought Merrill Garbus and company put on a hell of a show.

Dan Deacon was a good electronic artist who knew how to get people moving. He had technical problems at first, but got them ironed out. There was some crowd surfing.

M83 put on a great show as expected. Although it was a bit hard to appreciate it fully as a minor dust storm kicked up right about that time.

Kool Keith was a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t even supposed to be at the festival, but agreed to fill in when scheduled rapper Rakim broke his foot. Keith packed his performance with old favorites, including some from the Dr. Octagon days. “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman” and “Livin’ Astro” were highlights. A lot of the songs were in that wacky vein, but many, like “Sex Style,” were hilariously over-the-top obscene.

I took a bit of a break from the music and watched a few acts from Wham City Sketch Comedy, a Baltimore-based troupe that includes the aforementioned electronic artist Dan Deacon. Ben O’Brian was pretty damn funny, doing basically stand-up and messing with the audience. There was a guy dressed in an egg costume who made egg puns, who was… not the funniest guy I ever saw. There was also a depressing yet funny lecture on human extinction from a guy pretending to be a drunk professor.

Swedish singer Lykke Li put on a hell of a show. Teamed up with the guys from Peter, Bjorn & John, her show had a lot of punch. Not only did she sound great, but her show was visually arresting also, with the smoke and flapping banners.

I didn’t plan to watch Spoon. I’ve been a big fan for years, but I figured I’ve seen them a few times already and I might want to check someone else out. But they were really on fire and I found I couldn’t resist. I had to stick around for the whole show. Damn good musicians.

Sunday, Nov. 5

We got a little rain in the morning, which kept the dust down. There was also a sprinkle of rain in the evening, but not enough to cause major problems or damage my new cellphone. Speaking of cellphones, the festival had a solar power recharging station for those and other electronics. Pretty neat (I also managed to sneak a bit of juice from outlets near the food booths).

The two bands that really stood out for me on Sunday were Austra and Grimes. Austra is a synth pop and electro-rock act featuring Katie Stelmanis, a classically trained opera singer whose career took a left turn when she fell in love with acts like Nine Inch Nails.

We Were Promised Jet Packs was the first band of the day. Pretty good indie rock. Lots of energy. They seem to be going places.

This was their best:

Grimes is a witch house act featuring a woman with a little girl voice, electronic beats and noise. Her music was catchy and hypnotic. In keeping with the witch house scene, her blouse had inverted crosses and a pentagram. A somewhat effeminate looking man danced on stage alongside her. She had good songs with a lot of energy. The crowd got into it.

Budos Band was impressive, with their Ethiopian-inflected funk. I saw them for the first time in a small venue at South By Southwest and didn’t pay much attention. I have since discovered how amazing they can be and I’m not the only one — they attracted a pretty good crowd. The bari sax player got props from the crowd by talking about metal. He said one of the songs, “Black Venom” was named for Black Sabbath and Venom and dedicated that one to Slayer, the death metal act that was the highlight of the festival for many. I loved the baritone sax and horns. I kept thinking about how much my dad would’ve loved them if he could’ve lived to see them. He used to lament the rarity of band instruments in rock ‘n’ roll.

I got a big kick out of Master Pancake Theater, hosted by Alamo Drafthouse. That’s something they do at the downtown Austin location, making fun of movies Mystery Science Theater style. This time they poked fun of music videos by Pat Benatar, Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson (they made one together and was it ever awful), Boy George, David Hasselhoff and last but not least, Henry Rollins.

Henry Rollins followed Master Pancake Theater, giving a very entertaining spoken word performance. He talked about politics, his days in the punk band Black Flag, eating rats in India and traveling to Vietnam and North Korea. He didn’t mention Occupy Wall Street as I had expected, but he challenged the young people in the crowd to take charge of their destinies and become the world’s next leaders.

After that, I was pretty much tuckered out. I caught a little bit of the VERY popular Slayer show, but I wasn’t feeling it. Not enough of a metal head. Not for that kind of metal anyway. All in all it was a success as far as I’m concerned. The dust was pretty hardcore and I think having a 10 p.m. noise ordinance curfew at a music festival is ridiculous. But anytime I can make even one discovery it’s worth the money, and I made several.

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Tune-Yards – Whokill: not just another Graceland homage

Just got several really good CDs in the mail. Immediate gratification is nice, but so is that feeling of anticipation, waiting for something to turn up in my mailbox.

Tune-Yards – Whokill

This is the sophomore album from Tune-Yards – one of my best discoveries from my set of unofficial South By Southwest shows back in March. I like the album as much as the show, if not more.
It’s odd, funky, upbeat and at times really beautiful.

Merrill Garbus, singer and multi-instrumentalist, really has a unique vision as well as a great voice and a great team of musicians. Loops, ukelele, plenty of percussion and a definite African vibe. My reaction when I first heard her weird yodeling and drumming at SXSW was, “What the hell is this?” Then it sunk in: She knows exactly what she’s doing and she is brilliant.

When an indie rocker makes music with an African influence it usually reminds me of something I’ve heard before – like Paul Simon’s Graceland. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love that album and Vampire Weekend.)

Whokill doesn’t really remind me of anything. The African influence is there (I know Garbus studied music in Africa for a while), but it doesn’t really define the music; it just sounds weird, unique, and very good. Catchy even. It’s indie rock, not some kind tribute to an African style. Yet it doesn’t come across as a fusion. It sounds natural, like Garbus is just writing what she feels, not trying to put an ethnic spin on the music.
Every song is a winner, but “Gangsta,” “Bizness” and “You Yes You” are my favorites. Very funky. The album’s hits if anything can be a hit nowadays.
The delicate lullaby “Wooly Wolly Gong” is also growing on me. Really beautiful. Makes me think of Modest Mouse.

I’ll talk about the other CDs in my latest batch after I get through covering Elgin’s Western Days Festival, which will keep me busy for a couple of days, but I’ll go ahead and list them now: SheLoom – Seat of the Empire, Figli di Madre Ignota – Fez Club, Balkan Beats 2.

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More unofficial SXSW ramblings

Mike Watt - original member of The Minutemen

 

Went down to Austin Friday night, March 18 and caught some great shows — some were at a free party (even got a free beer), others at an unofficial show that only cost $5 to get into. Made some good discoveries and got to see a punk rock legend. I got excellent tips from local musician Bradford Kinney, who has very good taste and has been milking SXSW for all it’s worth.

I parked in a lot at 11th and Trinity. It was early, but everything close to 6th Street was full. Had a lot of walking ahead of me as both venues were on the east side of town (Protip: if you don’t have a SXSW wristband and you’re desperate to use the bathroom, try a hotel lobby. Usually clean and you probably won’t get hassled).

Started at Domy’s Bookstore on East Cesar Chavez. There was a free party in the back, where they were giving away free Lone Star beer. It was being put on by Los Angeles radio station KXLU. The big draw was Japanther, but the group I really liked was called Tearist. It featured a guy doing electronics and a sexy girl with a great voice, long black hair singing and thrashing around onstage in a tight black dress. Sort of an ’80s goth vibe.

I stuck around for a while and heard Kid Infinity – white rapper with a synth/programmer. Kind of a techno Beasty Boys kind of act. He was OK, but not really my style. Lots of people were there for Japanther, and I stayed to find out what the hub bub was about, but they didn’t really do it for me. Too straight up punk for me. I love the punk ethic and I love the Ramones, Sex Pistols, etc., but I can only hear so much of that at a time. I’m more of a postpunk fan. Plus they let another group do a couple of songs and that group nearly obliterated my ears with feedback. Even young people were holding their ears.

I tried to get into private party a few blocks away  that had a band playing, was rebuffed. Headed north and walked my ass off till I got to Baby Blue Studios at 1522 East 12th. Paid $5 to get in. Went into the building, which was packed full of people and stiflingly hot even though it was nice and cool outside. And heard maybe my favorite act of the night: Tune-Yards, or as I’ve seen it stylized on the web, tUnE-yArDs (I’m only gonna do that once).

I couldn’t see a damn thing. Never saw so many tall people on the front row of anything. But the music was awesome. Very unique style. The singer (Merrill Garbus) played a ukulele and was backed by a drummer and some people playing the saxophone. She may have done some drumming too, but I’m not sure since I couldn’t frickin’ see. The vibe was sort of a mix of African influences, reggae, maybe a bit Ethiopian sounding. Her vocals reminded me a bit of yodeling. Hard to describe, but very good. Very funky.

Next I saw a group from Tokyo, Japan called Mi-Gu. Cute Japanese girl playing a drum kit and reciting poetry, and a very impressive guitarist who really knew how to shred. Kind of jazzy, kind of beatnik. Mike Watt sat in on bass for a couple of songs. Unfortunately his amp started cutting out on him and he was nearly done by the time a replacement amp turned up. It was still a treat to see the man, however. I of course have the classic Minutemen album Double Nickels on the Dime I read all about the band in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and got to feel like I knew the man.

And that was it. I’m gonna try to catch a few shows tonight even though my feet hurt.

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