Just bought a weekend pass for Psych Fest at the Seaholm Power Plant in Austin. Cost me $100. Thank God my tax refund came back in time. Looks like a great lineup. I’m looking forward to seeing the Black Angels (who are curating the event), Crocodiles, Roky Erickson (of course), and whoever I might discover. Stay tuned for a report.
I saw Echotone last night and just as I expected, it was beautiful and thought-provoking. Named for the transition between two adjacent but different types of landscape, the documentary explores the collision of Austin’s downtown construction boom and its music culture. The cinematography is incredible — much of the movie was filmed from the top of construction cranes. Echotone also has one of the best indie soundtracks I’ve heard, featuring music by Belaire, Sunset, The Black Angels, Dana Falconberry, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, The White White Lights and more (you can download it for free from Paste Magazine).
The movie gives us a close-up with musicians with different outlooks and situations — Black Joe Lewis, recently signed to Universal and already huge, but still so broke he makes ends meet delivering fish; Dana Falconberry and Belaire’s Cari Palazzolo, so independent, just trying to make music they think is beautiful without starving; Sunset’s lead singer Bill Baird, whose band Sound Team was apparently headed for the big time before getting abruptly dropped from Capitol after the label merged with EMI, still making music, a bit sadder and a lot wiser than he used to be. All affected by the economy and the music industry’s woes, as well as the changes in Austin.
When I went into the theater I already had an idea of what I was going to say about it later. I was cooking up a little rant — about all the spoil sports moving into Austin, wrecking the music culture and ruining the city I love. I was just looking for ammunition. As it turns out, the documentary was a lot more nuanced than I expected. I ended up leaving the theater in a strangely hopeful mood. Yes, Austin is changing rapidly and times are tough for local musicians and the people who care about them. But not all the changes are negative, and musicians are beginning to organize and find their political voice.
All those high rises and condos in downtown Austin changed the character of the city, there’s no doubt about it. They made housing in central Austin more expensive, putting the squeeze on musicians — and families too, for that matter. But if they hadn’t been built, think of the added sprawl, all the land that would’ve been gobbled up, trees chopped down, wilderness paved over. It’s not all bad.
I’ve grumbled plenty of times about people moving into high rise apartments in the entertainment district and grousing about the noise at city council meetings. It wasn’t some anti-musician conspiracy that led to that situation. As Oveisi noted in the Q&A, it’s simply the fact that when all that downtown growth was being planned, musicians didn’t have a place at the table. The city didn’t have staff dedicated to musicians (now they do) and musicians haven’t been especially organized or politically active (something AMP hopes to change).
There are things that can be done to save Austin’s music culture. Musicians can get organized and vote, become more entrepreneurial. Fans can do the same, as well as supporting the bands they love by turning out for shows and spending a bit on albums and cover charges.
Change is inevitable. Maybe instead of bemoaning and cursing it, Austin’s creative class can learn to adapt. It’s definitely worth trying.
If you live in Austin and didn’t get in to see Echotone yet, the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Theater scheduled an extra showing on May 1 after theater sold out for the third time in a row. The film will also be shown in some festivals around the country, including the Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg, April 28-30.
Hanging around the house, not being at church on Easter Sunday, I figured the least I could do is dig up some Easter music and I did find some good stuff. I think it’s interesting to hear the way people express the same theme in different parts of the world.
I just got a hankering for some Peter Frampton and had no idea it was his birthday. I must be psychic. He’s 61 today.
“Whose wine, what wine, where the hell did I dine?” Haha, I still love that song. I loved it, and Frampton since I was 13 and the cool assistant scoutmaster played it on his 8-track on the way to Boy Scout Camp. Back in the ’70s, back when Frampton still had hair.
Austin is famous for it’s music — the Live Music Capital of the World, or so they say. But the city is also the fastest-growing city in Texas and all those new people and that high demand for real estate is changing things, making it tough for musicians and music lovers. Thanks to a discussion on 91.7 KOOP this afternoon I found out about a documentary called Echotone that covers that subject and gets great reviews. It will be shown at the Alamo Drafthouse several times in the next few days and I plan to see it. It features music from Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Belaire, Sunset, The Black Angels, Ghostland Observatory, Dana Falconberry, The Octopus Project, and others.
Like many Americans I am fascinated by Japanese culture. Of course I appreciate the deeply traditional parts of their culture — gardens, calligraphy, geishas, sushi, martial arts. But what I really love is Japanese pop culture.
Just about every generation of Americans alive today has sentimental attachment to some aspect of it. Godzilla, Gamera, ninjas, anime, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, the characters of Japanese video games.
And karaoke. It used to be something crazy Japanese businessmen did after work. Now it’s as American as apple pie. Most don’t even realize it’s a Japanese word. I love the way the Japanese take what they like from American culture — rock ‘n’ roll for example — and put their own special twist on it. I have some established favorites among Japanese musicians, like Ryuichi Sakamoto (of Yellow Magic Orchestra) and Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada). I’ve also picked up a few new favorites.
Since the very day I started this blog I have been planning to talk about some of my favorite Japanese musicians, but I put it off because I wanted to get it right. Then came the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami and I thought, “Oh crap, I wonder if we just just lost some of them?” With as many people as they lost — 10,000 dead and 17,000 missing last time I checked — it’s possible, although I don’t know of any musicians who didn’t make it. A couple of my recently-discovered favorites dropped out of touch for a while, but I’ve since gotten hold of them and found out they are OK.
Mitsugu Suzuki, who performs under the name Cellz Cellar, creates some of the most moving music I’ve heard in a long time. His styles include inspired ambient, shoegaze and electronica. Most of his music is instrumental, but he also works with singers. He is an admirer of Western music and shows incredible taste based on the covers he chooses (Bjork’s “Army of Me” and Radiohead’s “Nude”). I made friends with him and became a huge fan back when I was active on TheSixtyOne. He’s also the Japanese musician I was especially worried about — he lives in Kanagawa, which was hit by the tsunami, though it wasn’t as severely damaged as other cities. I was relieved when I finally got hold of him and he told me he was all right.
My favorite Cellz Cellar song so far is Epiphillum, featuring vocals from Shuichi Mizohata:
I discovered this young lady while digging deep in TheSixtyOne. She’s an amazing pianist who performs what I would call modern classical music. She describes herself as a sound artist/music composer/pianist and visual artist.
In addition to piano, she makes music with electronics and sound installation. She reminds me a bit of Ryuichi Sakamoto and in fact, she has had some of her music featured on his radio show in Japan. So far she has put out an EP called Piano Prizm and a full-length album called Waterproof. She used hydrophone for Waterproof, creating an underwater piano sound. I REALLY like the title track from that album.
Here she is performing music for an art exhibit about snow sculpture called “White Noise/Snow Division”
Ichiko Hashimoto – RahXephon soundtrack I have to admit I don’t really “get” anime – maybe I didn’t try hard enough, but the anime movies I’ve seen so far sorta left me flat – so I might have overlooked this music if not for a user on Rate Your Music. Hashimoto’s songs cover a wide range of styles – acid jazz, pop, classical, trip hop, and various fusions of the above. Some of the songs have a spacey, mysterious ambience that reminds me of Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes. I can’t seem to get enough of them. One of the songs, “Yume no Tamago” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I found an English version, but I prefer the Japanese by far:
I’ve known about these guys for several years, but I still love them. They play a kind of jazzy pop, very piano driven, most of it upbeat. They remind me of Ben Folds Five in their style. They have a ton of videos up on YouTube. I found them because I decided to look up the girl who sang on “Mars” by Towa Tei. Her name is Harada Ikuko. She has a nice voice and is a pretty good keyboard player as well. Their official website is in Japanese, and I can’t read it, but there is an English fan site, http://clammbon.metalbat.com, with a lot of information about the band — including the fact that they made it through the earthquake and tsunami OK. The site also has a page with several links showing how to buy Clammbon’s material outside Japan.
This is “Chicago,” one of my favorite songs from the group:
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