A number of bands will get a pop from performances at SXSW this week. But there’s already been a lot of buzz around some fine albums released this year before the big tilt in Austin.
Here’s a look at some of my top picks.
Grimes’ Visions is insanely catchy electronic pop. The songs will stick in your head for weeks. Grimes is Claire Boucher, a Canadian singer who turns 24 this weekend. Boucher had her SXSW moment last year, attracting attention to her snynth music and unique high-pitched vocals. Grimes plays Empty Bottle Wednesday night and Pitchfork fest in July. If you like Visions, you may also like Strange Weekend, the debut album from Porcelain Raft. Like Grimes, Porcelain Raft is an individual, Mauro Remiddi. The music straddles a line between electronic and chill (think Beach House).
When I heard No Future/No Past, the first single off Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory, I thought it sounded like an aping of a style originated by the album’s producer Steve Albini. Fortunately, there’s a lot more to Attack on Memory than the Albiniesque track. What Dylan Baldi, known for his pop releases, has made is a solid rock album. It’s quite a diversion from Cloud Nothings’ previous stuff. Baldi, who started out recording in his parents’ basement, is touring with a full band. Craig Finn didn’t take quite as sharp a turn to record Clear Heart Full Eyes. The album is still Finn telling his stories (often talking rather than singing). The release is full of Finn’s usual humor and personality but doesn’t rock as hard as his full-time band, the Hold Steady.
I mentioned previously that I’m very fond of this new Sharon Van Etten album, Tramp. Often tagged as a folkie, Van Etten isn’t always easy to define, which probably describes a lot of the best music being made right now. Van Etten often sounds as much like P.J. Harvey as she does a folk rocker. If you like Van Etten, check out Laura Gibson’s La Grande. The album is decidedly more downbeat than Van Etten’s except on the standout title track. Also loosely defined (by some critics) as folk is Mike Wexler, who just released the album Dispossesion. Wexler mixes a lot of styles. Though he’s a singer-songwriter, I’d label Dispossession more of an atmospheric album.
I’ve also recommended the new album Animal Joy by Van Etten’s touring partner Shearwater, an album that actually rocks a bit (at least by Shearwater standards). And if you love the ’70s bands known for their dramatic fluorishes, you’ll want to hear Field Music’s Plumb.
I just missed Sharon Van Etten’s short set when she kicked off the 2010 Pitchfork fest. On Thursday, she begins a two-night stand headlining at Lincoln Hall to promote her impressive breakthrough album Tramp. The excellent Shearwater opens.
Van Etten made a powerful, heartfelt album with the help of producer Aaron Dessner of The National. The album includes forlorn slow ballads with some diversions (Serpents is a rocker and a standout on the album, while Magic Chords is a cool, almost jazzy number). Tramp is recommended.
I can also recommend Shearwater’s just-released Animal Joy. The album is actually much livelier than 2010′s The Golden Archipelago. Dare I say parts of this album actually rock? (The song Immaculate is a good example.) Yet Animal Joy is still full of dramatic flourishes, making this a pretty exciting album. Shearwater is one of those highly original bands that doesn’t always fit into a neatly defined category. And that’s definitely a good thing.
Video from the show:
UPDATE: The Friday show is sold out.
Jonathan Meiburg co-founded Shearwater more than 10 years ago to make music that was quieter and more introspective than what he was doing with his other band, Okkervil River. He’s devoted the past three albums (including recent release Golden Archipelago) to the subject of humans’ relationship with nature.
No longer a member of Okkervil River, Meiburg brings Shearwater to Lincoln Hall on Sunday.
Anyone who heard Shearwater’s 2008 album Rook will be looking forward to the release next month of Golden Archipelago. The band’s label, Matador, just released the song Black Eyes, which is the second free track from the forthcoming album. Looks like the band is scheduled to play Lincoln Hall in April.