After a writing break, I hustled on over to The Blind Pig to catch The Jim Ivins Band at the Ernie Ball stage. I’ve covered Jim Ivins for a while, and I’m a fan of their catchy pop-rock tunes. I was really impressed, however, by how much they rocked them out live: “Sight of Fire” and “Everything We Wanted,” two of my faves, were way heavier than I remembered them being, with pounding drums, heavy bass and ripping guitar. But I still could sing along to the choruses, which are stellar. It’s always fun to see a band that I’ve covered for a long time in the flesh, and Jim Ivins Band was no exception. If you’re into Matt Nathanson-style pop-rock with a wicked rock’n’roll bent tossed in, Jim Ivins Band should be on your radar.
I stuck around after Jim Ivins to see The Horde and the Harem based on the strength of their name and their hometown of Seattle, WA. I was not disappointed, as the quartet mixed gypsy-indie folk (a la Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) with the perkiness of a “Lust for Life” dance-rock band. The band routinely called upon four vocalists, often with several of them singing not just harmonies but true counterpoint melodies and rhythms. The resulting unique textures to their songs kept me engaged through each tune. Their overall enthusiasm was endearing as well: the pianist bobbed, hopped, shook her head and grinned through the entire set, while the rest of the band did similarly. THaTH got the crowd involved, teaching them to sing a melody and asking them to clap along. It was a blast to hear them play, and the long set ended too soon for my taste. If you like music that resembles a party among friends, then THaTH will tickle your musical funnybone. It was another thrilling SXSW find.
Since I was doing well at The Blind Pig, I stuck around for the Beautiful Bodies. I didn’t know what to expect from them, but I was enlightened about 10 seconds into their set. The modern rock band bounced around the stage, ran through the audience, climbed on gear, banged into each other and interacted with the audience before the first song was up. They had moved more in three minutes than The Horde and The Harem had in their entire set, and I just mentioned how bouncy THaTH was. In short, this set was an athletic event for both band and audience, as the listeners got into it with dancing. One male audience member in particular danced like mad, making the most of the fact that the female lead singer pretty much only sang from the audience and not the stage. He and her danced around for several songs, which was awesome. The band’s modern-rock was air-tight and incredibly well-done: the band knew how their sound worked and exploited it for all it could produce. I don’t really like modern rock, but The Beautiful Bodies know how to throw a show, for sure.
Fun fact: Almost two years ago, I started the Quick Hits feature with Anna Madorsky‘s Talk is Cheap. I used it as a forum to feature bands that were worth listening to but that I didn’t have a bunch to say about for one reason or another (an EP, a limited release, a sound-in-progress, an easy recommendation, among others). Anna Madorsky’s Triumph & Symphony is definitely not an EP, at an hour-long 14 tracks, but it is easy to recommend. Madorsky has largely dropped the dreamy aspects of her pop, going for a straightforward, piano-based singer/songwriter vibe here. Her distinctive vocals get a higher place in the mix, and that will intrigue some and turn some away. She also leans heavily on piano for the songwriting here, which is a good thing: she previously split time between guitar and piano, and still does that some here, but the best songs are on piano (“Civil War,” “Both Feet In,” “Oh My Friend”). But if you’re a fan of Amanda Palmer, Regina Spektor (especially her darker work), or the like, this will be right up your alley.
Jim Ivins Band‘s Everything We Wanted delivers seven songs of modern pop in the vein of Matt Nathanson, John Mayer and the Goo Goo Dolls. The release doesn’t shake up a formula that has worked for them in the past: guitars chime, drums crash, and vocals cut through the mix to deliver the payoff melodies. “The Sight of Fire” hinges on a nice lyrical turn and a solid chorus, becoming the standout here. “Emergency” plays up the drama with a bass intro, insistent drum thump and distorted vocals before crashing into one of their heaviest rock’n’roll sections. As it clocks in at under two minutes, I would have loved to hear more of this sound, but perhaps it points to where JIB is headed in the future. The pop songs on Everything We Wanted are fun, upbeat and ready to be heard by a larger audience. You can check out a free JIB sampler at Noisetrade.
Jim Ivins Band impressed me with their slick modern acoustic pop sound last time out. Their newest set of songs doesn’t disappoint either, although it doesn’t appear under the happiest circumstances. Their contributions to Songs of Life: The Kathy Ivins Project is two new tunes and a full-band version of a previously released solo track to commemorate Kathy Ivins, the mother of Jim (lead vocals/guitar) and Jack Ivins (drums). She passed away of cancer in 2010, inspiring these tunes.
And they are a fitting tribute, as they build on the strengths from their previous EP. The melodies are strong and memorable, the band is tight and well-arranged, the production is warm without being saccharine, and the overall impression left by these tracks is positive. “Moving” features a massive chorus and a generally powerful feel, while “You Can Have It All” features some neat syncopated percussion and a wiry, direct feel. The chorus is no less memorable for the lessened heft of the songwriting. Comparisons to Goo Goo Dolls and the very best moments of Matchbox 20 abound, and as a child of the ’90s I mean those comparisons as compliments. “Stages of Your Life,” the updated acoustic track, doesn’t have the same pop as the full-band compositions, but it’s still passable.
Good art often emerges from tragedy, and these tunes can be counted in that long tradition. I hope someone writes songs this solid for me when I’m gone; quite an honor. Purchase the album these tunes come from here; two other bands offer up tunes to complete the set.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.