I’m heading back to hipster Christmas SXSW this year, freelancing for the Oklahoma Gazette with talented chap Matt Carney. I’m scouring through the announced bands so that I’m ready when it comes time to suit up make my schedule. Here’s some A’s and B’s that I hope to check out in Austin:
The Black and White Years play indie-rock with electro influences, but it’s their insightful lyrics that really hooked me. Okay, and the melodies.
The Barr Brothers. Josh Ritter’s gravitas + The Low Anthem’s transcendent beauty + Avett Brothers’ brotheriness. This is solid folk gold, people.
Adam and the Amethysts. Gleeful folky/calypso/whatevery goodness. Givers and Lord Huron should be all up on them as tourmates.
The American Secrets. You know this band as the FreeCreditScore.com Band. But did you know that all five are long-time indie-rock vets? And one of the members is in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.? And that they write pretty brilliant songs when not composing ditties for commercials?
There will be oh so many more to come. I hope to post these weekly until SXSW.
Matt Carney and I are doing a collaborative best-of list for OKSee, the blog that we each ran for half the year. It’s going to be awesome, and I’ll post a link when it happens.
Horse Thief‘s Grow Deep, Grow Wild appeared in our conversation, and Matt exhorted me to check it out. Matt shares my love of LCD Soundsystem and has rocked out to Colourmusic’s “Yes!” in a moving vehicle with me, so I trust his judgment. His judgment was in fine form when he recommended this album to me.
Grow Deep, Grow Wild is one of that rare class of albums that appropriates a specific feel as opposed to a specific genre. I suppose it’s vaguely indie-rock/alt-countryish, but what it really sounds like is the beginning of a road trip across the Midwest. The music is wide-open and spacious, and the energy bubbles just below the surface.
Opener “Colors” sets the mood with Springsteen-esque drums, foundational organ, distant background vocals, and rattling guitars in the chorus. The whole arrangement is held together by an affected, unusual vocal tone. The song comes together brilliantly, setting the rest of the album on a course that it rarely deviates from. Think or the Walkmen if they toned down the brittle guitar distortion, or Kings of Leon if the sheen of Only By the Night had a lot more country in it. I know I just repped a band with maximum cred and no cred back-to-back, but it is what it is.
The complete control of a very specific mood is the album’s strength and weakness. The call-and-response vocal delivery of “Warrior (Oklahoma)” is one of the few tracks that sticks out in the album, because the rest of the tunes feel like movements of one greater suite. The relatively small number of instruments used contributes to this sameness; I would love to see Horse Thief experiment with other sounds more extensively in the future. The one extremely memorable break from this is “Down By The River,” which busts out Walkmen-like horns to great effect. But to Horse Thief’s credit, there are no downside tracks: this is a totally enveloping atmosphere.
I’ve mentioned the Walkmen several times, and I’m going to do it again: if you’re down with Lisbon, you really should check Grow Deep, Grow Wild out. Horse Thief’s wide-open plains intensity is the Oklahoman answer to the aforementioned’s Brooklynite yowl. The album drops today, so if you’re in Oklahoma, head out to ACM@UCO and hear it, as well as the all-star supporting line-up of The Non, Deerpeople and Feathered Rabbit (all of whom are dear to my heart).
I keep accidentally reading things about the end of paid art (the basic theory, espoused neatly by Chris Anderson, that when anything goes digital it will eventually become free). The old model (paying for reproduced art items) is dead, but the good news is that it was really only a 20th century model anyway. For the rest of time, artists have been supported in other ways than selling physical interpretations of their work: art items (books, magazines, visual art) didn’t become truly viable until the 18th century, and not prevalent until the 19th, while music reproduction was almost impossible until the LP came along in the early 20th century. Before that, everything was live.
So yes, you will not make money selling your book/movie/album soon. This is especially a bummer for books, a medium which has no live element. But music, theater, art and movies* will survive and thrive on their live aspects, because there’s a vast difference between seeing the Sistine Chapel on StumbleUpon (which I did yesterday) and seeing it in person (which I did ten years ago). I still count the real experience of it as way more valuable than yesterday’s viewing – even though the digital picture was clearer online due to Photoshop.
If you play well live, you’re gonna be fine. People will want to come see your show. If you make art, have showings. People will want to come see it. Note how many people came in for LCD Soundsystem’s last show.
“But James Murphy is a genius!” people say. And it’s true! He is. But Nick Drake was a genius and a miserable, miserable showman. Josh Ritter (closer to the Nick Drake side of sounds) is closing in on genius status, and he’s a brilliant performer.
People flocked to the final LCD shows because the band just blew people’s minds live. Its recorded music pales in comparison. This is the new paradigm.
Does this mean a lot more time on the road? You bet it does. Brandi Carlile will be on the road the whole rest of the year, with the exception of October. That’s exhausting. But it’s the new shift.
There will be less people doing music professionally, and there will be more people trying to break in to that small elite. It will get even harder to become a band. But for those who are willing to sacrifice to do what they love, there’s still a place for you. There always will be.
Even when they start streaming shows online en masse (and they will), it will be like seeing the Sistine Chapel on Stumbleupon.
Even if we get to the point where we are entering 3-D renderings of shows that we are viewing through virtual reality helmets (by Google, probably), there’s just no substitute for the unquantifiable live energy that a band and audience create. You weren’t there, as James Murphy would note. You’re just bringin’ him down.
There will always be a place for people who bring it live.
*I value the theater experience. Many others do as well. We could debate the rise of home theaters, but I’m not really qualified to do that.