Though we rolled in late to the 33rd anniversary of New York’s SXSW – CMJ Music Marathon (October 15-19) – in which thousands of breaking hopefuls vie for industry attention in the nooks and crannies of the world’s ultimate melting pot, our first day of coverage chased some sentiments that make the annual trek a moveable feast of purebred tuneage pleasure, starting at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, where Riot Act Media was showcasing Nashville’s Torres.
Sleeves cut and PJ Harvey howl intact, the 22-year-old simmered in the old train car venue in her quiet moments with the angst of Sharon Van Etten, chiding people for being so quite when not erupting into gritty blues assaults aimed at dying relationships and pent up anger festering over whiskey and cigarette ashes knocked into a coffee cup. She’s got some more hurting to do before some of her verses see even darker depths of the human heart and perhaps some more literary lattice work, but 3:30-chugger, “When Winter’s Over,” was just as bled and earned as anyone the hype machine compares her to, wrought with some perfect, muddy pop turn of phrases. When she got to the bit about leaves growing weary of the branches that birthed them, there wasn’t a soul without a stubborn take on love in that room not clenching a glass: [LISTEN]
Meanwhile, on the Lower East Side, we caught a set delay for a series of Athens, Georgia hearts we wanted to check out at The Living Room, finding ourselves entranced over the southern-fried fingerpickings of Christopher Paul Stelling, who was getting his storytelling on from a 150-show year of practice and concrete jungle shuffling, he explained, tickling a nylon guitar like a ‘Murrica version of The Tallest Man on Earth. Just when you thought the preaching would unfurl and Jeebus would come forth, he’d yowl like a front-porch Lieutenant Dan at our maker, and get wild for life’s little freedoms. “Flawless Executioner” is a breaking contender for this year’s most beat ballad: [LISTEN]
Bolting to the Bowery Ballroom, a slice’s throw away southwest on Delancey, Foxygen redux was making its debut sans the drama of mastermind Jonathan Rado and his previous band’s notorious fussin’ and feudin’, instead jingle-jangling his 60s psych-pop schtick with a new set of friends called The Gentlemen Jets. Basically a bunch of dudes and dudettes who appeared to have collectively rolled off a couch, smoked a few bongs, grabbed whatever sunglasses they could find, and whatever instruments – two dudes stage left wailed nonsense into one of those rainbow-colored Fisher Price tape recorders for little kids – and got their Velvet Underground on. Except, instead of the rose-colored lyrics of Foxygen, Rado is using the new outfit to wonderfully withdraw: [LISTEN]
Whether it’s self-reflective or a jab at his past band, Rado seemed a much happier human being, while the proverbial face of smart, relevant indie-pop could definitely say the same. Here’s to hoping the trend continues in 2014.
Hasta Day Two and Three of the festival…