Kevin Seal, one of the music analysts from the Music Genome Project, just sent in this update from the SXSW conference:
Music Analyst Seal here. Long-time listener, first-time caller. I’m here in Austin all week to shake hands, kiss babies, and hear live music. I love my job. For me, these are the five most revelatory music moments so far at this year’s SxSW:
1. Field Music. Dang dang dang. Field Music are from Sunderland, England, the town that gave us the Futureheads. Three guys — two trade between drums & guitar, the third plays synth bass on a USB controller and higher textures on a Rhodes. Nice. All three sing. Angular rhythmic counterpoints abound, and they love them some 7/4 and 7/8. None of this distracts or detracts from their melodic sensibilities. Great expectation-defying arrangements, playful and mind-stretching and unpretentious all at once.
2. The Fiery Furnaces. Sure, of course, Matt & Eleanor Friedberger are the most barnstorming brother-sister duo in the history of rock. No surprise. But the real secret to their sound is their drummer, Andy Knowles. Those jarring tempo changes would sound brainy in the hands and feet of a lesser skinsman, but Knowles ably turns those shifts into visceral punk momentum. The mini-epic “Chris Michaels marries song fragments better than any work since Bee Thousand or Abbey Road. Their new songs are great, especially “Policeman” and a salacious bit of obsessive voyeurism called “I’m Waiting To Know You.” They’d have been in the #1 slot if my expectations for them had not already been so high.
3. My Brightest Diamond. Great arrangements, and a lead chanteuse with a distinctive voice named Shara Worden. They’ve been opening for Sufjan Stevens on his recent tours, and she sings a lot on his Illinoise album. Her voice has shades of Nina Simone, Bjork and Edith Piaf, without sounding derivative of any of those iconoclastic artists. Her “Musicians Wanted” Craigslist post makes a great deal of sense: “String Players Wanted: If you like Pierre Boulez as much as PJ Harvey, call meMy Brightest Diamond has not yet released an album, but you can bet that once they do, they’ll be up on Pandora.
4. Voxtrot. These Austin guys brought the smile-pop hooks with charm and smarts, but no smarm or charts. Happy music will always have a place in my world, especially when it’s tied to such indelible melodies. Beneath some of their cheerier choruses, though, lay darker double meanings that fans of Stuart Murdoch might appreciate. Their hometown crowd loved them, of course, but so did the new converts like me. They also had, yes, Rhodes. Foxtrot has only released EPs so far, but their full-length debut is coming soon.
5. The Dresdon Dolls. Heavy metal piano and drums. Weimar cabaret as played by Iron Maiden fans. They rocked an astonishing and faithful cover of “War Pigs,” and given how many people have played that song well (Faith No More, the Flaming Lips with Cat Power, Gov’t Mule, Hayseed Dixie, and… oh, right, Black Sabbath), I was ready to shrug and head for the beer line until I heard how well they delivered it, and how honest it felt. Political dissent and headbanging are righteous bedfellows.
Neil Young’s keynote interview was great, too. Also really enjoyed the premiere of Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, a well-researched love letter to the often misunderstood and misrepresented world of the horn-handed.
There are way too many shows to see everything I’d like to see, but for tonight, I’m leaning toward the Alternative Tentacles showcase at the Jackalope. Or Rapider Than Horsepower at the Lava Lounge. Or Ted Leo at the Red 7. Shearwater, maybe. Or Dungen. Uh… ask me later.