Sharon Van Etten

Over the Weekend (July 27 Edition)

News and other fun stuff to help you make it through the week…

If you have a half hour to spare this week, we recommend you check out this brief documentary on the history of Krautrock, courtesy of Noisey.  In half an hour, you will learn the origins of this distinctive style and gain a new appreciation for its influence on modern music.  And when you finish, be sure to check out this list from FACT magazine for a list of Krautrock records that go beyond the basics.

The Foo Fighters have been making it pretty easy for music content aggregators these days, and this story is no exception.  After making headlines for performing with a broken leg, Dave Grohl invited his surgeon to join the band on stage to sing on a cover of The White Stripes’s “Seven Nation Army”.

A tribute album to singer/songwriter Donovan has attracted a lineup of indie rock heavy-hitters, including contributions from The Flaming Lips, Sharon Van Etten, and Hamilton Leithauser.  The charity album will be out on October 16.

Who doesn’t love a good rap beef?  Quickly get caught up on the Ghostface Killah/Action Bronson beef here.  Then you will be prepared to be the talk of the party this weekend.

Advertisements

Over the Weekend (May 11 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other time-wasters to kick off your week…

Fans of Aphex Twin should be thrilled with the massive amount of free music that he released today.  There is a zip file with over 2 GBs worth of music available for download, as well as a YouTube playlist of over 200 songs, though the amount of overlap between the two has yet to be determined.  We had seen evidence before that Richard James was hard at work in all those years between releases, but it is great to finally hear more of the results.

Courtney Barnett is an artist that has been receiving a huge amount of buzz lately, especially after her recent appearances at SXSW.  We have been rather skeptical of the praise so far (our reaction to her recent single that has begun to get radio airplay is that it sounds like “Molly’s Chambers” with a female version of Mark E. Smith yelling over the top), but we have to admit that we enjoy the fun video that was created for “Dead Fox” that was released today.

Sharon Van Etten will be releasing a new EP next month, and today she released another track off of I Don’t Want To Let You Down.  Pitchfork has the SoundCloud link for “Just Like Blood”.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are currently on tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of their self-titled debut, and Stereogum has the premiere of an acoustic version of “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away” from that seminal album.

And finally, have fun with a variety of useless lists this week.  The most ambitious is SPIN’s 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years, which if anything is at least diverse, and at least makes an attempt in a lot of cases to avoid merely following along with consensus opinion.  Diffuser provides a handy list of 19 Influential Grunge Musicians that they claim “you’ve never heard of,” but whatever the accuracy is of the second part of their claim, it serves as a handy guide for diving into the Seattle scene beyond the Big Four.  Then there is NME’s contribution, a list of the original titles for famous albums, which has more than a few mildly amusing anecdotes.

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2014

Today is April 15, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day, we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to release our Best Albums of the Year list.  We follow this unusual schedule for a few reasons: 1) It allows some of the albums that are released at the end of the calendar year to get some recognition, since they usually get swallowed up in the attention of the flurry of year-end lists; 2) We get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped our attention during the course of the year; and 3) It provides a handy consumer guide for people to focus where to spend their tax refund/gives them an added checklist when they head out to their local record stores this weekend for Record Store Day.

The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific.  However, we are still in the process of attempting to patent and trademark The Process, which if you may recall, is simply tallying up the play counts on iTunes for each album.  It has served us well in years past, and a quick glance at our list this year proves that it has worked once again.

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because we don’t like breaking ties for the same play count.  If you’re really intent on focusing on only 10, I guess take the 10 highest performing albums from the list, but you really shouldn’t limit yourself like that if you can help it.  Also, we have reviews for all of these albums, so for those of you seeking a more detailed analysis all you need to do is click the appropriate tag above.

10. Alvvays – Alvvays; Aphex Twin – Syro; Nothing – Guilty of Everything; Real Estate – Atlas (8 plays)

Alvvays and Nothing edge themselves onto the list with fantastic debut albums, the former being a sublime beach-pop record and the latter finding an intriguing mix between shoegaze and metal.  Real Estate’s latest would make a great companion album to the Alvvays record on any future trip to the coast, with the band further refining their laid-back, easy-going vibe with some of their most tightly-constructed songs of their career, like “Talking Backwards” and “Crimes”.  The only reason why Aphex Twin’s fantastic comeback effort is so low on the list is that we in general do not spend much time listening to electronica; otherwise, it would have ended up much higher on our list.

9. Beck – Morning Phase; Ought – More Than Any Other Day; Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal; Solids – Blame Confusion (9 plays)

We never grew to love Sunbathing Animal in the same way that we did Light Up Gold, so its inclusion on the list is mainly due to our insistence on trying to gain a greater appreciation through repeated listens; that said, it did have its moments, like “Dear Ramona” and “Instant Disassembly”, that we would love to hear the next time they roll through the Northwest.  Ought’s debut album is the perfect example of why we delay the publication of our list, since their fascinating debut did not come onto our radar until after we saw it on another year-end list, and it soon became one of our favorites with its intriguing take on garage rock and post-punk.  We jumped in early on the Solids bandwagon, and were pleased to see that the duo’s fuzz-rock had some staying power over the course of the year.  And we hope that Beck is as proud of his showing on our list as he is of the Grammy that he got for his gorgeous new album.

8. The Antlers – Familiars; Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else; Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE (10 plays)

Cymbals Eat Guitars surprised a lot of people with the leap forward that they took on LOSE, an ambitious, anthemic guitar rock masterpiece.  Cloud Nothings somehow came back with an even rawer record than Attack on Memory, and in the process became more of a cohesive group, with the furious drumming being a noteworthy highlight.  As for The Antlers, this is becoming old hat for them, because they once again delivered an incredible record, this time meditating on reconciling the internal struggle, dressed up in hauntingly gorgeous hooks.

7. Fucked Up – Glass Boys; Sharon Van Etten – Are We There? (11 plays)

We may have been in the minority with our disappointment in David Comes to Life, but Fucked Up more than made up for it with the punchy Glass Boys.  As for Sharon Van Etten, she continues to find the perfect balance between the pain and sadness of her lyrics and the beauty of her music.

6. The Black Keys – Turn Blue (13 plays)

Though there is probably a sizable contingent of people who are tired of The Black Keys at this point, we are not in that subset.  Turn Blue was the right step after the arena-rock of El Camino, and we love it when they collaborate with Danger Mouse.  Also, the guitar solos in “The Weight of Love” were probably the year’s best.

5. Interpol – El Pintor; Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 (14 plays)

After their disappointing self-titled album and the polarizing Our Love to Admire, Interpol gave itself a needed shot in the arm with El Pintor.  Though on paper it seems that dropping the band’s “secret weapon” Carlos D. was a bad idea, Paul Banks comfortably assumed those duties and seemed to reinvigorate the rest of the band with their strongest effort since Antics.  Run The Jewels proved that sequels can improve upon the originals, with Killer Mike throwing down some of the best verses of his career.


4. TV on the Radio – Seeds; The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream (15 plays)

A lot of critics seemed to have slept on Seeds, but any visit to see TV on the Radio on their latest tour should quiet any doubts that people had about the band.  It is an album about finding strength through loss, and the band crafted some of its best songs in the wake of the loss of bass player Gerard Smith.  The War on Drugs improved upon their initial breakthrough Slave Ambient by shaping their soundscapes into more cohesive “songs”, but the album is still a delight to listen to with the headphones cranked up to listen to all the different sonic details.


3. Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours; Peter Matthew Bauer – Liberation!; Spoon – They Want My Soul (17 plays)

It is fitting that two of the solo albums from one of our favorite bands would end up in a tie; though we mourn the apparent loss of The Walkmen, we should rejoice that we have been blessed with multiple excellent albums already.  Each captured distinct parts of their previous band’s sound–Hamilton’s penchant for vintage sounds, Peter with the charming raggedness of their music.  Spoon once again proved that they are the most consistently brilliant band in indie rock for the past 15 years, as They Want My Soul effectively captures the band’s past sound as well as finds new ways to innovate, with songs like “New York Kiss” and “Outlier”.


2. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (19 plays)

This is perhaps the best example of the peculiarities of The Process, as the placement of Tomorrow’s Hits was partially inflated by just how much fun it is to drive around playing this record.  The band looked backwards for inspiration, re-configuring the sound of a bar band from the 70’s to create one of the most entertaining records of the year.  The Men have been busy throughout their career, releasing five records and five years, so we should probably be expecting a sixth record soon.


1. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World (23 plays)

We have been in love with this album since the second we heard the opening notes of “Trainwreck 1979”.  Death From Above 1979 made the most of the ten years off since their debut, finding the perfect balance between recreating the magic of their early work while moving ahead into new and exciting directions.  You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine still holds up hundreds of years later, and The Physical World looks like it will repeat the same feat.  The band still has the same ferocious energy as when they first burst on the scene, but it is clear that both Sebastien and Jesse have improved as musicians, finding new ways to create original music through the simple tools of bass and drums (with the occasional synth).  Hopefully we do not have to wait another ten years for the next step.

Over the Weekend (Apr. 6 Edition)

New videos and other fun stuff as you fill in the hours around the NCAA championship game…

Lots of new songs and videos to get through this week, so let’s get straight to the action.  After announcing a North American tour and releasing a new track (the groovy epic “Let It Happen”), Tame Impala has finally revealed some details about their followup to the fantastic Lonerism.  The album Currents will be available later this year, and to help celebrate the news the band released another track, the slow-burning “‘Cause I’m A Man”.

My Morning Jacket continues to leak out new songs from their upcoming album The Waterfall, sharing the ballad “Spring (Among the Living)” last week.  My immediate reaction was to say that it is a more dramatic version of “Victory Dance” from Circuital, but with a seriously ripping guitar solo.

Kendrick Lamar is doing the rounds in promoting his album, which involves things like talking to MTV about the origins of the album title to doing radio interviews discussing how he did the Tupac interview that closes To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as announcing his engagement (congrats, btw).  Kendrick also released the music video for the new album’s latest single, “King Kunta”, which features a performance in his hometown of Compton.

The National have shared a previously unreleased track from the Trouble Will Find Me sessions, a song called “Sunshine On My Back” that features Sharon Van Etten on vocals.  The band explained in a Facebook post various options for people to purchase the track.

Most of us were not able to make it down to Austin for SXSW this year, but NPR is doing us a real solid favor by hosting video of TV on the Radio’s performance at the festival.

Legendary punk rockers Refused announced a new tour last week, this time emphasizing smaller venues.  If you are unaware how much we love the band, you should take note that the header photo that graces this site comes from their reunion show at the Roseland from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, though it would have been amazing to see them perform at the Doug Fir, tickets sold out in about two seconds, so it is unlikely RIJR will be able to review the show.

Maybe our inability to purchase tickets was due to the fact that we forgot to post the latest Run The Jewels video.  Killer Mike and El-P released the video to the fantastic “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” which features a memorable appearance from Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha.  Enjoy the symbolism.

And finally, watch another one of those “let’s see what today’s teenagers know about the 90’s” videos.  This one has kids listen to various 90’s songs, and for the most part they didn’t do too badly.  I can forgive these guys for not knowing Ace of Base or how the non-rockers were unfamiliar with Tool’s “Sober”, but it pains me that so few knew who Coolio was or could identify Green Day’s first big hit.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 16 Edition)

Some fun news and videos as you prepare/recover from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations…

The biggest news of the weekend is the sudden release of Kendrick Lamar’s new album, To Pimp A Butterfly.  The weekend began with the release of another track, “King Kunta”, before the whole album was released a week early last night on iTunes.  Physical copies are available for purchase through Amazon as of now, with record stores certain to get in on the action as quickly as possible.

Another group gearing up for an upcoming release is Death Grips, who after a couple of false starts are finally set to release the double-disc The Powers That B.  After practically taunting their fans with the free instrumental release Fashion Week (whose tracklist asked the question when the second disc of their final album would be released by spelling out “Jenny Death When”, the band has a physical release date for the album of March 31.  To help tide fans over, the band released the track “On GP” first with one video with the band, and then released a second “official” video.  Enjoy the strangely depressing single, with the help of some magic tricks, below.

If it weren’t for Kendrick moving everything up a week, most of the buzz would certainly be devoted to Modest Mouse’s first full-length album in nearly eight years finally seeing the light of day this week.  To prepare yourself for tomorrow’s release of Strangers to Ourselves, you can read an unconventional 10 song overview of the band from Consequence of Sound as well as reading the account of The Oregonian’s David Greenwald of what the band has been doing in the downtime since the release of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.  At the very least, we can all take comfort in Isaac Brock’s statement that the next album will not take nearly as long to reach the band’s fans.

As our readers are well aware, we here at Rust Is Just Right are big fans of Sharon Van Etten, so we were delighted to see this footage from New Zealand of a newscaster who was able to witness and was moved to tears by a surprise performance from the singer.

Sharon Van Etten, Live at the Doug Fir

There’s always something to do in Portland.  One night you can go see Cloud Nothings play at a rundown theater behind a bar, and the next night you can go see Sharon Van Etten play in the cozy basement of the Doug Fir.  In two nights you get to see a couple of the best albums of the year, all within a picturesque town experiencing its finest weather of the year.

(To the outsiders, we’ll keep up the myth of the omnipresent rain (so they won’t move here), but 1). it’s never that much, and it’s usually only part of the day and 2). the summer almost never sees rain, and it’s the perfect temperature.)

They took down the marquee before I could take a picture, so you get this.

They took down the marquee before I could take a picture, so you get this.

The Doug Fir is my favorite venue in Portland: you get all the warmth and energy of a small club, but the sound system is excellent and you can hear all the necessary sonic details in perfect balance.  I have yet to see even a mediocre show at the venue, and it’s been home to some of my favorites over the years, including The Walkmen, British Sea Power, Los Campesinos!, Japandroids, and The Besnard Lakes.  Considering the quality of the acts that they book, my one concern is that I hope that the bands get enough of the gate that it makes their time coming out to Portland worthwhile.  It feels almost selfish that I get to see such great bands play in such a compact club.

The night kicked off with a set from Jana Hunter, touring apart from her regular gig with Lower Dens.  She had a decent set, augmenting 80’s synth-heavy beats (similar to those from the Drive soundtrack) provided by her laptop with heavily processed guitars (think early Jesus and Mary Chain or the most recent Dum Dum Girls record).  It was a perfectly pleasant way to start the evening, with a cover of “Maneater” lifting up the crowd’s spirits in particular.

Though Van Etten’s new album is notably bleak in several places, that didn’t mean that the show was a dour affair.  Sharon was both a spark and a soothing presence on stage, and in between songs she kept the mood light.  There were several fun jokes with the audience, including a discussion of her favorite ice cream (it involved multiple levels of peanut butter).  In other words, she was a complete delight.

Sharon Van Etten, a total delight

Sharon Van Etten, a total delight

Sharon bounced around between several instruments, trading guitars for various keyboard instruments and alternating spots on stage with her backing band.  Each member of the backing band did a great job, most notably the piano player (and Portland native!) who did excellent work in harmonizing with Sharon’s uniquely beautiful voice.  The set was heavy on material from the new album, which is perfectly fine considering how outstanding it is, but it was probably Tramp standout “Serpents” that generated the largest response from the crowd.  The new material sounded even better live, with some of the processed parts sounding more organic in this particular setting.  The show’s climax was the same as the one on Are We There, the heartbreakingly depressing yet beautiful “Your Love Is Killing Me”, and Sharon and her band were able to wrench every bit of emotion possible from that gorgeous lament.

As I mentioned before, the evening wasn’t just one giant downer.  It helped with Sharon’s jokes between songs, like “here’s another total bummer song”, said in a playful manner, or when she debuted a new song, an outtake from Are We There called “I Always Fall Apart”*, she made sure to mention that it didn’t aaalways happen.  The night ended on a cheerful note, as the last song was the light-hearted “Every Time The Sun Comes Up”, punctuated by comical pantomimes from Sharon.  Though I wish we could have heard some of my old favorites like “Warsaw” or “Magic Chords”, Sharon did more than enough to entertain the crowd in advance of the holiday weekend, and helped solidify the greatness of her new album with her excellent show.  Also, she succeeded in making me totally want to hang out with her.

*Not sure if this was the exact song title, since my memory is a little faded from last week (and Google is of no help), but it was along those lines.

Review: Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

I remember first hearing of Sharon Van Etten back when her previous album Tramp was released.  In reading the press materials for the record, the mentions of The National and The Antlers immediately grabbed my attention–Aaron Dessner of the former produced the album, and she provided the haunting vocals on the latter’s “Thirteen” from Hospice.  Add in the fact that she had a habit on stopping by the AV Club for their “Undercover” series, and I was sold.  I picked up Tramp and was entranced by her unique voice, a sweet yet vulnerable timbre equipped with a slight countryish tinge.  Songs like “Warsaw” and “Magic Chords” would stick in my head for days, but for many “Serpents” was the song that got people’s attention (it helped that it was used for a promotion for “The Walking Dead”, but hey, who am I to knock where people first hear great music?)

Are We There turns out to be an excellent showcase for the musical growth of Van Etten.  Before, most songs would reveal themselves at the beginning and consist of mainly basic elements; you would hear the verse and the chorus, usually using the same instruments, and have a good idea for how the rest of the song goes.  On Are We There, Van Etten instead opts for the “slow-reveal” approach, gradually building songs from the ground-up, slowly adding layers and building to thrilling climaxes.  Often these climaxes are mirrored by a cathartic release as Van Etten shares especially painful and confessional lyrics.  The ending of “Your Love Is Killing Me” is an unforgettable example, as she expands on the chorus to reveal that “You love me as you torture me; you tell me that you like it” as the band swells around her.

Van Etten also branches out with different instrumentation, moving beyond more traditional folk/rock standards.  Piano and guitar is still present, but are augmented by careful touches of strings and horns (as in the sublime “Tarifa”) or the occasional use of a drum machine or other programming (“Our Love” bears more than a passing resemblance to a Beach House song with the minimalist programming and soft female vocal).  The single “Taking Chances” makes use of the latter, building on a programmed drum beat with mellow keyboard, with the guitar saved for accented hits during the chorus.

Still, the selling point remains Van Etten’s uniquely beautiful voice and her personal songwriting.  The album is often dark, though there are moments of black humor that provide a bit of levity, as seen in the album closer “Every Time The Sun Comes Up”, where she stretches lines like “People say I’m a one-hit wonder, but what happens when I have two?  I washed your dishes then I shit in your bathroom” out to great effect.  Even so, the saddest and bitterest songs leave the greatest impression, with the effects of “Your Love Is Killing Me”, “I Know”, and “You Know Me Well” lasting long after the album is over.  Are We There doesn’t have the same evenhanded flow as Tramp, but the peaks are often higher.

And you have to appreciate an artist that provides a list of “Recommended Listening”, and includes the likes of The War On Drugs, Suicide, Spiritualized, Kurt Vile, and The Men, among several others.  Thanks Sharon, now I have additional homework to do.

Catching Up On The Week (May 16th Edition)

The weather up here in the Pacific NW has decided to morph into summer early this year, but for those of you who aren’t as lucky, we have plenty of #longreads to keep you busy this weekend.

First, we have more drummer news.  We mentioned before on our Tumblr about the proposed Will Ferrell/Chad Smith drum-off, and now we finally have a time and place: Thursday, May 22nd on The Tonight Show.  Be sure to read this Rolling Stone article to catch up on all the hilarious trash talk.

As a musician, I’ve heard and shared my fair share of drummer jokes.  Here’s one of my favorites:

A new customer walks into the new store on the block that sells brains. There are three glass cases, each containing a nice wet quivering grey brain. The first one says “Doctor”, and it costs $10. The second says “Astrophysicist” and costs $100. The third says “Drummer” and costs $10,000. The customer is confused, and questions the salesperson. “I don’t get it…why would I want a drummer’s brain for $10,000 when I can get an a doctor’s for $10?”. The salesman replies, “Because it’s never been used.” 

Now, drummers may be able to claim to have the last laugh, as a new study shows that they’re intuitive problem-solvers.  The article then goes on to explain the importance of rhythm in learning and brain function, and is worth reading in full.  Kudos for drummers, but remember that guitarists are totally special too.

Wayne Coyne Trapped In A Ball

Wayne Coyne Trapped In A Ball

A couple of weeks back, we linked to an article which detailed some of the circumstances of Kliph Scurlock’s firing from the Flaming Lips, and we feel it would probably be good to link to an update on the reasoning behind the move.

In a recent post, we discussed the random brilliance of parts of the Godzilla soundtrack, and asked why aren’t there more songs with random Godzilla noises.  Apparently, we weren’t alone with such questions, and someone took it upon themselves to make sure that the world is filled with more Godzilla “remixes”.

This week, the AV Club had a couple of good appreciation pieces.  First, they updated their series “Fear of a Punk Decade” with a look back at 1998, mainly through the lens of the release of Refused’s seminal album The Shape of Punk to Come.  You can probably tell that we’re pretty big fans of Refused (take a look at our cover banner), so we’re always grateful for any mention of the band.  The other big event covered is the release of At the Drive-In’s In/Casino/Out, which mirrored Refused’s attempts to shape post-hardcore punk, and served as a glimpse to their magnum opus Relationship of Command which would be released a few years later.  Then there’s a piece on Ratatat’s self-titled debut, and how it would unknowingly influence alternative and electronic music later on in the decade.

Finally, Pitchfork has a couple of articles that I’m looking forward to reading this weekend, one an interview with Fucked Up as they prepare for the release of their long-awaited album Glass Boys, and the other an extended profile of Sharon Van Etten.

Over the Weekend (May 5 Edition)

New music, new videos, new articles, and even new music lessons for you this week, so no complaints this Monday.

The Black Keys will be filling up the newsfeeds of most music sites this week, in preparation of the release of their new album Turn Blue next week.  For those who want an early listen, it’s streaming through iTunes, or if you want your new Black Keys given to you in a more piecemeal fashion, Slate has the video of the band performing the new song “Bullet in the Brain” for Zane Lowe.  And for those of you who are more visually-inclined, the band has released a video for early single “Fever”.  It finds the band adopting the lo-fi aesthetic of other videos like “Lonely Boy” and “10 A.M. Automatic”, and features Dan Auerbach as a haggard Evangelical preacher trying to inspire his flock, while looking as if he’s afflicted with the malady from the title.

Coldplay performed two new songs from the upcoming Ghost Stories on the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, and Pitchfork has the video of the songs, plus Chris Martin’s appearance in a sketch as well as an unrelated sketch about the perils that come with daring to speak ill of the goddess Beyonce.

The Antlers are continuing to tease fans with details of their upcoming album Familiars, providing SPIN with the stream of their latest track “Hotel”, which reminds me quite a bit of Burst Apart‘s “I Don’t Want Love”.  The music is still as gorgeous and haunting as ever, and I can’t wait to hear the new album.  Also relevant to my particular interests is the fact that after seemingly skipping out on Portland for their upcoming tour, they will actually be visiting the Rose City as a part of the just-announced MusicFest NW lineup this August 16-17.

Sharon Van Etten shot an interview and performance with the AVClub for their Pioneering series, and for the occasion she chose to cover Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night”.  Check out the videos here.

For those looking for a #longread for the week, I recommend this Billboard article which excerpts the Fredric Dannen book Hit Men and discusses the long battle over the royalties for Meat Loaf’s mega-selling Bat Out Of Hell album.  It’s infuriating to see the treatment of the original producers by Sony and their continued attempts to duck out of their obligations for proper payment.  In case you had any lingering sympathy for the major record labels, this should help extinguish that pretty quickly.

And finally, for those of you looking for a little help in learning how to play the bass, check out this article from Dangerous Minds which provides an assortment of tracks featuring everything but the bass stripped out, courtesy of the website notreble.com.  Maybe this will help you graduate from Air Bass to an actual Bass.

A SXSW (P)Review

The big news this week is of course the SXSW Festival, and you’re probably tired of hearing the same stories about the festival over and over.*  They usually follow one of two tropes, and it doesn’t matter which, because they’re both terrible: either the “all of your favorite bands are having a blast here in the LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD” or “it sucks now that SXSW has totally sold out, man” (annoying coming from either an Austinite or a music industry lackey, for different but totally valid reasons).  Here’s what you should know: 1) None of your favorite bands, if they are in Austin, TX this week, are having a blast because it’s now a requirement that anyone with new music coming out has to stop by and play crowded bars that haven’t seen an inspection since 1998, and 2) Nobody cares that the festival was awesome before anyone heard about it.

*I’m making a couple of assumptions here: that you like music (why else would you be here, unless you were really into cartography, I guess) and that you have at least enough of a passing interest in music/news that you are aware that there is a festival called “South by Southwest” (SXSW for short) and have seen at least one mention of this gigantic festival.  I would think that these assumptions didn’t need to be stated for the record, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Don't believe everything that you read.

Don’t believe everything that you read.

That said, there are tons of pieces out there attempting to provide a preview of this year’s particular incarnation of SXSW, and they’re all fighting for your eyes and clicks.  That means I have to come up with my own original approach, and I think I found the right hook: I’ll be reviewing my previous trip to SXSW in order to give you an idea of what to expect.  Because history repeats itself, and time is a flat circle.

I was lucky enough to attend the festival in 2011, when it lined up perfectly with my Spring Break from law school.  With my sister already in town for grad school, I had a floor for crashing and the toughest part of the trip figured out (a previous attempt to attend the festival back in 2007 when I was still working in radio fell apart because of that detail).  It sure seemed to be a better idea than sleeping in each day until noon and then waiting three hours in line for a Shake Shack burger–now I would sleep in each day until noon and then wait three hours to watch some of my favorite bands (because let’s be honest–I wasn’t going to work on my thesis in either scenario).  I looked forward to a week of sunshine, music, and cheap/crappy beer, instead of a week of cold, traffic, and expensive/crappy beer.

The thing that’s hard to realize about SXSW until you’re there is just how many bands are there, and they’re all playing venues that they would otherwise have no business playing in, whether it be a downward or upward shift in fortune.  Queens of the Stone Age playing in a converted auto-body garage?  Um, if you say so.  Some Brazilian surfer-punk zydeco hybrid band playing a packed two-story bar?  Yeah, you’ll never hear of them again (I think their name started with a ‘Z’), but for a brief moment they were a Next Big Thing at this festival.  You truly can’t comprehend the sheer number of bands.  My one souvenir from the festival was a t-shirt that listed “all” of the bands that played.  I took it out during the course of writing this as a reference to help jog my memory of what bands I saw, but it’s practically worthless in that regard because the half-point font makes reading impossible.  And and all these bands are playing in any possible space that they can find.

They even had a singing saw, but they couldn't play a Neutral Milk Hotel cover?

They even had a singing saw, but they couldn’t play a Neutral Milk Hotel cover?

So to people who are fans of “music” as a concept, this all sounds wonderful; to sane people, not so much.  You walk down Sixth Street, beer in hand, (or as I call it, Bourbon Street Lite) and  hear through the air the strains of 30 different bands playing packed, ramshackle bars.  Oh what glory it is to be alive, as the streets are filled with the sound of music!  Of course, if you’re able to actually pick out through the cacophony that sounds great or at the very least interesting, good luck in trying to actually make it into the venue.  This is something that a normal, sane person would enjoy, but SXSW makes this task very difficult indeed.

SXSW is of course famous for the long lines at its venues.  Of course, as a ridiculously popular festival, it’s to be expected.  However, I thought I had purchased a proverbial golden ticket: the wristband.  A couple of hundred bucks up front, and I had bestowed upon my hand the promise of “access” to nearly all shows without paying additional cover charges and the ability to skip lines.  As anyone who’s been to Disneyland knows, this is truly the only way to travel.  And it’s true, you CAN skip ahead of the lines…well at least part of the lines.  What I didn’t know is that SXSW had created an additional supertier with “badges”.  Those were the people that actually had access and so on–you know, what you thought you were getting with the wristband.  In the end, you realize that your purchase of a wristband was the equivalent of pulling into the gas station and selecting the “Plus” nozzle–additional dollars down the drain, with no real noticeable difference in product.

That means your dreams of seeing someone like Bad Brains were pretty much gone.  You thought you could make it into the shack where Death From Above 1979 had a surprise reunion?  Only one possible reaction.  If you’re aiming to see Queens of the Stone Age put on a show at midnight, well you better get to the venue at 7 and watch random crap for five hours, because there’s no way you’re going to be let back in.  It’s tough shit for the badgeless.

Kim Crowdsurfs

Kim Crowdsurfs

That means your dreams of bouncing from show to show are pretty much shot to shit, no matter how willing you are to zig-zag around town.  You are now forced to plan your time judiciously.  And you were hoping that there was not going to be any homework on this trip–I mean, if i was going to think at all this week, shouldn’t it have been in the course of completing my thesis?  These are not the kinds of reflections that I should be having on Spring Break.  Instead, I’m having to do calculations of “is this band popular enough that I can go see them with minimal hassle, but if there is a line, do I really want to see them?”  At this point, I’m about five seconds away from dumping all relevant information into Excel spreadsheets.

Travel 2000 miles to remind yourself of home

Travel 2000 miles to remind yourself of home

For those looking for the best way to see multiple bands, the lawn parties are really the best way to go.  It amazed me that I traveled a couple thousand miles to see a lawn party hosted by the record store that was across the street from me in New York, but Other Music had a great lineup, and offered a bonus attraction for avoiding the terrible Texas heat: shade.  It’s not the most intimate setting, but I was able to see Low, Ted Leo, and !!! all at the same place, and in relative comfort.  And if I wasn’t so restless, I could’ve seen future favorites of mine Sharon Van Etten and Cults as well.

Lawn party is the way to go, for multiple reasons

Lawn party is the way to go, for multiple reasons

The calculus homework that I did before truly came in handy during the night, when it was more of a crapshoot to determine which shows I could get in.  And here’s my advice: you know those buzz bands that you think you’re so cool for hearing about in the days before the festival?  You’re not special.  There are thousands of other people at this festival that read Pitchfork, SPIN, AV Club, FILTER, and whatever other random music press there is out there.  Hell, a lot of them read specific SXSW previews, so there’s no way that you have a chance of getting into the Toro Y Moi show that’s being held in a 50 person dive.  Unless of course you have a badge, as I mentioned above, but if you’re reading this I’m guessing you don’t.  So that means having to aim slightly lower than the hippest, buzziest bands.  And sometimes, this works very well.  I was able to catch The Antlers perform an NPR showcase that proved that Burst Apart would be a fantastic follow-up to Hospice.  I was able to watch Tapes ‘n Tapes, years after their initial breakthrough, put on a great show and convince me to give them another shot and purchase their third album (and afterwards ate some absolutely kickass Korean BBQ tacos).  And I was able to witness Cloud Nothings blow the roof off a bar as they blistered through material, and showed signs of their potential before Attack On Memory was released.  Plus, I got to hear Dylan Baldi in the last instance ask the crowd if anyone had a place where they could crash, because they just drove down from Ohio with no real plan.  I hope someone picked up the slack.

Cloud Nothings tear roof off of roofless bar

Cloud Nothings tear roof off of roofless bar

I keep emphasizing the crowds, and there’s a good reason.  I’m not claustrophobic by any means, but Andy Richter has the right idea.  Every place is absolutely jammed with people, fire codes be damned (and honestly, if they were strictly enforced, you’d just be pissed that you couldn’t get in to watch the show).  And not only that, these are some of the dipshittiest people that you’ve ever seen.  I cracked that Sixth Street was “Bourbon Street Lite” above, and that’s really the attitude that the seeming majority of festival-goers take–they’re not in Austin for a great music festival, there in town as a substitute for Cancun or New Orleans, hoping to have A FUCKING BLAST, YO!  As a result, I overheard some of the absolute most inane shit possible while spending hours in lines over the course of the week, and I have to be thankful that I can’t remember anything specific.

Which leads me to my next piece of advice: bring a friend.  Of course, it’s always fun to share the experience with someone else, but I’ve managed to go solo to several shows without any problem.  But when you’re stuck in lines for hours on end, it’s best to have someone else with which to engage, or else you will have to endure only in your head what seems like a lifetime of bullshit.  It’s not pleasant.

This is even more awesome, knowing this is outside of Odd Future

This is even more awesome, knowing this is outside of Odd Future

In the end, is it all worth it?  I did get a chance to do things like stand five feet away and see …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead play a hometown show at one in the morning, see random old guys jamming on guitar outside an Odd Future show, and see The Strokes for the first time as fireworks exploded over the Austin skyline during “Last Nite”.  I also saw a ton of forgettable bands and people consistently make such asses of themselves that it would seem to be a productive use of my team to merely weep for the future of humanity.  But in the end, it was probably a fair trade-off–all I missed was a Shake Shack burger (which I’m now told exists in Austin) and a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert that I had purchased tickets for months earlier.  And I didn’t work on my thesis, but we all know I wasn’t going to work on it anyway.

Anyway, for those who don’t care about history and are here for some advice, here we go, in list form:

1. Bring a friend.  This makes the boredom and idiots tolerable.

2. Buy a badge.  Being rich and important is a good idea for most things in life, SXSW included.

3. Have a plan.  You’re not going to see everything you want.  You’re barely going to see half of what you want.  Deal with it.

4. Find the Korean BBQ Taco truck.  That was delicious.

5. Texas beer sucks.  I didn’t mention this earlier, but just know ahead of time.  Know that the best thing you’ll buy is some off-brand cerveza at the taverna next to the gas station.

https://twitter.com/Vice_Is_Hip/status/442940702872584192