Sunday, June 6, 2010

Very Small Rocks

Honey Thief, Long Tangles
The Parlor North Loop, 6/4

In my youth in the summers of Chicago I used to enjoy flipping over a rock, counting the number of bugs underneath, and then upending another rock to see if it had fewer insect tenants. I was a pretty lonely kid. As a grown man I feel more connected to the other humans around me, but still I have a penchant for seeking obscure finds in dark, damp locales. Think of Austin as my parents' backyard, and the rocks as dive bars with live music. Except everybody who works at the rocks, and everyone else overturning them, and also all the leaves on the trees and the raccoons in the garbage, they're all also in bands. (I guess the metaphor kind of breaks down there.)

For all the proliferation of acts with an "Austin" postmark on their MySpace, Facebook, Soundcloud, what have you, there must be untold legions of potentially great musical combos in the area that haven't made even that small of a dent in the public consciousness. Talent and hard work don't necessarily draw attention on their own. Bands must put effort commensurate to their writing and rehearsal time into self-promotion, not an activity that typically comes naturally to the musically inclined. If a group wants to get together to play simply for their own mutual satisfaction, more power to them. But no complaining about how the music scene here sucks and your genius is unappreciated when people are practically waving money in your face to buy CD's you haven't yet bothered to record!

Honey Thief already have won the allegiance of the estimable Sean Padilla, who spent much of their set Friday heckling them good-naturedly about their failure to record. This dawdling seems particularly egregious given that their drummer works in a recording studio. It's a shame and a lost opportunity that Honey Thief have nothing more than threadbare demos on their homepage, because their take on the massive guitar/submerged melody dynamic puts the more popular, way less talented Woven Bones to shame. Two good singers, complex but unobtrusive drumming, and consistently solid guitar hooks mark them as a band who can really listen through the thick processed guitars. I think they could trim the use of effects down a good deal and streamline their attack -- it would also be more visually interesting to watch the guitarists, I dunno, bend the strings instead of passively nudging a pedal that simulates the same sound. One of their guitarist/singers has more of a knack for coming up with memorable leads than the other, so I wish he would figure out how to play lead guitar on the songs he himself sings. But other than that they're way past ready to make a record, tight and with a setlist that well balances the droning with the catchy and fast tempos with slow.

Long Tangles by contrast are only on their second show and are some distance away from being prepared for the studio. They don't even have a Web presence yet it seems -- here's a link to one of their songs on Side One: Track One. They're a cutie-pie boy-girl duo of keyboards and drums, which means Sean and John Laird were right on comparing them to Mates of State. They would draw that comparison even if their music didn't sound so obviously like a woefully inaccurate Mates tribute. For twee-pop the Mates are in fact highly musically proficient, and Long Tangles are -- in a word -- not. All of the details that make Mates of State a complete band, like vocal harmonies, rhythm changes, and keyboard parts that incorporate more than one finger and both hands, are here absent. Good chemistry, pleasant enough singing, and sex appeal make Long Tangles tolerable, at least until they try playing a real song instead of one of their own unformed rambles. They finished off Friday with a Top 40 cover that was so random and sloppy that it kind of sucked out what little positives I could draw from their "originals."

There's a lesson here for everyone: Don't ever, ever play a cover that you can't play well. Up to that point in the set, the best thing I could think of to say about Long Tangles is that for a female-led, chops-free indie band they managed to stave off the vibe of a Fort Worth sorority girl at a Tuesday open mic leadenly playing the exact same picking patterns on the acoustic guitar for both her covers of "Umbrella" and "Blackbird." But then Long Tangles mangled Ke$ha and all of my sympathy for them dried up.


  1. I really want to see Honey Thief in a venue with more than just a vocal PA, that massive sound through a great rig would be incredible.


  2. Be nice if Mr. Donohue actually took the time to learn the name of the band members so they could get a mention in his article