Saturday, November 27, 2010

For Cold Weather: Try Extremely Low Bass Frequencies

All the shows Anna C. and I went to in the past week were heavy on electronic equipment and lower than usual on dudes with guitars. It could be mere chance. It could be that after Fun Fun Fun Fest we're a touch burned out on rock bands and ready to see what else Austin has to offer. Mostly, I think that it's because we're extremely poor and the shows we went to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were ones we could get into for free.

Bubbleface, who we saw Monday at Cherrywood Coffeehouse, were not exactly what I was expecting. All I knew about the group before last week was relayed to me by Sean Padilla, who lives in the same house where Bubbleface practices. From Sean's descriptions I was expecting music more difficult and chaotic... perhaps I was getting his views on the band confused with his views on his roommates' housekeeping. Although they do feature two musicians generating howling static, Bubbleface are really quite propulsive, warm, and sort of cheerful. While the rest of the trio sends out boops and beeps in cycles, the drummer keeps a very solid dance beat on an electronic kit... at least until his lunch break is over. They scheduled this show during his work hours and still found a way to lend two songs to Sean's end-of-tour celebration. A guest poet hectored the audience from atop an amp stack for the second tune, throwing out some word jazz over the oscillating tones. Not a terrible idea in theory but at the show I found myself tuning the spoken word out and concentrating on the beats.

We encountered Sex Bruises at the House of Commons co-op on Friday. They were pure noise, one musician tweaking knobs to shift the equalization of howling feedback and a second one kneeling over an electric bass and two cymbals (no stands, just two cymbals lying on the floor) and hitting them all as hard and as fast as possible. You're either into that sort of thing or you aren't, but for my part I found it to be a nice break from all of the half-baked attempts at rock songwriting I endure from local bands. Bracing is the word, I suppose. For what it's worth it wasn't monotonous and they kept the "set" going for just about the right amount of time, twenty minutes or so... a small but pretty attentive crowd stood listening for the whole time. Yatagarasu was more interesting still, a solo computer musician who uses predominantly synth voices from old 8- and 16-bit video game systems and combines his overdriven, irregular beats with aggressive shouting and the agitated persona of a top-notch hardcore frontman. He began his set by playing and singing a rather sweet little number on an old out-of-tune piano, which was a clever way of wrong-footing the listener before the digital assault of the rest of his set. I'd see Yatagarasu again for sure, ideally at a club with some really brawny powered speakers.

Wednesday night, we got free turkey and free beer at the Beauty Bar... I've really turned around when it comes to my attitude about that place. Not having to pay for stuff has that effect on me. A three-pack of worthy producers played original sets. El Nou Man had good stage presence and a nice sense for keeping the audience hooked... a few times I drifted outside to see about getting more turkey and Anna pulled me back in because the bass kicks were demanding us to dance. The variety of source material in his tracks kept the music fun to listen to as well as dance to, from hyper-speed rap to Joni Mitchell! I've seen a spate of MPC musicians lately and Curdoroi is one of the few who uses live keyboards extensively while making his music. Layering simple but effective original melodies over his tracks, his set wasn't as continuously beat-happy but it was intriguing to watch and try and figure out which sounds were coming from what part of his setup.

Chili played third and as I knew from seeing him a few weeks previously at Exploded Drawing, we were in good hands. I am not as sophisticated a listener of electronic and experimental music as I am of rock, jazz, or pop but no matter what it is I am listening first and foremost for changes, for new things that surprise me and defy my expectations. Chili's compositions have a ton of different ideas in them, and they move very quickly... he's a bolt of energy back there doing enough button-pressing for two or three people and although I have no idea what triggers what, I can say that his music progresses and dime-turns faster and more satisfyingly than I feel most dance music is capable of doing. Sometimes I wonder watching solo laptop or MPC players if they would be better off playing in a band; Chili's stuff sounds like a band, so much is going on.

Anna and I spent Thanksgiving with Zorch and Thax Douglas, playing Monopoly, eating turkey, and listening to records. (Lots and lots of progressive rock, although the new M.I.A. and Black Keys LP's worked their way in somehow.) The Austin music scene is our adopted family so having Turkey Day dinner with our favorite local band and the only writer in town who goes to more local shows than I do was most satisfying. Zorch and Thax have recorded an album together, did you know? According to the boys it's the most disturbing thing they've ever been involved in making. That's both intimidating and enticing to me.

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