Thursday, January 6, 2011

Free City, Part Four

I am learning new things about myself every day this week, it seems. A lot of them are so obvious I feel self-conscious now. I think that the disconnect between my emotional difficulties and my wealth of music knowledge is keeping my blog from finding any regular readers besides those who agree with me most firmly. It's nice to know I'm not totally alone, but at the same time, there are a lot of Austin bands I love and my recommendations of them would carry a lot more weight if more than a handful of people read them. Trying to figure this out is going to be bumpy. You can already see it in action. I got a nice e-mail from Matthew Grusha from She Sir asking me to go see his band. I did. From my point of view, they sucked. I tried to explain why I thought so, once in a review that was written in such an awful equivocating style that a few regular readers AND a couple of first-time ones wrote in to tell me to knock it off. Then I tried to explain even more an in e-mail to the poor guy. I tried to point out how I'm a bass player, and I listen really closely to how bass and drums fit together, and I felt like their rhythm section was just no good at all in combination. He wrote back that lots of people had told him he was really good at bass and now he was so sad he was thinking about quitting music. Well, I give up. But please don't quit music because of me; I just really geek out on bass playing.

See, I never point out stuff like this. I just say "this is bad" or "this needs work" and I don't talk about the basis for it, because as a journalist I was taught to take myself out of my writing and as a human nothing makes me feel more awful than looking at a person I've just met and realizing I've been doing nothing but talk about myself at them for half an hour. I'm a good writer, but I'm a horrible communicator. I just can't express myself succinctly to save my life. In the sound-bite, 140-characters-or-less era, I'm an anachronism. I have the refined music tastes of somebody who's been writing or playing for 20 years (because I have indeed been doing so), but I have the social skills of somebody just out of college. Nearly all my friends, and Anna, are way younger than I am. I think the reason I love The Gary so deeply is because my two biggest hangups in life are becoming a grown-up and being in a good band and those guys do both so well.

Beauty Bar: Brownout, Maneja Beto, Roxy Roca, Este Vato
Beerland: Hex Dispensers, Damn Times, Manikin
Club Deville (Mind of Adi): uLOVEi, DJ I Wanna Be Her, One Hundred Flowers, STEREO IS A LIE, Monarchs, Erin Ivey, Eagle Eye Williamson, BK & Mr. E
Emo's outside: What Made Milwaukee Famous, The Lemurs, Ovenbirds, Salesman, The Authors
Emo's inside: Los Skarnales, Nick Curran & The Lowlifes, Jungle Rockers, El Pathos
Mohawk outside: Indian Jewelry, The Laughing, Astronaut Suit
Mohawk inside: Motel Aviv, Attak (In)Formation, Zorch, Look Mexico
The Parish: The Frontier Brothers, The Eastern Sea, MaryAnn and the Revival Band
Red 7 inside: Golden Boys, Broken Gold, A Giant Dog, Air Traffic Controllers, The Dead Space
Red 7 outside: Power Trip, Rat King, Black Congress, One Against Many, Tow the Line, Venomous Maximus
Red 7 early show: Thieves, The Stampede, Fingers Crossed, A New Hope
Scoot Inn: Thunderosa, Squidbucket, Rust
Stubb's: Art vs. Industry, The Pulse Electric, Lauren Burton
U.S. Art Authority: Low Victor Echo, Grand Child

Wow, what a night. Where to begin? Well, how about the band whose demo cracked my year-end top ten list.... sliding in right at #1. Holy gee, Zorch are an amazing band. They might not be quite for everybody -- I've played it for a few singer-songwriter types, like my former bandmate Dana, and they were bored up until the vocals came in. But if you're interested in the collision of modern genres, and like seeing the sort of band that leaves most listeners fumbling for meaningful comparisons, get into this band. The prodigiously talented and hilarious drummer Shmu plays live dubstep with one half of his body and skronky jazz-fusion with the other, all while singing in a voice that you almost have to step away and listen to his fine solo stuff to appreciate the pure beauty of. More than anything I like experimental music that isn't afraid to be pop when the mood calls for it, and Zorch are so good at that it's scary. The Gary are my favorite band in Austin, but Zorch are the best band in Austin the way I see it. I was talking to Evan Kleinecke, who records them, and apparently Zac Traeger has so many different crazy sounds coming from his keyboards and Omnichord that it's going to take literally dozens of amplifiers to make their in-progress album come out the way they want. Zorch are playing with the elusive Attak (In)Formation, who may or may not be the same band that made this CD We Are All Alive in Tune Butcher Bear dropped off here a few weeks ago. I've been jamming that stuff, man... it sounds like the missing link that led to Haunting Oboe Music, the first Austin band I really got excited about to immediately break up as soon as I realized I liked them. The other side of the coin -- pop music that's not afraid to get in there with bare hands and mess stuff up.

Squidbucket are a band I admire the heck out of, but they're such quiet guys that I don't know if they're going to be able to locate the progressive metal fans that would eat up their chops-intensive blend of Primus finger-popping bass, Tool-like guitar that has some southern rock in it, and the long-running epic structures of Mastodon and their ilk. How can we bring the hipsters to the hipster metal? If you like heavy stuff and/or guys who can play their instruments really well, go check it. Drummer Eric Brown barely breaks a sweat. Jason Erwin is a virtuoso guitarist with taste -- unlike a lot of guys with his chops, I can actually imagine myself learning to play a few of his parts by myself. Although not most of them. And Kurt Rightler is a gentle beast. His bass playing also drives the rising, Volta-esque jazz-jam-metal Tornahdo.

The Eastern Sea are a band whose It Factor is almost terrifying. When I first moved here, I listened to about a million different local bands on MySpace, just picking links at random from Austin blogs. There was one song by The Eastern Sea -- "The Box," I believe it was called -- that was one of those songs that I had almost memorized from the first time I heard it. ("Tupac's Herpes" by Explosion Horse is another one, although not for the same reason.) At the time it was recorded, The Eastern Sea was one guy, Matt Hines. I don't think very much of solo singer-songwriters, which is exactly what you would expect from somebody who played bass his whole life and just started playing the drums. The only two guys I feel can pull it off? Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. (Sorry, Iron & Wine, overdubbed harmonies are cheating.) But wow this song by The Eastern Sea before they were a band... it had a subject (working in a movie theater), a point of view, and a melody that put you right on the narrator's shoulder. Songs like this got Hines hooked up with Tomas Olano, a friendly bass player with amazing stage presence and a DJ-like ability to have a huge effect in songs by not playing, and Zach Duran, a drummer whose enthusiasm for playing quietly suits the band's naturally gentle approach. They've worked for a while on getting the rest of the lineup together, but that core trio is pretty golden. Matt would die in peace if nobody ever compared them to Death Cab for Cutie again... yeah, he has a high voice, but his fingerpicking style on the electric guitar and Duran's often orchestral drumming make them original. You know how I know they're legit? Because they can perform a song that totally diverges from their basic style, like the sorta Smashing Pumpkins raver "The Name," and totally maintain their personality while doing it.

However... The Golden Boys are representative of a billion garage bands I saw last year that I totally misunderstood. I get garage music in theory, but you have to understand about me that I just don't pick up on how people are trying to be perceived. I keep seeing garage bands, not having any idea what they're supposed to be and writing about the instrumentation, and then realizing I'm stupid. Hey, if you're in a band that is about attitude, please let me know that when you ask me to come to see you. Unless you have so much attitude that even an autistic person can tell, like ELVIS or Pataphysics or A Giant Dog. I like to flatter myself thinking my witless reviews are useful to people in bands because, hey, now at least they know what would happen if a Vulcan came to their shows. Live long and prosper, Golden Boys.


  1. i always tell people to quit music. we could use a thinning of the herd. please quit. then, if you can stay gone, you were never meant to be there in the first place. if you can't stay away, and keep coming back to the front for more abuse, then you're a real musician and artist. but i think everyone should quit at least once. lots of people told him he was good huh? i'm sure Hitler could say the same thing. in Hitler's case, they were afraid of being murdered. in this guy's case, they're afraid of breaking his heart. and that's fine, especially if you're his mom. but as a music writer, man, the kid is gonna have to grow a little thicker skin if someone telling him he sucks makes him quit. i would never want to listen to anybody who NEEDED TO BE LIED TO to make music. NEVER!

  2. Finding an audience for your blog is, I'd imagine, much the same as finding an audience for a band--it's a damn pickle. You can try to appeal to as many people as possible, which is fine if that comes naturally. If it doesn't, you'll be miserable and come off awkward. The secound route is to be yourself--once you figure out eactly who that is (which is another thing entirely) and produce something unique. You'll probably be howling in the wilderness, maybe forever, but you'll have your sanity and self-respect. Those of us who need to do this will do it even if no one's paying attention. Shoot, I have no answers, only questions. It's something I've struggled with. Much as I love playing shows, I have never had much proclivity for promotions, I'm not all that social, and I am not comfortable tooting my own horn. Yet, I still think The Obits deserve more attention. Shoot--look at me! I started out talking about your issues and went into my own. Anyway, that's kind of the impetus for The Obits' hiatus.

  3. So i listened to She Sir. I didnt mind it too much. I dont know how someone can give him a compliment of being a good bass player when it seems that all of the songs have the same simplistic root note basic rhythm pattern. Probably just friends being nice. I would personally rather have someone tell me i suck so i can improve instead of just be nice. And if he is that insecure that 1 bad comment makes him want to quit, then maybe he should.

  4. what happened to that new post you took down?

  5. Wow. You come off as a complete kissass to any band that supports/apologizes for your music or eats a meal with you. Conflict of interest much? Either way, this comment will be censored so it doesn't even matter.