Austin Bands to Watch, 10.17
[I wrote this on assignment for a blog & then learned that I misinterpreted the assignment but I still like the writing so here it is. I might keep doing these or I might not but here’s one at least.]
A Giant Dog: Toy
The sunny, acerbic Austin punks in AGDhave returned with their fourth full-length, a hook-filled and whip-smart dissection of the uglier sides of head-rush sexuality and romanticism. Lead singer and lyricist Sabrina Ellis is biting and brutal, perfectly treading the line between “I can’t say that out loud” and “I have to quote this to all my friends immediately,” as on lead single “Photograph,” where she tells a lover, “I wanna see you with your jeans all split/I wanna kiss you when your teeth all rot.” She’s got a knack, as well, for delivering her frank sex-talk in a way that feels broad without sugarcoating or vulgarizing it; how better can sexual gratification be expressed than, “I wanna do that more!”? It’s worth noting, also, that this album sees AGD foregoing the guidance of Austin-based producer Mike McCarthy (who helmed their last two releases) and producing this record themselves. Andrew Cashen, the band’s lead guitarist and co-songwriter (with Ellis), takes the helm on Toy, pushing the record’s sound right to the edge of major-label clarity, bringing out the choruses and melodies, but retaining some of the vicious, lively edge of their underground work. This thing is powered by charging, mid-heavy guitars and punchy, recursive riffs, occasionally gesturing towards prog or lo-fi or glam or what-have-you, but all played like the band are sticking their tongues out at you; sticking your tongue out, after all, gets easier when your teeth all rot.
RIYL: Sleater-Kinney; Sparks; Spoon; being a little bit too high at Whataburger.
TC Superstar: Masc
I’ve actually seen these guys twice at two different house shows, partly because they’re signed to my friend Ally Brown’s label, Porch Fire Records, and partly because they’re one of the most fun live bands i’ve seen in a good while. Connor McCampbell writes and produces their studio music, but live, the outfit features two extra instrumentalists, two backup dancers, stage makeup, and choreography, all of which, frankly, makes it pretty hard to have a bad time seeing them. I was worried that the live experience might not fully translate on record, but fortunately, TC Superstar’s debut is still a lot of fun. McCampbell traffics in bloopy, rubbery, 80s-revivalist synthpop, decorating his drum machine loops with pastel-tone synth loops and floating over it all with his flat, stuffy-nosed baritone. He makes the kind of songs that have music videos where everyone’s wearing dark shades and playing one note at a time on improbably huge keyboards (word to Phineas and Ferb). My favorite moments on the album are little things, like the two handclaps in the chorus on “I Don’t Mind.” That’s what this album does best: it finds little, idiosyncratic hooks in its circular song structures and worms its way into your head until you can’t get it out.
RIYL: Hot Chip; New Order; Depeche Mode; finding glitter in your hair.
Hannah Read’s music as Lomelda has a threadbare warmth to it, like an old sweater you keep wearing because you remember how comfortable it was when you got it. There’s a palpable sense on Thx of drifting, of the way things that used to be enough just aren’t any more; my favorite line on the record is on the opening song, “Interstate Vision”: “Still I sit with you in parking lots/Acting like I’m not falling for it.” She’s willing to ignore future hurt for present love, or an imitation thereof. Her voice is just wrenchingly lovely, quiet and composed — almost old-fashioned in its lilting, delicate richness, like Patsy Cline, maybe, or a South-Texas Mitski. Read is a singer who knows exactly how to use her instrument, always measured and concise in bringing out her gently sighing melodies. And the music is just as gorgeous. Read’s arrangements tend toward folk-rock, but there are echoes of 90s indie and fuzz-punk, all coloring her stories of time lost and time given. Thx digs deep into how simple and visceral it can be to love someone, to miss someone, to not understand how you got where you are. A perfectly melancholy record; self-effacing and aware, nostalgic but not bitter, evoking that ever-twenty-something sense of starting to know yourself better, but not treating yourself better yet.
RIYL: Pinegrove; Angel Olsen; The Weepies; night-driving on empty highways.