Britain's post-punk pioneers Gang of Four could have dissolved after the departure of singer and co-founder Jon King in 2012, but guitarist and producer Andy Gill, the last remaining original member since 1977, had no intention of disbanding. Gill, cited by St. Vincent's Annie Clark, Franz Ferdinand, Red Hot Chili Peppers and scores of fellow guitarists as a major influence (he was crowned by Spin as the 12th greatest guitarist of all time), viewed King's exit as an opportunity, not a finale.
South by Southwest
Maybe it was bullriding on the rodeo circuit that put the dust and whiskey into Ryan Bingham's voice. Even if you're not super familiar with this Texas wanderer, you might recall his worn-down voice from the movie "Crazy Heart"—Bingham won a Golden Globe for his song "The Weary Kind," further evidence of T Bone Burnett's eerily magic touch.
The euphoric Los Angeles pop of Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno has always been as sun-drenched as summertime. But for the duo's third album, California Nights, self-described insomniac Cosentino has twilight and late night on her mind, finding inspiration in what happens in the City of Angels after the sun sets. Best Coast won't release this new album, the pair's first for a major label, until May 5 so their SXSW set at Public Radio Rocks on March 20 was the first live unveiling of many of these new songs, like California Nights' sensual and majestic title track.
Twin Shadow's George Lewis Jr. has never hidden his producer's crush on New Wave and the textures of '80s synth-pop, but on his third album, Eclipse, he also expands his emotional palette dramatically as a lyricist and vocalist. The catalyst for Eclipse was a hard one for the now Los Angeles-based Lewis—his father's struggles with mental illness and the deaths of several friends cast a pallor on the past year—but despite that hardship, Lewis forged a closer bond with his mother and found an inner balance.
Examinations of love and loyalty abound on Eclipse, and when Twin Shadow kicked off Public Radio Rocks on the Day Stage of the Austin Convention Center on March 20, bold tracks like the slow-burning "Turn Me Up" resonated for both audience and artist, especially with Lewis's stripped-back, haunting arrangement.
Since the summer of 2013, Aussie dynamo Courtney Barnett has been on a dizzying ascent, sparked by her vivid, very funny song detailing a panic attack, "Avant Gardener," which became an unlikely international hit. A flurry of brilliant gigs at New York's CMJ Music Marathon later that fall sealed the deal: the Melbourne-based songwriter was utterly unique, a genial Scheherazade of the indie rock set with a wickedly dry sense of humor.
Courtney Barnett (photo by Mia Mala McDonald)
FUV's music director and host of The Alternate Side, Russ Borris, is running on very little sleep at SXSW this week with Team FUV. He's been filing reports in the wee hours of the morning, with impressions of the many bands and artists he's seen Austin's many venues and bars, but on Thursday, he even made his way to Willie Nelson's ranch.
London's Gengahr might not have nicked the title of their new EP, She's A Witch, from that famously goofy scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," but the quartet's video for the hazy, shimmering title track coyly winks in that direction. Cheeky humor aside, it's Gengahr's panache for languid, deliberately shambolic and always arty pop that has earned this savvy young band momentum and attention. They toured with Alt-J and Wolf Alice recently and they're bound for London's Hyde Park this summer with The Strokes and Beck. But first, Gengahr will head to Hotel San José to hang out with Team FUV for a SXSW-style performance.
Championed by her old friend Matthew E. White and his Spacebomb Records crew, Nashville-based Natalie Prass makes a formidable debut with her eponymous first album, a gorgeous collection of smoky, sensual and torchy love—or brokenhearted—songs. On tracks like the outstanding "Bird of Prey," Prass's breezy and soulful vocals simmer over a loping backbeat and brassy narration, courtesy of Spacebomb Records' house band, recalling a certain '70s-era Minnie Riperton vibe or even '90s siren Janet Jackson. Yet there's a catch to those pretty sounds; Prass's thoughtful lyrics veer to the slyly subversive.
It's a safe bet that the only SXSW artist whose permanent home address is a treehouse—yes, a treehouse—will be Garrett Borns, a synth-pop songwriter who records as BØRNS. The Michigan-raised Borns, who released his debut EP Candy last fall, lives outside of Los Angeles in what he's described as an "abode among the trees," overlooking a canyon. His songs, like his languid and sweeping single "10,000 Emerald Pools," sound as majestic as the vista he overlooks.