South By Southwest

SxSW Review: Sunflower Bean, Houndmouth , March 17, Radio Day Stage

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As part of a showcase put on by 88.5FM from So-Cal, we report from the dreaded Ballroom A, where the Day Stage has been (IMHO mistakenly) placed at the back of Austin Convention Center, three blocks from where, as the years catch up with us, we would have liked it to be to minimize our Strava trails.

Sunflower Bean

20220317 Sunflower Bean
NYC 3-piece Sunflower Bean thrives on indie rock influences. But the lineage seemed all over the place as they broadened their scope of influences on their last album Twentytwo In Blue. As it repeats on their new album Headful of Sugar, which will be released May 2022, perhaps this broad range is decidedly a style and not a statistical sampling error. For example, the single “Who Put You Up To This?” seems like it came straight from the end credit of an ’80s movie, while “Baby Don’t Cry” could have issued from the garage of those grunge kids down the street in the ’00s. Regardless, their live performance, which I think included a few songs from the previous album, was solid and engaging.


20220317 Houndmouth

Indiana’s Houndmouth first played SxSW in 2012 and never looked back. They are also decidedly un-vague in their musical leanings of indie blues. They played two thirds of their recent album Good For You and in person, they sounded warmer and fuller than their recordings.

Singer-guitarist Matt Myers’ effortless songwriting is simply a joy to listen to. “Miracle Mile” had me strung-along and I almost veered into “Leaving on A Jetplane”. It makes you want to drop everything at hand, grab a lawn chair, crack open a beer, and drift hazily into the firefly-filled night… at least until you wake up covered in bonfire soot and mosquito bites.

SXSW Review: Hamish Hawk, March 17, Swan Dive Patio

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20220319 Hamish Hawk
It’s somewhat fitting that one month after I ordered The Divine Comedy’s Greatest Hits record on vinyl, I would encounter Hamish Hawk at SXSW.

Strictly speaking, the Scottish singer’s deep voice and observational lyrics heavily reminded me of Neil Hannon’s group and considering I just bought a compilation record covering all of that group’s hits over the past 30 years, that’s not a band thing. In today’s world, where most of the relatively new bands from the UK all sound like they just discovered Idles, it’s fresh to see someone like Hamish Hawk stand out from the crowd with his rich, witty lyrics and storytelling against a more pop-based backdrop.

Hamish’s live shows are also entertaining, as he for whatever reason loves to accentuates his lyrics with very interesting facial reactions as well as entertaining banter between tracks.

Worth checking out.

SxSW Review: Sarah Kinsley, Fly Anakin, Kimbra , March 16, Central Presbyterian Church

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Wednesday night at the Central Presbyterian Church saw a string of showcases presented by the podcast Song Exploder and curated by host Hrishikesh Hirway. As a marker of my ignorance I will admit that, while Song Exploder has appeared on the radar many times, BBC World News always triumphs over most podcasts on my frequencies. So, its focal exploration of the singular motivation behind just one song remains a refreshing format to me.

Sarah Kinsley

20220316 Sarah Kinsley
New Yorker Sarah Kinsley got the attention of Song Exploder with “The King”, which is indeed a sweetly catchy pop tune. Besides the hit song, “I’m Not A Mountain” is similarly interesting. Kinsley’s songs become less orchestral and complex when the layers are simplified to a 4-piece band, losing some of the original theatrical weight that made them appealing in the first place. For this reason, it might be the rare instance where live isn’t better.

Fly Anakin

20220316 Fly Anakin
Richmond, Virginia’s Fly Anakin stepped up with his brother playing DJ to his observational rapping. I don’t have much to comment on here … but not because I wouldn’t do my homework. I gather that much of the material was from his debut album Frank that just dropped a few days ago. But from where I was sitting in the church, I couldn’t make out much of what was said in the breathless attacks. I grant that his is a skill few are equipped with. But whenever the accompanying beats clash with the lyrics for clarity, comprehension becomes a battle that I (willingly) lose every time.


20220316 Kimbra

In contrast, there wasn’t much content to understand from Kimbra in the first place. Spawned from the same secluded avian paradise as other equally hollow pop stars, Kimbra’s Song Exploder hit was “Top of the World” from her last album, 2018’s Primal Heart. While I may have found the songs to be somewhat lacking, Kimbra did put on an impressive performance. Here, we are reminded of the tried-and-tested philosophy in which performance and manipulation of expectations, not substance, is the key to adulation. And no wonder she has since moved on to an acting and producing career. At the church, she made use of voice loops to back her eclectic singing and gesturing. I couldn’t tell you whether she played a Theremin or conducted a Buddhist exorcism – but it was certainly a mesmerizing distraction from the pedestrian lyrics.

SxSW Review: Pillow Queens, March 15, Cedar Street Courtyard

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20220316 Pillow Queens

It’s an undertatement that Cedar Street Courtyard is the lifeblood that has anchored PM at SxSW for many years. With the unfortunate shuttering of Latitude 30 early in the pandemic, the long-running British Music Embassy had to find a new home and it’s no surprise that they picked Cedar. I think it’s simple musical, if not cosmic, alignment. For me, it is also among the few spaces from which I dare to venture into an (almost) endemic world.

Following a high-energy set from London’s Los Bitchos is no easy task. However, in this red-eye showcase, Dublin’s Pillow Queens successfully infiltrated the ranks of Redcoats and frankly, stole the show.

They pulled few strings or tricks, and gave a resonant performance through their compelling songwriting and well-tempered play. The setlist consisted of memorable numbers like “Holy Show”, “HowDoILook”, and “Liffey” from 2020’s In Waiting, and “Be By Your Side” and “No Good Woman” from their new album.

In person, their style closely resembles that of the studio. Belting out direct lyrics about their turbulent upbringing and their clashes with contemporary social change, the singing duty was shared by co-vocalists Corcoran and Connolly. With a sparse yet enthusiastic crowd, Pillow Queens were the perfect re-initiation I needed, and the brilliant discovery that only SxSW can muster.

Pillow Queens’ new album Leave the Light On will be released on April 1st 2022.