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Alt Rock





Austin City Locals, Weekend One: Bat City’s Best

After months of impatient waiting — tantalized by lineup announcements, tormented by rumors of cancellations and pending permits — Austin City Limits is finally upon us. A slightly less star-studded lineup than usual has drawn more than its fair share of criticism, but here at The Deli Austin (and across the city at large) that is cause for celebration.  
Now more than ever, leading local luminaries and hopeful aspirants alike need support and an opportunity to rebound from a truly devastating 18 months. With ACL 2021, C3 Presents has provided that platform: over the course of two weekends, 25+ local (and quasi-local) acts will be showcasing their considerable talents all over Zilker Park. The Grammy-nominated Black Pumas will surely be the biggest draw, but don’t understand the appeal of Dayglow’s warm, fuzzy pop or MISSIO’s woozy, bass-driven alt-electro-hop either. With hundreds of millions of plays on streaming services rewarded with high-profile afternoon spots, we have no doubts that these local favorites’ adoring audiences will turn out in droves.
 
But we’re more interested in the more under-the-radar the acts for whom this opportunity is the culmination of years of blood, sweat and tears (rather than a remarkable and glorious homecoming), and for whom ACL 2021 could be the springboard to launch into the stratosphere of success with which Austin artists so frequently flirt, but all-too-rarely achieve.
 
We are beyond excited to witness these five local artists (and so many others) seize their moment. Play your part. Get to Zilker early. Buy merch. Give back to the community and the culture that has built our city into this tremendous mecca of music, and see for yourself why we are the Live Music Capital of the World.

Audic Empire — Friday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage
Armed with a decade’s worth of mellow, reggae-tinged jams, Audic Empire will be kicking off the festivities in style on the Tito’s Vodka Stage (Friday at 1:00PM — we know it’s early, but security is also notoriously more lax when it comes to daytime doobies).


Loosen ya limbs and lose yourself in a cloud of ganja smoke as these long-time Flamingo Cantina favorites unleash their signature strain of effervescent reggae-rock on an adoring hometown crowd. High-octane tracks like “Come and Toke It” showcase frontman Ronnie Bowen’s smooth hip-hop sensibility (and more than a sprinkling of Bradley Nowell) alongs with sharp solos from guitarist Travis Brown, while the hypnotically up-beat bounce behind “Don’t Wait Up” is sure to seduce audiences across Zilker into the skank pit (not what it sounds like), where frustration and negativity melt away into the liquid sunshine floating out of the speakers.

 
Nané — Friday at 1:00PM, Lady Bird Stage
First set time of the festival and we already have conflicts. Thanks C3 for getting that out of the way early. Nothing gold can stay. Those less tempted by Audic Empire’s fleeting promise of carefree youthfulness will find their own thrills during Nane’s woozy, bluesy set. Simultaneously slick and profoundly vulnerable, vocal virtuoso Daniel Sahad spearheads this thrilling six-piece outfit with psychedelic flair.


 Whether mourning love’s decay on neo-soul slow-burner “Ladybird” or half-moaning punk-infused angst on the pounding, pulsing anthem “Seventeen,” Sahad bleeds personality and exudes emotion with endearing abandon — and without drowning out the equally-incredible contributions of his tight and talented band, whose roster includes keyboardist JaRon Marshall (of Black Pumas fame) and fellow UT graduate and longtime collaborator Ian Green.


 

 
Nané is a young band with exceptional talent. They are adventurous and nostalgic, polished and raw, gritty and smooth — and barely a month into their first ever tour. As the group sheds the sonic skin of some more blatant inspirations (Black Pumas and Bloc Party stand out) to refine and define their sound, Nané is poised and primed for the limelight.


 

 

Primo the Alien — Friday W1 at 1:45PM

The 1980s are back with a vengeance. Between a bewildering revival for parachute pants and mullets and a frustrating rise in conservative politics, that might not be a good thing.

Thankfully, Primo the Alien is on a one-woman mission to ensure that glorious decade (which gave us the Talking Heads, Nintendo game systems, Do the Right Thing, MTV and so much more) is immortalized for the right reasons. Her glittery, gleaming brand of synth-pop reimagines and revitalizes the ‘80s as they could have been, as they should have been: bright, fun, sparkly, sexy.

 

 Merging Kavinsky’s infrared retro-wave aesthetic with CHVRCHES’ relentless, unabashedly pop energy, Primo effortlessly melds genres and generations, breathing new life into sounds that somehow still feel futuristic 30-odd years later. Maybe she really is from another dimension. Maybe, if we’re lucky, she’ll take us back with her.

Sir Woman — Saturday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage

What started as a means for escape and exploration for Wild Child frontwoman Kelsey Wilson quickly built momentum, snowballing out of control and into our hearts, minds and most beloved stages.
Leaving her band’s folksy limitations and lonely lamentations behind (at least temporarily), Wilson turned her talents toward funk and r&b, where she finds herself empowered to express herself in new and uplifting ways under a new moniker.

  

 The response has been deafening: with only a few singles under her belt, Wilson’s new project Sir Woman won Best New Act at the 2020 Austin Music Awards. New single “Blame It On The Water” is a particular standout, the joyful, jazzy break-up song from a woman ready for a new beginning.  Her set promises to be a joyful celebration of life, love and liberation.


 

Deezie Brown — Sunday at 12:15PM, Miller Lite Stage 

Backed by a Bastrop-rooted family with a profound generational love for Southern hip-hop (and connections to Houston hero/Smithville native DJ Screw), Deezie Brown has quickly and not-so-quietly hurdled past his competition to the forefront of the vibrant (and largely underestimated) Austin hip-hop community.
Over the course of three years and three albums, Deezie has drawn inspiration from and contributed to (in equal parts) the mythology of Southern hip-hop with a series of concept albums, all of which fit into a larger universe (his “Fifth Wheel Fairytale”) and message surrounding the possibility of imagination, and the imagination of possibility.

 
Though individual tracks like “Drive” or the Chris Bosh-featuring “Imitate” are immediate earworms, Deezie’s most cohesive project is recent collaboration with charismatic R&B smooth-talker Jake Lloyd, The Geto Gala EP, which spurns egotistic posturing and one-upmanship to invite audiences everywhere to a blue-collar celebration of a bright past and a brighter future.

 
Poetic, principled and profound, Deezie Brown’s music is a testament to the vitality—living, breathing, evolving—of the South’s legacy, a reminder that the region does indeed still have “Sumn’ To Say” and his performance will be as much a coronation as celebration.

 




VIDEO: ‘f*ckthat’ | IAN SWEET

photo credit: Ariel Fish

 

 

IAN SWEET is the quirky name of Los Angeles-based artist Jillian Medford’s musical project, and she’s just dropped new synthpop-tinged single “f*ckthat” via Polyvinyl, along with a music video to support it. 

 

The track (produced by Canadian duo deadmen) begins with delicate plinking piano and underwater wordless swoons, before Medford’s lead vocal—sometimes weightlessly breathy, sometimes pleasingly piercing and assertive—enters alongside taut drums, bass, and spacey synths. Medford’s lyrics focus on the exasperation the narrator feels for a relationship that feels one-sided, lacking the reciprocation of affection and emotional investment that the narrator themself has put in. 

 

“We’ve been on the phone all night long / I’m singin’ you the words to your favorite song / You wouldn’t do the same for me / If I called you up at 3 / You’d probably see my number and just let it ring”

 

The song’s mildly profane title arrives right at the explosion of the chorus, fittingly evoking the narrator’s frustration and venting in the way that only a person who has a sense of self-worth can. Why put up with a love that doesn’t love you back, or bother to follow through on the little things that, in the end, mean so much between two people? It’s a deep topic for such a seemingly effortless pop confection, but it’s pulled off with finesse, and shows that IAN SWEET is a name to remember. 

 

The IAN SWEET-directed video, meanwhile, finds the artist in a semi-psychedelic call center, complete with boring powder-blue landline phone, shocking pink hair, and a computer monitor that goes wacky with the kind of spiral video feedback that 80s kids remember from pointing their parents’ camcorder at a TV screen. Kudos has to be given for making the most of the little gear and location the crew had. The video never feels repetitive, as the rapid but not distracting editing keeps things visually interesting, and Medford’s indie style and charisma keeps things compelling. 

 

IAN SWEET takes to the road in the spring on next year in support of her new album, Show Me How You Disappear, with tickets going on sale Friday Oct. 10th. Gabe Hernandez





VIDEO: ‘Anvil’ | Lilly

photo credit: Athena Merry

 

Liily are four Los Angeles musicians—Dylan Nash, Sam De La Torre, Charlie Anastasis & Maxx Morando—who, up until now, were mostly known for their manic and cacophonous live shows. Those performances, alongside a couple of early singles packaged together into an EP entitled I Can Fool Anybody In This Town, drove the band to some surprising early successes. Now, Lilly have returned from the sonic depths with a new track, “Anvil,” taken from their eagerly-awaited debut long-player TV or Not TV and an accompanying music video. And it must be said that the shoegazey vibe they’re sending out with this latest work is both hard-hitting and compelling. 

 

The track begins with sedate drums and slightly overdriven but gently-strummed electrics guitars, woozy with vibrato, with bass and vocals gradually entering (“I’ve made my death bed a lifetime too short / I like my hands on the steering wheel, already on course”). When the band unleashes the full shoegaze onslaught of massively distorted guitars, searing drums and ride cymbals, and mountainous bass, it’s a real punch to the face, even if you’re only listening through earbuds. The minimal chord changes during the chorus are tasteful and an impressive example of the “less is more” school of songwriting. 

 

The video for “Anvil” (directed by De La Torre), meanwhile, chooses to contrast the sonic heft of the track with an odd choice of imagery: various snails are filmed interacting with each other in a doll house that seamlessly melds into a sort of wooded wonderland, complete with color-changing lights, offering an incongruous picture of the shelled gastropods interacting with common domestic amenities, like chairs, sofas, and desks. it’s a surreal, vivid collection of scenes that gain no small amount of added emotional weight form the muscle of the music. 

 

Lilly has just begun a month-long tour that will end with them playing The Troubadour on Friday October 29th. Gabe Hernandez

 

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Nihiloceros forecasts end of world, release custom hot sauce and guitar pedals

You may recall a review posted in this space a few weeks ago about Nihiloceros’ third and final single “Dirty Homes” from their upcoming “concept EP” Self Destroy (Totally Real Records) or hey let’s be generous and call it a full-blown concept album because six songs is pretty much in-between an EP and an album and anyway it’s all revolves around an end-of-the-world scenario and that fact alone makes it monumental enough to deserve full album status, even if, as singer/lyricist/guitaristMike Borchardt describes it, it was never planned to be an actual concept album, but the through-line took shape organically as the album was worked over and re-worked again during lockdown which was very condusive to brainstorming dystopic concept album scenarios I imagine. 

Well, anyway, I hope you didn’t forget about Nihiloceros in the meantime (or Dre! never forget about Dre!) because the record just came out this weekend and obviously you need to clear 20 minutes from your schedule asap to give it a close listen. And hey just be thankful this is no Tales From Topographic Oceans or 2112 (RIP Neil Peart, yes we forgive you for the whole Ayn Rand thing and have the utmost respect for any sticks-man who owns a drum set with 23 roto-toms and then actually uses them all) because who has two spare hours to spare sitting inside on a nice weekend trying to figure out why the heck a cabal of malevolent Priests hanging out in the Temples of Syrinxs would choose to outlaw creativity and individuality or how they would enforce such drastic measures. 

And Nihiloceros realize this too because they’ve distilled the most powerful bits of those albums into a concentrated paste of rocking-your-face-off, and what’s more they don’t go all pretentious about it with a fold-out gatefold design that if you stare into it long enough the whole album suddenly “makes sense." Because instead the whole idea, according to Mr. Borchardt, is to “cut the legs out from under any grandiosity” by placing the listener into the brainpan of an average schlub facing down the apocalypse and over the course of six songs working through the five stages of grief (binge-watching The Wire, stress-eating, suddenly conrtrating hives and dropsy, more stress-eating, and just being generally unpleasant) so put away that bushel of ‘shrooms because you won’t need ‘em sorry to say.

Btw speaking of weekends and monumental things, Nihiloceros will host an album release party tonight (Sat. 9/18) at a mysterious location known as EWEL (probably an acronym for East Williamsburg Exploding Lo-Fi Inevitable but don’t quote me on that) with both Desert Sharks and Kissed By An Animal on the bill as well so hell yeah that’s gonna be an epic time.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL!! Because if you really wanna “self destroy” you’re advised to buy one of the album bundles that’ll soon be available (in the next week or two) because one of the bundles comes with an exclusive limited edition “Halfway Human” hot sauce mixed up especially for you in Mike’s bathtub which (the name says it all) which includes ingredients such as habanero peppers, grapefruit juice, Allspice™, chile de árbol (also known as bird’s beak chili and rat’s tail chile, yum!) and some secret ingredients just so you don’t try to sell the recipe to Taco Bell or somebody. A couple bottles will reportedly be available at the show tonight so...

And if the sauce is too strong for your weak-ass taste buds to handle (lay off the tofu why don't'cha!) you can always use the stuff to strip the paint off your father’s ’67 Ford Fairlane because it could use a new coat anyway and boy won’t he be surprised. Anyway it’s a highly appropriate name for a hot sauce because just listen to how the song it’s named for starts with a single anticipatory note then with a subtle little melodic bit sneaking in before exploding into a skull-stomping riff about 15 second and that’s what it’ll feel like when the heat hits about 15 seconds after you swallow the stuff.

Or, if you’re one of these guitar playing people, you can get the Self Destroy album bundled with a guitar pedal or three custom-designed by the band's bassist/backup singer Alex Hoffman who in his down-time works as a structural engineer in the “power industry” and I’m not sure how you get better credentials for being in a power trio than that. Each pedal is named after a song on the album (and used on that song natch) so if you had a notion to form a Nihiloceros tribute band well it's your lucky day because now you won’t need to mess around with about 100 pedals trying to get that perfect Nihiloceros tone nailing every subtle timbral variation on every song.

I had a little phone convo with Alex the other day and he walked me through the creative process of pedal-making which entails getting your hands on some blank circuit boards and wiring and other components, not to mention the enclosure topped off with primer, spray paint, clear coat enamel, and (wait for it) glitter so you can make the thing look cool enough to take on stage with you. And so yeah, while you were spending days trying to bake your own bread during the lockdown, then inevitably giving up and drinking a quart of gin instead, Alex was busy teaching himself the fine art of pedal-construction and designing three of t hem on his own which frankly makes up all look pretty shabby in comparison so thanks a log Alex (he insists, however, that anyone can pull off making pedals from scratch with the help of online tutorials and some pre-printed circuit boards with the help of small businesses like Small Bear Electronics catering to the budding stompbox enthusiast).  

The first one of these pedal is called “Dirty Homes” named after the first song on the album and it’s sort of a clone of the classic Small Clone pedal but with with an MN3007 chip with "a depth knob instead of a switch and an added vibrato/chorus toggle" because we all like nice things don't we. To hear what this pedal sounds like just check out the intro of “Dirty Homes” and focus on the underwater-sounding tremolo effect (BTW you know you’re dealing with a serious pedal-head band when you can’t tell at many points if you’re hearing a standard electric guitar or a bass guitar at any given time) which is a distinctive timbre heard on chart-topping songs by chart-topping bands of today/yesteryear like The Police, Crowded House, and Nirvana (see the video above for evidence).  

The other two custom pedals are heard on the following couple of songs: “iamananimal” (eponymous pedal) and “Mammal Science Fiction" (the Velvet Elvis) which is along the lines of an “Acapulco Gold [pedal] modded with an added gain control” and a “Nihiloceros version of a big muff with a mids switch and a diode bypass switch” respectively as described by Alex himself. And hey why not pour some “Halfway Human” sauce (next song on the album!) on those diodes because no telling what kinda crazy sonics you’d get from that. 

But really nevermind all the hawt sauces and hot pedalboard action because the real secret ingredient on this record is the two musical collaborators who appear on four of the six tracks (two a piece!) that being Shadow Monster’s Gillian Visco and Desert Shark’s Stephanie Gunther—who also receive one songwriting credit a piece, because as Mike describes it, their contributions (in addition to the sweet harmonizing and hollerin’ they bring to the table) were so crucial that they changed the very fabric of the songs as they were still being completed—and then you also got drummer extraordinaire Carlo Minchillo (The Planes, Murder Tag, Brooklyn Drum Collective) contributing theremin on one track.

And so with the release of Self Destroy we got a true All-Stars record on our hands despite all of these talented individuals being beat out by underdog Fiona Apple for “Best Rock Performance” at this year’s Grammy Awards, but I think you know where the best rock performance will be happening tonight. (Jason Lee)

photo by @brooklynelitist

 





The Silk War explores dialectical materialism on debut LP

You gotta give it up for a band that lives up to their name right out of the gate (no knock on Brian Wilson but he was more into backyard sandboxes than actual beaches and sadly the one “real Beach Boy” in the group drowned—choose those band names wisely kids) and so you gotta give it up for The Silk War, a band that even on their debut album (Come Evening) have already got the whole “dialectical opposites” thing down cold.

Because “silk” and “war” are two things you don’t expect to go together (which is basically true of "war" and anything nice like silk or doilies or Swiss watches) but here is a musical collective that dives fully into their moniker with abandon and not in the obvious sense of depicting “bedroom conflicts” aka "silk wars" to which the real Silk War would say hold my martini (quoting directly from their frontperson: “Heartbreaks don’t really do it for me. Not like a lot of people who think that, you know, I need that and now I’m a poet. If someone doesn’t wanna fuck me anymore, it’s not bad.”) because over the course of 11 songs they delve again and again into the Freudian construct of Eros and Thanatos and some of the forms these two core conflicting-yet-codependent drives can take and translate them into toe-tapping orch pop and dark indie rock songs that combine dread and desire in equal measure.

And maybe right about now you’re thinking “here we go with the overreach” but rest assured everything written here is based on direct empirical evidence because not long ago I met up with Silk War’s singer/lyricist/acoustic guitarist and co-songwriter Alexandra Blair (the other co-songwriter in question is guitarist/producer James “Jimmy” Mullen) for a chat and she verified the broad contours of my theory and described how her songwriting is galvanized by a “circadian rhythm” of revelry and despair—with the sense of transcendence of a proper S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night on the town soon followed by S-U-N-D-A-Y Morning Coming Down doldrums so there’s your Eros and Thanatos interplay right there no matter the actual days of the week, not to mention the closely related notion of creative destruction or destructive creativity whichever you prefer.

And here in our conversation Ms. Blair references the Orson Welles “cuckoo clock” speech from the Third Man which is highly apropos—not to mention her mentions of Bukowski, Nabokov and Sartre at other points and her love of literature in general—so be forewarned there’s a reading list involved if you wanna fully get onto the Silk War Wavelength.

[[Before going any further I should mention any quote here from Alexandra that is sans quotation marks is paraphrased on my part because I used a voice memo app to record our talk and of course it picked up all kinds of ambient noise and nearby conversations, and using a transcription app didn’t help much either because it had me replying to the statement above with “Cool madness better. Right. Chickens, crazy” and while I wish I’d said that it seems unlikely because I wasn’t that many beers in yet. Still, I’d like to think Alexandra really did say “The vicious alliterates, but also like the tender Fucking drama” at some point and yes the phone app capitalized “Fucking” for some reason because why not.]]

Come Evening opens with “Little Souls” which sets the stage for the dialectical musical materialism (!) to come, a song that's by turns somber and stirring, Apollonian and Dionysian. Fading in on some dour church organ tones, soon a faraway phoning-it-in voice informs us “our barbaric ritual can begin” (finally!) before a quick reverse-fade suddenly snaps us out of our reverie and we’re thrust into a new musical texture with a driving rhythm section and crisp acoustic guitar work and melodic electric lead, but never losing the downward spiral organ chords with Alexandra declaiming, “There’s a dark wet side of things / crystallized in perfumes / masqueraded with rings” which right away lays out the stakes of shape-shifting "dark wet" primal desires and fears (the perfume here may be crystallized, but soon it’ll be dispersed into the ether again) that make our narrator want to be swept away but at the same time wary of getting a little too swept up in this twilight world where we’re all “forgetting our need to sleep” and “breaking windows for the beauty of it” and there’s your creative destruction right there.

In “Little Souls” we also get our first exposure to another dialectical relationship in a singing style that alternates between half-sung-half-spoken “recitative” at one extreme and more melodic “aria” sections on the other extreme (especially when it comes to the hooks). And yeah I realize recitative/aria are terms from opera, but it’s not a total stretch given that A. is well versed with these terms as a formally trained singer because she majored in Vocal Performance at NYU after moving here from Chicago.

And oh yeah “Little Souls” includes one of my favorite images from the record which doubles as a fashion tip (“I’ll paint my nails black to cover up / all that New York dirt”) which also supports A.’s contention that this is a true New York City record and which also supports my contention of Eros/Thanatos lying at the heart of Come Evening. Because really any truly great city like NYC should be hellbent on killing you (Thanatos) but if it doesn’t kill you it’ll make you fall in love with it (Eros) not despite of it’s murderous intent but (perversely, you pervert!) because of it. Or as A. puts it: “Have you ever biked through Bushwick? You get dirt in your eyes! It’s disgusting. You have to wear sunglasses. You have to be able to withstand it. And at the same time absorb it, and love it. And fucking hate it. By becoming yourself and wearing [inaudible] with whatever you feel on the outside and creating something out of [inaudible]” and well you get the idea despite the omissions. (for those with too much time on their hands: if you wanna read up on the Marxist dialectics of modern urban living and New York City specifically then I'd highly recommend Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air which is still entertaining and enlightening nearly 40 years after its initial publication...)

The next two songs on Come Evening keep riding the dialectical rails with “Barcelona” being about a man who sabotages his present by confusing it with his past (and probably a half dreamt-up past at that) and again the beginning sounds like you’re waking up from a dream before launching into a catchy piano-driven baroque-pop number with a video shot inside a Brooklyn church interspersed with shots of Alexandra walking into the sea all Kate Chopin like (and oh yeah I should have mentioned the music video for “Little Souls” is modeled on Maya Deren's 1944 short film At Land for all you aspiring cineaste avant-garde types). And then the next song “The Blue Hour” (as befits its title) explores the liminal state between night and day, sleep and waking, dreams and reality, where they’re all not so easy to distinguish and you think to yourself, “I’ve been awake for a long time / I’ll sort it out.” 

And then and then (in no particular order) there’s the deceptively upbeat dance-pop of “Slender Slander” which deals with gun violence; and “Lark Mirror” which uses a bird hunter's decoy mechanism as a metaphor for delusion but in string-swelling, spine-tingling form especially when it gets to the line about “not wasting my youth on you”; “New York (You’re My Religion)” has a nice glam-pop swing to it and the title’s pretty self-explanatory, while the stately closing waltz of “Sylvia” is less self-explantory but now you know it’s about Sylvia Plath; “Agoria Phobia” opens with a slinky, stop-start groove that most bands would not hesitate to build an entire song around. But Silk War are good about not repeating themselves, or at least only repeating themselves with variation, and this song completely changes after about a minute never to return to the intro part again.

And then and then “Second Age” opens up with a Joy Division beat and some doomy chords but ends almost six minutes later sounding like the song is soaring to the heaven even though the lyrics stay sick throughout; “Velvet” uses the veil as a metaphor for imperfections both hidden and exposed (those dialectics again!) while the penultimate “My Familiar” represents the demonic doppelgänger of its title with an epic eight-minute arrangement that starts with a witchy mystical sounding opening section and then makes it way through a whole serious of ebbs and flows before arriving at some Pink Floyd-worthy ethereal keyboard arpeggiating and psychedelic guitar wailing before ebbing and cresting one last time with a triumphant declaration of autonomy. 

And did I mention this song comes off impressively live? Because when the Silk War appear in person they really amps up the Dionysian side of things with Alexandra stalking the stage (and the audience!) like a test-tube fusion of Siouxsie Sioux and Stevie Nicks and Wendy O. Williams's DNA but with the band holding down the Apollonian side of things with ornate musical arrangements precisely rendered as seen in the video above I took of them at the recent Come Evening album release party. And no the sound quality’s not perfect because this was recorded on a phone but it turned out a hell of a lot better than the interview and should give you enough incentive to see them live which like a waking dream you can never quite recapture afterward but you know it was damn near perfect when it happened. —Jason Lee

photo by John Burgundy, Berlin Under A, 08.26.21

 

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