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Joanna Newsom Impresses at Bates Recital Hall

 

With her most recent album, Divers (2015), almost five years old at this point, it was unclear what exactly Joanna Newsom would be performing the first night of her 2020 Austin concerts. Her last Austin performance in 2016 was at the Moody Theater in full promotion of that record. With a full backing band and almost half the set coming from Divers, this show was much different: a solo tour, hilariously titled The Strings/Keys Incident. Tucked into UT’s Bates Recital Hall, the audience took their seats in the intimate space. A three story organ loomed over the stage with nothing but a harp, a piano, and a multi-colored tapestry to set the scene. This venue is usually meant for student performers, but a few seconds into her first song it was clear a true master of her craft had taken the stage. 


Opening with “Bridges and Balloons” off of her 2004 debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, her labyrinthine string plucking seemed to transport the audience away to a safer, simpler place. We were teary-eyed before the song was even finished. She continued to parade through her albums flowing to “Emily” off Ys, then moving to the piano for “The Things I Say” from Divers and Have One On Me’s “In California.” Just as the first four songs had seamlessly drifted through her entire discography, the whole set was consistently balanced between all of her releases. Even without any percussion, her syncopated playing felt oftentimes quite groovy allowing some listeners to bob their heads to the beat, while others a-rhythmically swayed in a trance. Although each song in the almost two hour performance was truly moving, a personal highlight was “Monkey & Bear.” 


One would think someone with such ethereal music would be intangibly eccentric, like Björk or Prince, but she seemed so pleasant and normal. Walking onto stage drinking tea, waving to a friend in the crowd, and genuinely funny and polite crowd banter grounded her performance in a way that transcended labels such as “freak folk” or “baroque pop.” Even though it’s so early in the year, I can not imagine a more touching or memorable musical experience topping this one.  

 

- Hayden Steckel

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Weaver is the Answer to Your Psychedelia Dreams

 Weaver opened for a toasty crowd at Spider House Ballroom on Saturday night. Formerly a two piece from Israel, the band recently added a bass player from the Bronx: Liraz on guitar, Eliav on drums, and Febian on bass. They may be injecting new blood to the Austin music scene, but their style of psychedelic rock feels right at home here. 

Red lights reflecting off the red velvet curtains behind them, the whole room glows red with their passionate energy on stage. The hypnotic rhythm of the drums and deep throb of the bass replaces the cadence of your heart beat, while the shredding guitar spirals you into your inner mind. The loops and dips of one song felt like a Tom and Jerry chase scene, running your mind in circles. There’s no lyrics or song titles, only raw sound and chemistry. There’s not even a set list. Listen, close your eyes, and forget what decade you’re in. A couple of songs from their newest EP are available on Bandcamp, Amaranth and Alice

Sans lyrics and sans titles, the last songs of the set were improvised raw garage rock magic. The instrumental 3 piece tip toes along grunge and punk, but stays true to psychedelia. The bassist and guitarist angle themselves toward the drums allowing the sounds to reverberate and dance off each other. A delicious, fuzzy synergism fills souls and overwhelms the room. There is an attractive mysteriousness surrounding this band that makes you want to hear more.  

Weaver is playing Free Week - catch them at The Sahara Lounge on January 2nd. Check out their instagram for other future shows; their bio aptly promises a “fuzz-laced hit for your inner mind.”  

Mel Green

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Tasi Floats Chill Vibes Over Lo-Fi Beats

 Tåsi's music is described as “coral reef meets poetry,” and as abstract as that sounds it’s also the perfect descriptor for Marlon Hedricks’ romantic, lo-fi rap. Tåsi urges himself and his audience to reflect, a theme that plays out both lyrically and sonically. His production is smooth but not entirely unfractured, with beats and drops that create a mirroring effect within each song. It’s a very chill, relaxing house of mirrors.

 Tåsi does a lot of collaborations, blending his sound well with the sound of his fellow musicians. His most recent release was East 10th St, a 5 song LP he produced with Lungfulls, Falling Awake Sound Therapy and Malekinho. Tåsi & BLakchyl wrote and recorded the entire album at 1609 East 10th, a street that has significant meaning for both artists. As they say in the description, ”this is our love letter:” The LP starts out strong and ends even stronger.  The speech sampling done on “DDD” is thoughtful and powerful, but it doesn’t distract the audience from the song at all. It’s a great example of Tåsi’s strengths as both a solo artist and a collaborator.

-Avril Carrillo

 

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SOBBRS’ Fortunato sets a higher bar for Austin pop

 


   
Prolific singer/songwriter Jesus Acosta, aka SOBBRS, released his first full length LP Fortunato on October 7th. Compounding catchy hooks, detailed grooves, and savory synths the record crafts an original pop sound with one foot planted in 80’s throwback and the other stepping forward into the world of modern production. Rewarding repeated listens, Fortunato uses pop music tropes in a very controlled fashion, the key change for the last chorus of “Monsoon” for instance, while having the foresight to subvert those same tropes later. Consistent quality is prevalent but “Cameo”, “Motherlode”, and “Bones” are stand-outs. 

 

    Finding balance is Fortunato’s biggest accomplishment. The instrumentals forge an energy that finds balance in equal parts kinetic spectacle and melancholic meditation, leaving the listener the choice to either dance or cry. Lyrically drawing from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, the reflective words strike equilibrium between adverse themes of isolation and belonging. Even Acosta’s vocal delivery is balanced between rhythmic certainty and an emotive, quivering vibrato. This overall balance displays the benefits in both active and passive listening. 

 

    Upon the record’s release, SOBBRS packed Mohawk, seamlessly guiding the tracks into a live setting. His backing band consists of Springful’s Jim Hampton on guitar and Flora & Fawna’s Mason Ables, who is also responsible for the record’s intricate production, on keys and beats. Although playing the same songs, the group infused new life into them through the performance, teetering the scale towards dance and elation. With a St. Vincent cover, the premiere of a music video for “Crossfire”, and a celebratory onstage cake, it was a wonderful night.

 

-Hayden Steckel

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Black Fret Ball Shines in its 6th Year

 

In its sixth year, Black Fret continues to hit high watermarks as an organization; the deluge of financial grants to Austin artists continues while an expansion into Seattle is also underway. Black Fret founders, Matt Ott and Colin Kendrick, are now seeing their nonprofit surpass over $1.5 million in payments to artists. The Black Fret Ball, the nonprofit gala where grants are awarded, took place this Saturday at ACL Live and, as usual, it was a vibrant display of Austin’s diverse social scene.

 

The gallimaufry of musician mentors, donors and grant recipients at the Black Fret Ball is almost as entertaining as the show itself. Austin musicians are interwoven between local philanthropists and industry titans, creating a unique and rare scene in Austin.  The show itself featured brief but ebullient performances from Go Fever, Cilantro Boombox, Ley Line, The Watters and a knee-buckling performance from Tje Austin.  

 

In an act of good faith, The Black Pumas, who were slated to receive a $20k grant, deferred their grant money in order to boost all $5k recipients to receive $7k instead.  The local funk/soul band has been on a tear playing sold-out shows and just recently was nominated for a Grammmy for ‘Best New Artist’. The beauty of Black Fret is that any of the newcomer recipients can easily be on the same trajectory to national recognition as the Pumas; examples like Shakey Graves, Sweet Spirit and Bright Light Social Hour have paved the way for upstarts to dream big.

 

Some of the grants elicited heart-warming reactions when given, most notably Sydney Wright and The Watters, who were emotive and appreciative upon receiving the grant. With over 15 performing artists, the Black Fret Ball is an exciting and eclectic sampling of all genres of Austin music. With Black Fret’s growth, there seems to be much more on the horizon for giving back to the Austin music scene and beyond.

 

-Lee Ackerley

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