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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.

 




Catherine Moan sets off a "Chain Reaction"



Months previous to the release of her debut full-length Chain Reaction (Born Losers Records), the first time I heard Catherine Moan’s music was with the song “Drop It!” whose refrain goes: “sway in time, it’s so sweet / drop down low and feel the heat / keep it down low / drop it, drop it feel the heat / drop it feel the heat, drop it feel the heat / drop it, drop it, drop it, drop it / drop it feel the heat” and I was immediately struck by how Ms. Moan had taken the sentiment behind Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (due credit to Lil’ Wayne) and removed both the simile and the spare, ultra-vivid production work—replacing it instead with a neon smear of pulsing analog synths and 80s-esque drum programming (“new retro wave” the kids call it) with the requested acts of “drop[ping] it” and “feel[ing] the heat” (not to mention “keep[ing] this fire burning / ’til the records stop turning”) framed as invitations rather than commands, supported by a bopping electro-lullaby vibe with the song’s only hint of conflict coming in the bridge: “now that we can finally breathe / c’mon and drop that ass / and dance with me.

It was the perfect summer jam and needless to say I was hooked, especially after witnessing the music video which simulates the feel of an ‘80s video dating profile. But then something funny happened. The more I listened, the more I detected a ghostly undertow to the song. Maybe it was the icy pinprick synths in the chorus. Or the airy dissociated-sounding vocals, like being seduced by someone when under ether (hello, Andrea True Connection!) or how the musical arrangement feels like John Carpenter wrote a major-key disco song for one of his soundtracks.

But far from detracting from the song this only deepened my appreciation because, for my money, it’s just this distinctively different kind of tension that makes “Drop It!” and the album it appears on now so oddly alluring—because over seven subsequent tracks Chain Reaction doubles down on the mood-altering mashup of ecstatic release and confining unease and emotional blunting a.k.a. “waning of affect” if you wanna get all postmodern about it (on the latter point, one song on the album revolves around the repeated phrase “I can’t feel a thing” while the chorus of another informs the listener “I want to feel nothing / I want to see nothing”).

And not that you asked but when it comes to cinematic associations evoked by Chain Reaction for me it’s Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner all the way. Because imho all these songs would fit perfectly at a Los Angeles discotheque and lounge circa 2019 as imagined in 1982 (natch!) perfectly capturing the retro-future sound of pop music in a society overtaken by rampant technology, alienation, and environmental degradation (but also, new methods of connection and new avenues of pleasure, so call it a draw!) which leads its citizenry to question what it even means to be “human” anymore (who could imagine such a place!) and where pop music serves both as a crucial mirror-to-society and escapist release (like how Harrison Ford reportedly loved singing “More, More, More” in his downtime). And then seeing Ms. Moan perform her first NYC live show on a rooftop on the first night that Tropical Storm Elsa brought torrential rains to the city (the Our Wicked Lady roof is covered, but still I'm surprised and impressed the show went on) really sealed the deal.

Plus on “Drop It!” in particular I get the feeling Ms. Moan is actually role-playing as a “basic pleasure model” replicant-as-pop-artist à la Daryl Hannah’s Pris character (who shoulda been in a goth band in the movie with her perfect punky raccoon look, or maybe they cut those scenes out) but a basic pleasure model who will gladly crush your windpipe between her thighs when the time’s right—plus you gotta admit “feel the beat / in your heartbeat” is a brilliantly cyborg-y song lyric but hey what do I know—while the other songs on Chain Reaction likewise bring to mind a distinctly “glowing neon signs reflecting off glass surfaces and slicked concrete streets of an urban dis/pleasure district”, with the next track “Wasted” upping the moody-pop stakes with a faded-in intro that could easily be a Vangelis outtake from the Blade Runner soundtrack.

To which you may rightly say: “Theories, schmeries! What does Catherine herself say about the record, her creative process and sources of inspiration?” Well, lucky for you, I asked and she answered, generously filling in some of the details and, no, Blade Runner was never mentioned. Ms. Moan describes her creative process thusly: 

“I write and record off of feelings and whims. Rather than going into a song with a planned idea it usually starts from a melody or lyric I hummed and came up with in the shower or on a walk. And from there it is a playful and chaotic binge of making all kinds of arrangements of sounds and melodies. I'll sit there with my microphone and sing/speak/shout all kinds of quips and lines in different rhythms and styles until something clicks and it all falls into place. And this process goes on until I can't stop dancing around my room until i'm out of breath. It's a style of creativity that I feel is very true to my hyperactive and energetic personality…there's something about spontaneity and randomness that I think can really bring ideas out of thin air and really tap into where I am at the moment.”

And ok none of this sounds very cyborg-like but instead more human than human which hey that’s a good thing and I’m just picturing this process unfolding with a song like “Body Work” as it builds from a reflective electro-ballad (“I get overwhelmed from the start”) to a bedroom-dancing-crescendo during the chorus (“I can’t feel a thing / ‘cause I’m over it all”) which all taps into one overarching theme of the album described by Catherine as “coping with an unnatural amount of alone time with yourself and your body and specifically the places my own mind went from being beside myself too long” which is all pretty damn relatable given the recent past. 

But when it comes to the creative tools she used to make the album I’m on slightly firmer ground given that the songs on Chain Reaction were created using a “tight selection of gear…using a KORG Minilogue, my pink Fender Mustang, a humble Shure SM58, and a handful of VSTs” and judging from a couple demo videos I viewed on the Minilogue it’s especially good at producing the ethereal, shimmering timbres favored by Vangelis and the Yamama CS-80 used on the Blade Runner soundtrack so there ya go. 

Moving from keyboard patches to skin grafts, on “Skin Graft” Ms. Moan elaborates her Cartesian thematics further on a song she describes as being “about [my own] frequent hospital visits and health issues” plus “reacting to a permanent scar I had just acquired on my chin from falling HARD off my skateboard,” but that also comes from “the perspective of elective surgeries people go through with to alter their appearance or ‘fix’ parts of their bodies they don't agree with.” 

“The lyrics ‘scars on my face / stitches cut across / take them away…bind them down’ is a reflection on gender identity and a disassociation and conflict between secondary sex characteristics and androgyny. And more specifically the compulsion to want to change those things to find comfort albeit through drastic, painful, medical procedures like breast reduction [or] full on top surgery [whereas] the chorus ‘I want to feel nothing I want to see nothing’ is very self explanatory…an honest and blunt vocalization of the conflict and the wish to cease and desist any self hatred / body confusion” which raises an interesting if accidental parallel between the song and the movie because they both revolve around being in a state of ontological crisis—a crisis provoked when long-standing, dominant binaries (male/female, human/non-human) are violated and thus challenged which is a brave but risky thing to do—though at least this state of crisis is set to a catchy disco beat which makes for the best kind of crisis.

It’s all enough to make you wanna switch your mind and body onto autopilot (another running theme on the album!) which is addressed head-on in the album’s penultimate track “Lucky Lobotomy” (“Turn myself into the cerebral authorities. Lock me out, toss the key”) which is about how “all the privilege and agency that comes with having a sentient mind can be overwhelming because your thoughts will just go to such unhealthy and painful places that wind up hurting you and god forbid others. But luckily it’s a lovely track so you’re unlikely to suffer any permanent damage. 

In closing I’d say that Catherine Moan’s I-wanna-be-sedated-synth-pop bangers on Chain Reaction are perfect for turning off your mind and floating downstream (despite some heavy, heady ideas as inspiration) or for dancing madly in the middle of the street not giving a damn what anyone thinks because all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. (Jason Lee)





Take a Spin at The DiscOasis with The Belle Sounds

Austin quintet The Belle Sounds capture lightning in a bottle with their latest single, “All About Love.”

Within the first few seconds, they lay down a groove that reels you in, hypnotically enticing you to start tapping your feet and bobbing your head. A disco-esque rhythm dances underneath upbeat synths, a funky guitar riff, and vibrant vocals. Perfectly paired with the music is a dazzling music video that keeps viewers’ entranced for the entire four and half minutes, a towering achievement and a testament to the group's bright vision and brighter future.

Flowing with the beat  are an array of talented roller-skaters wearing scintillating outfits and surrounded by flashing neon lights. The disco-themed production meshes flawlessly with the track's ebullient atmosphere, and the skaters' he constant movement parallels the endless dancing triggered by this track. “All About Love” is one of those rare instances where the music video is as epic as the song itself. 

The Belle Sounds are reminiscent of a variety of acts, including Moon Boots, Tame Impala, and Fleetwood Mac. Yet, despite a wide range of influences, their sound is unmistakably modern and fresh, as they rejuvenate past ideas to concoct a rich, delicious sound they can claim as their own. Much of contemporary pop music is (fairly or unfairly) criticized as one-dimensional, lacking the substance and depth needed to create something timeless. However, The Belle Sounds aren't afraid push the boundaries of what pop music can be.

Though one could be forgiven for believing the group, led by husband-and-wife power duo Noëlle Hampton and André Moran, hit their stride years ago, they are continuing to manufacture tunes that are groundbreaking and continue to set trends, rather than follow them. With releases of this caliber, The Belle Sounds—always ahead of the curve—continue raising the bar for not just Austin's pop music, but pop music entirely. Check out their new EP below, and keep an eye out for shows soon.

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Xeno & Oaklander: Touching from a distance on "Afar"

“Afar” is the third advance single off from Xeno & Oaklander’s upcoming seventh album called Vi/deo which is slated to be released on 10/22/21 and if you’ve got all the math figured out on that then you can move ahead to the music video below and attempt to keep tally of how many identical-twin Liz Wendelbo’s appear in quick succession (meanwhile bandmate Sean McBride is inexplicably absent, unless perhaps he’s been assimilated into the collective by the Borg) or who knows maybe it’s just my brain glitching again. 

And once you’ve mastered the math then it’s time to brush up on your French proficiency skills because that’s the language the lyrics are in tho’ lucky for us the duo have shared a full translation free of charge on their Instagram page. Plus there’s some cognates in there which should help in cases like where “encens insencé” is translated to “senseless incense” which sounds quite lovely and poetic in either language. And did I mention Ms. Wendelbo does a convincing Vanessa-Paradis-meets-Jane-Birkin impersonation both sonically and kinesthetically (how do French people sound both bored and aroused at the same time? this must to be studied…) which must come naturally to a person of French-Norwegian extraction such as herself. 

What’s more “Afar” provides further evidence there’s just something about electronic music with sensual French vocals (especially on the more dark ’n’ trancey side of things like Coldwave, Minimal Wave, and EBM-Wave (Electronic Body Music)) that works in a big way when it’s done right—which may have something to do with the language itself having such a natural sense of flow and élégance—and it’s done right by X&O on this track with a musical backing that likewise captures the so-cold-it’s-sizzling-hot Gallic vibe that very few English-language artists pull off convincingly with Boy Harsher being one exception that comes to mind.

“But nevermind all that,” you may say, “what was the inspiration behind the song and the upcoming album?” Well I don’t know how or why you’d expect me to know but fortunately for all involved Xeno & Oaklander have revealed the answer on their Bandcamp page: “Inspired by ideas of synesthesia, scent, star worship, and obsolescent technologies…Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride began conceiving the blueprint of Vi/deo while sequestered at their Southern Connecticut home studio during the pandemic. The context of isolation, streaming, and remote dreaming seeped into their chemistry, manifesting as both homage to and meditation on a certain cinematic strain of technicolor fantasy: the screen as stage, distance disguised as intimacy, where tragedy and glamour crossfade into one,” and I gotta hand it to these two because this artfully constructed statement-of-purpose makes me think maybe they should be the ones writing this blog.

“But wait,” you may say, “this is an electronic group so don’t they stare at screens all day long whether there’s a pandemic going on or not.” To which an omniscient voice from the sky may reply: “Au contraire, mon pear, because X&O are all about using self-contained vintage analog sound modules that have lots of buttons and knobs and spaghetti-like piles of patch cables threading in and out of assorted orifices in their various electronic doo-dads (sorry for all the technical language!) all of which is designed to be played live—for proof check out their set above from Vox Sinistra’s weekly Strict Tempo broadcast on Twitch which opens with an electrifying performance of “Afar”—so instead of starting at screens they're constantly in motion with all kinds of button-pushing, knob-twisting, and cable-switching much like an old-school telephone switchboard operator which means there’s a real sense of physicality to their live sets, plus a palpable sense of liveness on their recordings" and boy is that omniscient voice long-winded!

Speaking of recordings, namely the upcoming release of Vi/deo, you’d be smart to go ahead and pre-order that puppy because special-edition colored vinyl goes fast even when it’s a recording of Sherpa sheep herders (cool stuff, actually) and don’t be a tightwad either because for an extra couple dollars you can get the record album with a special scented paper insert (read above: “synesthesia and scent”) which I’m guessing should be at least as fragrant as John Water’s Polyester scratch-and-sniff cards with exotic olfactory sensations matching the groovy moody synth-pop reverberations within. (Jason Lee)





VIDEO: ‘Right Out The Window’ | Sunshine Boysclub

photo credit: Daniel Yoon

 

Sunshine Boysclub, the new solo project by Sam Martin (lead singer and songwriter of local indie-pop veterans Youngblood Hawke), has released “Right Out The Window,” the latest single from his self-produced solo debut Hut on The Hill, out independently on all major streaming services.  

The “hut” referred to in the title of the album is an abandoned shack on the side of a hill behind Martin’s suburban L.A. house, which he cleaned out and renovated, making it into a small studio which witnessed the creation of the Sunshine Boysclub debut. Consider it a more temperate West Coast version of Bon Iver’s legendary cabin in the Wisconsin woods. The music’s also much more energetic and uplifting, if the lyrics are less so, according to Martin: “…The one theme that runs through this album is failure, as dark as that may seem. These songs are me working through the past, trying to close that door and move into a new space with new thoughts. I spent years struggling with depression, I stopped making music and was ready to quit. Writing these songs helped me work through those years of struggle and taught me valuable lessons about creativity and happiness, and how connected those two things are for me.”

 

It sounds like Martin connected creativity and happiness almost perfectly. Take the new single “Right Out The Window,” for instance. It’s a thick, syrupy cut that recalls 70s Eurodisco through a 21st Century set of ears. The bass is nimble and insistent, the compressed “four-on-the-floor” drums are locked-in and ooze with vintage squash. and Martin’s vocals recall the falsetto acrobatics of the Bee Gees with a hint of distortion tucked into the mix for some added edge. The little whistling synth touches scattered throughout the track also add a wee bit of late-70s ABBA flavor to the proceedings.

 

Meanwhile, the music video (directed by Kate Hollowell) is a nifty one-shot production that finds Martin lip-syncing the song while coasting down the sunny hills of Mount Washington on a mountain bike, outfitted in retro blue baseball cap and jersey, living out some sort of second childhood. According to the artist, "I wanted to capture the ease and energy of the song and felt like one long, continuous ride would help display that. The giant hill I rode down in this video is the hill I looked up at everyday while writing this album."

 

Hut On The Hill is out now. Gabe Hernandez

 

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