Friday, April 01, 2011

Ten Favorite SXSW Discoveries: Part Two

In part two of my “Ten Favorite SXSW Discoveries” trilogy, I manage to hit three corners of this county: the Pacific North West, the South West (okay, Austin), and the North East. No matter where you may reside, there is something for you within some sort of shouting distance. Or perhaps this more exemplifies the amazing variety that comes to us during SXSW, one of my favorite things about the festival. In any case, please enjoy part two of my series, and as always, I would love to hear about your SXSW as well.

Wild Flag

Photo via KEXP

I spent the last two years of my life residing in Portland, Oregon and was as delighted as all Portlanders when this IFC series Portlandia debuted. This delight was only surpassed when I saw the show’s star, Carrie Brownstein (Excuse 17, Sleater-Kinney), perform with Wild Flag. Along with Brownstein, the band features Janet Weiss (Quasi, Sleater-Kinney, Bright Eyes, Stphen Malkmus and the Jicks), Mary Timony (Autoclave, Helium), and Rebecca Cole (The Minders). Supergroup is certainly an apt term. The all woman quartet exceeds expectations, brining bits of their past projects to create a wild wall of booming post-punk. Despite their snowballing popularity, the band has yet to release a record, though one is expected very soon. As much as I would love to see Brownstein put more “birds on things”, the upcoming 7” is bound to be well worth Portlandia’s end.

Jukebox the Ghost

Photo via Do512

As keyboardist and singer Ben Thornewill warmed up with jazz-inspired piano licks, I knew I was going to love Jukebox the Ghost even before they began their set. A blend of They Might Be Giants, Ben Folds Five, the Maccabees and Sondre Lerche, the upbeat sound was both nostalgic and young. It was as if I grew up with the band, spinning the same records during our calculus study sessions. Smiles abound, they produced an impressive amount of sound for only three people; true heart-throbs indeed. Intrigued, I caught up with Thonewill after the show to ask about his jazz background and he explained to me that he studied jazz piano at George Washington University, which was where he met Tommy Siegel (guitar) who was a journalism major and Jesse Kristin (drums) who studied biology. With brains, beauty and talent abound, the trio has already released five records, with many more expected. As a nearly full-time touring band, Jukebox the Ghost is sure to come through Austin again soon; I hope to see you there.

Stephen's Island Wren

Photo via Dominique Imani Kaplowitz

Just as the beautiful insanity that is SXSW was begining, I caught up with Marshall Escamilla, of the now defunct Unbearables, to discuss his new project Stephen's Island Wren. Departing from his rock band roots, Escamilla’s new project, featuring three members of One Hundred Flowers, is best described as unplugged, narrative, mathy, and hypnotic. “Intimacy”, says Escamilla, is the primary objective. Embedded in the expertly composed music lies the story of Stevens Island, a man and a woman, and the island’s birds. Escamilla hopes to add a visual component as well, “illustration, puppets, or dance”. At the Stem and Leaf Records Unofficial SXSW Showcase, where Stephen's Island Wren performed their second ever show, plans to raise funds to complete the Unbearables album trilogy were announced. Escamilla hopes to complete the trilogy by the end of Summer 2011. In the mean time, he will add coats of polish to Stevens Island Wren and prepare for its media component.

- April Kaplowitz