SXSW 2015 – Running Jewels and fighting feels



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Well hello there!

I haven’t posted any musical musings on this blog in a long, long time. I chalk it up to a full-time job that has become much more involved over the past year, an impending wedding (2 months and counting!), regular contribution to a publication with a much larger audience than I could hope for, and a general focus on my own self-care rather than hobbies. But I realize that my hobbies are a part of my self-care, since they make me feel tied to the person I want to be – passionate and creative and imaginative.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this past week, because 1. I turned 28 on March 16 and 2. I only saw 27 acts during this year’s South by Southwest Music Conference. I realize that to many people, that would seem impressive, and I don’t want to downplay the accomplishment. But I struggled this year, and in a different way than years past where I’d basically just collapse after two days of going really, really hard. This year, I struggled with a depression that took hold halfway through the week, and never fully let go.

Without getting too deep into the inner-workings of my mind (because I’m sure that sounds like fun to about zero people), for clarity I’ll reveal that depression is something I’ve struggled with off and on for years, coupled with a more constant anxiety. About half a year ago, I started to take some medication for this, and it has seemed to help, but because I have to take it with food it is difficult for me to be consistent in taking my pills on the weekends, and especially during SXSW, when I’ll often run out the door after inhaling 3 crackers with peanut butter on them. Perhaps because of this inconsistency, perhaps because of my birthday, perhaps because of a humongous life change staring me in the face — maybe because of a little bit of all of this — I found myself really struggling this week. Music used to be the thing that I’d find solace in, and live music was usually the setting I’d use to forget my troubles for an hour or two. When I first started attending SXSW in 2006, then, it was like a year’s worth of therapy jam-packed into one week. And I didn’t even know about day parties back then!

In the last few years, however, the conference has turned for me. Not completely, mind you — I don’t want to get called out by the SXSWhine Police here. But because I *do* know about day parties now, and because I take my own fashion much more seriously, and because of this damn FOMO revolution, I find that SXSW amps up my anxiety tenfold every year. What if I miss the surprise Prince concert (AGAIN??) or the Kanye + Jay-Z super secret show (AGAIN??) or Ryan Gosling taking one look at me and falling in love and proposing on the spot only to have me say, “Oh, so sorry Ry, I’m engaged!” (AGAI — oh wait this one hasn’t happened at all). What if I don’t look good enough to be used as a “street fashion” person in some trendy magazine? (This has resolutely never happened.) What if it’s raining and I slip on my bike and get hurt or killed? Or what if I just stand next to loud talking douchebags at a show that means a lot to me? (This happens almost always.)

Where I used to be able to transcend these anxieties and just go for it, this year was just a lot more difficult. The rainy weather coupled with the lack of my partner in crime due to his re-broken foot (let’s just not even get into that) sapped me of much of my energy and self-confidence, so that I ended up doing half-days of the conference, and spending the other half in baths or on my couch, trying to distract myself from what I might be missing.

This isn’t in the spirit of what music is for me, and so I want to do my level best to combat it moving forward. I want to accept the new parts of myself that obsess over fashion and try to look #sodope, #sofly, but I want to marry them with the root of myself that can be moved to tears (runny purple mascara be damned!) when the perfect song plays at the perfect moment.

And so, with all of that ado, I want to share with you the best moments of my South By Southwest 2015. Rainy, messy, and crazy though it was, it also gave me some classic unforgettable musical experiences that I’ll be looking back at through rose-colored glasses next year, when I hope to prepare a little earlier and dig a little deeper to get out to more shows. Or not, because sometimes self care is the best thing you can pair with your musical discoveries.

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AWM’s Best Albums of 2013



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I’ve got plans for Austin Writes Music in the coming year. First, you might notice that the “About Me” page has been updated. I’ve finally decided to declare this my own personal music blog, since I’ve only ever had one other contributor since I founded this thing in 2009 (although she is written into history forever as our fabulous site designer. Thank you, Brittany!) You’ll be getting regular posts once more, with recommendations, reviews, and general music-based musings, and I hope you like all of it. For now, let’s look back at what was truly a stellar year for music, and life in general. I give to you, Austin Writes Music’s Top 10 of 2013. 

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Maybe I’m Amazed: MACCA in Austin



I don’t know how to write this review. I had five paragraphs written that I trashed, because they had this impersonal sheen to them that didn’t do justice to the glory of a Paul McCartney live show. I’ve been trying to write some heady-but-relatable review that includes anecdotes without being specifically from my perspective, but that’s the thing about absolutely brilliant music. It helps you transcend your everyday filters and the separation you might feel from your core, and really lets you be yourself, in the moment, experiencing all that is happening around you. And when a musician has been performing for 55 years for stadium crowds, it is a safe bet that their live show will reach that transcendence.

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Life and Death and Sigur Ros



 Photo from www.sigur-ros.co.uk

If you’re a human, which I’ll go ahead and assume you are*, your brain can get kinda funked up with stuff. You can hold strong beliefs that you’re worth something just as you are and then be bombarded with messages from the outside culture that, in fact, no, you need about 100 different products and 6 different diets and even then, you must always strive for perfection and, as Lowe’s has taught us, “never stop improving.” Our standard of “acceptable person” seems to be to basically disappear inside of ourselves like so many black holes while we blind ourselves to the fact that the earth is hurting and we come from it, so we should probably give a shit. Between our high expectations for events and holidays and our own futures, and our crippling self-doubt and anxiety, and some deep-seated guilt thrown in for good measure — it can feel a bit like we’re all just Han Solo trapped in carbonite, but in our own minds. Speaking for myself, I know that every day, I live about 99% of it in a state of distraction. Since mindfulness is hard work and can lead to feeling difficult feelings because, you know, those exist, I just float around outside of myself, barraging myself with criticisms cloaked in the thought that this will be somehow “motivating” when it never, ever is. Turns out, it’s actually self-defeating.

Knowing all of this has freed just a couple of fingers from the carbonite, just enough to hold a tiny pick so I can start escaping my self-imposed prison. The light seems to break through my numbness most of all when I can be in a state of mindfulness, and Sigur Ros takes me to that state every time.

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The Recap: SXSW 2013 – Best Year Ever



The goober-est of goobers. Full amazingness here.

When South by Southwest began in 1987 — coincidentally, the year (and week) I was born — it was started as a music industry convention to allow new and up-and-coming artists to be discovered, and to allow journalists and label reps to network. 26 years later, and it has been co-opted by music fans as a giant discovery festival, by college students as a free-drinks-ahoy spring break location, by brands as a cultural capital trade show (giant Dorito’s vending machine stage, anyone?) and by well-established artists as a place to try out new music and simply cause a commotion. Because of this, expectations continue to skyrocket each year, causing many to feel disappointed by their experience. If you want one festival in a wonderful but, admittedly, comparatively small city to be all things to all people, it’s going to get a bit nuts.

Each year, as the festival approaches, I can feel my stress levels rise, getting caught up in the madness with everyone and fearing that I won’t get into the best shows, the most exciting parties. I RSVP to 300 parties (a conservative estimate) and attend about 7. I scramble to listen to as many new bands as possible, and usually end up prioritizing artists I already know I adore.

This year was different. This year, I decided it was time to get in sync with the festival. I managed to scour almost all new artists coming to Austin, and discovered about three dozen I was excited about. As the festival finally arrived, I took a figurative and literal deep breath, and leaned back to ride the wave.

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Free Week Rock – our HAAM benefit review



Because of how wonderful Austin’s community of musicians, photographers, artists, venues and of course music fans are, our Free Week showcase at Swan Dive co-hosted by CoolinAustin went off swimmingly, despite the nasty weather.

From the first note played, y’all filled up the room to make it cozy-warm, and our wonderful representatives from HAAM allowed this Free Week show to stand for something wonderful and give back to the musicians who are devoting their time and artistry to two weeks of face-melting awesome.

The Collection, our only “foreign” band (from Greensboro, NC) kicked things off gorgeously, with haunting harmonies and raucous folk that made me think of some kind of Decemberists-Frightened Rabbit lovechild.

The Baker Family brought incredible energy, pretty melodies and haunting guitar playing, along with their merch table-baby carriage, and were definitely a crowd favorite, as sing/multi-instrumentalist Liz donned her fox(bear? panda?) mask for added theatricality. Plus, they devoted a song to the Collection called “Sharpening the Saw:” “The drive to the mountains seems so far/Making our way back to North Carolina.”

With a lineup change infusing fresh energy into their sound, Your Friendly Ghost sound better than ever, and they treated us to their hits, some new jams, and a killer Radiohead cover that took some guts and a touch of recklessness — exactly what these guys do best. They floored attendees and acquired new fans for their sound and their fury.

Last but never, ever least, the Couch brought fire to a cold and rainy night, and closed things out with a bang. As always, they were raucous, gritty and awesome.

For our silent auction, we raised $200 that will all be going straight to HAAM, and we couldn’t be more thankful. Special thanks go out to Katherine Squier and Pooneh Ghana for donating their gorgeous photos, and to the Alamo Drafthouse for their generous gift card donation.

AWM Presents: Favorite Albums of 2012



It’s that magical list-y time of year again, and when I began to think about who to put on my “Favorites of 2012″ list, I was honestly a little disheartened. It took me a long time to even think up 10 contenders, let alone contenders I was even familiar with. I knew who would be in my top 5 fairly easily, but beyond that, it seemed like a wasteland. I sat, sadly envious as I watched other respected bloggers come up with huge lists of the top 50 records they’d found this year, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to confidently and comfortably supply something so supple.

I spent much of this year catching up with new favorite music from 2011 — the Drums’ Portamento, M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and old Los Campesinos! albums. I played these on repeat (as my boyfriend can attest), so I didn’t have much time for “new” new music. But, after digging through, and truly spending time with, what 2012 had to offer, I realized I’d overlooked some incredible music and came to adore my favorites even more. My list’s order hopped around a few different times, but I feel good about where it has all settled out. I especially love how many amazing ladies I’ve got on this list.

I hope this list helps you realize the splendor of 2012 music, and perhaps helps you discover some year-end favorites for yourself.

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The Couch bring the house down at Holy Mountain



There was an avalanche of rock at Holy Mountain on Saturday night. The Couch packed the house with fans and a who’s-who of Austin musicians, proving that they not only appeal to the general public, but also are greatly beloved by their peers.

The four piece owned the now-larger Holy Mountain stage, performing with confidence and joy. The whole venue seemed transformed by their release show, with a section partitioned off for a “couch” photo shoot, and an incredible free silent auction table boasting goodies like a specialized Couch-friendly necklace and a prize package from the AV Club.

Still, the music took center stage. The sound filled the room as the band shot through their debut album. Single “Oh, Libby” perked up the most ears, as its familiar lilting guitar riff floated through the air. “Aphrodite,” however, was the song I found myself singing on my bike road home and through the next morning, with the catchy pre-chorus punctuated by the music.

The night ended young and the Couch left their audience wanting more. They played tons of tunes off of the new record, but even debuted a newer-than-new song led by songstress Sara Houser.

It was a great moment for the Couch, feeling almost like their Quinceañera, the moment where they were just picking up the wave, heading toward a crest. They’re a band to watch, a band to hear and a band to love.

Relive the night by purchasing the Couch’s self-titled debut here.

The Couch Rising: Self-titled album release show Saturday at Holy Mountain



The Couch are cranking out rock tunes to turn your head, and if you haven’t tuned in yet, here’s your chance. They are releasing their self-titled debut album at Holy Mountain this Saturday, and if you consider yourself a fan of rock ‘n’ roll you must attend.

From start to finish, The Couch is raucous, catchy and quirky in the best of ways. It starts off with an explosion of fiery guitar prowess that breaks up opener “Aphrodite,” and doesn’t slow down from there. Guitarist and vocalist Taylor Wilkins is especially heartfelt on “Ghost,” where his vocals intertwine with a mess of distorted guitars, and his call-and-response with killer vocalist Sara Houser give a great balance to the tune. “Oh, Libby” is the best match to Wilkins’ vocals, acting as a spunky, upbeat change to the rest of the album’s darker undertones. The twinkly guitars scream “summertime,” so it’ll warm you all through the winter.

Sara Houser’s star truly shines brightest on this record. Her voice is sweet and passionate to counteract a grungy, stripped “Kick the Can,” both complimentary and unexpected. On “Ratchet,” she is delightfully powerful, dark and threatening all at once. “Ducks in a Row” is equally dark, and turns almost space-rock-y near the end.

The album plays with eerie tunes in the middle, but is bookended by power and fun, which makes it very listenable and offers relief after heavier tracks. Were you looking for the next big thing in Austin, Texas? It’s the Couch, and they won’t take this sitting down.

To see for yourself, head for Holy Mountain this Saturday at 9PM. Featherface and our favorites Royal Forest open, so get there early.

Riding the roller coaster with Paul McCartney in Houston



I didn’t know what I was in for. I couldn’t have even comprehended it if I wanted to. Had I not been dating a guy who likes to rank his “must see before I die” acts, I honestly would not have thought to travel three hours to Houston, Texas to see Paul McCartney. It’s not because I didn’t want to, by any means. I think in my mind, I thought of McCartney as an almost novelty act. I knew he was incredibly talented, and even though my favorite Beatle person-wise is Ringo (yes, believe it), I knew he was a songwriting genius and still sounded solid at the age of 70. But if I’m being honest, I thought of a Paul McCartney show the same way I think of a Bob Dylan or Robert Plant show at this point. I’m always humbled to be in the presence of a legend, but it’s not their heyday. Two of the Beatles are gone, so I knew I’d never be able to see the whole unit the way I’d want to.

In fact, I hesitate to name the Beatles my favorite band of all time for that very reason. The live show is so important to me that it’s hard for me to conceptualize a band as my all-time favorite if I haven’t experienced the power of their in-person performance. Even though the Beatles are a band that literally helped me to grow up — Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour and, of course, Abbey Road were formative albums that forced me to move past my candy-pop-and-top-40-only stage — for some reason, the idea of Paul alone just didn’t hold the same weight as the idea of building a time machine and going back to the time of screaming, fainting fan girls and riotous excitement.

But then, I found myself buying tickets for Sir Paul as a birthday gift to my boyfriend, and as the date approached, I began to really try to wrap my brain around what was going to happen. I was going to go watch, live, in person, a man who is one of the most famous people on Earth, who has changed millions of lives with his music and his message, who has experienced the turmoil of the 60s in person, who has lived among legends, who has befriended people who appear in my mind more like book characters, because they are too famous to humanize.

Even still, as we drove on to Houston, I was in a haze. It was as if I was going to go watch some movie, or play, or show put on inside of a glass box, separate from myself.

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