Oh My Rockness' 2006 SXSW Preview

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Oh My Rockness' 2006 SXSW Preview

February 01, 2006
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Holy show, where did the year ago? It's hard to believe it's SXSW time again! It seems like only yesterday Bloc Party and The Go! Team took over this town (I think they seriously played like 474 shows each). We also discovered Elijah Wood was an indie rocker (who knew?), and we got obliterated on Shiner Bocks at the Crown & Anchor. But twelve months pass fast, and it's once again madness, baby. It's as overwhelming as always to figure out which bands to see (you can't see them all, no matter how cocky you are that you can), so we've made a little concentrated list to help you focus. You will miss plenty of shows, just don't miss these.

Animal Collective
Perhaps a more spiritual, but just as innovative, version of their friends Black Dice, NYC's Animal Collective take a cerebral approach to the craft of fucking shit up. A collective in the truest sense (they have so many shifting members if they all got together they would have to tour in Noah's boat), Animal Collective play experimental psychedelic folk that is anything but ordinary. This band takes fragments of sound, twists them up and ties them together to create beautiful pop melodies you've never heard before. Their live show slays!

Arctic Monkeys
Here we go again... another "hot," "hip," "hype," "retro," "art-rock," "dance" band from the UK that listened to a lot of Wire and Gang of Four. Now, I know it's probably not their fault (is it?) that they have a sound that's been blasting across the Atlantic ad nauseum these last couple of years (with emphasis on the "ad"... did anyone hear Franz Ferdinand piping out of the World Series promos? How about Bloc Party in the Target spot?), but I can't help but wonder why we need another one of these bands to listen to? But I guess they are pretty catchy... and today, that's all a band seems to need to be.

Art Brut
Art Brut are a somewhat ironic "art-wave" band from London. These guys place special emphasis on the comedic elements of the "I'm in a band" scene. That's not to say these guys are a "joke band" (*shudder*). They are very serious about making songs that actually do rock. But they allow themselves to see the inherent folly of it all, which is mighty refreshing. These three-chord staccato songs have a strange, simple brilliance to them. And while they aren't reinventing the wheel by incorporating self-aware smarminess with rock, they definitely do it delightfully well.

Band of Horses
Band of Horses' upcoming album on Sub Pop, Everything All the Time, is my extremely early favorite for Best Album of 2006. Point blank, these Seattle guys are one of the best new bands I've heard in a long time. Think Flaming Lips meets Rogue Wave meets Akron/Family. This is pretty much perfect sunshine pop that is right up there in talent with their label mates, The Shins (in fact, I might like Band of Horses even more!).

Bound Stems
Chicago's Bound Stems have been compared to a weirder Walkmen, The Arcade Fire (ehhhh, possibly), and even the Dead Milkmen (which would definitely light up the eyes of Rockness' own, Claire Freeman. She loves that band for some reason). This band is further proof that a musical Renaissance is happening in Chicago. Even Paul Konerko resigned from the White Sox because he's such a big fan of these guys.

The Boy Least Likely To
If you're gonna name your album, "The Best Party Ever," then you damn well better bring it. And bring it this U.K. duo does. Strangely, this "party" band sings a lot about death. Yee haw! There's nothing like reflecting on ones own mortality to put you in a festive, merrymaking mood. But these two do it with such whimsy; you can't help but smile, even if we're all going to die.

Chin Up Chin Up
Chicago's Chin Up Chin Up are an incredibly catchy band, whose meticulously layered math-pop music sweeps you away to American Analog Set territory and beyond. They create an inviting wall of sound by fusing warm, clean guitar melodies and subtle synths around the "typical" time/tempo changes of a Midwest indie band. But these guys should not be lumped into any one category based on their zip code. This music is something entirely else.

Field Music
U.K.'s Field Music cite influences ranging from My Bloody Valentine to Big Star to the ever-hip Stravinsky. They create lush and atmospheric songs of indie-pop grandeur, which feature falsetto harmonies, expansive keys, and Wire-like guitars. Field Music manage to merge ornate orchestration with a tad of punky spazz, all in roughly three minutes time. And if you listen really hard, you can sort of hear a little bit of The Shins in there, too. What more do you want?

Great Lake Swimmers
Is there anything more sublime than a dusk-time Lake Michigan wade in late July? Toronto's Great Lake Swimmers picked an apt name for their bittersweet alt-folk sounds of sparse nostalgia. The band creates gentle, melancholic soundscapes using acoustic and lap steel guitars, pianos, and Tony Dekker's sweetly harmonic vocals. Their haunting music has been compared to Nick Drake, Mark Kozelek and Will Oldham.

The Juan Maclean
You probably know John (Juan) Maclean from the seminal indie-electro band, led by his pal James Murphy, Six Finger Satellite. His latest band, (somewhat) bearing his own name, is on Murphy's DFA label, and sonically falls nicely within the label's now-patented dance-jam genre, albeit with a little less punk (but plenty of cowbells). The Juan Maclean relies on building rhythmic tension through repetition, incorporating heavy synths, big bass sounds, and pulsating beats (both machine- and man-made). Seeing this band live is much more of a rockin' experience than listening to them on disc. On stage they're more spazzy, like LCD Soundsystem, while on tape they're a little more mechanical, like Kraftwerk. These guys play long songs and could very well be the jam band for people who hate jam bands.

Mogwai
Holy shit, I love this band. I love them, I love them, I love them. Going to a Mogwai show reminds me of how I felt when I went to shows in high school. [Cut to me as a 17-year old, listening to the electric pulse of some emo band, and exclaiming with a transcendent shout, "Who cares what I got on the math test, life is bigger than grades, man!"] When Mogwai hits the distortion pedal mid-song and erupts into a fireball of emotion, I feel like I'm closer to knowing my place in this grand world (which obviously doesn't include math). Have you heard their new album? It's piano heavy. Mogwai playing pianos?! What a world.

The Organ
The organ (the instrument) that The Organ (the band) heavily incorporates into their sound gives them a bit of a The Cure/Joy Division/80's feel. And certainly this Vancouver group's sense of melancholy would fit nicely with Robert Smith and Ian Curtis's preoccupation with that emotion. But don't lump The Organ in with all those rip-off retro bands. Though inspired by the past, the band writes clearly original music. And they also happen to be really, really good.

Pink Mountaintops
Pink Mountaintops are shrouded in secrecy. Are they Black Mountain or are they not? They sure sound like Black Mountain. They look like Black Mountain. But no one will really say what the true difference between these two bands is. One thing is for sure, if you like Black Mountain's psych-rock-metal, you'll definitely be down with the Pink Mountaintops.

Plastic Constellations
Minneapolis' The Plastic Constellations formed in 1995 when the four members were but spry, earnest 14-year-olds. They have certainly matured nicely. The band has now had over 10 years to practice their playfully quirky melodies, driven by a blazing post-punk rhythmic intensity, making for completely infectious and highly energetic live shows. Think of them as the Dismemberment Plan meets Modest Mouse meets Les Savy Fav.

Psychic Ills
NYC's Psychic Ills (who always seem to be touring with The Double) incorporate soaring space rock, psychedelica, and drone with the ferocious rhythms of punk rock. While their dark electronics can sometimes fall into the "spooky" genre (spooky = silly sometimes), these guys make up for it when they let their guitars rip. Go to their show and be pleasantly prepared for a very big sound.

Rahim
Rahim is hands-down one of our favorite new bands. Think spazzy (but not so spazzy it's annoying), hard, art-pop similar to Afghan Whigs meets a little bit of Fugazi. Rahim have tremendously strong melodies supported by a plastic-whistle-blowing drummer, handclaps, and an unlimited supply of energy. It's refreshing to see a band that is actually into what they're playing. Because if you have fun up there, we have fun down here. And Rahim shows are always fun. Leave the mopey vocalists and sneaker watcher strummers to someone else; we'll take yelps and shakes any day.

Serena Maneesh
Norway's Serena Maneesh are a purely guttural band out to slay you with their spiky guitars, dangerous rhythms, and distorted samples. They have been compared to wall-of-noise bands like Sonic Youth and The Jesus and Mary Chain, mixed with the grand orchestration of Sigur Ros and M83. They even had their friend Sufjan Stevens play the flute and marimba on their latest self-titled album. Not too many bands can kill you with feedback AND flutes.

Sybris
Sybris is a Chicago quartet that fuses the art rock of the 80s with the melodic punkness of 2005. Their press kit quotes My Bloody Valentine, Pixies, Belly(?) and Swervedriver as musical ancestors, but really what we're talking about here is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Perhaps they conveniently forgot about those guys, so as not to risk being pigeonholed as, well, "just like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs." But they really do rock, no matter how original their sound is.

Test Icicles
Test Icicles have a terribly silly (or is it just terrible?) name, but one shouldn't always judge a band by their moniker. A young (2 of the 3 members are still teenagers), spazzy screamo group from the U.K., Test Icicles sound like The Blood Brothers meets Death From Above 1979. With gyrating bass lines, squealing guitars and distorted vocals, Test Icicles appeal to both the punk kids and the club kids (an increasingly blurry line of distinction these days).

Thunderbirds are Now!
Detroit's Thunderbirds Are Now! play catchy keyboard rock with much help from killer cowbells and maracas. This is sassy rhythm rock with a sly, rambunctious spirit that will get even the meekest of the meek up to dance. Plus, these guys stage dive. They have been compared to Talking Heads and the Pixies, but since they're on Frenchkiss Records, you might as well throw in their whole roster, too. This show shall be all rowdy and shit.

Two Gallants
San Francisco's Two Gallants are one helluva band to see live precisely because you aren't quite sure what you're seeing. Is it alt-country? Is it garage-blues? Is it punk? Is it Irish folk? One thing you're sure of is that singer Adam Stephenson and drummer Tyson Vogel are almost disturbingly talented. The duo rhythmically duel with each other, creating both angry and heartfelt drunken tales that make you want to stomp your boot on the floor and raise your beer towards the skies. This music is poetry.

Wolfmother
Wolfmother sounds a whole lot like Led Zeppelin meets Black Sabbath. So this must mean they are the most awesome band on the face of the planet. Ok, so they aren't exactly up to par with Zeppelin and Sabbath, but boy they sure rock like them. This is classic rock through and through. It's not even like their sound borrows some elements of classic rock. They take 100%. IÕm not positive, but I'm pretty sure these guys found a telephone booth time machine and came here straight from the year 1969.

The SXSW Music Festival runs from Wednesday, March 15th, through Sunday, March 19th.

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