Trail of Dead brings SXSW to life

Stories of rowdy Austin avant rockers …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead are the stuff of SXSW fables — once-upon-a-times where a band plays a blistering set then trashes a venue and is kindly asked to not return. But those were tales told ages ago, when Rainey Street wasn’t even a twinkle in a developer’s eye.

Wednesday night the tales proved to be no match for the real raw ferocity of Trail of Dead, who played at Bungalow at 1 a.m. Well, make that 1:30 a.m.

JERSEY CITY, NJ – AUGUST 01: Musicians Conrad Keely and Jay Phillips of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead perorm on stage during the 2009 All Points West Music & Arts Festival at Liberty State Park on August 1, 2009 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

A lengthy soundcheck pushed the band up against the 2 a.m. cutoff wall and forced a shorter than the already-short SXSW 50-minute set, boiling things down to six songs. That’s a short set for a band with big songs and plenty of guitars. Trail of Dead does not travel lightly — swapping guitars with each song, they had an arsenal of guitars extensive enough to loan instruments to all the other bands on the night’s line-up if needed. Moshing fans, breaking guitar strings and ringing ears and it all came to a close just under the 2 a.m. wire.

There were moshing fans, breaking guitar strings and ringing ears, and it all came to a close just under the 2 a.m. wire. No venues were trashed, no invitations rescinded — just a memorable set of guitar rock and a bar full of fans stunned at what they just witnessed.

Trail of Dead play again Friday afternoon at Cheer Up Charlie’s.

At the Drive-In surprise fans with explosive SXSW showcase

Cedric Bixler of At The Drive-In performs at The Mohawk during South by Southwest on Wednesday March 15, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Recently re-reunited hardcore emo legends At the Drive-In played to an at-capacity crowd at the Mohawk Wednesday night at SXSW Music. The revered El Paso rockers were a “surprise” addition to the line-up, which also featured Temples, Poliça and The Black Angels.

At the Drive-In’s following borders on true cult-level obsession and fanaticism, making the show half-concert, half-religious experience for diehards — their eyes closed scream-reciting lyrics in pure rapture. Fans packed in the pit and the tiered levels above the Mohawk stage with their hands seemingly drawn to frenetic frontman Cedric Bixler like metal to a magnet, waving back and forth to reach him and swallowing up stage divers in a moshing wave.

The absence of former guitarist and supporting vocalist Jim Ward and his commanding voice from this iteration of the band was noticeable but not enough to sour the live experience for this SXSW crowd.

The nostalgia-triggering setlist featured much of their influential Relationship of Command and served as a soundtrack for Bixler’s theatrics — staggering around stage, pouncing off the drumkit or swinging, kicking and slinging his chrome-plated microphone like a Nunchuk or hacky sack.

At the Drive-In plays in Austin again at Stubb’s B-B-Q on June 7.


  • “Arcarsenal”
  • “Pattern Against User”
  • “Sleepwalk Capsules”
  • “Governed By Contagions”
  • “Invalid Litter Dept.”
  • “Enfilade”
  • “Cosmonaut”
  • “Quarantined”
  • “One Armed Scissor”

SXSW: Oscar Key Sung is the Australian Drake you didn’t know you needed

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I find for an almost guaranteed good time at SXSW Music, it’s hard to go wrong with the Australians. Any act that’s come from the other side of the globe just to play a few unpaid gigs is probably going to be at least worth your attention for half an hour. Take Melbourne-based producer and singer Oscar Key Sung, a performer worth keeping an eye on this week at SXSW Music — and well beyond.

Live, Key Sung’s abilities as a producer, singer and dancer are apparent. Outside at the Swan Dive Tuesday night, his knees hypnotically swung back and forth with inhuman elasticity and speed as he slid between tables of electronic gear. 

He moves like a modern-day MC Hammer, sings like James Blake, and produces smooth and glitchy beats like Jai Paul. It comes together in a form of alien R&B that feels both sensitive and suave: Oscar Key Sung could very well be the Australian Drake you didn’t even know you were looking for. (Seeing Key Sung in motion, he may be just one silly dancing GIF meme away from Drake-like internet image stardom.)

Key Sung’s slower songs bring to mind slightly down-tempo dance beats of Burial or SOHN, his soft, echo-laden vocals recall How To Dress Well, and more lively, trance-like tracks like “All I Could Do” could make him a new favorite for fans of Jack Garratt.

Oscar Key Sung plays again tonight at 10 p.m. at CU29 and Friday at 3:15 p.m. at the Aussie BBQ at Brush Square Park.

Oscar Key Sung. Niche/Contributed

SXSW 2017: Yes, Modern English will play ‘that song’

“Hang in there,” Modern English frontman Robbie Grey says kindly, humoring a screaming fan — the one who’s shouting for the band to play their big hit just minutes into their set, the one who’s somehow at every show for every band who’s ever had a big hit. Though, few bands can claim a big hit quite as big and with as much staying power as Modern English’s “I Melt With You.”

Grey, wearing a white T-shirt, rolled up blue jeans and black Converses, was surprisingly cool about the exchange. It’s likely one he’s had often over a career that’s lasted longer than many of his fans have been alive here on the Barracuda Patio this brisk SXSW Music Tuesday night. And when the band does finally close their set with that big hit, Grey and the band show no signs of disdain for or fatigue with the song. Introduced jokingly with, “OK, we’re going to play that song,” “I Melt With You” was effervescent and energetic, and even if one hadn’t heard it a million times before and didn’t associate it with warm waves of nostalgia from flowery feel-good love movie montages and awkward school dances, it’s one that would immediately grab your ear and cause you to look up from your beer.

Photo courtesy Modern English / Facebook

But “I Melt With You,” for all it does right as a supreme piece of pop music, isn’t really indicative of the rest of Modern English’s woefully overlooked catalog. Or so I was told…

Like many, I had no familiarity with the band beyond their massive hit. (Hold one moment, angry mob of Modern English diehards! Don’t sharpen your pitchforks and start drafting your outraged internet comments just yet.) I am of the belief that any rock band could be slightly improved by being a British rock band. And my first and fondest South by Southwest memories are of U.K. bands cut and copied from that new-wave cloth worn by Modern English and their ’80s post-punk ilk, so having an excuse to venture closer to the source of a sound that’s been so thoroughly tapped by bands ever since seemed a fine way to spend a Tuesday night.

What would this eager but clueless Anglophilic ignoramus take away from Modern English? Turns out I need to add some old Modern English records to my listening queue.

Set opener “16 Days” was brooding bass and sheets of static, droning and danceable. Next up was “Swans of Glass,” equal parts bleak and bouncy. Four or five newer songs that followed didn’t feel as urgent and stood out from the old stuff of the set’s opening, even to this listener who had no familiarity with either. On these newer songs, Grey occasionally referred to lyrics on a sheet of paper, which he endearingly British-ly referred to as “parchment.” Throughout it all, the five-piece still sounded great — even on the songs that were somewhat less than world-melting.

Modern English play again today at 3 p.m. at Waterloo Records and Friday at 6:15 p.m. on the Whole Foods rooftop plaza. Both shows are free and all ages; the Whole Foods show may require RSVP.

Clint Black killed time like it was 1989 at One World Theatre

The year 1989 changed country music forever— and no, it’s not just because that was the year Taylor Swift was born.

It could be argued that modern country’s commercial roots could be traced back to that year, the eve of a new decade of economic prosperity and happiness for America. And thanks to the efforts of a select few country artists, it was the dawning of a new era of economic prosperity for country music, too.

Clint Black. (Credit: Kevin Mazur)

As a member of country music’s famed “Class of ’89,” Clint Black helped to rejuvenate the genre for a new decade. Until 1988, the presumption was that in order for any country artist to reach any level of success, they had to cross over into the pop format. (Come to think of it, it still is, but the biggest examples in the 80s were Hank Jr. and Alabama). Black, along with fellow “classmates” Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks, rose to prominence in 1989 as a trio of hat wearing, honky-tonk throwbacks who played standard country with commercial appeal, and the genre was never the same.

More: Read our interview with Clint Black

Of those three artists, Black’s star rose the quickest. With his black hat, quick wit and uncanny resemblance to Roy Rogers, the Texan had four consecutive No. 1s and nine Top 10 hits by 1991. By the end of the 90s, though, Jackson and Brooks surpassed Black career-wise. While Brooks had become a household name due to his live shows and Jackson enjoyed a career boost due to “Drive” and “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Black took a sabbatical to be a dad to his newborn daughter, and eventually create a new record label.

So a Clint Black show in 2016, on a tour in support of his first album since 2005, rightly feels like a throwback. There were some new songs played from 2015’s “On Purpose,” but a majority of the 90-minute set at One World Theatre Sunday night came from those early years, starting with 1989.

Black, backed by a talented 5-piece band, took advantage of the intimate setting at the sold-out venue to perform stripped-down versions of older songs and to have conversations with the crowd. He even started the show with a pretty good Willie Nelson impression on “Time of the Preacher,” followed by an example of that aforementioned quick wit.

“I met Willie one time, he invited me on his bus,” Black told the crowd after that song. “So I walked on in, and I couldn’t see him anywhere,” he said, motioning as if he was clearing smoke from his eyes, to the delight of the audience. “I don’t know, I guess they were burning some…’toast’ and it was really smoky, and then Willie emerges from the smoke, and offers me some ‘toast.’ And I said, ‘Willie, I gotta go, I’m supposed to be on stage,’ and I got right off the bus, and I wasn’t on the bus but for…well, I lost track of time…I wasn’t on there long. And when I made it inside to the wings, I was toast. And that’s a true story as far as you know.”

More Willie Nelson coverage: See what Willie’s up to on Austin360

That story might have been scripted (Willie covers have shown up on other setlists for Black’s tour), but it felt genuine, and it’s a testament to Black’s showmanship that it felt like a genuine connection with the audience. Another stage-bit highlight of the night was when he joked, “Because this is such a small venue, y’all might get a little bit of a different show. We did have to cut out all of the dance numbers and wardrobe changes.”

Speaking of the audience, it looked like it mostly consisted of people who were fans from the beginning of Black’s career, but the age of the average attendee was belied by the enthusiastic shouts and hollers during many songs, especially on “Killin’ Time.”

The only new songs Black performed— “Better and Worse” and “Still Calling It News”— were still hits with the audience, but most came to see Black’s old stuff, the hits that will forever be linked to his name when he eventually becomes a Country Music Hall of Famer. But when most of county radio is full of the Florida Georgia Lines and Jason Aldeans of the genre, spending an evening killing time with such a talented, understated artist makes the old hits feel brand new again.


“Live and Learn”

“The Time of the Preacher”/”Couldn’t Believe It Was True”/”Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” (Willie Nelson medley)

“Better and Worse”

“Shoes You’re Wearing”

“Summer’s Coming”

“Code of the West”

“Better Man”

“When My Ship Comes In”

“Like the Rain”

“Good Run of Bad Luck”

“No Time To Kill”

“One More Payment and It’s Mine”

“State of Mind”

“Killin’ Time”

“Still Calling it News”

“Put Yourself In My Shoes”

“We Tell Ourselves”

“Are You Sure Waylon Done it This Way” (Waylon Jennings cover)

“Been There”


“Nothin’ But the Taillights”

“Tuckered Out”

360 Mixtape: Gary Clark Jr., Carly Rae Jepsen, Jordin Sparks, Nick Jonas, The Sword

Each week, Austin360 music writers Eric Webb and Deborah Sengupta Stith listen to a wide variety of new albums and singles and offer first impressions on the Austin360 Periscope account. We put our favorite new songs from the week into the 360 Mixtape. Consider it your new music soundtrack to get you through the week.

Carly Rae Jepsen performs on NBC's "Today" show on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Carly Rae Jepsen performs on NBC’s “Today” show on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

81Daew5kuDL._SY450_Gary Clark Jr. “Church” (single) – Listen on Spotify 

DSS: After Gary Clark Jr.’s ‘Austin City Limits’ taping last night, I’m in full Stan mode, but I already was in love with this track. The acoustic guitar is a nice change of pace for Clark. It sets the stage for his vocals to really shine, particularly when laced with the lovely female vocal harmonies on the chorus. Also, that’s Clark playing harmonica, because the man oozes blues.

EW: This is a softer side of Clark that I think is good to hear. Since he’s arguably the biggest name from Austin’s music scene right now (in a national crossover sense, at least), a departure from the hot-guts blues that he’s made famous also reflects a different side of his hometown. This a beautiful, subdued trip to, well, church.

jonasNick Jonas  “Levels” (single) – Listen

EW: Breaking free of the Disney mold isn’t just for Miley, Selena and Demi anymore. The erstwhile JoBro almost matches the smash success of “Jealous” with this slick club gem. I’m not ready to say that he’s evoking Michael Jackson here, but I am prepared to say that he’s evoking serial-MJ-emulators Jason Derulo and Bruno Mars. Nick is bringing the bedroom falsetto as usual, though filtered through that stuffed-up-nose voice that I might get used to soon. Bottom line: “Levels” pulses with bass-pumping mischief. Going up, please.

DSS: Wait, what’s this weird, uncontrollable twitching in my hips. Head. Won’t. Stop. Bopping. I’m dancing to Nick Jonas. You’re blowing my mind here, Webb.

jordinJordin Sparks “Right Here, Right Now”  – Listen

DSS: I put this album on while I was cleaning this weekend and for the first half I was actively annoyed (and not just because my house was a mess). Most of these songs feel like they are trying so hard to be on the next R&B Radio Hitz compilation. Very generic. By the end, I was less irritated. She has a nice smoky tone on some tracks but even the better songs are still snoozy.

EW: Not bad, just generic. I think there’s a line of sexiness that this does not cross that maybe it should have. But what do I know? I voted for Blake Lewis.

carlyCarly Rae Jepsen “Emotion” – Listen

EW: Finally! The most anticipated album (by me) of 2015 is here! My CRJ enthusiasm has been well-covered in previous new releases blogs, but I’ve got to say that everything you might have read about “Emotion” is true. It’s a better 1980s synthpop tribute than Taylor Swift’s “1989.” It’s a smart, earnest synthesis of the Debbie Gibson/Tiffany sound and indie-friendly production by the likes of Dev Hynes. Jepsen reportedly went out of her way to make a critically acclaimed follow-up to “Kiss” instead of trying to capture “Call Me Maybe” lightning in a second bottle. She succeeds. Seductive ballads like “All That” (which sounds exactly like a Blood Orange track) work a little less effectively than shiny rock candy like “Boy Problems” and “Run Away With Me,” but all in all, this is a drum-machine-skittering, Laffy-Taffy-bass-strumming, earnestly joyful take on all things romantic. Consider that the singles from this album have made little chart traction so far, and wonder why that is.

DSS: I’m not fully sold on this yet, but it’s a lot better than I thought it would be and deserves a full listen. Also, it makes me happy to see how happy it makes Eric.

pandabearPanda Bear “Crosswords” (EP) – Listen

EW: If you like the techno-tropical atmosphere that Panda Bear spins, you will enjoy this companion piece to “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.”

DSS: I enjoyed “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” and this feels like a good follow up. Look forward to digging into it.

theswordThe Sword “High Country” – Listen

DSS: The Adrian Quesada-produced new album pushes the Austin metal act through psychedelia into some interesting classic-sounding hard rock. Also, the intro is called “Unicorn Farm.”

EW: Driving sturm-und-drang guitars get hitched to a less aggressive Thin Lizzy vibe on the verses, at least on “Empty Temples.” An accessible take on metal that sounds distinctly Austin.

smokebreakCarrie Underwood “Smoke Break” – Listen

EW: I like Carrie Underwood in general, though she represents a religious devotion to the Nashville machine sound, and her big ol’ voice doesn’t always connect to the lyrics the way one might want. Big swells and a story-song template swirl among working-class imagery. Feel free to throw back a Shiner as you listen, but don’t look for any wheel reinvention. But what do I know? I voted for Bo Bice.

DSS: Carrie Underwood is patently inoffensive by design and so is this track.

Spector-Moth-BoysSpector “Moth Boys” – Listen

EW: Forgot to spin this one on Periscope, but I think it’s worth including here. I’m not entirely sold on this British band’s particular brand of uber-dramatic post-punk emoting. “All the Sad Young Men,” at least, makes me feel like I’m running down underground to a dive bar in a West End town. See what you think.

360 First Spins: Jill Scott, Trae tha Truth, Metric, Prince Royce, Ashley Monroe

Every Friday at noon, Austin360 music writers Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb hijack the Austin360 Periscope account to talk about the week’s new album and single releases. These aren’t full reviews, but first impressions. Listen to music from this week’s show in our 360 First Spins: July 2015 Spotify playlist.


jillscottJill Scott “Woman” – Listen on Spotify

DSS: Jilly from Philly is and always has been your super smart girlfriend who gives you the best advice, but never judges you for the stupid choices you make anyway. She’s also got the pipes to put most so-called R&B singers to shame. This album is perfect for anyone going through a rough break up, anyone who appreciates great singing or anyone who wants to celebrate the spirit of woman.

EW: When I think of Jill Scott, as a casual listener, I think of a mind-boggling voice. I can’t imagine that she could ever sound bad, even if she were singing the lyrics to, say, Crazy Town’s “Butterfly.” (Which would actually be awesome.) My point: I am already impressed.

ashleymonroeAshley Monroe “The Blade” – Listen

EW: She’s not the progressively minded game-changer that Kacey Musgraves or Jason Isbell are, but Ashley Monroe more than does her genre proud. “The Blade” is a country album that would do Monroe’s BFF, Miranda Lambert, proud. The Pistol Annies member wrings pretty regret out of the title track, and while much of the album is down-home heartache, songs like “Winning Streak” embrace a saloon brawlin’ side of the singer that shows she could light up any honky tonk in Austin. The album’s not a barn-burner, but there’s a Dolly-lite charm to it.

DSS: Her sound seems custom made for Austin audiences. Also, any friend of Miranda Lambert is a friend of mine.


princeroycePrince Royce “Double Vision” – Listen

DSS: We’ve been talking a lot about R&B/pop artists who have ditched formulaic song structures and auto tune to push the genre in interesting new directions. Prince Royce is not one of them. The songs on this album are slickly produced, auto-tuned, made for pop radio anthems. (I wrote down “generic Justin Timberlake” in my notes.) “Back It Up” is very possibly the boppiest, bubble gum strip club song ever recorded. Having said that, no one’s going to give you the side-eye for slipping these songs into your pool party mix.

EW: I know this makes Deborah question everything she knows about me, but if I heard “Back It Up” on the radio, I would not turn the dial. I’ve bought more than one inane (but fun) Taio Cruz song in my life. Prince Royce is doing the same empty-headed thing; he just missed his moment.

ducktailsDucktails “St. Catherine” – Listen

EW: If Real Estate is too stressful for you, this Real Estate side project is “Atlas” on horse tranquilizers. Guitarist Matt Mondanile has taken that band’s lazy-day hammock rock and pulled the thread until it unravels into a blurry bliss-wave — think a kitschy Wild Nothing. There’s nothing here to perk your ear up in particular, but the title track luxuriates in trippy, washed out sounds and sacred images. “Surreal Exposure” is basically a Real Estate song with a crush on Ariel Pink. Pleasant, non-essential. It’s hot outside. Give it a spin.

DSS: Good tunes to while away a lazy summer afternoon.


traeTrae tha Truth “Tha Truth” – Listen

DSS: With a palpable sense of urgency and gorgeous, soulful Southern soundbeds, Trae speaks for the streets. Buoyed by guest spots from J. Cole, Rich Homie Quan, Dej Loaf, Rick Ross and many more, the album rises to rival the top tier of this year’s hip-hop releases.

EW: For someone whose voice sounds like his tonsils are made of unpolished granite, Trae’s flow is remarkably snappy.

Quick spins: Singles and EPs

Metric “Too Bad, So Sad” – Listen

EW: Metric’s upcoming synth project, “Pagans In Vegas,” has me all sorts of giddy, because Emily Haines is my life-coach. The first single, “The Shade,” is already a play-on-repeat staple, but this third cut elicited side-eye from me at 6:45 a.m. today. I’m pretty much on board until the chorus, where the George Lucas laser noises and Haines “WOO HOO!” prompt me to cover my face in secondhand embarrassment. That said, the more I listen, the more I “WOO HOO!” myself. I’m just trying to guard my heart, because I want to love this upcoming record so very much.

DSS: This sort of splits the difference between the dark synth we’ve been hearing a lot of this year and a poppier sound. I like it.

Fantastic Negrito “Fantastic Negrito Deluxe EP” – Listen

DSS: This is really just a re-release of Fantastic Negrito’s excellent debut EP from last year with two new songs, but I love this man and his sound so much I will keep talking about him every chance I get til the rest of the world is paying attention. He makes deep-down, gut bucket blues, some of the rawest, realest music I’ve heard in a very long time.

EW: You can’t fake the way he sounds.

Kurt Vile “Pretty Pimpin'” – Listen

EW: Kurt is coming to ACL Fest this year, and I predict that this irony-rich, Marcy Playground-esque alt-rock gem will go over swimmingly. There’s a little country hiding in there, too.

DSS: This is a very different sort of “pimpin'” than I’m used to.

Alice Glass “Stillbirth” – Listen

EW: Not to defer to Pitchfork for my critical assessment, but their review of this song compares Glass’ post-Crystal Castles solo debut to Kanye West’s “On Sight.” It’s so apt that I have to mention it. “Stillbirth” builds a terrifying sand castle in the same techno-goth playground as Crystal Castles, but it’s arresting and pummeling in a distinctly shock rock way. Go forth and be musically fruitful, Alice.

DSS: Hard-driving and edgy. I like it.

Watch episode seven of 360 First Spins at noon Friday on Periscope

Join music writers Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb around noon on the @austin360 Periscope stream for episode seven of Austin360 First Spins. Every Friday, they listen to some of the week’s hottest music releases and review them live. This week’s spins include Jill Scott, Trae Tha Truth, Metric, Kurt Vile, Ashley Monroe, Fantastic Negrito, Ducktails and more!

Metric performs at Stubb's during SXSW in Austin, Texas on Friday, March 19, 2010. (Ben Sklar/For American-Statesman)
Metric performs at Stubb’s during SXSW in Austin, Texas on Friday, March 19, 2010. (Ben Sklar/For American-Statesman)

Read recaps of previous episodes:

360 First Spins: Pitbull, Jason Isbell, Future, Iron & Wine, Tame Impala, Wilco

Every Friday at noon, Austin360 music writers Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb hijack the Austin360 Periscope account to talk about the week’s new album and single releases. These aren’t full reviews, but first impressions. Here’s our take on a selection of albums that take you to the booty club, the back porch barbecue and (maybe?) a galaxy far, far away. Listen to music from this week’s show in our 360 First Spins: July 2015 Spotify playlist.


Pitbull “Dale” – Listen on Spotify

daleDSS: Not a Pitbull fan, but I’m swayed by the fact that “El Taxi” samples one of my (and everyone else’s) favorite dancehall jams, but this is Pitbull doing what he does best, make dance party hits best experienced while sweating through a Zumba class or in the early hours of the morning after one too many fruity cocktails. Also, this is Pitbull’s second primarily Spanish-language album and Pitbull en español  > Pitbull in English.

EW: I’m not going to blame Pitbull for being Pitbull. Shine on, you worldwide diamond.


isbellJason Isbell “Something More Than Free” – Listen

EW: Continuing the trend of country music with fewer pickup trucks and bright lights and more working-class grit and sparks of social consciousness, Isbell goes straight for the populist heart on this one. It sounds like dirt-caked hands and tackles everything from hard livin’ to pondering the existence of God. Isbell said before its release that “Something More Than Free” was going to be more of a celebratory record, but all I know is that songs like “24 Frames” and the title track are honest and folk-minded. (Good folk. Not bad folk.)

DSS: One of 2015’s strongest additions to the “new sincerity” country cannon.


futureFuture “DS2” – Listen

DSS: The stumbly, mumbly, NSFW soundtrack for your next Percoset-laced trip to the strip club.

EW: Well, he’s certainly got a Southern flow.


ironIron & Wine, Ben Bridwell “Sing Into My Mouth” – Listen

EW: Sam Beam has been tending more country and less sparse-folk-in-an-echo-chamber for a little while now. With that in mind, this album of covers (recorded with Band of Horses dude Ben Bridwell) is sun-drenched pleasantry. Taking on tunes from Sade, Bonnie Raitt, Spiritualized and more, the standouts are a prettily languid, break-the-mold version of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place” on the opener and an album-closing Peter LaFarge cover that’s dreamy and hallucinatory.

DSS: The soundtrack for summertime bonding with your hippie skirted sisters and your bushy-bearded bros.


tameTame Impala “Currents” – Listen

DSS: I like that the band’s branching out into a hazy, almost electropop sound at times. Not much on this album really jumps out as unforgettable, but I think they’re likely to play the sunset time slot at Austin City Limits Festival this year and these sounds in the golden light will be sublime.

EW: Dreamy, maybe snoozy, but I foresee many ACL Fest-ers inhaling various vapors quite contentedly to this album.

wilcoWilco “Star Wars” – Listen

EW: This album, a Beyonce-style surprise digital drop, has taught me a very important lesson about myself: I do understand early-millennium white guy guitar rock. This album leaves me blank, with its wavy guitars and indistinct, uninteresting vocals. I would not have someone turn this off if it was on the radio, but I would also ask if they had an aux-cord so I could put on Iron & Wine instead.

DSS: Which galaxy far, far away is run by the fluffy rose cats? #tellmetweedy


pePublic Enemy “Man Plans God Laughs” – Listen

DSS: In their mid-fifties, Chuck D and Flav are back to fight the power. Chuck D said sections of the album were inspired by ‘Ye, Run the Jewels and Kendrick Lamar, but most of the record sounds like straight up classic PE, timely and important as ever. But there are a few big misses, including “Honky Tonk Rules,” the PE country song no one ever asked for.

EW: That country song is … jarring. Aside from that, sounds sharp.

Ratatat “Magnifique” – Listen

EW: These Brooklyn bros always bring the rock into their electro-instrumentals, and I’ve been a fan in the past. (“Loud Pipes” was my ringtone in high school.) I was curious to hear how their newest material sounded in a post-Calvin Harris, post-Hudson Mohawke, post-Pretty Lights world of electronic popularity and diversity, and while it sounds like they’re trying to change it up a bit, it’s still distinctly Ratatat. Aside from the shreddy guitars chunks and metallic drones, there’s a lighter touch on songs like “Primetime,” which sounded a little like a Phoenix montage in a Sofia Coppola movie. (Sans lyrics, obvi.) Perhaps not as exciting as they meant it to be, but points for trying.

DSS: An interesting mix of sounds, worth a longer listen.

Quick spins: Singles and EPs

Carly Rae Jepsen “Run Away With Me” – Listen

EW: I love this song with my bones, and I am going to listen to it all summer. I’m a sucker for an “oooh-oooh-oooh” vocal flourish.

DSS: As my homie Eric Webb said during the broadcast, C-Jeps is no Jill Scott, but better than Demi Lovato.

Cee-Lo “Robin Williams” – Listen

DSS: In theory I’m pro-message music about mental health awareness, but this feels awkward, uncomfortable and off.

EW: Too soon, not his story to tell, feels cheap and exploitative. No sir.

Chvrches “Leave a Trace” – Listen

EW: Lauren Mayberry’s voice is at a (relative) full-on growl! Hot dang! This song has fire in its gut, and it’s very reflective of the band’s growth from the neon light show of “The Bones of What You Believe” and subsequent standalone tracks like “Dead Air” and “Get Away.” There’s a glint of darkness in those synths that match the lyrics now. Go get ’em, Chvrches. See ya at Fun Fun Fun.

DSS: While this definitely maintains the distinctive Chvrches sound, it feels like the band is pushing in new directions.

Icona Pop “Emergency” – Listen

DSS: I was all about the single”I Love It” then disappointed by the Swedish duo’s debut full-length which struck me as one-note and, frankly, boring. I’m cautiously excited again.

EW: I have heard this on a commercial. It was not a good commercial, because I did not purchase or remember that product. But if these ladies want to move away from a more traditional Swedish pop sound, I say bully for them. It ain’t bad.

360 First Spins: Ghostface Killah, Years & Years, Lauryn Hill, Veruca Salt, Owl City

Every week as new releases come out, Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb hijack the Austin360 Periscope account to host a listening and live review party, 360 First Spins. As new releases moved to Friday this week, so did our show. Here are our first impressions of the week’s new music. Listen to songs from this week’s show in the 360 First Spins Spotify playlist.

Clockwise from top left: Years & Years, Ghostface Killah, Owl City, Lauryn Hill
Clockwise from top left: Years & Years, Ghostface Killah, Owl City, Lauryn Hill

816g29I9YiL._SL1500_Ghostface Killah with Adrian Younge ’12 Reasons to Die II’ – Listen on Spotify

DSS: Picking up the story where the first installment of this hip-hopera left off, this album details the gory gang war between Lester Kane (Raekwon) and the DeLuca family with the spirit of Tony Sparks (Ghostface) resurrected from a crate of records (I think, it’s all somewhat complicated). The Wu-Tang Clan in general and Ghost in particular do high concept cinematic rap better than anyone else and this is exactly the summer blockbuster

EW: I realize I am not qualified to rank Wu-Tang output with any authoritative voice, but I think this is good rap music that I will listen to sometimes.

yearsandyearsYears & Years ‘Communion’ – Listen

EW: This album rode about the biggest wave of buzz you could imagine for what’s essentially a boy band debut targeted at Tumblr teens. Luckily, I spiritually identify with 16-year-old girls, and “Communion” is a shimmery pop crowd-pleaser. Though the LP’s dampened a bit by releasing all the best tracks before the full album drop (stop that, bands), I think the boys of Years & Years will light up their ACL Fest set in October. And of course, I am a proponent of openly gay frontmen singing love songs to dudes on records with a great chance of piercing middle America.

DSS: I’m not entirely sure what distinguishes this from the rest of the grand electro pop I’ve been hearing lately, but the teenage girl in me is swooning.

Statik Selektah ‘Lucky 7’ – Listen

statikDSS: Boston-based hip-hop producer Statik Selektah has been gaining a lot of steam in the last several years after prominent collabs including Action Bronson’s highly regarded debut “Well Done.” He has a very soulful, Golden Era style of production as well as an astute ear for a killer groove. This album brings together a who’s who of important rappers, everyone from titans like Bun B to newer cats like Mick Jenkins, Royce da 5’9″ and Joey Bada$$. It’s loaded with hot tracks but the personal fave is “Bodega!” featuring Bodega Bamz.

EW: Sorry for judging an album by its cover. This is savvy, era-revisiting stuff.

verucaVeruca Salt ‘Ghost Notes’ – Listen

EW: Bands like Speedy Ortiz are doing great things to revive the ’90s alt-rock ghost, but Letters To Cleo contemporaries Veruca Salt have the genuine, O.G. guts. Reuniting the original lineup for their first album together since 1997, “Ghost Notes” rides driving guitars, hi-hat tics and snotty “oh-way-oh” chants to glory. I might enjoy this record more than Sleater-Kinney’s comeback, because I am a brainless baby with questionable instincts. But all I’m saying is that I just watched the “Josie and the Pussycats” movie for the first time, and this makes me feel the same way that did.

DSS: Somehow missed Veruca Salt on the first go round. Ready to catch them now.


ninaNina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone‘ – Listen

DSS: As far as tributes go, this is one of the more solid ones that’s come out in the last several years. It’s very timely, as tragically, race relations in America feel stretched to a breaking point. Most of the attention will fall on Ms. Lauryn Hill, and it’s beautiful to hear her rapping again, and the work of Nina Simone feels like the perfect vehicle to bring her out of semi-retirement. But there are several other gems on here, including Alice Smith’s beautiful rendition of “I Put A Spell on You.”

EW: My instinct was to compare this to similar Buddy Holly and Fleetwood Mac tributes that have come out in recent years, but this is streets ahead.


owlOwl City ‘Mobile Orchestra’ – Listen

EW: I can’t speak from a place of authority on Ghostface Killah, but I listened to Owl City on MySpace in 2007, and this is a burden I carry for us all. Adam Young’s infantilized, juvenile pablum does a disservice to anyone who enjoys bubblegum pop, electronic music or even “wholesome” media, which is what I believe he is trying to create. “Fireflies” was the peak. Young manages to ruin what could have been a sugary dance banger on “Thunderstruck” just by chiming in with his Muppet-y mewling. But that’s nothing compared to “Unbelievable,” which is a BuzzFeed “Only ’90s Kids Will Get This” listicle given life by sheer force of creepy will. Featuring Hanson in a stab at meta-text, it’s a completely unsettling string of childhood nostalgia trigger words like “Dr Pepper jelly beans,” “Berenstain Bears,” “Jurassic Park,” and my least favorite, “piggyback rides and Slip’N Slides.” He’s not old enough to sound this bitterly wistful for the (recent) past, but he’s too old to write this song. It’s not sweet, or wholesome, or cute. It’s insulting. The rest of the album is youth-group-leader-baiting Styrofoam. “Unbelievable” is a stinkbomb of the soul.

DSS: Please make it stop.


Bilal ‘In Another Life’ – Listen

bilalDSS: When D’Angelo took his hiatus from the neo-soul scene over a decade ago, Bilal kept going, pushing the form forward. 2015 is shaping up to be an incredible year for R&B and soul and this album, richly textured and full of risky moves rises with the best of them. After years of formulaic, stale R&B, it’s amazing to see so many artists making deliberately challenging music.

EW: Challenging, discordant, think I will hear it on NPR at some point.


littlebootsLittle Boots ‘Working Girl’ – Listen

EW: Electropop diva Victoria Hesketh 1) looks like Debbie Harry so much on this cover that it made me jump and 2) is doing what Madonna should have done to sound “modern” before she decided to text Diplo and make “Rebel Heart.” Owing much to “Ray of Light” the album, “Working Girl” is cool, crystalline dance music with a catwalk strut. The track “Real Girl” takes things a tick past freezing with Oh Land vibes and a dancehall bop. Hit that festival circuit, Little Boots! We wanna vogue.

DSS: This might be Boots’ breakout moment.


Quick Spins, singles and EPs

Four Tet ‘Morning/Evening’ – Listen

DSS: This is the yoga/meditation soundtrack I didn’t know I needed.

EW: Y’all, I’m not going to listen to 20 minutes of this on one track.

Beach House ‘Sparks’ Listen

EW:  “Sparks” is tinted with post-rock cosmic rays by way of Explosions In the Sky and carries a glimmer of Stars’ heart. We should both listen to more Beach House! I liked “Myth”! Why don’t I listen to Beach House more?

DSS: In a week full of summery songs I love the way Beach House takes us to the chilliest beach in the world.

Diddy/Pharrell Williams ‘Finna Get Loose’ Listen

DSS: Diddy, who is now 45, tries to get loose with the youngun’s and in the process reminds us he always did better as the man behind the curtain.

EW: I forgot we listened to this.

Maroon 5 vs. Alesso ‘This Summer’ Listen

DSS: In which, Adam Levine tries so hard to be young and relevant, he seems so much older than he actually is.

EW: This made me make faces that will give me wrinkles.

The Mowglis ‘Summertime’ Listen

DSS: The generic summer track that will actually land in a lot of folks summer playlists. “Look, guys, we even called it ‘Summertime.'”

EW: Which American food product will use this in a commercial first? I’m feeling Daisy sour cream.

Coheed and Cambria ‘You Got Spirit, Kid’ Listen

EW: Their next album won’t be a concept album, apparently. That means almost nothing to me, because Claudio Sanchez still sounds like he’s singing about Dungeons & Dragons.

DSS: I kind of wish this song was about dragons.


Demi Lovato ‘Cool For the Summer’ Listen

EW: There are at least five hooks in this song. I will know every word of this cynical radio bait by next week.

DSS: It is like the audio version of an artifically flavored berry margarita.

Listen to the 360 First Spins July playlist, now on Spotify.