by Marc Masters
On the PGA Tour (yes, I follow the PGA Tour), the third day of a four-day tournament is commonly known as "moving day"—the day when you'd better move up the leaderboard or spend the final round just trying to stay out of last place. Day 3 of SXSW felt a bit like that for me. I had seen tons of great bands the first two days, but Friday was the day to make sure I saw every last must-see left on my list. With Saturday already looking unpredictable (rain in the forecast, a bunch of groups leaving to play at Todd P's Mexican fest), I needed to get a move on to see four bands I'd kick myself if I left Austin without witnessing.
First up was Pocahaunted, a band I saw here last year but who rarely venture to the East Coast. In 2009 they did a set in the darkened theatre of the Hideout, but this time I got to see them in the bright 2pm sun in a driveway-ish space called Cheerup Charlie's, and their music proved perfect for the outdoors-- simple, floating songs that built up into surreal New Age noise jams. I'm hesitant to call their sound hippie-ish, as it oversimplifies the magic of their communal energy, but when singers Amanda Brown and Diva Dompe knelt in front of shirtless drummer Ged Gengras with their foreheads pressed together, it felt like Woodstock done right.
The daylight wasn't quite as kind to Brooklyn duo Talk Normal, who played a valiantly muscular set in a big field at the French Legation Museum. They were still
tons of fun to watch, but their dark sound dissipated a bit in all that air, whereas later that night their thick, tight noise was mind-bendingly perfect in the nearly pitch-black environs of Red 7. The band has made only one EP and one LP, but their sound has already gotten deeper and more complex. Where early on you could peg them pretty accurately as a post-No Wave band in between Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and Ut, they're now doing something harder to pin down, something that makes atonal, shapeless squall and honed, calisthenic rhythm feel like two sides of the same expressive coin.
Nearly as perfect were San Francisco quartet the Mantles, doing an excellent replication of their great self-titled 2009 album on Siltbreeze. Like Talk Normal, the Mantles started with a sound that could be pegged in a quick phrase-- try a lo-fi noise version of the Byrds—but during this quick, nervy set, I could already hear new elements slipping into their remarkably sturdy songs. I especially dig how the band seems willing to get lost in their mesh of twangy, echoey guitars—in the wrong hands, their music could get cleaned up and actually start to sound just like the Byrds, but I'm guessing these guys are more interested in burying their heads in amp-sand than flying into any kind of clear sonic skies.
Speaking of sand and skies, my last must-see was a 1am performance from Long Beach one-man band Cameron Stallones, also known as Sun Araw. He closed out the showcase put on by Not Not Fun, an L.A. label specializing in dense droning noise, summery tropical fuzz, and a bunch of stuff in between. Sun Araw's records
are perhaps the best of the in-between, and he's made quite a few good ones in the past couple of years. Tonight his set leaned more toward pulsing beats and bright melodies-- each piece started with a simple drum machine phrase, to which Stallones would add keyboard loops, washes of guitar, and echoey vocals, building them all up into sneaky climaxes. With chillwave and glo-fi so ubiquitous lately—Pitchfork's party earlier in the day was like the genre's all-star game—Stallones has done the nice trick of fitting into that vibe without really sounding like anyone else. His music has psych expansiveness and subtle complexity, the kind that works just as well in the 1am dark as the sunny daytime.