At press time, the official South by Southwest website listed only four Colorado bands (five, if you count the Apples in Stereo, which, as much as we'd happily claim that act, hasn't been based here for quite some time) slated to perform at this year's festival. Those artists -- the Photo Atlas, Hot IQs, Signal to Noise, Uncle Earl -- are the ones that have received official invites from SXSW.
As it happens, though, over a dozen more bands from the area -- including 29th St. Disciples, Abinitio, Avision Red, Black Lamb, Cherry Bomb Suicide, Comstock Lie, DDC, Front Side Five, Gregory Alan Isakov & the Freight, Hoss, Laylights, Lyin' Bitch & the Restraining Orders, Machine Gun Blues, Moore, Angie Stevens, Tard, the Trampolines, Under the Drone, Valiomierda, Weather the Storm and Coles Whalen -- will be invading the Lone Star State next week of their own accord.
While my sense of civic pride might cause me to question why some of these party-crashers weren't also extended invitations, I have absolutely no qualms regarding the artists that were chosen this year. Fact is, someone down in Austin has a great set of ears, as the acts picked are among the most exciting in the Mile High City.
This year, all eyes (and ears) will undoubtedly be fixed on the Photo Atlas, which will make its triumphant return to SXSW after completely leveling the PureVolume after-party last year, leaving a mass of crumpled bodies and crushed egos in its wake. The timing couldn't be better for this band, whose fantastic debut, No, Not Me, Never, originally issued on Morning After Records in 2005, is being re-released this week on Stolen Transmission, the Island/Def Jam joint venture headed up by lauded A&R man Rob Stevenson and Sarah Lewitinn, aka Ultragrrrl.
Those who've heard the buzz but have yet to see the Photo Atlas live will soon discover what folks around here already know: The herky-jerky rhythms of bassist Mark Hawkins and drummer Devon Shirley have been known to wreak absolute havoc on the nervous system, making it impossible to stand still, especially when fused with frontman Alan Andrews's jolting warbles and guitarist Bill Threlkeld's angular fretwork. This is the embodiment of intelligent dance music -- not the glitchy, laptop electro that phrase normally describes.
Without question, if there's any other band in town that could be described as intelligent and dancy, it's the Photo Atlas's former labelmates, Hot IQs. A charming, sexy three-piece consisting of vocalist Eli Mishkin, bassist and producer extraordinaire Bryan Feuchtinger and drummer/resident Hot IQ Elaine Acosta, the act is riding a wave of positive notices from Spin.com and CMJ for its latest effort, Dangling Modifier, the inaugural release on its new imprint, Yaw Action. You can bet that the irony of charting and being lauded by the likes of CMJ is not lost on these former college-radio DJs, who've really come into their own since first kicking around the scene as the Royal We in January 2003. Mishkin's throaty purr and Feuchtinger's rollicking bass lines are every bit as sultry and irresistible on newer tunes like "Retromuff" and "Duck and Cover" as they were on "Firecracker," from the trio's debut, An Argument Between the Brain and Feet.
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While Signal to Noise may not incite anyone to dance, its music will certainly make heads swivel, recalling a time when emo wasn't merely a euphemism for Hot Topic bands filled with wannabe goth clones who put a higher premium on style than substance. Instead, Signal to Noise harks back to a time when the music was just a few steps removed from hardcore and thought-provoking lyrics were delivered in terse, melodic bursts. Signal to Noise hits Austin with a brand-new disc, Kodiak, its second release on Eyeball Records, the New Jersey-based label run by Alex Saavedra, who's also released records by Thursday, My Chemical Romance and Murder by Death.
Finally, Uncle Earl, an acoustic/bluegrass-inflected quartet hailing from Lyons (that's where founding member KC Groves hangs her hat when she's not on the road), will be taking a break from its extensive nationwide tour to play a pair of dates down in Austin. The act's current jaunt, which culminates this summer with a series of festival dates including a stint at Bonnaroo, is in support of its latest effort, the John Paul Jones-produced Waterloo Tennessee. The disc, which hits stores this Tuesday on the Rounder Records imprint, finds the group adding a contemporary flair to rustic, string-band stylings.
When they make their second trip to SXSW this year, the g'Earls should prove once and for all that the 'grass is indeed greener in Colorado.