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(SXSW 2018 flavoured!) Video of the Moment #2805: Sunflower Bean

 
By on Friday, 9th March 2018 at 6:00 pm
 

New York band Sunflower Bean will be returning to Austin next week for SXSW 2018, having appeared there in 2016, notably on the Thursday night showcase put on by BBC Music at Stubb’s alongside country great Loretta Lynn. The American group will be releasing a new album, ‘Twentytwo in Blue’, on the 23rd of March, the week after SXSW, on Mom + Pop and Lucky Number Records. It follows their well-received 2016 debut ‘Human Ceremony’, reviewed here.

The promo video for album track ‘Twentytwo’ seemed appropriate to leave you with before Carrie and I head off to Austin. The trio don prom-style finery in this video, and it seems a bit narcissistic to have the camera trained on frontwoman Julia Cumming, sure. But SXSW is a dance in my mind, just as our college basketball tourney is dubbed ‘The Big Dance’. And I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of singers and musicians preening onstage and trying to get our attention in Texas. Sure, I’ve simplified the video, but check out these key lines from the song: “I do not go quietly / into the night that calls me / even when I’m alone”. You are not alone. We are not alone. Hold on to that thought. For more on Sunflower Bean here on TGTF, follow this link. We’ll see you back here the week of 19 March.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2018: best bets among American artists showcasing at this year’s SXSW

 
By on Wednesday, 28th February 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Header photo: Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats by Brantley Gutierrez

As you might expect with an American music festival, SXSW is typically heavy on American showcasing artists, and SXSW 2018 won’t be any different. This year’s music festival lineup features a load of big names that you’ve probably heard before, along with a few new ones that, if they’re not familiar already, likely will become so very soon.

Our ongoing preview coverage of SXSW 2018 has already highlighted a few up-and-coming artists on the showcase schedule, including grunge rock band Bully and alt-country singer Courtney Marie Andrews. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is elusive Los Angeles alt-rock trio Lo Moon, who made mild waves with their SXSW appearance last year. I expect them to make a bigger splash this time around, on the strength of their just released self-titled LP, which includes new track ‘Wonderful Life’.

Among the major players heading to SXSW 2018 are a handful of TGTF alums who have broken through to mainstream success. We first covered songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff way back in 2011, but the course of his career dramatically changed in 2015, when he convened a new band called the Night Sweats and released their hit self-titled album. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently announced a brand new LP called ‘Tearing at the Seams’, which is due for release just before SXSW on the 9th of March and features lead track ‘You Worry Me’.

North Carolina alt-pop duo Sylvan Esso previewed songs from their 2017 album ‘What Now’ at a surprise SXSW 2016 show; their appearance this year could once again herald new music on the horizon. Austin native David Ramirez wasn’t in top form when I saw him at SXSW 2017, but he may be in better shape this year, playing songs from his beautiful recent album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, which he has toured extensively since its release. SXSW 2015 showcasing artist Natalie Prass has just announced a brand new album ‘The Future and The Past’ due out on the 1st of June; she will presumably highlight its soul-tinged single ‘Short Court Style’ on her showcases in Austin next month.

Among other past TGTF mentions on the SXSW 2018 list are Nashville singer/songwriter Liza Anne, who will release her new album ‘Fine But Dying’ on the 9th of March and Milwaukee quartet Field Report, whose new album ‘Summertime Songs’ is previewed in the stream of ‘Never Look Back’ just below. Fellow Nashville singer Tristen and Philadelphia duo Vita and the Woolf, both acts we’ve coincidentally covered in conjunction with Irish alt-rockers Bell X1, also made the showcase list for this year’s festival in Austin, along with New York’s Sunflower Bean, who showcased at SXSW 2016, and L.A. rock band Warbly Jets, who made an appearance at SXSW last year.

American artists new to TGTF include Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes fame, and Buck Meek of alt-rock band Big Thief, neither of whom we’ve seen in a solo capacity before. Satellite radio listeners here in the U.S. might already be familiar with Mt. Joy and NoMBe, who have both been featured on SiriusXM Alt-Nation, while public radio devotees will no doubt have heard Portland singer/songwriter Haley Heynderickx and New Orleans funk/soul group Tank and the Bangas on NPR.

For dedicated indie fans, a pair of duo acts, Denver’s Tennis and Baltimore’s Wye Oak have made the SXSW shout list, along with the always eccentric Okkervil River. In the heavily represented Americana category, sure winners include a trio of Nashville acts: singer/songwriter Nikki Lane, country rock trio Liz Cooper and the Stampede and veteran country/bluegrass collective Old Crow Medicine Show.

Please note: all information we bring you about SXSW 2018 is to the best of our knowledge when it posts and artists and bands scheduled to appear may be subject to change. To learn when your favourite artist is playing in Austin, we recommend you first consult the official SXSW schedule, then stop by the artist’s Facebook or official Web site for details of any non-official SXSW appearances.

 

SXSW 2016: Thursday night with the BBC Music showcase at Stubb’s BBQ – 17th March 2016

 
By on Wednesday, 6th April 2016 at 2:00 pm
 

After Thursday afternoon’s amazing Output Belfast showcase at the British Music Embassy, I headed over to Stubb’s BBQ for another exciting UK-centric show, the inaugural BBC Music Showcase. The emcees for the evening, BBC Radio presenters Steve Lamacq (6 Music), Jo Whiley (Radio 2), Huw Stephens (Radio 1) and MistaJam (1Xtra) were almost as high profile as the showcasing artists themselves, who according to the official SXSW preview of the event, were chosen to “represent the breadth of genres BBC nurtures and supports.”

Given the magnitude of the artists scheduled to perform at Stubb’s that night, I thought it would be wise to queue early, and I arrived just as the line outside the venue was starting to form, almost 2 hours ahead of the show. Luckily for me, Stubb’s offers takeaway barbecue near the venue gates, so I was able to grab a delicious pulled pork taco while I waited to get in. My fellow punters, including Melinda Hasting, John Baker, and Walter Fields of SXSW showcasing act Missi and Mister Baker made fine company, and the time spent in the queue passed quickly.

Loretta Lynn at BBC Music at Stubb's, Thursday at SXSW 2016

The members of Missi and Mister Baker were at Stubb’s specifically to see the first act on the evening’s bill, country music legend Loretta Lynn. I was giddy with excitement to see Lynn myself, especially after featuring her in my preview article on feminism at SXSW 2016. Lynn was accompanied on stage by a full backing band, led by her son Ernest Ray, and their set on the night was predictably spectacular, from their introduction by BBC Radio 2 host Jo Whiley all the way through to the sentimental favourite final track ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’. Jovial banter and playful teasing between mother and son punctuated the set list, which included shouted requests for “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven’ and ‘Fist City’. After a bit of suspenseful coquetry on the part of Ms. Lynn, we were treated to her latest single ‘Everything It Takes’ before she swept the figurative curtain closed with ‘Honky Tonk Girl’ and her signature set closer.

Loretta Lynn at BBC Music at Stubb's, Thursday at SXSW 2016

Loretta Lynn was no doubt a difficult act to follow, and the crowd at Stubb’s dissipated somewhat after the end of her set. The front of the venue didn’t remain vacant for long though, as a more youthful set of punters filed in for the next act, the female-fronted trio Sunflower Bean. Introduced by BBC 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq, the up-and-coming New Yorkers took advantage of the large stage at Stubb’s both visually and sonically, creating an impressive display of psych rock force, especially in their extended performance of ‘Space Exploration Disaster’. For more on Sunflower Bean, you can read our Steven’s review of their debut album ‘Human Ceremony’ right back here.

Lapsley at BBC Music at Stubb's, Thursday at SXSW 2016

Nineteen-year-old Liverpudlian electronic singer/songwriter Låpsley appeared next on the Stubb’s stage, on the strength of her recent debut album ‘Long Way Home.’ I wasn’t previously familiar with Låpsley’s music, but a fellow audience member described her to me as “like Adele, only with a dance beat.” His assessment wasn’t far off, as it turned out. If you like the timbre of Adele’s singing voice but find her songs a bit too sleepy and weepy, Låpsley’s more urban edge might be just your speed. Check out her recent concept video for ‘Love is Blind’ just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/q9Jrlg6GnkY[/youtube]

I was even less familiar with Croydon grime artist Stormzy, who took the stage after an introduction by BBC Radio 1Xtra’s MistaJam. Though his given name is Michael Omari, Stormzy reminded us of his stage name several times in the course of his set, while also stirring up the crowd’s energy with frenetic onstage motion and relentless rapping over beats provided by his assistant, DJ Tiny. I couldn’t help but reflect on the contrast of styles between Stormzy and Loretta Lynn, and though Stormzy’s brand of hip-hop isn’t exactly to my taste, the formidable strength of his show was every bit as spectacular as Lynn’s opening set.

Stormzy at BBC Music at Stubb's, Thursday at SXSW 2016

Unfortunately a minor personal emergency near the end of Stormzy’s set meant that I was unable to stay at Stubb’s for the final act on the BBC Music bill, alt-folk rocker Jake Bugg. I have to admit that I was particularly disappointed not to see Bugg, who I also missed when he toured in America with Snow Patrol several years ago. On reflection, however, I feel fortunate that Mary I and found ourselves safe and sound at the end of the evening. Jake Bugg will remain on my musical bucket list for the time being; I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for possible future tour dates around his new third album ‘On My One’, which is due out in June. In the meantime, the video for his current single ‘Gimme the Love’ is playing just below.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/o70e7Nb8SVM[/youtube]

 

(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony

 
By on Friday, 19th February 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Sunflower Bean Human Ceremony album art coverThere’s something endearingly erratic about the debut record from Brooklyn’s latest export Sunflower Bean. Filled with songs that flirt between urgent and laid-back, it’s all very concurrent which makes for an exciting listen. You really don’t know what could come next: not quite on a Grimes hyper-scale, but it’s certainly refreshing.

Opening and title track ‘Human Ceremony’ builds a surrounding ether from both guitars, with an encapsulating ‘80s reverberation and percussion that follows alongside nicely. It’s a calm entrance but by no means an indicator of the rest of the record. ‘Come On’ is a different beast entirely, beginning with a crunchy guitar sound that leads into a much higher tempoed track, it’s a palate cleanser before you’ve even had a bite to eat. With singer and bassist Julia Cumming’s reiteration of “Right now, I’m on the edge of my seat”, it’s certainly a good indication of where they have you, and it’s only the second track. Her falsetto plays together nicely with the urgency within its sound.

This progresses nicely into ‘2013’, which itself is a retrospectively positioned track, looking toward the present future. It was written on New Years Eve in 2013 and released in 2014 so this is a nice little update to a previously heard track. The lyrical content is minimal but it suits the instrumentation which is meandering, but in a positive sense, a la Pink Floyd or more modern contemporaries such as Tame Impala, with a nice breakdown at the end.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_EylIzpggU[/youtube]

For some reason, when listening to ‘I Was Home’, the lyrics “What did you do today?” along with the answering “I didn’t do much today” just recalls the classic Kaiser Chiefs track ‘Never Miss a Beat’. Fortunately, that’s the closest they come to any notion of being like the Kaiser Chiefs; it’s just an unfortunate match in lyrics. The track is a fast-paced punk number that powers through in an early 2000’s Vines-esque capacity.

‘Creation Myth’ peters out slightly, reverting back to the psych-centred guitars and falsetto vocals. That is, until toward the end, where it turns into a Black Sabbath monolith, with some of the heaviest guitars on the record and potentially in anything released so far this year. Sunflower Bean know exactly how to compose a song to intrigue and surprise you, a strength that will in no doubt fuel their career and propel it forward. The fuzz continues into ‘Wall Watcher’, which uses more repetition in the lyrics to create a swirling mixture of sound and imagery. “Watching, watching, watching you”: it’s almost as if the band are talking for the audience, anticipating their own fame.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RplDJ08s8Y[/youtube]

The combination of both Cumming and second vocalist Nick Kilvern is endearing. Her voice is sweet and beautifully sits on top of any mix it’s involved with, whereas Kilvern’s hangs below, with a rough Dylan edge to it. (This may also explain the album cover’s similarity to ‘Bringing It All Back Home’.) This possible influence is most apparent in the shortest cut on the record, ‘Oh, I Just Don’t Know’, a sparse, rough blues number focusing mostly on the vocals rather than instrumentation. It just to show Sunflower Bean don’t have to rely on effect-drenched guitars and surprising hard rock riffs.

Finale ‘Space Exploration Disaster’ is a decent enough closer, presenting 2013 as a frontier that’s looming, especially with the lyrics “In the end, 2013, no one can hear you scream”. It also could be a comment on the music industry, but that’s a whole other conversation. It uses a mixture of layered guitars and controlling percussion that takes the song where it needs to go, which is to the eventual choruses, through a slow pace.

It’s definitely a solid debut record, one Sunflower Bean should not only be proud of but should look to develop on. Maybe hone the sound slightly so that there’s less surprises and more full executed twists. And even more Sabbath-style breakdowns, which are wonderfully unexpected and a perfect compliment to a soft shoegaze sound.

8.5/10

‘Human Ceremony’, the debut album from hyped New York band Sunflower Bean, is out now on Fat Possum Records. The band are scheduled to perform at SXSW 2016, with two appearances already announced: Thursday afternoon, the 17th of March, at the Radio Day stage at the Austin Convention Center, and Friday night, the 18th of March, at the Parish.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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