SXSW Overflow 2013: Day Seven (Charles Ellsworth, Yusif!, Pillage & Plunder, Tom Blacklung and the Smokestacks, Big Mess, Kal Marks, & More)
phew. Hey, folks — I’m back in town and online. And holy crap, does it feel like I missed a lot; apologies for not updating from the road, but I was so exhausted in the evenings (chasing a hyperactive 3-year-old around is no picnic, especially when he refuses to nap and has a cold) I mostly just crashed out. sigh.
At any rate, the SXSW Overflow 2013 festival is still in full swing over at Super Happy Fun Land, nearing the end of its first full week. And hey, in my absence, the good people over at the Houston Press have been doing their own pithy writeups of the Overflow Fest folks, and they’re pretty good; check ‘em out here and here for what they’ve got up so far (which, yes, is definitely more than I’ve got up so far…).
Without further ado, here’s the pile for Friday, March 15th:
CHARLES ELLSWORTH: No, he’s not doing anything mindblowingly new, really, but Charles Ellsworth (who apparently also plays with a band called “The Dirty Thirty,” although maybe not tonight) does an able, thoughtful kind of countrified folk, understated and melancholy while staying smart and literate. He brings to mind Band of Annuals or a more beaten-down Folk Family Revival, neither of which are bad things, at least to me, and his voice is refreshingly strong and soulful and non-gritty, for once.
I’ll admit to being slightly biased, seeing as the guy’s from Pinetop, AZ, up in the mountains near where my uncles used to live (rest in peace, Uncle Derry), and I just got back from Arizona myself, but even still, the guy’s good. Oh, and he’s seriously into YouTube, it seems, uploading little clips of every damn performance he does to his account, including one from last freaking night up in Austin. Here’s a good one, from a Colorado Springs show:
And yeah, I’ve gotta admire a performer who just ignores the won’t-stop-jabbering crowd and does his thing, come hell or high water.
THE GETAWAY: Hrm. Okay, so this is less of a comment on band The Getaway than it is a comment on the times we live in, but…well, I’ll just say it: if I squint just a little bit, they come off like Zac Efron in the High School Musical movies (all three of which, yes, I unfortunately know by heart, thanks to having a 9-year-old daughter).
It’s not bad, no, but rather just kind of mainstream-sounding and tween-friendly, all not-quite-rough-enough guitars, soulful/sultry “hey girl” vocals (and yeah, there’re a lot of “hey girl”s in the lyrics, too), floppy hair, and funky-pop breakdowns. On the positive side, the band apparently doesn’t take itself too seriously, as evidenced by the silly-ass house party video for “Test Our Bodies” — seriously, I can’t hate on a band who puts a bunch of serious-looking dudes in a closet all reading books into their “party” video:
YUSIF!: First off, I really hope the exclamation point is necessary for the band’s name. I mean, I know Yusif is the actual first name of half the band, but still, that little bit of punctuation should be mandatory…
Now, as to the band’s actual sound, I’m a little conflicted; see, there’s a part of me that wants to cringe away from the too-sincere, warbly-voiced, coffeehouse-singer-sounding music they make, but at the same time, okay, yeah, I find myself liking it. There’s a definite resemblance to pseudo-namesake Cat Stevens on the quieter, more mellow acoustic tunes, and Yusif’s voice, while it’s different, sucks me in with an unabashed, take-it-or-leave-it shrug. And when the band cuts loose and gets electric, like on “Reach Out,” it works a hell of a lot better than I’d ever guessed it would, with a frantic, desperate energy that’s damn near impossible to dislike.
And hey, here’re a couple of free songs to download from the duo’s self-titled album (which you can also grab in its entirety, it looks like, from the band’s Website):
ROB MARCUS: Alright, so tonight’s starting to feel like Jangly Acoustic Singer-Songwriter Night up at SHFL, but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right? Okay, mostly. Actually, Rob Marcus, albeit definitely a singer/songwriter-type guy, isn’t strictly a folkie or anything like that, and is pretty far removed from tourmates Yusif!; rather, he plays pop that, while it is jangly and acoustic, is also funky and soulful, riding a bubbling, rumbling bass and crooning gently into your ears as he spins out songs about (no, really) traveling through Asia.
Now, I’ll freely admit that this isn’t really my thing — it’s a bit too much like jazz-lite for my tastes — but even still, it’s well-done for what it is, and folks who are fans of serious/jazzy, world music-inflected soul-pop, hey, this should be right up your alley. Take a listen to his EP here:
WALK THE PLANK: Damn; when I first saw Walk The Plank and Pillage & Plunder on the list, I’d hoped in vain that they might be two of those wacky pirate-metal bands (no, seriously, they exist). I was wrong on both counts, but hey, I don’t mind too much, considering what both bands actually do sound like.
For their part, DC outfit Walk The Plank hark back to the heady days of DC-punk yore, back when all those Dischord bands ruled and forged a tuneful-yet-loud style of hardcore; these guys combine yell-along choruses, in-your-face vocals & lyrics, heavy/distorted punk guitars, melodic riffs, and careening rhythms for a sound that’s a nicely-done throwback to the hardcore a lot of us out here grew up listening to. It’ll make you want to punch stuff and pogo around like a lunatic, trust me. Take a listen to the band’s 2012 EP, Community:
VIVA DECONCINI: Alright, so I think Viva DeConcini is — like Yusif!, above — both a person and a band. To add to that: a person/band who does a heck of a lot of music for burlesque/stripper shows. Yeah, you read that correctly.
NY’s DeConcini plays over-the-top, almost Rocky Horror-ish guitar-rock that’s alternately campy and sincere, rolling back through a whole lot of glam-rock and classic rock influences and coming up like a transgendered Ziggy Stardust if he/she’d decided to ditch the stardom and fame before his/her hands got broken and settled down in the Lower East Side to play nothing but seedy dives for the rest of his/her life.
Anyway, I can’t really describe it any better than that; you’ll have to see for yourself. Take a look/listen to the band’s “Rock & Roll Lover,” the video for which is fairly NSFW (so be warned):
PILLAGE & PLUNDER: Okay, back to my “pirate metal” dreams above…this was the other band on the list (along with the aforementioned Walk The Plank) that made me get briefly excited about said nautical-themed music, but alas, ’twas not to be here, either.
Unlike hardcore-throwback dudes WTP, though, Atlanta-dwellers Pillage & Plunder do actually have a twinge of a surf-rock vibe going on, grafted onto a skeleton of math-y, multi-edged rock, ska-ish guitars, and sweet, sly-smiling vocals. It’s a little strange, admittedly, but damn, I’m liking it. P&P are bright, shiny, sharp, and bouncy, somehow all at the same time, and the result is a bit like a less-anthemic, more-prog Surfer Blood. Listen to two of the first songs from the band’s forthcoming full-length, down here:
TOM BLACKLUNG AND THE SMOKESTACKS: With Tom Blacklung and the Smokestacks, I was hooked pretty much from the word “Go” — or at least, from the first noise-drone note of “The Slime,” which sees the Brooklyn band stomping along in an Unsane-y groove, riding a riff that’s not so much a “riff” as it is somehow beating on the same half-held note on their guitar over and over while all three members of the trio howl and scream out misanthropic words about…fuck, I don’t know what. And yeah, it’s awesome.
Fans of noisy, twitchy, scraping, post-punk rock, this is for you; if you like Balaclavas, Foetus, Cop Shoot Cop, the aforementioned Unsane, or maybe Black Congress, these guys are making music you really need to hear. Trust me on this, y’all:
BIG MESS: Then, out of Lowell, MA, we’ve got Big Mess, who live up to their name in a good way, happily, by blasting out a heavy, heavy, heavy, sludgy-as-hell torrent of murky, foreboding instro-doom-metal that somehow sneaks little bits of pretty, Explosions in the Sky-esque melody and — I swear to God — blues riffs into the swirling morass of sound. I dunno why/how these guys haven’t yet played with local H-town bands Omotai, Co-Pilot, or Peloton, but they damn well need to, honest.
They’ve got a more-recent split-7″, it’s true, but listen to the band’s eponymous 2011 EP for a better glimpse of what they sound like:
KAL MARKS: Big Mess tourmates Kal Marks are heavy and weird like their Massachusetts brethren, but otherwise, they don’t bear a whole hell of a lot of resemblance. No doom-metal here; instead, this is straight-up indie-rock strangeness a la Wolf Parade and that whole Montreal scene that was going nuts a few years back.
Nasally, raggedy, almost bluegrass-y vocals, epic guitars, speeding rhythms, and a big, heavy-lidded smirk over the whole proceedings; that’s the general blueprint throughout, and against all odds, the tongue-firmly-in-cheek band makes it work, crunching and banging their way straight into your freaking soul like they absolutely belong there. Here’s their 2012 EP, Piss of the Century:
And there we are for now, people. More to come…