SXSW Overflow 2014: Day, Er, Two (Rachel Kate, Lion in The Mane, Stuyvesant, Overlake, Autumn Electric, Dear Blanca, & Masonjar Menagerie)

1912385_10153838503515062_195320238_nAlrighty, people — yes, it’s that time of year when music/movie/tech insanity grips tight onto the throat/ears/brain of our sister city to the northwest, Austin, TX, and refuses to let go ’til it, um, stops breathing or something. Our own Jason Smith is up there now, naturally, trying to not kill himself while simultaneously attempting to see every band imaginable; check out his very handy preview up over here and be enlightened.

Mind you, just because SXSW is now in full swing a couple of hours from H-town doesn’t mean the clocks stop over here. Far from it, in fact — these next few weeks will be jam-packed with cool shit, some of which is undoubtedly spillage from the Austin-based festivities.

And when you’re talking spillage, who better to soak it up than Super Happy Fun Land? Yup, those kooky SHFL-ers are once more welcoming with open arms some 70 or so bands from all over the globe, giving ’em a temporary home here in Houston and letting ’em rock the house for an extra night/day before they trundle off home to wherever they come from.

The aptly-named SXSW Overflow Fest 2014 kicked off yesterday, Sunday, March 9th (and yes, I missed it; sorry, all), and roars/crashes/bangs its way all the way to Sunday, March 23rd, with big old pile of bands playing in-between. You can see the full schedule over on the SHFL site; that’s apparently the most up-to-date list available of who all’s playing and when. (Oh, and there’s a Facebook event, too, if that’s your thing.)

Some are great, some are decent, some are “eh,” and yeah, some suck, it’s true — go into it thinking of the festival like a big grab-bag of random potential awesomeness, and you’ll be happily surprised at what you stumble across, believe me. Given that it’s only $8 a night or $24 for the full two weeks, it’s a freaking bargain, whether you know what you’re going to get or not.

Of course, it’s not always fun going in totally blind, so we here at SCR are going to try to do our best to encapsulate what’s what about each of the bands playing this year’s Overflow Fest. We’ll try to get each and every day, but life being what it is, there’re no guarantees, y’know?

Anyway, that’s the gist of it; here’s what’s going on for Day Two of SXSW Overflow 2014, Monday, March 10th, with the earliest bands on the bill coming first:

RACHEL KATE: So, right out of the gate, I’m thrown for a bit of a loop. When Charleston-bred singer/songwriter Rachel Kate started singing, I kind of cringed, I’ll admit it; her voice is muddy and husky, almost mannish, and on first listen, it felt a little weird. As she soldiered on, however, I was slowly-but-steadily won over to her self-described “power folk,” and after a couple more tracks, that cracked, scuffed-up voice suddenly seemed to fit perfectly with the jangly, shambling, hippies-gone-backwoods vibe of the music. It ain’t crystalline and bright, no, but who really wants that all the time, anyway? Rachel Kate sounds just like she should, and that’s a pretty impressive feat. Check out “Hell Is Your Home,” in particular:

 

LION IN THE MANE: And now, for something completely different… It’s gear-shifting time, right here, from folksy jangle to guitar-heavy, subtly rootsy, post-emo rock anthems. New York boys Lion in The Mane come off like Jimmy Eat World if they were from somewhere in the gritty, Springsteen-/Mellencamp-loving Rust Belt, or maybe like The Maine (especially with frontman Jon Masters‘ cigarette-scratched, impassioned vocals). There’s a little bit of a Blackpool Lights/Get Up Kids resemblance in there, too, and that’s never a bad thing in my book. The guitars chime and roar, the drums and bass surge like breakers off a rocky East Coast beach, and Masters’ alternately croons and howls, and holy fuck does it work.

 

STUYVESANT: Right here’s the rarest of things when it comes to SXSW Overflow, a somewhat-familiar face. See, SCR reviewed New Jersey crew Stuyvesant‘s 2008 full-length, Linden Calling, and despite some initial misgivings, yeah, we liked it quite a damn bit. Like the Lion in The Mane guys, these Hoboken boys meld some seriously nice roots-rock influences into their pump-your-fist pop-punk barnburners, and the result is pretty excellent.

It helps, by the by, that vocally and structurally I’m reminded of one of my all-time favorite bands ever, The Smoking Popes — both bands play songs that are fast and loud but sneakily tuneful and classic-sounding beneath the distortion and head-snapping punk rhythms, and frontman Ralph Malanga has a “clean” vocal style that makes me think of both Josh Caterer and Ted Leo. They’ve got a new album on the way this year, apparently, but you can check out 2011’s Fret Sounds below:


 

OVERLAKE: Up next is another NJ band, albeit one that rides a very different line from state-mates Stuyvesant. Where the former band bounces and grins its way along, Overlake prefers to stand in the corner, back turned to the prying eyes, as the band’s members strum delicately but determinedly. They’re shoegazer-y, for sure, but what I keep coming back to while listening is that whole mid-’90s sadcore thing, with bands like Low and Bedhead who always sounded like they were halfway to slitting their own collective wrists right there onstage. Overlake gives me the same feel, all the way through.

There’s a bite to it, too, though, which is cool — it reminds me of Sonic Youth’s quieter, more meditative moments, and to be honest, those are my personal favorite parts of Sonic Youth’s sound. I’m totally good with Overlake stepping in where SY left off. The new album (appropriately entitled sighs) won’t be out ’til next month, but here’s a track or two to listen to:


 

AUTUMN ELECTRIC: Shifting gears yet again, this time to the dramatic, somewhat grandiose, prog-tinged folk-rock of Autumn Electric, which takes most of what’s come before and kicks it aside in favor of baroque, complex arrangements, precious lyricism, and a boatload of different instruments all dueling for supremacy. (Synth flutes, people, synth flutes!) Think The Decemberists if they were less old-fashioned, or maybe Houston’s own The Manichean if they were a bit more enamored of ’80s synth sounds; speaking of those synths, as well, I keep thinking of The Anniversary, who were pretty much the last band I’ve heard use that particular sound. Take a listen:


 

DEAR BLANCA: I don’t know much about these folks beyond the name Dear Blanca and the fact that they hail from Columbia, SC, but hell, I won’t hold that against ’em, so long as they give me some sounds to check out. They’re on the folk-pop side of things, to my ears, with a little bit of a ’70s feel and a decent-sized dose of piano, and the recordings I’ve run across so far are appealingly warm and live-sounding, less like an “album” and more like a bunch of folks just rambling away in a practice space (with better sound-recording equipment, mind you).

I won’t lie — it’s taken me a little while to get into Dear Blanca’s sound, and I suspect that could be the case for other casual listeners, as well. But despite that, it sounds like these folks would be a lot of fun live. Hear for yourself:


 

MASONJAR MENAGERIE: Closing out the night is Masonjar Menagerie, also of South Carolina, although with a far more overtly bluesy sound — which was kind of a surprise, actually, since the “Menagerie” part of their name made me immediately think of Tennessee Williams. There’s not much fragility here, but rather a wonderfully raw, desperate-sounding blues-rock stomp that brings to mind vintage White Stripes, The Black Keys, or Houston’s own The Beans. It’s gritty and dirty and unapologetic, which is just as it should be. Here you go:

 

That’s what’s on for now, y’all; more to come, so check back (or, hell, just get on up to SHFL and find out for yourself)…


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