SXSW Overflow 2014: Day Three (Small Houses, Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Hawk and Dove, Dylan Taylor Band, White City, Hollis Brown, & More)

smallhouses1Trying to keep things moving on with our SCR coverage of the always-awesome SXSW Overflow Fest up at Super Happy Fun Land, so it’s on to Day Three of the festivities. As I noted before, this thing is cheap, cheap, cheap, a measly $8 per night or $24 for the whole damn deal; that amount of money won’t get you real far up in Austin right now.

Anyway, here we go — I’ve had to spend most of my time these past 24 hours dealing with sick family members, so I’m going to attempt to keep things brief:

BLAKE BYRD BAND: Alright, so this isn’t exactly a trajectory you see every day, music world-wise — Texan singer/songwriter with serious religious convictions moves northward to seek his musical fortune, all the way up to…Cambridge, Massachusetts? And yet, that’s exactly Blake Byrd‘s story; these days the Dallas native spends his days up in the Beantown area, playing at churches and clubs in equal measure.

To be honest, Byrd’s music really isn’t my thing; it’s got a bit too much of a Dave Mathews-ish, low-key jangle-pop vibe to it for me, in the end. For those who truly like that thing, though, Byrd knows his way around a hook, and those strummy, jangly guitars are warm and appealing in a hey-let’s-all-just-hang-out kind of way. And hey, you can grab his band’s most recent single, “Coffee Stains,” for free:


SMALL HOUSES: Aha, now there’s a familiar name; I remember Small Houses fondly from last year’s SXSW Overflow, when I first stumbled across Jeremy Quentin‘s gentle, downtrodden, seriously rural folk, which evokes both the bleak back roads of Quentin’s Michigan roots and the dustier, sunnier tracks of his current Atlanta home.

He’s got a great, great, rough-edged voice that makes me think of David Ramirez in particular, but also of H-town native Robert Ellis, and he plays a mean fingerpicked guitar, effortlessly crafting music that’s somber but hopeful, dusky like the evening light on a porch somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. This is the music of a man dwelling on the edges of the modern world, a lost-in-time troubadour with raggedy boots and a battered guitar, roaming a version of America the rest of us never see on TV or in glossy magazines and singing about it. And yeah, we need those kinds of songs.

Grab a couple of free MP3s from the man himself, right here:


KOO KOO KANGA ROO: Um. What? Alright, I’ll try to encapsulate this as best I can, although I suspect I’m going to fail miserably. Koo Koo Kanga Roo are an electro-dance duo from Minneapolis who play songs with cheesy synths and old-school beats while singing about cats, partying, unicorns, potassium, ninjas, and partying (yes, again). It’s goofy and strange and…well, I think I like it, although I’m a little scared to acknowledge that I might actually be enjoying a band this flat-out silly.

Actually, on second thought, who the fuck cares? Koo Koo Kanga Roo are a hell of a lot of fun, bouncing and rhyming like they want nothing more than to make you grin like an idiot and move your ass at the same damn time. Think a more kid-friendly Atom and His Package, or a less-serious Har Mar Superstar, or a less-romantic Lisa’s Sons, infuse any of the three with some Reptar-ish party-anthem funkiness, and you’ll be in the ballpark. Oh, and just in case you think I’m kidding, here’s their latest EP, Viral: Songs About Cats and Stuff:


HAWK AND DOVE: I so want to assume that Brooklyn’s Hawk and Dove named themselves after the eponymous comic book duo, but…yeah, that’s probably not actually the case. Dang.

I’m not too broken up about it, though, because this Hawk and Dove is pretty damn compelling all on their own. They’re folky but not country or backwoods; rather, there’s kind of a “world-folk” feel to it all, the kind that eschews dusty backroads in favor of quiet, dirty streets somewhere else, a little ways away from here. There’s a dark, murky sadness to the music that I’m liking quite a bit, and a neat, neat fragility to the whole thing, as well as an impressive ability to layer sound upon sound without becoming swallowed up.

After listening for a while, I can’t help but think of The Eastern Sea more than anything else; both TES and Hawk and Dove have a thoughtful deliberateness about them, a sense that they’re carefully building something that you maybe won’t be able to see completely ’til it’s all finished and done. Hear ’em for yourself, right here:


DYLAN TAYLOR BAND: Heading South, we run into Nashville’s Dylan Taylor Band, who doesn’t really sound all that “Nashville,” at least not to these ears; the group’s frontwoman is nicely bluesy, with a surprisingly powerful voice, but the band behind her is straight-up rock, all raggedly-sharp guitars and stomping alt-rock drums. And hey, that’s fine by me — it’s just that the country tinge I’d expected is buried pretty deep down in the music.

And what’s actually there? Yeah, it’s not bad. It’d be easy to dismiss Taylor based on the made-in-the-’90s Website and album cover, but if you do that, you’ll be missing out on some decently rocking tunes that carry a lot of truly authentic pain within ’em. Taylor’s impressively gritty and rough when you least expect it, and despite my misgivings coming into it, yeah, I’m finding myself enjoying her music quite a bit.

No links I can put in here for the music, so here’s a live acoustic performance, instead:


WHITE CITY: And here we have the band I’m most intrigued by tonight, mostly because, yeah, they hail from Afghanistan, of all places. Yep; White City formed in Kabul (although the band members are actually an Aussie videographer, a British journo, and a Swedish aid worker, so there’re no actual Afghanis in the band), which has got to be one of the toughest places in the whole freaking world to be in a band.

Musically, they’re prog-y rock with some metal bits, some industrial touches, and some head-nodding, kinda-trippy psych parts, all mashed up and squeezed together in a vise. The rhythms are heavy and solid, some of the guitar work makes me think (in a very good way) of either Prong or System Of A Down, and they incorporate some neat “found sound” recording-type stuff into some of the tracks. Here’s their debut album, Landlocked:


OTONANA TRIO: And hey, here’s another name I recognize, with Tokyo pop-rockers Otonana Trio, who I rambled on about a bit this time last year. Sadly, I’m not liking their watery, goofy, funky rock much more now than I did then, but hey, you’re not me, so what do I know? In terms of funky rock, these guys do know what they’re doing, I’ll grant — it’s just not something I really care for much these days, in general.

On the positive side, I suspect they’re a lot of fun live; they come off like one of those oddball bands who goes absolutely batshit-nuts on stage, and I’m always good with that. And hey, they’re pals with the guys in Giant Battle Monster, apparently, and that recommendation says something right there. Listen to some songs and make up your own mind:


TERRA ALIVE: And then, there’s Terra Alive, from Bakersfield, CA, who I’m having trouble even really categorizing, frankly. They’re poppy and jaunty, occasionally throwing in some post-emo-style rock guitars and even odder spazz-rock and math-rock bits but more frequently bouncing along like a fractured lounge-pop band (complete with matching suits and box-wine, apparently).

Terra Alive are interesting, to say the least, although it’s hard to pin ’em down for long enough to really form much of an opinion beyond that. At their weirdest, they make me think of Brown Whornet, and at their catchiest, they make me think of You Me and Iowa. As with Otonana, above, listen for yourself:


HOLLIS BROWN: Finishing out the night is something a bit more down-to-Earth, thankfully, with New Yorkers Hollis Brown, who do a cool, bluesy, scuffed-up kind of Americana. Despite their Queens roots, the quintet makes a beautifully earth-toned, down-home roar, barrelling along through tracks about riding the rails, believing in something, and loving and losing.

I’m not going to claim these folks are ground-breaking, no — lots of people have done this before, and I’m sure there’ll be bands doing this ’til the end of time. Even still, though, it’s nice to listen to something and immediately feel a cozy, friendly familiarity, y’know? Hollis Brown is that kind of band; they sound enough like jangly, rootsy, folky music you’ve heard before to pull you in and do it well enough to make you smile and mean it. Check out the video for “Ride On The Train,” which is my favorite track so far:


phew. That’s all I’ve got for tonight; more tomorrow…

[Small Houses photo by Jarred Gastreich.]

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