Brazos // How The Ranks Was Won
Martin Crane is something of a known quantity in Austin, having released a steady stream of home recordings under his own name and the Brazos moniker. But now he looks set to make a national splash, which only seems right for a guy that opened for Grizzly Bear, Wye Oak, the National, and Vampire Weekend following the release of 2009’s Phosphorescent Blues. Saltwater drops May 28 via Dead Oceans, the second offering from Brazos and first since Crane decamped for New York a few years ago.
"How The Ranks Was Won" finds Crane’s folk-pop in higher definition, accompanied by a video that’s rich with hand-made imagery. "It’s the first time I’ve ever made any kind of video/film/moving image," says Crane, "And I wanted to make something so saturated with messages that the viewer has to decide which message to pay attention to. I like the idea that it can be unpacked in slow motion. In this way it is interactive - you can explore it."
Kurt Vile // Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Philly’s “constant hitmaker” returns April 9 with Wakin On A Pretty Daze, out via Matador. Kurt Vile's pop smarts have always been rolled with a stoner's haze, and that's certainly apparent with Daze's first single. "Wakin On A Pretty Day" kicks off the record at a languid stroll, but Vile is a canny artist. He knows how to capture your attention at first listen: there’s the grungy blast of "Hunchback" off 2009’s Childish Prodigy, and the dreamy beauty of "Baby’s Arms" off 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo.
Despite his laid-back demeanor, Vile has a way of spotlighting specific emotions. “Day” is the sound of a lazy, cloudless Sunday—radiant, but bittersweet in its fleetingness. The song unfolds slowly, but it’s as focused as a nine-and-half guitar jam can be.
The Baptist Generals // No Silver/No Gold
A hushed, creaky acoustic ballad slowly comes into auditory view. Chris Flemmons’ odd voice—part preacher, part crazy-eyed drifter—makes "Ay Distress" sound a million years old. Your head is spinning, straining to understand Flemmons’ emotional caterwauling. Suddenly, the scene is ripped apart by a cell phone ring, snapping the listener back to the present day where there’s a man yelling profanities at a piece of technology. You’re no longer sitting fireside with an itinerant folk singer—you’re eavesdropping on a recording session in some guy’s shitty apartment, where the perfect take of the most heart-wrenching song is fucked up by someone’s stupid cell phone.
That’s how the Baptist Generals chose to open No Silver/No Gold, their first and, to date, only album. Sub Pop issued the debut ten years ago this week, and it still sounds out-of-place. Flemmons and drummer Steve Hill crafted the record out of pieces of folk, blues, country, and whatever else was lying around their Denton, Texas hometown. The off-kilter drums and out-of-tune guitars make for an unsettling atmosphere; at any time, it feels like the foundation below “Alcohol (Turn To Fall)” or “On A Wheel” is going to crumble into pieces, much like “Ay Distress” does when its haunted surroundings are broken by the modern day. Somehow, they keep it all together, focused enough to rise above the mess on “Preservatine” and “Going Back Song.” Flemmons even finds emotional clarity in the latter. He’s been through the ringer, but he keeps getting up after being knocked down. There’s a reprise at the end of the album, lending the collection a hard-earned redemptive air.
There are noticeable touchstones: at times, No Silver/No Gold recalls Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, even Jeff Mangum. And like those forbears, the Baptist Generals retreated from view after baring their souls. But—probably for the better—the group wasn’t lionized and fetishized in the same manner. Flemmons still lives an everyday life in Denton, and he’s helped put the town on the music map. He’s responsible for 35 Denton, a North Texas cousin to South By Southwest that’s a bit shaggier and more DIY (Thurston Moore and Roky Erickson headline this March). Last year, the Baptist Generals even reunited for a few shows, and if mysterious test pressings are to be believed, there’s a new album on the way. The fact that Flemmons is a regular guy with a regular job doesn’t take away from the otherwordliness of No Silver/No Gold. In fact, it’s the day-to-day struggle that informs the record’s best moments. It’s still easy to revel in this beautiful ugliness ten years later.
Hauschka // Who Will Hold Me
They almost didn’t let Hauschka play. At a church in central Austin during South By Southwest 2010, Volker Bertelmann arrived with a backpack to find a beautiful Steinway grand piano waiting for him and his performance. But after he took gaffer tape, ping-pong balls, nails, and screws from his backpack and proceeded to attach them to the piano’s strings, the church staff quickly shut him down. It took nearly twenty minutes of conversation for the German composer to convince the staff that he wouldn’t harm the instrument; rather, he’d transform it into something altogether new.
Over the past decade, Hauschka has taken John Cage’s prepared piano technique out of the avant-garde classroom and into chamber halls around the world. His pieces are wistfully melodic but deeply rhythmic, sometimes creating a fantastical acoustic-electronic dance music hybrid. Now Hauschka has a three-part video series on the way from Room 205, a collaboration between artists, filmmakers, and Incase. Part one marries Hauschka’s music with magical realism, showcasing the composition "Who Will Hold Me." We think of the piano as organic, yet both the video and Hauschka highlight its mechanistic qualities—albeit, it’s a beautiful machine.
Adam Green & Binki Shapiro // Just To Make Me Feel Good
It’s a wonder that the respective projects of Adam Green and Binki Shapiro aren’t bigger than they are. Green’s anti-folk outfit Moldy Peaches flirted with fame via Juno, while Shapiro’s Little Joy (featuring the Strokes’ Fab Moretti) crafted a debut that bested anything the Strokes have put out recently. Regardless, the pair of songwriters are immensely talented at crafting simple pop songs, the kind that sound instantly old and classic as soon as they hit your ears.
With little fanfare, Green and Shapiro have teamed up for a self-titled album that’s anything but unassuming. Their songs sparkle and pop like tunes from a lost era, and they tip their hats to similar-minded musical pairs: Green’s smoky baritone is to Lee Hazlewood as Shapiro’s smooth croon is to Nancy Sinatra. Yet unlike that team, Green and Shapiro are adept at switching roles, sometime even mid-song. "Just To Make Me Feel Good" gets a lot of mileage out its serpentine singing structure, with the two vocalists trading parts of verses before coming together in harmony for the chorus. The video reinforces this dance; Green and Shapiro circle around each others’ lives but only meet for a fleeting moment. Here’s hoping that the two stay together.