Photo by Christina Fallara
Abram Shook has long been something of a utility player when it comes to the Austin music scene. The multi-instrumentalist has spent time with local luminaries like Shearwater, the Low Lows, and the Great Nostalgic. A few years ago, he also helped organize Single Cuts, a short-lived but interesting project that tasked various Austin musicians to write and record a song in a 24-hour time span. To Shook, collaboration adds a necessary spark to the creative process.
Not that he’s lacking for inspiration. Before settling in Austin, Shook spent time traveling the world. He grew up in Southern California, soaking in the sunshine with a hefty dose of jazz and rock. He eventually took his talents to Boston and Portland and circled the globe both as a musician and a tourist. His keen eye and ear are now united on Sun Marquee, Shook’s solo debut. Out January 21, the record features Shook’s unique musical outlook, and he also gets help from a number of friends he’s picked up along the way. Members of Dana Falconberry’s band provide backing, and local producers Danny Reisch (Midlake, White Denim) and Erik Wofford (the Black Angels, the Octopus Project) pitched in mixing assistance. Sun Marquee marries Shook’s jazz background with an ethereal psych-pop sensibility, twisting and turning with every song. “Coastal” hits a hard groove and tips its cap to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan–albeit with a hazier atmosphere. The song–and by extension, the album–prove that sometimes it takes an entire village to raise an artist to his highest heights.
Photo by Josette Chen
This past Monday the mercury hit the 80s, and it looks like this weekend we’re gonna get some weather befitting the month of December. As the old-tyme saying goes, “In Texas, if you don’t like the weather…wait.” There’s some truth to that, but there’s one thing that we all here in Central Texas can be pretty sure of: Probably ain’t none of us gonna make a good ol’ fashioned snowman this winter. We can get cold for sure, but as any Texan that’s bundled up in a parka when the temperature hits 50 can attest, we’re not exactly the North Pole. It’s unlikely to be a white Christmas, but one band can still hope against hope.
That band is The Grapes. It’s a supergroup that includes Chris Galis, Blaine McGaffigan, Barry Lacina, Ethan Galis, Adam Cook, Charlie Magnone, and Cullen Faulk, members of local Austin outfits The Gorgeous Hands, Genuine Leather, Dangeresque, and BGold. They’re coming together once again to put on their fifth annual Christmas Extravaganza at the Hole In The Wall this Saturday night (Dec. 7). Joining them on the bill are The Berkshire Hounds and Waldo & The Naturals.
The Grapes aren’t content to stick to the same old carols. They’re spreading some holiday cheer with a song that’s their very own. “I Wish That It Would Snow In Austin” expresses something that, I’m sure, a lot of us born and bred in the subtropical Lone Star State secretly hope for: a winter wonderland with not just a few flurries, but honest-to-goodness snow, the powdery kind. “I wish that it would snow in Austin, prayed for 20 feet, but it stays pretty warm here,” goes the song. It’s also a tale of yuletide love, and, as everybody knows, gently falling snow is the most romantic weather pattern (John Cusack-drenching rain is a distant second). So when you’re cruising by the Christmas lights on 37th (another little local nod in the song) hand-in-hand with your love, wishing against wish that you could have a white Christmas, just know you’re not alone. The Grapes are right there with you with plenty o’ holiday cheer.
Photo by Matthew Dara Alavi
Tim Cohen isn’t the kinda guy to sit idle. Much like his fellow Bay Area psych-rock compatriot John Dwyer, Cohen stirs a lot of creative pots. He grew up in Virginia, and made his way to San Francisco after college. He’s the leader of noise-pop act The Fresh & Onlys. He’s also an accomplished visual artist, and over the course of his career, he’s hit on psychedelia, black metal, and even a little hip-hop.
Magic Trick is the latest in a line of projects from Cohen. It started simply enough as a creative outlet between tours with The Fresh & Onlys. He released three full-lengths as a solo act: 2009′s Two Sides of Tim Cohen, 2010′s Laugh Tracks, and 2011′s Tim Cohen’s Magic Trick. Cohen enlisted some help to perform the songs live, turning his solo project into a full-fledged band. Joining Cohen and his Magic Trick are James Kim, Alicia Vanden Heuvel, and Noelle Cahill. In 2011 Cohen issued The Glad Birth of Love. It’s ostensibly still a Cohen solo record, but it was the first to carry the Magic Trick name. Vanden Heuvel and Cahill added backing vocals to Magic Trick’s 2012 quiet, atmospheric record Ruler of the Night.
Earlier this week (Dec. 3), Magic Trick released their third LP River of Souls. Much like it’s predecessors, Cohen takes more time to explore stylistic possibilities on River of Souls than he does with the more straight-forward psych pop of The Fresh & Onlys. He gets all earth-toned and twangy on the bounding, Western-flavored “Crazy Teeth.” Track nine, “My World,” begins as a Stax-y workout with a pumping, funky bass line and horn stabs before pushing into jazzy, interstellar psych. “The Store” is pure 60s mod-flavored, flower-pop. Drummer Kim keeps a quick-paced motorik beat, and the guitar lines are sharp and punchy. Vanden Heuvel and Cahill’s backing vocals soften the edges a little, and when the song hits hits the chorus, there’s a chord shift that’ll take back to the days of mop tops and Beatle boots. There’s a lot of sounds swirling around on River of Souls, but there’s also a lot of Tim Cohen to go ’round as well.
Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas started purely by accident. The frontwoman originally wrote her songs on an acoustic guitar, but after returning to her native Detroit in 2010, she had an itch to play her songs in a more raucous setting. She hastily formed a backing band to perform at the “Dally In The Alley,” an annual street fair located deep in the heart of downtown Detroit. The group proved to be a successful hit–so much so that Hernandez soon dropped the acoustic in favor of an electric guitar and a new outlook on her own sound.
After taking their name from one of the band member’s cars, the Deltas found themselves providing a gritty, neo-soul bite to Hernandez’s originals. Her voice is perfectly suited to the approach, and you can certainly hear the influence that Motown and classic jazz singers had on Hernandez. Even the venerated jazz label Blue Note took notice and signed the band to a record deal.
But Hernandez & the Deltas found themselves caught in a major label snafu. After Universal bought out Blue Note, the group decided to go the indie route. Richard Gottehrer, the Brill Building songwriter who penned hits like “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy,” signed the band to his own label. Demons, their debut EP for Instant Records, buzzes with a classic pop sound. “Caught Up” is the EP’s sugary showcase, yet underneath the exterior lies a hard-hitting tour-de-force.
Austin’s Mount Pressmore ain’t your average indie-rock garage band. “I write out every note of music,” said group leader (and keyboardist and vocalist) Thomas Shaw on the band’s bio. That dedication to craft comes through in the group’s intriguing and imminently listenable fusion of jazz, rock, and pop.
Growing up, Shaw had a bit of a head start. His father was Robert Shaw, a famed conductor with 14 Grammy Awards under his belt. The younger Shaw went into the family business, so to speak, and went on to study music, but he found himself drawn to more popular fare. “I heard Oscar Peterson and I was blown away,” said Shaw on Mount Pressmore’s bio. “Then I listened to B.B. King, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, and Fela Kuti.” Shaw moved to Austin after school, and in 2011, he hooked up with an old music school classmate named Kris Studebaker, and they formed Mount Pressmore. Joining the pair are bassist Alexei Sefchick and guitarist Danny Anderson.
Today (Dec. 3) the band issues their debut full-length Enjoy. The quartet (local songstress Erin Ivey also joined on backing vocals) recorded the album’s 10 tracks in a speedy three days, but you’d never know it. Take “Trampoline,” for instance. It’s virtuosic, but it feels familiar. Zappa fans will hear a little bit of Frank in the song’s genetic makeup–especially in Shaw’s (pardon the pun) bouncy keyboard work and expressive croon. The dreamy backing harmonies also add a certain dreaminess to the song. Anderson’s guitar dances over a complex–almost martial–beat. The instrumental stretch around the two-thirds mark doesn’t have that cerebral, over-intellectualized quality that one might expect from such erudite musos. Even if Shaw wrote it out note for note, it feels natural and organic, because you can hear musicians feeling it for themselves.
You can see Mount Pressmore live this Saturday (Dec. 7) at the Parish Underground for the Enjoy album-release show.