The National are the antithesis of an overnight success. They’ve become popular in the traditional way: by releasing great albums and then touring nonstop for several years until people finally noticed them.
The band formed in Brooklyn in 1999 and since then, the National have released six albums, the most recent being Trouble Will Find Me (May 20th). Like the past three National records, Trouble Will Find Me adds to their pristine musical reputation. Still, the new album shows the National stepping away from their atmospheric sound, opting for something a little less dense instead. They still sound like The National, only now they seem more confident in their own skin.
May has been an exciting month for the National, not only because of the release of Trouble Will Find Me, but the band has also released their first film, Mistaken for Strangers. The documentary follows the band over the past two years while they were out touring for High Violet. Earlier this month, the National also participated in a six hour art installation at PS1 in Queens, the offshoot of the Modern Museum of Art.
When you think Iowa, you probably don’t necessarily think pop music. But a folk-and-jazz-tinged quintet called The Parish Festival are here to change that for you.
The core of the group–guitarist, banjoist and singer Jamey Cummins, singer Sarah Ulloa and bassist Andy Rappel–hails from Davenport, Iowa, and that’s where the first version of The Parish Festival formed back in 2005. In 2007, one of their tunes, “Well I Never,” ended up on the MTV show “Skins.” They gigged all over the Midwest, but a recent move to our little musical Mecca on the Colorado saw the band add some local talent to the mix. Joining Cummins, Ulloa and Rappel are Austin music vets Jim Foster (guitars, banjo and vocals) and Kurt Lammers (drums).
On May 28 The Parish Festival release a brand new EP, and one of the record’s stand-outs is “Palomino.” It’s an interesting tune. It begins life as a nice, earnest neo-folk number, but somewhere along the way, the song shifts. It’s still heartfelt to be sure, but they twist genres from neo-folk into something more akin to speakeasy jazz. The switch itself is really subtle, and it’s a testament to their chops as musicians that they can turn a song on its head so well without disturbing its natural anima. When they shift back, it’s just as dextrous. The Parish Festival may be part-transplants to Austin, but they’re a welcome addition to our musical fold.
If you want to see The Parish Festival live, they’re celebrating the release of their new EP Sunday, June 2 at the Spider House Ballroom.
Matt Adams is a man out of time and place. Under the moniker the Blank Tapes, he marches to the beat of his own ’60s indebted drum, channeling the flower power of that decade with a sound as sunny as his California home. He’s something of a do-it-himself savant. Adams plays almost all the instruments on his recordings, and his album art hints to his past work as a Mad Magazine designer. Even the band name is impeccably crafted: Adams claims he has nearly four hundred original songs rattling around in his head, so his blank canvas ends up being more of a blank tape.
Even though he’s so single-minded about his musical pursuit, he never could have imagined having a hit, let alone in a foreign country. Somehow, his 2010 album Home Away From Home made its way to Brazil, and the positive buzz prompted Adams to take his show on the road. With help from several San Francisco musicians, Adams turned the Blank Tapes into a bonafide band and toured South America. Soon after, the group accompanied fellow Bay Area psych-poppers Thee Oh Sees to Europe, and they can also cross Japan of their touring itinerary.
All this traveling is something new for a home-recording enthusiast like Adams, but it’s starting to seep into his music. Last week, the Blank Tapes released Vacation and to celebrate, the band is undertaking a “Coast To Coast” summer jaunt. The outfit stopped by Studio 1A recently, and they’ll also be back in Austin at the Mohawk on June 9. The Blank Tapes kicked off their 1A live session with a song that perfectly sums up Adams’ youthful fervor: “Don’t Ever Get Old.”
When it comes to his music, Chris Flemmons is relentless. The Denton, TX native formed his band the Baptist Generals in the late ’90s with drummer Steve Hill. The pair would often play for tips on Denton’s cracked sidewalks, attracting a following for their unhinged performances. The venerable indie imprint Sub Pop soon took a liking and signed the Generals to a multi-album deal, and in 2003, they released their debut. No Silver/No Gold perfectly captured their intensity. The record is full of wide-eyed strumming, drunken drumming, and Flemmons’ raw voice.
But a follow-up to that promising debut was much harder to come by. Several versions were recorded and ultimately scrapped. Flemmons recently confided to Texas Music Matters that he didn’t want the Generals to turn into your typical indie rock band, and the sound he heard in his head became an obsession. So he kept chipping away at a collection of songs, snaring help from a number of Denton and Dallas area musicians, as well as producer Stuart Sikes (the White Stripes, Cat Power, the Walkmen). After nearly a decade of work, he was able to let go and press send on an email to Sub Pop that read, “New Baptist Generals Album.”
That retreat from the spotlight, that single-minded vision has ultimately paid off. Out May 21, Jackleg Devotional To The Heart is well worth the wait for the Baptist Generals’ cult fanbase. There’s a full electrified band accompanying Flemmons now, and he admits he’s still wary about all the corners that were smoothed out in his sound. Yet the record is a natural next step. The melodies are larger, the rhythms are crisper, and the Generals more that live up to their commander’s vision. First single “Dog That Bit You” draws from fellow Texan Roky Erickson’s psych-pop blueprint, kicking off the album with a bang. The ten years of pressure and self-doubt have created something that perhaps even Flemmons couldn’t have predicted: an absolute gem.
You can also hear a feature story on the Baptist Generals on this week’s episode of Texas Music Matters.
It features bandleaders Eric Phipps and Rocky Tinder posing for the classic Olan Mills-style family shot, but the bad-trip color treatment they give it (complete with glowing eyes), is something that’ll stick with you. The closeness of the pair may have something to do with Phipps and Tinder going back a ways, like back to middle school days. They’ve been jamming together since 2001. The Wampire lineup has shifted, but the pair remain the core of the group.
They’ve slugged it out at day jobs, house parties and local shows. But the work paid off, and Wampire was scooped up by imprint Polyvinyl (home to groups like Of Montreal, Japandroids, and Deerhoof to name a few). Wampire enlisted the help of Unknown Mortal Orchestra‘s Jake Portrait to produce their new record. The music within is pretty darn interesting. Wampire jumps genres like jackrabbits, from the New Wave-noir of single “The Hearse” to the sweet, lo-fi, soul grind of today’s song of the day “Trains.”