Photo by Joe Calderon
Magna Carda’s laid-back vibe masks a rapidly evolving Austin group. Megz Kelli and Dougie Do met at St. Edward’s, releasing a couple of bedroom-produced mixtapes. But there was “it” factor from the very beginning. Kelli’s rapid-fire, rhythmically-complex rhymes are perfectly suited for Do’s crate-digging jazz/soul sound. With references to Van Gogh, Chuck Close, and a challenge to Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” it’s obvious that Magna Carda aren’t content to stay just an Austin phenomenon.
In the live setting, they’re also pushing their own boundaries. Kelli and Do added a versatile band to their performances–as we saw at both MapJam and the X Games this year–and they helped kick off Weird City, Austin’s very first hip-hop festival. Now comes Like It Is, Magna Carda’s second release of the year, buoyed by “Game Like Jimmy.” It’s a characteristically low-key production, but Kelli still swaggers, proclaiming that she’s a leader not a follower. We couldn’t agree more.
Photo by Eddie O’Keefe
After years of starts and stops, Greta Morgan is finally realizing her musical vision. She started as a teenager in the Chicago-based band the Hush Sound, earning a record contract and a Billboard-cracking album before it all fell apart in 2008. Gold Motel followed next for a few years, but Morgan longed for a solo project. She reinvented herself again as Springtime Carnivore, writing and recording on her own. Her demos led to another label contract and studio time with Richard Swift, whose work with the Black Keys, the Shins, and Foxygen dovetails nicely with Morgan’s own aesthetic.
Springtime Carnivore puts Morgan’s pop songwriting in a house of mirrors. The melodies are simple and bright, but they’re built within a warped, pseudo-’60s framework. At times, Morgan sounds like a cross between Neko Case, Nancy Sinatra, and Debbie Harry. “Name On A Matchbook” bounces on Motown-inspired beat, but Morgan’s voice is hidden behind distortion–sweet and sour, all in one bite.
Twenty years ago, Nan Warshaw, Rob Miller, and Eric Babcock started Bloodshot Records to document the budding alternative country scene in their hometown of Chicago. Their first release–a compilation of local and national like-minded artists, from the Old 97′s to the Handsome Family–gave a home to roots bands that didn’t fit the “roots” mold. These groups spiked their Carter Family-isms with punk and rock, tipping their hats to the old while making something uniquely new. Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and Justin Townes Earle all called Bloodshot Records home at one point. Austinites like Alejandro Escovedo, Rosie Flores, and Scott H. Biram were also scooped up into the label’s orbit.
Two decades later, Bloodshot is celebrating their birthday with a bang. While No One Was Looking hints at the tongue-in-cheek attitude always taken by the label, who’s constantly swam upstream since its inception. But it’s worthy of celebration, partially due to the diverse set of artists they’ve touched over the years. Andrew Bird, Chuck Prophet, Ted Leo, Shakey Graves, Ben Kweller, Shinyribs, and Samuel Fogarino of Interpol all appear on the compilation, tackling a wide range of songs. And today, we’re turning the spotlight on Blitzen Trapper, fellow rootsy outsiders who cover Ryan Adams’ classic “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High).”
The overarching joke throughout the Vaselines’ career has been their lack of timeliness. Formed in Glasgow, Scotland by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee in 1986, the Vaselines put out a pair of EPs and a full-length before breaking up in 1989. But Kurt Cobain counted himself a big fan. The Vaselines reunited to open for Nirvana in 1990, and Nirvana repaid them by covering several Vaselines songs.
The notoriety was nice, but the Vaselines never really cashed in. For a band as shambolic and tongue-in-cheek as them, though, you wouldn’t expect them to. Kelly and McKee only reunite when they want to; their second album came out nearly two decades after their first. The Vaselines are on somewhat of a roll as of late, with album number three out this year. For V For Vaselines, they took inspiration from the Ramones and the Stooges. “I hadn’t listened to them for ages, and every song was amazing,” Kelly told Pitchfork. “I just thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to write really short, instant pop songs like that again?’” Of course, the Vaselines have always had a penchant for short, instant pop songs, mixing catchy melodies with dark wit and plenty of distortion. “One Lost Year” doesn’t mess with a proven formula, but then again, the Vaselines never had anything to prove.
Photo by Jim Anderson
When singer and songwriter Al Spx was trying to think of a name for her new musical project, she remembered a line from James Joyce’s Ulysses from her English studies at the University of Toronto. “Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil lights shining in the darkness. Where fallen archangels flung the stars of their brows,” reads the line. She named her project Cold Specks.
Spx first entered into the public’s musical consciousness not in her native Canada, but in Britain. One of her demos found its way across the Atlantic to producer and record engineer Jim Anderson who persuaded her to come over. A dynamite performance on BBC2′s Later…With Jools Holland brought Spx to the attention of the masses in the UK, and her 2012 debut, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, did not disappoint. It does more with less, spare guitar putting the spotlight firmly on Spx’s powerful voice.
She returned to Britain for album number two, writing in the small town of Wick, which is known more for occult tourism than music (“You couldn’t buy socks in the town, but you could buy cauldrons and crystals,” Spx told KUTX’s Elizabeth McQueen). Neuroplasticity retains Spx’s darkness, but this time around she fronts a full-on rock band. The group recently stopped by our Studio 1A, and today’s song of the day comes from this live session. “Living Signs” finds Cold Specks pitched somewhere between coldness and warmth–”doom soul,” as she so eloquently puts it.