Photo by Will Moore
For fifteen years, New Zealand’s Phoenix Foundation has been pitched somewhere between the campfire and the dancefloor. They’ll indulge in a shaggy, acoustic-driven sing-along one moment before busting out the synths the next. Maybe it’s the tongue-in-cheek song titles or hooky songwriting, but there’s a Blur-like charm to the Phoenix Foundation.
For their sixth album Give Up Your Dreams–out August 7–the band added a second drummer, and the effect is immediately apparent. On “Mountain,” cascading harmonies ride an intensely rhythmic groove, sounding like if Grizzly Bear were an afrobeat band. It’s this kind of wild combination that’s kept the Phoenix Foundation humming after all these years. Download the song below.
Celeste Griffin used to front Monarchs, a great Austin band that put out a couple of records that hinted at Griffin’s Birmingham, Alabama upbringing. With her Dusty Springfield-inspired voice, Monarchs did the whole soul-pop thing a lot better than most. Intent on a fresh start, Griffin moved to New York a few years. She based her new songs on her dance training, focusing on the beat before building up the melody.
After crafting a mixtape from her voice and some choice J Dilla beats, Griffin teamed up with producer Louis Sherman. Her EP More Please–released under the moniker Celeste last fall–shows her new direction, matching electronic textures to crackly hip-hop beats. Like a lot of musicians, she’s constantly pitched between commerce and art. “Music ain’t a living it’s a miracle,” she sings on “Why I Write,” before revealing she wants more than to be just thankful. Download the song below.
Photo by Shervin Lainez
Kopecky Family Band formed in 2007 around Kelsey Kopecky and Gabe Simon, two students at Nashville’s Belmont University. The group soon bloomed to six members, incorporating everything from orchestral pop to folk on their first few releases. But late last year, the band decided to streamline their name and sound. Kopecky’s new album, Drug For The Modern Age, is a rebirth of sorts, pushing the band further into the kind of sleek pop-rock territory they hinted at earlier in their career. Download “Talk To Me” below.
Photo by Ebru Yildiz
Shilpa Ray delivers her dark torch songs with a grin on her face. After all, the New York singer named her old band Her Happy Hookers–what else can you do but laugh in the face of oblivion? A quick listen would point you towards kindred souls like Patti Smith or Nick Cave, both of whom have shared the stage with Ray. Her music is punk-adjacent, but with some special touches. Ray grew up in a household that forbade Western music, so the Indian harmonium became her instrument. The wheezing, organ-like tones make her songs sound out-of-time, like something so old it’s completely new again.
Ray’s tornado of a voice is her true charm. With Her Happy Hookers, Ray belted out songs at full octane, but on her new solo album, Last Year’s Savage, she conjures the notes instead. “Burning Bride” is menacing and dreamy, threading the old Hindu practice of bride-burning with her own feminism. “You’ll be lucky when she runs out of desire,” Ray warns us, with a grin. Download the song below.
Photo by Bryan C. Parker
Sweet Spirit is the KUTX Artist of the Month for May. You can find more features here.
A Giant Dog might be one of the best live acts in town, but Sweet Spirit is quickly gaining steam. Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen stand tall in both groups, earning their punk rock bonafides with A Giant Dog while playing up their soul/pop side in Sweet Spirit. An early demo had the Austin Chronicle salivating last year, but the (relatively) cleaned up self-titled EP does better justice to the band.
Sweet Spirit snared local producer extraordinaire Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Heartless Bastards, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead) for the EP plus a forthcoming LP. On Sweet Spirit, the group whips through a fiery combination of garage rock, doo-wop, country, and ska, all anchored by Ellis’s commanding voice. The band’s strength is still the stage, where an added horn section blasts these songs to another level. Recent tours (and collaborations) with Spoon show they’re not just a local concern anymore, but you could tell that just from a few listens to their EP. “I’ve Made Up My Mind” stands out by perfectly demonstrating Sweet Spirit’s appeal: it’s loud, it’s fun, and it’s catchy as hell. Download the song below.
Catch Sweet Spirit at the ABGB on Saturday, June 6 and at the Continental Club on Thursday, June 18.