Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Boxing Lesson

Harken ye to The Boxing Lesson, who, back in days of yore (2002), were forged in the valleys of LA, and since migrated to Austin, where their sound has only improved with experience and the addition of new talent.
That's founding father Paul Waclawsky on the left, and that's Jaylinn Davidson to the right. Sure, they look normal enough, despite the superimposed tiger skin and somewhat guilty expressions. Maybe there's something there, we dunno; they say where there's smoke there's fire. Try their music, though, and you'll find out what that guilty look is about.
Back in the day (and when we say "day" in this context, we mean the 60s), their kind of music was performed by Pink Floyd and was dubbed "rock". But we knew, oh yes, we knew, that it was much more than that. That it wasn't just strange sounds constructing stranger musical beds, but a statement. A going out, a journey into lands alien and wonderful to behold.

Nowadays, it's called psychedelic or, as in the case of The Boxing Lesson, "Space Rock". If we were shallow, we might call this drug-induced experimental and move on to the latest Lady Gaga offering (which, at the time of this writing, is available for 99 cents on Amazon).

But you'll give it a chance, just out of curiosity. And you'll walk away astonished at the epic compositions, well-conceived arrangements, iconic hooks, and accessibility you find embedded in these tracks.

Check out "One" from their "Fur State" release; see if the dreamy-easy synths and acoustic guitar don't lull you into a more peaceful state of mind.

Notice that this LP is considered "lo-fi". In this context; the context of dreamy, shoe-gazing rock; it works, and pretty dang well too, transporting us to parts hitherto unexplored.

Granted, "One" is a little off their normal Pink Floyd-ish path. Typically their tracks are slow-burning compositions, built on simplistic chord progressions, toned by bizarre samples or synths, lightened up with grandly-dark electric guitar strokes, occasionally spiced with Waclawsky's coolly plaintive vox. Take a gander at the excellent "Lower" from the "Wild Streaks and Windy Days" LP for a good example of this:

Notice we said "typically". Poor choice of words, as that label don't stick to The Boxing Lesson - Their discography includes pithy rock-pop pieces like this one:

And now, just to add a little breadth to our sampling, give this surprisingly-simplistic, imminently approachable, poppish number a go:

You're not the only folks to dig The Boxing Lesson: Check out the consistent praise from the press here, here, and here.
Their latest EP, "Muerta", keeps their critical-success streak intact, with deviant wanderings into more uncanny sonic textures, woven into musical pieces that ignore rock and pop conventions, yet present instantly-iconic melodies formed into truly unique, brilliant compositions.
The Boxing Lesson worked overtime during SXSW this year, playing one or more gigs a day at Skinny's Ballroom, Cheer Up Charlie's, Lipstick, The Blue Theater, Guero's, etc., and even represented the American continent in the 6 Bands... 6 Continents event put on by Dart Music International.

For maximum pleasure, we'll leave you with their latest: The afore-mentioned, excellent "Muerta" EP:

Look for The Boxing Lesson on Wordpress, FaceBook, Bandcamp, Twitter, Youtube, and, yes, Wikipedia!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tin Can Phone

It's spring, 2011, and you're probably heading into it much like we are, with the hoary tendrils of Winter still clinging to your attitude like the smoke smell in your hair from last night's soiree. Time to change tunes, and we can recommend a bearer of said tunes: Tin Can Phone.

Here's the guys right here. On the right is Bert Mesa, who gives 'em their nice reggae-ish percs. Next to him is Josh Nicholson, who's got lead guitar. And over on the far left is Matt Rusin, who does the singing and strums guitar. Next to Matt is his cousin Tyler Rusin, who bears their bass.

Now these fellas are Michigan transplants; moving here and forming the band back in 2007. But that's OK - They don't sound like white-bread yankees, but more like dreadlocked Rastafarians with beach sand still wedged between their toes.

Take a listen to "Slow Down"; see if you don't catch the vibe:

Hard to tell from that number, but we can't say they're straight-ahead, unveeringly Reggae. Nope. Though their compositional roots grow from the soil of the Jamaican sound, they venture away from Timbales and prominent riddims, instead putting acoustic rhythm guitars front and center, then topping that off with Matt's understated vox.
We're going out of turn here, but take a listen to "Leap of Faith" for a taste of broader influences:

That "going out of turn" comment is about Tin Can Phone's gift for story-telling. Their "15 Songs" LP is saturated with stories, and the afore-embedded "Leap of Faith" comes as the post-script of the previous cut, "New Orleans":

Further, the guys don't just tell stories, but, true to their reggae roots, can also drive home social issues with subtlety and conviction: Be sure to take in "Drugs" and "Amero" (below) to witness some surprising ferocity.
The fellas have been gigging here in town, but have also jammed Corpus Christi, Dallas, Galveston, and New Orleans, to name a few. Meanwhile, they're DIY-ing their way through their next LP, "Adapter", and it should pop out "late this summer":
The album ... will be a more accurate representation of how we sound live than anything we have released previously. We spent all winter cooped up in our home studio laying down tracks...
--Tyler Rusin
We're curious to hear what being confined to winter quarters will do to the sunny sounds of Tin Can Phone. But we're confident, in that everything's-gonna-be-all-right kinda way, that it will turn out as brilliant as their latest, "15 Songs", which we'll leave you with:

Find out more about Tin Can Phone on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Bandcamp, and Home Base.

[All photos courtesy of Kelly Wendt.]

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Clouds Are Ghosts

If you do a bit of digging on The Clouds are Ghosts, you'll see a uniformly-positive opinion between the Austinist, the Austin Chronicle, and Austin Town Hall - The quartet has broken one of the glass barriers that a lot of indies struggle with: Local press.

In any city, that's a struggle (a prophet in his own town, as it were). But in a market like ours, with hundreds, if not thousands, of bands to choose from... Let's just say the boys and girl in the band must be doing something right to make Austin's press pay enough attention to actually devote a bit of precious column space to them.
That's Jason Morris on the far left there - His is the voice of the group. Next to him is Erin Fillingame, who tickles the ivories (if we can speak so cavalierly about an obviously-gifted talent). To her immediate right is Jason Flitcraft - He plays traditional strings (violin and guitar). Not pictured is percussionist Kevin Butler, apparently grafted into the team whilest recording their debut LP at Test Tube Audio. On the far right is Steven Paul, who plays guitar and presumably pulls those awesome airy sounds out of the synths he commands.

And Awesome is the correct word: The tracks these guys have cut for their self-titled LP inspire respect with their instrumentation and compositional style, made even more towering by some serious production chops. Which they have in abundance. Chops, that is.
Any other instruments, and you'd tag 'em as experimental; thus associating them with careless dissonance and psychedelically-inspired slop. But because they bring classical piano and violin and quartet-sounding synths, it gives their sound an air of convincing authority. For fear of being dubbed a cultural idiot, you're almost afraid not to agree that they bear significance: It's that classical instrumentation, coupled with Morris' stretching, emotive vocals, that's drawing the ewws and awes.

For good cause. Check out the top-notch production values on "Atomic Daydream":
Notice the studio cleanliness, coupled with just a smidge of reverb: It gives these pieces a nice airy depth, suggesting the gravitas that we'd call their core sound. Great recording, nice mix, professional mastering - The Clouds Are Ghosts have brought their A game, folks.

Compositionally, the guys and gal wear the "experimental" label politely - They rarely depart from verse-chorus-verse structures, and only dip a toe into harmonic dissonance - Usually just enough to make a musical point. This approach liberates them to do very nice simplistic arrangements of dense melodies: Check out the minimalistic "We Are Not Alone", and try not to get swept up with the pathos of the piano, backed by the swirlish pads; both painted over at the whim of Morris' vox:
Now take a listen to "Insomnia", and watch how they've wedged random vox into nice atmospheric pads, all behind a simplistic keyboard melody; ending up with a compelling, hypnotic soundscape:
Mostly hailing from Beaumont (Morris hails from Savannah, GA), they've been around for 3+ years, playing spots all over (including some you'd think are not a fit for their sound): Mohawk, Stubb's, The Highball, Beauty Bar, Club de Ville, The Scoot Inn, Elysium, Trophy's, Red 7. And though Austin is home, they've traveled to Dallas/Denton/Fort Worth for a gig or two, and have been seen as far away as Athens GA, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington DC, and New Orleans.
The scuttlebutt is they're working on LP 2, which will then be followed up with gigs 'a plenty, most likely here in the Austin area, probably at your venue of choice.

We'll leave you with the debut LP, well worth a download (free at the time of this writing), and definitely a worthy of a fully-attended listen:
Find out more about The Clouds are Ghosts on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, BandCamp, and Home Base.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Let's go back a bit, to the time of Ronald Reagan and cargo pants; to that post-innocence time of Miami Vice, the first Terminator, and the rise of New Wave. If that's familiar ground, you'll have a feel-good about Missions. If not, they'll give you a taste of the best of that era, sonically-speaking.

"Missions", in context, is the Austin-based indie band pictured here. That's Josh Mills in the center, Amber Zook on the left there, and Markus Diffee on the right. Check out the abundance of keyboardage: That's a big clue as to what you can expect from this trio.

Now "Missions", as a word, is something that the big brains at HostBaby would put the ix-nay on for a band name - It's so common that a Googling wouldn't lead you straight to the band's main web presence. And sure enough, there's been some web-address shenanigans forced on the trio - They've taken up virtual space (on both the web and Facebook) under the name "Missions In Space". As Josh describes it:

'Missions' was our chosen band name, but 'missionsinspace' was a way to claim our place on the internet and gmail amongst all of the other varieties of things, groups or organization with the word "missions" in it. People call us both things and we don't really mind, but we like space and science as themes for our music, so it's nice to have the 'inspace' suffix to clear up any possible confusion.
[Sign 'o the times - Where search engine optimization and URL boundaries are the lynch pins to deciding your musical moniker.]
Though 2 out of the 3 performing members originate from yonder Dallas, Missions is Austin-formed and based, established in 2009, and have performed their keyboard magic in most of our finer clubs - Mohawk, Cheer Up Charlies, Wurhaus, The Parish, Emo's, Red 7, Beauty Bar, Victory Grill, Stubbs, Elysium, Barbarella, Art Authority...

We mentioned "performing" - Josh, Amber, and Markus play the synths, Kaoss pads and drum triggers on stage. But Josh is quick to include not only Jeff Ferris as an aide-de-camp Missioner, but the guys who project the visuals at showtime too; VIDKIDZ (Zak Loyd and Melanie Clemmons), as can be seen in the background of this pic:

Says Josh - "The shows wouldn't be as intense without them".

That may be so, but the music stands up pretty well without the visuals. Get a load of the synth-a-pated goodness of their "Phantasy" track:

Sound vaguely familiar? Those synths, electro-snap drums, and reverbed vox give Missions a very 80-ish sound. But Mission's isn't a throw-back band, their instruments of choice are just that, sonic textures associated with a bygone era: The compositions themselves are much better than 9/10ths of 80s tunes, tending to the techno/trance side; more alternative, experimental even.

Check out how "Darrk Blakk" is built on one groove; a cool synth line that slides us through the chord progression:

Now try out the poppish, hand-clapping good "Wavelength" for a glimpse of their radio appeal:

That's their sound: Saw-toothed-synth-powered, danceable 80-ish-sounding numbers, heavy on the electronic percs, peppered with bomb-kick drums and handclaps; highlighted with darker chorus-flanged vox; accessible as any pop, as dense as any trance, as danceable as any electronic. And as good as any techno band playing Austin.

Though they've got an expensive sound, you're listening to DIY bedroom-studio productions here. And you'll hear more soon enough: The plans are for a 7" release "Soon", and a brace of gigs - Some in Austin (May 19th at The Ghost Room), some as far away as Brownsville. Catch 'em if you can, they come highly recommended.

We'll leave you with a collection of their cuts:

As you might expect from science-embracing techno wizards, you can find Missions all over the web: Facebook, SoundCloud, Twitter, Tumblr, and Home Base.