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Thursday, Mar 13, 2008

Photos and Text: Mehan Jayasuriya



They may have calmed down a bit on their latest LP HLLLYH, but during their Wednesday afternoon performance at Emo’s, L.A. experimental punks The Mae Shi proved that they can still bring the noise. “There are no lead personalities in this fucking band,” one of them remarked during the soundcheck and as it turns out, it wasn’t just posturing: during the set, all five members of the band ran around the stage screaming their heads off and banging on the various instruments that were strewn about the stage. At one point, they opened up a massive plastic tarp, draped it over the audience and then continued their performance in miniature underneath the makeshift tent. While it’s not too surprising given the often-truncated nature of their songs, their set seemed to last for only an instant—in the blink of an eye they had disappeared whence they came.



Tagged as: photos, sxsw, the mae shi
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Thursday, Mar 13, 2008
Austinist's party at the Mohawk

Austinist‘s party at the Mohawk


Photos and Text: Mehan Jayasuriya


Jona Bechtolt must have had a lot of sugary cereal for breakfast Wednesday morning because he sure as hell was bouncing off of the walls. Performing under his YACHT moniker with partner in crime Claire Evans, Bechtolt jumped, yelled, squirmed and danced his way through a half hour set of lo-fi electro-pop jams. The set consisted almost entirely of new songs, most of which sounded similar to his previous work albeit dancier and more intense. Despite the fact that it was a Wednesday afternoon at 2 pm, by the end of the set, a cadre of fans had formed a dancing circle at the foot of the stage and Bechtolt and Evans never turned down an opportunity to dive directly into it. I think a friend of mine put it best: it was like watching a karaoke act on speed.



Tagged as: sxsw, yacht
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Saturday, Feb 23, 2008

A fellow writer bud from New York got a simple value meal at McDonald’s here in Oslo. 28 dollars. I kid you not. Thank the Norse gods for pølse, that’s all I have to say.


By:Larm! Day three of three! The madness came to a head, with venues seriously pushing (or violating) fire codes, the music on this night, at least that which was heard by your interpid reporter, stretching form the sublime to the jaw-droppingly ridiculous.


Anna Järvinen

Anna Järvinen


Anna Järvinen was on my to-see list from the get-go. The swedish singer-songwriter came from out of nowhere last year with the pretty, rustic Jag Fick Feeling, a sung-in-Swedish record featuring a backing band comprised of none other than members of Dungen. If Anna sung in English, she’d be an instant darling of the Americana set, boasting the kind of gentle, sublime voice that warrants comparisons to Emmylou Harris as she does. But as in all great music, it can transcend language, and even though I had no idea just what the hell she was singing about, it hardly mattered, her set starting from gentle acoustic folk to full-on roots rock.


Stalingrad Cowgirls

Stalingrad Cowgirls


Heading from the VG Teltet to the charmingly dingy John Dee club, the din coming from inside was rattling the windows of the old building. Once inside, I was surprised to see a trio of small, raven-haired young ladies, led by a drop-dead gorgeous singer guitarist, delivering an absolutely pulverizing variation of Donnas-style hard rock, Who are they, and where are they from?Kitos!” said the singer after the first song. Finland! Of course. Six miles north of the Arctic Circle, to be exact.That country likes their music loud and heavy, and this band, dubbed Stalingrad Cowgirls, displays more music muscle than most male bands of their like. Their debut album just hit stores here in Norway, and hopefully the rest fo the world will get it soon after. We have to. [player]


Lukestar

Lukestar


The one band that’s been mentioned almost as much as Lykke Li is Norwegian sensations Lukestar, whose second album Lake Toba is selling exceptionally well over here. Comparisons to Mew and Blonde Redhead have been bandied about, but these guys are more post-hardcore than anything, tightly executed and very catchy, the one ace card being a pudgy Black Francis look-alike with an unreal falsetto, falling somewhere between Greg Gilbert of Delays and the feller from Sigur Ros what don’t talk English. The album is led by the superb single “White Shade”, which went over huge with the punters, but the rest of the set had the band trying to sound more aggressive than they needed to be, “White Clouds” being the only moment where they made the jump from very good to astonishing. As it is, the Warped Tour crowd would love this, but as complimentary I mean that comment to be, that’s sort of beneath Lukestar, considering the promise they show on that one song. They’re not there yet, but greatness awaits. [player]


Super Family

Super Family


The night was drawing to a close, but on the way back in Sentrum Scene was hoppin’, so it was worth an investigation. It was easily the biggest crowd the 1,700 capacity venue had seen over the last three days, almost completely full from floor to balcony. And for whom? Super Family. Who? Just try to imagine this: a manic bespectacled lead singer who looks and acts like a cross between Gord Downie and Jarvis Cocker leading a septet, including two preening male dancers, that simultaneously rips off both Arcade Fire and the Killers to the point where newbies (i.e. us bewildered North American writers) are wondering just how much of it all is a gigantic piss-take. Granted, this is a part of the world that embraces kitsch rock, from hair metalers Wig Wam, to the costumed Lordi, to the demented genius of Turbonegro, but this spectacle was so over the top in its post-punk stick and overt gayness, that to see men who would otherwise come off as your average Linkin Park fan, go wild for this stuff, was simply logic’defying. In a way, you have to admire how well Super Family sells it all, but after three songs, it really started to wear too thin for comfort. Still, the big crowd ate it all up, and left the venue beaming. A group of us tired, jaded writers bemusedly watched as the happy kids exited the venue, off to raise hell in this lovely city that never seems to go to bed. [player]


“Would this go over in the States?”


“Not a chance.”


But to Super Family and their obviously strong cadre of followers, they couldn’t care less. It’s goofy, but it’s theirs, a perfect encapsulation of the likeable insularity of this part of the world, and to hell with the rest of the world if they don’t get it. In all honesty, you couldn’t ask for a more fitting end to easily the most well-run, enjoyable musical event yours truly has ever seen.


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Friday, Feb 22, 2008

After an impressive start, by:Larm kicked into high gear on Friday, and the entire evening, for this writer anyway, couldn’t have been more eclectic, ranging from a performance that redefines the word “intimate”, to four nutty girls and a balalaika, to the kind of scorching jazz that would make Wynton Marsalis have a coronary, to galloping old school metal, to the triumphant return of Norway’s indie darling.


Hanne Hukkelberg

Hanne Hukkelberg


Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg made North American critics’ heads turn with her debut Little Things (including us here at PopMatters), and built on that momentum with last year’s dreamy Rykestrasse 68. Unfortunately for those of us stuck on the west side of the Atlantic, that critically acclaimed follow-up wasn’t released domestically, something Nettwerk is determined to rectify with the imminent ‘08 release of the record as well as a major US tour next month. So, to whet our appetites, Hukkelberg’s Norwegian prepresentation took a dozen or so of journos and music reps out to Oslo’s Propeller Studios for a quaint little showcase performance, where she and her four bandmates squeezed into a tiny, deathly quiet room with the rest of us for a gorgeous selections of songs from the new(ish) album. Whether it was the asthmatic wheeze of an accordion being pulled. the sustained chime of a Tibetan singing bowl, the innocent strains of a toy piano, or Hukkerlberg’s own tender voice, it made for an extraordinary experience that only enhanced the quiet power of the record.


Katzenjammer

Katzenjammer


Back at the festival, the one venue that had some of us wary was the VG Teltet, a gigantic white tent set up smack in the middle of Younstorget square, but jaws collectively dropped upon entry, as the carpeting, drapery-like roof, light rigs, and big lounge area with couches would have you believe you were anywhere but outside in the middle of downtown Oslo. And it was here that one of the bigger surprises of the week happened, as the female foursome Katzenjammer came out and made jaws drop. Part Nordic folk, part energetic pub tunes, part country, these young ladies came off as a cross between the Dixie Chicks and Gogol Bordello, each ridiculously talented member trading instruments between songs, moving from piano to mandolin to a gigantic bass balalaika that was taller than any of them, and the charismatic bunch won over the big crowd instantly. [player]


In Vain

In Vain


A few blocks away at the cleverly-arranged Rockefeller club, bands were busy trading off sets with finely-tuned precision, punters dashing form the main venue to the much cozier “annex” and back again in between sets. Norway’s In Vain offered a respectable mix of blackened death metal, doom, and prog and local faves Sahg, a band for whom Black Sabbath’s “Hole in the Sky” is the Rosetta Stone (I mean that in a good way) sounded near flawless, the strong tenor voice of singer/guitarist Olav Iversen bringing to the band the kind of added dimension that trendier American counterparts the Sword desperately lack. However, it was jazz trio the Thing that was the best of the lot, who channeled the neo-beatnik cool of Morphine with a much more aggressive element than the sorely-missed band ever did, using pedals, pitchshifters, and a laptop to take the saxophone-bass-drums trio into some exciting territory, sounding both avant-garde and primal. [player]


Ida Maria

Ida Maria


Around the corner at Sentrum Scene, an enormous crowd awaited native daughter Ida Maria, who went into 2008 riding a big wave of hype following her performance at CMJ last October and now has the British press drooling all over her, this without an album that has yet to be released. Thanks to blogs and filesharing, though, the audience on this night knew the words to such faves as the lightly shuffling “Louie”, the somber “Going to Hell”, and the raucously catchy “Better When You’re Naked”, their enthusiasm responded in kind by Ms. Maria, who flung herself all over the stage, crashing into mic stands and band members, writhing on the floor, whipping her top off. It was during the brilliant “Oh My God”, one of the best tunes of 2007, that the entire exhausting night came to a head, a final explosion of energy that had us walking, heavy-legged back to our hotels to try to recuperate enough to withstand one more night. [player]


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Thursday, Feb 21, 2008

Yeah, that’s the first thing that hits you when you plunk your weary jet-lagged feet in Oslo. The rumors are true, this is one expensive city.


But music geeks are certainly getting plenty of bang for their buck, erm, krone, here at By:Larm, Norway’s annual showcase of the best in Scandinavian indie music. The fest got underway in earnest Thursday night, a ridiculous number of bands playing at 30 different venues, all within walking distance in central Oslo. It’s not as if the surprisingly energetic little city needed to get even nuttier at night, but folks have definitely taken to the fest, nearly selling it out, the sound of rumbling PA now lurking around every corner as bands try to win over the media and most importantly, the fans.


Lykke Li

Lykke Li


If there was one show everyone was looking at on Thursday, it was budding Swedish pop star Lykke Li at the trendy, cozy Blå club, just across the river from the equally hip Grunerløkken neighborhood. Her excellent debut album Youth Novel debuted strongly in Sweden, thanks to her two fabulous singles “Little Bit” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone”, and she proved to be even more charismatic than the record lets on, as she and her remarkably versatile backing band tore through an ebullient 45-minute set, the aforementioned tracks going over hugely with the crowd of 350, and even tossing a fun verse and chorus of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It”.The magnetic 21-year-old, who draws comparisons to Robyn but utilizes a much broader musical palette, is set to have a big year, and with a South By Southwest showcase on the near horizon, the buzz in North America is only going to get louder. [player]


Shining

Shining


Meanwhile, Norway’s Shining is starting to make waves among fans of metal, progressive rock, and post rock, the jazz-influenced 2007 album Grindstone one of last year’s buried treasures, and if Lykke Li was endearing, Shining was absolutely ferocious, their fusion of saxophone, clarinet, math metal, and Battles-style prog sounding transcendent in the confines of the immaculate sounding theater Sentrum Scene. The album was already impressive, but after witnessing it firsthand, this writer has a new favorite band. [player]


Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness

Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness


Biggest surprise of Thursday, though? Easily experimental quartet Alog med Sheriffs of Nothingness, who preceded Shining’s raucous set with a chilling blend of Kronos Quartet-style violins, bowed saw, laptop-triggered IDM, and the kind of tightly executed improvisation that warrants a comparison to Can. [player]


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