As far as I’m concerned, Austin’s South by SouthWest [SXSW] festival marked the beginning of the music season. From here out it’s all live tunes and sunshine, right? While indie and electro artists and fans are gearing up for the fun-yet-increasingly-corporate festival lineup, it’s hard to beat catching great acts in hometown venues. Here are several shows worth looking forward to.
London Grammar: March 28
These days, it’s almost impossible to discuss modern music without mentioning the internet: that polarizing and unifying, equalizing and stratifying force that it is. The music industry has felt its clumsy oligopoly crumble for at least the better part of a decade, but it’s getting smart again. Artists are getting their start by uploading songs directly to the internet and finding fans worldwide, as London Grammar did late 2012 with the release of “Hey Now,” and the mainstream is watching.
London Grammar’s album If You Wait is a soulful, ambient treat. The prize of London Grammar’s sound is lead vocalist Hannah Reid’s rich, stirring voice. Clean reverb from guitarist Dan Rothman and trip-hop sounds from multi-instrumentalist Dot Major (drums, keyboard, synth) contribute to the album’s depth. The haunting cover of French electro-house artist Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” and the simple-yet-poignant “Shyer” are two stand-out songs. Without the power of Hannah’s incredible voice to back up the bare, straightforward lyrics in “Wasting My Young Years,” they might be a tad cliche. But in this case, her raw honesty brings a universal quality to the music. London Grammar, March 28 at Wonder Ballroom
Chvrches: April 10
Not only can bands now reach more fans than ever from all over the world, but more internet trolls than ever can harass, threaten and attempt to undermine the female artists in those bands too. Chvrches‘ lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry publicly called out her online abusers in an open letter last fall, saying that she will not tolerate the constant stream of misogyny that awaits her every time she opens the band’s social media sites and email. A band born on the internet (as Lauren puts it) can benefit, surely, but also suffer from over-accessibility.
Luckily for Chvrches and their many fans, it’s still all about the music. The band’s debut album The Bones of What You Believe features immediate melodies and snapping percussion. The Scottish electronic pop trio gives us the catchy and vibrant single “The Mother We Share,” while “Tether” is dreamy and lo-fi, recalling an 80s futuristic minimalism. While the group’s experimental sound isn’t for everyone, they execute their sound well. Lauren (who also happens to have a law degree and a masters in journalism), shines in “Night Sky” where her voice sounds pretty and high. Then there’s “Lies,” where she takes a slightly lower tone with lyrics that seem like a barely masked critique of the stale blind following of religious or corporate devotion. Chvrches, April 10 at Crystal Ballroom
Typhoon: May 3
Incubated in nearly a decade of Oregon’s lush green wetness rather than the cold wires of the inter-web, Typhoon is a study in complex, hearty arrangements and upbeat, lyrical breaks. One listen through Typhoon’s latest album White Lighters will yield more talk of death, corpses and funerals than maybe you’re used to in 45 minutes, but do not be intimidated. As long-time fans of the Portland-based band know, Typhoon is not afraid to face mortality. On “Artificial Light,” frontman Kyle Morton–whose well-publicized battle with Lyme disease as a child shapes much of his songwriting–places his tangential lyrics at a comforting clip against the swell of horns, drums, violins and piano. At times the intentionally choppy hit “Young Fathers” sounds as if all 11 members of the mini-orchestra are contributing vocally, creating a bellowing rock-anthem sound. At other moments it’s just you, some percussion and a dose of contemplative realism. Typhoon, May 3 at Mississippi Studios
Purity Ring DJ Set: May 15
For those who caught Purity Ring last year on tour with Blue Hawaii (in Portland at the Roseland and Seattle at the Neptune) or at their starry outdoor set last July at Oregon’s high desert What The Festival, this show will be a little different. This time the audience can expect a solo set and the group’s signature hanging cocoons and giant custom-built, light-up instrument will likely be spared from the dirt and grime that coats Branx.
Like London Grammar, Canadians Corin Roddick (instrumentalist) and Megan James (vocalist) found their initial success online with their clicking “Ungirthed.” The duo blends drafty, buried hooks with sharp synth and warped samples in their debut album Shrines. Megan’s piercingly clear voice and eerie lyrics carry us through landscapes that are at once odd and ecstatically pleasant. A delightfully restrained drop in “Saltkin” speaks to the delicacy of the project, while the complexity and strength of the melody in “Fineshrine” shows refined power. In “Grandloves,” Megan is joined by Young Magic on vocals, and together they sing a chilly song so lovely and sad it could be two ghosts contemplating the end of their relationship.