Monday, March 20, 2006

Sweepin' the streets, playin' for keeps

It's Monday, and the Austinites have already retaken the Austin nights. But for those in the know -- who, honestly, seem to be few and far between -- there will be a few final posts to wrap up SXSW 2006. Today, let me present a trio of discoveries: Austin's own inimitable Octopus Project; Chicago-based dance-rock outfit Ok Go; and Canada's retro folk-punkers Pink Mountaintops.

These bands hold little in common other than that I had never heard of any of them before the festival started, and they may just turn out to be some of the best music I heard all week. I caught Octopus Project on the street just as the grinning, flip-haired mistress of the band, one Yvonne Lambert, traded her keys for a theramin, wiggling her fingers and punching space around the device to raise a range of electronic sounds over punchy drums and driving guitars. Call it DIY electronica, or just call it cool. Way cool. Click the MP3s for "The Adjuster" and "Music is Happiness."

My hit on OK Go results from my wonkery, since it was only the amusing observations of the DC-raised lead singer and guitarist Damian Kulash at a panel on musician activism that made me curious about what initially seemed another skronky, po-mo, dance band -- especially since they share Franz Ferdinand's producer. Speaking of politics, Kulash observed, "Nobody wants to listen to a bunch of dry bullshit." OK Go backs that up in spades. Plus, any band that's willing to tangle with crappy, old MTV gets marks in my book. The homegrown vid for a "A Million Ways" from their new album Oh No has made my day. Click on the bottom bar or on the arrow to play in this frame.

Founded by Stephen McBean of Vancouver, BC, the Pink Mountaintops represents a sort of newer, gentler flipside to some of McBean's other endeavors. The Mountaintops still rock, but rather than aim to shake the molars out of your teeth with speed, the band relies on a rootsy, ambient sound born of some deep subterranean garage. I managed to sit for most of their show until my headcold forced me into retreat (to save energy for a show-stopping set by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders). The dirgy, infectious "New Drug Queens" offers a taste of what McBean and company were serving on the corner of 6th and Red River Saturday night. As always, keep yer ears open.


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