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I’ve been trying to write a hit record
Sleepless long nights thinking bout whatever
I’ve been trying to hang in forever

“Dreamin’ Wild” by Surf Curse

Surf Curse released their album Buds on Big Joy Records a couple weeks ago with a show at The Smell, the DIY venue in Los Angeles. I wish I could’ve been there but the drive is a little further from Austin than it would’ve been from Las Vegas. Regardless, I bought the album on bandcamp that night (because I follow the band using bandcamp’s fan profile, I got an email when it became available) and have listened to it several times through. The cassette is now available online so I’ll probably buy that, too. (Obsessed fan what?)

I met Jacob and Nick soon after moving to Las Vegas, NV when fate brought rushmore beekeepers and Nick’s former band The Advertisements together for some super fun and memorable alternative-experimental-indie rock / indie folk music shows. Nick and Jacob are absurdly talented and have exceptionally great taste in music, movies, and pretty much everything; they couldn’t produce bad music if they tried, and the spectacularly raw energy, catchiness, dreamy surf sound, and lyrical content of lo-fi indie rock duo Surf Curse is concrete proof.

Featuring a minimalistic arrangement of guitar, drums, and vocals, their songs reference underappreciated films and television shows like Heathers (“Heathers”), The Outsiders (“Ponyboy”), and Twin Peaks (“Fire Walk With Me”); they even have a song about The Smell (“The Smell Saved My Life”). Both Jacob and Nick sing and their voices seem to compliment each other naturally and effortlessly.

Keeping in mind that this is coming from a dedicated (rabidly obsessed?) fan, I recommend both Demos, a collection of their first recordings (originally singles and EPs), and the more recently recorded Buds. Some of the songs repeat between the two albums; those that don’t are worth the low price and the earlier fantastically lo-fi recordings are still energetic and powerful.

Taking the inspiration for their name from an episode of The Brady Bunch guest-starring Vincent Price and starting with the ultimate goal of playing The Smell (great interview at the dumbing of america), Surf Curse is bringing original and exceptional indie rock music into a world that always needs it.

Jacob has a lo-fi bedroom pop project called Casino Hearts and Nick creates dancy lo-fi bedroom pop music as Televisions; between the two of them, they have plenty of awesome music you can add into your rotation.

Also, about five years ago Jacob made a fantastic stop motion film using “street i’ve never seen” from throwing mud at your streetlight:

One of the first conversations my wife Carrie and I had was about the mopey-dancy indie pop group The Postal Service.

She walked into The Club (a divey Las Cruces, NM bar and music venue; now closed, sadly) wearing a Death Cab For Cutie shirt as I was preparing for a rushmore beekeepers show, back when rb was briefly an indie rock/folk trio. Being a sometimes awkward conversationalist, I took this golden opportunity to talk about Death Cab and ask what she thought about Ben Gibbard’s side project. She said they were really good so I bought their album, Give Up.

She was right. I was immediately hooked, mostly on the tragically low self-esteem narrative of the opening song “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” and the imaginary arguments and reclusive paranoia of “We Will Become Silhouettes.” (By the way, I have always loved The Shins’ version of “Silhouettes.”) “Be Still My Heart” (from We Will Become Silhouettes) and “Such Great Heights” are both optimistic, upbeat love songs, so it’s not all sad.

Roughly nine years after that conversation, Carrie and I went to see The Postal Service in Cedar Park, TX (not quite Austin) on their reunion tour for the tenth anniversary of Give Up. Comprised of members from Death Cab For Cutie, Dntel, Rilo Kiley, and most recently the Mynabirds, I always thought of The Postal Service as the indie music equivalent to a supergroup. Maybe a mini-supergroup.

I was apprehensive about seeing them live, not only because it had been ten years since their only full-length album was released, but also because their music always struck me as the kind you listen to at home alone despite its dancy electro-pop beats. The show was also at an indoor arena; they weren’t exactly underground when their album came out, but the “indie” scene was much smaller then. Also, I had talked to Jenny Lewis both times I’d seen her play, and I knew this would mess up my average.

Ben sang with conviction and danced awkwardly, as I’ve seen him do in the Death Cab documentary Drive Well, Sleep Carefully. He played drums along with Jimmy Tamborello’s electronic beats on several songs. An awesome effect, and one that added depth and dynamics to an electronic show. Jenny provided additional instrumentation and expanded vocal parts, helping to create a fresh experience with songs I’ve gotten to know so well over the past nine years. They even covered a Beat Happening song, “Our Secret,” and Ben made it a point to let everyone know it was a Beat Happening song and that everyone should listen to that band. They should. And so should you. I love Beat Happening.

Unlike the other bands I thought I’d never see live, The Postal Service never toured much and their music – as I enjoy it – never seemed conducive to a live setting, so I didn’t think about what I’d be missing. They were excellent, though, even if it seemed disorienting and out-of-place to see a live performance from a band that created the project by mailing their work-in-progress back and forth using a well-known parcel transfer system.

The ever-passionate and prolific Punks In Vegas posted a couple of videos and a review of The Postal Service’s Las Vegas show on the Punks In Vegas website.

2012-2013 has been a pretty amazing time for live music. So amazing, in fact, that I feel it deserves a recap. I haven’t performed live since December but I’ve been fortunate to see five musicians I truly admire. In chronological order: Mount Eerie, Jeff Mangum, Jaymay, Jad Fair, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. A lot of J names, I know, and I don’t know how that came about. What are the odds? Well, if I still lived in Las Vegas I might be able to tell you.

Mount Eerie, The Microphones

Back in October I saw Mount Eerie perform at The Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix, AZ and after the show I got to sit with the band and talk with Phil Elverum. Phil was nice and soft-spoken, unaffected by my sad attempt at controlling my fanboyness. I got into The Microphones – a former incarnation of Mount Eerie – around the fall of 2001; they recorded exclusively on reel-to-reel tape, a practice that Mount Eerie still follows, and it suits both the sound and the atmosphere of their music. At the time, I was still recording on four-track cassette tape, some of which would end up on the “bonus songs!” section of the maybe by this time next year / today is boring double disc. Ever since hearing the first song on The Glow Pt. 2 I’ve thought about that sound, the texture, during every recording session I’ve had. I’ve made at least a few obvious attempts to duplicate it, but in general it made me think about how much, or how little, you can add to a song and the organic nature of that process.

Jeff Mangum, Neutral Milk Hotel

Although I thought I’d never be able to say this, I saw Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel perform live; he played two shows in one night and I went to both. Neutral Milk Hotel recorded various songs, an EP and two albums; one of them, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, is probably one of the greatest albums ever (ever). Surreal, thought-provoking, beautiful, inspiring, tragic and epic. Years ago Jeff retreated from the spotlight and it seemed like he would never tour again until recently; he still didn’t really talk to anyone and snuck onto (and then off) the stage. Still, seeing him and hearing his unique piercing voice, singing songs that sound like the strangest dreams, waving and half-bowing appreciatively (and shyly) was quite the experience. I’m not one of those crying-at-shows people, but I came close a couple times.

Jaymay

For our first concert as Austin residents, we went to see Jaymay at Lambert’s Downtown Barbeque. Jaymay is absolutely one of my favorite musicians. If you only have two minutes listen to “Long Walk To Never,” but if you have ten minutes listen to “You’d Rather Run” from Autumn Fallin’. She writes and sings with honesty and sincerity, her stories unfolding in minutes with all the quality of a great book or movie, with songs that sound like they have to be true, because the humor, the heartbreak, the love is all right there in front of you. Anyway, her performance was amazing. I talked to her before the show, helped adjust the microphone stand and even got a shout-out. She was as nice as can be.

Jaymay at Lambert's

Jaymay, singin’

Jad Fair, Half Japanese

During my first trip to Waterloo Records as an Austin resident, I noticed a plainly printed letter-size flier announcing that Jad Fair would be performing the next day. Jad Fair! The Jad Fair! Okay, not a household name, but a founding member of Half Japanese, a band I love and a band that helped further inspire me to express myself, even if I had to make some noise or sing not-perfectly to do it. To a certain extent I owe a lot of my noisier feedback-ridden recordings to the Velvet Underground, but I think Half Japanese helped me consider the possibility of making noise for people, not necessarily at them.

Jad Fair and rushmore beekeepers, together at last

Jad Fair and me. Notice the Jaymay shirt? Good job!

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

It seems many places in Austin are legendary, and The Cactus Cafe is one of those places. Townes Van Zandt used to play there, and in my opinion any room he set foot in is legendary. Carrie and I saw folk singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott play there; it’s a small room, accommodating around 150 people (guessing). I’ve seen some video footage of Ramblin’ Jack, most memorably in Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara, and I’ve heard a fair amount of his live recordings, but seeing this short cowboy walk into the room like he was just some guy – that was something. Well, first some kid pushed past him to get into the room, and the ignorance of that action made me want to grab the kid and sing “Diamond Joe” in his face. (I say kid, but he might’ve been in his early or mid twenties. Shhh.) Ramblin’ Jack lived up to his nickname and spent much of his set telling funny stories. He talked about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, offering hilariously accurate impressions of both of them. A cowboy poet friend of his recited a couple poems while Jack took a break and got coffee. I also got coffee, primarily so I could say I shared a pot of coffee with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

Ramblin' Jack Elliott and me

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and me

The Yellow Dress was kind enough to stop by Dirt to Mud studios in January while on their Winter Taco Tour 2013 to record some live-in-the-studio songs, now available as a digital album and a limited edition cassette over at the Snorin’ Desert bandcamp. This band is great, and it was easy to record them because they are passionate and talented, and they put on a show fit for a much larger audience than Carrie, our dogs, and me. I would’ve loved for more of Las Vegas to experience their music, but I was happy to document the unique line-up in an intimate setting.

Members of The Yellow Dress have other fantastic musical projects, among them Diners and Zoe Rose.

I recommend listening to the whole album on bandcamp (and buying it, of course), but here is one of my favorites: a high-energy performance of “Heavy Beekeeping,” a lyrically powerful and intense song which they dedicated to me for an obvious reason (bees, not beads).

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