The discovery of new bands is a personal quest with personal criteria for any new-music seeker, and these days I find myself drawn to bands that remind me of, well, nothing. Years ago, an oft-reviewed songwriter friend of mine opined that, “Critics play `guess the influence’ and move on,” which may be true for listeners as well. And while it may be easy — and somewhat instructive — to cite a band’s obvious influences or to name check pioneers, it tends to limit the experience for all involved. That said (warning: comparisons a-coming), here are four impressive new acts who remind me of something familiar, yet …
Aby Wolf: I’d seen Ms. Wolf just once before, but nothing like in her own element as she was a couple Fridays ago at the Kitty Cat Club. Backed by loop tapes, found sounds, and two critters playing guitar, melodica, space washboard, and the kitchen sink, she moaned, blipped, and caterwauled into the night, basically letting the music take her and her tripped-out voice wherever it led, like a French lounge singer on her way to Saturn. Truly an original, Wolf blends hip-hop’s sensibility with poetry’s depth and favors nuance, feel, guttural vocalizing, and mystery over the path most taken. Somewhere, Edith Piaf and Frida Kahlo are listening and nodding along …
Mannequin Men: This Chicago four-piece’s set at Stasiu’s last month was the sort of clubland revelation that happens all too rarely in these days when “buzz” is but a tweet away. But this night, in a dark Midwestern bar that showcases original music, there was that distinct, delicious feeling that it was the only place to be on a Saturday night. On the surface, Mannequin Men are a ferociously tight outfit spurred on by a deranged singer and his tall tales, but the thing they have going for them is a bottomless quarry of songs — which is why they came to town with comparisons to bands that cut their teeth in 1980s Minneapolis (especially the little foursome that inspired that cheesy “Achin’ To Be Here” sign on the CC Club. Prediction: Next time they come town, you and I won’t be able to get in the door.
Tuesday’s Robot: Angular, tuneful, confident, and just hitting their stride as a live entity, this rarely-seen combo is worth seeking out and going out of your way for. Band leader Rick Robot (nee Widen) is a musician/artist/thinker of the highest order (I’d pay top dollar to see a Fringe Fest-able one-man show featuring the dude), and when my head hits the pillow after a night with them, I’m somehow reminded of the New Zealand scene that spawned the Clean, but for more of a ready-mix reference, think Talking Heads in the kitchen with Wilco.
The 757s: At the Eclectone Records bash at the Varsity Theater Saturday, this supersonic four-piece was showcased on a stage big enough to handle their growing power. A melting pot of herky-jerky influences (Wire and Television and Fugazi, oh my), the collaborative songwriting is the spark that makes it go: sparse and tough-as-nails. To boot, their scream-along closing-set cover of Husker Du’s “Diane” this night found the front line of Seth Zimmerman, Jimmy Peterson and Paul Pirner waking the dead and bringing new voice to Grant Hart’s doomed real-life heroine. Lookout, Austin.
Strange Lights: Yet another threesome that gives credence to the argument that power trios offer the most direct shot of rock for your Absinthe-addled dollar. They share a certain aesthetic with fellow hallucinogenic fellows Solid Gold and First Communion After Party, in that their sound is similarly huge; their darkness being the sort of cathartic chaos that has been practiced by the likes of 13 Engines and the Only Ones since God first invented dank practice spaces. Expect a full-length record on Susstones soon.
Correction: An earlier version of this post had errors in Mannequin Men’s name and city; they have been corrected.