A couple of months ago, I reported on the annual South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
The fest has become the most important event of the year for pop music bands to strut their stuff in front of music industry tastemakers.
Since the fest, I've been listening to a handful of discs by some intriguing girl groups you might want to check out, too. I've thumbnailed a few of them:
The Pretty Please
Fronted by former Sixteen Deluxe singer Carrie Clark, this four-song sampler from a veteran Austin trio leaves you thirsting for more. Clark spits out a rapid-fire stream of coyly ascerbic rock lyrics, atop a bed of growling synthesizer bass lines, arena-ready drums and jackhammer guitar riffs.
This band is ready for a world tour. To check out a couple of samples (including the Monkees-meets-punk-pop candy of "The Rock Star Guide to Falling Apart") check their site at www.theprettyplease.com.
Too Hot to be Cool
If blatant "yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah" speed-punk energy is what you need, this all-girl Austin act has the battery power. Vocalist Amanda sounds as if she has memorized the discs from the Sex Pistols era, and she spits out snotty, sassy (and often unintelligible) rock lyrics like a machine gun. A little more attention to technique and hooks, and these girls might one day stand up next to The Donnas. For more info, check www.the-winks.com (and don't forget the hyphen … without it you find a completely different band's site).
Go Betty Go
More ready to challenge the Donnas' girl-rock crown right now is this L.A. band that's been playing the sunset strip for a couple of years (and was on the Vans Warped tour last summer). Featuring two sisters who have played in bands since they were 9 (they're 20-somethings now) and a guitarist named Betty, their five-song EP is wildly catchy and pure high-octane rev-it-up fun.
Their bi-lingual Spanish roots come out on the peppy "Son Mis Locuras" and they've got a picture perfect punk-pop hit in English on "C'mon." Check them at www.gobettygo.com.
All the way from Australia, this three-piece band is led by the bouyant Patience Hodgson, who squeaks and shouts and sings with such unabashed exuberance, the lo-fi garage band simplicity of the drums and guitars backing her are taken to a new level. A reviewer described them as The Ramones on pogo sticks, which is as apt a description as any.
The best track on their four-song EP, "Trampoline" ("use your bed like a trampoline/just for love if you know what I mean"), is the ultimate rock come-hither. It also got the band instant radio play, before the song got picked up for a jeans commercial. Check www.thegrates.com.
A three-piece band from Malta (bonus points if you can point to that island country on the map), who have been playing together for nearly a decade, Beangrowers' 12-song CD boasts a more subdued sound than the other bands I mentioned, somewhere between the alternative pound of The Breeders and the lackadaisical pop of The Cardigans.
The radio-ready hooks of "You Are You Are" fall in the former camp, while the silky jazzy tone of "Waiting" feels like a lost Cardigans single. The title track carves out a frollicking off-kilter '80s guitar scratch, while some retro organ snatches and roller-rink sentiment ("dance dance baby/we can do most anything, anywhere, I don't care) make for a great little driving track. For more information check www.beangrowers.net.
Veronica Lipgloss and the Evil Eyes
Like a lost alternative blast from the early '80s, San Francisco's Veronica Lipgloss feature evocative, sometimes psychotically oscillating vocals atop a bizarre mix of pounding drums, toy flute, Cramps-evil bass and an occasional blast of Psychedelic Furs-esque horns. They're a wild performance art combo with guest go-go dancer on stage, and are due for a new release shortly.
With a vocal allure more silky than Blondie and a synthesizer squadron in love with the Erasure-ish tech sounds of the early '80s, Vagenius offers a catchy mix of space-arcade sounds and seductive harmonies that owe a debt to the Cardigans, as well as Debbie Harry.
"Take it to the Maxx" is as catchy a euro-pop track as you'll find made in the past five years, with a hint of the allure and techno gallop of Garbage's best singles in its verses and a retro-synth siren break in the middle. You can buy its nine-song CD — and hear the songs from it via a bevy of MP3 files — at www.totallyvagenius.com.
Hurts to Purr
Singer-pianist Liz Pappademas fronts this jazzy combo, and one song from her solo EP "5 Songs From Laurel Street" appears on this three-song sampler from their upcoming summer CD. That song is "Mr. Atom," and it's exactly the kind of track that could put this band on the map outside of Austin. It's a slowly building, oddly shambling bit of whimsy about a girl and her rocket-building robot ("Mr. Atom and me/best friends" she sings).
Pappademas' soulfully seductive vocals slip in and out of a wry smile throughout; this is a spotlight song that will leave you anxious for a full-length effort from the band.
The other two tracks on the sampler don't quite live up to the quirky attraction of "Mr. Atom," but "Perfect Day" is a gentle contemplative song about playing hooky in the movie theater anyone can relate to. More information: www.hurtstopurr.com.