Navigating the Waves: A primer to Aqarium Drunkard's Waved Out festival
So sneered former Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard on the title track of his second solo album, “Waved Out.” But no contrition is necessary to attend the inaugural Aquarium Drunkard festival named in honor of the Dayton, Ohio, lo-fi luminary. Indeed, the nod is a fitting one considering that the landlocked legend’s influence can be felt in the DIY aesthetic and distorted sonics of the artists on the bill. The name also works for referencing the current crop of artists turning to the ocean for titular and lyrical inspiration – with Best Coast, Surfer Blood and Family Portrait (who record for the Underwater Peoples label) all appearing. (Presumably, Pearl Harbor, Washed Out, and Wavves had scheduling commitments.)
Running from 3:30 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. at the Echo and Echoplex, and featuring food trucks, the Hit & Run T-shirt crew and ice cream, the festival is a welcome addition to the city’s festival circuit and might rival this photo as the best wave-themed product of the last several years.
In an effort to help organize your undulations, Pop & Hiss breaks down some of the most notable acts on the bill. Those searching for MP3s should head here.
The Sandwitches – (10:40 – 11:10 p.m.)
The all-girl trio from San Francisco known as The Sandwitches (don’t forget the “T”) is impossible to classify, flitting from in-the-garage rave-ups to melancholic dust bowl ballads to dulcet Phil Spector (on a Goodwill budget) pop. Blessed with an acidic wit and impressive songwriting skills, the Sandwitches' debut, “How to Make Ambient Sadcake,” positioned them at the forefront of the lo-fi and lysergics set in the Bay Area. Plus, with songs like “Relax at the Beach” and “Back to the Sea,” they fit snugly into the event’s aquatic aesthetic.
Surfer Blood (9:35 – 10:25 p.m)
Surfer Blood don’t surf, which makes them a potential object of derision for writing songs titled “Floating Vibes,” “Swim” and “Take It Easy.” Coupled with the pink drinks and white sand vibe that owned the blogs last summer, their debut, “Astro Coast,” would have seemed like it emerged wholly out of the mind of Hipster Runoff had it not been for the innate pop sense the West Palm Beach, Fla.-based band flashed. At times, the songs skate a bit too close to Vampire Weekend, The Shins or “Blue Album”-era Weezer for comfort, but Surfer Blood craft tunes that feel both lightweight and sturdy, and make it practically impossible to avoid describing them without using metaphors about “floating” or “riding the wave.”
Turbo Fruits (8:45 – 9:20 p.m.)
If the Turbo Fruits seem a little less hyper-charged than normal, blame the ADHD speed with which they blazed through Austin last week; they played a staggering 16 shows in five days. According to the band's frontman, former Be Your Own Pet guitarist Jonas Stein, the Turbo Fruits are inspired by “rowdy rock 'n' roll…from the late 1950s and 1970s,” and listening to their sex- and drugs-steeped catalog, the influences are unmistakable. The Fat Possum-signed trio pull off the anachronistic leanings and recycled riffs thanks to their infectious hyperactivity and apostolic conviction.
Best Coast (7:50 to 8:30 p.m.)
The brainchild of 23-year-old Bethany Cosentino, Best Coast has emerged as a darling of the blogs thanks to what she calls her “stoned love letters to imaginary boyfriends” slathered in a sugary shell of '60s AM girl-group pop and hazy feedback. Revamping the sun-and-sand template for the new decade, Best Coast craft songs that co-exist with the classic California myth, but never feel like stale stereotypes.
The Coathangers (6:55 – 7:35 p.m.)
It’s a lot harder to be punk rock when every extreme threshold has already been crossed: slashing yourself with glass, spitting and urinating on the audience -- to say nothing of the damage that the Hot Topic twerps inflicted during the emo years. So credit the Atlanta all-girl quartet The Coathangers for being one of the last still able to shock, with their hilariously offensive name, unprintable song lyrics and lacerating and insolent wit. But it wouldn’t mean a thing if their songs weren’t excellent, sung with alternating vocals by all four group members and a live show equal parts absurd and awesome.
Moon Duo – (6:05 to 6:40 p.m)
Ripley Johnson, the lead guitarist of San Francisco psychedelic squall specialists Moon Duo, was spotted rocking out near the front row of Dam-Funk’s show at the French Legation at SXSW. Ostensibly, it would seem to be a weird sighting. The wizard-bearded motorik-minded rocker swaying to the Leimert Park funk pharaoh: two artists pulling from widely divergent influences and aesthetics but united in their ability to channel an infinite groove. Both men make music like Mobius strips, full of winding curves and eternal possibility. And both were highlights of this writer’s SXSW experience. Look for Moon Duo as the sleeper pick to steal the show.
Active Child (5:15 – 5:50 p.m)
L.A. native Pat Grossi may have been raised on the classic West Coast gangsta rap that his father (a Priority Records executive) brought home, but his sound is anything but hardcore. A longtime choral singer, the heavily buzzed about Active Child resembles the seraphic sun-split harmonies of Grizzly Bear crossed with a synthpop fetish that suggests a heavy obsession with New Order.
-- Jeff Weiss
Aquarium Drunkard Presents "Waved Out," Saturday, March 27. 3:00 p.m. @ The Echo & The Echoplex, 1822 Sunset Blvd. $12.