IT ECHOED from one end of Austin's South by Southwest (SXSW) festival to the other: drooling, geeked-up, media hype; soulless, grinning, industry clowns with BlackBerries and fanny packs fulla coke and some weird, unholy need to be close to something bigger than themselves. Most people—"people" being white, male music writers—were all amped on Art Brut, My Chemical Romance, and Arctic Monkeys: basically vanilla rock I couldn't care less about.
Redemption came, though, when I started hearing some of these hypemonsters hype up Talkdemonic—our Talkdemonic, Portland's Talkdemonic—which is fucking huge and, above all, a testament to Talkdemonic's live show and the heavyweight strength of the band's new CD, Beat Romantic.
When I finally stumbled into Talkdemonic's show, at the Arena Rock/Slowdance showcase, I watched proudly as the band tore it up. As shown live, and on Beat Romantic, Talkdemonic's sound is a fresh thing worthy of hype and talk. Where a lot of SXSW was about clothes and money and trends, Talkdemonic got attention because they sound different. The formula's simple: Lisa Molinaro's viola, Kevin O'Connor's drums, and urgency. The rest is left up to the duo's mood on any given night and how well their low-key samples (banjo, guitar, and bass via laptop) are mixed into the live instruments. The rhythms and peaks and valleys they create keep you watching to see where they're going, whether they'll drop off into an ambient viola buzz or bust ass forward with drums that sound like rock but are really hiphop.
When I first heard about Talkdemonic in an old Mercury, I wrote the band off as another honky laptop rap project, but I think I read wrong. The songs on the record are instrumental, devoid of post-rock clichés, and never afraid to change pace or direction at the slightest impetus. Sometimes O'Connor plays a drum solo until we're locked into a good rhythm, then the rest of the sound catches up and gets warm and pretty. Sometimes it's all chime and pulse and viola drone leading us to hot, murky primordial seas.
This show is a CD release for Beat Romantic, and whether the record blows the band up to the next level remains to be seen. To be perfectly honest, I don't care. One thing I learned from SXSW is that the concept of next levels and blowing up are nothing more than hot air, empty promises, and shoddy reasons for paying attention to art. One night, a head full of whiskey and humidity, walking along downtown Austin's main drag, a good friend lectured me that we need to take a hard look at why we want everything to be "bigger" and make sure we're still on our original track, the path we took back when we picked art over football or business or real estate. Even if Beat Romantic doesn't sell a single copy, it's a success in that it's a great record and a new, unexplored sound. That's pretty fucking huge if you ask me.