South by Southwest (SXSW) is the gift that keeps on giving (and there might even be more to come). With over 2000 bands and artists performing, the week-long March music festival that is just a small part of the 10-day tech/film/comedy/music festival, SXSW is a music-fan’s paradise––especially if discovering new talent across all genres is what keeps you going. If anyone ever says, “music just isn’t what it used to be,” or “there’s just no good new music these days,” I assume those people don’t go to South by Southwest. As you stumble through downtown Austin, with live music blaring through every open door to any bar, restaurant, coffee shop, and even previously-empty retail spots and warehouses now temporarily-transformed into music venues, it’s impossible to not discover something good. I mean, even based on numbers alone.
This year, one of those new surprises was the U.K. genre-crossing pop act Bad Sounds. That’s the best I can do––one sentence where I can avoid stating a genre. It would be a disservice to music fans and especially to an act filled with talented musicians, equally creative with their parts, who are creating music that can and will be loved by fans of pretty much any music. Okay, two sentences without mentioning genre. THAT is the best I can do.
When you listen to Get Better, the new album from Bad Sounds, you’ll often hear a foundation of old-school hip-hop drums––not always a breakbeat, but recorded in a way that sounds like it could’ve been sampled from records from the late 70s, rather than actually played by the band’s drummer Olivia. And maybe at the base of it all, you’ll find hip-hop. But with dual vocals from brothers Ewan and Callum Merret, you get some of those beautiful harmonies that siblings always do best, sung over jazzy and funky tunes, sometimes accompanied by layered brass, that, when all layered together, take you back a little further to the days of Motown.
Which makes perfect sense, as Ewan and Callum explain in our video interview, after their brief stint in a metal band together in their early teens, the brothers went on different musical paths, with Ewan getting more into hip-hop and Callum exploring old-school R&B and soul like Marvin Gaye. You could’ve guessed those respective backgrounds by listening to the record, in which Ewan leads the way rapping through the more beat-driven tracks like one of the band’s singles “Wages,” with Callum jumping in to help build the always-strong choruses, and then when tracks like the soulful jam “How Are You Gonna Lose” hit, and you’re taken back in time with Callum’s soothing, high-range voice backed by brass, organs, and just the right amount of guitar-riffing and bass-bouncing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made it sound easy, but solely for your benefit, in hopes that you’ll gain some sort of understanding that will make you check out Bad Sounds to find out for yourself. There’s no way to explain how this band has combined those sounds with the occasional lean into Beck territory, and yet still somehow cohesively combine some pop-rock traits of OkGo (“Avalanche”), with that rock-range even expanding into Prince and The Clash land (“Evil Powers”).
You’re just going to have to try to wrap your own head around it, either by checking out Get Better or catching Bad Sounds on tour in the U.S. now with Broods.