SXSW Showcase Artist Spotlight #4
Emma Lee Toyoda
Vibrant without being flashy, sweet without being cliché, profound without being pretentious, Seattle’s Emma Lee Toyoda is a fresh face in the world of indie rock. With Emma Toyoda, Khyre Matthews and Zeke Bender as core members of the group, the Pacific Northwest trio describes their genre as semi-nocturnal sadgrrrlrock (à la Mitski). It’s really a little tougher to pinpoint what exactly to label their sound. Their record mixes indie with a little folk, psychadelic sax, and 1950’s flavor. Whether it’s an improv saxophone solo on the track “Stop!”, delicate harmonies on “Pulling Hairs”, or the folksy banjo-heavy “Forget Me Now”, Toyoda’s 2016 record, Sewn Me Anew is full of eclectic surprises. “Nünü” is a soft and sweet track that is so soft and easy to listen to, but it suddenly builds up and explodes into a flawless transition into “Pulling Hairs”. It’s the little details like this that make it such a pleasure to listen to ELT. Using unexpected instruments and a witty lyricism, the record seems to fly by and leaves you wanting more.
This Seattle-based group gives everything they have when creating music, and its obvious on their 2017 record To Infinity. Special Explosion is Andy Costello, Lizzy Costello, Josh Davis, Sebastien Deramat, and Jacob Whinihan. It’s easy to see influences from Death Cab For Cutie on tracks like “ Skeleton” or Built to Spill on “Your Bed”, but Special Explosion stays true to their name and creates tracks that are wholly unique. Delicate vocals and harmonies between Andy and Lizzy on “Gladiator” and “Fire” are swirling and sincere, backed by earnest and billowy atmospheres. Melodic and infectious, Special Explosions have delivered one of the best indie albums to be released in the past few years. Earning critical acclaim from from NPR, SPIN, Pitchfork, and Stereogum, Special Explosion are currently on a US tour with American Pleasure Club.
Forming all the way back in 2010, Indie-pop group VARSITY calls Chicago’s DIY scene their home. However, the group has grown a lot since then, gaining national attention for their 2015 self-titled record, as well as a lot of buzz around their upcoming release. VARSITY’S album Parallel Person is coming out on Babe City records this April 27th. The record, according to the band’s Bandcamp page explores themes of struggling with isolation and popularity, as well as the frustration that comes with artistic expression. From the singles alone, we can tell that this record is going to be very personal, honesty, with a touch of cynicism. “Must Be Nice”, the first single off of the record, mixes colorful psychedelic with and jangly indie pop. On the track, Stef Smith sings about feeling trapped, unable to express emotion in order to be liked and respected -- a sentiment nearly universally shared by women in the industry. Eerie keyboard lines and punchy drums work together to create a playful atmosphere. Bright and dynamic, VARSITY strings together cheery guitar and melodies to create bubbly tracks that deal with very real and honest lyricism.