Just one album into their catalogue, Austin’s Lexi and the Bleached Roses have already figured out something other bands might struggle to pull off – that is, a marriage between easy acoustic indie rock/pop and traditional, string-heavy Americana.
It’s a fairly hard balance to strike. Do it wrong, and you can unintentionally come across as a novelty – a bunch of old-timey-fixated jokers who are trying to pretend they stepped out of a 1931 shack and leaped eight decades ahead to save music from 808s and processing.
Fortunately, that’s not what Lexi Cardenas (pictured above) and her band are. Their concoction of indie, folk, and string music – driven by singer Cardenas’ violin and Mario Salas’ hypnotic cello – brought something both fresh and classic to Radio Coffee & Beer on Saturday night, suggesting Lexi and the Bleached Roses are one of Austin’s best up-and-comers in the indie-folk game.
Though their strings certainly play a starring role, both the originality and quality of the Bleached Roses’ music are bolstered by their refusal to be stuck in the distant past. For one, synth player Mo Paynter is around to augment those traditional tools Cardenas and Salas carry (along with drummer Jacob Wiviott). For another, the group’s melodic sensibility is steeped in the folk-pop territory of the last three or four decades, with Cardenas keeping her pleasant but powerful voice right in the middle of the road. It all makes their music perfect for an intimate venue like Radio, and on Saturday night they delivered.
Several moments of Saturday’s set could’ve been picked out as highlights. The title track from their highly accessible 2017 debut album, Sweet Desire, propelled the show forward early on, with Wiviott’s driving, folky beat and Salas’ hypnotic cello standing out. Or the highlight could’ve been the way the group completely transformed Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” into their own. Opening with Cardenas laying down a plucked violin line for looping, this version of the nearly quarter-century-old grunge anthem sounded utterly original after its folk-pop facelift. At each chorus, Cardenas lodged the song’s “new complaint” three times, with two loud rounds followed by a quieter one. The unexpected dynamic shift worked, and so did the transformation of the song. “Waiting,” a ballad driven by acoustic guitar and cello, provided another captivating highlight, recalling some of the best 1990s performances of MTV’s “Unplugged.”
The closer, a louder, more urgent version of their song “Again” than the version that appears on Sweet Desire, fittingly included Cardenas asking a question that could be posed to the Bleached Roses’ live audience: “Will you see me again?” Their performance Saturday gave their audience every reason to do so, and to look forward to the new music the group is planning to release this spring.
Others: Mü, Jonathan Horstmann
Technical difficulties are a hell of a thing to deal with in any case, but they’re even more devastating if you’re an electronic-reliant band with two synths, a laptop and six songs to make your case. Technological issues made A.J. Bihn, who performs as Mü, something of a man of the people as he cheerfully struggled through a short set following Lexi and the Bleached Roses (with a patient crowd).
Although the sound is trippy psych-pop rather than EDM, Mü’s sound somewhat recalls Big Gigantic, with Bihn handling a jaunty tenor sax (and synths) over a live drummer and loopy, loud computerized beats. Most prominently among the glitches Saturday, there was a false start on his third song, and another technical issue that delayed the beginning of the next one. But the crowd was behind Bihn as he dutifully struggled to work it all out. He reassured them at different times, saying early on, “We’re trying,” and, at the set’s conclusion, “We’re getting there.” Given the struggles, grading Mü’s stage presence almost seems unfair, but at least he exuded passion for what he was doing. As for the music, way-out-there acid pop just isn’t my thing in general, although the closer, a cover of King Midas’ “Really High,” was a high note, doing the best job of melding sax, vocals and noisy funhouse-mirror backing into a cohesive, enjoyable whole.
Jonathan Horstmann, who opened the night’s bill, is a multi-instrumentalist and veteran of several bands, including punkers BLXPLTN. His set featured some agreeable ‘80s-sounding synth pop, with Horstmann providing some edgy vocals and solid dynamic shifts as he switched between instruments.