Traffic Jam: ACL lineup is a bull’s-eye; single reviews for Spoon, Blakchyl

ACL 2023 poster

Let’s jam. It’s been a long, long time since I added to the ranks of this sporadically recurring feature, in which I columnize on several things at once. But “several things at once” has been where my head’s at in recent months, despite efforts to place said head otherwise. So, with some notes I want to catch up on, Traffic Jam returns.

ACL lineup: An unqualified triumph

I moved to Austin in 2014, attended my first partial Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2016, and have hit every one since then. And my opinion on this — which obviously won’t be shared by every perpetual ACL goer in that timeframe — is nonetheless unequivocal: top to bottom, this is the finest lineup in my seven-year tenure of building sore ankles at Zilker.

My plan is to be at weekend two. So let’s focus on what we have for that weekend in this diverse, fairly glorious hodgepodge of hip-hop stars, ’90s mainstream heroes, ’90s college rock heroes, oughties heroes, indie detonators of the moment, pop stars who push their sexuality to the fore, and much more:

Friday, Oct. 13
Top line: Kendrick Lamar, Lumineers, Kali Uchis, Maggie Rogers
Down-poster notables: Lil Yachty, Revivalists, Portugal. The Man, Ethel Cain, We Don’t Ride Llamas
ACLysis: If you’re of the mindset that some artists come back to ACL too soon (Mumford & Sons and/or Marcus himself, for instance), then perhaps it’s heartening that Kendrick hasn’t been out at Zilker since 2016. He was also devastatingly amazing that night; seven years later, I still remember his breakneck plowing through “i” as if there’s never been a more nimble emcee. The smoky-and-sleepy soul/R&B of Kali Uchis, equal parts retro and modern, is likely to make for something compelling. The Revivalists and frontman David Shaw add a tight, jammy stage presence without being one of those more insufferable jam bands people under 60 reflexively make fun of. Lil Yachty had the chutzpah to try to stretch out of “bubblegum trap” into psych this year, and seeing how that manifests onstage might be worth a look. If Portugal. The Man mixes in some older stuff along the lines of “People Say” and “Got It All,” they’ll make me happy. And young local rockers We Don’t Ride Llamas, a quartet of siblings, aren’t to be missed if you can help it.

Saturday, Oct. 14
Top line: Foo Fighters, The 1975, Alanis Morissette
Down-poster notables: Tegan and Sara, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Mt. Joy, Tove Lo, Bob Moses, Coi LeRay, Poolside, Tanya Tucker, Ben Kweller, Sudan Archives, Jessie Ware, Devon Gilfillian, Rattlesnake Milk, Blakchyl
ACLysis: The best, most loaded day — so much so that it’s hard to know where to begin. Foo Fighters, making their first ACL appearance since 2015, will be a long-sought cross-off for my list, presumably counter-programmed against the unpredictability of the newly single Matty Healy, his outrage-generating provocations and the sometimes-great alternative pop of his big-selling band. There will likely be the option of splitting your time if you want to see if Healy tries to goad Swifties into righteous anger with some sort of not-so-subtle spectacle, or does something else he might be pressured into apologizing for later. Alanis offers the prospect of a pleasant but potentially moving nostalgia trip. Tegan and Sara, perhaps one of the most underrated pop-rock bands of this century, will be another “never seen ’em” cross-off for this longtime fan, and another bull’s-eye for elder millennials and younger X’ers. Swedish dance-pop titan Tove Lo, known for sexually provocative lyrics, beats and costumes, is virtually guaranteed to be memorable. Coi LeRay of very recent top-10 hit “Players” fame (“‘Cause girls is players too”) and locals Blakchyl (see single review below) will be part of the day’s hip-hop highlights. Brittney Parks, aka Sudan Archives, released one of the best electro-soul-R&B albums in recent memory last year, a record that portends infectious onstage energy. Thirty Seconds to Mars adds Oscar-winning star power, and more elder millennial bait, to the mix.

Sunday, Oct. 15
Top line: Mumford & Sons, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Odesza, Hozier, Labrinth
Down-poster notables: Cigarettes After Sex, M83, Breeders, Little Simz, Suki Waterhouse, Yves Tumor, Death Grips
ACLysis: It’s been almost 16 years since the central basis for this recommendation, but — see Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Trust me, do it. Karen O, one of the great rock vocalists of this century, lived up to all my stratospheric expectations on an extremely hot, extremely un-air conditioned indoor night at a dive in Lawrence, Kan., in early August 2007. Basically, she became a possessed art-punk demon the likes of which you don’t really stumble into a lot in even the most avid show-hopping career. Does she still have that same fire? Only one way to find out, but what is certain is that this creative firestorm of a band has added more great songs to its repertoire since then, including 2009’s disco-rock masterpiece “Zero” and 2022 already-classic “Spitting Off the Edge of the World.” Mumford & Sons is more engaging live than out of your laptop or stereo, but if they’re programmed against Yeah Yeah Yeahs, give Karen O, guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase your triple consent. If your schedule can swing him, British singer-producing veteran Labrinth, mastermind behind the atmospheric, electronically driven score of the always exquisitely soundtracked HBO teen melodrama “Euphoria,” is a no-brainer to check out as well. Cigarettes After Sex are a curio to see how engaging they might possibly be live. The El Paso dream-poppers, characterized by Lynch-y production haze and Greg Gonzalez’s androgynous vocals, do one thing, and they do it slowly, and it can all run together. But it’s undeniable that they do it well. How about the Breeders for another blast of legacy college rock? And if you’re unfamiliar with the uniquely British hip-hop strain aptly known as grime, Little Simz is a talented exponent.

Single review: Spoon, “Sugar Babies”

Last year, in giving a deservedly glowing review to Lucifer on the Sofa, the Guardian wrote, “There aren’t really bad Spoon albums. There are really good Spoon albums and there are excellent Spoon albums.” Essentially true, that assertion is, with the exception of a couple that land in the merely “good” range. However, that doesn’t mean Spoon is immune to bad songs — or, what passes for bad in Spoonworld. In that realm, bad usually equates to “competent” — worth a listen or three, easily memory-holed in the long run.

That was where they left us with 2019 one-off single “No Bullets Spent,” and that’s even more glaringly where we’ve landed with “Sugar Babies,” the first offering off forthcoming three-song EP Memory Dust. Yes, this nearly six-minute track does manage to hit some of the “classic Spoon” vibes — repetitive, quirky-and-jerky percussion, and an inscrutable lyric that allows for about whatever ascription you want on it — while sounding vaguely adventurous at the same time. And yet, from the opening studio chatter to the outro lasting an uncompelling 2:45, there’s an unfinished feeling to it that undercuts its best elements: a standard-issue Britt Daniel assertive vocal (often double-tracked) and airy but charging piano. When Britt introduces the question “Where’s your credential?” to his subjects, it feels like we might be getting somewhere — but it turns out we’re really not. A couple of attention-perking clangy and distorted moments in that long outro tease a possible bring-it-home finale that never comes. Given that the whole three-song shebang will be out next Tuesday, one wonders why the boys even bothered with releasing “Sugar Babies” as a single so close to that date. The spoonful of sugar you get here is of modest sweetness, and its forgettability is formidable.

Single review: Blakchyl, “Protected”

Easy, smooth and sonically timeless, “Protected” is a delightful one-off from native East Austinite Te’aunna Moore, who as Blakchyl has built a sterling local reputation following her work with Mindz of a Different Kind. Moore’s voice and flow here are confident, calm and reminiscent of a wine tasting where you’re trying to pick out all the unique notes — I get hints of Kendrick and Lil Wayne, and maybe you’ll pick out something else, but you’ll also get a feel that manages to be Blakchyl’s own. “Oh I, I’m feeling protected/Oh I, I know my direction … Oh I, I don’t need no more questions,” Moore catchily raps as this fine single closes on us. Wonder if she’d be OK with us asking when the next full-length drops?