by Morgan Davis
Photos by Richard Hoang
At one point during Tele Novella’s Halloween show/album release party at Barracuda, my friend Marcus told me that he felt Halloween falling on a Monday this year was yet another cruel taunt from the overwhelmingly shitty year 2016 has turned out to be. It’s true that Halloween landing on a crowded weekday naturally limited your party options, but damn if Tele Novella and company weren’t committed to overcoming that and creating an event to remember.
Barracuda was barely recognizable with the decorations the now Lockhart-based indie pop quartet rolled out; spiderwebs were everywhere but there were also more unique touches, like an entire wall devoted to a Stranger Things Christmas light tribute and a bloody operating table scene next to the photo booth. That extended to the line-up as well, with committed weirdos Pollen RX, Deep Time and Big Bill all warming the crowd up for Tele Novella.
Pollen RX has weathered recent line-up changes to continue to evolve their sound; later in the night guitarist Ben Hirsch asked me to settle an argument between new members Caroline and Ryan about whether they should continue to make their music more expansive and ornate, as Caroline prefers, or faster and punkier, as Ryan prefers. But personally, the conflict between those two worlds is part of what I think is making the band more appealing than ever before.
Deep Time skewed a little more traditionally indie in their performance at Barracuda (while dressed like ZZ TOP), and while I respect how tight and seasoned their playing is at this point, it wasn’t as engaging to me sandwiched between the more chaotic styles of Pollen and Big Bill. There was something safe and comforting about Deep Time’s set, but the songs lacked enough character to make them stand out from one another, at least in the less-than-ideal sound setting of Barracuda, with its massive open spaces and lack of low end.
That said, lately I’ve been noticing that Big Bill’s brand of chaos is becoming a little more aggro than it used to be; at one point the band launched into a Black Sabbath-esque jam, and frontman Eric Bill‘s stage banter frequently ventured into almost venomously snarky terrain.
Big Bill remain one of the best live bands in the city, but there’s a warmth that I sometimes feel is missing in their most recent sets, though that could have more to do with the larger and larger bro contingent making up their crowds (and the crowd that seemed to show up in time for Big Bill’s set featured some especially obnoxious people, including a ridiculously tall couple who forced their way to the front and then loudly talked throughout the show). Perhaps not coincidentally, their opening performance of early classic “Juice U” was a high point, as it was initially hard to tell if they were actually starting or just doing a soundcheck until Eric wandered in out of the crowd and took the mic.
The main attraction of the night, though, was obviously Tele Novella, who chose to focus on their new material and play their topically titled upcoming album House of Souls in its entirety (though not in order, as far as I could tell). Tele Novella functioned as a hybrid of all the best elements of the preceding bands, grafting Deep Time’s tightness onto Big Bill’s well-honed functional chaos and Pollen’s anything-goes spirit. Natalie Ribbons is a natural star, gifted with an incredible voice and a clear comfort on the stage and she had the audience enthralled from the beginning, leading them from song to song with detours for a costume contest and commentary on the event.
But the secret allure of Tele Novella remains the delicate balance of the band’s impressive technical chops and commitment to keeping songwriting first. Though House of Souls is a more sonically consistent affair than the singles the band has steadily released in the years before its completion (which I hope get collected Singles Going Steady-style), it’s full of Tele Novella’s trademark mix of spooky, swampy tones, wide-open arrangements and Ribbons’ impeccable melodies.
Newer single “Even Steven” remains my favorite cut from the album and it did not disappoint in its live rendition; if anything, it packed a little more bite and the band seemed spurred on by its lyrical connections to the Halloween mood. But not a single song disappointed. Halloween’s poor timing this year may have been a letdown, but Tele Novella deserve recognition for turning Barracuda into a very bright Halloween light in a very dark year.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes here at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.