SXSW Preview: The Black and White Years

There have been three waves of SXSW artists announced so far for the upcoming 2012 festival. Amongst the big names (Grace Potter, Blitzen Trapper, Talib Kweli, Built to Spill, etc.), there have been 39 Austin artists announced so far. We’ve covered Love Inks and Black Books as specific previews, and there are a dozen more artists playing who’ve already been featured on OVRLD. But one artist stood out to me from the first wave of announcements as someone we had to cover. The Black and White Years.

The Black and White Years haven’t released any new material since we started this site back in February – their latest LP, Patterns, came out in November 2010 – but finally I have a chance to write about them! I would probably be in love with this band from their backstory alone. My favorite band ever is Talking Heads, and BWY were discovered at the 2007 SXSW in a parking lot by former Talking Heads keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison, who ended up producing their 2008 debut album (though this is the same reasoning that led me to like Stroke 9, so it’s clear that Harrison isn’t infallible…). They’re also heavily credentialed, winning four Austin Music Awards around the time of their debut (though getting oddly shut out for Patterns). They were named last year’s Band of the Year by Republic of Austin. These guys are major players in the Austin rock scene.

Black & White Years - Up!

It’s fortunate, then, that their music lives up to the accolades. On its surface, it’s totally 80s-inspired dance music. There are tons of synthesizers, funky bass lines, rocking drum parts. At times they remind me of 80s one-hit wonders like Taco or T’Pau – the difference is, though, that they actually have heart and soul in their music. They’re kind of like a brighter mid-80s Depeche Mode. And the whole time, BWY avoid coming across like 80s retreads. This music fits right into the contemporary indie rock landscapes. “Up!” has a bright melody, “Silence is Our Medicine” has a relentless beat, “The Quintessential Twenty Something” has great lyrics (along with many of the other songs on the record), and every last one of them features killer hooks. It’s album that shines from top to bottom, and works just as easily for thought-provoking chill-out music as it does for gearing up for an exciting night on the town.

The Black & White Years have a big 2012 planned with new material and touring, and you can bet that I’m excited to hear what they’re going to offer us. Until then, I’ll just console myself with Patterns and dreams of their SXSW performances.

– Carter