Toro y Moi (Photo courtesy the artist)
Shamir with Stephen Colbert. (Photo courtesy Facebook)
Neon Indian on the cover of his new album Vega Intl. Night School.
Grimes for Alexander Wang.
Lauryn Hill in 2015. (Photo by Pascal Bernier)
The first weekend in November is always a special one, because that’s typically when Fun Fun Fun Fest hits Austin for three days. Celebrating its 10th year, Fun Fun Fun Fest remains a favorite of mine because, unlike big brother Austin City Limits (or a number of other national festivals), FFF Fest has managed to retain its eccentric, independent roots and delivers a festival experience that’s fun, eclectic, and intimate-feeling without losing the breadth and scope that makes big outdoor music festivals such a draw.
FUN FUN FUN FEST
TORO Y MOI, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 4:45 PM, ORANGE STAGE
Chaz Bundick, also known as Toro y Moi, has remained relevant past his summer-of-2009 splash by slightly altering his sound with every new release. When Causers of This debuted in 2010, Bundick was firmly entrenched in making nostalgic-sounding beats punctuated with synths, a mix of analog sounds and digital trickery that defined the sounds of the genre known as “chillwave.”
He’s grown as a songwriter and become less reliant on triggering nostalgia for making his songs work, all of which has culminated in two wildly different 2015 releases: What For?, released in January, is heavy on guitar and at times sounds exactly like Weezer. But the more interesting, surprising, and better release this year was August’s Samantha, a mixtape of songs recorded between 2012 and 2015 and featuring cameos from SAFE, Kool A.D., Rome Fortune, and Nosaj Thing. It’s the perfect blend of hip-hop, neo-soul, R&B and the throwback disco sounds Bundick has worked with his entire career.
SHAMIR, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2:10 PM, BLUE STAGE
Shamir released his fun Northtown EP in 2014 that, while good, didn’t foreshadow the lengths he’d go to with this year’s full-length record, Ratchet, a front-to-back accomplishment that finds the sweet, redemptive nature of dance music in songs that are as chaotic as they are earnest. Shamir has done something that is hard to do across all genres, but especially in electronic music: Create an engaging full-length record, 40 minutes of high-energy beats and thick, arcade-game chords.
Even if you can’t get down to the record, a live Shamir show is worth seeking out as a full-blown dance party, at two in the afternoon or two in the morning.
NEON INDIAN, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 6:15 PM, BLUE STAGE
Speaking of chillwave, the nom de plume of Alan Palomo, Neon Indian, has outgrown his roots to something else entirely. 2011’s Era Extrana polished his sound to a pop sheen, but something about Palomo’s effortless down-home charm (he is a native of Denton, Texas) got lost in the shuffle. This year’s Vega Intl. Night School rights the ship by finding the perfect balance between the analog, ’80s keyboard-inspired music of his 2009 debut Psychic Chasms while retaining the tight songwriting of Era Extrana.
It sounds like disco, it sounds like pop, it sounds like 14 twisted takes on “Groove is in the Heart,” and more importantly, when so many artists have become prone to repeating themselves, Palomo has found a new way to remain relevant by sitting out the last four years. He sounds refreshed, renewed, and revitalized.
GRIMES, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 7:25 PM, BLUE STAGE
And in the case of “revitalized artists,” Grimes is performing this weekend, a day after the release of her first album since 2012’s Visions, Art Angels. Claire Boucher is fresh off performing at a Dior party at the Guggenheim, and something about her music — Bjork meets pop meets electronica —taps into the imaginations of the art- and fashion-inclined. Art Angels is too new to have developed a “take” on it, other than: It’s completely surprising (sometimes she sounds like Gwen Stefani, sometimes it’s Kacey Musgraves), which means it’s true to the spirit of Grimes.
LAURYN HILL, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 8:15 PM, ORANGE STAGE
Filling in for D’Angelo after the legendary R&B singer was forced to cancel comes another singer who spent a decade-plus evading the spotlight while trying to find her voice. D’Angelo finally came around and released his follow-up to 1999’s Voodoo with 2014’s Black Messiah. Hill has not released any new music, nor do I think she is planning to anytime soon, but still: This is a rare chance to see a truly classic artist in a unique setting, as the closing set at the country’s most innovative music festival.
D’Angelo toured extensively (including a stop in Houston) behind his Black Messiah, so the ability to catch Lauryn Hill during a long performing drought is rare and almost worth visiting Austin alone.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7
Houston Grand Opera presents Eugene Onegin, @ Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 7:30 pm
In Russian with a projected English translation, Tchaikovsky‘s adaptation of an Alexander Pushkin novel celebrates one of just five performances Saturday. Billed thusly: “When the narcissistic Onegin spurns the affections of a sensitive young girl and turns a pistol on his best friend in a fatal duel, he is left only with regret. Years later, reunited with his now-married former admirer, he finds he has lost his chance at true love.”
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9
Girlpool @ Fitzgerald’s, 8 pm
Girlpool have quickly made a name for themselves as a punk group that doesn’t shy away from catchy melodies or vulnerability. (For other fine examples of this potent mix, see Waxahatchee and Courtney Barnett.) The difference is, Girlpool are also expert producers, who arrange minimalist guitar riffs and bass patterns into movements that are as delicate and deliberate as a pointillist painting. Alex G and The Lories open.