There are as many unique new ways of getting at Richard Linklater’s “big communication” as there are phrasings to this sentence. Somebody went and told this group of artists in Austin that the music industry was dead (as in dead), see, and we are all the big winners: they went all übergenius in the spot. Check out KUT 90.5‘s Retread Sessions.

The auteur behind Retread Sessions is Austin artist Paige Maguire, who recently told me that the project was created “for the local NPR affiliate public radio station here in Austin — we wanted to create high quality web content for the station by utilizing Austin’s unique landscapes and spaces, all while working along this path that many creatives are paving together… Our hope is to create high quality (they’re shot on handhelds, yes, but we are shooting in HD and using a production company to professionally mix each song) videos that can live on the radio and on the web.”

They’ve certainly done all of that. The recording quality of these sessions is fabulous: clean, crisp, well-balanced. This is studio-level fidelity, in particular the Do Make Say Think and Jose Gonzalez sessions. There is a decided preference in these sessions for musical quality as opposed to the sorts of spontaneous crowd infiltrations and awkward behind-the-scenes gyrations found in La Blogoteque’s Takeaway Shows.

These Austin creatives certainly have a taste for variant forms: Yacht’s See a Penny Pick It Up is a welcome reprieve from Retread‘s preference for precision; the video pulsates with sexual magic, though it has little do to with the faux metro-soft hipster doofushness of the singers and everything to do with the driving beat and gorgeously captured images of some sunlit Austin streets. There is a deep, crafted notion of fine detail in each video; clearly these musicians are some of the creators’ personal favorites.
The unique craft of Retread Sessions is that the performance environments truly compliment and extend the music. Session #4 finds Do Make Say Think sequestered in some kind of lost meadow, all of the place suffused in an eerie orange fluorescence, the artists patterned into a fan-shaped mass, mics and drums and people all surrounded by a lush grove.  Technically, Do Make Say Think present a significant recording challenge. There are a total of nine musicians (including two drum sets) in this Canadian instrumental band to properly mic; all but three of these sing at some point during this performance of “A With Living.”

Austin being Austin, many of the musicians and bands featured on Retread are on their way some place else, but the project as a whole is truly an Austin thing.

Jose Gonzalez solemnly enters what appears to be the courtyard of a rundown house. The chipped, overrun walls form a beautiful contrast to the skin of Gonzalez female interlocutor.  Rusty, smashed in coffee cans and broken slabs of cement dot the ground as the pair stand quickly up and stroll outside into a desolate Texas mirage. All of this somehow meshes correctly with the vibrations of Gonzalez as an artist: his reverent tone and the thick sound of his fingers against the guitar strings.

As the camera shot fades on Do Make Say Think, an unseen man says: “That doesn’t feel awkward at all” – an apt commentary on the Retread Sessions ever-evolving body of work.

The palette is extended by watching these short films. Emergent from this new and vibrant form is a different sort of art, and a glimpse at how good it can get, when there isn’t a Wharton graduate in a cheap-smelling Italian suit with his finger on the big red button.

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