Ex Cops performs for a video shoot at Farewell Books in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest on March 15, 2013.

EX COPS: ‘SPRING BREAK (HAPPY BIRTHDAY)’ @ SXSW

Watch the Brooklyn band perform “Spring Break (Birthday Song)” in a funky bookstore in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest 2013. This video was originally created for WNYC’s Soundcheck for its SXSW coverage.

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Ex Cops: Jangling Pop In A Bookstore

by Michael Katzif for WNYC Soundcheck

South By Southwest can be an unrelenting week of loud music and hordes of people. So it was a rare, if temporary respite from the madness on Friday morning when I met up with Ex Cops at a funky bookstore called Farewell Books. This relatively new and minimal shop and gallery space — just east of the highway to be out of the way from the mayhem of Downtown Austin — is decked out in arty prints, a handsomely curated book selection, and an old boxy television set looping retro psychedelic imagery.

It turned out to be the perfect place for the music of Ex Cops.

Fronted by Bryan Harding and Amalie Bruun, the Brooklyn band’s brisk and snappy songcraft blends shimmery dream pop with memorable, singable hooks. On stage with a full band, Ex Cops is capable of wielding edgier guitar distortion and savvy drumming to cut through with some teeth.

But here, even stripped-down to Harding and Bruun’s vocal harmonies, Ex Cops’ rendition of “Spring Break (Birthday Song)”– a sweet jangly song — made for an engaging and wonderfully fresh take on the indie pop sound.

Credits: Producer/Editor/Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio: Rachel Neel; Special Thanks to: Farewell Books, Austin, Texas.

Waxahatchee performs for a video shoot at Yellow Jacket Social Club in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest on March 14, 2013.

WAXAHATCHEE: ‘SWAN DIVE’ @ SXSW

Watch an intimate, early morning performance of “Swan Dive” at a bar in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest. This video was originally created for WNYC’s Soundcheck for its SXSW coverage.

Waxahatchee: Heart-Wrenching Intimacy On A Spring Morning

by Michael Katzif for WNYC Soundcheck

Finding time for quiet reflection is practically impossible in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest. That is, unless you get yourself outta bed early before anyone else is even thinking about waking up, and hoof it across to the east side of highway to meet up with a musician. It was a crisp, spring morning — about 8:30 or 9 a.m. — when Katie Crutchfield rolled up to the shady, abandoned patio of the Yellow Jacket Social Club, a bar near the train tracks and a colorful, always-morphing graffiti wall. With a halo of sunshine just peaking in the sky, this out-of-the-way location made for quite a tonal shift from the busy streets of downtown the night before. And it seemed just right for Crutchfield’s lovely and intimate songs.

The Philadelphia-based (by way of Birmingham by way of Brooklyn) Crutchfield, now 24, has been writing music for roughly 10 years — playing in the D.I.Y. punk band P.S. Eliot, which included her twin sister Allison. Now recording and performing as Waxahatchee, Crutchfield’s emotionally exposed songs reflect themes of isolation and self-doubt, of anger and frustration, and of the messiness of love and regret. Equally innocent and disillusioned, Waxahatchee’s songs like “Be Good” and “Grass Stain” from 2012’s superb American Weekend — are rough and thread-bare: Bedroom-style recordings with only an acoustic guitar and a trembling voice that felt urgent, as if captured minutes after writing so they would not dissipate and be forgotten.

This year’s excellent follow-up, Cerulean Salt, retains that spirit while asserting some power and confidence behind the fragility. Now a three-piece band, Waxahatchee’s songs shift from acoustic to distorted electric guitars and the drumming of Crutchfield’s boyfriend Keith Spencer (of the band Swearin’). The record proves to be another heart-wrenching, yet beautiful batch of songs that deal in uneasy feelings, dysfunctional relationships, and devastating honesty.

Sitting on a picnic table, with birds chirping and a subtle din of distant machinery, Crutchfield retrofit one of her new songs — the stunning “Swan Dive” — paring it back to simply an electric guitar and her un-mic’d vocals. The result is a winning and earnest performance that splits the difference between both Waxhatchee sounds. It was the perfect start to the day.

Credits: Producer/Editor/Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio: Rachel Neel; Special Thanks to: Yellow Jacket Social Club, Austin, Texas.