It was 11 p.m. on a school night, and the energy at Stubb’s Indoors was winding down. Thursday night was flirting with Friday morning as the still-healthy crowd milled about and chatted. Drink orders were being rushed out before last call. The crowd was attentive, but distracted.
But when Austin original Canvas People hit the stage and jammed out their first number, they got everybody’s attention. The room shut up and listened. And that’s what happens when this unassuming four-piece takes the stage and blows the brick off the venue walls. With spacey guitars, indie rock backbeats and three-part harmonies Grizzly Bear would respect, Canvas People creates stirring music that forces you to take notice.
Complex Sound, Simply Delivered
While the band is only four years old, lead guitarist Wes Maxwell and frontman Kyle Taylor have been playing together since they were rock and roll pre-teens in Wilmington, Delaware. After they moved to Austin to pursue music, they joined up with bass player Luke Williams in 2012. One year later, drummer Pat Epley came aboard and Canvas People was born.
The group’s core sound is a blanket of stunning three-part harmonies, covering an indie rock center of fuzz guitar, driving drums and Taylor’s plaintive tenor. It’s warm, enveloping and dreamy with an urgent edge.
Canvas People’s debut album, “Sirens,” serves as an electric introduction to their sound. Fan favorite tunes like “Motives” bounce along with spacey synth and pop riffs, while slower tracks like “Timbers” float atop tender acoustic guitar.
One of my favorite songs from their debut record, “Empty House,” flips the script with calypso back beats, a fuzz-laden guitar lead and background harmonies that would be at home on a Fleet Foxes record.
They also pull off the trick of transitioning dynamics, a fancy way of saying they effortlessly go from loud to soft and back to loud again. Fan favorite “Dog’s Blood” is a great example of this, seamlessly moving from folky railroad drums to a pretty, spacey chorus and back again.
The result is musical Mexican candy. Simple on the outside, but complex once you dive deeper into its flavorful center.
New Album: “City Boy Slump”
More an extended EP than a full album, Canvas People’s new record, “City Boy Slump,” highlights quality over quantity. The tunes are fuller, richer and more sophisticated than their debut effort. If “Sirens” was a collection of songs, then “City Boy Slump” is a cohesive vision.
The album opens with “Astronaut,” a mid-tempo dreamscape with tight, intricate drums and effect-laden guitar lines. As a counterpoint, “Four Children” dances between contemplative lyrics of family and growing old, samba bridges and a shout-along chorus along the lines of East Cameron Folkcore.
If I had to pick a radio single, it would be the punchy “Deep Blue Sound.” It features everything the band excels at: Taylor’s earnest, heartfelt vocals, backed by slamming drums and speaker-filling sing-along harmonies. A lovely introduction to an album that takes Canvas People’s sound to the next level.
Canvas People’s Explosive Live Performance
What sounds tight and controlled on the album wildly disperses in a live setting. Their Feb. 4 show at Stubb’s Indoors was electric. Canvas People’s vocal stylings bounced off the venue’s brick wall, creating an enveloping shroud of musical power.
More inclined to producing huge sound than on-stage theatrics, the band members put all of their energy into their instruments. They even treated the crowd to a spot-on cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
It all came to a head during Canvas People’s final song of the night, the title track on their new record. A seven-minute blend of indie funk, driving drums and layered melodies, it churned the near-midnight crowd into a dance-fueled frenzy. The room felt ready to burst.
Interesting and Emotive ATX Indie Rock
After two encore songs, last call was yelled from the back bar. As the crowd filed onto Red River, I got a chance to hang with the band. Despite an hour of pouring it out on stage, they still had an energy about them. The more they talked about the band, the new record and their upcoming tour, the more palpable their passion was. They love this music and are ready for the world to share in it.
In a town dense with quality music, Canvas People stands apart, thanks to a blend of soulful harmonies and carefully-constructed indie rock. Plug in, tune out and let this impressive new voice in Austin music transport you to a place far, far away.
Canvas People is currently on tour and will be playing Saxon Pub on Feb. 27. For tour dates, social media and merch, check out canvaspeoplemusic.com.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Who’s your must-see Austin indie rock band?