Hilltop Views

Solid venture for Shins frontman



Jen Obenhaus

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Broken Bells’ new, self-titled album is dropping to effervescent reviews. The American indie-alternative rock duo, on the Columbia label, features Shins frontman James Mercer and famed producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley).

The duo’s combined talents have led to ten tracks of dreamy orchestrations and harmonies. The futuristic dins, the heavy, redounding percussion and Mercer’s reverberating voice create a haunting but fresh sound. Reticent, falsetto background vocals help create the besetting, electronic melody that pervades the album.

The album’s energy intensifies with each listen, and listeners will become increasingly hooked. Listeners won’t be able to help themselves from humming the impassioned bridge of “The High Road,” the first single off the Broken Bells album: “Come on and get the minimum/Before you open up your eyes/This army has so many hands/To analyze.”

On March 17, Broken Bells will be playing NPR Music’s SXSW showcase at Stubb’s, one of Austin’s premier venues. The group will be playing alongside an impressive lineup, including Spoon, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, the Walkmen and Visqueen.

Broken Bells has laid out a solid foundation for future material, which will surely be even more intrepid than this debut album.

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With nearly 2,000 musical acts descending upon downtown Austin every March for South by Southwest, it’s probably easy for some people to forget that SXSW also hosts an internationally acclaimed, rapidly growing film festival.

This year, the festival lineup contains hundreds of films including world premieres, local works and other films that have already garnered significant buzz after showings at Sundance and other world-class festivals. Here’s a look at what you can expect from some of the big-name films.

Leaves of Grass

Alamo South Lamar

Friday, March 12, 9:30 p.m.

Starring Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon, “Leaves of Grass” tells the story of twin brothers who took vastly different paths in life. Reunited to take on the Oklahoma backwater’s drugged-up underbelly, the two brothers encounter a range of twists and turns. Fans of Edward Norton will delight in his ample screen time, as he is taking on the role of both twins. It’s kind of like “Parent Trap,” if the “Parent Trap” twins were into faking their own deaths, drug deals and police chases.

World’s Largest

Alamo South Lamar

Friday, March 12, 9:15 p.m.

For this documentary, filmmakers Amy Elliott and Elizabeth Donius traveled around the country to take in 58 roadside attractions claiming to be everything from the world’s largest killer bee to the world’s largest strawberry. The result, a 75-minute documentary, chronicles the spirit that makes these tiny attractions dotting the American landscape special, and proves that there is still a little slice of Americana left in the modern United States.

Saturday Night

Alamo Ritz

Wednesday, March 17, 9:45 p.m.

Directed by actor James Franco, this documentary goes behind the scenes of the legendary show, “Saturday Night Live,” to chronicle what it takes to make an episode of the show: from the pitch table to the live broadcast. Along the way, we get a hint at the politics that come with skit and actor selection, and how they handle the guest host. The film is Franco’s directorial debut as a documentary filmmaker, and the screening at SXSW will be its world premiere.

When I Rise

The Paramount

Wednesday, March 17, 11:30 a.m.

This film is screening in the Lone Star States category and hits close to home with the story of Barbara Smith Conrad, a black music student at the University of Texas. She is cast in an opera opposite a white male student, fueling racist backlash from the Texas legislature and attracting national media attention. It promises to be an inspirational story about overcoming adversity and the power of doing what you love.

The Runaways

The Paramount

Thursday, March 18, 8 p.m.

“The Runaways” tells the story of the legendary ’70s female rock band of the same name. The film has received a lot of attention for placing Kristin Stewart in the role of Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning in the role of Cherrie Currie. The buzz has only continued after a primarily positive reception at Sundance. The film will be in limited release shortly after its SXSW screening, so don’t fret if you aren’t able to make it to the glitzy screening at the Paramount; it’s coming to your local megaplex soon.

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Solid venture for Shins frontman