I’ve been following Cari Palazzolo’s music since 2007, which, when it involves hoarding bootleg mp3s and moving to Austin to make a film about her music, inevitably defines “following” more as “stalking”. It’s to be expected when the EP you ordered offline shows up with handmade album art clearly forged with love and care. Cari’s band Belaire just put out a new album after only four years of writing and recording, and what kind of fan would I be if I hadn’t flown down to Austin on my own dime for the release show? Probably a well-balanced sane individual of a fan who had only a limited interest in music and frequent flyer miles.
Five years ago I was living in Brooklyn and ransacking the Austin music scene via MySpace and a handful of music blogs. Voxtrot was at their peak and their bassist and drummer were in another band (like every Austin musician) called Belaire. I have no idea how music works, but whether Oliver Sacks has written a book about it yet or not, I’m certain that it affects brain chemistry the same way drugs to. A switch in my brain flipped when I heard this band, and I was home, comfortably nestled on a couch made of lush melodies with a fridge full of synth-pop. From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to Cari’s solo project, Fancy Feast, which included gems like an insanely danceable song about, well, dancing, and a musical ode to Jenny Holzer called Abuse of Power.
What struck me about Cari when I first interviewed her for a blog I used to have and have sadly neglected over the years, was her intense artistic integrity. Here was an artist who just wanted to create things and share them with people without expecting anything in return. Money was not something to be traded for a product she made, because her work was not a commodity. When Belaire was trying to record their first album, they were offered a large sum of money, enough to make the album happen, by a cigarette company that wanted them to play one show for them. The band refused, because even for that one hour, they didn’t want to put themselves in front of a corporate logo, even if it meant taking months longer and struggling more to record.
Recently, after much emotional debate, the band decided to lay down a few tracks for Southwest Airlines. It’s not exactly a cigarette company, and after years of trading comfortable living for the sake of making music, I understand the decision. Cari held down a job for a long time, and whether it’s through that or through Southwest, she’s still making corporate money to some degree — at least this way she can get it in a lump sum and take time off to make more music and get this new record out there. This is what I always think of when people talk about downloading music for free. Someone like Cari, who shares a lot of her work for free on Bandcamp while living in a shack, actually needs that dividend of a $10 album to live off. This is what separates indie music from large labels. It’s not about being the first person to know about a band and using them as social currency; it’s about supporting an artist who has stirred up an emotional reaction to their work. If you really love a record, pay for it, because someone put their blood, sweat and tears into it.
It took four years to record the new Belaire album, during which Cari and Jason Chronis, her musical brain-twin (not be confused with her actual twin, sister Christa), wrote some songs as the Cari & Jason Band, Belaire switched up some members, and Jason and Matt Simon (the drummer) played in a handful of other bands including touring with Voxtrot for the last time before their breakup (I’m not saying I cried, but tears were definitely shed by me). Matt and Jason also play in the band The Black, and Jason’s solo project JC & Co. is full of poppy, addictive tunes as well (and Cari’s backup vocals).
Belaire is back to its original lineup with the new album, Resonating Symphony: Cari, Jason, and Matt, with Christa contributing vocals when she’s not recording music for her own band, Boy Friend. Since Cari and Christa have twin voices with individual inflections, the harmonies are beautifully balanced and richly unique. The album itself is overflowing with pop structures, lush dream-synth melodies, and more than a hint of bossa nova thrown in for good measure. I’ve had it on repeat for over a week and am hardcore in the honeymoon phase where it doesn’t even bother me that I haven’t listened to much else for days.
The band lives together in a house that used to be a kindergarten (there is still a playground in the yard), and recorded the album in the Music Room, a home recording studio where apparently most of my favorite Austin tracks came from (including most of this album). Cari lives in a shack bordering both the playground and the driveway, and Matt lives in a trailer parked in the middle of the yard. I may or may not be writing a sitcom based on this set-up. I crashed at the house for a few nights between the album release show and my flight home, and after a night on the couch was directed towards the more quiet Music Room, which conveniently lacked the 7am foot traffic of the living room. I don’t know if you’ve ever woken up in a room and thought “I think I just slept in my iPod,” but I recommend bringing an air-mattress.
The album release show was as lighthearted, fun and intense as one would expect from a synth-pop band on its home turf. New songs were mixed with older ones, with only a couple being completely unknown to me (did I or did I not say I was a stalker? I’ve had demos from Cari for years, I already knew half this album and I still can’t take it off repeat). Bryan Mammel joined the band onstage to play keyboards, and Richard Kentopp (who has also laid down some choice tracks with Cari, as well as with both Cari and Christa under the band names Arkay and Flashlight Fiction) on guitar. Local bands Good Field and Deep Time (known formerly, and in my heart always and forever, as Yellow Fever) opened, and in some good natured ribbing received with laughter from the audience, the DJ closed out after Belaire’s set by playing Voxtrot’s first EP.
After the show we went back to Cari/Jason/Matt’s and stayed up until 5:30 listening to Bob Dylan and talking about goodness knows what. Over the next few days I collected some great tunes, begrudgingly stayed home to write, watched a surrealist film involving breastfeeding old ladies with Jason and some friends, and ate as many breakfast tacos as is humanly possible. I know everyone is always in a tizzy over SXSW, but if you really want to see some great Austin bands, visit during one of the other 51 weeks of the year. It’s a city filled with musicians who are serious about their craft and share it openly, supporting friend’s projects while working on their own. Chances are, any place you wander into on Red River or Guadalupe at night will have you walking out with a bounce in your step and a handful of records under your arms. For now, this free track from the new album that the band so graciously shared is yours to download!
Get the album HERE or on Amazon or iTunes
Featured image by Ryan Davis, courtesy of Indierect