Live albums are normally a bust. They either sound exactly like the studio versions, so much so that they defeat the point, or the mix is so muddy and the crowd sound overpowering that you can’t even hear anything. There are a few exceptions: 65daysofstatic, Neil Young, Tom Waits and Patti Smith have all delivered exceptional live albums. Another to add to that list is Housekeys Live // SXSW 2022. As the title says this set was recorded live in 2022’s SXSW festival.
What sets Housekeys Live // SXSW 2022 apart from other live albums is how clear the music is. The music is pristine in its delivery, but it also has a live feel to it. At times you can actually hear Housekeys, AKA Tiffiny Costello, pressing the keys/buttons/strings as she plays. This gives the music a personal touch. It sounds like Costello is playing in the room next door. The other thing that really makes this recording is hearing the audience. I know, I know, I moaned about audience sounds before but here it’s far more intimate. The sound of drinks being opened, chairs shuffling and people having hushed conversations makes Housekeys Live // SXSW 2022 even better. Costello, on an Instagram post about the album, apologised about these sounds bleeding into the mix, but they really make it better. If they had been obscuring the music then I would have shared her annoyance, but these subtle sounds, and noises, actually make the recordings feel more alive. They remind us that we aren’t listening to a machine, but a person in front of other people. I really feel for the person who moved their chair. How long had they waited to do it? Trying to wait for a louder bit so not to annoy anyone, including Costello, only to have it be for naught. I’ve been that person and will sadly be that person again. These memories come flashing back to me when listening to Housekeys Live // SXSW 2022, and its all the better for it.
The music consists of slow-moving drones and melodies. Some of them are elongated. Rising and falling like waves. Others are over before you realise they’ve started, but they all contain the same elegant gossamer quality. It’s hard to know how Costello makes these diaphanous melodies without seeing her live but, as her t-shirt says, ‘Tapes and Loops and Reverb and Delay’. Through this constant reverb and delay Costello manages to create something otherworldly whilst reminding us of the beauty and wonder all around us. It really is a graceful thing of beauty. All of the songs played are either new or new versions of existing ones. The standout track is ‘Martian Wind’. This isn’t because it’s something I’ve heard before, but because of Costello’s introduction. On an Instagram post she explains it thus: “These are all new songs, except Martian Wind, which is actually a rework of my previous released version of that track – I use @nasa’s audio of the wind captured from Mars during the Insight Mission, and I also figured out one Pantone colour of Mars (from a few different photos) and matched the frequency of that colour to the corresponding audio frequency, which sets that song in the key of A.” While this isn’t word-for-word what she says on the recording, it’s close enough. The recordings speak for themselves. It is a fitting way to end a dainty album.
After listening to Housekeys Live // SXSW 2022 I’m left with a feeling I’m not used to. Envy. I am totally envious for the audience to have seen this hypnotic and translucent performance. Costello delivers 30-minutes of dreamy soundscapes grounded in reality. And this is what sets Costello apart from her peers. Instead of creating ethereal soundscapes that take you out of yourself, she has crafted four that keep you there. Housekeys Live // SXSW 2022 isn’t just a rare album, but Costello is a very rare talent. Her as yet unreleased debut album is shaping up to be something very special indeed.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.