Dayglow burns brightly at night after Surfaces floats on a sunny breeze at ACL Fest
The recent rise of Dayglow, from Austin, and Surfaces, from College Station, is an intriguing case of parallel development. Texas music has historically been more associated with country, blues, jazz and other traditional forms than radio-friendly pop, but the rapid success of these two acts straight out of college reinforces that in 2021, Texas music can be pretty much anything under the sun.
Both bands played the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Saturday. Their parallel development started around four years ago: Texas A&M student Colin Padalecki teamed with Baylor grad Forrest Frank on Surfaces' 2017 debut album "Surf," just as Metroplex native Sloan Struble was releasing the first Dayglow singles. The 2018 full-length debut "Fuzzybrain" followed, shortly after Struble had enrolled at the University of Texas.
Dayglow first played ACL Fest in 2019, drawing a few hundred enthusiastic young fans to the BMI Stage. This year, the band scored an early-evening slot on the much larger VRBO Stage, playing to thousands of fans drawn in by the 2021 album "Harmony House" and its breakthrough single/video "Close to You." In May, Dayglow taped an episode of the "Austin City Limits" TV show that will premiere on PBS stations nationwide next weekend.
Struble, 22 and recently married, still seems kind of amazed to be here. "Man, this is crazy," he said several times from the stage on Saturday, gazing out over the crowd he used to be a part of when he attended ACL Fest as a teenager. Struble's the songwriter and clear frontman, but Dayglow feels more like a band at this point, with significant contributions from guitarist Colin Crawford, keyboardist Norrie Swofford, bassist Peyton Harrington and drummer Brady Knippa.
The material is mostly upbeat and poppy, sometimes contemplative and dreamy, with lyrics largely about relationships. The melodies are almost always engaging, with arrangements that draw significantly from 1980s new-wave music. (As if to underscore that connection, the band played a splendid cover of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" near the end of its hourlong set.)
On several numbers, Crawford and Struble teamed up on radiant unison or harmony dual-guitar leads, occasionally leaning against each other back-to-back for visual effect. Swofford's keyboard runs were vital throughout, especially as the bedrock of "Close to You," on which Struble allows his bandmates to carry the chorus with catchy falsetto vocals. Guest musician Marshall Lowry added sweet soprano sax accents to "Crying on the Dancefloor" from the new record.
"This has been a remarkable night for me," Struble beamed just before the end of the band's set. "This means the world."
Earlier, Surfaces performed on the Honda Stage, drawing an even larger crowd that suggests they're a little ahead of Dayglow in terms of commercial draw. That's largely because of the viral hit "Sunday Best," which closed their hourlong set and helped attract the attention of Elton John (who teamed with them on the 2020 collaborative single "Learn to Fly").
Frank and Padalecki hammed it up out front, the former on vocals only while Padalecki alternated between guitar and keyboards. On a riser behind them, a rhythm section steered the syncopated, reggae/calypso-influenced grooves that are a big part of Surfaces' sound, while keyboardist Lito Hernandez frequently emerged for lively saxophone solos that revealed him to be clearly the best musician onstage.
Surfaces' songs went down easy on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but their music sometimes feels a bit cloying. (To wit: The song "Loving," with its "buzzin', hummin,' lovin' all day" chorus.) Their cover of the Motown classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" was ill-advised; while Frank deserves props for admitting in his intro that "I don't know if I can do it justice," you'd hear a much better version of the tune from Austin's Matchmaker Band on any given Monday night at the Far Out Lounge.
Surfaces' recent hit "Wave of You" was a high point, with an instantly memorable melody that would pair well on a playlist with Dayglow's "Close to You." Too often, though, the duo's music feels like a crossbreed of Jimmy Buffett and Florida Georgia Line.
As this fresh Texas uprising of pop music takes hold, there's plenty of room for both Dayglow's new-century new wave and Surfaces' bro-country yacht-folk. Unlike sports, music isn't a competition. But if it were, at the risk of sounding like the homer newspaper from Austin, we'd give this one to the Longhorns by two touchdowns.