Show Review: Refused @ The Mohawk (6/5)

NickRad Refused 32Photo Ed Notes: I would like to welcome Nick Radcliffe to the family. He is damn good photog and knows how to use a keyboard, too (click that link to his site, the landscapes might be my faves). Nick was college roomies with Mike, the other half of the adventure that is Austin Town Hall Records. We’ve talked plenty about getting him shooting for us as the new day job has me quite occupied. The Coathangers rule, we keep our eyes on Residual Kid, Plague Vendor is new to us in the live setting and Refused are a thing. So on to Nick’s first pics post and review. -bgray

The Mohawk is easily one of the best music venues in Austin, so it’s only fitting that one of the best concert line-ups of late converts the venue in to a temple dedicated to the shape of punk to come.

Click through for pics and more on the bands and jams…

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Otis the Destroyer – Belushi EP

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

“This one goes to 11,” I couldnt help quoting Spinal Taps legendary Nigel Tufnel while listening to Otis the Destroyers freshly released Belushi EP. Recorded with Austins resident Rock n Roll mastermind Frenchie Smith, Belushi unleashes a killer quad combo on the Austin Music Scene.

An avid rock n roller myself, Belushi, and Otis the Destroyer in general, are a welcome antidote to a music scene saturated with cutes-y folks-y ukulele strumming duets. The heart and soul of the music leans heavily on the early 00s charging guitar rock of Grohls Foo Fighters and Hommes Queens of the Stone Age, but Taylor Wilkins penchant for eerie chromaticism sets them apart from these now classic bands.

The lead track Fight comes out taunting the listener with a pumping drum intro and stuttering guitar lick. The chorus comes in quick and threatening and the guitars are layered and mixed masterfully. Cheetah, the single off the EP, follows Fight and builds on intensity. Again, the guitar layering is skillfully executed and the guitar solo screams like a back alley catfight. Otis manages to avoid the pit of muddy, distorted tracks here. It would be easy to leave a listener with ear fatigue from so many roaring six strings, but throughout many listens of the EP I always appreciated how clearly separated the guitar tracks were, and how they managed to be so dang loud (…this one goes to 11). Guitar aficionados and engineers out there will understand how difficult it is to make a record sound and feel loud its a feat thats hard to do right, and quite frankly it can make or break a record like Belushi.

My favorite track off the EP was actually not the single Cheetah. I absolutely loved Swallow, the third song off the EP. The opening plinking, syncopated riff just took me back to an 80s or 90s opening action montage from some B movie (the movie definitely takes place in a gritty harbor town, and the bad guys definitely all have mustaches). The last chorus on Swallow just crescendos like a damn tidal wave ok actually I am pretty sure this movie in my head is about a crime boss setting off a tidal wave with a stolen generic pan-Asian dictators nuclear bomb. Yea. This one definitely goes to 11.

Closing out the EP with the strong, jarring Hatchet (rated pg-13 for strong language and diminished harmonies), Belushi comes to a satisfying finale. Belushi builds on a strong foundation that Otis the Destroyer has laid out. For those of you headbangers out there missing the golden era of hard rock this EP is a must listen, and music preferences aside Swallow is one of those rare songs that has a genre spanning appeal. Catch them at their EP Release show March 5th link (https://www.facebook.com/events/530556140444240/539749096191611/) with Megafauana, Think No Think, and the Shame and the Waste.

Carry Illinois – Alabaster

carr

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Carry Illinois is an electric departure from the singer songwriter, acoustic guitar strumming scene that Lizzy Lehman has been a part of for years as she has developed as a musician. For this ensemble front woman Lizzy eschews her Martin Acoustic for a Fender strat. On the Alabaster organs swell and pianos sweeps chords providing the harmonic foundation while Lizzy’s lyrics and melody carve out the details above the sounds and rhythms of the songs. Lizzy draws on the everyday struggles and tedium of modern living on Alabaster. She has a knack for illuminating truths through a portrait of another as deftly as she can on her more autobiographical songs. For this album Lizzy leans more heavily on introspection and personal insight than with her previous solo work, which is an interesting irony. One might wonder if donning the costume of Carry Illinois has created a confidence that allows for more personal work to shine through in Lizzy’s song writing.
Musically Alabaster is an album that sits somewhere between Brandi Carlisle Americana and Dr. Dog’s breed of harmony infused indie pop rock. Alabaster is a big step forward from the Siren EP release in 2014. Both Alabaster and Siren represent a departure from the singer songwriter womb of the Austin via Kerville folk scene. I prefer the clean vocal sounds on Alabaster over the harmonica miked and red line hitting vocals on Siren. Lizzy’s is a voice that is best served clean and pure. While I preferred a safer choice for the vocal stylings, I found myself wanting a stronger step forward and reach just a little farther on most of Alabaster song arrangements. As a whole the album tends to lean a little too hard on the tropes and clichés of the Americana genre. Similar tempos and rhythm patterns blended songs together and listening to the album as a whole you’ll find yourself wishing for a break from the organ drones under sprinkles of piano.
There were three big stand out tracks for me. The first – Darkened Sky – hits all the notes of classic Americana. The track starts off with the recognizable strumming rhythm of Lizzy’s guitar and is quickly enhanced with a country train beat and layered strings and keys. The vocals are right in the sweet spot on this tune. Lovers of the Austin Americana scene will be drawn to this song like whiskey lovin’ hipsters to an Eastside Honky Tonk. Another of my favorites is the painfully sincere Lost and Found. Any listener with a small town childhood will connect with the message of emotional emigration in search of a meaning outside the comfort of youth. Lizzy grasps greatness on this song when the bridge crescendos from a pure, slow folk tune to a psychedelic, flanging power ballad.
In stark contrast to, and immediately preceding Lost and Founds psychedelic yearning we have the perfect pop gem that is Sleepy Eyes. From the first horn build to the last splash of the cymbals, this song had me hooked. Lizzy’s vocal sit nice and present in the mix, in a range high enough to make it immediately distinctive from the rest of the album. The dynamics are beautiful driven by a horn ensemble and the groove is wonderfully consistent with just enough sizzle on the cymbals. I should really let this song do the talking for me, so put it on right now, and while you add it go ahead and hit shuffle and let it ride. It’s an album that’s sure to grow on you and make it into the rotation of this year’s great Austin albums.

ATX Show Spotlight: Carry Illinois @ Cheer Up Charlies – Tonight (FREE)

carrWednesday March 24th will see the unofficial launch of indie/folk outfit Carry Illinois’ first full length album “Alabaster”. Fronted by local folk stalwart Lizzy Lehman, who has a slew of solo records as well as an album with the now defunct the Blackwells, Carry Illinois brings the best of pop rock to the soulful foundation of folk song craft. Carry Illinois will be supported by other great acts such as the Loblolly Boy and the Deer. Lovers of Americana, folk, and pop rock will not want to miss this show. Currently Carry Illinois has released two tracks for streaming on their Soundcloud Page to whet your whistle. Physical copies will be available at the show at Cheer Up Charlie’s on March 25th and the official release is slated for April 7th. Music starts at 9pm with Loblolly Boy, followed by the Deer at 10pm, and Carry Illinois will cap the night off at 11pm.This show is a free one so no excuses y’all!

Young Tongue – Death Rattle

young

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Still waters run deep. That colloquialism kept bouncing around in my head while listening to Young Tongue long overdue, much anticipated debut album. Why do I keep coming back to that phrase? Still waters run deep. Young Tongue isn’t a band that I would refer to as still in any kind of literal sense, going on short sprints with other great indie acts such as Mr. Gnome while maintaining a consistent gigging schedule in their hometown of Austin. This cliché has such resonance with me for this album because while most indie, local based artists seem to ebb and flow on a 1-3 year calendar, Young Tongue has been consistently plugging away for years and year Eight years to be exact – 5 of those in Austin. As a fan I’ve been following them just about all of those 8 years (they were one of the early pioneers of the musical flow from Asheville, NC to Austin, TX).

Musically Young Tongue leans heavily on the mid 2000s’ indie rock explosion – drawing inspiration from the likes of Interpol and Franz Ferdinand. Their sound relies heavily on the 8th note counterpoint between lead guitar lines and bass riffs. Daryl Schomberg’s intense, shifting drum patterns provide the backdrop while Stu and Liz Baker’s melodic and lyrical duets shimmer ontop. At it’s best all the parts fit into place like mechanical gears and seeing them perform live is like watching a well oiled steampunk machine. At it’s worst the gears don’t quite fit into place and the music can and machines lurches forward uncomfortably.

For a new listener of Young Tongue this album provides the truest and most exciting musical snapshot of Young Tongue. Young Tongue has long been a band plagued by the difficulty of capturing their live charisma and translating this to a record. Death Rattle unequivocally meets this challenge. Death Rattle provides more than enough fuel to continue the momentum Young Tongue has been gaining in recent years.

As a longtime fan and listener my only disappointment in this album is that feels like Young Tongue has been treading water. While the album only has one song – Matriarch – from their previous album as the Baker Family, a lot of these songs feel like a rewrite of old material and a lesson in habitual songwriting. The tunes that stuck out to me were the ones where I felt like they were reaching for new sounds, new styles. Heavy Metal Thunder – the 3rd track and the de facto single from the album – takes the best of their writing style and reaches for new terroritory. It keeps the driving rhythm of Nathan Ribner’s bass but the guitar lines and vocals refrain from getting sucked in the busy, insecure clutter that dominates other tracks like Sand Dance.  The song grows into a huge anthem, culminating in a vocal counterpoint that few bands can pull off.

For new fans, this album will be played over and over. For those of us familiar with the Young Tongue catalog, it provides us with a great touchtone but I know I will be waiting to see where the second album takes us.

Show Review: Foo Fighters ACL Taping (11/20)

Photo by Scott Newton“We’re gonna keep on playing until they kick us the f**k out, so here’s a song you might know,” announced Foo Fighters lead singer/guitarist/documentarian/nicest mother**ker you’ll ever meet, Dave Grohl, before launching into “My Hero,” from the 1997 album The Colour and the Shape.  It was one of countless surreal moments from the final episode of the 40th season of Austin City Limits on Thursday night.

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Show Review: Conor Oberst @ Stubbs (9/20)

IMG_2947-2Conor Oberst takes a moment to stop in and say hello to his Austin fans and the reception and crowd participation (though, maybe not encouraged) screamed at me something I’ve been denying from my first intimate moments with his music in a dark bedroom on a lonely, suburban street; Conor Oberst is a household name. No, he is not on the front cover of EW from time to time promoting himself.  Yes, he still thinks of himself as an independent musician, pumping his heart through his quill with only the purely artistic need to express himself and his feelings.  Maybe, though, after so much time, twenty-one years, of painting musical landscapes in which his poetry can frolic, we have all chosen him as a member of our family.  Follow the jump for more.

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Show Review: Woods @ Holy Mountain (8/20)

IMG_2861We’re a little bit late on this show review and we apologize for that in earnest.  Today we’re excited to introduce new contributer Cameron along with his handy photographer Ruth Vasquez for a review with photos.  I think you’ll find that you like him just as much as we do.  Follow the jump for his thoughts and fancy photos.

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Hikes – Hikes EP

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Sometimes I like to test out a band on my fist listen by putting on their album while I am preoccupied. Its a little game I like to play called “Can you grab my attention?” The idea behind it is to see if the music is interesting or powerful enough to climb to the top of my cognitive pyramid. It also is also a great way to divine the most immediately noticeable tune of the album.
I decided to put on Hikes’ EP during a slow afternoon at work. I had heard the name tossed around in conversation and decided it was time for a listen. I popped in one ear bud and hit play while I caught up on email. That was the plan at least. Halfway through the intro of Spring Forward I had popped in my second ear bud and stopped working. Sorry boss, thank you Hikes.
It’s hard to find something I don’t like about this EP. Which is honestly strange as Hikes employs a few musical pet peeves of mine. First off, they are undeniably Prog. Ok sorry, they are math folk, but let’s be honest the “math” genre is a bunch of Prog players trying to avoid being called progressive rock. Second, as a guitar player myself, I almost unilaterally hate tapping. It always make me think of an Ibanez add of an airbrushed Steve Vai with awkwardly long, highlighted hair. Tapping is a flashy technique that almost always results in an audible loss of tone. And you know what? It’s a guitar, not a piano.
That being said, Hikes has managed to meld intricate tapping melodies and counterpoint with standard picked riffs and rhythms in a way that does not detract from their tone. My hats are off to the Hikes guitar players.
Hikes’ songwriting style is expansive and free flowing. They note water as being a main inspiration, and it’s easy to hear that in their songs. Their songs go through quiet, thoughtful phases that evoke a slow moving creek wandering through pastures. Then, they surprise you by turning the bend and quickly transforming into a rushing rapid of notes and syncopation. As a listener you feel very much like a passenger on this river, drifting off during the gentler sections only to be pulled back in through stretches that demand your active attention.
After making it through the lengthy EP, I couldn’t help but wonder how these songs would work out in an album setting. The 4 track EP is already nearly the length of most pop albums, clocking in at just over 25 minutes. I am not sure that a full album worth of Hikes’ intense, meandering songs could captivate the average listener’s attention for more than a few songs at a time, or even for the entirety of a 8 minute song. That may be the point, though. Hikes’ is surely not your average band. While searching and striving for the zenith of musical creativity, they appear to be intentionally ignoring the lowest common denominator. If you are someone who enjoys a challenging listen, I would recommend this EP. If you are someone who prefers to consume his audio in 3 minute bits… you know what, give yourself an aural stretch. It’ll be worth it.

 

Show Preview: Sweet Spirit Residency @ the Blackheart (7/5 + Saturday in July)

1609879_544202789008542_1460629855_nFrom the ashes rises the phoenix…or something like that right?

Having one of your favorite bands break up is always a bummer, but sometimes you get lucky and end up with a new favorite cobbled from the pieces of the old. Saturday at the Blackheart two bands will stand as a reminder that great things can be built out of broken pieces.
July 5th at the Blackheart is the first of Sweet Spirit’s residency shows. Sweet Spirit was formed after the demise of local favorite powerhouse Bobby Jealously. Commandeered by the energetic front women Sabrina Ellis, Sweet Spirit is poised to absolutely destroy the Austin music scene. Sabrina Ellis’ melodies are immediately engaging, and combined with her clever pop lyrics have a way of latching onto the brains of listeners. Ellis is backed on stage by an equally talented band. Sweet Spirit is one of those rare finds where the entirety of the backing band is talented enough to each front one of their own groups, and with Ellis at the helm the sum is certainly greater than the parts. Sweet Spirit takes the inside stage at midnight every Saturday this month, so no there are no excuses to miss this band.

Another highlight of the night is sure to be Lӧwin. Fans of the now defunct the Couch already know what a vocal powerhouse Sara Houser is. In Lӧwin, Sara Houser takes the guitar heavy sounds of the Couch and condenses them into more focused, sculpted songs. There’s no fat or gristle on the recently released two tracks Lobo and Heave Ho. Lӧwin plays on the inside stage at 8:30, and if I could make a prediction that will be one sweaty, rockin’ room.

Click HERE to see other great acts on the bill.

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