From The Closet: Hum

hum“She thinks she missed the train to Mars, she’s out back counting stars.”  Before the Cadillac commercial, I was a 13-year old kid when I first discovered Hum.  Best known for their 1995 hit “Stars,” the Champaign, Illinois quartet combined heavy-distorted guitars, melodic-monotone vocals, and songs about plants, dreams and suicide machines that proved a breath of fresh air from Pearl Jam-clones in the mid-nineties.  1995’s LP You’d Prefer an Astronaut is a solid effort, but 1998’s Downward is Heavenward is a ten-song epic adventure through space.  For every tender moment sung by lead-singer Matt Talbot, there’s a sonic blast of splintering guitars that erupt like a goddamn Android Volcano!  I’m not quite sure what that means but you can judge for yourself by listening to my favorite Hum song, “I Hate it Too.”

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/08-I-Hate-It-Too.mp3]

FTC: Jawbox

jawboxReally what can I say about Jawbox? If you are familiar with the seminal Washington D.C. band then you understand why one can fall short on words to describe such an influential group. If you are not familiar with them, well, then I feel sorry for you. You need to go out now and pick up their near perfect album, For Your Own Special Sweetheart. Seriously, go.

I’ll wait.

I had never before heard a blend of driving rock mixed with noise. It was beautiful and dangerous. The video for Savory, blew my young mind making me a lifetime fan of this band.  I am not even taking into account the sheer greatness singer/guitarist J. Robbins has imparted on the scene through his production work, as well as his time spent in the bands Burning Airlines and Channels.

Jawbox, to celebrate the re-release of For Your Own Special Sweetheart, on their own label, Desoto Records, will be playing live together for the first time since 1997 on December 8th, 2009 on the Late Show with Jimmy Fallon, of all places. Truly an occasion to look forward to!

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/02_02_-_Savory.mp3]

Download: Jawbox – Savory [MP3]

Thao With the Get Down Stay Downs – Know Better Learn Faster

thao---know-better-learn-faRating: ★★★★☆

Prior to listening to Thao with the Get Down Stay Down’s new album, Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars), I knew absolutely nothing of Thao Nguyen or her band.  Boy, am I glad that has been remedied!  Know Better Learn Faster has got to be one of the most pleasant listening experiences I have had in some time.

Those who have met me know that I am not drawn to dance parties or music played at dance parties, but I have to tell you, Nguyen has crafted a tight and whimsical long player that is essentially a dance party on a five inch piece of plastic (or a twelve inch slab of vinyl, depending on your tastes).  Starting with rowdy hand clapping and foot stomping of ‘The Clap’ you are transported to a sweaty living room filled with pulsating bodies.  The thirteen tracks on this album are sweet and sexy and just plain fun.

The influences on this album tend to shift from song to song, which would normally irritate me, but somehow on Know Better Learn Faster, it works.  The music goes from Minus the Bear to Andrew Bird to No Kill No Beep Beep era Q and Not U sometimes in the same song (see the title track).  Nguyen’s vocals are a little harder to pinpoint.  They are at time reminiscent of Nico, Rebecca Pearcy, or Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, which are all really good things!

I have a hard time finding something  bad to say about Thao and the Get Down Stay DownKnow Better Learn Faster is perfect for the changing seasons; it will continue to bring sunshine into these dreary Fall months.

Built to Spill – There is No Enemy

built-to-spill-there-is-no-Rating: ★★★☆☆

You know who Built to Spill is and you all know if you love them or hate them.  In my short time here at Austin Town Hall there has been no band that has brought about such highly contested debates as Built to Spill.  It’s undeniable that we here at ATH are fans of this band, but none of us can say we are diehard fans of their catalog as a whole. Some of us swear by the lo-fi pop sensibility of There is Nothing Wrong With Love, while others lean more towards the meandering rhythms of Perfect from Now On or Keep It Like A Secret. Don’t even get me started on the oft-shunned (Ancient Melodies of the Future) or critically-acclaimed but forgotten (You in Reverse) albums. 

I must say from the get go that, in this reviewers eye (ears?), Built to Spill have earned a lifetime pass as far as new records are concerned.  Each release is technically proficcent and good, but different levels of “good”.  They can range from “absolutely fantastic” to “this could be much worse”.  A bad Built to Spill record is still exponentially better than other bands great records.

So where does Built to Spill’s new album, There is No Enemy, reside? Is it too poppy? Is it too jammy? Is it fantastic or could it be much worse? Strangely enough you could answer yes to all those questions.  The eleven tracks on There is No Enemy range for short bursts of Dinosaur Jr.-like speed (Pat and Aisle 13) to the more drawn out and introspective (Life’s A Dream and Things Fell Apart).  While There is No Enemy is a completely listenable album, it fails to bring anything new and exciting.  Say what you want about Built To Spill’s previous two albums, there were at least one or two tracks that showed the band’s progression, even if it sounded like reggae.  But with this new offering the songs often fall flat.  There is a moment at the three minute mark of Life’s a Dream where a new riff begins that’s punctuated by a brass section. At that moment I felt what I felt when I first heard Untrustable, Part Two or Carry the Zero, but that moment was fleeting.

This is the problem with giving bands lifetime passes.  On one hand they continue releasing competent albums, but often times they are just that, nothing more.

Built to Spill will be playing at Stubbs on Saturday, October 24 with Dinosaur Jr. and Lou Barlow & the Missingmen

Dead Man’s Bones – Dead Man’s Bones

e33dac3ad5c61f79c033dbd7643e220fRating: ★★★★☆

It’s been quite the week for children’s choirs, huh? First Karen O and the Kids and now Dead Man’s Bones, children’s choirs are having the best week ever! But I digress.  Dead Man’s Bones is the brainchild of Oscar nominated actor Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields.  When I initially heard of this project I, of course, was skeptical. I mean you when hear about two actors who wrangle up a children’s choir and write an album based on zombies, vampires, and werewolves, your cynicism is warranted, these conditions are capable of inducing Scarlett Johansson amounts of worry.

I have to tell you though, and I apologize for gushing, but this album, their self-titled debut on Anti-, is a joy to listen to.  The Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir does a terrific job supplying ample amounts of atmosphere for these well-crafted songs.  On the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, the childrens choir was used to convey wild and youthful abandon, but with DMB (no, not that DMB) the choir comes off more creepy and ethereal.  This coupled with waltzes about vampires (Young & Tragic) and doo-wops about zombies (My Bodies a Zombie For You) makes for a truly original album.

On the initial listen, I kept thinking I would get bored, but even when my attention was waning on the current track, I was always looking forward to what Gosling, Shields and the Kids would showcase on the next track.  I don’t say that too often, especially in this age of a la carte listening, picking and choosing your favorite tracks and discarding the rest.  Dead Man’s Bones deserves a full listen, and then some.

Once again, if you have kids in your life they should love it!

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Dead_Mans_Bones_-_My_Bodys_A_Zombie_For_You.mp3]

Download: Dead Man’s Bones – My Body’s A Zombie For You [MP3]

Karen O and the Kids – Where the Wild Things Are

WTWTARating: ★★★½☆

I must admit: I am definitely biased towards anything based on or has anything to do with Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, as, I am sure, most people in my generation are. The story of Max resonated in my young and precocious heart, so when I heard of the cinematic adaptation a few years ago I was both excited and fearful. That is until the names Spike Jonez, Dave Eggers, and Karen O became attached to it.

The motion picture soundtrack for ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ while not perfect as an independent release, fits perfectly with the story of Max and the Wild Things.  It is fragile and joyful and dangerous all at the same time.  I couldn’t think of a more perfect performer to bring this story to life through sound. Karen O, of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is herself a wild thing.  She conveys this on the single ‘All is Love’ through ecstatic yelps along side an untrained children’s choir.  This craziness carries through other tracks like ‘Capsize’ with it’s frantic hand claps and screams, and the overall joyousness of ‘Rumpus’.  But there is a softer side to these wild things.  On the somber ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Food is Still Hot’ Karen O and the Kids recall the emptiness Max felt being away from home.

Something must be said about Karen O’s backing band ‘The Kids’, because they are just as much responsible for the magic of this soundtrack as O is.  ‘The Kids’ consist of a who’s who of indie rock musicians: Brian Chase and Nick Zinner (The Yeah Yeah to Karen O’s Yeah), Bradford Cox (Deerhunter and Atlas Sound), Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence (The Dead Weather & Raconteurs), and others, including that omnipresent children’s choir. 

This is an incredibly fun release whose magic probably won’t be fully realized until a complete viewing of the film, but if you have kids in your life you will want to keep this on hand, because it is an infectious listen.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/karen-o-_-the-kids-all-is-love.mp3]

Download: Karen O & The Kids – All is Love [MP3]

Drummer – Feel Good Together

drummerRating: ★★½☆☆

Drummer is a five-piece band comprised of Ohio-based drummers who shed their primary instrument (well all but one) to form a super group of, well, Ohio-based drummers (is that a thing?).  The most notable member of the band is bass player (first time that has ever been said), Patrick Carney, whose day job is providing beats for The Black Keys.  The other four drummers that make up the rest of, um, Drummer have spent time in the bands Teeth of Hydra, Party of Helicopters, Beaten Awake, Houseguest, The Six Parts Seven, and Ghostman & Sandman.  This week the band releases their debut, Feel Good Together, on Carney’s own Audio Eagle Records.

Feel Good Together is not a bad record. It is solid in it’s riffs, the rhythm section is top notch (as it should be), I don’t even have any qualms with the vocals, which are very reminiscent of The Replacements era Paul Westerberg (which is a great thing!). But something is keeping me from loving Feel Good Together.  I hate to say this, because I know that I am beating a dead horse, but Feel Good Together would probably get more mileage if four or five songs were shaved off and it was released as an EP.

Tracks like ‘Lottery Dust’, ‘Every Nineteen Minutes’, ‘Good Golly’ and ‘Diamonds to Shake’ would make an exciting debut EP for the band, making you anticipate a great LP.  But having everything released all together, mediocre tracks included, make for a lukewarm introduction to a potentially interesting band.  This is exactly what plagued Rain Machine’s debut, the overzealous urge to release quantity over quality.  Drummer, however, had the decency of keeping each of the songs in the 3-4 minute range.

Overall, Feel Good Together isn’t a total loss. There are some solid jams that are perfect if they came up on shuffle, but for a continuous listen, Feel Good Together just doesn’t, err, feel good together.

No Age – Losing Feeling

no-age-losing-feelingRating: ★★★½☆

It must be noted that I have never been a fan of No Age.  Their two albums Weirdo Rippers and Nouns have tried and failed in making a home in my music collection. My ambivalence towards the lo-fi indie rock that is all the rage these days probably has something to do with this bitter taste that I have towards No Age.

But something keeps pulling me back to this band.  Maybe it’s Randy Randall and Dean Sprunt’s predilection towards ‘guerilla gigs’ or reviving Husker Du, complete with Bob Mould or live scoring the film ‘The Bear’. Sure, No Age’s music is lo-fi, but their drive to bring something special to the scene is highly admirable.  This admiration drove me to give the new four song Sub Pop EP Losing Feeling a shot.

Losing Feeling, while sharing similarities with No Age’s previous releases, feels different, more fleshed out. The songs no longer seem like a wall of fuzz and reverb, but like dynamic songs that change from track to track.  The opening title track plays like a contemplative slow burner, strangely reminiscent of Andrew Bird and leads into the delicate and drumless ‘Genie’.  My favorite track on EP is the instrumental ‘Aim at the Airport’ which slowly builds tension on layers of effect laden guitars and tape loops leading to the EP’s climax, ‘You’re a Target’, the sole rocker on the EP, that I can’t help thinking was influenced by their time with Bob Mould playing Husker Du songs.

While I still wouldn’t call myself a No Age fan, I do respect what they are doing. On Losing Feeling the band has delivered a great listen from start to finish.

David Bazan on Daytrotter

20030467-110733Fresh off the release of his critically acclaimed album, Curse Your Branches, David Bazan stopped into the Daytrotter studios and laid down three tracks from the afformentioned album.  Bazan and his band embark on a cross country tour, in their new van, on October 1st, showing up in Austin at the Mohawk on the 7th.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/david-bazan-bless-this-mess.mp3]

Download: David Bazan – Bless This Mess (live) [MP3]

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