Balmorhea – All is Wild, All is Silent

balmor

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Balmorhea, pronounced Bal-moor-ay, is a band from here in Austin, Tx. consisting of principle songcrafters Rob Lowe and Michael Muller. Their sophmore effort entitled All Is Wild, All Is Silent is a beautiful album that touches upon influences from Ludovico Einaudi, Six Parts Seven, Claude Debussy, Ludwig Van Beethoven,  Gillian Welch, Max Richter, Arvo Part, and John Cage. The music is mostly instrumental except for wordless singing in peak areas of a song and sometimes in soft, delicate areas almost like that of gospel. Grazing with post-rock, classical, and folk music, Balmorhea reek of romantic music that can take you away to landscapes of the cold arctic to the lush forests of northern america. With this impressive imagery exhibited, it’s only a matter of time before soundtracking films is next on their resume.

Kicking off the album with “Settler,” one can see that this band will be welcomed with open arms to theaters and concert halls across the country in no time. The opening piano line repeats and nestles itself into your head, then with the cello soon chiming in, the drums begin with a nice riding tap of the cymbals and lift-off…

Though I love the arrangements of the longer epics, the shorter songs like “March 4, 1831” and “Elegy” really show off the acoustic guitar playing that digs under my skin and finds a home. These noteworthy melodies give goose-bumps and make me want to jump in the car and take Ranch Road 12 to Wimberly. Spring is on it’s way, and I’ve found my hill country, road- tripping soundtrack.

“Remembrance” is another stand-out with the haunting opening of a finger-picked guitar. A banjo lends a nice descending run which is soon accompanied by a wordless gospel-like chant and again the tension/release formula opens up when the drums begin. There’s never a dull moment, which can be found often in long instrumentals for me, but they keep it concise and to the point with evolving sections.

Balmorhea have a handful of shows for SXSW and then are off to Europe for April and May. Be sure to check-in here or their website for updates on their inevitable North American tour.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

neko

Rating: ★★★★ ·

From time to time, not very often, we bear witness to the amazing talent of an artist that we may not fully understand the impact and powerful force they have wielded upon us and music as a whole. Speaking not only of the present accomplishments they have made but also of the resonances that will be heard of their music to come. It always seems easy to speak greatly about an artist of this caliber in hindsight after they are gone and notice the scar they left on the medium, but to notice the force of the artist in their prime and sit back and admire them is harder to come by. Such is the case (no pun intended) with Neko Case.

With her latese effort entitled Middle Cyclone, Case builds her myth and casts spells upon the listener with every song. When Homer wrote the Odyssey and spoke of the Sirens, the voice he must have heard would’ve been of Neko Case. She commands attention with every word she sings and leaves the weak to the wayside. Opener, “This Tornado Loves You” spins into your heart doing just that. The opening mandolin strum with the rolling snare that follows makes for the perfect musical soundscape for Case’s vocal whirlwind. Lines such as “carved your name across three counties” and “their broken necks will lie in the ditch” tells of the search, destruction, and anger she has toward a lover and the demise of weak men she spits out in search of him.

“People Got A Lotta Nerve” is another girl power anthem that’s meaning works on many levels. All men have been hoping a song with this powerful of a chorus would never happen, but are forced to reckon with “I’m a man-man-man, man-man-man—eater!” JEEZUS! Did she have to go and do that?! Every time us guys are in a bar or at friends house and this song comes on, we are gonna have to swallow our pride for 2 1/2 minutes while you girls get too big for your britches and think you have some sort of dominant role over men. Pffft. (Babe, if you’re reading this, I cleaned the dishes and did the bathroom too.)

The middle section of the album is composed mostly of acoustic numbers that allow for the potency of Case’s vocals to take effect. Her vocal delivery is amplified by the stark imagery and subject matter of her lyrics. First and foremost an amazing vocalist, her lyrics take you further away by descriptive tales of  romance and love without being twee and silly. Murder, blood, and knives are common in her dark vocabulary as spiderwebs,  magpies and tornadoes are thrown into the mix for natural measure. A simple lullaby like, “Magpie to the Morning” can only be taken to such heights by the beauty of such inventiveness.

There are two covers on the album, Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” and Sparks“Never Turn Your Back On Mother Nature.” Both songs sound a bit strange for the album in terms of flow, but it seems they are songs held close to heart for Case with good intentions like “N.T.Y.B.O.M.N.” Case owns a 100 acre lot with a house in the lush greenery of Vermont which I’m sure contributes to the inspiration for covering this song. In fact, the nature surrounding the house has had such an impact that it yielded it’s own 30 minute track. The albums’ finale “Marais La Nuit,” was recorded outside of her house with the sounds of crickets and the nightlife bringing the record to a close.

Boston Spaceships – The Planets are Blasted

boston

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Ohh Bobbie, how we love your Miller Lite infused high-kicks. How we love walking into your shows dry and leaving sopping wet from not only our own but other peoples body sweat. How we love being able to throw beers in the air at innocent by-standers and not give a shit. Above all else Bobbie, we love your unmatched creative output of material. Slurrrrrp.

Boston Spaceships return with Planets Are Blasted only 5 months after their first LP Brown Submarine. In a recent interview, Chris Slusarenko has said they already have a third album ready tentatively titled Zero to 99 which should be out before October. With no trimming on the song count, Planets Are Blasted boasts another 14 songs just as it’s former had. The line-up has stayed the same with booze buddies Chris Slusarenko (GBV, Svelt, Sprinkler) on guitar and John Moen (Decemberists, Jicks, Elliott Smith) on drums. Now implemented as an official band and not a side project, Boston Spaceships carries on the sounds of pop infused punk/garage rock and beyond. In classic Pollard fashion, all the songs are generally under 2 1/2 minutes in length with the exception of one which goes into prog zoning of 4 minutes.

The treats keep coming on this sophomore release which I wonder if they were recorded at different sessions or what? I’m curious to hear more details on the recording process of these songs. For the most part, the way these songs see the light of day all starts at Pollard’s home. He comes up with raw demos, usually consisting of him on an acoustic guitar and singing vocal melodies on top. He’ll go through the songs deciding which ones will work for his solo project and which ones are Boston Spaceships material (The man has a self-proclaimed 3,000 un-released songs give or take a thousand depending on how many Miller Lites he’s had).  He’ll then call Slusarenko up and say that he has some ideas, they’ll get together, have drinking challenges, write notes on songs usually ending with KICK-ASS the more they drink. Slusarenko will then take these songs home, mull over them until he knows every subtle part, take them to Moen and flesh it all out.

It’s amazing at the ease in which Pollard can come up with a catchy chorus. Such is the beast of album opener “Canned Food Demons.”  It immediatley takes you back to GBV days of old, maybe missing the piss and puke buckets, but as close as we’ll get and I’ll gladly take it.  I mean, the man is 52 years old and can still squeal with more power than any rock singer I’ve heard at his age. When you hear him howl, “now she’s coming aroooound, canned food demons aliiiiiiiive!” Just surrender already. This may be the best song on the album but it definetly doesn’t stop here. Gems like “Queen of Stormy Weather” and “Heavy Crown” will quench your thirst for more R-A-W-K.

As a whole, Brown Submarine too me is a much more polished album with catchier and inventive melodies than this one. I don’t know if the songs were picked first for Brown Submarine and the ones on Planets Are Blasted were picked afterward from the same collection of material but either way, this album still holds up in my opinion. Not as strong or consistant throughout, but still many perks that will turn an ear. Most of all, I’m really happy to know that this isn’t a “project” and that Pollard is having fun and pumping out little bits of gold over and over. (insert high-kick here)

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

Download: Boston Spaceships – Big O Gets an Earful [MP3]

Vetiver – Tight Knit

vetiver-tight_knit-album_art

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Andy Cabic and Co. return with a loud whisper this outing with definitely their strongest album they have recorded to date.  Vetiver’s new release Tight Knit warms your ears through the cold days without all the embarrassment.  Having been part of the freak-folk scene in New York for awhile, Vetiver rubbed elbows with some of the heavy-weights on the music circuit today like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom which soon led them to a tour with Vashti Bunyan. Fast-forward to 2009 and Vetiver are now signed to Sub-Pop with some indie credibility and major promotion/distribution to follow. I was reading a couple weeks ago in the Austin Chronicle about bands set to break-out at this year’s SXSW Music Fest and Vetiver were listed.  HAAAAAAAAAA! They probably think this is Vetiver‘s first album. I mean, it’s not like they haven’t been making waves on the last two efforts. I’d say To Find Me Gone was their “break-out” album, but I guess they aren’t big enough considering they aren’t playing in arenas right? Pfft…scoff-scoff, nose up and pinkies out suckas.

Tight Knit has a dreamy floating quality to it through-out that normally would sound like  a lot of fluff to someone who hasn’t heard the album yet, but take a gander at it and you’ll see. The warmth of the vibraphone being used in the opener “Rolling Sea” immediately calms your nerves and gently rocks you back and forth. Zzz……….ahhhhhhh. Lap steel guitar makes it’s first appearance on the album in “Sister.” The layer of the instrument twists and pulls, breathes in and out, making you tap your feet and skip down the street. The skipping soon picks up to hopping when the opening rhythm chords of “Everyday” begin. The chug-a-lug feel comes to a nice vocal break-down and goes right back into the hopping. If there were a song which made you feel like the first day of spring had arrived, this is the one.

Cabic has a whispering way of singing that soothes your skin, his delivery is like the breeze– not forceful, not un-noticed, just a hammock away from day-dreaming. Though there are bar room stomper songs like “More Of This,” he never loses his velvet luster. You think the singing could easily give way to screaming and howling, but it’s just not in his nature.

The album is consistent from beginning to end. It never trails off boring you with a better half of the album than the other. Maybe this is Vetiver’s break-out album and I’m a jaded jerk-off. Maybe I’m just a music dork that has way too much time on his hands. Maybe you need to get off your ass and buy this album.

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

Download: Vetiver – Everyday [MP3]

Wavves – Wavvves

waves

Rating: ★★½ · ·

It has been a productive year for Nathan Williams of the beach punk band Wavves. He released his first self titled album, a cassette, two 7”s, and now his second LP entitled Wavvves. Whew… but, ferrrrrrrrrrrt. You can’t help but give him credit for being prolific and releasing everything he creates without a filter, but herein lies the problem of not having a solid, well crafted album from beginning to end. His lo-fi approach reminds me of Times New Viking’s recording style in that they are lo-fi for the sake of being lo-fi. They have enough money and resources to record albums properly, but they’re too effing cheap to cough up the dough. It’s either that or they think they’ll get credibility for sounding raw, edgy, and punk as fuck but really, they just sound like total shiite on record. I really don’t understand why someone would want to record an album where a listener can’t even make out the lyrics? Everything is hitting red on the dials while recording which makes it clouded in white noise and fuzz to the point where it all breaks up. This minimal recording method can be thrown to the waste-side, but the album does have some shining moments when the album’s few strong songs break through Williams’ pot-fueled instrumental experiments.

“So Bored” is an instant ear grabber that breaks the trance of “More Fur,” a song in which Williams is setting the course for the Enterprise to deep space and does little more than use delay and an arpeggiator. “So Bored” brings things back to earth by starting off with a driving drumbeat that gets one of the raddest and dirtiest guitar intros I’ve heard in awhile. That’s right mofos, I just said rad. The vocals soon follow and the song is a beautiful dirty mess which showcases his melodic sensibilities instrumentally and vocally. (Note: try and figure out which 80’s song he copies with his closing guitar line. First one to do so gets free drinks on me the whole show when they play here in Austin for SXSW). “No Hope Kids” is another rocker that talks about, well…I don’t know because you can’t understand what in the hell he is saying since the recording sucks so bad. But the chorus is…(drum roll) “Nooooo-hooooope-kiiiiiiiiiiiiidsssss!” “Surf Goth” is another honorable mention just based on the weirdness of the singing alone. It sounds as if Williams invited Gene and Dean Ween over and began knocking a few rounds back and taking whip-its together.

It is tough to say whether Williams’ output is something to admire or if it needs to be controlled. I like the fact that he is willing to put everything out there for everyone. The problem for me is that his ideas seem a little fragmented at times. The space voyages that he goes on are tiring and trying of one’s nerves. Alot of artists will use noises to add to a song for texture later. Some of these ideas can be used, some thrown away. Sometimes the artist will release the songs that aren’t quite as strong on b-sides or reissues in the future. Williams needs to critique himself a little bit more to make an album that is more defined. Shave off the fat, get rid of the noises and the songs that aren’t as good and be patient for at least another 6 months to a year. Then he’ll hopefully have from beginning to end, a slew of well-rounded, more thought out songs.

We will definitely get to see step by step, note for note, the progression or digression of this 22 year old. Will he wait a little bit longer on his next release and fine tune these thoughts? I am curious to see which way Williams is going to go because there are good moments on Wavvves where you can see the hints of potential. I just need to be able to hear what he is saying.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/07-so-bored.mp3]

Download: Wavves – So Bored [MP3]

Iran – Dissolver

irandissolver

Rating: ★★★★ ·

It has been seven years since the last release from Iran, which makes the forthcoming record Dissolver one of the more curious and anticipated albums of 2009. Especially after the song “Buddy” was found all over blogs in October of 2008, we heard the new direction that the sound was heading in — Hi-fi(ve) and thank-you for doing so boys. Fresh off of living in Norway for two years to make a successful documentary about the black metal movement, “Until the Light Takes Us,” Aaron Aites returns with an album that touches on many musical templates. Pop, soul, doo-wop, folk and of course- the NOISE can all be found on this outing. Helping bring the sounds to life are Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio), Peter Hoffman (The Mendoza Line) and Aaron Romanello (Grand Mal).

The first thing that catches your ear from the get-go is that this wasn’t recorded in a bedroom, on a 4-track recorder like the first self-titled album and the second called The Moon Boys. It is a natural progression for a band with more resources, a bigger pocket book, and everyone in it being more established. Where The Moon Boys built upon being a tinge poppier and more restrained than the mega-experimental freak-outs of its predecessor, Dissolver aborts the pit stops and emerges with its fundamentals in tact, boldly new and refreshing.

The album was recorded at Gigantic Studios with Malone’s bandmate of TVOTR Dave Sitek putting his thumbprints all over the sound of the album. With concise and controlled fuzz always being the trademark on his own albums, Sitek’s sound meshes perfectly with the sound initially made by Aites during his gritty, 4-track days. While listening to these beautiful harmonies accompanied by larger than life doubled voices, it’s hard not to notice the TVOTR bleed over. Songs like “Buddy” and “Can I Feel What” are prime examples of Malone’s contributions of high, ball-grabbing harmonies and tasty fuzzed out guitar playing. “I Already Know You’re Wrong” is a Beach Boys inspired number ala’ “Sloop John B” that carries a great surf groove with a similar vocal rhythm and again, great harmonies.

Then there’s the experimental noise of “Baby Let’s Get High Together One Last Time” with its Pavement infused undertones. The sassy wordplay and erratic guitar lines have a familiarity about them that bring back memories of mid 90’s slacker rock. The song ends in a wall of sound of electronic bleeps and glitches which segues into “Digital Clock and Phone.” Not leaving their roots far behind, Iran shows they still like to make a little noise. This will take you old fans back to “The Music Plays Itself” from their first album. Enjoy!

Btw-do yourself a favor and buy this album, though rumor has it that it may not be released until February 17th, because chances are, you will never get to see them play live. They are renowned for not going near stages very frequently with their only show being scheduled for March 6th at the Mercury Lounge in New York.

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

Download: Iran – Buddy [MP3]