At the end of the year, we had a hard time keeping our heads above water, trying to grasp our end of the year lists and what not. In doing so, we missed the chance to alert you to the duo that is Yellow Fever. Sure, they’ve been running around Austin for several years, but recently, they’ve seen their star rising in their musical horoscope. Vivian Girls opted to release the groups self-titled debut album on their label Wild World. It’s an album full of simple ditty’s a la early K Records groups such as the Beat Happening, but instead of Calvin as the front man, you have the wonderful Jennifer Moore. It’s got enough hooks to grab the casual listener, and enough depth to instill true adoration from Austin fans. You’ll want to keep an eye on this group in 2010, especially on February 19th when they take the stage with Chain and the Gang and The Strange Boys. Sounds like a line-up of classic indie rock, and by that, I mean the stuff pre-Pitchfork. Do yourself a favor and head on out to grab a copy of Yellow Fever so you’ll know all the songs in time for the show.
Over the last year, people have been suggesting that Surfer Blood might be the biggest band we hadn’t come across, leaving the band in the spot for breakthrough artist of 2010. On Astrocoast, they live up to the hype, and in most cases, they far surpass what expectations we all had, creating one of the most colorful, yet playful, debuts we’ve come across in quite some time.
One would be hard pressed to pigeonhole this band at all, as they seemingly bounce from one spot to another throughout this 10 song debut. For this listener, it sounds as if someone is channeling a Floridian soulmate of James Mercer of Shins fame. There is something in the pitch in songs like “Floating Vibes” or especially in “Twin Peaks.” It’s not just the delivery of the lyrics, or the way the melody is approached, but it really feels as if the spirit of Mercer lies in there somewhere. “Twin Peaks,” by the way, is one ridiculously good song; you can listen to it on repeat, as I did, and never grow tired of it.
“Swim,” the album’s second track is such a bright moment that you can’t help but be won over by the fervent approach to bringing about swelling guitar waves and vocals that seem to echo through the room of your favorite local venue. It’s this feeling of rawness that doesn’t seem forced, or steeped in some historical infatuation with bands of days gone by, though undoubtedly it does come from such moments.
“Take It Easy” comes like a close cousin to many of the songs of New York new wonders The Drums. Both bands have a club appeal that still seems rooted in the hallowed grounds of surf rock. Like those New Yorkers, there is a certain vibrance to the writing itself, which moves it beyond pastiche, bringing a refreshing approach. At this point, three songs in, the band should have completely won you over.
Near the end of the record, the boys slow it town just a hint, but the jangling of their guitars brings to mind a great deal of the work that came out of the Flying Nun label of New Zealand. Perhaps the band is unaware of this, but that’s a sure-fire way to get straight into my heart, which allows me to look beyond the fact that the two 6 minute jams at the end, “Slow Jabroni” and “Anchorage” lag a little bit as far as pace goes. Using time, these songs unfold into powerful pieces all their own.
All in all, this a sparkling debut from a band we know little about. It’s full of playful tunes, whimsical lyrics, and load upon load of melodic hooks driving straight for your ears, and your heart. It’s refreshing to hear such a solid album arise beyond the hype, and fulfill on all the promise, which is precisely what Astrocoast does. Based on this, Surfer Blood surely will be the breakout band we all heard they would be, and its deservedly so.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/02-Swim.mp3]
Download: Surfer Blood – Swim [MP3]
A few years back, Spoon created a pop masterpiece when they put out Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (is that enough Gas?). They return here with Transference, a record that may not be as easily accessible as their previous effort, but one that seemingly feels more rewarding than its predecessor. Where Ga Ga Ga hit you in the face quick, Transference takes time to unfold before you, often upon repeated listens.
As the hazy organ work grinds over the opening moments of the album, you can tell that the tendency to rely upon hooks is gone. Still, when you hear the audio switch from having Britt in another room, to having him right in your ear, you can tell that hooks aren’t required to reveal the power in this record. It’s a dense tune, but it feels more like the reworking of tracks off Kill the Moonlight.
A lot of listeners will wonder where the catchy numbers have gone, as this record feels striped down and dirty by the time you get through the first three songs. Then you come across “Who Makes Your Money.” Initially, I couldn’t understand this song in the spectrum of the Spoon catalogue, but the more I listened to the record, the playfulness with which Britt approaches the vocals is so rewarding in time that it’s hard not to see this as one of the album’s stronger moments, which says a lot considering how simple it feels.
Oddly, the slow burner that is Transference is just picking up the pace. “Written in Reverse” makes waves as it did upon its release as the single months back. You combine that with the grittiness of “I Saw the Light,” and you can’t help but feel as if Spoon are finally hitting full stride midway through the album, preparing to carry you into bliss. Such is the moment when you arrive at the brightest moments on the record, with “Terrible” and “Goodnight Laura.”
“Terrible” has the lo-fi appeal that everyone seems to crave in their musical coffee, yet it maintains the clever layering that Spoon has always held on to in their songwriting. As the song barrels along, you can feel the classic moments of the band’s history come back into the present. Then you stumble upon “Goodnight Laura,” which has to be my hand’s down favorite song on the album. It reminds me of “Black Like Me” of Ga Ga Ga in its ability to evoke the utmost emotion from the listener, except it utilizes a piano as opposed to the use of guitar. Yet the hits don’t stop coming right here.
Transference fades into its closing moments filled with tunes like “Got Nuffin,” a song you already should have heard by the group, and “Nobody Gets Me But You.” Neither of these songs feels completely polished, unlike the last album, so it maintains the quality that was established at the beginning. It has that sense of trial and error, though they clearly care less about the errors, choosing to leave them as part of the complete portrait they intended to create.
In closing, a lot of people just don’t get Spoon. They’ll claim that the band lack some sort of killer instinct, or that they chose to produced the album themselves, but let’s not forget they have Jim Eno and Britt Daniels, both who have produced records of brilliance in their own right (White Rabbits anyone?). At the end of the day, the more you listen to this album the more you will get out of it, as it unravels bit by bit, leaving you with such a wonderful record that you’ll have to look hard to find faults. It reaffirms that Spoon is one of (if not the only) the most consistent bands around, and Transference just adds to their list of quality records.
Our friends over at GvsB alerted us to a new tune that will be coming out on JJ‘s new album JJ n° 3, which hits stores March 9th via Secretly Canadian. Based on the adoration by all the blogs last year, this should be an album you’ll want to check out. I can’t help but feel as if the harmonica changes their dynamic on this tune, but in a good way, I assure you. Grab a listen.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/03-let-go.mp3]
Download: JJ – Let Go [MP3]
UK band Good Shoes got a lot of great press after the release of their last album, but they’re ready to make huge waves with their newest record No Hope, No Future, which comes out on January 25th. The rhythmic bounce in this song makes it perfect for a Friday tune; it reminds us a lot of our favorite UK band the Mystery Jets. Maybe they’ll both hit the U.S. together! We can only hope, but for now, let your feet tap! Or head to their site for a preview of 4 songs off the new album.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/04-Under-Control.mp3]
Download: Good Shoes – Under Control [MP3]
In this week’s edition of From the Closet we bring you the band Beulah. I was fortunate enough to catch them for the second time on their final tour for their album Yoko. Needless to say, I was quite a fan of the group; their blend of sunny pop fused with horns and perfect backing vocals just fit that time of my life. I still travel back in time with their classic record The Coast is Never Clear, which everyone really needs to have in their collection; you won’t find a bad song on the album. Luckily, though Beulah have gone away, main man Miles Kurosky is heading back into the world with some new tunes. He just released a new EP titled The Desert of Shallow Effects via Majordomo and available through iTunes, and he’s got a new album slated for March. Based on his output with Beulah, it’s bound to be chock full of great tunes! So lets travel back in time with Beulah, and relish in the simple of days of sunny pop with no pretension.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/07-Gravitys-Bringing-Us-Down.mp3]
It’s been a long time since I’ve really visited the music of Omaha, but now that I’ve heard Thunder Power, it’s time to revisit the great scene in that town. Thunder Power is releasing a new split EP titled Hearts Intersect, which will hit stores March 2nd. Take a listen to the track, and see if you can get back in the swing of that old Omaha sound.[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/ThunderPower.mp3]
Download: Thunder Power – Heartifact [MP3]
I’ve been following this on Twitter all afternoon, but I’ve seen it confirmed in several locations, so I’m going to express my sadness for the passing of Jay Lindsey of Jay Reatard. Those who know me, know I love his music, and I posted about him any chance I had. It really is a sad day. Thanks for the tunes Jay, may you find peace in the hereafter.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/jay-reatard-it-aint-gonna-save-me.mp3]
You know if you’ve been following our site that we loved the Blood Brothers, then moved on to loving Jaguar Love. Now we’ve got another family relative of Blood Brothers, this time from former lead singer Jordan. His new group Past Lives isn’t quite in the same world as his former band, though their first single “Hex Takes Hold” did have some of the vocal memories. This new one, however, slowly trods along, almost as if they are playing with some slo-core stylings. You be the judge. And if you like it, grab Tapestry of Webs on February 23rd.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Past-Lives-Deep-In-The-Valley.mp3]
Download: Past Lives – Deep In The Valley [MP3]
It seems that Owen Pallett has finally shed his video game moniker, suggesting to some that this album would show a wee bit of maturation for the orchestral singer/songwriter. Now that we have the name cleared, let’s rest assured that Heartland is not an album about growing up, as it’s clear that Owen still holds true to a great deal of the playfulness he’s presented us with in the past, which makes him so endearing.
In the past, we’ve found Owen balancing minimal instrumentation atop his clever sequencing of violin loops. Such stylistic flourishes brought great moments such as the trumpet blast on “This is the Dream of Win and Regine.” Now, while he hasn’t abandoned the symphonic approach, not at all, he seems to be playing with more instrumentation. Take “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” for example; a song which features orchestral backing, yet the strings sing to hang lightly in the background, allowing Owen’s voice, along with electric beats to push the song forward. “The Great Elsewhere” is similar in that it provides an electric organ as its background, reminiscent of some great work by DJ Shadow, just with Pallett’s voice cresting on the wave.
It says a lot for the artist when their voice can carry the entirety of a song, and such is Owen’s vocal skill. “Keep the Dog Quiet,” which seems like a brooding scene in Fantasia, is wholly held up by his vocal performance. He plays with his vocal range, not always trying to rise to the highest octave, an act which seems to bring a more complete balance to song itself. But, in the end, in the last minute of the song, you can tell that Owen clearly has the chops to cut it in the music business outside of the muddied waters of independent music.
Still, for those die hard fans who loves the string arrangements as presented during the Final Fantasy years, rest assured you will find what you seek. The opening track, “Midnight Directives,” picks up where the last album left off, reminding of us of where Pallett once was in his career. Yet, you might find a further maturation in the classical sound he’s created when you get to “E is for Estranged.” Gentle piano work accompanied by strings makes this one of the most beautiful moments on the album, not to mention one of the more special moments in Owen’s career.
Some might find it hard to dive right into the sound of Owen Pallett on Heartland, yet it’s a taste that takes time to fully absorb into your musical soul. At a time when we’re enthralled with lo-fi and ambient electronic tunes, Mr. Pallett brings a refreshing touch to the musical world. If you grew up playing an instrument, especially the band nerd types, this album is for you. His touches of classical music alongside pop music provide listeners with a certain sense of cleansing, one that we should all cherish as we begin a new year.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/05-Lewis-Takes-Action.mp3]
Download: Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Action [MP3]