Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Something seems to exist in the Glaswegian waters these days, as more and more substantial music sets sail for America via Scotland. The newest album, My Maudlin Career, from Camera Obscura is just another example of a country that is pushing out superb tune after superb tune.

Long has the band been haunted by their kinship to Belle and Sebastian, but here we see them completing the step away from such association, much as they did on their last album, Let’s Get Out of This Country.  They’ve stepped away from the modest pop stylings of their earlier days, immersing themselves instead in a history of 60s soul and R&B.  This time around, the band has gradually drifted into the perfect dance halls from historic days long gone.

Tracyanne Campbell is the focal point of this entire album, as it should be.  Her delivery, especially in songs such as “French Navy” is nearly perfect, spinning masterful webs of melody at every turn.  She finally seems comfortable in the limelight, and that confidence shows through and through.   But, she’s not the only vocal presence here, as there are some carefully placed “oohs” and “ahhs” visiting the landscape of this album (see The Sweetest Thing).

Musically, the album is quite close to its predecessor. It’s as if the music was crafted carefully in the Motown studios; all the arrangements are done with such precision that you’d be hard pressed to find a point in this record when anything seems off-kilter.  One thing that might be lacking for some listeners, however, is that the music doesn’t have the pace, or some of the urgency, that went with the last album.  Sure, songs like “Swans” and  “My Maudlin Career” have a sligth pace, and a certain vibrance, but there is no “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken.” But, this serves the album sufficiently well, as the album comes across with a lot more balance than the previous effort.  Its nostalgia is fitting, and the album is the most even output in the band’s history.

Through and through, the album comes across with moments of meandering melody and a whispering sense of longing, which, afterall, seems to be the lyrical focus of the album.  The very mention of “maudlin” recalls a certain sense of emotional sentimentality, as if you’re looking back with a sense of longing.  It’s no mistake that the lyrics match this focus; the music seems to further the intent as well.  And of course, the ever present ideal of love, and loves past, present and future.

Listeners be sure to make it all the way until the end of the album, as “Honey in the Sun” is one of the most rewarding songs on the album.  It’s the bookend that sums up the thematic elements of the lyrics, and adds further detail to the growth of this very talented group of musicians from Glasgow.  Nicely done Camera Obscura.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/11-honey-in-the-sun.mp3]

Download: Camera Obscura – Honey in the Sun [MP3]

New Tunes from Jarvis Cocker

jarviscockerThat’s right ladies and gentlemen, Jarvis Cocker is back again. His second solo album is set to be released by Rough Trade on May 18th, which will more than likely be a solid album, just like his last solo album, which was like his Pulp albums, and like his performance on Harry Potter. Now, this new album has uber-producer Steve Albini running the show, so we should expect an edgier Jarvis; I’m game.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/jarvis-cocker-angela.mp3]

Download: Jarvis Cocker – Angela [MP3]

FT5: Things To Buy On Record Store Day

0417top5coverThis Saturday, April 18th, is Record Store Day all across these United States. Sure, that seems like just another Saturday to most buyers, but the true record geek in all of us is already waiting in line. You see, on Record Store Day, you get to do two things: you get to support your favorite local indpendent record store and you get loads of limited edition stuff.  Me, personally, I can’t wait. I’ve already crafted a list so as to move through my favorite record store with ease in pursuit of such rarities that one can only dream.  The following is the list of the great things one can find at their local indpendent store, and we encourage you to do so, as this is the day the stores give back to us, and we give back to them.

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Metric – Fantasies

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

It has been extremely difficult not to fall in love with Metric; the band has consistently put out enjoyable pop tunes throughout their evolution as a band.  Their fourth album, Fantasies, is just another progressive step in whatever direction the band chooses to go.  Yes, maybe it’s not the same band that you couldn’t get enough of on Old World Underground, but this album is stocked full of fantastic singles and even more ridiculously good moments than ever before.

The world caught wind of “Help, I’m Alive” a few months back, and the album couldn’t have a better opener than this. As the synthesizer and drums push the song forward, you are on the edge of the seat waiting for the song to crash down, but as always, the band remains coy, pulling back with just enough restraint to play innocent; that is until Emily hits the high notes, and warms your ears. “Sick Muse” follows immediately keeping the fast pace.  It’s a lot more straightforward than previous songs in the Metric canon, but the chorus is where the band seems to excel this time around. In fact, the choruses throughout the album are one of the elements that differentiates this album from the past.

You’ll also find some moments on this album that seem like they were skeletons left in Emily Haines’ closet as she wrapped up her solo work to work on this album.  “Twilight Galaxy” is just such a song, as it rests on “oohs” and what sounds like a programmed drum track.  While one could complain about such a moment being on this record, it shows just how far Haines has come since her inception as rock-goddess extraordinaire. “Gimme Sympathy” is a similar song, though it’s fleshed out a bit more by the presence of the rest of the band.  All in all, it’s a twist we hadn’t seen yet, and it’s one that works well for the band.

Unfortunately, a lot of the angular guitar work is gone from this album, or at least it has hidden itself behind the hills of electronic presence.  On one hand, this makes this album ready for those who wish to take it to the dance floor, as the synths will definitely blast out of speakers around the world, but it also makes the album comes across as a lot more polished than before.  The ferocity of the group here is subdued; Emily now is more than just the pretty face of the band.  She seems to be the leader in every sense here, and for some, that might be a little disheartening.

Suffice it to say that most of those fans who fell in love with the band will still be happy with the most recent output, as there are gems all over this record.  Who knows where the next step will lead the band, but as long as they can continuously pump out pop music this good, they are sure  to have followers for years to come.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/06-gimme-sympathy.mp3]

Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Austin resident Bill Callahan is more widely known for his releases under the Smog moniker, but the release of his second “solo” album will surely have heads turning in the direction of his future; his most recent ventures seem to be the most focused of any of his releases, which definitely prove beneficial to the listener.

Of course, there is really only one instrument on this album that is truly worthy of discussion, and that has to be the ragged baritone vocals of Callahan himself.  His voice is easily identifiable, but it also serves as the predominant element that courses through the entirety of the album.  Everything else seems to play second-fiddle to the vocals, and one can presume that that is precisely where Callahan would like to leave us.

Take, for instance, “Eid Ma Clack Shaw,” the album’s first released single.  The song is comprised mostly of two elements: one being the voice of Callahan, the other being tinkering piano that bounces gleefully in step with the vocals. “The Wind and the Dove” follows just after, and you’re caught on the brief moments when the pitch and delivery seem to change just the slightest bit, creating a sense of reserve.  Both songs emphasize the voice rather than the music, although this isn’t saying that the music is altogether uninteresting. One merely needs to listen to the gentleness in the production, even when other elements are added to the textural mix of the song, such as the female vocals that filter in and out of “Rococo Zephyr.”

This entire outing seems to come out of a place of reserve, as if Callahan is taking his time to think things through, watching the world around slowly go by each day.  Lyrically, the songs approach various levels of observation and commentary on fairly mundane things, but developed in the way only Bill can do.  Even the song titles seem to illustrate the idea of thought, and other such processes, which is apparently where a lot of the album stems from, as Bill admits to being a bit restless during the recording of the majority of the album.

At the end of the journey, you’ll find one of the longest songs in the Bill Callahan/Smog repertoire, which isn’t entirely a bad thing.  It’s the perfect bookend to the album, as the narrator here admits that it’s time to put some things away, such as God.  With the album coming to a close, it’s time to put it away, as Bill has clearly made his point.  He’s crafted a set of mellow semi-folk tunes using his voice as the instrument and his lyrics as your guide through his world and his thoughts.  It’s a good run through from start to finish.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/03-the-wind-and-the-dove.mp3]

Download: Bill Callahan – The Wind and the Dove [MP3]

New Tunes from My Latest Novel

artists-mylatestnovelA few years back, I stumbled into the record store and came across this band, My Latest Novel. They met my requirements for something worthy of checking out: they were from Glasgow and someone references Belle and Sebastian in their review; those days are long gone. The first single from the bands upcoming album, Death and Entrances, is full of complexities and an organic quality that most enjoy these days.  Sit back and listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/01-all-in-all-in-all-is-all.mp3]

Download: My Latest Novel – All in All in All is All [MP3]

Electric Six @ Emos 4/15

electricsix I’ll be honest, I haven’t really kept in touch with the music of Electric Six in a few years, but they have to be doing fairly well for themselves considering they are playing outside at Emo’s this Wednesday night; you don’t get that gig being small potatoes. Tickets are way cheap at only $10, and you can buy them here. Rest assured, you’ll be sure to hear their classic hit, and one of my favorites, which I’ve placed below for you enjoyment.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/electric-six-danger-high-voltage.mp3]

Download: Electric Six – Danger High Voltage [MP3]

New Tunes from Dogs Die in Hot Cars

dogs For a while, we all thought that UK band Dogs Die in Hot Cars were done for good, but recently, the band has reemerged with a new project at hand.  In order to get their second album completed, they are asking their fans to finish it up, as they seem to be done with working together.  Regardless, you can read more about that project and download the entire second album demos for free at the band’s web site.  I, for one, can’t wait to hear what someone does with “Pop Nonsense.”

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/02-pop-nonsense.mp3]

Download: Dogs Die in Hot Cars – Pop Nonsense [MP3]

Papercuts – You Can Have What You Want

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Rating: ★★★★½

This appears to be the decade where people actively seek out the atmosphere of a quiet bedroom recording, as bands like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes burst forth with warmth and comfort, the kind you would find beneath your Grandma’s quilt in your room. Unfortunately, Jason Quever and his band, Papercuts, have often been overlooked in the discussion, though few will feel that way when this record hits the streets.

You Can Have What You Want is the third proper full-length from Quever, and listeners will find that this is his most complete collection of songs to date.  The songs are the most fluid he has composed, and they seem to courageously go from one shining moment into the next. Melodies rise just as you thought they’d fallen away, and it all feels as if a master architect assembled the songs piece by piece; everything on this record feels absolutely right.

Jason’s vocals sound amazing this time around, albeit a bit underdone at points. Some will find fault with this approach, as you must surely dig deep into your listening experience in order to grasp the lyrics, but most will find this aesthetic quite appealing whilst searching for their favorite tune as they rearrange their closet by color.  Take “The Machine Will Tell Us So,” a song that meanders carefully through seas of organ and cymbal work, almost so quiet you can’t help but let wonder if the music is only in your head; then the chorus bursts in full of calming melodies, taking the song in an entirely different direction, though only for a moment.

Of course, Papercuts aren’t afraid to pick up the pace, at least musically.  “Dead Love” and “Future Primitive” are both set back to back, which may be due to the fact that each of these songs call for a bit of toe-tapping, though one must only do so in place, as the vocals are not begging you to move about. “Future Primitive” is the first single from the album, and features a lot of the elements of the rhythm section of Jeremy Jay, only with quieter lyrics, if you can imagine that. Sure, it’s a standout track, but almost every track here shines in its own manner.

The title track to the album, “You Can Have What You Want,” is just yet another example of how beautifully Jason shapes his songs; he is able to fill up empty space with bits and pieces of vocals and instrumentation, all pushing the song to the fullest potential.  Really, this is all one needs to ask of his or her favorite musician: can you get the most out of your song? The answer to that question, and in regards to this whole album, is a resounding yes! If you want something to listen to in your bedroom, this album may be the best one for your ear.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/papercuts-you-can-have-what-you-want.mp3]

Download: Papercuts – You Can Have What You Want [MP3]

Brian Jonestown Massacre @ Emo’s 4/14

bjm_logoIt’s hard to guess precisely what sort of show you’ll get when you go watch BJM, but let’s face it, that’s sort of the fun in the whole thing right? Despite their somewhat unsettling antics, as seen in DIG, the band have still crafted some solid songs over the last decade or so, and you’ll be sure to enjoy such songs when they play tonight at Emo’s. Tickets are still available, so grab one and catch an exciting show.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/bjm_going-to-hell.mp3]

Download: Brian Jonestown Massacre – Going to Hell [MP3]

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