Belle and Sebastian – BBC Sessions

Rating: ★★★½ ·

It’s difficult to rate a release of a band which has achieved adoration throughout the independent music world, especially when that release consists of various John Peel Sessions and a live recording in Belfast.  However, the gauntlet has been layed down, thus the rating has been thrown out.

The compilations is made up of multiple discs, the first being the BBC Sessions alluded to in the title of the release.  Now, Belle and Sebastian has always been a quiet band, especially if you listen to the mix of Tigermilk or If You’re Feeling Sinister, but on this disc you will find many of the classic songs from that era, such as “Judy and The Dream of Horses.”  A lot of these songs haven’t really changed much from the original recordings, in fact, they stay exactly the same as the first time they came out of your speakers.  Still, the quality of the recording is exceptional here, perhaps even better than the original recordings, so there is something to take away.

Overall, the first disc is a reminder of the band’s distant past, as the presence of Isobel Campbell is no more.  Listeners will find beauty in the intro of “The Magic of a Kind Word,” but those sorts of reminders only show how far the band has come.  Favorites still sound wonderful, such as “Sleep the Clock Around” and “Seymour Stein.”  It’s a pleasant reminder, but the lack of variance leaves much to be desired for the most die-hard of fans.

Disc two is a live album, recorded in Belfast, which is right near Holywood, in 2001.  It’s got a decent offering of songs, though they don’t really meander far from various other live recordings that have been thrown around for years.  There are some pleasant surprises that come from the band’s past, like their covers of “Here Comes the Sun” and “I’m Waiting for the Man.”  It’s a pleasant reminder of the youthfulness the band has maintained, always dancing the night away in your bedroom speakers.   It also demonstrates the leaps and bounds the group has made in more recent live performances.

In the end, its a very decent offering of music for those who are in love with Belle and Sebastian. For those who haven’t steeped themselves in the history of the band, or are completely oblivious to their existence, they might find some value here, but all true fans know that there are much greater starting points to the history of one of the greatest bands in modern history.

Frantic Clam – Celebrity EP

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Local Austin band Frantic Clam originally joined forces while serving in the armed forces in Iraq.  The two founding members, Zack and Joe,  spent their spare time crafting simple tunes.  Celebrity is the band’s first EP, but a full length album is scheduled for release this Winter.

Opening track “Mary Elizabeth Winstead” is definitely rooted in a Southern soul sort of vibe, as the guitar work is really gritty.  The vocals are reminiscent of a Issac Brock being raised in the Deep South, with backing vocals added to fill in some the empty space in the song.

They wander off to “Everything is Perfect,” which is probably the best song on the album.  The vocals at the beginning are really crisp, which packs a stronger punch than some of the fuzzier recording that comes along later.  It’s a gentler approach to their songwriting; an attribute the band should consider employing full time.

“Richard Cory” is another mellow number at track 3.  A slower pace allows the band to focus on the melodies here, and this ends up demonstrating the band’s abilities to intertwine hooks with their space infused Southern rock sound. Similarly, “Amnesty” is filled with space keyboards and lyrics battling the mundane world, along with mundane problems.  It comes off like an old Grandaddy b-side.

They close the album with samples of Oz, as they finish with “The Emerald City.” It’s a song that exhibits a bit of funk, as if the band smashed into Stereolab all of a sudden.  It is another sound that demonstrates the possibilities the future holds for this band.  Keep an eye on this group, as I’m sure we’ll hear more of them in the future.

Speaking of hearing more, the band has a gig on December 12th at Hole in the Wall, so go check it out; keep it local.

You can also check out single from the album Richard Cory elsewhere on our site.

Comet Gain – Broken Record Prayers

Rating: ★★★★★

If you ask someone who their favorite British band is, most will throw at you something like Elbow or Bloc Party, but very few, if any, will mention the lo-fi group Comet Gain. The band, existing in some form since 1992 is quite possibly one of those bands that everyone will overlook for the duration of their lives, but they will miss some of the greatest songs written. Their most recent release, a collection of 7 inches, which comes to the U.S. as a full length is titled Broken Record Prayers.

As usual, the album relies on the interplaying vocals between Rachel Evans and David Feck. The opening song, “Jack Nance Hair” is the perfect exhibit, as the song begins with spoken word elements via Evans before Feck comes in to win your heart, and it will belong to him forever.

Most of these songs do revolve in that lo-fi bedroom quality that some people cannot stand, but the closeness created in this listening experience is completely intentional. Feck opens his tiny little world to you with every song, speaking to you, as if you were the antagonist to his every song. If you can manage the recording quality here then you will find some of the rarest gems, sure to be with your record collection until the end of time.

Surprisingly, the band has added some straight ahead rock tunes on this go round, like “Beautiful Despair.”  It’s a rollicking little number that stands out most notably for the throbbing bass lines rather than the clever guitar work that the band typically employs on the rest of their songs. “Love Without Lies” follows with more throbbing bass lines, and, what seems to be a dance number, done in the most intriguing of ways.

The benefit of a Comet Gain album is that they come out so rarely, and usually as a collection of 7 inches, that you get a solid number of songs. This particular album has twenty new tunes for every type of listener. Bedroom recordings of love and hate, as well as more upbeat numbers come in abundance. Sure, the organization of the album might be a little off due to the way each song was originally released, but you will not find a more perfect album. Surely this is a must have for every music geek.

As the winter comes into your windows, open them up for awhile and let David Feck’s genius blow on into your room. You’ll be happy you did.

Comet Gain – Books of California

Comet Gain has been one of my favorite bands for several years now, yet they never really seem to pop into the consciousness for most people. This new track comes off a 7” that also features the song “Love Without Lies.” Each song will appear on the band’s newest album Broken Record Players, set to hit our shores this coming Tuesday, November 18th.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/10-books-of-california.mp3]

Download: Comet Gains – Books Of California [MP3]

Peter and the Wolf – Mellow Owl

Rating: ★★★★ ·

As the winter weather wanders down the street and into our open windows, we’re all looking for that perfect album to accompany the complete change of the seasons.  We need something subtle, something soothing, yet something that challenges and thrills.  Enter Red Hunter.

Red Hunter is the local Austin legend, also known as Peter and the Wolf, who has just recently released another beautiful listening experience.  He’s known from playing on the edges of the world, where the water drops off into a great abyss of silence; he plays to the small crowds who still believe in mythical beasts.

Pacing is immediately established by the lyrical content and the title of the opening track, “Supermellofied.”  It speaks of a simpleness that most will not be able to describe, yet all yearn for from time to time.  Guitar track atop guitar track creates the effect of gentle rain dripping down from your roof and into the cracks in the sidewalk.

For some reason, the quietude of the album is the one thing that will speak to most listeners.  It’s Red’s simple approach to writing and crafting songs that allow us all to focus on the mundane details of our own world, allowing us all to realize the beauty that exists in every corner that we walk through.  It’s an album of simple folk songs and simple pleasures, such the things that should be in our lives.

Listeners may find it difficult to absorb the vocals of Red Hunter, as they seem to be sung through a can, clearly an echo of some sort resonates. But, the focus in his songs doesn’t revolve merely around his lyrics; it is the entire aesthetic appeal of these songs that sneaks into your soul.

Other hits that many will adore on this album are songs like “Trainhopper” and “Ballad of Redhook.”  Pleasant guitar strumming melds with overlying electric guitar, begging all to focus upon the minutest detail of this record; surely a metaphor for how one should approach their own life.

Several hundred years into his career as Peter and the Wolf, Red Hunter still has what it takes to craft some of the most personal songs many of us will come across this year.  If you miss him now, don’t worry, for he will surely go down in Austin lore.

Buy his album on Peter and the Wolf’s Myspace Page.

White Denim – Exposion

Rating: ★★ · · ·

Local Austin heroes, White Denim, have been garnering ridiculous amounts of press over the last few years, blasting off into the world of the inter-web with raving reviews and undying fan loyalty. Finally, the band have a full length album, Exposion, for all audiences to grab.

Their live shows are known for their riotous behavior and their vocal interchanges. Packed full of energy every step of the way, White Denim has easily found their way into the hearts of every Austinite, if not every person that considers themselves in the know.

One would figure that with the backing of local production company, Transmission Entertainment, that White Denim would be sure-set for a take off into the most fruitful of places. The question for most is would their daring stage show translate across formats and into speakers across the nation everywhere.

Unfortunately, the answer is no. This will greatly anger folks from the Lone Star State, but rest assured, a poor review is warranted here. They may still own the local stages with a tenacity uncommon to most witnesses, but their first real foray into the world of recorded music is not as fruitful as one would hope for these developing artists.

First, note the translucence in the vocals. They just don’t have the passion that they do when the band is standing in front of you, and most, even those who have never seen the band live, will feel as if the vocals are lacking in something. You could call it sincerity, or even passion, but they seem hollow, as if the band is stretching to maintain the effects felt by listeners in a live setting.

Upon further listening you will also find that the band seems more comfortable residing in the soundscapes of sloppy folk rock set in the sixties. The recording provides some similarities to the live audience meandering of the band, but without the visual, or the live experience the music fails to translate. Every ounce of fun is seemingly stripped from the songs; in fact, this just doesn’t seem like the same band winning hearts across America. It’s hard to find a song that makes you move your feet outside of “Shake Shake Shake,” which is always going to be a favorite.

The question, or perhaps the wall, in dealing with this album revolves around the fairness of treating an album the same way you would treat a live show. Is it acceptable to place judgement on a band because they fail to transcribe the raw power of the live show? More than likely, it’s not that fair, but that is what one has to deal with in this case. You have a phenomenal live band, one that everyone needs to see at least twice in their life, but one that just can’t give that magic out through the powers of modern technology. But, die-hard fans will surely be pleased to hear some of their favorites played through their bedroom speakers.

You can judge for yourself by picking up Exposion on the White Denim website.

Longwave – Secrets are Sinister

Rating: ★★★★½

Long ago, circa 2003, Longwave released The Strangest Things. It was an album full of possibilities; part pop album, part New York cool. Then comes 2005 and There’s A Fire loses everyone, pushing the band back to start. So where on Earth will we find them with Secrets are Sinister?

Briefly, lets journey back into the late 80s/early 90s, a time when pop music was a socially acceptable medium. Let’s face it, The Cure was a pop band; they still are. Yet, somewhere along this path, marketing interrupted creativity, rendering pop music virtually useless. In steps Longwave, circa 2008.

This album is precisely what a pristine pop album should and still is. Opening track “Sirens in the Deep Sea” is a heavy hitter, blasting guitar swells from the instant you press play, but then it drapes careful melodic vocals upon the walls of the song. It’s not the most novel approach, nor do we ask it to be, but there is not an instant where this song doesn’t immediately feel familiar and lasting.

“No Direction” keeps the pace with it’s predecessor, continuing the beating, yet this song is one of the one’s that harkens back to the band’s heyday. Most unique here are the levels to which singer, Steve Schlitz, pushes himself; it’s the most passionate he’s ever sounded.

However, it’s not all scowling guitars and walls of feedback. Let’s take “The Devil and the Liar,” for instance. It’s a calm moment in this storm of a statement; it’s also fairly reminiscent of Albert Hammond Jr, one of Schlitz’s dear friends, or at least old friends. This song clearly states that the band can play both ends, and they play it well. Similarly, you play a song like “Shining Hours” and you find yourself basking in the rays of pop goodness. It’s got a youthful edge, but one we can all identify with, no matter who we are. Longwave‘s ability to tug at any and every emotion is clearly where the band is at their best.

In trying to find a detractor here, one could easily state that there isn’t too much here that is pushing the limits of the local musical lexicon, but since when did everyone really have to go out of their way to be different in order to garner some sort of fandom. Clearly Longwave treasure those moments musically that we can all share; those moments when we realize we all love music for the same reason. That’s the secret.

You can listen to the record, Secrets are Sinister, in its entirety by visiting the band’s web site.

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