Julian Casablancas – Phrazes for the Young

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Rating: ★★½ · ·

It’s been a long long time since the essence of cool was brought back by The Strokes.  No longer do we have to listen to stagnant rock on the radio, and the indie underground seems to have grown substantially.  We owe a great deal of that to Julian Casablancas.  His new album Phrazes for the Young creates a certain sense of nostalgia; it makes you look back to those days when it all seemed new and vibrant. 

Hands down, the first three songs on this record, “Out of the Blue,” “Left and Right in the Dark,” and “11th Dimension,” are all ridiculously good songs.  You can say that they have a more pop-centric leaning than most of the work done by Casablancas other band, but you can’t deny that the infections hooks are in abundance on these first three tracks.  If you take “11th Dimension” alone, you can see that combining the swagger of The Strokes with the electronic pop of Phoenix packs a huge punch.  This is such a killer opening to the album, that it really makes the latter half of the album fall flat on its face before our eyes.

Once you get to the last five songs, the pace is gone, and with it, the depth that seemingly existed from the outstart.  “Ludlow St.” has sort of a throwback feeling to a summer folk string, almost as if The Beatles have just entered into Julian’s lexicon, while the lyrics are reminiscent of Whitman’s Song of Myself.  It’s clever, but it is not a song that will last long in your memory.

“River of Brakelights” does sound exactly like some of the more straightforward rock songs that eclipsed the gems that were on First Impression of Earth.  Unfortunately, Julian Casablancas has a difficult time as it is differentiating the tones in vocals, and this song makes that all too apparent, which lead to the damage that devours this track. 

All this seems to head towards the trudgingly slow “Tourist,” a song that is lyrically akin to “Ludlow St.” All the punch is clearly gone at this point, and you can feel your heart sink as the album draws to a close.  It’s a shame actually, as the record began with such a promising start that you wanted the entire thing to be successful, but our luck has run out here.  Still, for those die-hard completists, you will find the voice of The Strokes living in a different place, one that at times, is as exciting as we’ve ever heard him.  Perhaps such moments make it onto the new work of either of his bands.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Julian-Casablancas-11th-Dimension.mp3]

Download: Julian Casablancas – 11th Dimension [MP3]

Langhorne Slim @ Mohawk (11/11)

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Date Wednesday, November 11th
Location Mohawk
Doors 800p
Tickets $12 @ the door

Whilst most of us are still recovering from the FFF Fest, music must go on here in town.  Luckily, there is a pretty solid show of the laid back sort for all of us to enjoy this Wednesday, as Langhorne Slim makes his return to town.  Not only will you get Langhorne, but you get the fabulous Austin Lucas, as well as Dawes.  Seems like a chill way to spend hump day.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/04Shoulders.mp3]

Download: Austin Lucas – Shoulders [MP3]


New Tunes from Jump Clubb

jumpNo one really knows anything about the California band Jump Clubb, and in fact, they try to keep it that way.  I guess that seems a little ridiculous to me, but still, they recently released this killer Elliott Smith cover “Angeles.”  It’s not what you would expect, but it seems like an appropriate way to wrap up a Friday.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Angeles.mp3]

Download: Jump Clubb – Angeles (Eliott Smith Cover) [MP3]

Ola Podrida – Belly of the Lion

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Rating: ★★★★½

David Wingo easily won me over with his first album, Ola Podrida, but at the time, he was living in New York, working on various film scores and what not.  He’s returned to Austin, which makes me love him even more, and he’s just released another album, Belly of the Lion, that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Be it the warmth of his voice, or the emotional landscaping he creates with his tunes, you’ll find something enchanting throughout the duration of his second album under the Ola Podrida moniker.

For some reason, and this isn’t meant in a disenchanted way, this album feels ultimately louder than the self-titled album, well, as loud as Wingo seems to get.  “The Closest We Will Ever Be” seems like a more complete version of the songs on his first record.  Much as most of the songs are, this song has grown to include various layers to accompany David’s vocals.  Perhaps some might see this as a less-intimate affair, but rest assured, getting inside the listener is something he accomplishes with ease.

“Your Father’s Basement” was the first single to be let loose from the wonderful label Western Vinyl, and this is just one of the many tracks that will standout in your mind.  As usual, you’ll find precision guitar strumming, creating a comfort zone within the song; it’s a place for all the listeners to sit and rest.  And as you do so, you’ll find it difficult not to fall in love with Wingo’s unique vocals.  There is a familiarity in his delivery, perhaps one indebted in Texas folk musings; regardless, this song stands up to the expectations set forth by the former album’s “Jordanna.”

Songs such as “Monday Morning” and “Sink or Swim” definitely demonstrate that Wingo has done some work in the film industry.  While “Monday Morning” uses various backing tracks to create and emotional appeal throughout the story of the song, “Sink or Swim” fits perfectly into the intimate moments between a romantic encounter, one that is likely to take place in some sort of wintery wonderland.  Such is the strength of the album, as Wingo has included more in the bedroom listening he provides for his audience.

For this listener, “Lakes of Wine” is a remarkable track, aside from the fact that I consider them ALL remarkable.  He gently picks at the heart of the guitar, drawing your ears closely into the song itself.  And in doing so, you find yourself absorbed before the lyrics even jump into the tune. There is something extremely personal in both his delivery and his lyrics here, as he waxes nostalgic; you, too, will travel back into the past with him.  Such is the true art of David Wingo.

While it seems that too few people have had a proper chance to expose themselves to Ola Podrida (such is the tragedy of technology’s effect on our listening habits), Belly of the Lion is an example of a confident piece of work that was carefully crafted to draw upon every human emotion, plugging it into each song.  You’ll want to have this album on hand as we prepare for the winter, and as you prepare to make your record collection complete with masterful pieces of art.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/WV67_YFB.mp3]

Download: Ola Podrida – Your Father’s Basement [MP3]

FTC: Nick Drake

FTC_nickdrakeEvery once in a long while you hit upon something that triggers your memory, and you open up the door to your past; you revisit old haunts, and most importantly, you revisit old bands. You see, I grew up listening to Nick Drake, as my dad always played it around the house, so I was always a huge fan. His intricate guitar playing and his spectacular voice. Sure, Pink Moon is the most well-known album for this artist, due largely to Volkswagen, but all those who appreciate his music will surely find gems in the rest of his tunes. So young, so tragic, and yet so beyond brilliant. Every one needs a Nick Drake album in their collection. I’d like to thank the superb Pink Moon book from the 33 and 1/3 series for reminding me of Drake and his sublime talents.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/02-Place-To-Be.mp3]

Holopaw – Oh, Glory. Oh, Wilderness.

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

Holopaw had a decent output back in their days on Subpop, but they had been quiet for the better part of the last four years.  That is until Bakery Outlet released news that they would put out Oh, Glory. Oh, Wilderness.  And, despite that singer John Orth has ties with Mr. Brock from Modest Mouse, you can’t really feel the odd signatures and multi-instrumental moments that he threw into the completion of the Ugly Cassanova album.  It’s much more of a mainstream approach, but by that, perhaps it just means it’s more straightforward than what one would expect.

When “The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion” first burst onto the Internet, there was something really casual about the vocal delivery.  It seemed like a band that was comfortable in what they were creating, and that, for me, was quite refreshing.  It was just a simple guitar driven song, nothing special about it, but nothing one would consider mundane.

For the most part, the album doesn’t do too much else to steer you away from that understanding.  “Boys on Motorbikes” has a strange feeling of 90s radio meeting with vocals of someone like Bazan or Enigk or even one of the Kinsella brothers.  Something in the vocal just seems to pull at that emotional level just enough to differentiate itself, but not so much to where you will forever remember the vocals.

A special moment does appear on “Cherry Glow,” the album’s fourth track.  Strummed guitar serves as the primary background for Orth’s voice, and then it slowly builds towards a quickening of the pace.  And as the lead guitar takes over, you’re reminded that you’ve found a song; the female backing vocals cooing in the background don’t hurt too much either.  Similarly, “The Last Transmission” is perfect as a single instrument strong.  Sure, the flourishes in the background from the slide guitar aren’t really going to hurt anyone, but by itself, you can really get pulled into the song itself.  All this can probably be placed at the foot of Holopaw‘s history, as they were forced into a duo years ago, only to pick back up as a group very recently.  

The group aesthetic is all well and good, but some of the songs, such as “Little Stallion with a Glass Jaw” sometimes seem a bit overdone by having the full band presence.  This is what makes Oh, Glory. Oh Wilderness. a good album as opposed to a moderately great one.  Intimate moments across the album are perfect and rewaring, but occasionally, you just seem to get stuck in the middle of the album.  Alas, they’ve just reformed a proper band, so the future for Holopaw could be very bright.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/holopawartteacher.mp3]

Download: Holopaw – The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion [MP3]

Molina & Johnson – s/t

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Rating: ★★★★½

You had to know this was coming; you had to know that a combination of these two men could lead you to nothing but greatness.  Jason Molina and Will Johnson live two separate lives.  One man, Jason, fronts Magnolia Electric Co, while the other hangs out in Texas and fronts Centromatic, not to mention his own solo stuff under the name, surprisingly, Will Johnson.  United, they have risen above their individual prowess and united to make a conglomerate of sad-bastard music that surpasses most everything else that came our way this year, in regards to that particular genre at least.

When you first hear “Twenty Cycles to the Ground” you immediately feel the comfort of home. Will Johnson‘s voice always sounds like your aged father singing on the back porch with his acoustic guitar in his hand.  At the same time, the warmth of Molina accents the throatier moments from Johnson.  Such a natural harmonization could not be imagined in this mind.

And for the larger part of this album, you encounter such beautiful moments time and time again.  “Almost Let You In” sees the two gents casually trading vocal duties over gentle piano structures and simple strumming of acoustic elements. There is such a clarity in the music that can only come from its simplicity, leading the listeners to the height of audial enlightenment; such as it is when the two combine near the end of the song, just as the piano begins to carry you away.

You are not very likely to find anything overtly beautiful and fanciful in this album.  It seems steeped in a sense of melancholy, which is mostly due to the instrumentation.  Yet, despite the down-trodden mood simulated by the instrumentation, nothing is as enchanting as Will Johnson walking quietly through his songs, with throaty vocals intact, pushing you to the edge of your bed, grasping, no, hanging, on every last syllable that he emits. The light in this album comes largely from Molina, however.

Take, for example, “The Lily and The Brakeman,” one of the songs that only goes to Molina. There is a different emotional appeal in his vocal delivery, and as it yanks on your heartstrings, it also seems to soothe you just a bit more than his counterpart.  This is precisely why this album is such a wonderful collection of songs.  There exists a perfect juxtaposition between the warble of Johnson and the calm delivery of Molina, both captivating, and both working together in unison. Together, they’ve created an album that seems born of the past, only to live in the current landscape.

Not a moment on this album is really discardable; not a one. Perhaps the off moments will be off-putting to casual listeners, but once you immerse yourself in the waters of Molina & Johnson, you’ll feel as if you’ve been washed in one of the most masterful collaborations.  Do yourself a favor and get lost in the world of these two, as you’re likely to never want to leave.

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

Download: Molina & Johnson – Almost Let You In [MP3]

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