Alkaline Trio – Agony and Irony

Rating: ★★★★ ·

For those expecting Alkaline Trio to come up with an entirely new formula for this album–their sixth full length–it may come as a disappointment, although it shouldn’t, that the band sticks close to their guns. They’ve been honing their skills at the pop-punk game for so long, that it might do more damage to fans if they strayed in a new direction.

Of course this album has the classic Alkaline lyrical stylings, filled with allusions to the darker side of things, which has always been Matt Skiba’s forte. An example of this lies in the song “Into the Night,” where Skiba sings “The carrion has been forgotten/Left for dead in the sun rotting.” It’s also visible with track titles such as “Calling All Skeletons” or “In Vein.” There is a real personal vibe in the lyrics as well, but I’ll let you listen to those on your own time.

There are some slip ups on the album such as the redundant lyrics in “Do You Wanna Know,” which is forgivable because of the quality of the music. Also, “Love Love Kiss Kiss” just doesn’t pack the same punch that the rest of the album offers listeners–not to mention how ridiculous the chorus is on this song.

However, there are some phenomenal songs here, such as “Over and Out,” which is probably one of the best songs I think that they’ve written in recent years– driven during the verses by some solid bass work. “Ruin It” is just another song that exemplifies everything that Alkaline Trio has been creating since their jump to the majors–and they throw in a nice vocal effect near the end to boot.

At first, I was weary of the really clean production on here–as I love the grit of that dirty guitar sound–but it really works to the benefit of the band here. Skiba’s melodies are well-suited by the newer sound the band has taken on. It makes the band sound sound really close to being at their absolute best. All good things.

Like I said, there isn’t anything new here–excluding the fact that there are new songs, of course–yet this is a solid effort from a well-seasoned band that has been doing it longer and better than most. Not quite the perfect album, but pretty close.

Below is a song called “Help Me” off the new album:

Download: helpme.mp3

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/alkaline-trio-help-me.mp3]

Modey Lemon @ Emos – 6/28

Modey Lemon was one of the more intriguing artists I caught a few years back at SXSW.  Their particular blend of post-punk was the perfect dosage of rock n’ roll that I needed.  Now they are headed our way again this Saturday night at Emos.  They’ll be accompanied by The Strange Attractors, Manikin and Black Panda.  

For those in need of a good evening, check out this guaranteed show. As usual, doors at 8, show at 10. You can get a good sample of their tunes by checking them out personally.

Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules and Love Affair

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Anotony Hegarty put out one of my favorite albums of the last five years, and when I heard of his involvement in this project I was extremely excited. His voice–albeit one needing adjustment–is probably one of the more emotion evoking voices I have listened to in the these days. Sure, they are stripping him of his piano, but the possibilities of a solid album were definitely there.

The first track “Time Will” definitely maintains the spirit of an Antony record. His strong vocals come through in full force, met in the background by carefully constructed dance beats. It’s a fresh approach that definitely earned some interest from the get go. It’s hard not to listen to the the opening track without high expectations.

Then you come to the second track, “Hercules Theme.” Throbbing bass lines and other various beats have you bobbing your head as soon as this song comes into your ears. The use of horns–live or sampled–creates a blistering dance song that will have to be a staple at all your summer dance fiestas. Just ignore the sexual moans playing quietly in the background, and you will be well on your way to enjoying this album.

The next two tracks hit you just as hard. Encouraging you to dance along with all your friends in your favorite living space. This all comes to a culmination by the fifth and best track, “Blind.” Antony Hegarty sings throughout, carrying you up and down with his voice, while the beats have you tapping your feet ferociously–if your legs and arms don’t follow, go see a doctor. This is an exceptional dance track, and there is nothing else you can say. It all, however, stops here.

The rest of the album drags on like a really poor dance record. It’s hard to find the reason for the hype when you listen to the rest of the album. The beats become extremely repetitive, and there isn’t anything that garners your attention, as the album slowly fades into the background of your mind. The pumping beats that accompanied the first five tracks go off in the way of a really bad 80s porno soundtrack. The pace gone, and the creativity lacking, the album turns into something hardly listenable, unless of course you are into porno soundtracks.

Another flaw that I find with this album is that they still use Hegarty’s lyrics. His writing is so intimate and dark that it is hard to find it juxtaposed with disco dance beats. It all seems wholly out of place with the rest of the music. Sure, it’s great to hear Antony back again, but without the personality he carries with his piano, you find him coming off a little bit hollow; this is not what I looked forward to when I heard of this union.

If you need some dance tracks for your upcoming July 4th party, then I suggest you go out there and buy a few of these songs to keep your friends feet moving, but if you are looking for an intimate evening with Antony then you will find yourself disappointed, and possibly disillusioned with his tastes. So much for the hype.

Have yourself a go at “Hercules Theme” from the new album:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/02-hercules-theme.mp3]

Download: herculestheme.mp3

I’m Into Geeks

Just a picAugust 5th will see the release of Fasciinatiion by The Faint.  You can expect nothing but the best in dark dance tracks – like they’ve been throwing our way for years. I found this little song for you to listen to, entitled “Geeks Were Right.” You can visit the band and their tour dates (one of which includes Austin) at this pretty location.  

Get yourself a pair of tickets for the show at La Zona Rosa on August 11th. This geek will certainly be there to dance away the night with you and your friends.  I’ll be wearing black. 

Jay Reatard – Singles 06-07

Rating: ★★★½ ·

About a year ago I stumbled into Jay Reatard, well, his record, Bloodvisions. Since that day I have eaten up every piece of news I can find on the man and his band. Out of nowhere news hit me that In The Red Records would be releasing a compilation of all his old singles from various 7″s. I don’t have the money to bid for such things on eBay, so I opted for the more economical solution, buying this here compilation.

The compilation is seventeen new–well, new to me–songs, but you need to examine the tracklist first. The listing includes four different versions of songs that made their way onto Bloodvisions. The songs that might sound familiar to you are “Bloodvisions,” “Oh Its Such a Shame,”Turning Blue,” and “It’s So Easy.” You will also find that the song “Haunting You” from this very compilation sounds really familiar. In fact, if you changed the name to “Nightmares,” you would already have this song. So, you have 12 new songs, but this is all accompanied by a DVD featuring 4 live shows, which are all worth the your viewing.

Do these singles compare to the greatness of the full length? I think that depends on what exactly you are looking at when you listen to this album. Is this your first Jay Reatard experience? If so, then you might find this unique blend of lo-fi garage rock with perfect melodies simply refreshing. It’s hard not to find something to like with this band.

However, if you have previous Jay Reatard experience, you might find this collection of songs kind of a miss. The production quality is the first thing that I noticed that was different. It just didn’t pack the same punch that Bloodvisions brought you. The vocals sometimes appear more muddled than usual. Then you come to the older versions of the songs on Bloodvisions and the only one that really surpasses or equals the newer version is “Haunting You,” which was changed to “Nightmares.”

There are some interesting new twists, such as the keyboard infused “Another Person,” which brings in the bouncy melodies that typically adorn a Jay Reatard song. Also, the bluesy “Hammer I Miss You” is also an interesting touch.

All in all, this is a worthy collection for either listener, Jay Reatard newcomer or diehard. As the newcomer, you get a proper introduction to the rock stylings of Jay Reatard, which we all know is necessary when few bands are making solid rock music nowadays. For the diehard, you get to look into the past of one of your favorites. This album is really a stepping stone for any and all listeners.

The Notwist – The Devil, You + Me

Rating: ★★★★ ·

The album opener sets the tone for this album. “Good Lies,” kicks off this record with an introduction to the group’s guitar-work. It’s quite a change from their near-perfect Neon Golden. This song bounces along, being pushed by the guitars, but it doesn’t quite have the pace of songs like “Pilot,” off their previous album. Where you hope for a dramatic shift, it just goes along, then adds a little bit of the electronic beats, which is where the band receives a lot of their accolades.

Another solid number that opens a new vein for The Notwist is “Gloomy Planet.” The soothing voice of Markus Acher is layered beneath a strumming acoustic guitar, while the minimal beats dance their way to the background. The subject matter of the song seems a bit gloomier than prior efforts, but I think that title of the album really sets that mood from the minute you purchase this album.

There are definitely some redundant parts on this album, such as “Alphabet,” but I think it is really hard to pull of this dynamic sound without treading over the same round again and again. On top of that, you add the lack of range for Acher, and at times the album kind of just blends in with itself, which I think is going to be the biggest complaint from any listener. That, and there are a few moments where they push the electronic buttons a little too loud and too far, which got a little grating on my ears, as short-lived as it was.

Given some weaknesses, there are some supreme moments on this album. For me, as a listener, “On Planet Off,” is reminiscent of some of the Industrial nineties music that I just adored, only a great deal more ambient than all that. Not to mention, you don’t find a lot of songs better than “Devil, YOu + Me” these days. Then you comes along a song like “Boneless” near the end of the album to pick the pace back up and put a little bit of a bounce back in your step.

You add the faults and the good moments in this record, and you find a rarity in today’s music world. You find an album that you can listen to from start to finish; each track requires careful attention, and with that attention, each song continues to open up new doors for you. It may not be the album that blows your hair back, but it is an album that fails to let you down, which is a lot to say for a band that was surrounded in hype and anticipation.

Here’s a track off the new album called “Good Lies”:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/notwist-good-lies.mp3]

Download: goodlies.mp3

Jeremy Jay – A Place Where We Could Go

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Every once in a blue moon you happen to heed the advice of a good friend, and thus was the good fortune I had with coming across this brilliant piece of work by Jeremy Jay. This album caught me by surprise, but I am so glad that I came unto it for this is exactly the sort of album I have been searching for these past few weeks.

Now, Jeremy Jay comes across to many people as some sort of Jonathan Richman, and I can see that in the way that Jay seems to speak his lyrics rather than sing them, but his voice is a bit off from Richman’s. I tend to think of Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens –then again, I can see some of those Morrissey comparisons. I guess that’s it, you can try as you might, but Jeremy Jay has a voice all his own.

I really enjoy the song craft in these songs. Apparently, this chap is a fan of 50’s music a la Buddy Holly or Richie Valens, and this is very clear in the instrumentation. A song such as “The Living Dolls” completely encompasses this vibe, taking you back to your very own personal sock-hop. He doesn’t stop here, always staying in the vein of classic pop-song structures.

The only fault, for me as a listener, is that the music is clearly wonderful, yet it is really down low in the mix. Clearly, the focus is on Jay’s voice and lyrics, but that doesn’t mean you can turn up those guitars for the sake of the listener. Well, that is personal taste I suppose.

For the duration of this album, Jeremy focuses predominantly on the topic of love, but he approaches the subject from various different angles. Each of his songs, to me, comes across as a carefully crafted love poem–but not the kind that comes across as dishonest. I particularly enjoy the fact that there is an essence of the magical or natural world in the lyrics, which wins points in my book.

There are some faults here, such as the album falls short of 30 minutes, but for a debut full-length, its hard to come across much better than this. I have a feeling that by the end of the year this will sneak its way into my top ten–in fact, I’m reserving it a spot right now!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/02-heavenly-creatures.mp3]

Download: heavenlycreatures.mp3

Reggie and the Full Effect – Last Stop Crappy Town

Rating: ½ · · · ·

I bought this record at the store the other day because for some reason I sincerely hold fond memories of this band.  The first few records were great, and then the band slowly lost its appeal.  Congratulations Nathan! You’re an adult.

Listening to this record all day today, and last night, it was hard to remember exactly what it was about this band that I really enjoyed.  I went back to the old records from my younger days–when I was 20.  There was the answer–the remnants of pop-punk and emo. Don’t smirk! You liked this stuff too!

Anyways, in the beginning, James Dewees–keyboardist for now defunct The Get Up Kids–he blended comedy along with really solid melodies. He tossed me a few solid keyboard solos, and even through samples of hilarious clips into the album.  They were seamless, and honestly, I thought they were special–still hold a spot in my heart.

Of course, there was some remnants of hardcore on the old albums, clearly remaining from Dewees days in Coalesce. It was just a small enough dose to go well with the feel of the record.  Now, that is all that remains.

There are few moments on this record that are redeemable.  The incessant screaming is so 99′ and I just don’t have the patience for it.  And, the lyrics I could decipher were simple, though I never considered Dewees to be much of a songwriter.

For me, this was his last gasp–his “last stop” if you will.  For me, this was my last stop.  This album reminded me of where I have been, and who I have become–frankly, I’m an adult.  This record brought that to a head.  Thanks Reggie, for that you get half a star.

Cryptacize – Dig That Treasure

Rating: ★★½ · ·

On the sixth track of Crytpacize‘s debut album they sing “every note is an unfinished song,” and clearly they take this to heart, but far too much for my liking.  This song comes off just as the lyrics, leaving the feeling that they have collected a plethora of unfinished songs.

From the get go, I really was interested in this album.  Asthmatic Kitty puts out a lot of really good records, and recently, Sufjan Stevens put out his support for the band.  A lot of promise.  Then you add the perfectly beautiful vocals of singer Nedell Torrisi, and, well, the promise of this album continued.

That was about as far as the promise got for me, although I have to admit, that something curious inside me lingers to keep listening to this album–that I can’t explain.  Maybe I have to be in the middle of a different season, rather than this Texas heat.

Where did the promise go?  Probably the same place as the percussion on the majority of these songs!  It evaporated! I mean even the Five Civilized Tribes used predominantly percussive instruments. This album lacks them, severely, which makes it hard for the album to progress in any direction, instead it leaves it to meander through twelve uneven tracks.

Sadder still is that these guys have the ability to write some really special moments, such as in the song “Heaven is Human,” where I begged the guitar to break loose throughout the song, but they held it back. They showed you a guitar, a few solid lines, and then they took them away just as quickly.  This band does have a lot of potential, it is just not there yet.

Then again, Sufjan Stevens likes them, so maybe I’ve got it all wrong.  Perhaps I just don’t understand this genre of music, where musicianship takes precedent over songcraft–you can have the best musicians in the world, creative even, but if you can’t write a song, it doesn’t mean a thing.

I think you should go and see for yourself.  The band plays at the Mohawk this Saturday with Devon Williams.  You can find yourself some tickets at this convenient Interweb sales-site.

Colourmusic

While on vacation in Oklahoma, I was treated to a little melting of the face by Oklahoma’s Colourmusic at The Vault Video. They began the evening by involving the crowd in some serious stretching, just so we were prepared. From this point on, it was nothing but sweat and rock n’ roll. Musically, they reminded me of Belle and Sebastian covering metal songs; it was clever and poppy, but with a hint of some darkness. I expect to see huge things from this band in the future–and if every crowd behaves the way the one last night did, you’re in for one hell of a rock show! See some scandalous snapshots here. Read more

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