Beck – Modern Guilt

Rating: ★★★ · ·

When reviewing a Beck record I think you come across some very difficult waters. The man is revered by so many, and at the same time, it’s become increasingly difficult to put a definition on his music. You have to respect that, yet at the same time, it’s not the easiest thing to write about.

With this album, you have the uber-producer Danger Mouse aiding the production along the way. It’s kind of an odd step, and one that I was skeptical of – I’m not a DM kind of guy. That’s where we begin.

The album opens well enough with “Orphans.” You have some of the staple touches of DM, accompanied by the gentle guitar work of Beck, for which he always wins me over. He throws in some hand-claps as well, which I believe is becoming a bit of a Beck staple. It’s a good start.

“Gamma Ray” is the next track, and its the track you expected to hear on this album. It’s got a bouncing little bass line that pushes the song all the way through. Sure, you have vocals and such, but if you can’t get into this bass line, then you can’t get into this song. This is definitely a high-point on the album.

“Chemtrails” seems like an odd song to follow the previous track. It’s mellow atmospherics leave it completely juxtaposed to “Gamma Ray,” which is probably the intention. Stay with this song because it picks up in the end, with Beck or Danger Mouse, doing his best Stereolab/Air imitation.

The album’s title track comes next. Once again, this is a head bobber. You can’t help but realize that your feet are tapping, while Beck’s familiar voice dances on in the background. Honestly, I’m starting to realize that his voice is playing second fiddle on some of these more upbeat songs, which is kind of disappointing.

I didn’t get much from “Youthless.” You can blame me for poor tastes I guess. Perhaps because it comes off to me like Beck vs. Gnarls Barkley.

I love the next track, or I love the vocals on this next track, “Walls.” The beats present in the background don’t do much to enhance this song. Beck has that passion in his voice here, but it’s the kind of passion that makes you wish he would just pick up his guitar and sing it to you straight.

Then you can skip the next track. I did.

We find ourselves at “Soul of a Man.” This is a solid track, and another of the upbeat numbers you will find, even if the guitar sound does come off like every other garage rock tune you’ve heard in the past years. But, the pace is stepped back up on the album, which is probably where the focus of this album should stay, which it does. “Profanity Prayers” continues the pace, with pounding drums in your ears. One of the better songs on the album. To me this album just screams good times. This should definitely be included in the live set; it just has that feel to it.

Then we close the album with “Volcano.” A down-trodden little number where the acoustic guitar work really makes me reminisce about Sea Changes. It’s a good call to close the album here. For me, its the song that most resembles the Beck I came to know and like. Nice call here.

As I play this time and time again, I can’t help but feel a little distance from it. I don’t find Danger Mouse’s work very interesting, in fact, I think it kind of comes off like everything else he’s done recently. Perhaps he’s just tapped into the same thing one too many times. Due to that, it just doesn’t have the feel of a solid Beck album. Sure, there are some high points, like “Gamma Ray” and “Volcano,” but there are some moments that just don’t reach the listener.

I guess at the end of the day, he can do whatever he really wants to do. He’s earned that right, and as long as he keeps releasing albums with several great songs, I think he’ll still be important. I’m just waiting for him to put out that solid album, all the way through. I’ll keep waiting.

Below is “Gamma Ray” off the new album:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/02-gamma-ray.mp3]

Download: gammaray.mp3

Albert Hammond Jr. – Como te Llama

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When Albert Hammond Jr. released his first record, I was completely skeptical. Could the guitar player step outside of his work with The Strokes and go it alone, successfully? The answer was an astonishing yes! That record filled my ears with gem after gem of sunny pop tunes. The new question was could he maintain that on his newest effort? Could he make me question the genius behind his other band once again?

Yes and no.

The opening track, “Bargain of a Century” comes in with swelling guitars, and what sounds like some bass lines stolen from the closet of his old band, added with a flare of piano. The vocal effects are all very reminiscent of his last effort, yet also quite like his pal Julian Casablancas. This song sets the pace for the rest of the record, demonstrating that at his best, Albert can write a really infectious tune.

The next two songs are good enough, but I go through them time and time again without really holding on to any redeemable quality. This isn’t to say that these are bad songs, for surely someone will enjoy them, but I just kind of found them as filler, holding time before we get to the next track.

Now, “GfC,” the fourth track is the single from this album, or the first one at least, and deservedly so. Every time I listen to this track, I immediately want to push repeat. A song like this shows just what a great songwriter Albert actually is; he’s a forced to be reckoned with more often than not. My head bobs, the wind blows in my hair, and all I can do is grin like a child. Beautiful.

Once again you find yourself at an impasse. The next few songs don’t pack the punch you’ve grown used to by this point. He seems to have missed a step with these songs, but I urge you to proceed through these songs with open ears because the chorus on “Rocket” is a superb moment in a fairly subpar song, which I suppose makes this song wonderful in its own way. Chills creep down my skin each time those guitars come blasting in to my speakers.

Hidden in those tracks is “You Won’t Be Fooled by This,” which is a track that most closely resembles his work in that other band . It’s a classic song, and it makes me wonder if Albert is just better off to go it alone. Really.

“Spooky Couch,” is an awful song. It is a seven minute instrumental tune that adds nothing to the album. I am not sure why its on here. Please skip this song.

Albert steps up the pace again after that yawner. He proceeds through the next few tracks with fervor, and possibly too much. A little more focus would have made those songs as memorable as the earlier tracks on this album.

And then we come to a close ladies and gentlemen with “Feed Me Jack…” which is as close to a classic ballad as this fellow has come. It might not be the best ballad of all time, but I like it for the fact that he went another direction entirely, using this song to display just how strong his voice is. It’s lacking lyrically, but a good solid step.

You see, Albert Hammond can write some amazing songs. He doesn’t need that other band to establish his credibility, but the weaknesses of this record hint that if there were a few more members battling against his ideas, then we might just have another great record in our future. All in all, Albert stands on his own, continuing to show us that he is force to be reckoned with in the pop world; all on his own. Dig it.

Below is the single we posted a long long time ago “GFC”:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/04-gfc.mp3]

Download: gfc.mp3

Earlimart – Hymn and Her

Rating: ★★★½ ·

California’s Earlimart has released their 4th studio album, this one coming just a year or so after the release of Mentor Tormentor, which was one of my favorite releases of 2007. I found it an odd choice to release another album so quickly, but I wasn’t let down by this effort.

“Song For,” the opening track, begins with some bouncing percussion, as the music crashes in behind it, you are reminded of similar California acts such as Grandaddy or early Rogue Wave-neither of which is a bad comparison in my book.

Aaron Espinoza has a perfect voice for the melodic sounds of his band, as he gently sings through this album, resembling the softness of his friend Eliott Smith. It’s a comparison I am sure he is sick of at this point, but one that creeps up time and time again in his music.

“Before it Gets Better” introduces the audience to equally strong voice of Ariana Murray, the other mainstay member in the Earlimart lineup. Backed by the softness of a piano, she sings about the realization that before anything gets better, its bound to get worse. Despite the undertones of this song, Ariana allows the listener to empathize with her feelings–a good feat I dare say. Her lead role on “Time For Yourself” makes it another bright spot on the album, which I think has a lot to do with her voice in contrast to Espinoza. At some points I just find her more fitting, but that could be due to her songwriting on such songs.

Unfortunately, I found that there were some spots that missed their mark–for me as a listener. Tracks like “God Love You the Best” or “Cigarettes and Kerosene” found me searching in earnest for the uniqueness that opened the album. Even when the guitars burst in on “Cigarettes and Kerosene” I found it lacking the personality of other songs that are present. Even the title track, “Hymn and Her,” seems like a track that blends into the background of this album.

However, I found a beautiful gem on this record in the song “For the Birds.” It has the gentle quality of Espinoza, backed by the “ooohs” from Murray, all thrown into the mix with a quiet backing of piano and a strumming acoustic guitar. This is the most special moment on this album.

At times, Earlimart waiver from their focus, and it is that tendency to operate on musical tangents that has always hurt their albums. Their strengths come in when they combine Espinoza’s voice with Murray’s, using carefully constructed soundscapes to back the vocals. Lucky for us, there are plenty of those moments on this record.

Listen to the first single off the album “Song For” below:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/01-song-for.mp3]

download: songfor.mp

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

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