New Tunes from Summer Cats

Seeing as we’re throwing a party featuring all things Australia/New Zealand, I thought I would stick to the area and bring some jangle pop your way via Melbourne’s Summer Cats.  This number has got me bopping around my room right now, and you can tell why the energy in this tune makes it a live favorite.  I bet they’ll play it during their various shows at SXSW!  In the meantime, the tune comes your way on a new 7″ from Slumberland to be released on March 16th.  It’ll be the B-Side to the single for “Your Timetable” off last year’s Songs for Tuesdays. Go ahead, tap your feet; you know you wanna.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/summercatstv.mp3]

Download: Summer Cats – TV Guide [MP3]

Twin Tigers – Gray Waves

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s hard nowadays for a debut album to really blow people out of the water, unless you’ve had success and backing from various media outlets.  Twin Tigers have had a mild amount of press in that regard, but odds are the release of their album Gray Waves will have more people clamoring to find as much information on the group as possible.  This record moves back and forth between several musical spectrums, often times within the same song; in following this formula the group has constructed one of the most creative straight-ahead rock records in recent memory.

From the moment you click play on your stereo, you get the feeling as if you’re in for something entirely special; the discordant noise sets an ambient tone before the drums and feedback squall shatter the sonic setting on “Passive Idol.” But, just as you expect a blistering number, Twin Tigers pull back, choosing to create a more melodious moment for listeners.  Mathew Rain’s vocals seem to have some sort of echo in them, which makes him seem both haunting and dangerous.  Either way, you can’t help but to fall into this record from the get go.

“Red Fox Run” recalls some of the mid-to-late career albums of Sonic Youth, in so much as it maintains a balance between using appropriate melody and blistering noise.  Movement within the song is hard to ignore, and you can tell that thought went into every detail of the way the song unfolds.  Similarly, “Everyday” grabs you right from the get go, using a summery underlying hook that borders on bubble pop.  Still, waves of guitar noise remain in the background, and the chorus provides the perfect amount of angst that is necessary for pure rock songs.  All this before the song blasts into another direction towards the ending, only to return to the hook featured at the beginning.

Yet, Twin Tigers are not a one-trick pony they refuse to rely upon their Sonic Youth tendencies, or Rain’s howling Jesus and the Mary Chain vocals.  They’re capable of almost anything here, as “Gray Waves” suggests.  If they ended at the midpoint, this would easily be a great song of typical indie pop such as Deerhunter, but they push beyond influences, forging new ground all on their own, as witnessed by the darker vocal performance by Rain near the end.

An aside that is necessary here is the performance of Dougie Crump.  A steady drummer is a definite must if you’re going to construct mini-suites mid-song.  You’ve got to have someone who can keep everyone on track by providing the perfect rhythm; Young does this spectacularly.  On top of that, his work is magnificent in its own regard; his drum fills alone really flesh out the group’s sound as a whole. Cheers to that Richard.

All in all, Gray Waves is a remarkably refreshing debut.  Angular guitars cut and feedback throughout the entirety of the record, all the while Rain tries to utilize his vocals to keep a hint of melody to the core of Twin Tigers.  Not once can you deny the creativity and vibrance of this young band; they’re here to take their influences and build a world all their own.  And, who knows, the way they cut and paste the sonic collage here shows they just might tear that world all to pieces, but odds are you’ll still love every minute of it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/03-Everyday.mp3]

Download: Twin Tigers – Everyday [MP3]

New Tunes from Jeremy Jay

Those who’ve been following us know just how much we here at ATH love Jeremy Jay.  Not only has he already released several albums of classic American pop, but he’s got more on the way.  Splash, his newest album, is set to hit stores on May 25th via K Recs, and our preliminary listens have us thinking this will be one of our favorites of the year (or mine at least).  If you like what you hear, you need to make sure to check out Jeremy this year at SXSW.  He’s playing for free at Urban Outfitters (3/17), Beauty Bar (3/17-Official), and Flamingo Cantina (3/18).  You’ll want to check the guy out, and then you’ll want to get your hands on his new album, and those old ones are probably required for your collection as well.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Jeremy_Jay_Splash_07_This_Is_Our_Time.mp3]

Download: Jeremy Jay – This Is Our Time [MP3]

Jaguar Love – Hologram Jams

Rating: ½ · · · ·

When the Jaguar Love project first came to fruition, it was initially 2 parts Blood Brothers and 1 part Pretty Girls Make Graves.  They released an incredible single with “Highways of Gold.”  That was then.  Now the band is 2 parts Blood Brothers and no parts PGMG; will this affect the sound of Hologram Jams?  The answer is yes, and you’ll be surprised how much.

Take Me to the Sea, the group’s first album was fueled with the energy you would expect from Blood Brothers, but this new band doesn’t even really resemble anything of that, other than that you can always recognize Johnny Whitney’s vocals.  That’s about the only thing remaining that you will find on Hologram Jams.

Unfortunately, the missing percussionist Jay Clark really leaves a huge gaping whole in the music.  Instead of turning to another drummer, the remaining duo went straight to a drum machine.  The Nylon Tour in 09′ featured the group as such, but many hoped that this was just a temporary solution.  Without Clark, the beats seem really uninspired, and the guitars of Cody Votalato don’t really add an extra dimension.  If you take “Cherry Soda,” it just sounds like programmed beats with auto-tune. 

After all the promise of the early recordings of this band, Hologram Jams is an enormous let down.  Lyrically, it just seems extremely cheesy. Here’s a sample from “Up All Night” : “We stayed up all night, and saw the sun come up.”  This is disheartening, as the lyrics just come across as if they were written by a teenager in the midst of his first experience with partying. 

While your nostalgic tendencies want to recall the glory dates of Blood Brothers, this album seems to damage everything that they established.  People remarked that this was a New Order meets Black Flag, but instead it comes across like a hardcore Kesha album, only cheesier. 

Perhaps the criticism is extremely unfair, and I’m being overly harsh.  I thought about that sincerely, especially after I praised this band all during the summer of 08, but I feel like I owe every person who read that stuff an apology.  This is possibly one of the least enjoyable listening experiences of my life.  I can back this up with four simple comments: 1) These sound like the beats already programmed into any keyboard you buy at Wal-Mart 2) The guitar doesn’t even seem to serve a purpose on this record 3) Lyrics are pre-pubescent 4) I just deleted this from my iTunes.

Sorry guys, but while I love early Jaguar Love moments, Hologram Jams is the least listenable thing I’ve come across in a lifetime.

2/26 Tegan and Sara @ Bass Concert Hall

We here at Austin Town Hall were fortunate enough to get our hands on some tickets for the much anticipated Tegan and Sara at Bass Concert Hall on Friday night.  Touring in support of their latest release, Sainthood, the girls were accompanied by the beautiful Holly Miranda and Steel Train.  A sold out crowd filled the hall, and you could hear the buzz as all the fans anxiously awaited the beginning of the night. Follow the jump for the full show review and pics.

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Rogue Wave – Permalight

Rating: ★½ · · ·

Let’s face it, Zach Rogue hasn’t had it easy.  He was forced into rock n’ roll because of the dot-com bust, and his band lost a former member/friend in a fire, not to mention his own health issues. Through it all, Zach has tried to put a light on his life with Rogue Wave.  Now comes the release of their fourth album, Permalight.

“Solitary Gun” begins the album on the right foot.  It features Zach’s cool California vocals with a twangy guitar.  Percussion here correlates to the song itself, brightening the aesthetic quality of the tune, despite the underlying dark theme. But, this is about as good as it will get.

“Good Morning” has Zach channeling a bit of Passion Pit as he uses synthesized beats to build the hook within the song.  Somehow, the chorus sounds a lot like Postal Service (or Owl City if you like).  It comes across really generic and uninspired, especially the bouncing beat that goes with the chorus.   Such a song is shocking considering the depth in all the songs on Asleep at Heaven’s Gate.  All that depth has clearly gone out the window; disappointing.

A lot of Permalight seems really mundane, if not a bit forced.  “Stars and Stripes” features more of that out of place electronic palette. But, what hits you the most is the redundancy of the lyrics; you here the words stars and stripes too much to recollect any of the other banal details in the song.  Similar issues plague the lyrics on “Fear Itself;” you can only repeat lyrics so many times before they lose all importance.

Don’t forget, however, that Rogue Wave has always been capable of crafting really good pop moments.  “Right With You” seems like something Nada Surf would have done long ago, or maybe Ok Go.  “I’ll Never Leave You” is also standing near the end of the album, but it’s one of the few tunes that really tugs at your heart.  It’s a mostly acoustic number with some sort of shaker echoing in the background while Zach’s vocals carry the whole of the song. Much can be said, too, of “All That Remains.”  It ends the album on a high note, at least as far as quality goes.

Looking back on Permalight as a whole, you can’t help but feel really let down.  There are some moments here, like “I’ll Never Leave You” that show the abilities of Zach and his band, but you get the feeling throughout that the album is somehow left unfinished.  It’s as if the label needed something, and this was all there was, which perhaps explains the foray into electronic backing during certain moments.  Despite a few enjoyable moments, the album struggles to rise high like the previous Rogue Wave records.

Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Two years ago Jonathan Meiburg released Rook under his project, Shearwater; it was an operatic endeavor, which came across forceful in moments, while resting quietly in others.  His band returns with The Golden Archipelago, along with an abbreviated dossier, unless you opt to shell out the bucks for the completed dossier.  An album such as this is not something to take lightly; it’s full of depth and precision, all of which successfully push the listener into the realm of masterpiece as created by Meiburg and associates.

“Meridian” is a tricky album opener, especially for those mindful of the band’s past releases, Rook in particular.  Slowly the song builds upon the quietest strum of guitar matched perfectly with Jonathan’s falsetto.  The tone is somewhat ominous, especially with echoing vocals in the background and the orchestral touches.  You expect a crash of some sort, similar to that exhibited on the first track of Rook, but instead, the song sort of fizzles to an end suddenly.  It pushes you into “Black Eyes,” which is perhaps the loudest of the tracks on this collection.

Once you arrive at “Landscape at Speed” you begin to arrive at core of the album.  Consistent rim shots provide a hollow percussive element to barely audible strumming.  Instead of focusing this number on the guitar work, Shearwater fills out the space with various snippets of noise.  It’s the sort of restraint demonstrated in the work of fellow Austinites, Spoon; these sorts of approaches tend to keep listeners in a holding pattern of sorts, asking you to indulge yourself in the cinematic quality of the record.

However, songs like “God Made Me” are precisely what make everything Meiburg does relevant to the broader spectrum of music listeners.  His strong vocal performance in front of string instruments begs you to hold onto every emotion within, only to release it during the semi-chorus that leaves his vocals feeling somewhat scratchy like his one-time bandmate from Okkervil River, Will Sheff.  The barrage of banging pianos only heightens such a release, yet he manages to let you rest quietly as the song fades into thin air. Finally, he seems to have taken his songwriting as seriously as he’s taken the orchestration of his previous albums.

Those looking for an album constructed of singles and hits might not find such numbers here, at least not apparent to the naked ear, so to speak. “Castaways” has a pounding drum beat that illustrates that Shearwater is more than just a project of Meiburg.  But, his vocals cresting and crashing warrant the song one of the most accessible on the album, though time spent with The Golden Archipelago finds all these songs as such.

Perhaps the best summation of this album is the second to last song, “Uniforms,” existing in a dense world brought on relative noise before kicking in with powerful vocals.  Just as the vocals signal for bombast, they’re immediately pulled back in favor of a more gentle confrontation with the listener.  At  2.5 minutes into the song, you’re greeted with the complete ensemble of the band smashing everything into a raucous moment, all before the song peters out.  With that, you find yourself at the end of an album that seems to revel in the contrasting experiences of quite and loud; it’s a trick used by many in the past, yet never done in such an operatic manner as we find here on The Golden Archipelago.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/08-Castaways-1.mp3]

Download: Shearwater – Castaways [MP3]

SXSW Watchlist: Grand Atlantic

We’re falling in love with the South Pacific this year.  Bands like Crayon Fields, Surf City and The Clean have made their mark on our site, and I’ve found another gem in Australia’s Grand Atlantic.  This band shoots straight for the heart of those in love with power-pop.  There’s a little bit of fuzz in their sound, which recalls Teenage Fanclub or the lesser known band, The Comas.  But, the tune I’m bringing you today reminds me a lot of Dandy Warhols.  All these little markings demonstrate just what a wide array of influences go into the band’s most recent album How We Survive. In a year where guitar bands are making their comeback, this is a group you’ll want to catch during SXSW.  It’s just simple poewr-pop, made for those about to rock. They’re playing Sounds Australia party, as well as a few other dates, so do yourself a favor and get into Grand Atlantic.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/02-Tripwires-1.mp3]

Download: Grand Atlantic – Tripwires [MP3]

New Tunes from The Bewitched Hands on Top of Our Heads

Occasionally you get an email with an MP3 from a band you really know nothing about.  Usually, you listen once, realize you don’t dig it, and discard.  Just the opposite happened when I first put on The Bewitched Hands on Top of Our Heads.  Their single “Hard to Cry” went by easily at first, but something about the building harmonies caught me, and I had to play it again. Made up of six folks from France, The Bewitched Hands will grab hold of you, tugging you into their world of intelligent pop music.  The band will be around all during the week of SXSW, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on those events soon.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/HardToCry_48-2-1.mp3]

Download: The Bewitched Hands on Top of Our Heads – Hard to Cry [MP3]

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