New Tunes from Passion Pit

passionPassion Pit has been all the rage since releasing their EP last year, and the new album, Manners, is riding along the hype machine, to what we can only hope is a worthy debut. This song, “The Reeling” starts off a bit slow, but wait a few seconds and you will see why the band has garnered a lot of praise from the media. Coated in the past, but pushing forward.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/passionpit-thereeling.mp3]

Download: Passion Pit – The Reeling [MP3]

Harlem Shakes – Technicolor Health

harlem

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Every once in a while you walk across a band with a little bit of a reputation, and very little else.  This is where you come across Harlem Shakes, a band that has been slowly climbing the indie-pop ladder rung by rung.  Their new album, Technicolor Health, will only encourage more people to climb upon their back as they aim to reach the top.

Opening the album, you’ll find that various electronic elements are crawling all over the first song, much the way that they crawl all over the entire album. But, these little bleeps and blips grab more urgency when the rest of the band kicks in, throwing horns and guitar into the mix.  It’s an eclectic sound to say the least, but they manage wrangle it all together in an effort to create pop gems.

Singer Lexy bares a strong resemblance to the vocal registry of John K Samson of The Weakerthans, especially in “Strictly Game,” though just as you start to hear that in his voice, it changes directions.  This is precisely one of the elements of this album that allows listeners to maintain their interest, as the band takes turn after turn through their pop repertoire, leaving nary a stone unturned.  The entire kitchen sink has been nicely set in this album, and yet it still all sounds remarkably charming.

Some of the songs are downright destined to encourage you to shake your boots, but then there are other moments that seem to show a certain bit of restraint.  “Niagra Falls” appears to pay homage to a bit of classic rock elements, and one might even say shares a missing link with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, back when they were still good.  The piano laden track bubbles gently beneath the surface of your ear drum, drifting off quietly just before it gets annoying.

Such seems to be the story of the band.  What once would be considered overbearing self-indulgence in instrument usage is restrained just enough so as not to appear as such.  Just as you think it all begins to get to be a bit too much, the band pulls it all back in, honing their skills in the craft of restraint. Your left with a great sense of respect, as the combination of such instruments never seems to be entirely too much, though looking at the inclusion of these things would lead you think otherwise.

Everything here is simpler than one expects, which is how this band will win you over.  They’ve created an album full of songs that push your boundaries of listening, yet draw you in with catchy melodies and clever lyrics.  At times, it might be a bit much for the listener due to the overabundance of sounds, but like the band, you should show restraint, and give this album a proper chance, as repeated listening provides for great rewards.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/04-niagara-falls.mp3]

Download: Harlem Shakes – Niagra Falls [MP3]

New Tunes from Death Cab for Cutie

deathSomewhere in the history of my adolescence, I adored this band. I’ve watched them change and grow from album to album, always finding something to appreciate. There newest album Narrow Stairs saw them branch further than before, but it also didn’t seem to fulfill Ben Gibbard’s desire for perfect acoustic songs with Death Cab. This number reminds us all why we fell in love with his songwriting, and check the midway mark for a change in the song’s progression. The song is the first track off their new Open Door EP coming out next week digitally.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/deathcabforcutie-littlebribes.mp3]

Download: Death Cab for Cutie – Little Bribes [MP3]

Strange Boys – and Girls Club

strange

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Austin’s very own The Strange Boys finally have an album for everyone to share with their friends, though we suggest doing so in a legal manner.  After all the waiting, we finally get to see what these young gents have to offer us all; it’s precisely what we all expected, and this is meant in an endearing fashion.

One of the first things most listeners will come across is that the album sounds a bit muddy, as if the boys dragged these songs from beneath a rock on the patio of your favorite dive bar. It’s a taste that most listeners will have to endure, but many more will find rewarding.

Similarly, listeners will likely complain that singer Ryan Sambol’s vocals are a little bit shattering.  At times his lyrics are downright hard to decipher, drowned in a Southern sort of drawl, and drawn out until the very last possible syllable.  Still, if you give it a bit of love and devotion, it’s bound to worm its way into your heart.

Where precisely would one place the music on this record?  Besides Austin?  Well, step back into the storied history of a struggling middle class during the sixties.  Turn right just past the nearest alley, and walk into the dingy bar filling with smoke as we speak.  Here you will find the band and their album and Girls Club. It’s a dense sound, filled with frustration, fear and a destiny all of its own; a destiny soaked, more often than not, in debauchery.

Similarities abound, especially when one focuses on some of the melodic moments, such as the guitar during “No Way for a Slave to Behave,” which resembles the last era of the great American sock-hop.  It swings you left and right, as you grab the girl nearest you.  If it didn’t have that raw emotion and production, one might find such a song on American Bandstand.

Blues and R&B elements are also in abundance, making one reminisce for the legendary days where teenagers snuck off to cozy up to their romantic interest such as on the song “This Girls Taught Me a Dance.”  Even with such elements, they band pull out little rays of sunlight with the guitar work, creating moving songs intended for masses motivated for the subversive culture.

Combine this all with various other classic rock n’ roll elements, and by that we reference Chuck Berry, not your local station that plays everything by the Eagles.  It’s a fusion of everything dirty about the story of rock n’ roll, and even the lyrics seem to draw from a day when causing a ruckus was more of just a good time as opposed to a violent act.  Stories of stealing girls from their man along with serving time don’t seem to revel in senseless crimes, rather the need for diversion in the sterile world.  Use hit song “Heard You Want to Beat Me Up” as an example for such lyrical meanderings.

And the story is written.  You find yourself slowly warming up to a band intent upon returning to the day when music not only had artistic elements, but moments devoted purely to the enjoyment to those on stage and in an audience.  Every twist and turn, every influence, and every word will make you yearn for precisely the same thing, and you’ll want to share it with the band.

New Tunes from Bill Callahan

billWe know this is a few days late, but seeing as we were busy enjoying SXSW, we didn’t have time to throw this up right away, which is a shame because we love our fellow Austinite, Bill Callahan.  This track is off his forthcoming record Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, which hits stores April 14th on Drag City. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/bill-callahan-eid-ma-clack-shaw.mp3]

Download: Bill Callahan – Eid Ma Clack Shaw [MP3]

Jeremy Jay – Slow Dance

jeremy-jay

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Jeremy Jay seems to be relentless when it comes to releasing material, as this is his second album in two years, on top of various 12″s and 7″s.  Slow Dance, once again released by K Records, is not a huge departure from last year’s effort, but there are some subtle differences that demonstrate Jeremy’s move into brand new territory.

“We Were There” enters the game with some noticeable keyboard work to comfortably coat the song in a dense fog of 80s synth melodies.  At the core, it’s still the same old Jeremy pushing forward driving rhythms to accompany his spoken word delivery, but the new element displays a decision to pursue different ground.

“In This Lonely Town” picks up the same style from last years A Place Where We Could Go, with its swaying rhythm moving back and forth across the speakers.  At this point it seems as if the man can construct these songs with such ease that it’s hard to see him not releasing an album a year.  “Gallop” plants its roots in the same soil as the preceding song, but that bass line just begs you to bop along the way.

“Canter Canter” and “Slow Dance” pull back the reins just a little bit, as they drop the steady groove that has given the album its pacing up until this point.  Not only do the vocals seem to take a step back, but the overall movement of the tracks demonstrates Jeremy’s newfound appreciation for a track that will build and build upon itself.  Still, the vocal lay of the land is the most noticeable change here, as if our narrator is slow dancing his way through a field of poppies.

Then comes “Winter Wonder” into the scene.  Another slow number, but the remnants of this song don’t seem rooted in either classic rock n’ roll nostalgia nor 80s throwback. In fact, it’s one of the most modern songs Jeremy Jay has constructed to date, which definitely wins him some points, as he seems to finally control the slower tendencies of this album.  But he immediately jumps back into the classic R&B sound on “Will You Dance With Me.”  The barely audible piano meshed with the bass work propels the song along, though still noticeably slower than pervious numbers.

The closing number here is probably one of the better songs he’s written to date.  It’s as if he is channeling a more traditional approach to independent music, with gentle guitar work smeared with flowery vocals.  This would fit perfectly in the lexicon of classic 90s indie pop songs, and it’s the perfect close to another admirable piece of work from Jeremy Jay.

As it all draws to a close, the one thing that will remain with listeners is that Jeremy Jay has gone a bit slow on us.  While the first half of the album benefits from the pacing of old, the second half demonstrates the songwriters capabilities to compose slower melodic moments.  Not a huge change overall, but another solid piece of work.

New Jeremy Enigk

jeremyenigkFrom his storied turn towards Christianity to his involvement in legendary emo band Sunny Day Real Estate, Jeremy Enigk has lived a well-documented life, though unfortunately, it often is more tabloid fodder than about the music. However, this new tune shows that the backbone of piano combined with his voice still gives Jeremy that winning nod from fans.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/jeremy-enigk-mind-idea.mp3]

Download: Jeremy Enigk – Mind Idea [MP3]

New Tunes from Apostle of Hustle

apostle Andrew Whiteman is just one of the many heads that is Broken Social Scene, but, like all the rest, he has a solo outfit with Apostle of Hustle.  The groups new album Eats Darkness is coming out via Arts and Crafts Records May 19th, and we offer you the first single, “Perfect Fit” for your enjoyment. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/apostle-of-hustle-perfect-fit.mp3]

Download: Apostle of Hustle – Perfect Fit [MP3]

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