Cursive – Mama I’m Swollen

cursive

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Tim Kasher has always been a voice living on the darker side of lyrical content, filling his words with his own animosity, with the subject often turning to his own reflection.  Aptly titled, the new Cursive album, Mama I’m Swollen, is another album based on his own self-reflection, and, well, deprecation.

It takes a few seconds of ambient noise, thirty-four to be exact, before Cursive burst in with a fever known to most fans of the band.  The guitars cut through your ears with the sharpness of a polished knife, as Kasher sings ” don’t want to live in the now/don’t want to know what I know.” The sentiment seems to be that the man, himself, is unhappy with the way things have turned out.  Regardless, the ferocity of this song is a welcome opener.

Skip right ahead to the obvious single, “From the Hips,” which starts the opening minute with a gentle pace, pushed along by the guitar; its reminiscent of The Good Life, Kasher’s other focal point for musical expression.  That is until the drums kick in, carrying the song forward, with the remainder of the song revolving around the drums and Tim’s remarkable voice.  Happy Hollow horns close the song, a wonderful second track.

Then we find the angular guitar work of the band echoing in the dense hollows of the next few songs, as the sounds seems to bounce off your ears, just as Kasher’s voice rises and falls with that dark edge that only he can wield with such perfection.  It’s clear that he’s borrowed a bit from his other musical outing, but the darkness associated with Cursive albums clearly shines through the familiar elements. By this point, your four tracks into the latest musical excursion.

“Caveman” brings in a newer element to the fold, as it seems like a barroom stomper, filled out with the accompaniment of horns.  Here we find a man that seems content with where he’s at in his life.  On top of that, its clear by this point, the middle of the album, that Tim’s voice is back; its probably never sounded as strong as it does here. But, the sentiment is contradicted by the following song, as the gentle statement of “we’re going to hell, we’re going to hell” rings in listeners ears.  Lyrical content aside, this is one of the most beautiful songs on the albums, one where we once again see the passion of our pained hero.

From here on out, the fierceness of the songs diminishes, but there is clearly a brighter side to things.  Each of the following songs has a new attitude in the songwriting process.  While still holding tight to the stylistic leanings that put Saddle Creek Records on the map, there’s a new sense of clarity to the songs, as they seem less dense than previous efforts, which has made way for some of the stronger songs this side of the Cursive catalog.

Closing out the album is “What Have I Done.” Here, you find one of the better lyrics of the album, if not, the year, as Kasher sings “I spent the best years of my life, waiting on the best years of my life.”  It seems as if he’s looking back upon his whole life, or career, with a sense of regret, which is unfortunate, as this sets of songs are some of his best yet.  When he asks the audience “what have I done,” our response to Tim should be that he’s put together a complete album, full of masterful songs, including the grandiose closing statement at the end.  You’ve done great Tim.

SXSW Watchlist: Kevin Devine

kdevineLong ago Kevin Devine was just your average singer/songwriter, coasting along on the coattails of pop-punk, although it was clearly that he never really fit in musically. His early shows were intimate affairs, as witnessed by last year’s performance at SXSW where the entire audience sat down to watch him intricately pick at his guitar. Still, there’s plenty of passion in his voice.

Kevin has a knack for writing careful lyrics combined with his innate understanding of melodies. He matches it all with his fervor and personality, as his stage banter makes it easy to fall in love with the man singing on stage. This year, he’ll be bringing his God Damn Band in tow to fill out the sounds for his upcoming release Brother’s Blood.

He’ll be playing at the Radio Room Patio on Wednesday, March 18th at 11:oo PM.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/09-i-coule-be-with-anyone.mp3]

Download: Kevin Devine – I Could Be with Anyone [MP3]

New Tunes from It Hugs Back

ithugsback UK band It Hugs Back has been hitting the presses lateley without a lot of love on both sides of the pond.  Their debut album, Inside Your Guitar, is set to come out this April via heralded label 4AD. There sound combines the gentleness of 90s indie groups while bringing a modern spin on the whole ordeal.  Take notice now, because with a song like “Work Day,” this band is poised to win you over.

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

Download: It Hugs Back – Work Day [MP3]

The Great Nostalgic – s/t

thegreatnostalgicstalbumcover

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s rare nowadays when an artist will actually create a world and sound, one which takes you upon a journey within an album.  We’re a culture that’s reverted back to the days of singles and 7″s, but some of us still yearn for that legendary trip throughout an album, carried up and down by the songwriters; that is precisely what newcomers The Great Nostalgic have created with their debut self-titled album.

Opening the album with “Grace,” a song based entirely around deep piano chords creates a moment of solemnity, encouraging the listener to settle down as the album begins to take flight.  And from here the band go straight into “The Kingdom” where the band slowly start to assert themselves as a complete force to reckon with as guitars crash carefully mid-song.  Subject-wise, the band sets us up as singer Abram Shook carries you back home with him to a place where his memories hold great importance.  Listen close as wave after wave of guitar noise crash upon you near the song’s end, coated in a dense fog of noise.

From here, we journey into a song about “Young Lovers,” one of the songs destined to be a hit with audiences.  Here you find a bounce to the band that wasn’t present in the earlier moments of the album, and its a welcome change of pace as the band carry you to yet another plateau in their reptoire. Listening, you can bounce along the entire time, but the prize comes as the snare drum rattles in tight unison with guitar work at the end of the album.  But, just as soon as your body is moving, they draw you back in with a more subtle song.  Shook seems to be dealing with a bit of defeat, but his undying love, or infatuation, pushes him to hunt his love, played in part by the band’s occasional guest female vocalist, Pink Nasty.

Still, they’ve got haunting elements to carry with them, as they do in “Fall River Dream” in which the narrator seems to follow aimlessly down a river filled with mistakes and dreams both touching and demonic.  Our narrator yearns to be free, hoping the water washes it all away.  And off we go with “Fire Brigade,” which has a looming sense of doom, especially when the guitar work is shortened, matched by the pounding of phenomenal guest drummer John Kolar (Sunset).  It’s an epic moment in the album, one filled with a sense of complex dark chaos.

Thus comes one of the best tracks on the album, though admittedly, they are all exceptional in their own right, “County Line.”  Combining keyboard elements and angular guitar work creates a certain tension, yet allows for pristine pop moments.  It takes us back to the story of the young lovers, but in doing so it brings a certain sense of ferocity, along with accusations of someone “living someone else’s life.”  Juxtaposed, however, is “Legend,” one of the songs that bubbles with creativity alongside an atmospheric sound of swelling guitars and electronics just before the pace is quickened; the introduction of horns certainly moves this song into a realm beyond its predecessors.  And so “Queen and Country” reintroduces you to Pink Nasty along with Diedre Gott and Abram Shook, together at last, at least as far as lyrical delivery goes.

And the album begins to draw to a close with ‘The House of My Father.”  Rumbling drums melded with Shook’s voice, as it echoes in the forefront of the song make for memorable moments, and the urgency with which the band performs does not go unnoticed.  Here we rise to the seeming climax of the album, after various ebbs and flows through the valley of the album.  Then we have the end, the “Return to the Kingdom” where we go back to where it all began, to a place where its full of memories.  Marching goes the band, and our heart beats along until the end, where we are blasted by the album’s coda.

So through it all, the band mixes up their textures, their approaches and their delivery.  They carefully craft an album that allows you to start at one point, and follow the band until the end.  One couldn’t have asked for more from a fairly young band, as they deliver one of the most complete albums to come out this year.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/07_county_line.mp3]

Download: The Great Nostalgic – County Line [MP3]

You can catch this band Friday (3/6) at Club Deville as part of the Cacophony Records party.

New Tunes from Art Brut

artArt Brut is one of those unassuming bands who you aren’t quite sure whether to trust, as they seem to be toying with you the entire time.  Just listening to the delivery of singer Eddie Argos makes you question his genuineness in the face of the music world. Regardless, the band has loads to offer, especially in the fierceness of the rest of the music.  RCRDLBL has the preview of a new track off their album Art Brut vs. Satan, so go there now.

SXSW Watchlist: Telekinesis

telekinesisMichael Benjamin Lerner records under the moniker of Telekinesis, and he’s the most recent signing to indie stalwart Merge Records. His self-titled album is set to come out on April 7th, and its precisely the sort of album one would want with a Spring release; its full of warmth, yet filled with memorable pop moments.

His whole sound is difficult to put down on paper, as there seem to be many underlying elements. At some moments, he sounds like the more mature brother of young Ben Kweller, when Ben was geared towards the poppier side of life. Still, you might find some resemblance to Brendan Benson‘s solo works here, as fuzzed out guitar is mixed with precision drumming.  Even more interesting is a song like “Foreign Room,” which recalls Elliott Smith moments before picking up pace, all done to perfection. Mark my words, Telekinesis should be on your radar, and not just for SXSW.

He will be playing at The Parish on Saturday, March 21st at 8 PM.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/06-foreign-room.mp3]

Download: Telekinesis – Foreign Room [MP3]

Delta Spirit @ Emo’s Show Review

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Saturday night was probably not the most enjoyable evening on which to catch a show, as it was freezing cold here in Austin, but many brave souls opted to push through the wintry weather in pursuit of a good evening of music.  Those in attendance were able to catch Dawes, Other Lives and Delta Spirit honing their skills on stage. Here are our thoughts on the evening.

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The Boy Least Likely To – The Law of…

boy

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Britain’s The Boy Least Likely To have made waves in the past with their multi-instrumental pop tunes, and their back at it again with their latest release The Law of the Playground. Their sound clearly hasn’t evolved too much on this album, as they rely upon the same set of tricks that gained them popularity in the first place.

Once you press play, those of indie-pop should surely find a resemblance in vocalist Jof’s delivery, as his voice is a clear descendant of Matt Sharp of Rentals and Weezer fame. Even the musical accompaniment encourages this association, but its nice to have a familiar voice singing in your ear, even if it comes from someone entirely new.

Musically, you can find lots of similarities to various bands.  The usage of multiple instruments throughout the album recall memories of other groups such as Architecture in Helsinki or I’m From Barcelona.  All three groups rely upon an extensive use of layering in order to complete the accomplished goal at hand.  And their is no shortage of bells and whistles here, not by a long shot.

You know the saying “everything and the kitchen sink,” well, it certainly applies.  There indeed are bells and whistles, and it seems as if the band uses any thing at their command to create infectious melodies.  Add some horns, and you’ll find that every single instrument you could imagine to find on a pop album is utilized here.  It’s great in concept, but it has a tendency to wear the listener down.  Just saying.

Now, looking deep in the lyrics will be hard to, as there really isn’t a great deal of depth swirling around the presentation here. Let’s take a song like “When Life Gives You Lemons I Make Lemonade.”  Can you work a larger cliche into song than that one?  Probably not.  Which is precisely where this band loses you; their lack of interest, or seeming disinterest, is where you start to feel frustrated in listening to the band.   They’ve built these perfectly crafted songs, yet they can’t ever seem to close the deal by attaching quality lyrics to such melodies.

Two albums into their career, the band have created a wide array of pop gems to their name, each built with precision and attention to every melodic detail.  Time after time, they surprise you with moments of splendor, as they do in “Stringing up Conkers” on their most recent release.  But, in the end, they always leave you craving for more, be it in regards to lyrics, or in regards to wanting more well-crafted songs, you’re sure to ask for more.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/06-stringing-up-conkers.mp3]

Download: Boy Least Likely To – Stringing Up Conkers [MP3]

New Tunes from Tara Jane Oneil

tjThere’s something to be said about a young soul with the spirit of a wise one, and Tara Jane Oneil is precisely such a person.  She’s got the spirit of wonderment, and despite the beauty of this song, “Drowning” there’s something haunting in her delivery, but in a completely endearing way.  Yea, it’s a mellow number for sure, but one to ease you into the weekend with the magic of her voice alone.  Her record A Ways Away comes out via K Records on May 5th. Also, be on the lookout for this young lass during SXSW.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/tjodrowning.mp3]

Download: Tara Jane Oneil – Drowning [MP3]

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