Fujiya & Miyagi – Ventriloquizzing

Rating: ★½ · · ·

Fujiya & Miyagi have to be the biggest conundrum in the music world, at least according to my tastes (read: opinion). They make these rhythmically pulsing beats, yet they seem to sort of live on one plane of sound, never really going.  Yet, through the years, people have continuously raved about the group, and now that their latest, Ventriloquizzing, is out, it’s time to take a close look at their work.

This record kicks off as you would expect, “Ventriloquizzing” sort of creating that atmospheric dance vibe fueled by bass work that just grooves and grooves.  But, that’s it, it purely grooves, and doesn’t go much further.  Just because you’re throwing in ambient noises in the background, doesn’t mean the work itself is really going anywhere.  The song, like much of this record, runs in place.

Don’t get me wrong folks, I like a little bit of groove, and I’ve admittedly enjoyed the group when I’ve seen them in the live setting, but it’s hard to really get into the Fujiya & Miyagi recorded material.  For one, when you throw a lyric at me like “you don’t know which side your bread is buttered on” right at me, it’s definitely not going to wow me.  And I know the band has never been one for overly creative lyrical content, but one expects some progression, some step further in the right direction.  It’s becoming increasingly hard to get beyond this point, as they keep throwing things at us like “vanilla, strawberry, knickerbocker glory” from their last effort.

There are some marked improvements that show the band is having a bit of fun with little playful elements like the opening of “Taiwanese Roots.”   But those moments only last for few brief moments, and then you go right back into the same tried and true formulaic approach the band have been utilizing since their inception.  By this point, you would think one would tire of such antics, but the band don’t seem to care.  I have a feeling that it’s all some sort of artistic approach that revolves around a school of thought that, in my mind, remains irrelevant for a reason.  You can give it up to the band, as they are probably tighter than 99.9% of the bands out there, but that’s not going to get me to enjoy their music anymore.

Ventriloquizzing is the fourth LP from the group, and it sounds exactly like all the one’s that came before it.  It’s not necessarily a bad listen, in fact, it’s perfect for the background, most likely at your favorite industrially decorated coffee house.  Still, Fujiya & Miyagi are a band that just tread water when I listen to them.  Lyrically, they never go anywhere, especially with songs like “Minsterone.”  Then, take into account that you could easily put together a best of compilation by this group, remove the lyrics, and everything would sound precisely the same, rendering it one of the worst records of all time.  I guess if you’re looking for a somewhat energetic album to run to while you’re living in an urban environment, then grab this and go.

Show Preview: Hex Dispensers and King Tuff @ Mohawk (1/26)

Date Wednesday, Jan 26th
Location Mohawk
Doors 900p
Tickets FREE w/ RSVP

Okay, you have to go to this.  First, The Hex Dispensers are one of the great bands in Austin, and I think they’ve been vastly overlooked.  It’s cool, you totally have the chance to make up for it.  Then, you can also catch opening act King Tuff, who’s been around for a bit kicking out the garage-y jams.  He recently put out a record with some friends as Happy Birthday, so if you remember that, you remember it being pretty solid.  And, you want the icing on your cupcake? It’s absolutely FREE, all you have to do is RSVP.  So, to recap, you get awesome tunes, and you don’t have to free. No excuses.  Here’s a track from Happy Birthday to get you in the mood.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/01-Girls-FM-1.mp3]

Download: Happy Birthday – Girls FM [MP3]


I Was A King – Old Friends

Rating: ★★★ · ·

A few years back I Was a King burst into my life, and I couldn’t have been happier.  They recalled bits of my favorite under-appreciated band, The Comas, as well as hints of Teenage Fanclub.  On their latest outing, Old Friends, the group adds a few little twists to the foray, though nothing that ultimately changes the established sound of the group.

From the minute you get into opening track “The Wylde Boys,” you can tell that Old Friends will definitely have a bit of a facelift.  There’s this distortion/horn jam opening the track, and in fact, it probably detracts from the band’s meat and potatoes.  But, once the killer drumming jumps in appropriately and those warm hypnotic guitar lines clean things out, you’re in heaven.

Once you get into the nitty-gritty of the album, fans of amazing power-pop will definitely find themselves enjoying repeated listens.  “Echoes” has a great little stomping beat that supplies perfect opportunities for the guitar to wrap itself around your eardrums. These are the type of tracks fan of I Was a King were probably expecting from this record.  But, as much as these moments clearly leave you in love with the band, there are some disarming elements, at least as far as construction of the songs go.

Take the single, “Daybreak,” which would be one of my favorite songs, period, if you could only remove some odd things that just don’t belong.  First, you have that thirty second intro, seemingly belonging to a Beirut demo that made the trash.  Second, that damn horn! Why on Earth does a splendid band with incredible hooks add the usage of a horn to flesh out their sound?  It’s reminiscent of the time Cursive included horns to their post-punk sound; it doesn’t work. Some things are better left untouched.  Perhaps the band found themselves stuck in a rut, battling to push themselves in a new direction, but this might not have been the best direction one could go.

Excitingly, there are some new touches here that excite me, as a long time fan. “Snow Song” begins with some acoustic strumming, and Frode’s voice sounding as pristine as it does in the live setting.  It’s not straight-ahead power-pop, and it doesn’t have to be in order for I Was a King to pull it off.  This is something I probably wish the band realized more.  “Old Friends,” similarly has this great little bit of swing to it, and this cool, breeze-like vocal that accompanies the entire track.  It’s a great closer, and a great piece of songwriting.

Oddly, Old Friends is still a winning record.  There are a few miscues here and there, but even those odd spots don’t do enough to make you forget that the combination of melody and shredding guitars never sounded as perfectly as it does here.  And the drumming, the drumming is phenomenal.  I Was a King might have pushed themselves for this new record, and while I may not whole-heartedly agree with every step, I can appreciate spreading out into new territory.  As long as they can still write those power-pop hooks that win any reasonable listener over, they’ll continue to progress, and continue to make me a fan, day after day.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/I-Was-A-King-Daybreak.mp3]

Download: I Was A King – Daybreak [MP3]

New Music from My Little Pony

Okay, so I may not be entirely sold on the entire name here, but at least the music is really good.  It’s one of the things I like a great deal about running this site: finding music I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.  This Oslo group are releasing their album Making Marks, which features the catchy little single we’re offering up here.  It’s light-hearted and warm, but most of all its sugary sweet, which is precisely what I needed to hear this evening.  And, the band apparently be making their way to Austin for SXSW, so now I have My Little Pony to get excited about before the festivities officially kick off in March.  Take a listen, then go ahead and smile.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/My-Little-Pony_08_Hard-To-Be-Good.mp3]

Download: My Little Pony – Hard To Be Good [MP3]

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Typically Sam Beam has been recording at home, with the help of friends and what not.  On Kiss Each Other Clean, his first album after his jump to a major label, you can tell that the big money definitely allows for more production, which at times might be to his detriment on the new record for Iron & Wine.  It’s a fine addition to his growing catalog, but that’s just it, it’s a fine addition, nothing more.

“Walking Far From Home” makes use of some atmospheric swells for the song’s opening, but once removed the piano laden track really shows that our excitement rests on Sam’s remarkable voice, though it has a bit less of that folk feel to it.  But, just as soon as you begin to get in the groove, Kiss Each Other Clean begins to wander in the opposite direction.

Experimentation is fine and good, but sometimes it can feel incredibly forced, and almost unnecessary.  On the record’s second track, “Me and Lazarus,” that’s where I get a little skeptical on Mr. Beam’s intentions.  There’s some saxophone solos, weird blips and inserted noises, and for me, it just doesn’t seem to fit with the Iron & Wine I’ve come to experience.  Now, I’m not banning growth or pushing your artistic tastes, but some formulas are better left unadorned.  “Tree by the River” comes off as the sort of thing someone would hear at a church-camp, using gospel-influenced backing vocals.  Once the song gets kicking, it sounds rather ordinary, almost like a mundane radio single, which is precisely what I never hoped to see from Sam Beam.

Don’t get me wrong here, there are some tracks that I’d probably consider some of my favorite from Iron & Wine.  “Half Moon,” for instance, is probably the first time through Kiss Each Other Clean that you really get the intimate vibe from Sam, which might be a bit late, considering it’s placed in the middle of the record.  That lightly soloing in the background provides just enough extra texture to give the song more depth, and its more of the direction I hoped to see throughout.  Perhaps it is the moment when he seems the most exposed where Beam is able to win over the listener.  “Godless Brother in Love” reminds me of something I would have expected Jeff Buckley to be writing in his bedroom without his lush production.  Emotion pours out of this song, and that’s what you expect from something, or someone, with such great power. When Sam’s voice goes into that high pitch, it just sucks me right in to the song.

Surely people won’t hate this album at all, but it definitely stands out as having some disposable tracks, such as “Big Burned Hand, with all its sax squawking. Kiss Each Other Clean has shining moments, as previously mentioned, but one is left to feel that various experiments might have gone a bit too far in the long run, leaving the record sort of standing there.  For Iron & Wine, it’s the first time I feel as if he’s really middle of the road.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/002-Tree-By-The-River.mp3]

Download: Iron and Wine -Tree By The River (Daytrotter Session) [MP3]

New Music from Glasvegas

It’s been quite some time since anyone has heard from Glasvegas, one of our favorite bands from 2009.  They’ve got a new album coming out in approximately 70 days according to the band’s site, and it’s titled Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\ Album.  One change is the band’s line-up, which now includes a new drummer.  That’s definitely going to change their sound a slight bit, probably making it a lot more dense, which you can hear by listening to the first single from the album, “The World is Yours.”  Our hopes are that this record is an engaging and full of bombast as their last effort.  Fingers crossed ladies and gents.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Glasvegas-The-World-Is-Yours.mp3]

Download: Glasvegas – The World Is Yours [MP3]

Cloud Nothings – s/t

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s funny how one of the great hopes for indie rock is being played by a 19 year old from Cleveland.  Dylan Baldi is the teen sensation behind Cloud Nothings, and perhaps his youth and naivete allowed him to create one of the best records of the year.   The self-titled album is everything you could ask from a record: creative, energetic, heart-felt, and just fucking great.

As soon as you press play you just get highly-fueled kick to the face, as “Understand at All” opens with a statement that you’re not going to have much room to breathe here.  Incredibly, you have these angular guitars cutting in and out, yet it all holds tightly onto several melodic moments of hook; you don’t find good energetic rock these days with such pop undertones.  “Not Important” works as the excellent follow-up here, moving just as quickly into the fray as the opener.  A little twist is the rawness of Baldi’s vocals here, almost straining a bit, but it’s pulled off successfully.  Personally, the drum work on this track really  is the winner, though it’s hard to say there’s anything wrong with Cloud Nothings up to this point.

However, it’s not all high octane indie rock.  “Forget You All the Time” might actually be one of the best kept secrets on this album, wrapped at the four spot.  Pacing is slowed, and the melody is really sensational.  Dylan’s vocal performance is one of the warmest of all the tracks here, and you can’t help but be won over by every inch of the recording.  But, it’s sort of the one-off, and though rewarding, it might be nice to see if Cloud Nothings explore a little bit more of that direction in the future.

You know, writing a record review typically isn’t too difficult. You write about a couple of your favorite tracks, point out the flaws you saw, etc, but Cloud Nothings is pretty impossible to write about if you cut it into pieces.  There’s probably not enough praise I can give Baldi on this installation in his catalogue.  Everything seems to offer up little pieces of my somewhat tainted indie past.  Perhaps its the chorus in “Heartbeat” that recalls twee C86 records on speed or the brashness of “Rock.”  You’ll find bits of influences all over the map, from Superchunk to GBV to possibly Pains of Being Pure at Heart (or the like), but it sounds refreshingly sincere, as if Baldi has no intention of just copying his peers or his record collection.

While I’m not sure Cloud Nothings are here to save indie rock, this self-titled record is about as good a record as I’ve heard in a long time.  You can cut your favorites and put them into playlists, or you can play the whole album in its entirety, as its not too long by any means.  In the long run, I’m sort of glad Baldi is so young.  It means, as long as life goes well, that we can expect more excellent records for years and years to come. And if you take one listen to this record, you’ll be grateful.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Cloud-Nothings-Understand-At-All.mp3]

Download: Cloud Nothings – Understand At All [MP3]

FT5: My Most Divisive Bands

It’s interesting being a huge music fan. You come across bands that you absolutely adore, and you rush to make mixes for your friends who ultimately decide that they hate the one song you were most excited for them to fall in love with when you made it.  I started thumbing through my catalog and the Internet, diligently searching for the bands in my collection that I love, but I feel people hate; I also looked at bands on the net I know people love, but I hate.  Here’s my list of the Top 5.

Read more

Daniel Martin Moore – In The Cool of the Day

Rating: ★★★ · ·

When Sub Pop sent out the press release, they told of a man possessed by a Steinway inside a Cincinnati radio station.  If this is possession, perhaps we shouldn’t be so inclined to shy away from such things because this new record from Daniel Martin Moore, In the Cool of the Day, is quite beautiful–perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but you can see the genius clearly.

Honestly, writing gospel songs for those outside the gospel seems a bit odd to me, but the entirety of In the Cool of the Day has Moore reinventing classics he heard growing up, or going it on his own. For instance, “Dark Road” definitely has that swing in the step you would envision being sung in some Southern Baptist  church. The string instruments definitely provide that bluegrass feeling at the same time, so you get a bit of both life in church and outside.

He’s got some funky elements thrown in, demonstrating that Moore is out to illustrate his talent as a compser/songwriter.  “In the Garden” has some light hi-hat, and that walking bass line that many will immediately associate with jazz.  But, Daniel has this angelic voice, and his control over pitch and tone really allows him to pull some honest emotions out of listeners. However, it’s his numbers when he sounds more like the elemental folk musician from Kentucky that really piqued my interest.

For instance, you can take “Up Above My Head,” and apply it to more modern artists such as Mason Jennings, though this definitely doesn’t have that humorous pep Jennings carries.  It’s got a funky little groove that sort of pushes it on, yet there’s a definite pop feel to the way Daniel Martin Moore sings the vocal that takes it beyond a mere gospel song.  It even has a bit of a banjo/guitar breakdown near the end.  These things don’t really apply to church tracks, the ones I know, at least.  The title track, “In the Cool of the Day,” also goes beyond church, although it relies predominantly on the piano backbone to elevate the solemn melody.  Still, Moore uses his voice as a tool to take the track somewhere else, almost like Sufjan Stevens

Personally, “It Is Well With My Soul” hits a note for me, and that’s probably because it’s the most recognizable gospel track that I know of, as I haven’t been much of a church goer in some time. Perhaps I can envision myself singinig this at some campfire, with my father playing his guitar, trying to get the family involved.  This is pretty much the way a lot of people will feel about In the Cool of the Day. You take a religious background, even a mild exposure, and you elaborate, almost pushing the spirit out of the church doors and into the rest of the world. This is precisely what Daniel Martin Moore has done, and while I may not be your favorite listen this year, it’s assuredly worth several spins around the record player.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/dmm.mp3]

Download: Daniel Martin Moore – Dark Road [MP3]

New Track from Distractions

After listening to “All Night” by Distractions, I couldn’t wait for their album, Dark Green Sea, to finally hit stores.  It came out yesterday, but it was only released to a limited pressing of 500, so you better head over to them quick if you like what you hear.  They’ve recently let loose another of the singles from the album, and while it maintains the same sonic spectrum of the previously mentioned single, it’s got a lot more darkness to it.  Perhaps this revolves around the deeper octaves of the vocals, but it could also be that the pacing of the track is a bit slower, leaving you time to contemplate your steps in time with the beat. Give this a try, and hopefully we’ll see the album released on a larger scale.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/03-We-Were-Better-Off-in-the-Rain-1.mp3]

Download: Distractions – We Were Better Off in the Rain [MP3]

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