New Music from Adam H Stephens

A few weeks back we brought you news of Adam H. Stephens prepping his debut solo album titled We Live on Cliffs, which will now be released by Saddle Creek on September 28th.  The first single we brought you was what we would expect from one of the lads from Two Gallants, but this new single, “Second Mind,” has an entirely different feel to it altogether.  Slower pace, a bit of organ, and a steadier vocal performance demonstrate that Stephens can offer us so much more than I think we expected.  Be sure to give this one a try folks.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/02-Second-Mind-1.mp3]

Download: Adam Haworth Stephens – Second Mind [MP3]

Of Montreal – False Priest

Rating: ★★½ · ·

What can a band due ten albums into their career to mix it up?  Well, Of Montreal seem to use a bit of a stronger R&B influence on False Priest to add a little twist to their traditionally humorous pop smorgasbord.  This album lives fairly close to the group’s pastiche, and to top it off, it’s a lot more cohesive than their last record, Skeletal Lamping.

Groovy Kevin Barnes brings his high-pitched falsetto to the forefront right from the get go on “I Feel Ya Stutter,” but he also utilizes his speak-sing formula, much as he will do throughout the record.  Fans of the group will notice the traditional hooks still remain, as well as the effortless layering of various harmonies, but its the vocals that seem more experimental here, trying to toss a bit of soul into it all. “Coquet Coquette,” while groovier in its composition, going back to the R&B influence perhaps, is probably the strongest number on False Priest, and one resembling the band’s previous hits.  It has a building guitar and a bit of suave, taking Barne’s driving vocal to push the song through to its space-age ending.

One of the things that differentiates this effort is the presence of guess vocalists, namely Janelle Monae.  Her smooth voice does add a nice little touch to “Enemy Gene,” but the song overall isn’t quite as successful as it could be.  There’s no huge battle between pop and catastrophe that Kevin has walked so well in the past, rather its just sort of a straight ahead pop track that really just stands in one place. Solange Knowles also pops her head up in “Sex Karma,” and while her performance might not be nearly as attractive as Monae’s, the song uses clever bass lines and electronic touches to actually construct the song, not to mention the call-and response vocals add a touch of playfulness. That being said, its nice to see Of Montreal trying to incorporate new ideas to mix it up, though they’ve always sort of been mixing it up, right?

While the past of the group has had all these incredible shifts in sonic approaches from record to record, they group has never really taken a straight approach at writing indie pop songs of the  ordinary sort.  But, take “Famine Affair,” one of the finer tracks on False Priest, and you should notice that this is about as simple as KB can write.  You could easily pump this in the morning to get you going, though you’ll never claim it to be one of the band’s greatest hits. Still, catchy tracks never hurt.

It’s always great to see the journey that Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal will take us on, as they always have something up their sleeve, but this effort isn’t one of the most successful efforts in sonic exploration the group has put together.  It’s uneven in a lot of places, if not all of them.  False Priest, of course, has high points like “Coquet Coquette” and “Famine Affair,” but perhaps a bit of editing here and there might have made it all seem a bit tighter, a bit less scattered.  All that said, you’re going to buy it, as you should, just to make sure Kevin Barnes keeps coming up with crazy ideas with which to present to his adoring audience.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/03-Coquet-Coquette-1.mp3]

Download: Of Montreal – Coquet Coquette [MP3]

The Walkmen – Lisbon

Rating: ★★★★½

Honestly, one of the best known songs from The Walkmen is “The Rat,” and it seems that many of us have waited for the band to replicate such powerful tracks for the duration of several albums. But, while we’ve had our issues, Hamilton and his posse have slowly began to focus on recreating nothing, simply pushing ahead whilst writing some of the moving records; Lisbon is just another killer notch in the proverbial belt.

A rolling drum beat lightly kicks off “Juveniles,” giving the listener a bit of a slow-sway before the twangy guitars unite with Hamilton’s vocal appearance.  It’s amazing how great his voice sounds nowadays, when it used to be the one disposable aspect in the group’s repertoire. His control as he changes pitches and tones from note to note let’s us all know that he’s in control; so be it good sir.  You’ll find a similar drum roll entrance on “Angela Surf City,” but the band spends the first minute building tension, just before exploding upon us.  The drums sounds like well-crafted gunfire, and the guitars chug along in unison.  Still, there’s a light touch in the moments where the track rests, due mostly to Hamilton’s now credible vocal display.  If you’re not in love with Lisbon already, you’re already behind, so start over.

There’s a darkness bred by the guitar lines at the opening seconds of “Blue as Your Blood.”  You get the sense that your traveling down a dark highway through some desert valley, and the wind blowing in your hair is Leithauser’s voice.  String arrangements arise in the background, giving an extra depth to your night drive.  While it’s musical tone is a touch haunting, there’s a warmth to everything within this number. You’ve driven all the way to “Stranded,” which has an echo of a sad funeral march, implied by the horns. Yet, as Hamilton exclaims that “I’m the bigger man here,” you get the feeling that despite trials and tribulations, he’s not sitting around reflecting on it all; he’s ready to go forth.  After such emotion, The Walkmen take it upon themselves to brighten the mood with “Victory.”  The guitars alone are some of the brightest you’ll find on the record, crisp and clear, giving us all hope.  This is our victory too, so enjoy the rise and fall, especially the rise; those guitars and crashing cymbals just clear everything out of the way.

In the past, we might have searched for the powerful moments to erupt for the group, but they’ve spent so much time crafting their sound over the years, that when they slow it down, you put your ear to the speaker, hoping to grasp every last sonic stroke. “Torch Song” and “Lisbon” have a bit of studio tinkering in their background, but the emotive quality in Leithauser’s voice on each song provides us with a final moment to contemplate every word, every change in pace, every single track.  You’ll arrive at the end, a bit slower than how you got here, but dammit if you won’t have enjoyed everything about the latest travels with The Walkmen.  Honestly, most people should struggle to find anything wrong with this record, making Lisbon one of the most complete, and gorgeous, records of 2010.  Press play, and listen again and again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/The-Walkmen-Stranded.mp3]

Download: The Walkmen – Stranded [MP3]

ACL Preview: The Many Faces Of Monsters Of Folk

We’re going off the deep end here with a bit of a different look at our next featured artist for our Austin City Limits Festival coverage.  The band is a sort of super-group, made up of renowned musicians in the indie world, and we’ve borrowed some ideas from our great friends over at theManyFacesOf.com.  Hopefully you enjoy this feature, and without further ado, we introduce you to The Many Faces Of Monsters of Folk.  Follow the jump for more.

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Electric Sunset – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Usually when the name of a band involves something with the word in electric, its usually a signal that there’s going to be far too much electronic flourishes in it, which goes against my new personal disdain for laptop accompanied bands. But, knowing that Electric Sunset was once part of Desolation Wilderness made it easy to get into the self-titled record, as I enjoyed Nic Zwart’s other band, prior to his departure. So why not give the guy a good honest look-see, or listen-see I suppose.

It begins with “Palace,” which does begin in the traditional way as most of the recent chill-wave releases have gone, with that odd sunshine dancing on the keyboard effect, but the one thing that immediately sticks out is the emphasis on the beats.  They’ve got this driving power to them, which leads to more toe-tapping as opposed to annoyance.  To top it off, Zwart’s voice had a depth to it that you might not get from the album cover.

Gentle touches of the electronic elements on “Morning City” make the song much powerful, giving Nic’s voice a little bit more room to roam about, and allowing for a bit of space to creep into the collage of beats and guitars.  Songs such as this, like the majority of Electric Sunset, benefit from the fact that he’s not forcing every little aspect that comes into his mind into his tracks.  He’s leaving a bit of an ambiguity to the song, asking listeners to extract what they want. You’ll see it again immediately afterwards on “Infinity Avenue,” a song that allows the empty space to create a brooding bit of tension, before taking off on a magic carpet of perfect melodies. This one might just make you clap your hands together.

Electric Sunset‘s first single “Soda” really does exemplify everything I’ve enjoyed while listening to this together.  Zwart’s vocals rise really high in the mix, and they’re solid vocals, with what seem to be minimal tonal effects. The song itself has this strong groove that relies upon his electronic work, but once again, it’s not overbearing by any means, even as layer upon layer is placed atop the various elements.  Closing this whole sonic array with a song like “Prayer” reaches out to the audience via the narrator’s reflection of being alone in a new city.  It asks us to identify with our own lives in a way that closely relates to Electric Sunset itself; leave your expectations at the door please, this is a seemingly new adventure.

Perhaps being jaded is not the best attitude to have when approaching electronic music, but perhaps tired sounding redundant recording tricks should be passed on the way side.  That being said, Electric Sunset has given us an electric-fied album that doesn’t resemble every other band out there, giving us lots of empty space for reflection, and great melodies crafted from Nic Zwart’s voice.  At the end of the day, you’ll realize that sometimes music is simply good, no matter where it comes from, or what instruments are utilized.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/electricsunsetsoda.mp3]

Download: Electric Sunset – Soda [MP3]

Show Preview: Lower Dens @ Club Deville (9/10)

Date 9/10/10
Location Club Deville
Doors 10:00PM
Tickets $8 @ the Door

If you’ve been following the Austin music scene for some time, you surely know the name Jana Hunter, but you might not be aware that she’s moved up to Baltimore for a bit to work with a new band, Lower Dens. They are touring in support of their latest album, Twin-Hand Movement, which is full of fuzzy guitars and Hunter’s remarkable voice.  Opening bands Balaclavas and Black Congress will be getting you prepared for the phenomenal tunes of the headliner. I mean, it’s Friday, and I feel like a cheap show, so I’ll be there.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/lowerdenstealights.mp3]

Download: Lower Dens – Tea Lights [MP3]

Young Man on Daytrotter

We talked to you guys about how much we loved Young Man when he released his Boy EP not too long ago.  Unfortunately, those four tracks weren’t enough to hold us over for long, so when we found the awesome Daytrotter set today, we were really excited.  The recording features two brand new songs that haven’t been released yet, so you better hurry on over and get a hold of those tracks now.  We’ve got one here, just in case you can’t wait long enough.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/003-Problem.mp3]

Download: Young Man – Problem [MP3]

The Acorn – No Ghost

Rating: ★★★½ ·

After their extremely successful Glory Hope Mountain, this group of Ottawans retired to a secluded area, focusing on each other and their songwriting.  The result is the Acorn‘s third full-length, No Ghost, and its a recorded moment of a band working closely together, tying together the loose ends, and pushing themselves to the max; it all turns out pretty successful.

Guitars barely trickle in at the opening moments of “Cobbled From Dust,” while singer Rolf Klausener kicks things off.  Slowly, you can feel the mood begin to change again, and as it does, Rolf’s voice soars off, meeting up with the soft percussive accompaniment.  It’s an unassuming opening, but one that reveals the attention to details throughout No Ghost.   Even the touches of distorted feedback seem to have a place here.

For the most part, this a quiet affair, and even the loud moments seem super soft.  “Misplaced” really narrows it all down to the barebones effects, just using Klausener, backing vocals, guitar, and minor percussion appearances.  Still, something special manages to escape to the ears of the listener, especially as Rolf sings “I know I know I know I won’t be misplaced.”  It’s an extremely gentle vocal, yet one that drives home the lyrical and musical message, allowing you to absorb it together as one unified piece. Similarly, “On the Line” reminds one of those old home recordings Sam Beam used to give us in his early days.  There’s a bit of vocal harmony here, but you get the sense that the band probably all just sat in a little circle, cuddled around a fire on a cold Canadian night, trying to craft the most beautiful song they could muster.

There’s not really a song, or a moment, where The Acorn doesn’t seem successful on this latest musical adventure, but it’s the home-stretch that makes it all worthwhile for every listener.  “Slippery When Wet,” aside from its atrocious hair band allusion, is perhaps one of the greatest moments of the year to come out of the down-trodden genre.  Light string arrangements dance alongside gentle picking of instruments, giving a more solemn tone to the track.  And Rolf’s vocal performance here is hands-down the best you’ll find on No Ghost.  But, they don’t stop here, filling out the back end of the record with remarkable moments that bring everything home for the audience. “Kindling to Cremation” definitely feels like the whole band got together to wrap up the whole affair, bringing in everyone’s skills to the table, utilizing their various talents, and giving us one final piece of quiet beauty. Just a great end to a great listen.

While some may yearn for a bit more variance in the songs and their writing style, sometimes its good to stick to what you know best.  The Acorn definitely know what their good at, and it appears to be writing bedroom listens full of beauty, if your bedroom just happens to be inside a nice log cabin.  No matter how long you listen to this record, one thing will always remain constant; No Ghost continue to craft delicate pieces of grandeur for all of us to enjoy.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Restoration.mp3]

Download: The Acorn – Restoration [MP3]

New Music from Amy Bezunartea

Gentle folk music seems appropriate considering its rained in our town for at least 24 straigh hours.  Luckily, I was fortunate to find the great new album from Amy Bezunartea in my inbox today, which is titled Restaurants and Bars.  It will be released by Kiam Records on November 2nd, and if this single is any indication it will be full of soft melodies, delicate strumming and Merritt-esque poetry.  If you ask me, that sounds like a great record to get to know.  Give it a listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/08_AmyBezunartea_RestaurantsAndBars_Doubles1.mp3]
Download: Amy Bezunartea – Doubles

New Music from Big Troubles

You thought you head heard the last of shoegaze-y pop didn’t you?  Well, not so fast.  I’ve recently been let on to a great little secret, that being New Jersey’s Big Troubles. They’ve just released their album, Worry, and its ridiculously full of washed guitars roaming the country atop solid little pop melodies.  You can imagine this to be a ridiculously loud live show, but its got just the right amount of noise on the recorded version.  You can preview the full record over at their SITE, and you’ll definitely want to get on that, stat.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Big_Troubles_03_Bite_Yr_Tongue.mp3]

Download: Big Troubles – Bite Yr Tongue [MP3]

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