Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard

Rating: ★★ · · ·

It hasn’t been too long since Ra Ra Riot released The Rhumb Line, but you’ll notice a few sonic shifts when taking on their new record, The Orchard.  While their first album featured a lot of dark imagery furthered by the string arrangements, this new record doesn’t seem as dense, and the clarity of the vocals, while impressive, sort of seems forced.

While “The Orchard” isn’t the longest song on this latest effort, it definitely drags on.  Vocals and strings are the predominant players here, but the song doesn’t really show a lot of movement, and it almost has the feeling of a spoken-word piece.  But, if you’re looking for the bubbling bass from their debut, it does exist , such as on the following track, “Boy.” That being said, there’s not a lot else that comes to the forefront of the song, and again you find the band struggling to establish themselves with any sort of distinct sound.

It’s clear that Ra Ra Riot are in a different place entirely on The Orchard, and you’ll discover that sentiment just listening to the production of the record.  Vocals are dominating throughout, and the arrangements are a lot more sparse, allowing a lot of the instrumentation to blossom within the songs themselves.  The problem with this approach is that it sort of removes the sense of beautiful chaos that earned the band a lot of early praise after the release of their first EP.  On “Foolish,” for instance, there are spots where you could say a lot is going on, with strings, drums, etc, but thrown altogether, they just don’t have the same punch that the group once championed.   Even the pace of the majority of the tracks seems far removed from where the band left off, and this creates the sensation that a lot of these tracks are forced into completion.

One entry that does stand out is remarkable is “You and I Know,” which features vocals from cellist Alexandra.  It’s a nice change in the overall feeling of The Orchard, but it’s far too polished.  The band’s web site had a look at some raw recordings of the track, and they evoked a stronger emotion upon listening to that recording, as opposed to the one that makes the final cut of the record.  Therein lives the great problem of this record as a whole.  It’s too clean, and too earnest to please.  The Boy EP had a great song titled “Saccharin and the War” that gave hints at bigger things going on for the band, but it didn’t make the cut.  Whether Ra Ra Riot felt it didn’t fit the cohesiveness of this collection of songs is no matter, as it’s absence, and songs more in that manner definitely leave much to be desired here.  In all honesty, none of the record is horrible, none of it is bad, its just, well, there.  That’s sort of where this record lives, in a place where it was unable to distinguish itself from the other music of like-minded bands out there today.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/02-Boy.mp3]

Download: Ra Ra Riot – Boy [MP3]

Show Preview: Twin Sister @ Emos (8/23)

Date Monday, August 23rd
Location Emos
Doors 900p
Tickets $10 @ the Door

This show is surely going to be all the rage, even though I haven’t seen too many people talking about it.  Twin Sister has been blowing up the Interwebs with their fuzzy pop.  It seems like everyone has positive things to say, and that’s definitely not bad for an up-and-coming act.  Also featured on the bill is Memoryhouse and Sleepover, so you’re sure to get an evening of really well crafted atmospheric pop music.  Honestly, this show has the potential to be one of those shows we’ll be talking about in Austin for the rest of the month.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/06-Phenomenons.mp3]

Download: Twin Sister – Phenomenons [MP3]

Magic Kids – Memphis

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Who thought that true twee pop went away and died?  Well, if it did, the word certainly didn’t reach the Memphis group Magic Kids.  Their new album, cleverly titled Memphis, is full of that old fashioned bounce and melodic shuffle that adorned some of the greatest indie albums of all time.  That being said, this record is good, though probably not quite on the list of all time greats.

“Phone” does throw some musical allusions around, though the one that sticks with me, at least in regards to instrumentation is Beulah. It’s got emphatic horns riding the crest of jangle guitars.  Backing vocals provide a nice warmth that fans of only the best indie pop will appreciate, and the strings continue with that nostalgic nod. But, “Candy” has a much more current spin on pop music, using a driving rhythm and male/female vocal tradeoff moments to create a saccharin sweetness destined to give your ear some serious cavities.

“Superball” is a good listen, though the best moments are the rising and falling melodies in between verse and chorus.  Something about it gives it a touch of adolescence, and that goes beyond the reference to the childish toy in the title.  Then, the group suddenly switches pace on the listener, giving the rest of Memphis a mellower twist.  Songs like “Summer” demonstrate the depth of the group as a whole, layering the various elements of the group carefully, creating a much stronger sound.  Perhaps it’s the arrangement, or the change in pace, but you can extract more emotion from the latter half of the record, though the first three tracks are still quite enjoyable.

Still, “Hey Boy” signifies a band well versed in hooks.  It begins with the female vocal entry, coming in quite playfully, but then it takes on a little bit of pace, using electronic touches, and a rolling drumbeat to take you on a summery trip full of good times.  Similarly, songs like “Sailing” carry a wave of bounce into the audience’s ear, although not with the same amount of whimsy that was applied to earlier songs on Memphis.  There is a certain sense of maturity with the craftsmanship on the latter-half of the album, even though playful elements like handclaps are still apparent.  They’re not really giving up on the tried and true tradition of twee, rather they’re actually making their own adjustments as a group, building their own sound.

In the end, Magic Kids have created a really strong debut album, and it’s one that will provide listeners with endless pleasure, which seems to redeem itself the more and more you absorb Memphis.  If you just put aside the first three songs, you’d have a really consistently fun record of great hooks and solid melodic moments, but you don’t want to discard those songs either.  They’re catchy, but in their own way.  Some might take a listen to this and claim to see the band growing up before your ears, and that’s a valid point, as the songs clearly progress in a more meaningful manner as the album goes one.  That being said, you’ll want to listen to it all anyways, as it’s just plain good fun.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/03-Superball.mp3]

Download: Magic Kids – Superball [MP3]

New Music from Blood Red Shoes

If you listen to the news from Britain, Blood Red Shoes are sure to be the next big thing, both there and in the US.  While I’m not quite sure what to make of promises from the British press, I do know that the latest single from the bands Fire Like This record, due over here on October 5th, has a nice little ring to it.  For me, the chorus is probably the weakest aspect of the song, as it reminds me too much of the Vines (remember those kids), but the verses are pretty solid.  I like a good straight-ahead rock approach from time to time, and they don’t get too much better than this.

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

Download: Blood Red Shoes – Light It Up [MP3]

FTC: Desaparecidos

In all honestly, I had probably written Desaparecidos off entirely, putting them away for the better part of the rest of my life.  It’s not that I dislike the album, in fact, quite the opposite.  I probably played their own album Read Music/Speak Spanish at least once a day for the better part of two years.  Recently the band made headlines reuniting to protest Arizona immigration, as well as similar policies in their home state of Nebraska.  I busted the record out again, and it fits perfectly with my new attitude of more rock, less electronics.  No one shredded it with such political angst, which still remains relevant today, if you listen closely to the lyrics.  Oh, and they had some dude in their band named Conor Oberst, who doesn’t sound all country, like that guy with the Mystic Valley Band.  This is probably one of the greatest pieces of music to ever come out of Omaha, and that says a lot considering the rich heritage of the town.  Who knows, the way Rick Perry runs this state, maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll reunite to overthrow that Texan dictator.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/06-The-Happiest-Place-On-Earth.mp3]

Download: Desaparecidos – The Happiest Place On Earth [MP3]

Show Preview: Paperthreat @ Scoot Inn (8/21)

Date Saturday, Aug 21
Location Scoot Inn
Doors 900 pm
Tickets $5 @ the Door

We talked to you guys about the great band Paperthreat a few weeks back in our Austin Artist to Watch, as well as our Austin mixtape, and now we’re reminding you that you need to go check out this incredible band before they’re the hottest ticket in town.  Right now, you can see them on the cheap this Saturday night over at Scoot Inn, and they’ll be playing with J Dub & the Tease and The Coast of Nebraska.  We know there’s a lot going on, locally, in town this weekend, but we’ll be rocking it over at the Scoot.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/01-Conveyer-1.mp3]

Download: Paperthreat – Conveyer [MP3]

Darker My Love – Alive as You Are

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When California’s Darker My Love released their album 2 in 2008, you could definitely feel the psychedelic history of their home state coming through.  But, we fast forward to the present day, and it seems that their take on California rock has swayed a bit, moving into a different, albeit better, direction.  The new album Alive as You Are charts new territory, and while it may surprise old fans, it’s not to be dismissed.

Listening to lead track “Backseat” you find a fresher version of the band, one that is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, if you extracted excess amounts of hippy.  It’s got a hint of the same drug culture, yet feels like the eternal setting of California.  This song even features some pseudo-jam guitar solos, though none that will make you drool in your beard while rocking the same solo for six hours a la Jerry Garcia.

While the album does seem steeped in the history of American folk/jam/whatever, it still has a presence that is pertinent to the modern music scene. “Split Minute” uses a deeper toned vocal atop the same crisp guitar sound found in the opening minutes, which sort of brings to mind bands like Blitzen Trapper, yet with the right amount of restraint, and none of the bravado–all good things from this end. It all leads to the early high-point for Alive as You Are, as “New America” just flat out wins.  It’s got a bit of a meandering guitar line throughout, but the half-sung vocal really establishes a casual mood.  What really pushes the song into the winner category is the chorus near the end, which just wraps the song up in this great little crashing harmony.

It’s odd, but even those who aren’t fans of the San Francisco roots music, such as myself, will probably find themselves digging deeper and deeper into the carefully crafted melodies that are evident throughout.  Slide guitars don’t even do much to dissuade listeners, and songs like “Trail the Line” are the perfect example of how, if executed properly, this style of music can remain vital and fresh in today’s world.  Amazing choruses seem par for the course on this record by Darker My Love.  The delivery of the words “please make up your mind, for me” just hit you in the face at precisely the right time, and nothing can go wrong for the band at this late juncture.

If you’re looking for detractors, you’ll be hard pressed to find one, though surely this album would be more successful during the late autumnal season, as opposed to the sweltering summer months.  And, yes, it does appear to drag in a few spots, but Alive as You Are succeeds on so many different levels that its remarkable to even think of this as the same band from a few years ago. I don’t know, but it makes me want to go listen to Neil Young.  Darker My Love have a dark name, and dark imagery projected on their cover, but everything about this record is warm and bright, making it one hell of an album, no matter what time of year you listen to it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/07-Trail-The-Line.mp3]

Download: Darker My Love – Trail The Line [MP3]

New Music from A Classic Education

I’ve been debating about whether or not to completely abandon electronically enhanced tunes, a la the Sleigh Bells and what nots, and listening to Italy’s A Classic Education really is pushing me further in that direction.  The vocals have a little bit of distance, yet there’s a familiar quality, as if you’re listening to the band play in your roommate’s bedroom.  Guitars seem to sort of coast through casually, yet with this incredible sharp presence.  Lucky for all us Stateside, we’ll get a chance to hear new tracks from the band when their Hey There Stranger EP hits shores on September 21st via Lefse.  Give me guitars and good tunes, and I’ll always be your friend.

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

Download: A Classic Education – Gone to Sea [MP3]

New Music from Wild Nothing

Remember when I raved about how great Wild Nothing‘s Gemini was?  Well, the band, the one project of Jack Tatum, will return with the Golden Haze EP this fall on Captured Tracks.  If you pass judgement based on the following track, it seems like Wild Nothing will definitely have another gem of pop music to win the adoration of listeners everywhere.  Label me excited.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Wild-Nothing-Golden-Haze.mp3]

Download: Wild Nothing – Golden Haze [MP3]

Dominant Legs – Young at Love and Life EP

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Ryan Lynch has been on our radar for quite some time now, as well as the radar of every major publication around these parts.  It’s not surprise that his first offering to the public as Dominant Legs gives us a slight peek inside his poetic pop ethos, but mind you, its just a peek; you won’t see anything more than the Young at Love and Life EP, as of now.

Title track “Young at Love and Life” definitely has a bit of a groove to it, right from the get go.  You get an electric jangle guitar backed up by some bleeping keyboard, just before Lynch kicks in with his vocals.  Hannah Hunt is a great counterpoint to Lynch’s heavier vocal traits, bringing back a circle of light heartedness that aligns itself with the upbeat movement of this track.

“Clawing Out at the Walls” has a bit more of a kitchen sink effect to it, using tribal rhythms along with various assortments of music in the background.  Ryan sounds a lot like Shearwater in this track, having a bit of a hiccup to his voice.  Similarly, the  music seems to have a sprawling quality, as if it sort of trails in and out with a wonderful melody.  At the two minute mark, he drops the vocals down an octave, and alters his vocal delivery; it suits this song perfectly, possibly more than the main vocal recording.

When you get to “About My Girls” you’ll find that Dominant Legs are back into the groove of everything, giving the listener a bit more of a beat to swing along with for the song’s duration.  There is a solid hook underlying this track, but it could probably use a bit  more distance from the opening track, as they seem to operate in territory far too close in proximity. As a stand alone track, however, this would surely win many over.

Closing out the short Young at Love and Life EP is “Run Like Hell for Leather.”  As the song opens, there’s a lot of open space, setting the perfect scene of one walking along a trail covered in foliage.  It’s got a bit more of a folk feel, which really allows for Lynch’s creativity and voice to go places he didn’t seem capable of going, at least when you use the more typical beat-laden tracks for comparison.  But, as you draw near the end of the song, you’re probably hooked.  You’ve been pulled closely by these four tracks, and sucked into the hype with the rest of us.  Surely this will be an adventure when the future of Dominant Legs sets its sights on a full length, but until then….

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Dominant-Legs-Clawing-Out-At-The-Walls.mp3]

Download: Dominant Legs – Clawing Out At The Walls [MP3]

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