Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

Rating: ★★★ · ·

From the minute Apologies to the Queen Mary came out a few years back I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the new Wolf Parade album.  I loved that record so much so that I bought everything released by all the members of the band. But, it seems as if all those side-projects sucked the life out of the band.

“Soldier’s Grin” starts out the record promisingly.  It’s an upbeat song from the get-go; the kind of song that we know the band will blow you away in the live setting–and they will blow you away live–I hope.

From here, you get the best two songs on the album in succession, those being “Call it a Ritual” and “Language City.”  Both songs are full of keyboards/piano bouncing heavily along, with just enough grit and clarity in the music to make them both exceptional songs.  It’s at this point in the album that we find Wolf Parade at their best, with Spencer Krug yelping at his best.

From here it starts to gently slide away in the wrong direction.  I’ll admit this: the chorus on the 5th track,”California Dreamer,” is really a rocking moment–once again I salivate at live possibilities–but the rest of the song doesn’t have much to it. Then you have the final good moment of the album,”The Grey Estates.”  Something about Dan Boeckner’s voice is one of my favorites.

That’s it though…the remaining three tracks of the album seem to me as if the band lost some steam. The songs don’t seem to be as fleshed out musically as the previous 6, and they come off sounding like skeletons of mediocre songs, or B-sides of one of the various side-projects.

My other complaint is that the vocals have matured.  They’ve lost that oddity in their vocals, which-personally-takes a lot of the really interesting moments away from the band.  These fellows come off sounding half-hearted, but like I said, this is only apparent in the last three songs.

All in all, this is a record worth listening to, but I’m just not sure how many repeated listens those first few songs really garner when paired with the latter half of the album.

Rest assured, the band will bring the rock when they come to La Zona Rosa on July 25th–this is a must see.  You can buy tickets for the show at this fancy place .

Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

Rating: ★★★★½

Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is the fifth full length album from David Berman and the Silver Jews, and by my estimation it is the best he’s come up with yet. From the opening track until the very end, you’ll find yourself hanging on every single word out of his mouth, trying to understand each little line. Berman’s words here are at their best, but that is for you to decide.

Opener “What Is Not But Could Be If” begins the album with the darkened voice of Berman, somewhat reminiscent of a certain man in black. It’s clear at this point that Berman has definitely found his own niche in the world of off-beat country.

The album picks up pace with “Aloyisius Bluegrass Drummer,” where a solid rhythm section and a dancing piano rush us through the most clever two minutes to come across my ears.

The third track, “Suffering Jukebox” is full of sprawling guitars, but most importantly is the album’s introduction to Berman’s wife Cassie. Her sunny vocals seem to contradict those of her husband, but all in an effort to show the balance of a solid Silver Jews song.

“My Pillow is the Threshhold,” to me, comes off as an ode to the love song. “The pillow that I dream on is the threshold of a kingdom/ threshold of a world where I’m with you,” seems to sum up the meaning of the song, though one can never have just one simple meaning in a Berman song; this is just me guessing.

“Strange Victory Strange Defeat” is my personal favorite on this album. The battle of rebellious squirrels to win their freedom warms me inside. Then you throw on top of that the harmonizing of the Berman family at 1.5 minutes, and you have one of my favorite moments on an album this year.

You will find a taste of sunny California “oohs” and “ahhs” all over “Open Field,” which is probably one of the only songs on this album I don’t want to listen to ten times a day, probably just 7 or 8.

Literary genius abounds on “San Francisco BC,” the albums 7th track. See these two samples: “Romance is the douche of the bourgeoisie” and “I thought the wages of Metal should be heavily garnished.” A friend of mine told me that Berman comes up with the cleverest lines that you know you thought, but you just didn’t say them fast enough.

I dare not even attempt to make sense of “Candy Jail,” but the song still has this unending draw to me. Something about “peanut brittle bunk-beds” just sort of calls my name.

I have to admit that nothing stops a “Party Barge,” the 9th track on this album. Electric guitar mixed with sounds of sea ports (gulls, foghorns, etc), along with requests for coordinates from “lake directory,” just makes is all seem like summer.

Album closer, “We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing,” wraps up the album with a gentle number reminding us all that despite dreams and hopes, everything isn’t exactly perfect; still, Berman seems to insist that we all give it a try. And I say why not?

Obviously, I went about this review a bit differently, but that is just the thing about a Silver Jews album: no two people will ever get the same thing out of one of Berman’s songs, let alone albums. It’s the perfect conversation piece for you and your friends, trying to eat dinner as you all take turns at deciphering words and song meanings. Each person will walk away with their own interpretation, as they should. I just wanted to show ya’ll mine.

Now, if you are looking for that alt-country album with witty lines and gentle harmonies then you won’t be doing yourself a disservice if you purchase this album. Honestly, if you don’t buy this album, no matter what you are into, you are damned to admitting that you have done yourself a disservice by not allowing yourself the proper amount of time to enjoy Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea; there is only one way to remedy that situation, and that is to get your hands on this album as soon as possible.

You can stream this entire album on the band’s myspace page if you want to try before you buy.

We also have a song off the album entitled “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat” available for download:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/silver_jews_-_strange_victory_strange_defeat.mp3]

Download: strangedefeat.mp3

Joan of Arc – Boo Human

Rating: ★★★ · ·

From the minute this album opens you are opened to the intricate guitar work of Tim Kinsella; its always the most delicate of strumming or so it seems. Its as if he is taking his guitar for a little journey; he speeds up, he slows down, but its always very personal. His work in Joan of Arc, and various other bands, has always been witness to this delicate guitar; it goes throughout the album.

In fact, this album, and this band for that matter, will always benefit from the unique playing of Kinsella. Each song he puts together has an entirely different feel than the last, yet each song on this album fits uniquely together. Somehow Kinsella consistently manages to use other musicians to construct unique mini-masterpieces of song; all these songs could stand alone without the use of lyrics.

Sadly, it is Kinsella’s lyrics, and more so, his voice, that seem to plague this album. His voice is usually too gentle to believe that there is passion in his voice, but when he does provide that passion, it is as if he straining to fake it. It never really comes together cohesively, and at times, his voice can destroy entire songs.

Lyrically, this album deals with a break-up, which has some really beautifully written moments. Unfortunately, the general theme of this album get a bit old, despite the variation in each song. It is a great album of break-up songs, but unfortunately the entire album is break-up songs; that doesn’t really work for this album.

There are two standout tracks on this album, worthy of your purchase, somewhere on the Interweb: the unfortunately named “Tell-Tale Penis” and “So-and-So.” The vocals and lyrics on “So-and-So” are the perfect way to finish this album, which continues to keep Joan of Arc swimming along in the rock n’ roll canon.

Jay Reatard Singles Compilation!

My favorite garage-rocker, Jay Reatard, is said to be distributing a brand new collection of singles this coming Tuesday, June 17th, via In The Red Records. The track listing has four old songs, which means we’ll get 13 brand new Jay Reatard songs, well, sort of. All the songs come from various 7″s, but if you don’t have those, this is brand new! It also comes with a complimentary DVD of four Reatard shows, which might help win you over to the gloriousness of Jay Reatard! According to Jay’s website, he will apparently be showing his face in Austin at Red 7 on August 3rd.
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/01-blood-visions.mp3]

Download: Jay Reatard – Blood Visions [MP3]

The M’s – Real Close Ones

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When this album bounced its way into my mailbox, I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to expect from The M’s, a Chicago based quartet.  Their last effort, Future Women, felt sort of scattered to me, but it definitely had a few upsides as a whole.  I figured this album would at least meet the same level.

Album opener, “Big Sound,” definitely steps up this album from the get-go.  The pounding drums and fuzzy guitars grab your attention, drawing you closer in as you listen for–wait, are those horns?  Indeed! Nice move.  This moves right into “Breakfast Score,” which sounds familiarly like another famous Chicago band–Wilco.  It’s hard to go wrong there.

By the middle of the album, I had already found a few favorites–the sort of songs I would easily put on a mix-tape for a friend.  Lyrically, I think one of my favorite songs is “Ultraviolent Men,” where the band encourages us to “let them fight it out,” which kind of hits at home with my own pacifism during current circumstances.

The one thing that does hold this album back is the inconsistency.  I like a band that is willing to try new things or explore other paths, but this band goes off a bit too much.  They can’t seem to get one sound together, and I know that is probably on purpose, but it is the one thing that irks me here.

“Days in the Sun,” definitely recalls Village Green era-Kinks, with careful melodies, accompanied by gentle guitar strumming and light piano.  It’s pure 60s pop; a nod to one of my favorite eras, making this my favorite track on the album.

This album has its faults, but in its entirety, it’s definitely listenable, and at times, quite memorable.  Perfect for a refreshing day basking in the sun.

Take a listen to the album’s single “Don’t Be Late” :

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/dontbelate.mp3]

dontbelate.mp3

In Full Effect

Former Get Up Kids keyboardist and Coalesce James Dewees is set to release his 5th album as Reggie and the Full Effect. Sure, James doesn’t take himself seriously, which is how he comes to mesh the hardcore with that pop goodness–but who said we always had to be so serious? At the very least, you can tell your little brother or sister to listen to this instead of that boring radio! Take a listen to his newest song at this beautiful web site.

The Wedding Present – El Rey

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Long ago David Gedge hung up The Wedding Present moniker in favor of Cinerama. Recently, as in the last three years, we have seen the return of The Wedding Present–with two proper albums added to their already glorious catalog. Honestly, this newest one is the best work I think he’s ever done.

Our first hint at a classic return to form is his usage of Steve Albini-famed sound engineer-the first time they have united together since 1991’s Seamonsters. The reunion brings across a brilliant sound, where the guitars are extremely clean, while also carrying with them fire power. Then you have the pounding drums; the perfect mix of instrumentation to accompany Gedge’s voice.

For me, all the music creates quite a dynamic power. Songs like “The Trouble with Men,” carefully play with the soft/loud dynamic that made bands like Death Cab for Cutie or Pinback your favorite. It’s the album we all have been looking for, but we just didn’t know that it was out there for us. Well, solid rock albums are back in these days-brought to you by David Gedge and The Wedding Present.

Lyrically, he is as clever as he has ever been. Gedge comes across in his lyrics like that endearing older sibling who always has the answers to life that we search for on our own. He wants you to feel his characters and his words–and you listen. Of course, he also manages to keep pop culture references abundant–such as the Seinfeld reference in the brilliant “Soup” or a quick jab with Spiderman. This all serves as a reminder why we all love lyrics like these. For me, he is the poor man’s Bob Pollard.

This album is meant to bring perfection to your sunniest days. It makes you want to drive around town-or walk since that helps keep you in shape-with the guitars blasting out of your stereo as you sing along to every single word, as if they were your words. Ask yourself, isn’t this the sort of record you have been looking for? Here you have it folks, the completely triumphant return of David Gedge and The Wedding Present.

Here we have a new song off the album el rey entitled “The Thing I Like Best About Him is his Girlfriend”
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/09-the-thing-i-like-best-about-him-is-his-girlfriend.mp3]

Download: girlfriend.mp3

New Noah & The Whale Single

London band, Noah and the Whale, have recently put up a new song on their Myspace page, but surprisingly, it is not coming out on the much anticipated new album, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down coming our way via Interscope Records on July 29th. Comparisons abound, from Ruby Suns to Adam Green, but needless to say, this is a band you want to watch. Also, you can download the single, “5 Years Time,” on iTunes as we speak.

Hear the just released single “Sometimes”:
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/sometimes.mp3]

Download: sometimes.mp3

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Rating: ★★★★★

When one is confronted with the repeated hype of a band across the Internet word, as we all were with Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP, you want to find one thing, anything, that proves them wrong. You almost want to hate the album, but I’m sorry, this is not the album.

Personally, I wouldn’t have started the album with “Sun Giant,” since it may have appeared somewhere in the past, but it still sets the mood for this album. By the time “Drops in the River,” the third track, rolls around, this band already had me won over–I actually didn’t like the EP. Sure, its a gentle track from the beginning, but once it gets rolling its hard not to find yourself bobbing your head here. Then they go straight into “White Winter Hymnal,” which definitely is a stand out on the album.

Actually, its not a stand out at all because I am struggling to find the one song on here I can dislike, or at least dismiss. There isn’t one. I double-checked. Not a one.

Each song on this album has carefully crafted instrumentation, and it all fits so perfectly with the harmonies of lead singer Robin Peckfold, who at times is harmonizing with every one else in the band. It is quite an interesting effect–though I admit at times it makes the lyrics somewhat indiscernible. Still, you can’t hide the fact that each arrangement on this album seems to fit perfectly with the rest of the song–with the rest of the album for that matter.

My biggest complaint about this album is the timing of the release. This is just me being selfish, but where was this album during the winter? Everything on here screams perfect winter album to me. I know I know. I could easily enjoy this sitting around a campfire with my best friends, but I don’t have time to go camping right now. Still, it would be perfect for that.

My favorite songs are “White Winter Hymnal,” “Mykonos,” “Quiet Houses,” and “Oliver James.” Now, I could ramble off thousands of comparisons to this band, but I’m sure you could find more adequate ones elsewhere on the Internet. My vote is for The Clientele comparison, but that is just me.

I hope this little review gives you enough insight into this album, but to be honest, its really hard to write about such a solid album. See for yourself.

Fleet Foxes will also be bringing their live act to the Mohawk in Austin on July 2nd.  Get your tickets at The Mohawk’s website.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/02-fleet_foxes-white_winter_hymnal.mp3]

Download: whitewinterhymnal.mp3

Shearwater – Rook

Rating: ★★★★½

From the very first song, new Austin darlings Shearwater–via former Okkervil River bandmate, brought out a surprise. A minute into the first song and the music crashes against your ear. For me, it was the first of many surprises on this album that made it one of the best things I have heard this year. Jonathan Meiburg has finally come into his own.

Aside from the initial surprise, the thing that struck me as most fascinating was the loud/soft contrast between musical moments. It is this precise juxtaposition of sound levels that requires every listener to pay close detail to each note–which I feel ultimately brings you closer to the brilliance of this album. It’s a contrast between light and dark music, and in doing this so well, Meiburg has made an album that I feel stands completely alone–even if you choose to eliminate the lyrics entirely–which I don’t suggest.

Those lyrics, well, they are far better than I expected from my previous Shearwater experiences. “Home Life,” is a particular favorite, though I don’t dare to examine its meaning for fears of ruining your own interpretations. Now, accompanying those lyrics are supremely grandiose vocals. I was floored this time by the evolvement of his voice, which has little to compare it to–though initially I thought of Antony and the Johnsons–but it comes off much more epic.

Throughout this entire album I felt like I was on this enormous journey with various characters and within my own psyche–all of which I will gladly walk through again. This album carries you away with excellent vocals and sweeping musicianship, though I must admit that there is one journey not worth taking at all, “South Col,” which is the eighth track, and is a required skip to the next song.

I wish you all the best as you partake in your very own journey with Mr. Meiburg and his mates. May it be as fruitful to you as it was for me. Here is to good listening

Here’s the single off the new record entitled Rooks:
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/02-rooks.mp3]

Download: rooks.mp3

If you want to hear the entire album before you buy it, Shearwater is streaming it on their myspace page. Enjoy!

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