Dr. Dog – Shame Shame

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Since the beginning of 2000 some form of Dr. Dog has been out there, living it up, and making music.  It’s strange, but through it all, the band have managed to always sound like they did in the onset of their fame, yet, slight touches influence each record, giving each album a diverse position within the band’s catalogue.  Shame Shame, the band’s latest, is indeed, much like the last few, built on classic rock, like The Band, and fresh fun.

We begin our new journey with the band by listening to “Stranger.”  It’s an odd choice for an opening piece, as there’s no definitive album statement here; it seems more like a carry over from the last record, Fate.  You probably won’t hate this song, but it just encourages the idea that the band have replaced some of their tenacity with slick production.  But, “Shadow People” changes the album for the better.  Vocals come off like a young Wayne Coyne (this is the first notice of this for me), and gentle strumming is accompanied by piano.  As the song furthers itself, you’re introduced to group harmonies, always one of the band’s specialties, along with a bit of a pick me up.  This would have been a more appropriate opener.

One thing that hurts a lot of this record (just an opinion) is that the group sound really professional throughout.  Yes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but the restraint on songs such as “Where’d All the Time Go” removes a lot of the youthful exuberance the band portrayed (and do in the live setting).  Where once trading vocal parts between singers Leaman and McMicken always lit the songs afire, here they just seem far too casual.  Perhaps that’s the one drawback on Shame Shame; the band have gotten so good at what they do, that a bit of the spirit has been lost on the side of the road during some endless Spring tour.

Don’t mistake this criticism for entire disappointment, for there is plenty left to enjoy.  “Later” with its driving piano shows a bit of a new approach for the group. While there is a bit of instrumental tinkering in the song, you sort of wait for the band to let go entirely, which doesn’t happen, except for the vocals, their most powerful appearance on the record.  It’d be interesting to see if the band could ever let loose with their recorded material.

Dr. Dog do tamper a bit with their songwriting approach throughout Shame Shame.  “I Only Wear Blue” is mostly a vocal performance for the opening minute or so, just before the band jumps in to encourage a bit of fun.  Even the lyrics say “let’s get on with it,” suggesting that on some level, the band knows it’s best when they’re pushing themselves, and their listeners. But, for all the experimenting you find, the band always seem to resort to their old tricks.

The past several years have been really good for Dr. Dog, and one would hope that Shame Shame would only further their rise in the music world.  Instead, they’ve crafted an album full of really enjoyable songs, but songs that don’t ever seem to truly take off from a rigorous recording plan one might set up in the studio.  New Dr. Dog tunes are never bad, but at the same time, it seems like we’re at a standstill, waiting for something to change, if only to remind us why we loved this group so much in the beginning.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/drdog3.mp3]

Download: Dr. Dog – Stranger [MP3]

The band will be in Austin on May 1st at Emos.

Harlem – Hippies

Rating: ★★★★½

For the past several years, interest has been building slowly behind the Austin trio, Harlem.  They upped their own ante by signing to Matador Records for the release of their newest album, Hippies.  Behind years of playing whenever and wherever they could, honing their musical chops, Harlem have seemingly created one of the best works of the year (I was afraid to give it a 5 so as not to be accused of a homer).

Entering the album, there’s about thirty seconds of a slight lull during “Someday Soon,” but as the song goes on, the pace quickens, going forward in a ramshackle truckload of fun.  The final crashing chorus shows the nonchalant attitude of the band who are always energetically pursuing joy on stage.  “Friendly Ghost” (not about a ghost) carries the same mentality, using jangling guitars and a pounding drum to get your foot tapping so hard you might lose it to the sheer enjoyment of the song alone.

Destined to not just rely on lo-fi tendencies and madness, the group do give a nod to a little bit more of a classic rock n’ roll sound, as “Number One” highlights garage rock’s earlier days with gang vocals and certain tendency not to come across too polished.  All the while, they maintain their incredible stomp, which may lead to some soreness in the neck after prolonged exposure to this record. “Be Your Baby” is in the exact same ball park, although it doesn’t sound anything at all like the song that precedes it.  You will surely be exhausted already by this point, as no band can clearly keep up this blistering pace.

They do.  It’s like non-stop furious jangling chords and raucous percussion work.  “Gay Human Bones” maintains the pace, and then you find a hint of Nirvana in “Torture Me” (that’s if you are to believe the band’s Myspace).  However, there is “Cloud Pleaser.”  Rolling gently along for a minute or two, it gives all us listeners a chance to stretch and maybe grab a quick drink of water, but the band can’t stay away too long, ending the song on a faster note, albeit a slightly slower one, comparatively speaking.

You won’t ever find anything dull, though some might say that there are some like-sounding songs, along the way to the end of the record.  If you found the first half of the record touched by garage sounds and carefree recording, then you’ll be surprised that there is a dark psychedelia lying at the second half.  “Prairie My Heart” has a darker soul to it than some of the previous number, leading you to believe that Harlem has more tricks up their sleeve. So they do, as “Pissed” clearly isn’t like many other things on the record, yet it fits right along the rest of the tracks.  Personally, it just reminds me of Love if Arhtur Lee was a whole lot more “pissed”, and didn’t have that spectacular voice.

Really, this record is fantastic.  It moves along at such a quick pace that you have to go back several times to make sure you loved that one song as much as you did when you first heard it.  Truth is, you will love it, possibly more so.  Hard to find a bad song on this record that can’t stand on its own merit, which makes Hippies one of the best works to come out in 2010. Truth.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Harlem-Friendly-Ghost.mp3]

Download: Harlem – Friendly Ghost [MP3]

New Tunes from The School

Cardiff, Wales group The School will definitely have people dropping all sorts of names for comparisons to their pop sound, but I doubt many will hit it right on the head.  I’ve already heard the Camera Obscura reference, and while they have a girl singer, I’m not sold on the idea.  Still, having loads of reference points will definitely garner interest abroad, which is what the band have surely accomplished.  This track comes from their album Loveless Unbeliever, which hits stores April 19th.  This is one of the few songs that doesn’t sound entirely like a 60s girl group, so I chose this one up to offer you a preview to the band. You dig?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/04-I-Want-You-Back.mp3]

Download: The School – I Want You Back [MP3]

New Tunes From Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt

Okay, so the name Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt may be a bit much, but it really encompasses the sense of fun the band is trying to give out to its listeners.  Their album, I Love You I Love You. I Love You. And I’m In Love With You.  Have an Awesome Day. Have the Best Day of Your Life! hits stores on May 5th. This song here has an abundance of exuberance for you all.  It’s like taking Broken Social Scene and making them throw a party with Los Campesinos, which really isn’t a bad thing now is it? Give it a chance.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/10-Ride-Frindship.mp3]

Download: Teror Pigeon Dance Revolt – Ride Frindship [MP3]

FTC: The Wedding Present

There’s always been something about listening to The Wedding Present that made my life seem so relevant.  Perhaps it was the way Gedge told his stories, always aligning his first person narratives with my life, or at least seemingly so.  Of course, he also ran those buzzsaw guitars all over the place, furiously creating melodies out of nowhere.  I know I’m not the only fan of this band, as I clearly see their influence on many UK bands coming our way now.  Luckily, Gedge has opted to tour the world playing the band’s classic 1989 album, Bizarro.  You’ll have your chance to catch them next Monday at Emos.  For now, listen to this track, and tell me you don’t hear the group’s influence in every lo-fi guitar heavy track around today!  And, if you are looking for a little bit more pop, check out Gedge’s other outfit Cinerama, which also completely rules.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/04-Thanks.mp3]

Download: The Wedding Present – Thanks [MP3]

New Tunes from The Lodger

I’ve long been a fan of British band, The Lodger.  I loved their album, Life is Sweet, with all its jangly cutting guitars and infectious pop ditties.  Now, the band are set to release their newest album, Flashback, on Slumberland Records on April 27th.  We’ve got a new tune to offer you, and while there is still a bit of a jangle to the guitar, you can definitely tell that the band has put some work into evolving their sound.  Pretty excited for this one!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/The-Lodger-The-Back-Of-My-Mind.mp3]

Download: The Lodger – The Back Of My Mind [MP3]

Free Live Pinhead Gunpowder Recording!!

I know we cover a lot of indie stuff, but I’m super excited to come across this recording of a recent February Pinhead Gunpowder show.  This band is full of punk history; I mean, Aaron Cometbus plays drums, and some dude from this band, Green Day, plays guitar and sings.  They just played a set at 924 Gilman, and now the venue has released an awesome live recording of the show.  They’re giving it to you, the fans, for free!  If you’re into this sort of power-pop, go grab it HERE.  And if you’re not sure, listen to this to make up your mind.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/02-2nd-Street.mp3]

Download: Pinhead Gunpowder – 2nd Street [MP3]

New Tunes from Darwin Deez

It’s so crazy that press releases say Darwin Deez describes himself as part Thriller, part Dismemberment Plan because I swear when I first heard this I immediately thought of my beloved Travis Morrison.  Regardless, Darwin will be releasing his self-titled album on Lucky Number Records April 12th.  I’m not sure why people aren’t all over this, as it’s one of the catchiest albums I’ve heard in a long time.  This is sure to be the hit of the Spring.

*audio removed at the request of label

New (ish) Tunes from Dick Diver

During SXSW I was hanging with some of the guys from the incredible Chapter Music, based in Australia.  Not only were these guys super nice, but they gave me some tunes I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. One of my favorites is Dick Diver, who definitely have everything to do with the current jangle-pop scene in the States, though hailing from Australia, they probably don’t get the coverage they deserve.  Sunny classic guitar sounds and peculiar vocal delivery are too much for me to not point you to this great Australian gem.   If you dig it, you can get this from Chapter Music on the bands Arks Up 7″.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/10-Purgatory.mp3]

Download: Dick Diver – Purgatory [MP3]

New Tunes from Gogol Bordello

Gypsy punk may not be for all of our readers, but after witnessing their stupendous live show at ACL a few years back, I can’t just push my feelings for Gogol Bordello away anymore.  I’m really excited for their new album Trans-Continental Hustle, which hits stores on April 27th.  Based on this new tune, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a bunch of gypsies, which is enough reason for you to love the band all the more.  Get gypsy!

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

Download: Gogol Bordello – Pala Tute [MP3]

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