Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cardinology

Rating: ★★ · · ·

Dear Ryan Adams,

Back in the day you put together an amazing album Heartbreaker. In all honesty, that record is going to be remembered for years to come; it really is that good. But, now you come back at your fans with Cardinology!

First off, what on earth is going on with the album artwork? Is this one of the remaining pieces of the set from Roadhouse? Maybe that’s where you found the sound for this album. Perhaps it’s your attempt at establishing yourself as the artist formerly known as Ryan Adams, which would be understandable, as you bare no resemblance to the man who stepped out of the shadows of Whiskeytown.

This new record, Cardinology, well, it just doesn’t make any sense at all. Sure, many of those will remember some of the scattered breakthrough moments you shared with your old band, but your best efforts always seem to come from areas when you step aside from the full on band approach. Here, we find you overshadowed by the entire band, and often, you don’t even sound like yourself anymore.

For the most part, the opening to this album sounds like you wanted to take a pop approach to writing country songs, but you end up sounding like the Gin Blossoms or Third Eye Blind covering Americana songs. It feels overly contrived, as if you lost that magical touch that drew so many people to you in the first place. Listening to this album makes you seems as if you drifted further away from yourself; we were all sad to see you go.

As listeners, we appreciate some of the strong songs that do make their way through, such as “Let Us Down Easy” or “Crossed Out Name.” Each of those seems to exist in that distant place where you lived for so long, yet rarely visit these days. It has so much personality in the song, especially lyrically. You could go so far as to say that “Evergreen” can also be lumped in with the same batch of songs; they are all personal, making them more personal for the audience listening to your records.

Then again, as you make headway, you add a song like “Stop.” If anyone decided to rip off Neil Young playing the piano, it had to be you. There is no passion here, and the lyrics seem so ridiculous. Did you really write “you are not alone,” and throw it into a song? Way to be original. You know what would be original? A Ryan Adams record without the Cardinals that broke our hearts; a record that made us believe; a record we all really need.

Deerhunter – Microcastle

Rating: ★★★★ ·

For most of the fans of Deerhunter, this album seems to have been floating around the world in some form or another, so many of you have already gotten to know Microcastle, the band’s sophomore release.  Those of you that haven’t listened to it yet will definitely need to get your hands on this album.

Admittedly, the band has left behind a little bit of the atmospherics that were present in Cryptograms, instead pushing forward with a more immediate sound.  Mr. Cox has even gone so far as to say that he didn’t mind if the band took on a sort of Strokes‘ sound, which, it really doesn’t.  You can only go so far before you aren’t the same band, but Deerhunter sound every bit themselves here.

Sure, the songs definitely ascribe to a little bit of the pop, but they surround each song in their very structured fuzziness, clouding every inch of tape with something worthwhile for the listener.  It’s as if they chose to completely focus on every song, providing all of them with their own personality so that in turn, they resonate individually with the listener.  Slowly, the band builds each song, as if they were putting together tiny bricks in order to construct microcastles.

A lot of the songs, however, are reminiscent of the sounds bands like Grizzly Bear or Gravenhurst.  Gentle vocals are paced between intricate musicianship, and then walled in with extemporaneous sound, creating the perfect song within a soundscape.  It’s becoming a bit over-done, but you won’t find any who do it much better than the Georgians from Deerhunter.  But, they also jump far away from this in songs like “Cover Me Slowly” and “Nothing Ever Happened,” which may be more in the way of what future albums might sound like.

For now, the band seems to be happily stuck between their own walls of sound and their desire for a less eclectic sound.  They do seem at their best when they push the pace a bit, allowing themselves a touch of greatness, but each time they resume to other formats, they fall back into something more commonplace in the modern indie music market.  Either way, Deerhunter have created another album that is sure to rise to the top of many people’s year end lists; as it should.

High Places – s/t

Rating: ★ · · · ·

Brooklyn duo High Places recently released their newest LP, a self titled affair, to much critical claim. Those kids over at PFork gave it an 8! Having come across it ourselves, we opted to look deeper into the album in attempt to uncover the mystery.

Upon first listen, most will find that the music, well, there really doesn’t seem to be much music. Sure, there are some electronic beats dancing here and there with a little mixture of the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure, but there really isn’t anything along the lines of what the majority of the world would define as music. A close examination might reveal that the skeleton for almost every single song on the album stems from too much indulgence into someone’s collection of Animal Collective B-Sides.

Some refer to such music as IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music. Listening, you might find it difficult that the word intelligent has been mentioned at all because clearly it takes very little intelligence to create this music. It’s reminiscent of the stuff all your nerdy friends were making on their own computers back when things like Garage Band were just coming into play. Simpletons.

However, despite obvious lack of creativity, or melody for that matter, there is a highlight all over this album, almost blanketing the sheer horridness. That savior is Mary Pearson, the vocalist for the band. Her range is not all that grand, but she is precisely what most listeners seem to be enjoying these days. She is your girl next door indie songstress, albeit one who has chosen to make this album. One would love to find here step outside the confines of this one-dimensional genre in search of deeper melodies or more creativity.

Those of you who consider yourself intelligent should not listen to those in love with this band, well, you are intelligent, so you should be informed. Listen, listen, then check back with us at ATH so we know that we weren’t too far off on this one.

Sebastien Grainger – Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains

Rating: ★★★½ ·

The majority of the world might not recognize the name of Sebastien Grainger, but most of you know who he is, and I’m sure some of you saw him play. Grainger is the former drummer for Death From Above 1979, that dueling barrage of blips and banging that burst onto the scene a few years back. Dude’s on his own now; the question is can he deliver like he used to do when he stood atop his stool breaking our ears and his drums?

Upon first listen, you will immediately discover that Sebastien has long ago departed from the intensity he once carried into our bedrooms. “Love Can Be So Mean,” the opening track, is about as deliberate a step into the pop spectrum of things we could expect him to go; he goes there unexpectedly, but he still brings a punch or two with him.

For some you might hear a touch of his past in a good amount of these songs, as the guitars usually carry a large amount of fuzz with them, much like that horse we’re beating into the ground. Another similarity in transitions is the vocal quality built into these songs; the vocals never sound very clear, coming off muddled in the mix. It’s not horrible, especially since he attaches a lot more melody this go round, but you can still see the shadow of his past looming just over his shoulder.

“I’m All Rage Live 05” is Sebastien doing Wolf Parade, which is okay since they both hail from north of the border, but the most disheartening thing about this song is that Sebastien holds back during the chorus; he has every opportunity to let loose like we know he can, but he holds back instead. It gives a less angst-ridden approach to the song, but most would love to see him belt it out. And it’s clear he has plenty of angst to let out, as evidenced by songs such as “I Hate My Friends.”

There are steps in all sorts of directions here, which makes this album a little unfocused. There are some allusions to 80s power ballads mixed with shadows from his past wrapped around various other late-nineties influences (see Saddle Creek Records, the label releasing this album). You’ll even find more direct approaches to ballads and harmonies, but you won’t find focus. When he’s on, the record has amazing moments worth playing again and again; when he’s not, you just hope he can rein it all in for the next go round. Really, you just want him to let loose completely.  A record without the evident inhibtions from this record could just prove brilliant.

Have a listen to latest single “By Cover of Night” below:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/03-by-cover-of-night-fire-fight.mp3]

Download: Sebastian Grangier – By Cover of Night [MP3]

The Dears – Missiles

Rating: ★★★★½

Years into the future, we will look back upon the “oughts,” searching for those few bands that we all seemed to forget about, but that completely deserved our love and affection.  Already I can see The Dears being one of those bands; so adored by fans, yet never given the chance to completely blossom before us.  Their latest release, Missiles, again has them chasing down labels, losing members and still coming out on top of the world. They settled with Dangerbird Records in order to release the album in these United States.

Much has been made of singer, Murray Lightburn’s, tendency to come off as a black Morrissey, but throughout this album you get a peak at a more mature Murray, one that is comfortable in his own skin, singing as carefully as his music requires.  Opening track, “Disclaimer” features one of the most laid-back Lightburn vocal performances to date, which is still ridiculously wonderful in its own right.

One of the more apparent attributes of this album, and possibly the one fault, is that this album doesn’t sound quite as complete as The Dears albums from the past.  There are some empty spaces throughout the record, which is most likely due to the loss of every member in the band other than Natalia and Murray.  Although their traditional soundscapes are not nearly as dense as they once were, it makes way for a lot more intimate moments for the listeners, not to mention the full emergence of Natalia’s vocals.  But, most will find that the grandiose soundscapes of typical construction are strikingly absent here.

As usual, there is evidence of a certain sense of melancholy and ruination, as evidenced by songs like “Demons,” but the unique organization of the lyrical content in the songs carefully allows for the continual movement of the songs’ statements.  After all the trials and tribulations of the band, and couple, heading this album, it’s difficult not to empathize with everything they’ve gone through, even in song.

Admirably, they solider on into that good night.  Creating wondrous songs full of lush guitars, ebbs and flows, and subtle defiance.  Many of the songs go beyond the 5 minute mark, which really means you have more of The Dears to listen to night after night.  The build up towards the final launch in “Missiles” is just an example of the mastery this group has over their songs, perfecting nearly every one.

In the end, we might all skip over this one, or this band for that matter.  We may see their absence of credibility with various labels, or the decrease in interest building up to this new album; but, always present will be the incredible songs the group has written, and continues to write, in the face of more adversity than most of us will ever care to endure.

Check out the song “Meltdown in A Major” elsewhere on our website.

10/17 The Wedding Present @ Mohawk

Many in Austin seemed to have forgotten about the decades of hard work that David Gedge has put forth for our ears. Since 1984 he has consistently provided us with a plethora of guitar-driven pop music set to ideas of loss and love. Perhaps we consider it cliche now, but Gedge has been at the helm for a long time, and he brought his group The Wedding Present to the Mohawk Friday, October 17th. Follow the jump to read about the show.

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Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Of Montreal have been purveyors of cool for quite some time now, and they are a group, or a man, continuing to push the boundaries of pop music. Here, Kevin Barnes, does his best to deconstruct pop structure in order to make Skeletal Lamping one of the more interesting listens of the year.

Let’s rid ourselves of the main flaw that is present on this album, and in fact, I’m quite disappointed with the lyrical output. Much has been made of Barnes’ alter-ego, a super-sexed black transsexual, but the presence of that person destroys a lot of the album’s credibility. Lyrically, this album pushes the limits of acceptance beyond it’s barrier, and although I’m sure various people’s will claim that “we can do it softcore, if you want,” but that doesn’t make the sexual innuendo worthy of our attention. Typically, Of Montreal albums maintain credible lyrics, in some manner, and sure, they exist here and there, but most will be turned off by the ridiculousness present.

Now, the band has continuously been moving towards an electronic sound since Satanic Panic in the Attic, and this album is what one can assume is the last step. For the most part, it’s difficult to find where full-band participation might come into play, as the majority of the skeletal instrumentation is electronic. However, the group, as per usual, splices their elements carefully throughout the backbone of electronic sounds. One of the highlights might be the horns on “An Eluardian Instance,” where they blast in with perfect accompaniment.

One of the most spectacular aspects of this album, based merely on Barnes’ attempt to tear down the walls of modern pop, is that listening to the entire thing is like going on a scavenger hunt for perfect pop gems. Harmonies abound, hopping in and out of the core of each song, hiding around the corners of our hearts. You must carefully follow through each song in order to get the most out of this album. It’s a daunting task.

Therein lies the problem most listeners will encounter. Can you stomach the hours of careful listening to find one of the most gratifying listening experiences around? It’s a hard choice for most, and one that most people will not be able to make until several listens of the album, and by that point it’s too late, you’ve already put it aside for the rest of the year. But, if you hold on for a couple more listens, you will be making some of the stranger mix tapes among your groups of friends, based solely on the fact that you used clips from the 47th second on when you decided to include “Death is Not a Parallel Move” on your year end mix.

It’s not an easy listen by any means, but weeks into your listening experience you will find that there are more and more elements you missed, ultimately asking you to return again and again to one of the more interesting listens of the year.

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