Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels

great

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers have consistently managed to put out albums of sufficient folk-pop, resting on the tightrope between overtly melancholy and cleverly sprawling acoustic-pop.  Their newest album, Lost Channels is of precisely the same vein; this isn’t an entirely bad thing considering it’s done so gracefully.

Immediately, “Palmistry” establishes the album’s purpose, as the gentle voice of Tony Dekker is accompanied by a similarly gentle strumming of guitar, as other instrumental pieces flesh out the song; it’s as if the band is painting precision landscapes with a brush so gentle it barely scratches the surface of the canvas.

Every number on this album has a familiar touch, as the band never tries to push too far beyond their pre-established boundaries.  The one admirable quality here is that they can continuously add layer after layer to each individual song, but never take away from the crystal-clear quality of the song.  Take, for example, “Concrete Heart;” it opens with a basic approach to a soft folk tune, just before strings creep into the background, and all the while there is a tinkering piano waiting to enter stage left, completing the song.  It is this delicate approach to songwriting that makes Great Lake Swimmers crafters of the perfect song; no tune has too much, or too little for that matter.

Even with a majority of the songs resting in the same spectrum of the genre, the band never stays in one place for too long, which allows them to keep the listener from growing bored.  Just a song away from solemnity comes “The Chorus in the Underground,” which shifts the approach over to a more bluegrass playing field, equipped with banjo and all. It’s a pleasant enough number, but the focus always rests around Dekker’s voice.

Sure, most bands rest their case on the singer’s voice, but not all bands will utilize this as an instrument all its own.  Dekker has a certain softness to his voice, which lends it to rest carefully in several different ranges of music; he can go from traditional folk to country-pop to bluegrass.  Up and down he rides with his voice, but it still maintains its very distinct quality, which seems as if current artists have borrowed from its fragility.

And with each new moment on the album, comes an entirely new picture to be painted in your mind, hidden in the caverns of your subconscious. The band, like Gravenhurst, crafts their songs around a certain moment within the group dynamic, and these moments are later fleshed out to create enjoyable moments for the listener.  You could describe it as organic, or as folksy soundscapes, but you best describe it as restful beauty, as this is the ultimate adjective for Lost Channels.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/04-concrete-heart.mp3]

Download: Great Lake Swimmers – Concrete Heart [MP3]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

yeah_yeah_yeahs_-_its_blitz_-2009

Rating: ★★½ · ·

In the year 2002 and 2003 the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the indie scene with a certain verocity and vitality that kept us all on the edge of our seats, seething with anticipation for future releases.  Fever to Tell, for the most part, lived up to the expectations, though it still felt a little clean in comparison.  Jump seven years ahead, and we have It’s Blitz, the latest effort from the band.  The distance couldn’t be greater.

One of the first elements that you will notice upon listening to the first track “Zero” is that frontwoman, Karen O, seems to have lost a bit of her animalistic prowess, as if she has been caged in a zoo.  The ferocity in her voice on the opening track, and the entirety of the album is rather lacking.  Where we once lauded her for her passion and energy, we’re now left confused by what seems a sort mild indifference.  Still, she does demonstrate her ability to carry a note here, but we saw such abilities on “Maps.”

Much will be made in the press for this album about the entirely new sound the band has come to take upon themselves.  The brashness and angular guitar work from previous efforts has completely disappeared; electronics samples and tired beats have replaced the fervor that once existsed as a tractor beam for listeners everywhere.

Mellow songs, such as “Skeletons” do show the band willing to explore that sonic range outside of their traditional forays, but such moments don’t seem as well mapped out this time around.  It’s difficult when listening to such tracks to figure out where the band was going, which loses some listeners, encouraging them to skip ahead to the next track. “Runaway” is another such song, and the piano structure just isn’t enough to psuh the song in any new direction.

“Dull Life” is one of the few songs on the album that seems to recall the past greatness of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Still, even when this song picks up the pace, where are those demonic guitar licks from Nick Zinner? It’s as if the man traded in his trusted axe for a child’s hatchet, a bejewled one nonetheless.

All in all, the album has some moments that every listener will most likely enjoy, but it doesn’t seem like this is really enough to warrant repeated listens.  The band shows their maturity as a group, but they discard everything that made them abrasive and frightening, exchanging them instead for a bunch of furry rabbits that you keep in a cage behind your house.  Sure, electronic moments make for great sound, but this band isn’t the one that was supposed to be giving those to us.  We asked them to break us down with passion and voice, but instead they just want to hold hands and walk along the beach.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/yeah_yeah_yeahs_-_zero.mp3]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero

Leonard Cohen @ The Long Center 4/1 & 4/2

lennyLet’s face it, there really isn’t a better show in town this week. If you are nearing the end of your life, wouldn’t you like to say that you were there when Leonard Cohen played the Long Center in Austin? Sure, tickets may be a bit much, but you can’t go wrong with buying one of these. I mean, really, you can pay your bills next month, but Leonard only comes to Austin once in a lifetime, so live it up with Leonard this week.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/07-a-singer-must-die.mp3]

Download: Leonard Cohen – A Singer Must Die [MP3]

New Tunes from Conor Oberst

mysticConor Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band are at it again, releasing a new album, Outer South, this May on Merge Records. The first single from the album is titled “Slowly (Oh So Slowly).” Listening to the track, the vocals are really solid, but I’d be remiss not to say that the production seems to favor the full band approach, over the backing band approach used previously. You be the judge.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/slowly_oh_so_slowly.mp3]

Download: Conor Oberst – Slowly (Oh So Slowly) [MP3]

Beep Beep – Enchanted Islands

islands

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When Beep Beep released their first album off of Saddle Creek Records, one was hard pressed not to find the similarities to heralded post-punk groups like Q and Not U, which is not really a far off comparison, seeing how far the group have gone in changing their sound on the group’s second album, Enchanted Islands.

Of course you will notice that knife-like guitar licks still cleverly cut through the album with precision, but what has evolved beyond the angular guitar-play is the evolution of the funk.  Bass lines are much more pronounced this time around, at least on songs like “Secrets for the Well” or “The Whispering Waves.”

More pronounced on this album, however, is the conceptualization, or the effort that Eric Ray and Chris Terry put into telling a story with each different tune.  Some stories revolve around traditional mysticism, such as struggles with mermaids, while others like “Seppuku” are interested in Japanese ritualistic suicide through disembowelment.  It’s not necessarily a unified concept that runs throughout the album, but one of different perspectives on enchantment. It’s is this disjointed approach to the album that both succeeds and holds the band back at moments.  In success, the band has crafted a varying album, layered with changes in tempo and structure, as well as vocal pitch.  Each song opens up like a Russian matryoshka dolls, revealing pieces within pieces.  At the same time, the effort seems disjointed at moments, as if the epic storytelling proved too much for those at the helm.

You will find some straightforward songs in the presentation of this album, both seeming to tie into each other, lyrically.  The ease with which a listener can approach these songs allows for them to shine in the mix of the album, as they step out for just a moment before being consumed again by the whole of the album.  “Return to Me” and “I Miss You” both loosely rely upon a classic approach, with gentle guitar accompanied by soaring lyrics.  Odds are that most casual listeners will find these the standout tracks, as they are easily consumed, but more rewarding moments exist throughout the entirety of the record.

And that is how it all comes to be on Enchanted Islands, as one must journey with the band, through the dark and light moments, behind the chords and into the lyrics.  Each time you find yourself traveling one way, the wind blows, moving you in an entirely new direction within the album, which makes Beep Beep one of the more interesting listens to come out at this point in the year.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/10-i-miss-you.mp3]

Download: Beep Beep – I Miss You [MP3]

New Tunes from Passion Pit

passionPassion Pit has been all the rage since releasing their EP last year, and the new album, Manners, is riding along the hype machine, to what we can only hope is a worthy debut. This song, “The Reeling” starts off a bit slow, but wait a few seconds and you will see why the band has garnered a lot of praise from the media. Coated in the past, but pushing forward.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/passionpit-thereeling.mp3]

Download: Passion Pit – The Reeling [MP3]

Harlem Shakes – Technicolor Health

harlem

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Every once in a while you walk across a band with a little bit of a reputation, and very little else.  This is where you come across Harlem Shakes, a band that has been slowly climbing the indie-pop ladder rung by rung.  Their new album, Technicolor Health, will only encourage more people to climb upon their back as they aim to reach the top.

Opening the album, you’ll find that various electronic elements are crawling all over the first song, much the way that they crawl all over the entire album. But, these little bleeps and blips grab more urgency when the rest of the band kicks in, throwing horns and guitar into the mix.  It’s an eclectic sound to say the least, but they manage wrangle it all together in an effort to create pop gems.

Singer Lexy bares a strong resemblance to the vocal registry of John K Samson of The Weakerthans, especially in “Strictly Game,” though just as you start to hear that in his voice, it changes directions.  This is precisely one of the elements of this album that allows listeners to maintain their interest, as the band takes turn after turn through their pop repertoire, leaving nary a stone unturned.  The entire kitchen sink has been nicely set in this album, and yet it still all sounds remarkably charming.

Some of the songs are downright destined to encourage you to shake your boots, but then there are other moments that seem to show a certain bit of restraint.  “Niagra Falls” appears to pay homage to a bit of classic rock elements, and one might even say shares a missing link with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, back when they were still good.  The piano laden track bubbles gently beneath the surface of your ear drum, drifting off quietly just before it gets annoying.

Such seems to be the story of the band.  What once would be considered overbearing self-indulgence in instrument usage is restrained just enough so as not to appear as such.  Just as you think it all begins to get to be a bit too much, the band pulls it all back in, honing their skills in the craft of restraint. Your left with a great sense of respect, as the combination of such instruments never seems to be entirely too much, though looking at the inclusion of these things would lead you think otherwise.

Everything here is simpler than one expects, which is how this band will win you over.  They’ve created an album full of songs that push your boundaries of listening, yet draw you in with catchy melodies and clever lyrics.  At times, it might be a bit much for the listener due to the overabundance of sounds, but like the band, you should show restraint, and give this album a proper chance, as repeated listening provides for great rewards.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/04-niagara-falls.mp3]

Download: Harlem Shakes – Niagra Falls [MP3]

New Tunes from Death Cab for Cutie

deathSomewhere in the history of my adolescence, I adored this band. I’ve watched them change and grow from album to album, always finding something to appreciate. There newest album Narrow Stairs saw them branch further than before, but it also didn’t seem to fulfill Ben Gibbard’s desire for perfect acoustic songs with Death Cab. This number reminds us all why we fell in love with his songwriting, and check the midway mark for a change in the song’s progression. The song is the first track off their new Open Door EP coming out next week digitally.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/deathcabforcutie-littlebribes.mp3]

Download: Death Cab for Cutie – Little Bribes [MP3]

Strange Boys – and Girls Club

strange

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Austin’s very own The Strange Boys finally have an album for everyone to share with their friends, though we suggest doing so in a legal manner.  After all the waiting, we finally get to see what these young gents have to offer us all; it’s precisely what we all expected, and this is meant in an endearing fashion.

One of the first things most listeners will come across is that the album sounds a bit muddy, as if the boys dragged these songs from beneath a rock on the patio of your favorite dive bar. It’s a taste that most listeners will have to endure, but many more will find rewarding.

Similarly, listeners will likely complain that singer Ryan Sambol’s vocals are a little bit shattering.  At times his lyrics are downright hard to decipher, drowned in a Southern sort of drawl, and drawn out until the very last possible syllable.  Still, if you give it a bit of love and devotion, it’s bound to worm its way into your heart.

Where precisely would one place the music on this record?  Besides Austin?  Well, step back into the storied history of a struggling middle class during the sixties.  Turn right just past the nearest alley, and walk into the dingy bar filling with smoke as we speak.  Here you will find the band and their album and Girls Club. It’s a dense sound, filled with frustration, fear and a destiny all of its own; a destiny soaked, more often than not, in debauchery.

Similarities abound, especially when one focuses on some of the melodic moments, such as the guitar during “No Way for a Slave to Behave,” which resembles the last era of the great American sock-hop.  It swings you left and right, as you grab the girl nearest you.  If it didn’t have that raw emotion and production, one might find such a song on American Bandstand.

Blues and R&B elements are also in abundance, making one reminisce for the legendary days where teenagers snuck off to cozy up to their romantic interest such as on the song “This Girls Taught Me a Dance.”  Even with such elements, they band pull out little rays of sunlight with the guitar work, creating moving songs intended for masses motivated for the subversive culture.

Combine this all with various other classic rock n’ roll elements, and by that we reference Chuck Berry, not your local station that plays everything by the Eagles.  It’s a fusion of everything dirty about the story of rock n’ roll, and even the lyrics seem to draw from a day when causing a ruckus was more of just a good time as opposed to a violent act.  Stories of stealing girls from their man along with serving time don’t seem to revel in senseless crimes, rather the need for diversion in the sterile world.  Use hit song “Heard You Want to Beat Me Up” as an example for such lyrical meanderings.

And the story is written.  You find yourself slowly warming up to a band intent upon returning to the day when music not only had artistic elements, but moments devoted purely to the enjoyment to those on stage and in an audience.  Every twist and turn, every influence, and every word will make you yearn for precisely the same thing, and you’ll want to share it with the band.

1 818 819 820 821 822 847