SXSW Awards

What a week that was! We’re worn out, as we’re sure you are, and we’ve been trying to figure out what our favorite moments of SXSW 10′ were.  We’re excluding our own party, as obviously that was a great time, so this list includes a lot of things we took part in during the week.  These are just our thoughts, and sometimes they’re based on a thirty minute set, so don’t hate us.  But, we’d love to hear what the highlights of your week were, so leave a comment to share.

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New Tunes from Think About Life

Canada’s Think About Life just busted out their new album Family on Alien8 Records, and this opening single is just ridiculously bouncy.  It’s got some off-kilter vocal vibes, backed by this throbbing bass and precision snare.  It just gets you moving your feet right away, and that’s what we all need on the day after SXSW.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/210-Havin-My-Baby-1.mp3]

Download: Think About Life – Havin My Baby [MP3]

Happy Birthday – s/t

Rating: ★★★ · ·

One of the most recent signees to historic Sub Pop is a relative newcomer to the music scene.  Happy Birthday, for those of you stumbling upon the band, just formed in 2008, and their self-titled album is their first official recording.  This album fits nicely into the new fascination with fuzz-riddled guitar pop, though the band isn’t just a one trick pony.  While the majority of the album is filled with charm, there are a few missteps that keep it from taking off.

Happy Birthday kicks off their debut with one of the catchiest tunes of 2010, “Girls FM.”  Jangling guitar rings hollowly in the background as Kyle Thomas wails a bit, just before the drums are added.  Once you get to the chorus, where Ruth Garbus joins Thomas, you can’t escape the sugary sweetness.  Placing this song up front establishes a lot of the music as surf-pop, though the group does go in different directions at times.

One of the tricks the band employs to great effect is to have Kyle’s vocals carefully backed by the warmth of Ruth’s voice.  “2 Shy” utilizes this tool, and it moves the music away from garage band to polished power-pop.  Such a combination creates blissful moments for the band, and they pull it out just often enough to make it memorable. You’ll see the same elements in “Maxine the Teenage Eskimo,” which might be the secret gem of this album.  It’s late in the collection, and this general sweetness comes in a bit later in the song; stay with this one folks, as you’ll be rewarded greatly.

Interestingly, there are some odd Marc Bolan-esque vocals floating throughout spots on this record.  “Subliminal Message” has that trademark T. Rex guitar, and Thomas seems to channel a bit of Marc’s vocal inflections on his delivery–this actually makes for a really fixating slow jam.  Unfortunately, they return to this same formula for “Pink Strawberry Shake,” at a point in the album when you’re really looking to be revitalized by something new; you might find yourself bogged down at this point.

Still, a new band has to have some drawbacks, right?  Well, this is true of Happy Birthday.  At times, they seem to have a little bit too much simplicity in their songwriting, which can be translated to childishness.  “Zit” is just one of those songs that demonstrates some of these weaknesses; it’s a juvenile song, both lyrically and musically.  While the lyrics throughout definitely hint at the unpolished quality of the group, this song takes it a bit too far.  Clearly, there is room for simplicity and youthfulness, but it kind of goes too far at points on the album.  This is just another factor the band will eventually work out on the next album, as they sometimes don’t seem to know when to hold back, pushing songs beyond a point of impact for the listener.

However, don’t end the album without listening to closer, “Fun.”  Yes, it does use that recently popularized style of mundane lyrical songwriting, but there is a touch of real brilliance here.  Some might recall Superdrag or Teenage Fanclub, and fans of those bands will surely love the ending to this album.  All things considered, Happy Birthday‘s debut has demonstrated room for growth, with touches of brilliance throughout, so we should expect a solid second outing based on the charms of this beginning.

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

Download: Happy Birthday – Girls FM [MP3]

New Tunes from Sweet Apple

Let’s face it, everybody loves that nostalgic sound from the 90s, and the recent revival of J Mascis in the past several years can’t hurt.  So, we’re excited for his new band, along with several member of Cobra Verde, Sweet Apple to release their debut Love & Desperation on April 20th.  This new single is ridiculously good, and it has that dirty pop feeling only Mascis seems to perfect. It’s time you took a listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/02-Ive-Got-A-Feeling-That-Wont-Change.mp3]

Download: Sweet Apple – I’ve Got A Feeling (That Won’t Change) [MP3]

Miles Kurosky – The Desert of Shallow Effects

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When Beulah called it quits many thought this might be the last we had heard of Miles Kurosky.  He hid under the radar for a little bit, but the instrumental orchestrations within his mind eventually won out, encouraging Miles to take to the studio once again. The Desert of Shallow Effects is his first solo album, and while it doesn’t stray too far from his previous works, it serves as a reminder that he still has the ability to craft amazing pop gems surrounded by big band moments.

The album opens with a slow burner, “Notes From the Polish Underground.” Miles doesn’t do too much to push the energy on this number, instead choosing to let the horns and piano flesh out the song.  It’s reminiscent of his work on Yoko, which left Beulah on the quieter side of California pop. But, he moves on quickly with “An Apple for an Apple.”  Seconds into the song, you get a ringing guitar, one that comes in and out of the song.  Here is the Miles that fans will fall in love with all over again.  Instruments abound, production wise, but it’s his warm vocal drenched in a faint moment of backing vocals that celebrate the exuberance we once associated with the singer.

While this record has moments where Miles brings back that passionate mini-yelp, such as “I Can’t Swim,” energetic moments are clearly not all that will define his return to form. The Desert of Shallow Effects also utilizes his softer side to great effects.  “She Was My Dresden” is really just a song for him to strum along while you are soothed by his vocals.  What’s relevant about this song in regards to his past is his focus on first-person storytelling it’s one of the few songs on this album where his feelings are the sole focus of the work.  In contrast, he has other slow turning songs like “Housewives with Knives” and “West Memphis Skyline” where he looks at writing from the third-person perspective.  Despite the change in lyrical content, these quieter moments also show that he’s polished his songwriting in this style, fusing his own distinctive writing with his lush orchestration.  Perhaps time has allowed him to clear the cobwebs a bit, and construct sublime moments all over.

Suffice it to say, The Desert of Shallow Effects is a triumphant return for Miles Kurosky.  Sure, he does seem a bit undecided on precisely where he wants to go now that he’s back in the music game, but what remains central to this album is that he can still create amazing songs, use his friends to provide great backing moments, then carry you into momentary bliss.  We should all consider ourselves lucky that such a wonderful voice has returned to the music scene to warm us over with his sunny chamber pop tastes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/10-West-Memphis-Skyline-1.mp3]

Download: Miles Kursoky – West Memphis Skyline

Miles will also be playing the following SXSW shows:

3/17 @ Red Eyed Fly – 3:20 PM   3/18 @ Emos 9 PM  3/19 @ Home Slice Pizza – 5:15

SXSW Liars Contest!

We’ve long been admirers of Liars; they seem untouched by their peers, always exploring their own sonic pallet.  Luckily, they have an incredible live show to back up their ridiculously respectable musical chops.  You’ll all get a chance to glimpse them in Austin this week (if you’re here, that is).  But, to top that off, we’ve got a killer contest brought to you by the friendly people at Mute Records that will allow you to win a package with all the band’s works, and a bonus disc of their latest, Sisterworld, with reinterpretations from the likes of Thom Yorke and Devandra Banhart.  Leave us a comment with your favorite SXSW moment, and we’ll select 3 winners!  Contest will end Tuesday, March 16th 12 PM CST. Good luck.

Make sure to make it out to these SXSW dates:

3/18 @ Insound Day Party – 4 PM  & 3/19 Billions Showcase – 1 AM

We bet that closing set at Antones will be one of the best moments of SXSW!

Liars – Sisterworld

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Long ago Liars delved into post-punk world with They Threw…on Top, but they’ve shape-shifted on every record since that point, which would lead many to believe that Sisterworld would have some sort of major twist forcing listeners to adapt yet again.  The fact is, Liars have finally completed their most cohesive collage of noise-rock since their debut, and in doing so, have created their best work to date.

Our opening two tracks, “Scissors” and “No Barrier Fun” find the group getting into a bit of garden darkness.  “Scissors” features a haunting Angus vocal, with choir backing, that creeps along whilst tinkering noises guide the song.  Suddenly, you’re met with crashing noise.  It’s similar to the way the opened Liars, but as soon as you realize what’s happened, we’re back to Angus lurking in the shadows. Meanwhile, “No Barrier Fun” brings along the experimental noise work the band has employed in the past, throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix.  For some reason, there is a throbbing electronic element in the background that seems to keep you on edge throughout.

But, never to be a band to stay in one place for long, you’ll find that “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” brings sort of an Anthrax vocal delivery coated in walls of feedback and noise.  You have to expect them to belt this song out in the live setting, as the energy alone emitted from this song surpasses almost all their work to date; even Angus’ odd vocals stretched over the ending are not enough to take away from the incessant pounding element that makes this number stand out in the head of most listeners.

One of the weirdest things about recent Liars records, including this one, is that sometimes the band just seems as if they’re messing about in the studio, and yet they manage to always make it sound interesting.  “Proud Evolution” doesn’t really seem to have anywhere to go from the first few seconds, and it almost feels like you’re stuck listening to this song without an escape; this may be why you have to credit the band for their creativity and exploration. You’ll find that as the percussion joins and the lyrical delivery comes in almost the form of a stomping chant, you’ve already invested yourself enough into the song to want to let it go by skipping on to the next moment.

Liars remain a compelling listen throughout Sisterworld due to their ability to juxtapose haunting experimental numbers right next to their oddball noise rock.  “The Overachievers” recalls some of their earliest work, although it has the sonic exploration of their later works, as screeching guitars fill in the back line of the song.  Then they throw it out the window and back the song right into “Goodnight Everything,” which comes off like a demonic version of M83, as soundscapes are destroyed by the death march of the guitars and Angus’ continually disturbing vocal delivery.

You have to give it up for this band.  Rarely does a band manage to jump from point to point throughout their career and still maintain a reasonable sense of cohesion amidst their catalogue.  Liars continue to push the envelope in their own quest to uncover every redeemable quality in sonic exploration.  Sisterworld is the benefactor of this never-ending search, finding the band learning from their past, and moving on into unknown territories of creative noise.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/09-The-Overachievers.mp3]

Download: Liars – The Overachievers [MP3]

New Tunes from Dr. Dog

Personally, the new Dr. Dog really has me on edge.  Sure, they’re not necessarily indie darlings anymore, but I’m really looking forward to the release of Shame, Shame, which hits stores April 6th.  Here’s another new track off their latest effort.  You can welcome the boys to Austin in May @ Emos as they come our way to support their new album, that’s if you don’t catch them at SXSW.

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

Download: Dr. Dog – Stranger [MP3]

New Tunes from Tre Orsi

Tre Orsi recently popped up on the Matador Austin Compilation, though the band is a three piece from Denton.  This is probably due to the fact that we’d like to claim them as our own due to their rocking live shows, and their powerful sound.  The band will be releasing their album, Devices + Albums, on March 23rd through Works Progress Records.  Production credits go to Bubba Kadane of Bedhead (The New Year too) fame, so you know it will sound great–I can confirm it does, as I’ve been listening to it non-stop since I got my hands on it.  Give the band a try. Buy local.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/02-The-Engineer.mp3]

Download: Tre Orsi – The Engineer [MP3]

Free Energy – Stuck On Nothing

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Since they released their first 7″, the name of Free Energy has hit all across the blogosphere, garnering hype as a straight ahead rock ensemble a la Thin Lizzy or Cheap Trick.  Backed by the production talent of LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy, no one had any idea how far this band could really go. Finally, Stuck on Nothing is upon us, and it lives up to all the accolades for the most part.

That first riff off “Free Energy” hits you hard, with a little rock emphasis thrown in by the excessive cowbell. It’s easily the most hook-laden on the record, and it’s one you could easily find lying on mainstream radio channels alongside the likes of Weezer.  Sure, that seems frightening nowadays, but you know you liked the blue album too!  I mean, its filled with the exact same sort of mediocre guitar solos in the middle.

They don’t stop bringing you their cookie-cutter rock moments for the first several tunes on Stuck on Nothing.  Despite the originality in the opening minutes, you’ll find that songs like “Dream City” just have that sort of hook that you imagine your parents got stoned to during college, which probably means you did the same in high school at some point. But, you’ll find that the band is just more than a nostalgic throwback once you get to “All I Know.”  Yes, it does have a very similar riff aesthetic, but slowing down the pace of this track reveals that Free Energy can grab your attention without being overtly in your face all the time.

From here on out, the record begins to really hit its groove.  The band discarded the balls out fury they opened the album with, opting instead to push their sound just a little bit further by working on those guitar solos, and in fact, in doing so, they’ve made the rhythm guitar moments sound a great deal more effective.  It’s this sort of song construction that creates ultimately more enjoyable moments than those fueled by cock-rock.  Sure, you can hear all sorts of Thin Lizzy over “Young Hearts,” but Free Energy somehow manage to make it all their own (most likely due to a singer that is not Phil Lynott). “Hope Child” is another step into the band developing their own sound entirely.  They take the classic guitar stomping moments that have been present throughout, but they throw a bit of California punk vocals atop the whole mix.  It’s an effective move, one that makes the band sound a infinitely more relevant in today’s musical climate.

As you can see, the one thing that the record really lacks is excessive creativity.  That being said, no one is going to deny that you’re going to have a whole keg worth of fun jamming to this record all Spring long.  Occasionally it’s okay to let go of all pretense and just let your hair blow in the wind, and Free Energy is here to be that band for you.  Stuck On Nothing brings you exuberance for days, and as the sun comes out in March, could you ask for more?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/free-energy-free-energy.mp3]

Download: Free Energy – Free Energy [MP3]

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