The Black Angels – Phosphene Dream

Rating: ★★★½ ·

You’re probably reading about The Black Angels because you think you’re into psychedelia, but you know what, as much as the band seems to live up to the name in their own attitude, its about time we just focus on the music rather than stuffing it in some tired sack with the rest of the bands unfortunately labeled as such.  Phosphene Dream sticks with the same pastiche the band’s utilized in the past, so don’t necessarily expect to find a whole lot of new territory covered, unless you’re looking for the ghost of Arhtur Lee.

It’s always a brooding affair when you get involved with an Angel’s record, and right from the get go there’s this coating in feedback and atmospherics, probably the one that gets them tagged as psychedelic. It sounds like another run of the mill track for the band (not that that’s a bad thing), but with about a minute to go the band just jumps into this driving energetic trip down the highway, fueled by squalling guitar and heavy-handed drumming. A brilliant closing minute. But, of course, they’ve got to pay homage for a bit to their San Francisco brethren of the sixties, which means “Haunting at 1300 Mckinley” is going to show you that jangling guitar stomp covered with guttural vocal accompaniment. Maybe its par for the course, but its never bad with this group.

There’s some changes adrift for the group, but you think that The Black Angels could take it even further.  “Sunday Afternoon” only gets tied into their typical sonic attributes with that little organ grinding in the background, not to mention the hollow effect of the vocal, but its one stepped up from being super stripped down.  You’ll love that solo and the jam in the middle for its raucous power, but man, if they just got rid of all that noise, that could be ridiculous.  Wait, they do get rid of it.  Listen to “True Believers” and you’ll find the direction that seems most logical for the band following Phosphene Dream. Just because they peel back a few layers doesn’t make the track any less dangerous or ominous, especially if you use the closing moments as your measuring point. Perhaps you’ll even notice hints of Clutch, with an homage to Austin, of course, on “Entrance Song.”  The throbbing bass builds the momentum, and while its a touch repetitive withe “rolling fast down I-35” lyric, there’s a bit of a haunting to this presence, perhaps one that can only be felt by those cruising down one of the most dangerous stretches of American highway.

While it may seem like there’s some criticism for The Black Angels with this review, its far from that.  They’ve been so successful with their efforts in the past, and dominated this dark sixties influenced rock scene, that it’s hard to find things to say that haven’t been thrown around hundreds of times.  Personally, they sound a whole lot more like Love than 13th Floor Elevators, but that’s one man’s opinion.  Phosphene Dream is going to be just as successful as their last effort, and perhaps the records in the future. They’re a great band with great songs.  It’s just plain simple.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/04-Sunday-Afternoon.mp3]

Download: The Black Angels – Sunday Afternoon [MP3]

Elf Power – s/t

Rating: ★★★ · ·

The last time that we heard from Athens’ band Elf Power, they were trying to get a little bit more of an orchestrated sound on record, but it didn’t necessarily go over so well; it did sound a bit generic, if not mainstream, for fans familiar with the band’s earliest works. But, they return today with a self-titled record, hoping to get things going back on track. We’re hoping for the same.

When you walk into this record, it’s clear that there’s still that element of creative arrangements, held over for the last time.  “Boots of Lead” doesn’t necessarily push boundaries, but the meandering guitar line and Andrew Rieger’s softly hoarse vocals establish a bit of that old Elf Power magic.  We’re not entirely asking the band to abandon cleaner production, in fact, it probably has helped the band gain a larger audience.  So, when you get the electronic drenched “The Concrete and the Walls” you’re happy to see that the somewhat awkward delivery and rhythm have returned to the fold. They even have an odd bit of a breakdown near the end of the track, just to switch the mood for listeners, taking on a darker spirit.

They’ve definitely taken on a softer quality, or one that veers far from the lo-fi approach.  You can tell the work of Vic Chesnutt has definitely had an impact on their songwriting, especially with songs like “Ghost of John.”  They use a great melody to go with what appears to be quick strummed acoustic guitar, and Rieger’s voice has this whispering politeness to it, as if he’s asking your permission to go with the band as they push through Elf Power. Yet despite their subtle changes in songwriting, they can combine this new-found docile approach to their old clever ways.  “Stranger in the Window” is perhaps one of the best songs they’ve written thanks to such moves.  Once again, acoustic guitars appear, but atmospheric touches wash over the song, as a slide guitar quietly paces in the background.  It’s a combination of folk and experimentation that finally works for the band, so much so, that it makes all the bad memories fade away.

One thing to note, and this goes for the last several albums as well, is that the lyrical composition has improved for Elf Power.  Okay, sure, they definitely take liberty with the subject matter, like during “Tiny Insetcs” when we’re getting a synopsis of an individual writing as he watches tiny insects, sometimes in a bedroom, sometimes smashing into a windshield.  Still, they’re not disposable, like they were on “Loverboy’s Demise.”  We expect maturity, and that’s what we have here, so let’s be thankful for that.

It’s not that Elf Power have returned to the heyday of their lo-fi career, but it has finally become clear that that’s no longer the band we’re listening to anymore.  This is a mature band, who have grown, adapted and still hung on to their creativity as a unit.  They offer us a bit more insight into the evolution of all those band’s we’ve adored privately for so long, and despite their missteps, we can still proudly say we enjoy them every bit today as we did back then.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/stranger-in-the-window.mp3]

Download: Elf Power – Stranger in the Window [MP3]

ACL Battles: Sonic Youth vs. Vampire Weekend

This week we’re bringing you our first touch of insightful ACL coverage, geared to make your festival choices a whole lot easier while your spending your time at Austin City Limits.  Year after year, festival planners struggle to get the great bands in, and when they get them, they just have to fit them in according to popularity, and availability.  It’s not as easy as we all think, so we’re taking the time out to make those hard decisions of overlapping bands easy for you.  This year, our first one comes by way of Sonic Youth vs. Vampire Weekend. Read more

New Music from Nobunny

Ever seen a man in a bunny mask rock the stage with garage pop so good you’ll immediately go grab yourself a mask just to join the colony?  Well, such is the case with the geniune genius of Nobunny.  He’s got a new record coming out on Goner Records titled First Blood, which hits stores September 21st.  The production on this latest hit is tenfold what it was on the last album, but don’t think that’s going to stop this group from holding back on the catchiest guitar pop around, full of grit and exuberance.  You better give this latsest single, “Blow Dumb,” a good solid listen, that way you’ll be ready to get your hands on this when it hits stores next week!

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

Download: Nobunny – Blow Dumb [MP3]

Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Writing about Les Savy Fav is really difficult to do without keeping frontman Tim Harrington in mind.  It’s not just his vocals, but his overall performance attitude, making each show something to remember. Root for Ruin feels a great deal like an album made perfectly for one of Tim’s amazing stage shows, giving him plenty of fuel, and just enough time to breathe and drench the audience in his sweat.

Out of the gate, “Appetites” just straight ahead knocks you out.  It’s got sharp knifing guitars cutting across each other, and then Tim takes the stage.  You can envision him approaching the audience, shoving the microphone in our face as he screams “we still got our appetites,” making a statement that Les Savy Fav aren’t ready to call it a day–thank goodness. They won’t let up just yet either, bringing you pounding drums into the mix with “Dirty Knails.”  As those guitars fly into the mix, you can see the veteran band moving the audience to a passionate frenzy.

“Sleepless in Silverlake” is one of those sprawling songs where Tim would probably sit on the edge of the stage, toying with members of the audience, perhaps doing some sort of well-timed crouch/stomp across the stage.  Pristine guitars carry themselves with grace throughout this track, while Harrington’s vocals remain steady, serving more as the skeletal backbone of the song. Root for Ruin doesn’t just rush along either, as some of their albums have done, it lets the listener gather themselves up as well, much like “Let’s Get Out of Here,” using swinging high vocals and one of the strongest melodies the band’s offered us to date. It’s adult post-rock, but done with such vibrance and self-assuredness that you’ll swear it never sounded this good.

One of the things the band has managed to do so well is balance the juxtaposition of their quieter, subdued moments with edgy rockers.  Thrown back to back, “High and Unhinged” and “Excess Energies” demonstrate the perfect contrast in the band’s work, with the former using sort of a staccato guitar line to correlate with Tim’s stop and start vocal delivery.  It’s not nearly as in your face as the other work on Root for Ruin, but it surely falls in line with some of the group’s more accomplished numbers.  “Excess Energies” just hits you from the opening seconds, using violent imagery to give a bit of resonation to the ferocity with which the band exhibits, both in this song and live.

You see, you can’t possibly approach writing about Les Savy Fav without incorporating some aspect of the band’s live performances, as they’re surely one of the most original and invigorating live acts around at the moment.  All of Root for Ruin feels precisely like a well lined-up showcase of everything the group has to offer listeners, using  pummeling numbers alongside songs that tend to meander, albeit with an edginess you’re not likely to find elsewhere.  After years of playing together, they’ve finally seemed to encompass in the live recording everything we’ve all known about them all along, bottling up their fury and creativity in one glorious collection of eleven tracks.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/04-Lets-Get-Out-of-Here.mp3]

Download: Les Savy Fav – Let’s Get Out of Here [MP3]

New Music from Darlings

This week is full of awesome rock n’ roll releases, and the copy of Darlings‘ new EP that came in my inbox today just adds to that list of great pop tracks.  Be on the lookout for their Warma EP, which definitely brings traditional pop rock back to our ears.  This first single “Big Girl” does have a bit of a Weezer resemblance, back in the heyday of course, but don’t just be satisfied with this one little track, as there is much more vibrant rock coming from this band in your very near future.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/06-Big-Girl.mp3]

Download: Darlings – Big Girl [MP3]

Superchunk – Majesty Shredding

Rating: ★★★★½

When you’re putting out records by the likes of Arcade Fire, Spoon and Destroyer, one would think you could easily get influenced by the great songwriting, unless of course, you’re Mac McCaughan, founder of Merge Records.  But, let’s not forget that Mac’s been jamming with his band Superchunk for close to two decades, and their newest album, Majesty Shredding, shows that no matter how often they pop up, they’re always going to be awesome.  Period.

Perhaps this whole record owes to perfect timing, but then again, as soon as you hear the squall of feedback that opens “Digging for Something,” you are met with a barrage of powerful gunshot drums and pure pop sensibility.  Mac’s voice sounds as youthful as ever, and who’s going to argue when he’s tossing up sing-a-long choruses so tasty?  Of course, the band isn’t solely intent upon giving you quick guitars that cut straight to that pop spot in your heart, they’ve got other offerings.

“Rosemarie” takes a softer approach, almost one that lives in the vein of The Replacements, which is completely acceptable, if not utterly awesome.  The balance between Mac and Laura sounds as tight as ever, and they’re not tossing in frills just for the sake of doing so; there’s a purpose in every single musical note on the plate.  You’ll find “Crossed Wires” coming at you in the similar territory, using the most basic formula with guitar interplay to keep it more than interesting.  Hopefully everyone will find themselves enjoying the clarity of the vocals, enjoying the fact that you can turn this album way up, and scream along to the fact that we’ve all got “crossed wires.”

Its funny, as you probably won’t look at Majesty Shredding and think to yourself that this band is breaking new ground, kicking all those tired genres to the curb, but at the same time, they’re not just resting on their laurels, sitting back waiting for you to love them. “Learned to Surf” opens with some great guitar work thats both angular and heavy, things we’ve seen other people do, but not this earnestly.  Superchunk will also throw traditional ballads, of their own personality, at you, like in “Fracture.”  This is the first time you can see a bit of the age in Mac’s vocal performance, not that we’re seeing this as a bad thing by any means.  Even with that, it’s a song that seems forever innocent, almost timeless.  Shouldn’t it all sound just like this?  And, if you want that in your face rocker, then you can visit “Rope Light” late in the record, just in case you weren’t sure how much you would love this album.

Occasionally we find a band like Weezer rehashing the same tired sound, but nothing about the work on Majesty Shredding seems dated, or even throwback.  Time has treated Superchunk with the appropriate amount of wisdom, allowing them to craft an album that isn’t trying to be anything other than good, simple as that.  It’s god ballads you can sing to in your car, its got rockers to get your energy going, and its just a joy to listen to a band who has no intent other than to offer up a great collection of songs that can stand the true test of time. Bands like this make it easy to write about; they just offer up good old fashioned killer rock n’ roll.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/1-01-Digging-For-Something-1.mp3]

Download: Superchunk – Digging for Something [MP3]

Cloudland Canyon – Fin Eaves

Rating: ★ · · · ·

If you’re looking for some sort of genre where you can place Cloudland Canyon, well, you’re probably best just placing it alongside soudnscape music–then again, some will want to lump it in with noise-pop.  On the newest effort, Fin Eaves, it’s really a blend of both,  but there is one that sticks out predominantly like  a sore thumb as the album draws to a close.

The first seven minutes of the album really doesn’t do much to distinguish anything for the listener.  It’s made up of two songs, neither of which will stand out as either a single, or as something overbearingly musical.  On “No One Else Around” you can clearly hear the faintest bit of warmth, due solely on the vocals, but its coated in extensive electronic dabbling and atmospheric noise.  It’s probably a great piece of sonic experimentation, but personally, that’s not really what I’m looking for nowadays.  The fact that it goes through to the second song without me even noticing is either pure genius, or just lazy album editing.  Really, you can have a song that’s just 7 minutes.

“Sister” is the first song that actually resembles a bit of a song.  You can kind of make out the vague lyrics, or at least you can hear the word “sister” in there, so it leads you to come to that conclusion.  There’s even some faint percussion hiding beneath the squalls of noise that goes nowhere and returns to nowhere. It all just seems like directionless drivel, going somewhere, yet really not going anywhere special.  It’s much the same case when you get to “Pinlike,” as the song begins with sort of that psychedelic rythm and a bit of haunting vocal.  Then, its like someone just presssed record, and looped over and over for about five minutes, and honestly, its a bit excruciating. 

So apparently it’s like we’ve all just become huge Steve Reich fans, enjoying the fact that looipng tapes and adding textural noises can be called art.  I get that, and I get the allusion to various levels of “gaze” music, but very few people have been able to pull this off successfully, let alone Mr. Reich himself, thus why he is considered agenius.  There’s a great bit of affection for this sort of thing, and its understandable….but listenable?  This person is leaning towards an emphatic no.

Cloudland Canyon, despite the better efforts, haven’t really given you much to listen to as you browse your way through Fin Eaves, searching for something redeeming. If you wan’t this sound, it seems like all you need to do is take a boom-box, toss in your old Erasure tapes, wrap it in plastic for protection, and stick inside of the noisiest washer/dryer combo you can find.  You’ll end up with a record that sounds a lot like this one, and one you will immediately want to return.  Sorry to be harsh, but some projects are better off confined to your bedroom. That being said, bet this sounds good if I’m baked.

New Music from Houses

Houses, like many of us, have had a hard time of things, facing economic woes and what not.  In the process, they relocated to Hawaii, living in what some might consider obscurity.  Using solar power to fuel their recording process, the band ended up building a quite record, one that sounds as if it was created in a remote area of anywhere, as it clearly was.  Lead single “Soak it Up” uses quiet electronics to create some sort of contemplative oceanic wave, that gently idles along as you find yourself absorbed, possibly within yourself.  Such is the work of Houses, who will release their album All Night on Lefse on October 19th.

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

Download: Houses – Soak it Up [MP3]

New Music from Weekend

Don’t you just feel like you need a bath in some noise rock?  Well, Weekend just might provide you with that, but they aren’t content to just let squalls of feedback remain as their lone impression.  They’ve got driving bass grooves, and first single “Coma Summer” keeps a bit of melody courtesy of singer Shaun Durkan’s soft voice.  Their album Sports will hit the streets on November 9th via Slumberland, and rest assured that the album is worth every bit of the excitement generated by early press.  Be careful, this is going to be loud.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/01-Coma-Summer-1.mp3]

Download: Weekend – Coma Summer [MP3]

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