Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Julian Plenti isn’t really a new band, rather it’s the sidecar for Interpol frontman Paul Banks.  His latest release on Matador, Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper, attempts to re-up the ante for his career, and honestly, that of his band.   After a brief departure into a more mainstream approach Banks is seen hear , expectedly, treading the ground he’s walked upon for so long now.

Opening track “Only if You Run” demonstrates that despite going it alone, his heart is never too far away from his mainstay. However, the trickling guitar lines show a touch of brightness, which also seems to collide with the lyrical content.  He does however bring back that recognizable throaty vocal when he shouts “surprise” near the end of the track.

“Skyscraper” begins with a great deal of promise for new direction, as punctuated guitar strumming is accompanied by symphonic flourishes.  It’s a brooding number, one that might benefit greatly for some strong vocals, and just as you think there won’t be any, Banks enters the picture.  Haunting as he can be, it would have been nice to see him go a bit further in this direction on the entire record.

“Games for Days” probably sounds exactly like what you would expect from this album had you heard nothing else other than the involvement of Banks.  It’s as close as you get here to an Interpol cover song, although his work in the chorus does seem as if he tried to push himself a bit into new space, especially with the guitar work that crashes at the end, coming off a bit like a heavier version of The Killers. Of course, this song backs up to “Madrid Song” which is about as minimal of a song as you can carry on with.  It’s all piano and soundbytes; it would have been nice to see the album here.

But the thing is, you could see this train coming from miles away with the blogosphere telling you of the arrival of new work from Paul Banks.  Those of you who were die-hard fans of Interpol were salivating, and there are definitely moments here that shine, or rather give off a faint sparkle.  Still, aside from interesting moments such as “Unwind” with the blasting horns and marching vocals, the album is fairly predictable in regards as to the direction that you would expect it to venture.  This isn’t entirely a bad thing, after all, the last record was sub-par.  Julian Plenti is a solid reminder that the forces of Interpol are still something to be excited about as we head into the future.

Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

A slew of records into his career and Eric D. Johnson returns with his outfit Fruit Bats to release The Ruminant Band on Sub Pop.  Splitting time between Chicago and Portland, you can really feel the regional influences shine through on this album, filled with the wooded folk one would expect from the Northwest mixed with the quality production and warmth you’d find from like-minded bands in the Midwest.

Opening the album with a gentle folk number that rolls through the hills of your mind is where you first meet the voice of Eric D. Johnson.  As his voices rises and falls with the gentle acoustic work of the guitar,  you will find yourself falling in love with him.  When “The Ruminant Band” takes over the stereo from here, Johnson’s voice takes you somewhere entirely close to home, echoing with familiarity.  It’s one of the gentlest songs of the year, but one that definitely should make plenty of lists at the end of the year.

As energized as the album begins, or at least as far as one can go with this style of music, it begins to take a softer slide into the latter half of the album.  “Beautiful Morning Light” recalls a touch, and only a touch, of Wilco. The acoustic number is carried by the perfect range that is Johnson’s voice, which seems to be the dominating theme on the album.  It’s hard not to admire the vocal quality here when so many other bands are coating their lyrics and feedback and reverb.

“The Hobo Girl” is a mid-album stomper, in the midst of the softer side of things, that immediately recalls recent work from Dr. Dog, which is due to the saloon-style piano that serves as the backbone of the song.  The song even features flourishes of barroom discussion included to give a little texture.  Not sure why it’s necessary, but it makes it hard to get away from resemblances.  “Being On Our Own” is another song in the same vein as the previous one, but done with a little bit more of a Southern flourish to the vocals.  Set here in the middle of the album they provide the perfect pacing balance for the whole of the album.

The understated highlight of the album definitely has to be “Singing Joy to the World.”  Every instrument merely exists to bring out the melody and inflection in Eric’s voice, and it’s short time span makes it go along almost unnoticeable in comparison to the rest of the record.  Be sure not to miss this song, as you’ll be sore once you discover it’s the secret gem of the record.

Musically, The Ruminant Band is not full of anything that particularly jumps out at you as incredible feats of musicianship, yet the strengths of the group lie in that fact.  Every song exists as a tool to help Johnson’s voice succeed in the ears of the listener, and in that fact, the Fruit Bats have done an exceptional job carrying out a wonderful album.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/08-singing-joy-to-the-world.mp3]

Download: Fruit Bats – Singing Joy to the World [MP3]

Fruit Bats will be playing in Austin September 2nd at the Mohawk.

New Tunes from Taken by Trees

victoriaVictoria Bergsman has always been a star in my eyes. Whether it was her work in The Concretes or Peter Bjorn and John, she’s simply fantastic. Luckily, she has a new album coming your way with her new name, Taken by Trees. The album’s a Steinbeck ode titled East of Eden and should hit stores around September 8th. Here’s a sample.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/taken-by-trees-watch-the-waves.mp3]

Download: Taken by Treese – Watch the Waves [MP3]

New Tunes from The Raveonettes

raveThe Raveonettes have been around for a long long time, always sticking to their guns.  Their newest album In and Out of Control is coming your way October 6th on Vice Records. Although they stay true to what they know, this single is a lot more upbeat with the female portion of the duo rocking it in an old school R&B sort of way.  Based on the title of this song alone, it’s going to be an upbeat affair.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/the-raveonettes-suicide.mp3]

Download: The Raveonettes – Suicide [MP3]

New Tunes from Port O Brien

portAs summer draws to a close, there always seems to be a swell of folk-tinged outfits putting out releases, but none sound nearly as good as this new tune from Port O Brien. This is the first single off their upcoming album Threadbare, which should hit the streets near us on October 6th.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/port-obrien-sour-milk-salt-water.mp3]

Download: Port O’ Brien -Sour Milk/Salt Water [MP3]

Throw Me the Statue – Creaturesque

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

It seems that Scott Reitherman has finally found a consistent group of musicians to flesh out his songs, as the new Throw Me The Statue album, Creaturesque is steps above the band’s first album, Moonbeams. Sure, it’s their second album, so we’re expecting growth and maturity, but it’s so far beyond where that first album began that it’s worth giving credit where credit is due.

When the guitar tinkering begins the album on “Waving at the Shore,” you begin to wonder if you’re in for another lo-fi production a la every other record this year. But, clarity coincides with the introduction with Scott’s vocals.  His control over his inflection and delivery is noticeable throughout the song, and it’s one of the more charming aspects of the group.  Here, you will also find a steady barrage of carefully crafted horn blasts; it’s just a slight extra element, but it elevates the song.

Inclusion of extra elements typically is meant to add a certain sense of depth, and while Throw Me the Statue could surely hold their own without it it, these little flourishes complete the sonic soundscape of the album as a whole, bringing it to completion by filling in every inch of space, yet never becoming overbearing. “Ancestors” is the prime exhibit of this tactic.  The song waivers in fullness and depth, but then switches to the intimacy of singer-songwriter near the end, complimenting both elements by capturing a diverse sound in song.

Oddly, one of the elements that has been predominant since the band’s inception, the keyboard/electronica, is one of the drawbacks that exists here.  For instance, “Hi Fi Goon” opens with this little piece, but the sound itself is sort of juvenile and generic.  Sure, it’s definitely meant to help push the songs in a certain direction, but when it’s used so often, it seems to act as a cloak for some of the weaker moments in the group’s song dynamic.  It would be great to see the band stripped of this crutch, as Reitherman surely has the intoxicating pipes to keep us interested.

“Baby You’re Bored” is one of the album’s shorter songs, but it is the pure contradiction to the previous paragraph, as it’s a stripped down song entirely.  It recalls a more contained Band of Horses or early Built to Spill, both which hailed, at one point or another, from the Norhwest just like Throw Me the Statue.  The song is a success, and one can hope that the approach may be used more often in the future.

Creaturesque is a solid record, surely, despite a few little missteps.  It’s clever where it needs to be, and it’s wonderfully constructed from beginning to end.  One more album and the group will surely be on their way to winning over everyone with their electronic-folk pop.

New Tunes from Or, The Whale

orthewhaleOr, The Whale reminds me a lot of The Dutchess and the Duke, with a little less stones, and a little more country-pop thrown in the mix.  They have a new, self-titled album coming out on September 22nd, and we’ve got ourselves a hold on one of the new songs.  Enough of the comparisons, let’s hear those tunes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/02-datura-1.mp3]

Download: Or, The Whale – Datura [MP3]

New Tunes from AU

auAU will be hitting the road soon with Why?, and as they are about head out, they’re offering up a sweet new tune to go with their upcoming Versions EP slated for release on October 8th.  This track, “Ida Walk Away” is layered with sound, and it seemingly swirls in a condensed format before rising, and then falling again.  Try this on for size.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/ida-walked-away-promo-1.mp3]

Download: AU – Ida Walk Away [MP3]

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