The Soft Pack – s/t

soft pack

Rating: ★½ · · ·

A few years back a band by the name of The Muslims exploded out of California with the supposed surf-rock answer to The Strokes. Now, the band has changed their name to The Soft Pack, and have released their self-titled album on Kemado Records. It’s exactly what you would expect from a California garage group.

Upon listening to the first track, “C’mon,” the band’s formula is immediately apparent.  They combine mild surf guitars with the fueling of a garage practice space, and they lyrics have a slight hint of punk drawl delivery.  But, what listeners will see is that the lyrics are severely lacking in the developmental sense.  The only words that really stand out are “c’mon,” uttered over and over again.

By the third track, “Answer to Yourself,” nothing much has changed in the structure of the album.  Lyrics are overtly redundant, and clearly lacking in any creative sense. Musically, it just seems like a consistent re-hash of song after song.  There’s a definite energy to the group, but you’ll be hard pressed at this point to find much else in the offering.

When you get to “Pull Out” the bass is a little bit heavier, while the guitars are reminiscent of living close to the waters.  Still, water is the only thing that really comes to mind at this juncture in the album.  Everything about the band just comes across as watered-down, and just out of touch.  It’s not something that you can stand up and say that you hate because it really isn’t horrendous musically, it just isn’t anything that warrants listening to time and time again.  It’s almost as if the band is treading water in the same place for the duration of the record.  Tired of the water analogy?

What once seemed like a promising moment for the band seems to have slipped away as The Soft Pack has compiled a solid set of forgettable songs that you won’t remember when their gone.  It’s quite a shame that all this work and popularity came to nought for the band.  Garage moments and surf-guitars are great, but in this day and age something has to be done to distinguish yourself from the masses in order to reach the pinnacle of the genre, and it’s hard to find a standout moment on the album, aside from the joke track “Move-Along,” which is more of just a “WTF?” moment than anything.  This is just one man’s opinion, but you won’t find the self-titled album from The Soft Pack spinning around my house any time soon.

New Tunes from Nick Curran

curranI can’t help but sort of fall in love with Nick Curran, in a musical sort of way.  The guy mixes classic punk sounds with the romance of Motown, and since I’m an avid fan of both, this is the perfect thing for me.  Nick’s an Austinite, and he has a new record coming out on February 16 titled Reform School Girl. Unfortunately, he’s been sidelined with tongue cancer, so if you’re in Austin, or just a fan of good tunes, you should keep him in your thoughts.  Get well soon Nick…and here’s his title track.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/03-Reform-School-Girl.mp3]

Download: Nick Curran – Reform School Girl [MP3]

Black Tambourine Anthology Coming Soon!

Black+Tambourine+BT3If you haven’t gotten to know Black Tambourine, as very few did, then you’re lucky this time around, as Slumberland Records (the one who brought you lots of goodies like Pains of Being Pure at Heart) will be releasing an anthology of the band on March 30th.   BTambourine only existed for a few short years, but this new anthology will have four new songs (two originals, two covers) for your ears.  Just another thing to be excited about in 2010.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Black-Tambourine-Black-Car.mp3]

Download: Black Tambourine – Black Car [MP3]

Midlake – The Courage of Others

Midlake-The_Courage_of_Others

Rating: ★★ · · ·

When Denton, TX band, Midlake, released The Trials of Van Occupanther in 2006, they received critical acclaim, which put the pressure on the group to follow up with similar success.  Four years later, the band has finally prepared the next installment in their catalogue, The Courage of Others.  Influences for the album are said to rest somewhere in the British-folk era, but would the four years since their last release match the acclaim the band received last go round?

Upon first listen, “Acts of Man” opens the introduction with Tim Smith’s trademark vocals, seemingly floating on the winds.  As a completed song, it does have the wintry affect one would associate with a lot of 60s folk-undertakings, marked most notably by the way the guitar is strummed.  Still, there isn’t a wow factor, or something that stands out as brilliant, like “Roscoe,” but it’s only the first track.

But, herein likes the problem with The Courage of Others; you can make it through the first four songs of the album, and nothing really differentiates itself; nothing is begging for you to come back for a repeat visit.  Admittedly, all the songs are pleasant enough, with gentle guitars and Smith’s floating vocals, which can’t really hurt the overall value of the album.  However, it doesn’t bode well that nothing really seems to change in the craftsmanship of the songs either; they all sort of stay in the same place, as if they’ve been created as small pieces to fit into a larger puzzle.

“Fortune” is one of the few songs on the album where the approach to writing the music seems to have been altered.  It’s got little to no percussion, and the song rests on the idea that Smith appears as some sort of musical bard, just picking his way through his life.  It also touches with imagery that is more personal than some of the more nature related themes you’ll find elsewhere on the The Courage of Others.

This isn’t to say that all the blandness doesn’t have its rewards.  “Bring It Down” is worthy of repeated listens, and though it clearly has roots in the past, the barely audible female vocal buried beneath the lead vocal tracks adds an extra bit of layering that the entire album could of used as a whole.  “In the Ground” is another number that grows with repeats.  It begins a bit slow, but there’s just a bit of a quiver in the vocal delivery, which does just enough to make it come across a bit differently, though those flutes (are they horns) get a touch annoying.

After four years of waiting, you would have hoped that the next work from Midlake was as rewarding as their previous effort, but it seems that letting the songs fester for too long might have led the band down the path towards complacency.  For what its worth, The Courage of Others is listenable, but other than that, it’s far short of remarkable, which makes it a disappointment to many, if not most.

Entroducing Electric Pop Group

electricIt’s really difficult to turn away from Matinee Recordings (seriously, go to their page to browse for goodness) right now.  It seems that they just consistently release some of the most infectious pop groups.  Electric Pop Group is just another one of these bands, and I haven’t been able to get this band out of my head; I don’t think that I really want to either.  Okay, so it has a bit of that jangle pop sound everyone is using, but this track here, “Not By Another,” has really clean production.  You’ll find a slight bit of happiness invading your soul as soon as you put this on.  Their album Seconds should be hitting our shores soon!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Electric-Pop-Group-Not-By-Another.mp3]

Download: Electric Pop Group – Not By Another [MP3]

New Tunes from Twin Tigers

twintigers_interviewWe interviewed Twin Tigers a little bit ago just because we were really excited about the Athens band.  Now, their album, Gray Waves, is nearing its official street date of March 2nd.  We’ve got another great track to throw your way here, which will hopefully have you just as excited for the release as we are.  This tune hits hard, then settles down a bit before it unleashes more fury.  Happy Thursday.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/01_Passive_Idol.mp3]

Download: Twin Tigers – Passive Idol [MP3]

Four Tet – There Is Love in You

four_tet_there_is_love_in_you

Rating: ★★ · · ·

Kieran Hebden has been at this game longer than most, so it’s no surprise that people expected big things from his latest effort under the Four Tet moniker.   There Is Love In You has already garnered a lot of interest over the Internet, though one must look at it through their own looking glass in order to fully evaluate where this record falls.

For me, I’m not one to fall easily for Intelligent Dance Music, and it really has to be something to knock me off my feet in order me to appreciate it, let alone even contemplate trying to understand it.  I remember Aphex Twin videos blowing me away, but that was based more upon twisted imagery in the videos.  DJ Shadow blew me away, but at the time, I had a faint interest in hip-hop.  But now, I’m not really into that sort of thing, especially since it lacks solid vocal involvement, which is one of the main reasons I listen to the stuff I do.

Now, as far as this album goes, I’m going to have to stand on the sidelines and watch the rest of the adoring fans as they chase Kieran Hebden around.  Song after song just seems like really simple loops being placed atop each other at certain intervals.  At times, like during the aptly titled “Sing,” you get some fearful moaning of sorts in the background, but nothing worthy of latching onto as a whole.

For me, there has to be some sort of sharp shift in the music, some sort of influential piece of movement within a song, and this, by and large doesn’t really seem to have that sort of craftsmanship to it.  Given, the use of space and timing here does seem to accomplish the affects that Hebden is associated with in his work, but I can’t lie and tell you that any of it is all that interesting. After more than a dozen listens, this album only made me focus more on my immediate surroundings as opposed to this record, which I suppose is a lot to say for an album.

The duration of There Is Love In You allows for the listener to look within himself (herself, if you so choose) while the content of the loops and layering of sounds only makes things appear more cosmic, in a sense.  You can feel yourself being absorbed into your surrounding, sinking within yourself, and that is entirely due to the non-invasive quality of the music on Four Tet‘s latest album.  It’s perfect for what it is.  It allows you to successfully pass the time while being absorbed in your own world.  Perhaps my anxiety about the world’s plights have always served as a blockage to my understanding of IDM, and for that I apologize.  Remember, this is just one man’s opinion of walking alone with this album, absorbed in himself for once, thanks to this album.

Retribution Gospel Choir – 2

retribution

Rating: ★★★★ ·

If you’ve been following closely along the careerpath of Low, you might have noticed that around 2005 the band turned it up a bit with The Great Destroyer, then forging further ahead with Drums & Guns.  Why does the diveregence of a great minimalist band such as Low matter here?  Well, this is Alan Sparhawks band, and the only difference between this and Low is the absence of his wife Mimi in exchange for drummer Eric Pollard.  All this leads to one thing, 2, the second proper Retribution Gospel Choir album,  is a further illustration that despite the solitude of old Low records, Alan seems to have always wanted to rock.

“Hide It Away” builds from the minute you press play on your stereo, with Pollard’s drums lying in the background, providing a steady, if not powerful, backbone for the song.  Of course, Sparhawk’s vocals soar in the foreground, with just the faintest hint of waivering.

If you didn’t believe he had this need for rock building in him for a long time, just check the forty second long “68 Comeback,” which begins with a bit of an homage to Black Sabbath (Paranoid?).  This jumps right into the arena rocking moment that is “Workin Hard.”  The chugging guitars and stomping drum sound all feel as if this was destined to fill out a large arena, yet somehow Sparhawk makes it feel rather intimate; a specialty he places here and there in his entire catalogue.

Still, you can feel the presence of his past workings throughout the record.  Take “Poor Man’s Daughter,” for instance; it’s a song that feels an awful lot like 90s College Radio Rock, yet there is a certain depth that all Low records have that is present here too.   There are also little mini-suites like the previously mentioned “68 Comeback” that show the group using ambient moments to influence to overall atmosphere of the record.

Personally, “White Wolf” is definitely a favorite number on 2. It sort of begins with a J. Mascis type riff, which brings back the whole classic alternative rock appeal that is present here, and when the chorus kicks in you just can’t help but feel elated.  It gets straight to the point, and just hits you all the way through.  Then it ends.  This remains one of the most pleasant things about this album; the brevity of the songs allows for ultimate enjoyment. A lof of current guitar albums get a bit too over-indulgent (I’m looking at you metalheads), choosing to hear themselve, and their “chops,”  more than craft the perfect song.   Here, there is no such thing (if you get rid of one song, but don’t because it’s good).  It makes for a precise rock album, one that fulfills without wasting too much time.

Alan Sparhawk has always been able to craft great songs, and this time he shows that he can do so by turning up the amps, and cranking out the energy.  If you love Low, as I do, then you’ll surely find that 2 and Retribution Gospel Choir are perfectly suited for you.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/06-White-Wolf-1.mp3]

Download: Retribution Gospel Choir – White Wolf [MP3]

New Tunes from Twin Shadow

twin-shadowThe story goes that George Lewis Jr. had been struggling with writer’s block until he began to wonder the streets of Berlin.  It seems at this point he came to the decision to record some sublime electro-pop tunes that will soon be released by Grizzly Bear‘s Chris Taylor’s Terrible Records.  He’s got some 7 inches coming your way in the Spring, and based on this track, you’re going to love Twin Shadow.  It recalls a touch of TV on the Radio for me, but hey, that’s just me.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Twin-Shadow-Yellow-Balloon.mp3]

Download: Twin Shadow – Yellow Balloon [MP3]

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