Passion Pit – Manners

passion-pit

Rating: ★★★ · ·

To refer to this as one of the most anticipated albums thus far this year is probably an understatement; throw out Grizzly Bear and this is the album everyone wanted to hear.  Passion Pit finally have a full length, Manners, to help you make up your mind; are they worth all this hype?

You’ll have to make up your own mind on that one, as this album is sure to be a polarizing one for many listeners.  It builds upon the promise of the bands Chunk of Change EP, but does it go much further than the sounds the band first introduced?  Really, at some points, the band seems to sort of tread upon the same spot for a little bit too long.

One thing you will note immediately is that the band definitely will have you moving your feet, as the opening moments of the album definitely provide you with full bouncing capabilities.  The pulsating rhythm does not, however, make up for the lack of vocal quality, which really is probably just a matter of personal tastes; the high pitched yelping all across these first two songs is just a bit much.

Then the band hits you with their one-two punch, bringing in “Moth Wings” and “The Reeling” in succession.  “Moth Wings” succeeds for the group where other songs have failed, as the band seemed to have tamed that vocal, which allows listeners to see right into the moving sound collages Passion Pit have constructed, as layers dance upon layers, shimmering to the surface.  “The Reeling” surfaced as the band’s first single, and deservedly so, as it packs the dance-floor ready stomp that recalls elements of MGMT during their brighter moments.  Still, the most enjoyable quality is the warmth of the vocal contrasted against the electronic pulse beneath.

Other moments on the album seem to find the band going over the same space, as they attempt to combine various electronic samples with unique vocals (still a touch annoying), building and building until it achieves dance-psych bliss.  But, elementally, it all sort of blends together, as there isn’t much that differentiates each song from the next.  Each song seems to run into the next one, making the listening experience a little redundant.

Don’t get upset here, but the release of Manners is probably exactly what everyone expected it to be.  It’s a good listen for a few rounds; it’s an interesting one to say the least, but it won’t be the most moving thing you come across this year.  Too much of a good thing sometimes turns things for the worse, and in this case, Passion Pit might have just gone that route.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/11-seaweed-song.mp3]

Download: Passion Pit – Seaweed Song [MP3]

From the Closet: Calvin Johnson

beat For those of you into all the newest lo-fi hits of the last few years, there is really one man we need to look towards: Calvin Johnson. The man was the driving force behind the great Beat Happening and also the Halo Benders, which featured Built to Spill frontman Doug Martsch. Clearly, this man’s fingerprints have been all over the musical landscape, and he’s at it again this Saturday night at Emo’s, as he takes the stage with his new outfit Hive Dwellers; former Nation of Ulysses frontman Ian S. will also have his new outfit Chain and the Gang as the show headliners.

So hit up Emos this Saturday night for a definitive good time. Here are some tracks from the closet.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/02-left-behind.mp3] [audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/track08.mp3]

My Latest Novel – Deaths and Entrances

latest

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When My Latest Novel released their debut Wolves a few years back many were taken by the forest-folk style, as the band walked a tightrope between organic folk and twee.  On their latest release, Deaths and Entrances, the band seems to have fully realized their sound, which now seems to be strengthened by the maturation of a group constructing ornate songs throughout its duration.

Interestingly, the band spent a great deal of time on this album researching their favorite literature, taking cues from their everyday live, and weaving them into the lyrics of the album.  The title, for instance, takes its name from a Dylan Thomas poem; they also pay homage to writer Alasdair Gray, who hails from the same land, Scotland, as the group.

Using influential literature as a background for constructing songs has a way of informing a band in a certain sense.  In writing this set of songs the band has been able to transform their album into something entirely different than the modern pop album; it reads, rather, like a concisely written piece of prose. There is an elemental flow, not unlike literature, where the pacing of the album slows in parts, waiting for the reader, or listener in this case, to gather his or her thoughts for just a moment before moving on with more details.

The music is like a great deal of the music that is making its way from Scotland at the moment.  Vocals are immediately recognizable, but in the sense that many a Scot has a distinctive dialect.  And we find that the music throughout the album is quite busy, whilst the band utilizes multiple instruments to construct and deconstruct each song.  According to press releases, they wrote a great deal of these songs together, which allowed the songs to blend together as one large piece of music itself; once again this lends itself to the resonance of literature that is evident in their music.

Subject matter varies on the album, with issues of war-mongering seeming to be one of the more noticeable motifs.  The outlook is not quite as bright, or at least not in the eyes of the songwriters, and as the band unites to sing in unison, they encourage us all to move forward, beyond our trivial pursuits as we search for something greater for both humanity and ourselves.

Once again, My Latest Novel have created an album composed of millions of pieces, tightly pieced together like a giant jigsaw puzzle of aesthetically soothing tunes.  The album exists as a complete composition; its a unified vision of a band sticking together, which inevitably makes it a rewarding listen time and time again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/06-argument-against-the-man.mp3]

Download: My Latest Novel – Argument Against the Man [MP3]

The Theater Fire @ Lamberts (5/15)

theaterThis Friday night Austin will be treated to one of the great North Texas bands, as Theater Fire make their way into town.  They’ll be playing a set over at Lamberts this Friday evening with Some Say Leland.  TIckets to the show are $7 at the door, and you’ll be glad you got to spend your evening listening to the eclectic folk of this great Texas band.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/06-dahl-parts.mp3]

Download: Theater Fire – Dahl Parts [MP3]

Jeremy Enigk – OK Bear

okbear

Rating: ★★★½ ·

You’d have to be living in a hole to not have heard of Jeremy Enigk, or at least his legendary band Sunny Day Real Estate; he has since moved on to focus primarily on his solo efforts.  His third LP, OK Bear, has just been released, and it’s a step in a direction that many will be pleased to see him pushing.

The opening tracks, “Mind Idea” and “Late of Camera” set the tone for the entirety of the album, as each song builds upon rising sonic sounds.  Organic songs structures allow Enigk great room for his ever-astonishing voice, which is one of the most recognizable.  As always, his vocals soar, seeming as if they are about to burst through your speakers, yet holding back with enough poise to carry a melody.

While some of the song features full band arrangements, a few of which resemble the sound of How It Feels to Be Something On, this is not the only approach Jeremy takes on the latest effort.  The beautiful “April Storm” reminds us all of why he was so enchanting in the first place.  Acoustic guitar accompanied by quiet percussion plainly bring the song to life, and Enigk carries the song on the back of his voice.  “Just a State of Mind” is another such song, wherein Jeremy lets his voice be your guide throughout the song.  Sure, it’s his voice that comes across as one of the more memorable elements in these songs, but that voice, for many, brings nothing but good memories; for those not accustomed to the vocal quality, it will win you over as well.

“Life’s Too Short” is the song that most recalls Jeremy Enigk playing with his old band; there is a sharpness to the rhythm guitar that creates that bombastic atmosphere.  His voice cuts through the song with a sharpness and a certain ferocity that is not present on the rest of the album.  It might make you tear up just a bit, reminding us all of what it felt like when we first listened to Diary.

One of the more surprising songs on the album is “Make Believe.”  It seems like an entirely different genre, or at least approach to writing than anything he has done before this.  Here you find him doing his best impression of a classic singer/songwriter, a place that he really hadn’t visited too often, despite this being his third LP.  When the song is said and done, you wonder how many more gems he’s got up his sleeve, as you could easily listen to an album’s worth of songs like these.   But, as you have it, the record is a little uneven, alternating back and forth between amazing and standard; once you put nostalgia aside, it’s nice to see Jeremy still writing great tunes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/10-make-believe.mp3]

Download: Jeremy Enigk – Make Believe [MP3]

Kevin Devine @ Stubbs (5/12)

kd Kevin Devine seems to have been around forever, and his shows are always an intimate affair worthy of your listening.  You can catch Kevin tonight at Stubbs playing his most recent album Brother’s Blood.  And, you can also head over to Daytrotter to catch a recently recorded set he did for those good folks.  Here’s a track from that session.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/kevin-devine-and-the-goddamn-band-carnival.mp3]

Download: Kevin Devine -Carnival (Daytrotter Session) [MP3]

Wooden Birds – Magnolia

wood

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Local Austinite Andrew Kenny made waves long ago as the leader of American Analog Set; he returns to Austin after a lengthy absence with a new band in tow, The Wooden Birds.  While you immediately recall his vocal styling, the music definitely takes a different approach on the band’s first proper album, Magnolia.

Musically, this album comes directly at you.  There are no waves of distortion or ambient sounds; this is an album comprised very simply of guitar, vocals and percussion.  Kenny’s gentle guitar plucking will bring to mind some comparisons to Iron and Wine, though Andrew’s been at it longer, so we should give him credit there (not that it’s a competition).

While the approach may be very simple in it’s delivery, you can tell that in the writing process Andrew spent a great amount of time fleshing out the melodies that would accompany the softness of the music he composed.  His voice, at times, seems oddly similar to that of Ben Gibbard, especially when he takes on that bedroom-quiet whisper.

Oddly, a lot of the songs do seem to play off the same set of standards, with only the slightest of variations.  For instance, “Quit You Once” and “Never Know” open in precisely the same way, which also appears to happen with “Hailey” and “Hometown Fantasy.” Despite the lack of change in much of the album, you still take interest in how the songs develop individually; this is all due to the abilities of Andrew as a songwriter.

From start to finish the album is carefully and quietly written.  It’s the type of album that draws you in with its approach to the craft of the song, and such talent allows listeners to look beyond the similarities that might otherwise render the album dull and boring.  Luckily, Mr. Kenny has been at this long enough to know precisely how to rise above such issues, and his success is just another reason why he is regarded with such respect among the musical elite (as you could witness by his recent performance with Broken Social Scene at Bass Concert Hall). Sure, the quietude of this album may not be your precise cup of tea, but it’s great to have one of our local boys back composing such softly wonderful music.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/04-hailey.mp3]

Download: The Wooden Birds – Hailey [MP3]

New Tunes from Leichtenstein

liechtenstein2It seems Slumberland can’t really go wrong with their picks of bands to support, and our friend GVSB has found yet another band on the small label worthy of our interest. Sweden’s Liechtenstein recall a lot of that all girl aesthetic encouraged by bands like Vivian Girls. Here is a new track for you to enjoy. The band will be releasing their album Survival Strategies in a Modern World on May 26th.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/liechtenstein-roses-in-the-park.mp3]

Download: Liechtenstein – Roses in the Park [MP3]

Bricolage – s/t

bricol

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Bricolage released their self-titled album earlier this year in the UK, but little fanfare made its way over to the United States, aside from a little bit of bubbling press; rest assured that Bricolage is an up-and coming act that will surely win you over upon your very first listen.  And let’s not all act surprised that this is yet another solid band hailing from Glasgow.

Here you find a band that is ready to make guitar music you can dance to, and they do it in the most straightforward fashion that you have to be enamored by everything that they do.  The second track, “Flowers of Deceit” brings to mind the boot-stomping moments from early Franz Ferdinand records, but in a much less post-punk sort of way. Guitars are a little bit warmer, as if each chord is struck with a little bit less anger/more affection.

Something sunny this way comes.  “Footsteps” is just another track that exemplifies the swinging emotion of the band.  Layered guitars and precision drumming bring to mind the poppier moments of bands such as The Lodger or  Mystery Jets.  All these bands use warm vocals to counter the angular guitars; you can’t help but roll down the window and let the music carry you down the road.

Let’s not think that this band is nothing but a modern dance troupe as they have the ability to carry a classic pop ballad along the way, such as “Plots are for Cemeteries,” which seems to use a bit of tropicalia in the overall crooning aesthetic.  “Sleepwalk to Me” is similar in that it slowly maneuvers along, progressing without ever really picking up the pace.  Even in the slow moments the band can catch your attention.

“Turn U Over” is an obvious single, instantly ready for your best dance party, at this late moment in the album, it makes you look back at the album as a whole; the album is full of great moments and great songs from start to finish.  The latter half of the album packs as much punch as the first part of this album, and the only thing that detracts from this entire collection of songs is that you might find that the band walk the same line for much of the album, but using multiple vocalists allows enough strength to each song that you never get the feeling that the band is retracing their steps. Bricolage is just another reason we should all move to Glasgow.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/02-flowers-of-deceit.mp3]

Download: Bricolage – Flowers of Deceit [MP3]

Conor Oberst & the Mystic… – Outer South

conman

Rating: ★★ · · ·

Conor Oberst has long been able to manage his own evolution as a songwriter.  Since he was a young lad in his hometown of Omaha he has asked for little help outside of Mike Mogis and Andy Lemaster; on Outer South he gives up a fair amount of the writing to various members of his Mystic Valley Band.  Unfortunately, this group of mystics just doesn’t come across nearly as convincing as anything previously released under Conor’s name.

A noticeable difference here is that the acoustic guitar and orchestration that usually accompanies an Oberst outing, even on last year’s self titled album, has always played a significant role in the presentation of song.  Even the spectacular work of Mogis always seemed to raise the guitar to the heavens for all to listen; this round, the full-on band approach that began to evolve on Conor Oberst has fully taken root.

The side effect, not only of allowing others to take part in the songwriting, but the encouragement of the full band sound, aside from the mostly acoustic “Ten Women” or “White Shoes,” makes much of the record seem somewhat disjointed.  The album seems to waver between various songwriters, and the effect makes it difficult to grasp the album as a whole entity.

The good news aside from the lack of cohesiveness is that there are some bright moments on the album that solidify the progress that Conor has made as a musician.  Many a detractor always commented on the warble that existed in his early recordings, especially when you look at Fevers and Mirrors, but that unstable vocal has long since disappeared, making way for a more mature vocal.  His songs benefit from this; “White Shoes,” for example, is probably one of the better songs he has written (furthered by the fact that it seems to be mostly him on guitar).

Perhaps this sort of evolution is completely acceptable, and in fact, it should really be encouraged.  No one wants to listen to the same record being recorded time and time again, so you have to give it to the man for going out into new territory, but in doing so he is bound to alienate various listeners, perhaps even his most diehard fans.  The error with the album, though there are bright spots, is that he has lost his intimacy throughout the recording of this album.  Where he once seemed to speak to you in your bedroom through your speakers, he now shouts at you as the lead speaker for a group of musicians.  Let’s forgive him for now, and hope the intimacy returns.

Outer South is out now on Merge Records.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/09-white-shoes.mp3]

Download: Conor Oberst – White Shoes [MP3]

1 827 828 829 830 831 861