The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Rating: ★★★★½

To begin, I knew very little about Kristian Matsson and his project The Tallest Man on Earth.  But, his second album, The Wild Hunt, will not only change that for me, but for many listeners across the globe.  It’s easy to place the Swede’s work in a certain genre, even under a certain association with a famed folk hero, but throughout the duration, Matsson makes this album all his own, creating a beautiful piece of work to be played over and over again.

You’ll start The Wild Hunt with the two things that will stick with you eternally: incredible finger-picking and the uncanny resemblance to a young Boy Dylan. The former is one of those things that enables Kristian to pull out every single emotion from his tunes, carefully plotting where his fingers go with ease.  The latter is something that might plague him, which is unfortunate, as every song on here stands on its own merit, creating a great collective song cycle.

A lot of folk music has the capability to seem redundant, especially when you feel as if you have heard the singer before, but a few deviations make The Wild Hunt rise above typical folk revivalists.  For one, his songs are rather short, in comparison to similar artists.  It allows him to make really succinct songs such as “Thousand Ways” or “Troubles Will Be Gone.”  These songs will breath fresh air into your listening experience, and they’ll leave before you grow tired of hearing them blend into the next number. Then there is the tiniest vocal inflections he puts into his recorded performances that make Kristian stand out in what can sometimes be branded a stale world. Every slight move up or down on the scales, or every little yelp allows the vocals to stand on their own, rather than live in a world of comparisons.

Listening to this album time and time again, I found it difficult to discover a favorite track, as each listen, each mood evoked something different for me.  At first, it was “King of Spain,” which comes off like a folk song written by a steam engine.  On top of that, the subject matter of the song wins me over with its nod to the Iberian Peninsula. But, “You’re Going Back” took me in a different direction.  It has hints, at least in the song structure of a lot of old punks who’ve turned to country, such as Chuck Ragan, with it’s throaty yell of “driver please don’t go that f**cking way” near the last minute of the tune.  Here you find The Tallest Man on Earth getting carried away with his own passion, and that definitely makes each song a winner in my book.

Fortunately for me, this album came across my desk while I was in search of something calming, yet something challenging.  The gentle moods created by songs like ‘The Drying of the Lawns” fit perfectly into what I needed at the time. Then I looked back at the whole of The Wild Hunt, and I found that each song had something to offer, and nothing to throw out the window.  The Tallest Man on Earth has made a complete record worthy of repeat listening, now and forever.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/06-King-of-Spain-1.mp3]

Download: Tallest Man on Earth – King of Spain [MP3]

New Tunes from The Mary Onettes

Long have I followed the rise of Sweden’s The Mary Onettes.  Ever since I first got a hold of their self-titled debut, I’ve been hooked on their wintery pop sounds.  Their last record, Islands, ran in my stereo for months, and now the band are bringing a new 7″ to us all for Record Store Day.  If you can’t get your hands on one, then you better just get the digital version, as this band continues to impress.  Here’s the new tune titled “The Night Before the Funeral;” it’s one of the best songs I think the band have written to date.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/The-night-before-the-funeral-1.mp3]

Download: The Mary Onettes – The Night Before the Funeral [MP3]

MGMT – Congratulations

Rating: ★★★½ ·

After the surprising success of Oracular Spectacular, all indications from MGMT would point towards a different direction.  They had no need to reproduce a singles-heavy album in search of hordes of fans; if anything, they acknowledged that the new record, Congratulations, might be off-putting for many of the fans who came their way after hits such as “Kids” or “Time to Pretend.” While the band jump as far away as possible, this record, for musical accomplishments is by no means a letdown.

Opening moments of the album show a more developed group.  “It’s Working” immediately demonstrates that while they’ll remain playful, they won’t simply rely upon access to simple hooks, choosing instead to allow the joy in their work unfold as the songs carry on to their end.  For some reason, MGMT just sound more complete at this point.

Along the same lines as the first number, “Song for Dan Treacy” resembles the early works of Islands.  It uses odd time stops and oddball effects to draw you into the tune while refraining from becoming over-indulgent in the electronic backbone of the music, as some might have said in regards to their last album.  Similarly, MGMT use slow pacing for “Someone’s Missing” to let the song unfold before the listener’s ears, and unfold it does with 45 seconds to go, as the euphoric chanting of the song title with improved percussion bring the song to its end.

“Flash Delirium” is probably the best “single” on the record, if that’s what you’re looking for here.  It recalls the storytelling of Grandaddy, along with the approach of using space-age electronic sounds to build up the chorus.  Once again, the use the ending of the song to tell an entirely different musical story, so be sure not skip ahead, as you might miss some of the musical message hidden beneath.

One of the joys of this album is in the evolution of the band.  Their last album hit you hard in the beginning, but left you sort of bored near the end (at least for me), but the slow-burners on Congratulations have a much larger impact here.  “I Found a Whistle” just seems to trudge along, and while a bit of vocal inflection might have improved it a touch, it’s still one of those songs you’d put on a chill mixtape for a buddy.  You could even include it right along “Congratulations,” which is certainly a great song. All those slow moments that bored last time around, are somehow more interesting here, and that may be due to the well thought-out ordering of songs.  They’ve spaced out the slower moments between pop elements and experimenting (see “Siberian Breaks”).  You have to give them credit; it’s a much more effective approach, and infinitely more rewarding.

One problem with Oracular Spectacular lay in the fact that you enjoyed it immensely upon first listen, but the hooks wore out the more you chose to spin the record.  In contrast, Congratulations is a much different affair.  It’s not set out to make you dance in the same manner, nor does it intend to rely upon singles to boost album sales.  Instead, MGMT have chosen to focus on their writing, which not only make the songs better, but make the record itself much more durable.  It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

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

Download: MGMT – Flash Delerium [MP3]

4/8 The Big Pink @ The Parish

For those who had recently been following the rise of The Big Pink, Thursday night’s show at The Parish was much anticipated.  As fans of the band’s A Brief History of Love, we were determined to witness the show in order to make a definitive statement on just how much we love the band.  Opening for the evening was A Place to Bury Strangers, who initially seemed like an odd pairing.  Follow the jump for full review.
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New Tunes from Klaus & Kinski

You’ve probably never heard of Klaus & Kinski, and that’s okay, as I don’t really think too many people have.  I’ve been tracking the Spanish group since their last album, and now that they’ve got new tunes coming out on their new record, Tierra, Tragalos , I really wanted to share them with you.  If it weren’t for the fact that the band sings in Spanish, you’d probably find them right alongside a group like The Postmarks.  This song is all about not wanting to college, and you should trust us, as RayRay teaches Spanish.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/02-Mamá-No-Quiero-Ir-Al-Colegio.mp3]

Download: Klaus & Kinski – Mamá, No Quiero Ir Al Colegio [MP3]

New Tunes from In Tall Buildings

Erik Hall has had his share in the music biz, playing with NOMO and Saturday Looks Good to Me.  Now, he’s set to release his own album under the name In Tall Buildings, which comes out this week on Whistler Records.  This track sort of has the old feel of Rogue Wave, but you can tell that Hall spends his time dabbling with every instrument possible.  It’s full of layers, but in the sort of way that doesn’t weigh you down. Listen up.

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

Download: In Tall Buildings – Monsters Lair [MP3]

New Tunes from Blank Dogs

Blank Dogs is the project of Mike Sniper, and while much is unknown, the guy likes to put out a fair amount of material.  Speaking of new material, he’s got a new 12″ coming out titled Phrases, which should be in stores real soon (slow vinyl production) according to Captured Tracks.  Having listened to several tracks, the vocals are a little bit more clear than they were on Under and Under, his last full-length.  This tune shows Blank Dogs delving into the darkness of nostalgic dance pop, with a touch of oddball artistry. It takes a bit to kick in completely, so stay with it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/01-Heat-Depression.mp3]

Download: Blank Dogs – Heat & Depression [MP3]

Dr. Dog – Shame Shame

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Since the beginning of 2000 some form of Dr. Dog has been out there, living it up, and making music.  It’s strange, but through it all, the band have managed to always sound like they did in the onset of their fame, yet, slight touches influence each record, giving each album a diverse position within the band’s catalogue.  Shame Shame, the band’s latest, is indeed, much like the last few, built on classic rock, like The Band, and fresh fun.

We begin our new journey with the band by listening to “Stranger.”  It’s an odd choice for an opening piece, as there’s no definitive album statement here; it seems more like a carry over from the last record, Fate.  You probably won’t hate this song, but it just encourages the idea that the band have replaced some of their tenacity with slick production.  But, “Shadow People” changes the album for the better.  Vocals come off like a young Wayne Coyne (this is the first notice of this for me), and gentle strumming is accompanied by piano.  As the song furthers itself, you’re introduced to group harmonies, always one of the band’s specialties, along with a bit of a pick me up.  This would have been a more appropriate opener.

One thing that hurts a lot of this record (just an opinion) is that the group sound really professional throughout.  Yes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but the restraint on songs such as “Where’d All the Time Go” removes a lot of the youthful exuberance the band portrayed (and do in the live setting).  Where once trading vocal parts between singers Leaman and McMicken always lit the songs afire, here they just seem far too casual.  Perhaps that’s the one drawback on Shame Shame; the band have gotten so good at what they do, that a bit of the spirit has been lost on the side of the road during some endless Spring tour.

Don’t mistake this criticism for entire disappointment, for there is plenty left to enjoy.  “Later” with its driving piano shows a bit of a new approach for the group. While there is a bit of instrumental tinkering in the song, you sort of wait for the band to let go entirely, which doesn’t happen, except for the vocals, their most powerful appearance on the record.  It’d be interesting to see if the band could ever let loose with their recorded material.

Dr. Dog do tamper a bit with their songwriting approach throughout Shame Shame.  “I Only Wear Blue” is mostly a vocal performance for the opening minute or so, just before the band jumps in to encourage a bit of fun.  Even the lyrics say “let’s get on with it,” suggesting that on some level, the band knows it’s best when they’re pushing themselves, and their listeners. But, for all the experimenting you find, the band always seem to resort to their old tricks.

The past several years have been really good for Dr. Dog, and one would hope that Shame Shame would only further their rise in the music world.  Instead, they’ve crafted an album full of really enjoyable songs, but songs that don’t ever seem to truly take off from a rigorous recording plan one might set up in the studio.  New Dr. Dog tunes are never bad, but at the same time, it seems like we’re at a standstill, waiting for something to change, if only to remind us why we loved this group so much in the beginning.

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

Download: Dr. Dog – Stranger [MP3]

The band will be in Austin on May 1st at Emos.

Harlem – Hippies

Rating: ★★★★½

For the past several years, interest has been building slowly behind the Austin trio, Harlem.  They upped their own ante by signing to Matador Records for the release of their newest album, Hippies.  Behind years of playing whenever and wherever they could, honing their musical chops, Harlem have seemingly created one of the best works of the year (I was afraid to give it a 5 so as not to be accused of a homer).

Entering the album, there’s about thirty seconds of a slight lull during “Someday Soon,” but as the song goes on, the pace quickens, going forward in a ramshackle truckload of fun.  The final crashing chorus shows the nonchalant attitude of the band who are always energetically pursuing joy on stage.  “Friendly Ghost” (not about a ghost) carries the same mentality, using jangling guitars and a pounding drum to get your foot tapping so hard you might lose it to the sheer enjoyment of the song alone.

Destined to not just rely on lo-fi tendencies and madness, the group do give a nod to a little bit more of a classic rock n’ roll sound, as “Number One” highlights garage rock’s earlier days with gang vocals and certain tendency not to come across too polished.  All the while, they maintain their incredible stomp, which may lead to some soreness in the neck after prolonged exposure to this record. “Be Your Baby” is in the exact same ball park, although it doesn’t sound anything at all like the song that precedes it.  You will surely be exhausted already by this point, as no band can clearly keep up this blistering pace.

They do.  It’s like non-stop furious jangling chords and raucous percussion work.  “Gay Human Bones” maintains the pace, and then you find a hint of Nirvana in “Torture Me” (that’s if you are to believe the band’s Myspace).  However, there is “Cloud Pleaser.”  Rolling gently along for a minute or two, it gives all us listeners a chance to stretch and maybe grab a quick drink of water, but the band can’t stay away too long, ending the song on a faster note, albeit a slightly slower one, comparatively speaking.

You won’t ever find anything dull, though some might say that there are some like-sounding songs, along the way to the end of the record.  If you found the first half of the record touched by garage sounds and carefree recording, then you’ll be surprised that there is a dark psychedelia lying at the second half.  “Prairie My Heart” has a darker soul to it than some of the previous number, leading you to believe that Harlem has more tricks up their sleeve. So they do, as “Pissed” clearly isn’t like many other things on the record, yet it fits right along the rest of the tracks.  Personally, it just reminds me of Love if Arhtur Lee was a whole lot more “pissed”, and didn’t have that spectacular voice.

Really, this record is fantastic.  It moves along at such a quick pace that you have to go back several times to make sure you loved that one song as much as you did when you first heard it.  Truth is, you will love it, possibly more so.  Hard to find a bad song on this record that can’t stand on its own merit, which makes Hippies one of the best works to come out in 2010. Truth.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Harlem-Friendly-Ghost.mp3]

Download: Harlem – Friendly Ghost [MP3]

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