Miles Kurosky – The Desert of Shallow Effects

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When Beulah called it quits many thought this might be the last we had heard of Miles Kurosky.  He hid under the radar for a little bit, but the instrumental orchestrations within his mind eventually won out, encouraging Miles to take to the studio once again. The Desert of Shallow Effects is his first solo album, and while it doesn’t stray too far from his previous works, it serves as a reminder that he still has the ability to craft amazing pop gems surrounded by big band moments.

The album opens with a slow burner, “Notes From the Polish Underground.” Miles doesn’t do too much to push the energy on this number, instead choosing to let the horns and piano flesh out the song.  It’s reminiscent of his work on Yoko, which left Beulah on the quieter side of California pop. But, he moves on quickly with “An Apple for an Apple.”  Seconds into the song, you get a ringing guitar, one that comes in and out of the song.  Here is the Miles that fans will fall in love with all over again.  Instruments abound, production wise, but it’s his warm vocal drenched in a faint moment of backing vocals that celebrate the exuberance we once associated with the singer.

While this record has moments where Miles brings back that passionate mini-yelp, such as “I Can’t Swim,” energetic moments are clearly not all that will define his return to form. The Desert of Shallow Effects also utilizes his softer side to great effects.  “She Was My Dresden” is really just a song for him to strum along while you are soothed by his vocals.  What’s relevant about this song in regards to his past is his focus on first-person storytelling it’s one of the few songs on this album where his feelings are the sole focus of the work.  In contrast, he has other slow turning songs like “Housewives with Knives” and “West Memphis Skyline” where he looks at writing from the third-person perspective.  Despite the change in lyrical content, these quieter moments also show that he’s polished his songwriting in this style, fusing his own distinctive writing with his lush orchestration.  Perhaps time has allowed him to clear the cobwebs a bit, and construct sublime moments all over.

Suffice it to say, The Desert of Shallow Effects is a triumphant return for Miles Kurosky.  Sure, he does seem a bit undecided on precisely where he wants to go now that he’s back in the music game, but what remains central to this album is that he can still create amazing songs, use his friends to provide great backing moments, then carry you into momentary bliss.  We should all consider ourselves lucky that such a wonderful voice has returned to the music scene to warm us over with his sunny chamber pop tastes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/10-West-Memphis-Skyline-1.mp3]

Download: Miles Kursoky – West Memphis Skyline

Miles will also be playing the following SXSW shows:

3/17 @ Red Eyed Fly – 3:20 PM   3/18 @ Emos 9 PM  3/19 @ Home Slice Pizza – 5:15

SXSW Liars Contest!

We’ve long been admirers of Liars; they seem untouched by their peers, always exploring their own sonic pallet.  Luckily, they have an incredible live show to back up their ridiculously respectable musical chops.  You’ll all get a chance to glimpse them in Austin this week (if you’re here, that is).  But, to top that off, we’ve got a killer contest brought to you by the friendly people at Mute Records that will allow you to win a package with all the band’s works, and a bonus disc of their latest, Sisterworld, with reinterpretations from the likes of Thom Yorke and Devandra Banhart.  Leave us a comment with your favorite SXSW moment, and we’ll select 3 winners!  Contest will end Tuesday, March 16th 12 PM CST. Good luck.

Make sure to make it out to these SXSW dates:

3/18 @ Insound Day Party – 4 PM  & 3/19 Billions Showcase – 1 AM

We bet that closing set at Antones will be one of the best moments of SXSW!

Liars – Sisterworld

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Long ago Liars delved into post-punk world with They Threw…on Top, but they’ve shape-shifted on every record since that point, which would lead many to believe that Sisterworld would have some sort of major twist forcing listeners to adapt yet again.  The fact is, Liars have finally completed their most cohesive collage of noise-rock since their debut, and in doing so, have created their best work to date.

Our opening two tracks, “Scissors” and “No Barrier Fun” find the group getting into a bit of garden darkness.  “Scissors” features a haunting Angus vocal, with choir backing, that creeps along whilst tinkering noises guide the song.  Suddenly, you’re met with crashing noise.  It’s similar to the way the opened Liars, but as soon as you realize what’s happened, we’re back to Angus lurking in the shadows. Meanwhile, “No Barrier Fun” brings along the experimental noise work the band has employed in the past, throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix.  For some reason, there is a throbbing electronic element in the background that seems to keep you on edge throughout.

But, never to be a band to stay in one place for long, you’ll find that “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” brings sort of an Anthrax vocal delivery coated in walls of feedback and noise.  You have to expect them to belt this song out in the live setting, as the energy alone emitted from this song surpasses almost all their work to date; even Angus’ odd vocals stretched over the ending are not enough to take away from the incessant pounding element that makes this number stand out in the head of most listeners.

One of the weirdest things about recent Liars records, including this one, is that sometimes the band just seems as if they’re messing about in the studio, and yet they manage to always make it sound interesting.  “Proud Evolution” doesn’t really seem to have anywhere to go from the first few seconds, and it almost feels like you’re stuck listening to this song without an escape; this may be why you have to credit the band for their creativity and exploration. You’ll find that as the percussion joins and the lyrical delivery comes in almost the form of a stomping chant, you’ve already invested yourself enough into the song to want to let it go by skipping on to the next moment.

Liars remain a compelling listen throughout Sisterworld due to their ability to juxtapose haunting experimental numbers right next to their oddball noise rock.  “The Overachievers” recalls some of their earliest work, although it has the sonic exploration of their later works, as screeching guitars fill in the back line of the song.  Then they throw it out the window and back the song right into “Goodnight Everything,” which comes off like a demonic version of M83, as soundscapes are destroyed by the death march of the guitars and Angus’ continually disturbing vocal delivery.

You have to give it up for this band.  Rarely does a band manage to jump from point to point throughout their career and still maintain a reasonable sense of cohesion amidst their catalogue.  Liars continue to push the envelope in their own quest to uncover every redeemable quality in sonic exploration.  Sisterworld is the benefactor of this never-ending search, finding the band learning from their past, and moving on into unknown territories of creative noise.

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

Download: Liars – The Overachievers [MP3]

New Tunes from Dr. Dog

Personally, the new Dr. Dog really has me on edge.  Sure, they’re not necessarily indie darlings anymore, but I’m really looking forward to the release of Shame, Shame, which hits stores April 6th.  Here’s another new track off their latest effort.  You can welcome the boys to Austin in May @ Emos as they come our way to support their new album, that’s if you don’t catch them at SXSW.

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

Download: Dr. Dog – Stranger [MP3]

New Tunes from Tre Orsi

Tre Orsi recently popped up on the Matador Austin Compilation, though the band is a three piece from Denton.  This is probably due to the fact that we’d like to claim them as our own due to their rocking live shows, and their powerful sound.  The band will be releasing their album, Devices + Albums, on March 23rd through Works Progress Records.  Production credits go to Bubba Kadane of Bedhead (The New Year too) fame, so you know it will sound great–I can confirm it does, as I’ve been listening to it non-stop since I got my hands on it.  Give the band a try. Buy local.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/02-The-Engineer.mp3]

Download: Tre Orsi – The Engineer [MP3]

Free Energy – Stuck On Nothing

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Since they released their first 7″, the name of Free Energy has hit all across the blogosphere, garnering hype as a straight ahead rock ensemble a la Thin Lizzy or Cheap Trick.  Backed by the production talent of LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy, no one had any idea how far this band could really go. Finally, Stuck on Nothing is upon us, and it lives up to all the accolades for the most part.

That first riff off “Free Energy” hits you hard, with a little rock emphasis thrown in by the excessive cowbell. It’s easily the most hook-laden on the record, and it’s one you could easily find lying on mainstream radio channels alongside the likes of Weezer.  Sure, that seems frightening nowadays, but you know you liked the blue album too!  I mean, its filled with the exact same sort of mediocre guitar solos in the middle.

They don’t stop bringing you their cookie-cutter rock moments for the first several tunes on Stuck on Nothing.  Despite the originality in the opening minutes, you’ll find that songs like “Dream City” just have that sort of hook that you imagine your parents got stoned to during college, which probably means you did the same in high school at some point. But, you’ll find that the band is just more than a nostalgic throwback once you get to “All I Know.”  Yes, it does have a very similar riff aesthetic, but slowing down the pace of this track reveals that Free Energy can grab your attention without being overtly in your face all the time.

From here on out, the record begins to really hit its groove.  The band discarded the balls out fury they opened the album with, opting instead to push their sound just a little bit further by working on those guitar solos, and in fact, in doing so, they’ve made the rhythm guitar moments sound a great deal more effective.  It’s this sort of song construction that creates ultimately more enjoyable moments than those fueled by cock-rock.  Sure, you can hear all sorts of Thin Lizzy over “Young Hearts,” but Free Energy somehow manage to make it all their own (most likely due to a singer that is not Phil Lynott). “Hope Child” is another step into the band developing their own sound entirely.  They take the classic guitar stomping moments that have been present throughout, but they throw a bit of California punk vocals atop the whole mix.  It’s an effective move, one that makes the band sound a infinitely more relevant in today’s musical climate.

As you can see, the one thing that the record really lacks is excessive creativity.  That being said, no one is going to deny that you’re going to have a whole keg worth of fun jamming to this record all Spring long.  Occasionally it’s okay to let go of all pretense and just let your hair blow in the wind, and Free Energy is here to be that band for you.  Stuck On Nothing brings you exuberance for days, and as the sun comes out in March, could you ask for more?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/free-energy-free-energy.mp3]

Download: Free Energy – Free Energy [MP3]

New Tunes from MGMT

MGMT are coasting right now.  They’ve got the adoration of every one, and their new album hasn’t even hit the streets yet.  But, we finally have a track from the new record, Congratulations.  You’ll want to keep close track of these guys this year, as this track indicates they’ll be huge by the year’s end. Grab yourself a listen and lets us know how you feel. (via Fader)

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

Download: MGMT – Flash Delerium [MP3]

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Riding the waves of praise since the release of their last album, The Midnight Organ Fight, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit are poised for their breakout album.  They’ve amassed a large following built on their recordings and a knack for delivering powerful shows to audiences across the globe.  The Winter of Mixed Drinks finds the group middling between intimate club group and powerful arena-ready rock band.

The Hutchison brothers, Grant and Scott, remain the core focus of the band.  It’s Scott’s vocals that dominate throughout the record, and Grant’s drum tracks that foreshadow a blistering live show.  But, at times, it doesn’t appear as if too much musically is going on within the songs aside from these two, despite three other members now being part of the entourage. Take “Things” or “The Loneliness and the Scream,” for example, which don’t actually have too much traditional songwriting to them, at least as far as the instrumentation dictates the song.  In the latter, it seems as if the guitar is merely there to keep Scott on pace.  This isn’t a huge knock against the band, as Hutchison’s voice can carry the band alone, but it does lead you to wonder precisely what the songwriting process was during recording.

“The Wrestle” is the first song where you can hear a bubbly bass line just beneath the surface of the vocals.  In creating this underlying tension, along with a staccato-sort of guitar strumming, the vocals really pull at you.  It’s such a song where you can picture the band belting it out on stage to throngs of adoring fans who all sing along simultaneously.  These are the type of moments you came to expect from Frightened Rabbit.

Guitars finally begin to crash upon your ears when you come to “Nothing Like You,” which is the fastest song on The Winter of Mixed Drinks.  This is the sort of song that has the pacing and drum work to really win over fans in the live setting, but for some reason it doesn’t really seem to fit into the collection of songs here.  Most of the songs have a slower, almost folk approach, so it feels sort of lost.

Much should be noted of the possible influence of fellow Scots The Twilight Sad.  Many songs seem to be coated in atmospheric noise, but only as an extension of the song.  “Not Miserable” has sort of a slow, drawn-out beginning, fleshed out by a fuzz in the background, whilst piano lines sputter along.  It’s something that leads you to focus on the lyrical content, which is perhaps a very current Scottish trend.  Then again, it seems like using atmospheric backing all about is just a general fad in the industry.

Once you finish your listening experience, it’s hard to sit down and think back to superb moments on The Winter of Mixed Drinks.  Every single song is pleasant, and some might say they are all good tunes, but none of them really achieve that feeling of exceptionality one expected from Frightened Rabbit this time around.  They filled the record with decent tunes, but leave you feeling somewhat indifferent, which is something you surely can’t say at their wonderful live shows.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/swim-until-you-can_t-see-land.mp3]

Download: Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land [MP3]

Jason Collett – Rat a Tat Tat

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Many people will recognize the name Jason Collett for his involvement in Broken Social Scene, but this is not his first foray into solo work. Rat a Tat Tat is Collett’s fourth official album, and it has all the trademarks of his previous work, while also stepping forward into a bit of playfulness that wasn’t present on earlier recordings.

Opening this album, you find Jason dealing with relationships in his own way.  “Rave On Sad Songs” reveals his prowess as a songwriter of heartfelt tunes, something probably not accredited to his role in BSS. It’s a soft spoken song relying upon soft piano and very gentle guitar strums, which allow his distinctive vocals to tug at your heart.

Such mellow numbers were commonly featured in his last few releases, especially Idols of Exile, but as you move into tracks like “Love is a Dirty Word,” you find that Collett has gotten a little bit more lively.  As the bass line seems to shake your body, Collett delivers his idea that love is not quite all its cracked up to be.  Bouncing rhythms haven’t always been his forte, but he pulls it off here, showing that he’s got room to grow as a songwriter.  The idea that Jason is out to goof around a bit with his audience is only made stronger when you listen to “Bitch City,” which has a vocal performance reminiscent of Devandra Banhart, not to mention the subject matter.  Oddly, that same vocal effect shows up once again at the end of the album “Vanderpool Vanderpool,”  something that wasn’t noticeable on his earlier releases.

On his last record, Here’s to Being Here, we saw him exhibit a little bit of straightforward polished pop.  He still brings those lighthearted moments to this album, on songs like “Cold Blue Halo.”  There’s a fuzzed out keyboard groove that opens the number illustrating his widening set of tools, some provided by his longtime backing band, Zeus.  All that being said, the tune has a bit of foot shuffling feel to it, something sure to win out in the live setting. All playfulness aside, Collett still has the ability to write quiet numbers that find their way into your regular listening rotation on iTunes. “Long May You Love” and “Winnipeg Winds” are two songs that illustrate this point perfectly, as both have the steady stroll of acoustic pop moments attached. “Winnipeg Winds” creates an effective wind motif with the howling vocal backing that haunts the song when Jason is not at the helm.  One can assume he’s added these quiet moments to the record in hopes of keeping a perfect balance, and he succeeds in accomplishing that feat.

Focus at this time is surely on the upcoming BSS release, but aside from that project, it’s clear that Jason Collett has his own style and his own agenda to push.  Rat a Tat Tat is just another record that demonstrates what a strong songwriter he is, proving that he grows stronger as his music evolves.  Sure, it’s a lot more fun than previous works, but by making that change, Jason balances out this record, giving himself more options to write great songs in the future.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/jasoncollett-loveisadirtyword.mp3]

Download: Jason Collett – Love is a Dirty Word [MP3]

The Morning Benders – Big Echo

Rating: ★★★½ ·

California’s The Morning Benders (though they claim NYC now) have been flying under the indie radar until recently.  They’ve put out multiple releases, but the hype seems to have finally brought the band to the forefront with Big Echo.  A lot of this will be due to the production credits being given to Grizzly Bear‘s Chris Taylor.  While you can definitely feel the touches of Taylor, especially in guitar and bass sounds, The Morning Benders seem to have grown into their own sound.

Remember how Phoenix opened up Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix with its two best tracks?  Well, The Morning Benders seem to be applying that strategy to this album, and these opening numbers are blissful moments you won’t soon forget.  “Excuses” begins the album with a little bit of tinkering on the piano while some beach guitar washes over the song like waves.  All this arrives prior to the sweeping vocals being introduced along with the atypical percussion (not necessarily drums, but still percussion).  Mid-song, they seem to do a bit of meandering, but once again, the band kicks in at the 3 minute mark with that percussion and creative bliss.  They’ll follow this up with “Promises,” one of the songs that definitely resembles the work of the producer.  That bass and guitar sound definitely hit at the heart of Grizzly Bear, but The Morning Benders make it their own by coating the tune in a wash of pop.  Also, the vocals are not as pristine as Droste’s, which actually make a more compelling statement of musical prowess.

If you were to find a detractor to this collection of songs, you’ll find that it hits really hard up front, offering two brilliant songs, but then it kind of takes a step back.  Instead of pushing forward with their California avant-indie pop moments, they recline.  They trade the vibrant noises they began the album with for a set of bedroom moments, such as “Bedroom Sighs.” It’s an aptly named song, as you definitely feel as if the band has relaxed, wavering just a bit.  The end of the song does have sort of climactic moment near the end, but it just sort of loses the punch of the earlier moments of brilliance.  “Mason Jar” is similar, as the music is less movement oriented, choosing to push the focus on the vocal melody.  These aren’t necessarily bad moments by any means, it just lends the record to remaining a bit unbalanced.

However, “All Day Day Light” definitely kicks the album back into gear. You’ll find it as one of the more inspired moments on the latter half of the record, and it seems like the band could have employed a little bit different track-listing to balance out the power of tunes like this with the quieter moments.  All that being said, this number really shows you that the band is able to move beyond the producer.  It’s filled with energy, not to mention a little bit of sonic noise that shows The Morning Benders have a creative talent all their own.

And so Big Echo comes to a slow end with “Sleepin In,” another bedroom listen.  Although at times the record seems a bit unbalanced, it’s clear that The Morning Benders are more than just a masterwork of Chris Taylor.  They have a different spin on their own creation of pop, leaving the listener with a lot more bright moments.  Even the slow songs start to evolve on their own after repeated listens, so stay with this album, as you might have just found yourself a new favorite band to follow, and an collection of songs that will keep you occupied for weeks to come.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/02-Promises.mp3]

Download: The Morning Benders – Promises [MP3]

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