New Tunes from Radio Dept.

The+Radio+Dept+radiodeptSweden’s Labrador Records have a stranglehold on all things Swedish pop, and I’m grateful for it.  Just recently they released a new Radio Dept EP, which features several of the songs off the bands upcoming album Clinging to a Scheme.  Not much is really known about the record at this point, other than it should hit during the Spring.  This track, “David,” has a sort of shoegaze-synth-pop-croon to it, and everything just sort of moves along from there.  You’ll be digging this track all day long.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Radio-Dept-David.mp3]

Download: Radio Dept – David [MP3]

Hot Chip – One Life Stand

HotChip-OneLifeStand

Rating: ★★★★ ·

By now, surely everyone has his or her expectations of what a Hot Chip record should sound like.  You’ve got the club bangers, and you’ve got the geek-tronica that makes you questions just why you’re moving to and fro.  Their fourth album, One Life Stand, sees the band doing much of the same, yet they finally honed their craft enough to create an album with very few imperfections.

One of the record’s longest songs, “Thieves in the Night” kick off the whole affair.  While the beats remain catchy, they aren’t as in your face as you’ve found on previous efforts, which actually propels the song along without letting the listener grow tired of redundant house beats.  You can follow that up with another similar tune, “Hand Me Down Your Love,” where the electronic elements actually aren’t forcing you to dance at all, yet you can tap your feet along just as well.  It’s reminiscent of Erasure (or Republic era New Order), a band who wrote love songs that could just as easily be enjoyed lyrically as you could dance to them.  This is sort of the story of One Life Stand; it’s no longer about creating great dance tunes, but just great tunes period, which Hot Chip does for the most part.

Middling point kind of dies down the minor tempo, slowing it down just a bit further.  The trifecta of “Brothers,” “Slush” and “Alley Cat” all take a step back from focused electronica in favor of fleshing out complete songs, albeit ones that include electronic components.  “Alley Cat” is possibly the best of the three tracks, due mostly to the fact that the band has composed such songs without going too far out with their experimentation.  In the past, the usage of too many elements often busied certain tracks, rendering them irritating upon repeated listens; this is no longer the case.  The away the created “Alley Cats” leaves the perfect amount of room where it should be, whilst still including certain touches for the die-hard Hot Chip fan.

Closing out the album, Hot Chip go back to where you want them, hitting you with the edgier “Take It In.”  It’s a dark number, but then it opens up in the middle, bringing you back to the light.  It sort of encapsulates the whole of One Life Stand.  You’ve got some electronic fused tunes kicking up the pace in the beginning, only to sort of relax and leave room for sitting back in the middle of the record.  You can’t argue with such an ending, and you don’t need to do it, as the group has clearly closed the record in the most appropriate way.

Throughout the years, we’ve watched Hot Chip tinker with their own recipe of electro-pop.  Finally, they’ve made enough breakthroughs, as well as missteps, to have landed upon what seems to be their final recipe.  It’s hard to imagine that they’ll create much better than One Life Stand; of course, we can always hope they take the lessons learned and push even further into their development of great electronic music.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Hot-Chip-Take-It-In.mp3]

Download: Hot Chip – Take It In [MP3]

New Tunes from The Octagon

octagon1webOnce again New York hits right at my heart, now offering me the great sounds of The Octagon. They’ve released their latest album, Warm Love and Cool Dreams Forever, on Serious Business Records, but I have a feeling not too many people have heard much from this group yet, but that should change soon.  The group has the ferociousness of old punk tunes with a lot of lo-fi tendencies, which might recall a little bit of Guided by Voices.  You can even grab a free EP from the group with several B-Sides HERE.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/04-Radio-Days.mp3]

Download: The Octagon – Radio Days [MP3]

Yeasayer – Odd Blood

yea

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Finally the time has come for the release of the much anticipated follow up to All Hour Cymbals, and Yeasayer has switched it all up for you with the newest release, Odd Blood. Where they once dabbled in world music with a hint of electronic elements, they have turned the tables, choosing instead to go with electronic music that takes aim at taking over the world.  Your first listen might not offer too much, as this is a listen that requires several listens to completely unfold what lies beneath.

“The Children” opens up the album with some gothic samples that recalls old industrial music from the eighties, and the dark auto-tuned vocals keep the mood quite eerie, but there are some moments of lightness, which set the tone for the rest of the album.

We then come to the spectacular “Ambling Alp,” the band’s first single off Odd Blood. You wouldn’t be too far off if you didn’t notice some resemblance to Animal Collective, at least in the usage of samples, but the vocals don’t seem as intrusive as the latter band.  Really, this song is all over the place, which is perhaps why it’s so charming after repeated listens.

For the next three tracks you get transported immediately back to the eighties with Yeasayer. This isn’t an entirely bad thing, as the group doesn’t in their own particular way, incorporating more of their tribal meets world music instrumentation to the tunes. The opening moments of “Madder Red” as the vocals kick in just bring pure ecstatic joy, and “ONE” is just wonderful.  I love the way they play with the vocals, and then bounce right into the dance elements for the chorus.  All these songs benefit from the fact that there are extemporaneous elements all over the place, which makes the spin on such music more diverse than most of their modern-day equivalents.

When you come to the latter half of Odd Blood, you’ll find that the energy isn’t as fast paced as the early part of the record.  It feels as if the band is rushing themselves, especially when you come to songs like “Mondegreen,” a song full of horns and rhythmic vocal displays, but the elements here don’t seem to be as cohesive as they were on the early half.  Those extra touches that added so much to the first six songs sort of dissipate; this is something that causes the second half of the record to seem a bit less powerful than the first.

Throughout its duration, Odd Blood is full of so many different twists and turns that you have to give the band credit for being so exploratory in their efforts.  It might not be the most complete album the band will make, but it demonstrates that Yeasyer are willing to push themselves, and their listeners, towards a maximum musical listening experience. Cheers to that.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/01-Ambling-Alp-1.mp3]

Download: Yeasayer – Ambling Alp [MP3]

New Tunes from Snake Rattle Rattle Snake

snakeWe’re happy to tell you about some new friends we’ve made from Denver, Colorado: Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. They’ve just released their self-titled EP, and they’ve already got us wanting more.  We’re offering up one of these tracks to you, which showcases the brooding vocals of Hayley Helmericks.   For some reason, this recalls a really dark version of Pretty Girls Make Graves if they were more post-industrial than post-punk, if that makes sense to anyone but me.  The group is making their way to Austin for SXSW, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on their arrival, along with other various details.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/03-Parallel-Lines-1.mp3]

Download: Snake Rattle Rattle Snake – Parallel Lines [MP3]

The Album Leaf – A Chorus of Storytellers

thealbumleaf

Rating: ★★★ · ·

A Chorus of Storytellers is Jimmy LaValle’s third album for indie label Sub Pop, and at it’s finest moments, it proves that this is the most cohesive Album Leaf record to date.  While it maintains many of the electronic flourishes that existed on past works, the latest piece somehow comes together a little bit tighter, forming stronger collection of songs.

For me, it all starts with the title, and for that part, the cover art.  Artists of this ilk can rely upon these mediums to further their message.  Sure, all artists should do this, but it’s even more important with acts that remain instrumental.  And the title,  A Chorus of Storytellers, should really say it all.  While I’ve lambasted electronic music in the past, it is works such as this that strive to make a coherent story, to create a plot within their music.  Such is the story within this record, as illustrated on the cover.   It just begs you to create your own story of the man ashore while his boat drifts aimlessly away.

Of course, one thing that differentiates this album from purely electronic or post-rock music, if you wish to call it that, is the inclusion of songs which use lyrics.  “Falling From the Sun,” for example, is a pleasant enough tune, and you can easily follow as the melody rises and falls, especially in the vocal performance.  But, moments such as this make things to clear for the listener; this is something that detracts from the overall listening experience.  Lyrics, in this case, push a story upon you when you’d rather just float off into your own world.

You can take a song like “Within Dreams,” which in itself recalls the ability to drift off with your own thoughts.  Slowly, you can feel the song fall asleep on you, as if you too are going into that deep REM sleep.  Then you can hear the faint touches of string instruments, and you’re off an running in a dream of your own.  It is here where LaValle succeeds the most, as he allows you to immerse yourself in the song, and take the song wherever you want to go.  Happily, it’s not constructed of mere loops, and the national progression lends itself to the telling of tales.  “Until the Last” is another such song; it is along the lines of Balmorhea or even a less-dangerous version of Mogwai.

Up until the middle point of the album, the record is really strong.  It has its ups and downs, but it also adds enough diversity for you to be invested wholly into the album.  However, towards the end, there are a bit too many songs with vocals.  This isn’t a disaster by any means, as the songs are actually really good, “Almost There” in particular, but it does break up the flow of the album.  Still, A Chorus of Storytellers provides many listenable moments that prove Jimmy and The Album Leaf still can concoct magic out of their post-rcok potions.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/05-Falling-From-The-Sun.mp3]

Download: The Album Leaf – Falling From The Sun [MP3]

FTC: Dr. Octagon

FTC_droctagonUsually we don’t do a lot of write-ups on hip-hop, but that’s mostly because we don’t know too much about it, but we do know about this guy.  Kool Keith has been all over the place for years, sometimes as KK, sometimes as Black Elvis, but his most prominent persona for me is Dr. Octagon.  His rhmyes are odd, and quite vulgar, but not in a “I just want to cuss a lot way,” more in a disturbed MC sort of way.  I used to listen to the first record, Dr. Octagonecolgyst (the best in my opinion), all the time in college.  For some reason, I just  felt like travleing down memory lane with this record today. Blue Flowers!

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Half-Shark-Alligator-Half-Man.mp3]

New Tunes from Sambassadeur

sambassadeurIf you follow labels closely, they always lead you to new gems.  Such was the case when I hit up Labrador Records, the label that releases lots of killer Swedish tunes.  This time around they led me to Sambassadeur, another up-and-comer from the Swedish scene.  You’ll find this tune on their new album European, which comes out at the end of Ferbruary.

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

Download: Sambassadeur – Days [MP3]

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.

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