Superchunk – Majesty Shredding

Rating: ★★★★½

When you’re putting out records by the likes of Arcade Fire, Spoon and Destroyer, one would think you could easily get influenced by the great songwriting, unless of course, you’re Mac McCaughan, founder of Merge Records.  But, let’s not forget that Mac’s been jamming with his band Superchunk for close to two decades, and their newest album, Majesty Shredding, shows that no matter how often they pop up, they’re always going to be awesome.  Period.

Perhaps this whole record owes to perfect timing, but then again, as soon as you hear the squall of feedback that opens “Digging for Something,” you are met with a barrage of powerful gunshot drums and pure pop sensibility.  Mac’s voice sounds as youthful as ever, and who’s going to argue when he’s tossing up sing-a-long choruses so tasty?  Of course, the band isn’t solely intent upon giving you quick guitars that cut straight to that pop spot in your heart, they’ve got other offerings.

“Rosemarie” takes a softer approach, almost one that lives in the vein of The Replacements, which is completely acceptable, if not utterly awesome.  The balance between Mac and Laura sounds as tight as ever, and they’re not tossing in frills just for the sake of doing so; there’s a purpose in every single musical note on the plate.  You’ll find “Crossed Wires” coming at you in the similar territory, using the most basic formula with guitar interplay to keep it more than interesting.  Hopefully everyone will find themselves enjoying the clarity of the vocals, enjoying the fact that you can turn this album way up, and scream along to the fact that we’ve all got “crossed wires.”

Its funny, as you probably won’t look at Majesty Shredding and think to yourself that this band is breaking new ground, kicking all those tired genres to the curb, but at the same time, they’re not just resting on their laurels, sitting back waiting for you to love them. “Learned to Surf” opens with some great guitar work thats both angular and heavy, things we’ve seen other people do, but not this earnestly.  Superchunk will also throw traditional ballads, of their own personality, at you, like in “Fracture.”  This is the first time you can see a bit of the age in Mac’s vocal performance, not that we’re seeing this as a bad thing by any means.  Even with that, it’s a song that seems forever innocent, almost timeless.  Shouldn’t it all sound just like this?  And, if you want that in your face rocker, then you can visit “Rope Light” late in the record, just in case you weren’t sure how much you would love this album.

Occasionally we find a band like Weezer rehashing the same tired sound, but nothing about the work on Majesty Shredding seems dated, or even throwback.  Time has treated Superchunk with the appropriate amount of wisdom, allowing them to craft an album that isn’t trying to be anything other than good, simple as that.  It’s god ballads you can sing to in your car, its got rockers to get your energy going, and its just a joy to listen to a band who has no intent other than to offer up a great collection of songs that can stand the true test of time. Bands like this make it easy to write about; they just offer up good old fashioned killer rock n’ roll.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/1-01-Digging-For-Something-1.mp3]

Download: Superchunk – Digging for Something [MP3]

Cloudland Canyon – Fin Eaves

Rating: ★ · · · ·

If you’re looking for some sort of genre where you can place Cloudland Canyon, well, you’re probably best just placing it alongside soudnscape music–then again, some will want to lump it in with noise-pop.  On the newest effort, Fin Eaves, it’s really a blend of both,  but there is one that sticks out predominantly like  a sore thumb as the album draws to a close.

The first seven minutes of the album really doesn’t do much to distinguish anything for the listener.  It’s made up of two songs, neither of which will stand out as either a single, or as something overbearingly musical.  On “No One Else Around” you can clearly hear the faintest bit of warmth, due solely on the vocals, but its coated in extensive electronic dabbling and atmospheric noise.  It’s probably a great piece of sonic experimentation, but personally, that’s not really what I’m looking for nowadays.  The fact that it goes through to the second song without me even noticing is either pure genius, or just lazy album editing.  Really, you can have a song that’s just 7 minutes.

“Sister” is the first song that actually resembles a bit of a song.  You can kind of make out the vague lyrics, or at least you can hear the word “sister” in there, so it leads you to come to that conclusion.  There’s even some faint percussion hiding beneath the squalls of noise that goes nowhere and returns to nowhere. It all just seems like directionless drivel, going somewhere, yet really not going anywhere special.  It’s much the same case when you get to “Pinlike,” as the song begins with sort of that psychedelic rythm and a bit of haunting vocal.  Then, its like someone just presssed record, and looped over and over for about five minutes, and honestly, its a bit excruciating. 

So apparently it’s like we’ve all just become huge Steve Reich fans, enjoying the fact that looipng tapes and adding textural noises can be called art.  I get that, and I get the allusion to various levels of “gaze” music, but very few people have been able to pull this off successfully, let alone Mr. Reich himself, thus why he is considered agenius.  There’s a great bit of affection for this sort of thing, and its understandable….but listenable?  This person is leaning towards an emphatic no.

Cloudland Canyon, despite the better efforts, haven’t really given you much to listen to as you browse your way through Fin Eaves, searching for something redeeming. If you wan’t this sound, it seems like all you need to do is take a boom-box, toss in your old Erasure tapes, wrap it in plastic for protection, and stick inside of the noisiest washer/dryer combo you can find.  You’ll end up with a record that sounds a lot like this one, and one you will immediately want to return.  Sorry to be harsh, but some projects are better off confined to your bedroom. That being said, bet this sounds good if I’m baked.

New Music from Houses

Houses, like many of us, have had a hard time of things, facing economic woes and what not.  In the process, they relocated to Hawaii, living in what some might consider obscurity.  Using solar power to fuel their recording process, the band ended up building a quite record, one that sounds as if it was created in a remote area of anywhere, as it clearly was.  Lead single “Soak it Up” uses quiet electronics to create some sort of contemplative oceanic wave, that gently idles along as you find yourself absorbed, possibly within yourself.  Such is the work of Houses, who will release their album All Night on Lefse on October 19th.

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

Download: Houses – Soak it Up [MP3]

New Music from Weekend

Don’t you just feel like you need a bath in some noise rock?  Well, Weekend just might provide you with that, but they aren’t content to just let squalls of feedback remain as their lone impression.  They’ve got driving bass grooves, and first single “Coma Summer” keeps a bit of melody courtesy of singer Shaun Durkan’s soft voice.  Their album Sports will hit the streets on November 9th via Slumberland, and rest assured that the album is worth every bit of the excitement generated by early press.  Be careful, this is going to be loud.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/01-Coma-Summer-1.mp3]

Download: Weekend – Coma Summer [MP3]

New Music from Adam H Stephens

A few weeks back we brought you news of Adam H. Stephens prepping his debut solo album titled We Live on Cliffs, which will now be released by Saddle Creek on September 28th.  The first single we brought you was what we would expect from one of the lads from Two Gallants, but this new single, “Second Mind,” has an entirely different feel to it altogether.  Slower pace, a bit of organ, and a steadier vocal performance demonstrate that Stephens can offer us so much more than I think we expected.  Be sure to give this one a try folks.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/02-Second-Mind-1.mp3]

Download: Adam Haworth Stephens – Second Mind [MP3]

Of Montreal – False Priest

Rating: ★★½ · ·

What can a band due ten albums into their career to mix it up?  Well, Of Montreal seem to use a bit of a stronger R&B influence on False Priest to add a little twist to their traditionally humorous pop smorgasbord.  This album lives fairly close to the group’s pastiche, and to top it off, it’s a lot more cohesive than their last record, Skeletal Lamping.

Groovy Kevin Barnes brings his high-pitched falsetto to the forefront right from the get go on “I Feel Ya Stutter,” but he also utilizes his speak-sing formula, much as he will do throughout the record.  Fans of the group will notice the traditional hooks still remain, as well as the effortless layering of various harmonies, but its the vocals that seem more experimental here, trying to toss a bit of soul into it all. “Coquet Coquette,” while groovier in its composition, going back to the R&B influence perhaps, is probably the strongest number on False Priest, and one resembling the band’s previous hits.  It has a building guitar and a bit of suave, taking Barne’s driving vocal to push the song through to its space-age ending.

One of the things that differentiates this effort is the presence of guess vocalists, namely Janelle Monae.  Her smooth voice does add a nice little touch to “Enemy Gene,” but the song overall isn’t quite as successful as it could be.  There’s no huge battle between pop and catastrophe that Kevin has walked so well in the past, rather its just sort of a straight ahead pop track that really just stands in one place. Solange Knowles also pops her head up in “Sex Karma,” and while her performance might not be nearly as attractive as Monae’s, the song uses clever bass lines and electronic touches to actually construct the song, not to mention the call-and response vocals add a touch of playfulness. That being said, its nice to see Of Montreal trying to incorporate new ideas to mix it up, though they’ve always sort of been mixing it up, right?

While the past of the group has had all these incredible shifts in sonic approaches from record to record, they group has never really taken a straight approach at writing indie pop songs of the  ordinary sort.  But, take “Famine Affair,” one of the finer tracks on False Priest, and you should notice that this is about as simple as KB can write.  You could easily pump this in the morning to get you going, though you’ll never claim it to be one of the band’s greatest hits. Still, catchy tracks never hurt.

It’s always great to see the journey that Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal will take us on, as they always have something up their sleeve, but this effort isn’t one of the most successful efforts in sonic exploration the group has put together.  It’s uneven in a lot of places, if not all of them.  False Priest, of course, has high points like “Coquet Coquette” and “Famine Affair,” but perhaps a bit of editing here and there might have made it all seem a bit tighter, a bit less scattered.  All that said, you’re going to buy it, as you should, just to make sure Kevin Barnes keeps coming up with crazy ideas with which to present to his adoring audience.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/03-Coquet-Coquette-1.mp3]

Download: Of Montreal – Coquet Coquette [MP3]

The Walkmen – Lisbon

Rating: ★★★★½

Honestly, one of the best known songs from The Walkmen is “The Rat,” and it seems that many of us have waited for the band to replicate such powerful tracks for the duration of several albums. But, while we’ve had our issues, Hamilton and his posse have slowly began to focus on recreating nothing, simply pushing ahead whilst writing some of the moving records; Lisbon is just another killer notch in the proverbial belt.

A rolling drum beat lightly kicks off “Juveniles,” giving the listener a bit of a slow-sway before the twangy guitars unite with Hamilton’s vocal appearance.  It’s amazing how great his voice sounds nowadays, when it used to be the one disposable aspect in the group’s repertoire. His control as he changes pitches and tones from note to note let’s us all know that he’s in control; so be it good sir.  You’ll find a similar drum roll entrance on “Angela Surf City,” but the band spends the first minute building tension, just before exploding upon us.  The drums sounds like well-crafted gunfire, and the guitars chug along in unison.  Still, there’s a light touch in the moments where the track rests, due mostly to Hamilton’s now credible vocal display.  If you’re not in love with Lisbon already, you’re already behind, so start over.

There’s a darkness bred by the guitar lines at the opening seconds of “Blue as Your Blood.”  You get the sense that your traveling down a dark highway through some desert valley, and the wind blowing in your hair is Leithauser’s voice.  String arrangements arise in the background, giving an extra depth to your night drive.  While it’s musical tone is a touch haunting, there’s a warmth to everything within this number. You’ve driven all the way to “Stranded,” which has an echo of a sad funeral march, implied by the horns. Yet, as Hamilton exclaims that “I’m the bigger man here,” you get the feeling that despite trials and tribulations, he’s not sitting around reflecting on it all; he’s ready to go forth.  After such emotion, The Walkmen take it upon themselves to brighten the mood with “Victory.”  The guitars alone are some of the brightest you’ll find on the record, crisp and clear, giving us all hope.  This is our victory too, so enjoy the rise and fall, especially the rise; those guitars and crashing cymbals just clear everything out of the way.

In the past, we might have searched for the powerful moments to erupt for the group, but they’ve spent so much time crafting their sound over the years, that when they slow it down, you put your ear to the speaker, hoping to grasp every last sonic stroke. “Torch Song” and “Lisbon” have a bit of studio tinkering in their background, but the emotive quality in Leithauser’s voice on each song provides us with a final moment to contemplate every word, every change in pace, every single track.  You’ll arrive at the end, a bit slower than how you got here, but dammit if you won’t have enjoyed everything about the latest travels with The Walkmen.  Honestly, most people should struggle to find anything wrong with this record, making Lisbon one of the most complete, and gorgeous, records of 2010.  Press play, and listen again and again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/The-Walkmen-Stranded.mp3]

Download: The Walkmen – Stranded [MP3]

ACL Preview: The Many Faces Of Monsters Of Folk

We’re going off the deep end here with a bit of a different look at our next featured artist for our Austin City Limits Festival coverage.  The band is a sort of super-group, made up of renowned musicians in the indie world, and we’ve borrowed some ideas from our great friends over at theManyFacesOf.com.  Hopefully you enjoy this feature, and without further ado, we introduce you to The Many Faces Of Monsters of Folk.  Follow the jump for more.

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Electric Sunset – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Usually when the name of a band involves something with the word in electric, its usually a signal that there’s going to be far too much electronic flourishes in it, which goes against my new personal disdain for laptop accompanied bands. But, knowing that Electric Sunset was once part of Desolation Wilderness made it easy to get into the self-titled record, as I enjoyed Nic Zwart’s other band, prior to his departure. So why not give the guy a good honest look-see, or listen-see I suppose.

It begins with “Palace,” which does begin in the traditional way as most of the recent chill-wave releases have gone, with that odd sunshine dancing on the keyboard effect, but the one thing that immediately sticks out is the emphasis on the beats.  They’ve got this driving power to them, which leads to more toe-tapping as opposed to annoyance.  To top it off, Zwart’s voice had a depth to it that you might not get from the album cover.

Gentle touches of the electronic elements on “Morning City” make the song much powerful, giving Nic’s voice a little bit more room to roam about, and allowing for a bit of space to creep into the collage of beats and guitars.  Songs such as this, like the majority of Electric Sunset, benefit from the fact that he’s not forcing every little aspect that comes into his mind into his tracks.  He’s leaving a bit of an ambiguity to the song, asking listeners to extract what they want. You’ll see it again immediately afterwards on “Infinity Avenue,” a song that allows the empty space to create a brooding bit of tension, before taking off on a magic carpet of perfect melodies. This one might just make you clap your hands together.

Electric Sunset‘s first single “Soda” really does exemplify everything I’ve enjoyed while listening to this together.  Zwart’s vocals rise really high in the mix, and they’re solid vocals, with what seem to be minimal tonal effects. The song itself has this strong groove that relies upon his electronic work, but once again, it’s not overbearing by any means, even as layer upon layer is placed atop the various elements.  Closing this whole sonic array with a song like “Prayer” reaches out to the audience via the narrator’s reflection of being alone in a new city.  It asks us to identify with our own lives in a way that closely relates to Electric Sunset itself; leave your expectations at the door please, this is a seemingly new adventure.

Perhaps being jaded is not the best attitude to have when approaching electronic music, but perhaps tired sounding redundant recording tricks should be passed on the way side.  That being said, Electric Sunset has given us an electric-fied album that doesn’t resemble every other band out there, giving us lots of empty space for reflection, and great melodies crafted from Nic Zwart’s voice.  At the end of the day, you’ll realize that sometimes music is simply good, no matter where it comes from, or what instruments are utilized.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/electricsunsetsoda.mp3]

Download: Electric Sunset – Soda [MP3]

Show Preview: Lower Dens @ Club Deville (9/10)

Date 9/10/10
Location Club Deville
Doors 10:00PM
Tickets $8 @ the Door

If you’ve been following the Austin music scene for some time, you surely know the name Jana Hunter, but you might not be aware that she’s moved up to Baltimore for a bit to work with a new band, Lower Dens. They are touring in support of their latest album, Twin-Hand Movement, which is full of fuzzy guitars and Hunter’s remarkable voice.  Opening bands Balaclavas and Black Congress will be getting you prepared for the phenomenal tunes of the headliner. I mean, it’s Friday, and I feel like a cheap show, so I’ll be there.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/lowerdenstealights.mp3]

Download: Lower Dens – Tea Lights [MP3]

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