Blitzen Trapper – Furr

Rating: ★★★★ ·

On their first album, Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trapper was all over the place.  They played classic rock in a crooked modern pop manner, but the vocals lacked clarity in delivery.  Their newest album, Furr, offered hopes of better production with the backing of Sub Pop Records, and dreams of consistency.

Those of us with high hopes might have to admit that despite the band’s efforts, we are only having our needs fulfilled on one level, that of the vocal delivery.  It’s predominant departure from their previous effort, which does make this one exceedingly better than its predecessor.

One would be hard-fought not to notice the 60s-70s rock influences draped across this entire album, but they were there in the past.  The previous albums spoke softly of such influences, but they step it up entirely on this album.  All of this is furthered by the strength in production on this album, which pushed the influences to the forefront, rather than disguising them in  a lack of clarity created by walls of noise.

They did write one of their worst songs ever, and chose to include it.  “Love U” is full of unadulterated yelping, and it rarely provides anything worth holding onto.  It’s merely walls of screaming, accompanied by sloppy musicianship, and it stands right in the middle of the album–just skip it.

Almost every single listener who has a weakness for the folkier moments in rock n’ roll will surely find the rest of the album enjoyable.  Each track seems to recall another musician at every turn, as if the band set out to write an album full of covers.  Songs like “Echos/Always on/EZ con” and title track “Furr” are purely magnificent.  The subdued tones of each song warrants repeated listens for the rest of the year; the folkier side of Blitzen Trapper is where the band, ultimately, performs at their best.

It would be easy to pigeonhole this band as one intent upon revisiting the past, but they seem to have their own spin on our heralded past.  One would be remiss to toss this band to the side due to a lack of originality; give it a couple of spins and you’ll find that the songs seem strikingly modern.  The band is knocking at the door step of a solid album, and Furr is an album that furthers that dream for both the listener and the band.

Little Joy vs. Los Hermanos

I’m all kinds of into audience participation, so I thought I would throw one more your way. Today, we will debate over whether the singer for Fabrizio Moretti’s (of The Strokes fame) newest project, Little Joy, is in fact better suited to front a band backed by Fab or by his old band, Los Hermanos. The kids love Little Joy, and Devandra Banhart produced the album, but something about the bossanova sounds of Los Hermanos are really working for me today. You make the call.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/little_joy_no_ones_better_sake.mp3]

Download: Little Joy – No Ones Better Sake [MP3]

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/09-09-condicional.mp3]

Download: Los Hermanos – Condicional [MP3]

New Music from The Decemberists

We all love The Decemberists, and we are stoked to hear that they are releasing a series of singles this year (October 14, November 4, December 2). The single series is titled “Always a Bridesmaid,” and this is the track off the opening single titled “Valerie Plame.” Those in the know might recognize the name, but for now, let’s just listen to the tune. Follow this link to preorder.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/01-valerie-plame.mp3]

Download: The Decemberists – Valerie Plame [MP3]

Gentlemen Jesse and His Men

I cannot stop listening to this album, or this song; Gentlemen Jesse and His Men seem to know where its at. Sure, it’s a little bit of a throwback, but we all loved The Strokes the first time around right?  Blast this song into the afternoon, and if you dig it like I do, then you can find the band’s self-titled debut out now on Douchemaster Records.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/i_dont_wanna_know.mp3]

Download: Gentleman Jesse and His Men – I Dont Wanna Know [MP3]

The Shaky Hands – Lunglight

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Lately it seems that the world has gone completely soft, or at least the spectrum of rock n’ roll has gone soft.  We desperately need a band that can grab us and shake the dust from our record collections.  The Shaky Hands appear to be that band, and their album Lunglight is just a taste of what they have to offer.

Opening track, “A New Parade” comes off with jangly pop affection, as pounding drums drive the song towards the end.  The vocals are a little raspy, with just a tinge of countrification a la Kings of Leon.

The band name is quite fitting, considering the sounds on this album have a sort of shakiness that can only be associated with pure, unadulterated rock.  It has this post-punk feeling to it, but fused with a country soul, and stirred with just the right amount of pop sensibility.  Although they carry such a signature sound, the album never seems to get old, always maintaining a sense of freshness in each song.

Lyrically, it seems that the album is filled with issues of struggle.  In today’s world we come across such battles between friends, lover and, ultimately, ourselves.  Understanding this, The Shaky Hands have set out to let us know that we are not alone in our daily issues; they, too, are confronting these demons.  If such battles must be fought, then we shall do it together.

And, the percussion is simply amazing here.  The drum work is all over the place, hammered out with precision that only comes to the those with the most devout practice routines.  You’ll find it difficult not to bounce your feet along to the driving rhythms here, which is at it should be with rock n’ roll.

Faults do exist on Lunglight, but they are things that can easily be overlooked.  The last three songs, for instance, extend over a minute longer than the previous songs, which has the effect of dragging the last moments of the record to the end. Also, it’s hard to completely buy into the vocals here.  Yes, they are reminiscent of other acts, as mentioned earlier, but at times you’ll find it hard to chase down the words.

In the end you will find that the band has created an album full of bright moments you can listen to time and time again.  Those who fall in line with bands like Kings of Leon (thats you RayRay) will surely find that great album you’ve been waiting for KoL to finally put out.

Cut Copy @ Emo’s – 9-29

If you’re not hungover from Austin City Limits, or you skipped the entire thing hoping to grab someting on the side, then you are in luck.  Electro-pop groud Cut Copy is coming to Austin, along with The Presets. This is one of those shows that most of us will miss, as we’ve been out all weekend at ACL, but we’ll hear from our friends that made it what a great show we missed.

Tickets are sold out online, but there are still tickets available at Waterloo Records.  Stop by and get you some.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/09-hearts-on-fire.mp3]

Download: Cut Copy – Hearts on Fire [MP3]

ACL Preview: Mason Jennings

Mason Jennings has been through his ups and downs as a songwriter, but mostly he’s been on the ups. His incredible vocals always lead those in his mass followings, such as Issac Brock of Modest Mouse, to a pleasurable listening experience. The crowds at Austin City Limits will surely be witness to his magic when he takes to the Austin Ventures stage this Saturday at 6:30. Read more after the jump.. Read more

Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

Rating: ★★★½ ·

The question with the latest Jenny Lewis album, Acid Tongue, really lies in the listener. Are you, as a listener and fan, willing to forgive some of the lackluster perfomances on this album in order to enjoy some of its finest pieces?

Opener “Black Sand” is the perfect song for Jenny. It’s gentle soundscape relies entirely upon her vocals, which is precisely where she excels. When she pushes her voice during the chorus, you know exactly why you love Jenny Lewis. There is something to her strength as an artist and a fox that both male and female are drawn towards.

Then we Jenny go further in the direction of country/folk, which most of us will say is where we think she belongs, or where she has been all along, but this is untrue. Sure, Rilo Kiley has gravitated towards that, and away from that; yes, her debut solo album bore that influence, but the greatest Rilo album’s were the early ones where she maintained her pop sensibility. The backing of acoustic guitars did nothing other than provide a stage for her voice.

You see, that is where the problem lies in this album. Jenny waivers back and forth between folk and classic R&B girl groups, but she never lands on that precisely pop moment where she truly shines. The title track, “Acid Tongue” does head back into the past, and even with its country undertones, you can still hear the pop star in Jenny Lewis ready to crawl out of her shell. This is the one song where it’s hard to differentiate between the Jenny we love, and the Jenny we are now witnessing. She stands firmly between both worlds.

“Fernando” is full of sexual appeal, which is where I place the blame for the faults of new era Jenny. She’s lost the innocence that made her so spectacular, instead forging ahead into sexual innuendo, associated with a bravado that is very unbecoming. But then, she jumps in with a song like “Godspeed” that makes you fall in love with her all over again. If only she could carry the power of this song throughout an entire album.

Therein lies the final conclusion. Jenny Lewis has a phenomenal voice, unlike most other female musicians these days. Her range is ridiculous, but in an effort to fully explore the vast expanse of her vocal landscape, she leaves herself stretched too thin, leaving faults in songs that could have been perfected. I’m still holding onto hope that one day she finishes it off right, either solo or with Rilo Kiley.

And don’t forget to check her out at ACL this weekend because if there is one woman that commands a stage, it’s this one.

Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Finally, I found music that I can run to these days, or at least music I could imagine myself running to, if I ever were to actually run.  That being said, Mogwai always offers me something that I can run to, or at least think about running to; actually, they always make music that lets me think.  The Hawk is Howling is just such an album.

First, I have to think about what I have done to begin thinking about running, which I will most definitely not do.  Then, I have to think about why Mogwai makes me think about running.  Finally, I have to think about what it is in Mogwai albums that makes me think.

In thinking about running, I came to the conclusion that its irrelevant to the topic at hand, the new album.  Then I thought long and hard about why Mogwai makes me think about running. This is my conclusion.

The band in and of itself does not make me want to run, but it is their music that makes me do so, and more important, it is their latest releases.  You see, they used to grab you, and fill your ears with swelling noise and sounds that irked your thinking caps.  They have since retired these strong arms of the axe, and exchanged such powers for mellower affairs.

Opening tracks are never going to be considered the best on the album, but here, they don’t really break new ground, and instead, they wallow in the tried and true formula they used off their last album.  It’s not unique anymore, considering the plethora of bands nowadays that are intent upon creating mood altering music.  Let’s take songs like “Local Authority” and “Scotland’s Shame.”  Each song has some offerings for music listeners, but for the most part, they are restrained musings of a band that once let go with such force that my ears rang for days, and that was with earplugs in my ears.  It is gone; they have lost the ferociousness.

There is, but of course, a song like “Batcat” which recalls that grandiose noise they used to bring on a daily basis, but the availability of such noise on this album is minimal.  They did, however, pen the greatest song this side of M83 with “The Sun Smells Too Loud.” Ridiculous song title aside, its the perfect sprawl of Mogwai at its best.

So then I just thought.  Mogwai makes me think about running nowadays because I can ignore their albums.  They used to strike me with a feeling of grandeur, but those days have long passed.  I can enjoy them for their minimal offerings, but, like their songs, the albums gently float away.

My thinking has led me to declare that the glory days of Mogwai have long since passed. In asking them not to rest on their laurels we asked them to throw away what we loved the most.  In the end, we were given sub-par albums that are always worthy of listening to, but never worthy of playing time and time again.  We can take them for a run, but like The Hawk is Howling, their albums are used solely for special moments; lets face it, the moments just don’t seem as special as they used to seem.

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