New Tunes from Diego

German band Diego has just released their album overseas, and I’m not quite sure if it will ever make it to our shores. That is quite a disappointment, as this band is one of the more enjoyable listens that has come across my ears this week. It’s part Editors, part Ian CurtisWait, aren’t those the same thing? 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/02-fan-city2.mp3]

Download: Diego – Fan City [MP3]

All American Rejects – When the World…

Rating: ★★★½ ·

The All-American Rejects have been playing their pop-punk stylings for years, perfecting their formula as best they know how. Their last effort brought mainstream hits with “Move Along” and “It Ends Tonight,” both scoring huge hits for the masses. This time around, on When the World Comes Down, the band steps a little aside from their formula, growing a bit in the process.

Of course, the band has a few hits on the way with this album, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.  Album opener “I Wanna” is one of the stronger upbeat songs on this record, with the focus resting on Tyson Ritter’s voice just before the rest of the band joins in for the fun.  Everyone, regardless of where you stand on pop music, can appreciate the strength in the chorus, though its lyrics might be a little hollow.

Skip ahead a few tracks and you will find the first single from the album, already climbing the charts: “Gives You Hell.”  Surprisingly, this song doesn’t rest on the bands combination of solid percussion and guitar-monies, instead putting the focus crisp percussion.  This is a song that will probably stay around for months and months, in all arenas.

But, they follow all this up with “Mona Lisa,” which is a slower number than the first minutes of this album have to offer.  Acoustic guitars and Ritter’s voice are the perfect match here, creating one of the more surprising moments on the album.  It also boasts of being the song with the best set of lyrics here.

The album is filled with tunes familiar to AAR fans, although they might be a little more subdued on this effort.  You can still find really strong guitar work, regardless of what you’re into these days.  A newer touch is the usage of extemporaneous atmospherics to fill out some of the space on this album.  It shows a bit of maturity for the group.

Those of you interested in this album will surely find lots that you love here, while those who do not will leave this album be.  Nonetheless, it’s another solid performance from a group who knows exactly what they are doing, and seems to have a lot of fun doing it. Let’s have some fun with them.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/the_all_american_rejects_-_gives_you_hell.mp3]

Download: All American Rejects – Gives You Hell [MP3]

Envelopes – Here Comes the Wind

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Envelopes is a little known band from France, so little known that no one wants to release their record in the United States besides iTunes. However, their second full length, Here Comes the Wind, is definitely one of the more complete releases of 2008.

If one was to label the band’s sound, you would be pretty close if you threw it under the genre of jangle pop. The melodies are bubbling full of brightness, making the joy of the songs immediately accessible for listeners. Throughout the album, the band presents you with hook after hook, encouraging you to bob your head in shear ecstasy.

Vocally, they combine male and female vocals, as if they were trading roles. At times, the vocals recall Frank Black’s Pixies yelp, but at other moments it’s the croon of David Byrne they seem to be evoking. Despite reference points, they seem to mix it up enough to keep you interested, as no song sounds exactly the same, which is what most of us seem to enjoy.

Lyrically, the band has never been one to provide the deepest meaning in their songs, which we could blame on the fact that the band is working with a second language. Still, the lyrics are easily distinguishable, which allows listeners to hold onto certain songs, and sing them loud for all of your friends.

Most noticeably, you can feel a true influence of the Pixies. The bass lines sound as if the band jumped Kim Deal and stole her stylings. Angular guitars crash into each other, creating waves of beauty. But, at the core of it all is a true pop sensibility, free of the darker elements that went with their immediate influences.

This album is wonderful through and through. It won’t wear you out after hundreds of spins, and each time you put it on, you seem to get more out of it. A complete album is a rarity nowadays, so head on over to iTunes and pick this one up before your friends get hip.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/10-03-heaven.mp3]

Download:  Envelopes-Heaven [MP3]

Albums Of The Year: 30-16

The year of 2008 is winding to a close, so it’s only appropriate that we wrap it up with our year-end albums list. We don’t expect many to necessarily agree with our list, but we worked really hard to make sure we had what we thought were the best thirty albums of the year. These are the records that spun over and over again in our heads and stereos, so this list is dedicated to their longevity in 2008.  We’ve conveniently broken it down into two segments, with albums 30-16 after the jump. Read more

Tom Gabel – Heart Burns

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Tom Gabel has made his fame as the voice behind americana-punks, Against Me; this time he decides to step outside his typical arena for a solo affair.  His stellar performance at Fun Fun Fun Fest this year with the Revival Tour led us to check out his latest solo release.

“I Can’t See You, But I Know You’re There” opens the album, and it’s a pleasant enough song.  The straining vocals known with Against Me fans is still pretty evident,and the entire song revolves around loose acoustic guitar, with the focus resonating with the lyrics, which appear to discuss the loss of a dear friend.

He follows this up with “Anna is a Stool Pigeon.”  This is the acoustic guitar work that one would expect from Tom, and its definitely more reminiscent of his performance at Fun x 3.  It’s got some harmonica accompaniment, and overall it’s taking a more country approach, though the lyrical content is a little bit lacking. He continues in this vain for the most part, though there is a misstep in the middle.

“Random Hearts” is a song that recalls the most recent effort of his main band, New Wave.  It’s electric guitar work and percussion samples don’t come across with the usual sincerity that is associated with a Tom Gabel song.  Sure, the album offers you an acoustic version, but the version here definitely sticks with you; the case is the same with a song like “Amputations,” where the electric guitar just doesn’t seem to benefit his style at all, although the lyrical content here is definitely one younger crowds could get behind.

That being said, the album does have one of the better songs he’s written, “Conceptual Paths.”  Sure, there are some minor drum samples in the background, but the strumming of his acoustic guitar recalls those special moments he is capable of creating.  It’s easily the strongest song on the record.

All in all this is a decent offering from one of punk’s great voices.  It would be nice to seem take a few more leaps towards a direct country approach, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.  One can’t be too disappointed to have this set of songs to add to their collection.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/02-conceptual-paths.mp3]

Download: Tom Gabel – Conceptual Paths [MP3]

Dirty on Purpose Call it Quits

Brooklyn band Dirty on Purpose have quietly been one of those great bands that filled my heart with joy.  Their combination of noise and warm pop won me over every single time.  Sadly, the band has decided to call it quits, playing their last show this New Year’s Eve in New York City.  You can download a few of their amazing tracks, as well as their final EP, by visiting RCRDLBL. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/01-audience-1.mp3]

Download: Dirty on Purpose – Audience [MP3]

The Theater Fire – Matter and Light

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Theater Fire are one of Texas’ best-kept secrets, nestled in the neighborhoods of Ft. Worth.  They first entered our musical consciousness with their self-titled debut, which attached folk and indie maneuvers to casual Americana.

Their third album, Matter and Light, hits stores nationwide this month, but those in Texas can already get their hand on it by traveling to your favorite independent record store. You will find that this album is a much grander affair, pushing the band in a much more complex direction.

To be fair, it sound strikingly like the final Beulah album, Yoko, only done with a country-tinged personality.  The opening musical number, “It’s All the Same” jumps in with a pounding rhythm backed by horns and piano; it’s a whirling-dervish affair, painted with crystal clear lyrics that come out like one of your best friend’s cousins from Beaumont.  They follow up with “Uncle Wayne,” which goes back to a more straightforward country approach.  It’s guitar matched by percussion and banjo elements, but with a different singer than the first track.  Here, you can definitely understand the David Berman quality to the band.

At this point in the album, the mission of the band is entirely clear, even though you are only two songs in to your listening experience.  The band has continued to push themselves, filling in empty musical space with various forms of percussion or other multi-instrumental elements.  In filling out such empty spaces, it makes the band sound more complete than ever, which is to their benefit.

A particularly interesting moment comes in the middle of the album when the band pays homage to one of our late-great heroes, Elliot Smith. They do a full-on instrumental jam of Elliot’s “Say Yes” that focuses primarily on the songwriter’s ability to create timeless melodies, much as this song does.

They close out the album with “It’s a Secret.”  The brooding quality of this song accompanies the sparse lyrical composition, as a lover or a friend attempts to reveal a secret.  It’s the perfect song for this band, as it plays to all their best traits; using dense vocals that correlate with the large-scale sounds the band have adopted. It’s the perfect ending to a strong album.

FT5: Disappointing Albums Of 2008

In 2008 we saw all kinds of releases across the board. Noise-pop seemed to be a pretty big deal, as did lo-fi production. But when preparing for our year-end lists, we came across the conundrum of deciding the biggest disappointments in 2008. Today’s Friday Top 5 is full of albums that our staff really looked forward to listening to when they were released, but instead fled in fear as to what our ears had just heard. List is after the jump

Read more

The Lodger – Life Is Sweet

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Leeds band The Lodger released this album in May of this year, but Life Is Sweet has been taking its time to get completely acquainted with those of us on American soil.  Surely you will find tragedy in that, for this record is precisely the type of album that made British music a mainstay in U.S. college radio throughout the 90s.

This album opens up with “My Finest Hour,” which is a piano-laden song, gently sweeping along.  It floats somewhere in the world of Belle and Sebastian until the chorus brings in pounding piano and a quickened pace with the vocals.

Moments later you’re treated to the best song on the album, not that the rest aren’t here for your enjoyment.  It’s a foot-stomper of a song, with guitar work similar to that of Franz Ferdinand, but with a more pop-driven vocal.  “The Good Old Days” is sure to get you moving, no matter what your into.  It’s the perfect blend of upbeat indie rock and modern pop music.

The more you listen to the album, the more the infectious melodies lodge themselves inside your brain.  It’s similar to the first time you threw on a Smiths LP or even Orange Juice.  It isn’t anything that will go down as the most creative music of all time, but it’s the fact that the band has honed their skills to perfection; they get the most potential out of every single song on the album.

You could drop the name of pretty much every seminal Brit-pop band from the early eighties on when describing this band, but despite their shared commonalities with their influences, The Lodger is able to go beyond those same sounds; they create a sound entirely their own.  Surely this deserves our notice over here in the United States, as we can only hope that we get more guitar-pop from our distant cousins rather than the same re-hashed dance music time and time again.

Los Campesinos – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Two records in one year is a highly ambitious goal from anyone, but the majority of the songs released on the debut full length from Los Campesinos, Hold On Now Youngster, has been lying around for a few years.  Still, the band aimed to keep the pace with their angular jangling pop, releasing We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, in the last week.

Everything about this band just screams sheer fun. The guitars pummeling your ears as the gang vocals ebb and flow throughout each song, and you find that your hooked immediately.  Their flirtation with nonsensical lyrics makes code deciphering something all of us can enjoy.  It’s energetic, and they never let up, not for a second.

Trading male and female vocals is always a perfect way to gather fans quickly, be it a band like Comet Gain or a group like Mates of State.  The dynamic quality of such songwriting always makes it interesting for any listener, and lets face it, with so many bands putting out decent albums nowadays, it’s hard to find one that perfectly distinguishes itself from the masses.  Yet again, Los Campesinos are standing out in the crowd.

A lot of credit gets thrown around for vibrant young bands, chasing the teenage underclass with energy-packed singles.  Bands like Ra Ra Riot or Tokyo Police Club most recently come to mind, but Los Campesinos stand above the rest.  Their guitars always seem to be combatting one another, as if the war to write a pop song could only be one.  Aforementioned vocals dynamics prevail, mixing it up around any corner, just for kicks.

Take title track, “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” for instance. It opens up with a killer percussion line powered on by a little synthesizer, just before the rest of the band comes in for the attack.  Swelling guitars pulsate, up and down, then make a splash, hinting at the chorus.  Throw in a set of gang vocals, and you have a perfectly juvenile song written for adults.

Sure, the band is not breaking newer ground here with this album.  In fact, you’ll find that a lot of the sounds appear strikingly similar to previous works put out by the band this year.  Still, listening to an album like this reminds you of what fun we can all have if we just let it all loose once in awhile, taking in everything for the sake of fun.

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