From the Closet: The Faces

faceThis week we bring you a tune you’ve all probably heard, at least for those of you who are fans of Wes Anderson. Or maybe you just like to go through Rod Stewart‘s entire catalog. Regardless, this is a pure gem. And, to top it all off, Austin is now home to one of The Faces founding members, Ian McLagan, who now fronts The Bump Band. Cheers. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/3-16-ooh-la-la.mp3]

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – s/t

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Rating: ★★★★½

Some of the simplest music occasionally connects with you on the most personal level, and this probably is just one of those times.  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have released one of the most personal albums of the year, and yet there is no explanation.  From start to finish, the album wins you over, time and time again.

Minute one is full of the jangly guitar pop that leapt all over the indie landscape throughout the late 80s and into the 90s.  Surrounded in layers of reverb and feedback, it chugs along, claiming that “you never were a contender.”  Lyrically, it is one of the most simple ideas put to paper, but you can carry that any which way you like; it never takes away from the magnificence of the music.

At times, you can clearly see the influence of bands like My Bloody Valentine, as the band use various effects to coat their sound in a darker spectrum, but at the heart of it all is a clear understanding of the craftsmanship in pop formulas.  Suppose you cleared away all the atmospherics intentions of the band, just for a moment.  You would find the most accessible pop song you’ve come across this year, but that’s what makes it so wonderful. This New York quartet didn’t take the easy way into your hearts, they took  the road less traveled.

Vocalist Kip seems like the sort of guy you always wanted to hang out with when you walked through your campus.  He wasn’t pretentious, not even in his writing, as he was assuredly an English major. Still, every time you saw him cross your path, you knew he had something to him; you knew he could take over the world.  Here, his voice is warm and entirely unassuming. The songs he crafts are all the things you wish you could’ve written, and he’ll gladly share them with you.

One of the more intriguing elements here is that the bobbing bass work is precisely what this record needs to move along.  It’s got a certain bounce to it that makes you want to continually move your feet.  It’s club music for those that  just don’t have the need to go to the club every single night of the week. Toss that in with the simple, yet exact, drum work, and you have a rhythm section that can really claim to be the backbone of this band. See “Teenager in Love” for the perfect example of the strength of the rhythm section.

Vocal interplay across the album is perfectly fitting, coddling every little harmony.  There is nothing modern about this record, other than the fact that it came out in modern times.  It could fit in alongside the best albums of the Cure or even the Go-Betweens, yet it stands on it’s own two feet.  Each turn brings you a new melody, a new angle with which to approach the songs. You don’t want to put it down, as you are sure that there has to be more to what lies beneath the album.

But, greatness aside, there is a drawback to the album. You want to keep listening to it over and over again. You want to play it on your walks, in your house, in your car on a sunny day.  That can be a bit much, and since the sound is a bit repetitive at points, you might find yourself worn out on the album in a short time frame.  Rest assured, you’ll be back soon to keep listening to this album time and time again

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/07-everything-with-you.mp3]

Download: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Everything With You [MP3]

Ben Kweller – Changing Horses

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Rating: ★★ · · ·

Ever since Ben Kweller flopped down upon the floor of stages to play his keyboard many years ago, we were all instantly hooked. His uncanny knack for creating simple pop tunes had long been known, but at such an early point in his career it was hard not to be flabbergasted by the young lad.  Now, two albums later, can he still win us all over with Changing Horses?

His first release brought us a slew of pop tunes that seemed to be centered around creative tunes written strictly on his piano, but then he brought out the rock with his release of On My Way. If anything, Ben Kweller couldn’t be pigeonholed for a staple sound, and this album is just another example of his musical maneuvering.  We find Ben channeling his inner country soul throughout the entirety of his newest release.

Sure, it’s nice to see a singer-songwriter push forward into new ground, and we all saw this coming with the release of his latest EP.  Still, the twang of the slide guitar seems to be a step to far in a different direction from Ben.  It comes off entirely forced, as if Ben wasn’t really pushing to break new ground so much as he was trying his best not to fall into old patterns.  He had tried it the ways he knew best, so why not go in an entirely Texas direction?

For one thing, the clever sensibility that he always maintained seems to be a bit far off on each of these songs. “Gypsy Rose” sounds too much as if he wanted to go down the path of the forefathers of folk music, resting on gentle guitar plucking.  You can juxtapose that with “Sawdust Man,” which may share similarities to Dr. Dog, but comes off more in the vein of a teenager trying to write the score to his latest homemade Western movie.

Now, the one thing that always remains true for Ben is his ability to keep you interested by holding onto his voice.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a soft spot for some of his better traits, namely this spectacular voice.  The way he can manipulate his inflection mid-melody is definitely something you could use to pass the time.  However, sometimes it just doesn’t seem to fit the country-mold of the album as a whole.

You’ll find a few gems lying beneath the covers here, such as “Ballad of Wendy Baker,” which comes across like a more subdued version of some of his earlier releases.  Here he lays his voice on the line, backed by appropriate guitar strumming and simple string instrumentation.  It’s one of the shining moments.  “Things I Like to Do” is very simplistic in its lyrical content, but that is precisely where Ben has always succeeded. He’s never been one to get to deep with the discussion in his lyrics, and simple suits him just fine.  It just might not be enough for most fans.  Even “On Her Own,” which seems to channel a little Pete Yorn vocal has some fine elements worthy of repeated listening; it just seems like these moments come few and far between.

Ben Kweller has always supplied us with hit after hit, creating seamless albums you could play all the way through. Changing Horses, in the title alone, demonstrates a move in a different direction, as he can no longer ride the same one-trick pony to stardom.  Sadly, this might not be a winning horse either.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/05-ballad-of-wendy-baker.mp3]

Download:  Ben Kweller – Ballad of Wendy Baker [MP3]

ATH Interviews: Broken Social Scene

bss_coverPrior to Broken Social Scene taking the stage at Bass Concert Hall we were able to grab a few minutes with Brendan Canning and Charles Spearin. They talk about the current state of the band, their most recent tour, and details about their solo albums. Thanks to Robin and Brendan for all of the arrangements and preparations.

Read the Brendan Canning Interview

Read the Charles Spearin Interview

New Tunes from Violens

vioelens We love everything that we’ve heard from Violens up to this point.  At times, they can cover their pop sensibility in reverb, or, as in the attached song, they can clean it all out to reveal everything beautiful about their sound.  Here’s to more great tunes from yet another promising band from New York. You can listen to more songs at their Myspace Page, or buy their first EP. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/doomed-f2.mp3]

Download: Violens – Doomed [MP3]

Heartless Bastards – The Mountain

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Heartless Bastards, who now dwell in Austin, or so rumor has it, have garnered a lot of claim in recent years for their passionate tunes.  They’ve been backed by some big names, though we should probably just stick to the music.  The Mountain, their third full-length hits stores this week, ready to establish the band as one of the lead acts across the states.

Looking through a list of the band’s influences, it’s easy to see where the  guitar sounds come from on album opener “The Mountain,” as the band blatantly wears their Pixies homage on their sleeves.  But, they aren’t one to simply regurgitate sounds of the past, instead adding pedal steel to complete the transfer of the past towards a more modern means. It’s one of the telling signs of growth, as this record shows that they completely own their sound, packed full of tidbits from the great landscape of American underground music.

Once again, singer Erika Winnerstrom’s voice dominates the entirety of this album.  At every turn it’s full of passion and pain, simple and yet never overstated.  It’s not every day that you can find such a deep voice that carries an encouraging femininity along with it, which shows you just how much power the young lady holds. It’s got remnants in the soul-inspired folk rock of past days, yet you can immediately see the relevance it has in today’s music scene.

You will find it difficult to place the band’s exact sound, or at least locate a genre in which the band will dwell. For all intents and purposes, the band never seems to stay in one place at one time.  After the opener, with all its influences, the band jumps into a more direct country sound on “Be So Happy,” this just before the go into a Dinosaur Jr.-esque romper in “Early in the Morning.”  All this before going back to a more roots based folk sound.

Despite the power possessed by Winnerstrom, her voice seems to be more suited to the slower tunes here. Beneath the lyrics and the structure of the songs, you can see her personality clearly coming through, begging to be listened to by everyone.  Okay, so maybe we’re harping too much on her voice here, but it’s the most recognizable medium on the album, and the one all listeners will most likely attach themselves to when listening to the album.  Clearly she can hold her own here, although at times, the songs do seem to drag on a little long, and that may wear the effects of her voice out a bit.

Three albums in, and the band is building on their strengths, pushing forward with solid tunes, and yes, it’s all backed by the power of Erika Winnerstrom’s voice, but who wouldn’t want to listen to a voice like this? And please excuse the poor cover art.

Two Tongues – s/t

twotongues

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When Say Anything‘s Max Bemis decided to join forces with Saves the Day‘s Chris Conley, kids all across the globe were salivating as they awaited the first proper release from Two Tongues. Releasing the album via emo stalwart, Vagrant Records, meant that the union was destined to find an eager audience.

The best thing one could hope for in this union is for the lyrical content, as Bemis and Conley have long been penning amazing lyrics for their respective bands.  Their efforts here are, as expected, nothing short of their individual accomplishments, each coupling great rhyming moments, often pairing them with one another effortlessly.  This is precisely how it was supposed to be done.  Sure, they’re still tackling the same old issues, but they do it well.

Moving beyond, it would be difficult not to comment on the vocal compliments these two offer to the other. Conley’s high pitch is counter-balanced by the heavier, deeper tones of Bemis. Their intermingling of vocal parts adds a musical element to the album that is difficult to come by outside of Kanye‘s studio.  Not to mention, the combination of vocal harmonies definitely keeps the album fresh, which the gentlemen have been unable to do in recent efforts with their mainstays.

Musically, you just have to combine the stylings of both groups.  Sure, it sounds simple enough in theory, but to fuse these two songwriters, and their distinctive styles, one must jump leaps and bounds.  The heavier elements almost certainly owe to Conley, as Bemis’ forte seems to be in crafting bouncing pop-punk elements along with angular guitar chops.  At times, the combination creates some unique moments, such as the Weezer-esque “Don’t You Want to Come Home.”  It might even have a little bit of Billy Corgan in the vocals, but you’ll have to see for yourself.

Perhaps the best moments come on this album when they keep it short, as in under three-minutes, as some of the songs can drag out just a little bit much.  But, when they keep the elements contained and simple, they hit hard and fast, just as you would want from a band of this ilk. It’s a solid album for those searching for a more upbeat sound as Spring rolls itself out, which apparently isn’t for another six weeks. Hopefully this will get  you there with your spirits up.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/02-if-i-could-make-you-do-things.mp3]

Download:  Two Tongues – If I Could Make You Do Things [MP3]

Loney, Dear – Dear John

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

When you first press play upon your record player, you will immediately be transported to the days of yesteryear, listening to Warren G and Nate Dogg.  Opening track, “Airport Surroundings,” off of Loney, Dear’s newest album, Dear John, is drastically similar to a famed song from years back, but in a more electronic folk presentation.  As the album moves forward, Regulators, mount up!

If you could discard the merry tones of Emil Svanangen when listening to this record, you will find that the pleasant acoustic driven album he created last time out with Loney, Noir, has been largely removed with this effort. Sure, the album is pleasantly coated with layer upon layer of various musical elements, but we found that on the last go round. Here, he has immersed himself, and his band, into a darker spectrum.

Electronic sound patchwork beeps throughout, as string instruments carefully accompany  the melodies the band created.  It all comes across a little denser than the previous effort, which one could  be led to attach a darker quality to this album.  But, the one thing you can’t do is erase the quality and tone of Emil’s voice, which is the driving force behind this group.

Sure, at times, his voice is shrouded in layer upon layer, but on songs such as “I Was Only Going Out” you find yourself presented with the favorable voice of this songwriter.  Like Jason Lytle, there is a deeper tone carried with the vocal, but he still manages to sound extremely humble and personal.  Listening, you want to put all your faith in every word that he shares with you, which is perhaps why this record wins you over.

At times, the various elements that present themselves in each song can be a bit overbearing.  It’s a more complete sound, more so than on the band’s debut, but at times that can be a bit daunting for listeners.  In your search to find some sort of sentiment in the mist of music, you find Emil Svanangen singing to you, almost as if he’s not singing to anyone else at all.  Personable voice is one of those rare qualities, but here it will allow you to go through the entirety of the album, even when finishing a song sings like a Herculean task.  You’ll thank him for it in the end.

You can find Emil and his band opening for Andrew Bird all across our great nation, and set to hit home here in Austin on February 12th at the Paramount Theater.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/03-i-was-only-going-out.mp3]

Download: Loney, Dear – I Was Only Going Out [MP3]

From the Closet – Wilson Pickett

will1I’d like to take a minute this week to pay homage to one of the great soul voices of our time. Sure, you’ve heard this sweet voice several times in your life, but does it make Wilson Pickett any less powerful? Absolutely not! I’m throwing a tune your way, just as an example of the great voice that stems from American soul.  See that smile?

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