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

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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?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/16-you-keep-me-hangin-on.mp3]

Franz Ferdinand – Tonight Franz Ferdinand

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Let’s face it, Franz Ferdinand, though extremely enjoyable, has never been breaking a lot of ground with their push to get you to dance.  Comparisons to various bands crossed all over their debut, and this album is no different.  But, approaching the end of the day, you’ll still find that another solid record from this Scottish group, Tonight Franz Ferdinand, is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Ulysses,” the opening track surfaced a few months back, and it offered promise of a more dance-worthy set of tunes.  The problem with that approach to a description of this album is that the band has always been a dance-laden band.  Sure, they took a slow dance approach last go-round, but they’ve always encouraged you to dance, since their inception!

Sure, a song like “Turn It On” definitely will make you hit the dance floor a little harder, as the beat entices you to grab your friend and head straight for the floor.  In fact, all the songs, excluding “Send Him Away” and “Katherine Kiss Me” have a danceable quality, and even those two aforementioned songs will allow you sway with your partner in a reasonable fashion.

Once again, the band succeeds on various levels.  Somehow, singer Alex K is capable of crafting lyrics, accompanied by harmonies of course, that suggest involvement from all parties, listener and band member alike.  This is perhaps the best modern approach to dance music, as everyone loves a little participation.  Then you have to add the increasingly steady rhythm section, which always manages to create songs that make you want to stomp around. In addition, they sound tighter than ever before.  It’s the same stylistic approach as previous efforts, but small changes have pushed the band further than before.

One thing is clear here, the production has changed on this album.  The vocals sound a lot clearer here, and the music just seems to have a more straightforward clarity.  Increased synth or keyboard elements have also given the band a stronger edge in their overall appeal, at least when that pertains to dance floor ready tracks.  They don’t seem out of place on the record, rather an expected progression from a group that seems to clearly be searching for a new direction.  Another noticeable change appears in Kapronos’ voice.  There is a bit of a croon here, that visited at times in the past, but was never as prevalent.

At the close of the album, you aren’t blown away.  You probably can’t decipher every single song from those before it.  You can, however, say that you thoroughly enjoyed your listening experience.  You will look forward to cleaning your house with this playing loudly in the background.  It’s a good album, and you’ll enjoy it, you just won’t adore it.

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

Download: Franz Ferdinand – Ulysses [MP3]

Magnetic Morning – A.M.

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When the rumor mill put Sam Fogarino of Interpol with Adam Franklin of Swervedriver together, no knew exactly what to expect from the duo.  Both men have achieved varying levels of success, but could they put it altogether?  Simply put, the answer is an absolute yes! Here it is ladies and gents, Magnetic Morning.

Immediately the band opens with “Spring Unseen,” a gentle number where vocal harmonies seem to burst into the song like flowers in the Spring.  Franklin’s trademark voice sounds incredibly familiar, yet he seems to have grown with it as time has passed.  Here the band sets up to the stage for the entire album, allowing all space to be filled sonically with ambient washes of guitar.  It’s a tactic that will remain prevalent throughout your listening experience to this album.

Oddly, the music seems both dated and refreshing.  There isn’t a lot out there right now in the realm of dramatic pop soundscapes, at least not a whole lot that will move you.  Despite the fact that it seems like a missing step-child in the world of indie-rock, it still comes out as remarkably fresh.  Every minute of the album is worth steeping yourself inside, as you wait carefully, quietly even, for the song to unfold before you.  This entire album will aimlessly float through your brain as the melodies become a part of you.

Looking at the song titles alone will show you precisely what the album is about, conceptually speaking.  It seems to be that Mr. Franklin is continuing to search for the answers, as we all inevitably are.  He approaches the subject matter with a perfect simplicity, one that will surely allow listeners to associate with his words.  Not to mention, a few songs seemingly deal with loss, of a friend or loved one you will have to find out.

Ultimately, this is an album that affects your mood, regardless of where you find yourself in the day.  It’s a somber affair, forcing, or asking rather, that listeners take a minute, or twenty, out of their day to let these songs invest themselves in your soul.  In the end, you’ll be glad you found the time to sink quietly into this wonderful album.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/05-no-direction.mp3]

Download: Magnetic Morning – No Direction [MP3]

Nickel Eye – The Time of the Assassins

Rating: ★★★ · ·

The last several months have brought the music faithful three different Strokes side-projects, the newest being from bassist Nikolai Fraiture, aptly titled Nickel Eye.  All this output makes one wonder what could have been accomplished had all the players remained as prolific as they seem to be.  But, this one leaves some questions for listeners.

Opening the album, it’s clear that Niklai holds his instrument of choice dear to his heart, as the bass-work is precisely what he provided listeners with when he took to the stage with his mates.

Then comes “Back From Exile,” the first appearance of an acoustic guitar.  It’s not that the songs aren’t enjoyable, as they surely are just that, but you start to go elsewhere with the music as you listen.  His voice sounds oddly like his band-mate’s, which leads one to wonder precisely what Julian thinks of his friends finding replacements for his vocal styling. Still, the second song featuring acoustic guitar, “Fountain Avenue” definitely is worth a listen, possibly over and over again.

Enter “Dying Star,” a possible suggestion at where The Strokes could have gone, or were going, or are going for that matter.  It’s winding guitars and hurried sound seemingly fit the mold of that other band.  It’s at this point that it all begins to slowly make sense.  “Brandy of the Damned” has a similar bounce to that of Fab’s band, Little Joy, but still definitely has a quality unmistakably similar to the central band.  That is where you begin to figure it out.

Nikolai seems to have a lot of difficulty moving away entirely from the sound he helped to establish. Whereas you feel like Albert Hammond and Little Joy have both established themselves, distancing their sound in certain ways away from their alma mater, Nikolai flirts with walking away, but never quite goes the distance here. He can’t seem to eclipse the huge shadow that looms large over his career.

That being said, the last few songs, “Another Sunny Afternoon” and “Hey, Thats No Way to Say Goodbye” both push those boundaries just a little bit, in a folkier manner.  It’s at the end of the album, which makes it come off as an afterthought, though you’ll surely enjoy “Another Sunny Afternoon.”

While listening to this album, you will definitely find a lot of it’s appeal, as there are many songs worthy of making your favorite mix-tape.  Yet, this album, is not one where you ask for more from Nickel Eye.  It’s pleasant and enjoyable, but where you wish Little Joy had another record, here your okay with just a few listens.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/07-brandy-of-the-damned.mp3]

Download: Nickel Eye – Brandy of the Damned [MP3]

FT5: Second Wave Emo Records

Looking back at my sad excuse for a life, I realize that my obsession with music had to begin at some point. I flirted with metal, as I alluded to last week, but mostly I found my love in classic California pop music and punk rock. Along the way, I meandered a bit off the path, as most did during the late nineties. Where did I land?  I landed in the wonderful world of emo. Sure, you’re thinking that I shopped at Hot Topic and couldn’t get Fall Out Boy out of my head, but I’m talking about the predecessors to the entire scene; well, the predecessors of the predecessors. I’ve devoted this week’s Top 5 to my one true love, emo. We’ll call it my Pop 5 Emo Records, and the countdown is after the jump.

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