Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

Rating: ★★★★½

Ted Leo has been around long enough to have amassed a great deal of influences and personal touches on his musical repertoire.  Throughout the years he’s tried hard to squeeze all those influences into one cohesive album, to varying results.  Finally, The Brutalist Bricks sees Ted meeting expectations, combining influences and flair to create one of his best records to date.

His voice opens the album on “The Mighty Sparrow” with his trademark yelp meets croon.  You’ll notice that ringing guitar in your ear just before the drums kick into the song.  But, like the perfect Ted song, he slows it down in the middle just before a solid drums solo.  It’s this kind of classic songwriting that makes his music seem so refreshing and enjoyable listen after listen.

Then the group kicks it up a notch with “Mourning in America.”  Here is the hard-hitting song that began to surface on Living with the Living, but instead of a non-stop barrage of fury, he tones it down around the 2 minute mark.  Somehow, the rockers on this album seem so much more refined, as if he found the perfect recipe for his creations.

You’ll find yourself already involved in the album by the time you reach the one-two punch that is “Ativan Eyes” and “Even Heroes Have to Die.”  It’s the way that he strikes the chords that grabs at you emotionally in “Ativan Eyes,” but the vocal performance near the end grabs you when he strains to push his notes a bit higher.  The latter number is one of the catchiest tunes Ted has written, yet you’ll find it hard to figure out precisely why this is such an incredible song.  It seems like any other song he’s done, until you hit that ridiculously poppy hook in the chorus.  Some might say that this is a radio-friendly song, but the way he mutes his picking just prior to the “ooooooh, oh well” moment that is the hook makes it distinctively Ted.

Even when you hit the seemingly highest point, a place where Leo has occasionally fallen off in the past, The Brutalist Bricks continues to deliver great moment after great moment.  “Bottled in Cork” begins with a riotous fury of guitar and commentary of the political sort, but he pulls back and throws in an acoustic moment talking about “the path of least resistance” that carries until the end.  He mixes it up further with “One Polaroid a Day,” which is sort of a groovy number fueled by his “chugga-chugga” guitar rocking out (there might even be some sort of harmonics in the background) prior to a mini-solo, then going back into the groove.

Be sure not to miss “Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees.”  For me, a long time fan, this is probably one of my favorite tracks.  The throbbing bass lines provide the backbone, which gives Ted the freedom to maneuver his guitar back and forth throughout the song.  This time he seems to relish in some negative space, filling it with feedback, but his vocals feel so warm here, that you just have to fall in love with Ted all over again (if you ever stopped).

And then there is the swan song, “Last Days.”  It’s the perfect closing statement for The Brutalist Bricks. It encapsulates everything about this record, and about Ted Leo.  It’s got that twangy guitar sound that is all things Ted, but there are some eruptive blasts throughout, both vocally and musically.  It shows you that he finally found the formula that allows him to put the tenacity and vigor of his live shows into his music without going too far on record.  It makes for a perfect personal statement for Ted Leo and should push the band further into the hearts of listeners.


Download: Ted Leo – Even Heroes Have to Die [MP3]

FT5: WTF? Songs I Found in my iTunes

During 1989 I received my first CD player.  Since that day, I’ve collected music vigorously, but only recently has that seem to have gotten a little bit out of hand.  Some friends know I have stuff, so they want to borrow it, or they want a burned copy.  Other times, people want me to make a mix for some purpose or another, so I gladly oblige.  It recently hit me that there are some mysterious tunes lying around in my iTunes library that I really rather wish weren’t there, or that I am going to pretend like I downloaded for a friend and lay no claim to whatsoever.  Do you have those too? It can’t be just me.

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Dawes @ Emos (3/6)

Date 3/6/10
Location Emos
Doors 9pm
Tickets $10 @ Ticketweb

The last time we caught Dawes, they were winning over the audience opening up for Delta Spirit.  Now they’re headlining their own set up at Emos this weekend, bringing you their blend of Americana and California-tinged bluegrass.  Luckily, the openers aren’t too shabby either; Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons have the middle slot, and Jason Boesel opens.  You’ll know Jason from his role in Rilo Kiley and his work on various Bright Eyes records.  See you Saturday night!

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Hand_of_God.mp3]

Download: Jason Boesel – Hand of God [MP3]

New Tunes from Air Waves

Air Waves is the project of Nicole Schneit, and she’s gotten a lot of attention since Dan Deacon dropped her name.  But, don’t let that guide your interest, as Air Waves sounds nothing like Dan Deacon; Nicole has more of a punk-folk troubadour aspect to her. This tune definitely gives you the feeling that Schneit is not one to sit idly by why the boys do their thing.  You can check out the rest of her music by picking up the Air Waves EP, which is in stores right about now.


Download: Air Waves -Sweetness [MP3]

The Ruby Suns – Fight Softly

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Last time out, The Ruby Suns drenched their record in clever guitar parts, using electronic elements to fill out the empty space here in there.  This time around, they’ve changed that recipe entirely, filling their newest record, Fight Softly with beat upon blistering beat.  It completely changes the dynamic of the recorded product for the band; this is something old fans will have to get used to, as it doesn’t look to change anytime soon.

You hate to have comparisons to other bands define you, but once you hear “Sun Lake Rinsed” you’ll really understand that occasionally comparisons are completely valid.  From the first beat, you start to hear the faintest hint of Animal Collective, which only increases as you continue through the song.  One of the things that differs, and this could be a positive, is that the vocals of Ryan McPhun aren’t nearly as grating as those of Animal Collective tend to be. McPhun has a softer voice, which makes this more of a bedroom dance record than something you would blare elsewhere.

Fortunately, the one thing that differentiates the music on this album is that the melodies don’t rest merely upon the notes being used.  Others have used similar styles, but have piled layer upon layer of electronica to create dense melodies.  On a song such as “Haunted House,” you definitely can see all sorts of dance references, particularly Justice, but McPhun’s voice is just to good to completely ignore.  His voice is the one thing that makes the whole sound come together, uniting all the various melodies.

All that being said, it’s easy to see detractors for Fight Softly;  it’s the same sort of criticism that has led others to dismiss the electronic pop movement altogether.  After listening through the album for several spins, you can see that the music begins to blend together.  Yes, there are differences in each song, such as the jungle homage played out in “Dusty Fruit,” but repetitive listens, especially in one sitting make it all sort of bleed into one giant collage of electro-pop madness.  One might assume that the band chose to apply this strategy purposefully, but there is far more detail to the lyrical content than one would place on a collage of beats.

The Ruby Suns aren’t asking you to make a decision on whether or not you should include yourself in the massive throngs of electronic music connoisseurs, but they do want you to have fun while you listen to Fight Softly.  It’s an upbeat record full of some bright moments that you can definitely use on mixtapes for friends, but at times, it does tend to wear you down with a bit too much on the beeps and blips front.


Download: The Ruby Suns – Haunted House [MP3]

New Tunes from KISSES

It’s been sort of a rock revival around our offices lately, but let’s not forget, we like to throw down on the dance floor too!  We’ve got a new jam for you today, which really sounds a lot like Hercules and the Love Affair, only the vocals atop the disco beats sound more akin to Jens Lekman.  It’s that particular warm vocal that is destined to win KISSES loads of fans when they release their debut Bermuda on April 27th.  Hope you enjoy this little number, and remember boys and girls, it’s okay to shake it at the office sometimes.


Download: Kisses – Bermuda [MP3]

New Tunes from Summer Cats

Seeing as we’re throwing a party featuring all things Australia/New Zealand, I thought I would stick to the area and bring some jangle pop your way via Melbourne’s Summer Cats.  This number has got me bopping around my room right now, and you can tell why the energy in this tune makes it a live favorite.  I bet they’ll play it during their various shows at SXSW!  In the meantime, the tune comes your way on a new 7″ from Slumberland to be released on March 16th.  It’ll be the B-Side to the single for “Your Timetable” off last year’s Songs for Tuesdays. Go ahead, tap your feet; you know you wanna.


Download: Summer Cats – TV Guide [MP3]

Twin Tigers – Gray Waves

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s hard nowadays for a debut album to really blow people out of the water, unless you’ve had success and backing from various media outlets.  Twin Tigers have had a mild amount of press in that regard, but odds are the release of their album Gray Waves will have more people clamoring to find as much information on the group as possible.  This record moves back and forth between several musical spectrums, often times within the same song; in following this formula the group has constructed one of the most creative straight-ahead rock records in recent memory.

From the moment you click play on your stereo, you get the feeling as if you’re in for something entirely special; the discordant noise sets an ambient tone before the drums and feedback squall shatter the sonic setting on “Passive Idol.” But, just as you expect a blistering number, Twin Tigers pull back, choosing to create a more melodious moment for listeners.  Mathew Rain’s vocals seem to have some sort of echo in them, which makes him seem both haunting and dangerous.  Either way, you can’t help but to fall into this record from the get go.

“Red Fox Run” recalls some of the mid-to-late career albums of Sonic Youth, in so much as it maintains a balance between using appropriate melody and blistering noise.  Movement within the song is hard to ignore, and you can tell that thought went into every detail of the way the song unfolds.  Similarly, “Everyday” grabs you right from the get go, using a summery underlying hook that borders on bubble pop.  Still, waves of guitar noise remain in the background, and the chorus provides the perfect amount of angst that is necessary for pure rock songs.  All this before the song blasts into another direction towards the ending, only to return to the hook featured at the beginning.

Yet, Twin Tigers are not a one-trick pony they refuse to rely upon their Sonic Youth tendencies, or Rain’s howling Jesus and the Mary Chain vocals.  They’re capable of almost anything here, as “Gray Waves” suggests.  If they ended at the midpoint, this would easily be a great song of typical indie pop such as Deerhunter, but they push beyond influences, forging new ground all on their own, as witnessed by the darker vocal performance by Rain near the end.

An aside that is necessary here is the performance of Dougie Crump.  A steady drummer is a definite must if you’re going to construct mini-suites mid-song.  You’ve got to have someone who can keep everyone on track by providing the perfect rhythm; Young does this spectacularly.  On top of that, his work is magnificent in its own regard; his drum fills alone really flesh out the group’s sound as a whole. Cheers to that Richard.

All in all, Gray Waves is a remarkably refreshing debut.  Angular guitars cut and feedback throughout the entirety of the record, all the while Rain tries to utilize his vocals to keep a hint of melody to the core of Twin Tigers.  Not once can you deny the creativity and vibrance of this young band; they’re here to take their influences and build a world all their own.  And, who knows, the way they cut and paste the sonic collage here shows they just might tear that world all to pieces, but odds are you’ll still love every minute of it.


Download: Twin Tigers – Everyday [MP3]

New Tunes from Jeremy Jay

Those who’ve been following us know just how much we here at ATH love Jeremy Jay.  Not only has he already released several albums of classic American pop, but he’s got more on the way.  Splash, his newest album, is set to hit stores on May 25th via K Recs, and our preliminary listens have us thinking this will be one of our favorites of the year (or mine at least).  If you like what you hear, you need to make sure to check out Jeremy this year at SXSW.  He’s playing for free at Urban Outfitters (3/17), Beauty Bar (3/17-Official), and Flamingo Cantina (3/18).  You’ll want to check the guy out, and then you’ll want to get your hands on his new album, and those old ones are probably required for your collection as well.


Download: Jeremy Jay – This Is Our Time [MP3]

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