Charles Spearin – The Happiness Project

charles

Rating: ★★★ · ·

When Charles Spearin, member of Broken Social Scene, decided he needed something new to cleanse his pallet, he turned to an idea that had been fermenting for several years.  In his mind, he could hear the vocal inflections in every day conversations, as only a man with a keen ear can do.  His next step was to fuse these natural inflections into a pop-centric album.  The album would be titled The Happiness Project.

Setting the scene for this masterpiece of sorts, Charles set out to record his neighbors conversations with the subject matter revolving entirely around the idea of happiness. Once recorded, Charles would enter the studio to incorporate a plethora of instruments in order to match the melodies in the speeches on tape to musical melodies.

His attempt has proven quite successful, though it’s easy to say that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea.  For all intents and purposes, it’s an avant garde concept album, with a leaning towards the pop elements; these elements rely more on the personality of Spearin than the final product.  Each recorded session is fit in with a unique sound meant to follow the exact vocal inflections of the speakers.  You may not regard this as something entirely remarkable, but when listening, one can’t help but feel a sense of wonderment when you hear just how tightly wound the two melodious elements are on tape.

A problem for most listeners certainly will lie in the timing of the album, and by that I refer to the appropriate time to listen to such an album.  It’s not exactly something you just throw on the record player in the middle of the party, but this could be precisely what Spearin wants from his listeners.  Perhaps he is begging you to step aside from the normal barriers of conversation and listen closely to the natural music we all make every day of our lives.

This experiment, as the man proved live, is quite beautiful when heard in the live setting.  Conceptually, its both brilliant and intriguing. You’ll just have to set aside a fair amount of time to actually sit down and let this record crawl into your head, and if you do so, you are sure to reap the rewards that Charles set out to share with us all.  Though it’s merely a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us each day, even in our most mundane conversations.

New Tunes from The Thermals

thermIn yet another wonderful day in the music industry, we get to hear another new track from yet another anticipated album in 2009. This time, we bring you the newest single from The Thermals, who recently signed to Kill Rock Stars. Their new album, Now We Can See, is set to come your way this April. Enjoy this tune. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/the-thermals-now-we-can-see.mp3]

Download: The Thermals – Now We Can See [MP3]

New Tunes from Camera Obscura

cameraThe newest Camera Obscura record, set to come out via 4AD Records on April 20th, has to be my most anticipated album of the year. Lets’ Get Out of This Country is still one of the greats of recent time, so I’m happy to present you with the first single of the forthcoming album, My Maudlin Career

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

Download:  Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career [MP3]

The Von Bondies – Love, Hate and Then There’s You

vonbondie

Rating: ★★★ · ·

The Von Bondies crept out of the massive Detroit scene on the heels of The White Stripes.  They were well versed in the garage stylings known to their locale.  But, then they flipped the switch on us.  They followed up their debut with a more straightforward album, and now they completely leave it all behind as they present us with Love, Hate and Then There’s You.

From the minute this album takes off with “Shut Your Mouth” you can tell that the entire group has begun pushing towards new ground.  Sure, this opening track still revels in the garage-infused sound of old, but something new exists here, something that could lose fans while gaining scores of new ones.  It’s the pop element.

Singer Jason Stollsteimer definitely has a brooding crooner quality, which recalls the vocal quality of a certain Mr. Flowers.  It’s not entirely surprising when listening to the rest of this album, as the mood of the songs easily matches the aesthetic quality of Jason’s voice.

In a sense, the band comes off like a hard-edged version of The Killers. This isn’t too say that the band has entirely left behind their past in favor of a more commercial appeal to the masses.  “Only to Haunt You” has the feeling of dark swirling pop melodies that garnered acclaim for the aforementioned band.  Still, the band holds on to the darker element of this genre, fueled by the precise rhythm section. This batch of songs is clearly the most accessible set of tunes they’ve created up to this point, and the culmination of this point may be welcomed by many.

All the songs are short, and they hit your ears quickly.  Occasionally, the vocals are matched with feuding vocal elements from Jason’s female counterpart, which give the band a bit of grit, though they never stray to far from the middle of the road. Therein lies one of the problems with this record: nothing here sounds entirely new to the listener.  This isn’t mean to knock on the band entirely, as its quite difficult to produce purely original sounds nowadays, but this just seems a bit to easy for the band.  At times the songs seem a bit uninspired, almost as if the band were just throwing about demos inside their studio.

Strong moments do exist throughout the entirety of this record, such as on “Accidents Will Happen.” Here you find the and bouncing along appropriately, as guitars jangle.  But, you’ll also find a certain rawness to the vocals, which show that Von Bondies still like to stay close to home.  They can’t seem to move on from their own history.

In the end, you find a band wavering on a middle ground, stuck between a poppier quality that is bubbling beneath the surface and their classic garage sound.  Many will find that the pop elements warrant approval, while others will relish in the fact that the band could definitely hit it a lot harder.  You decide.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/04-only-to-haunt-you.mp3]

Download:  Von Bondies – Only to Haunt You [MP3]

New Tunes from Harlem Shakes

harlemIn anticipation for a sweet month of music, both at SXSW and the usual releases, we opted to throw out a tune by up and comers Harlem ShakesThe group is set to release their debut March 24th on Gigantic Music, just as you’ve spent all your hard earned cash on SXSW. Well, at least the album, Technicolor Health, has promise, especially based on this song. 

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

Download: Harlem Shakes – Strictly Game [MP3]

New Tunes from Nite Jewel

niteHere’s a new track from Nite Jewel and her album Good Evening. It’s got a dark 80s wash all over it, as if it was produced strictly for one of those secret clubs you can only enter by the back door. If you like what you hear, keep your eyes and ears posted, as she’ll be all over town singing her heart out at SXSW. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/04-weak-for-me.mp3]

Download: Nite Jewel – Weak for Me [MP3]

1/31 Broken Social Scene @ Bass

bss1This past Saturday we were lucky, as were many of our fellow Austinites, to catch Broken Social Scene in the act. The band played for nearly three hours, despite Kevin Drew’s illness, which forced him to cancel their show in Dallas on the previous evening. Here are some solid pictures from the show for you to relive those special moments, or to pretend you were there. You can also read our interviews with Charles Spearin and Brendan Canning.

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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

pains

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

bkhorses

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]

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