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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Ume – Sunshower EP

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Austin’s power trio Ume is set to release their second EP to the masses. The band has been heralded by many as a powerful group, set to break down the doors of the local scene with their sheer energy. Can they do it on record?

From the opening minute of “East of Hercules” you can tell that the band is bent on getting right up in your face, as heavy guitar work confronts the listener. Here, the percussion has a bit of a bounce to it, which should win the band many fans, as its difficult to combine power and swing in one moment.

Stylistically, the band seems to draw a lot from the alt-girl rock of the late 90s, but they blend it with a freshness that gives the band a bit of a unique quality. A lot of bands simply rehash those old sounds, but Ume are intent upon using their influences as a staging point for their attack, moving beyond the simplistic structures of days of old

Throughout the short EP, they keep up the pace, consistently approaching their high aims. One of the better songs on this set is “The Means” as the band chooses to slow it down a little bit in order to provide some clarity to the rest of the album. This song seems to be the antithesis to the rest of the album, and it sheds their Longwave similarities, breaking entirely new ground. It’s easily the brightest point of the EP, showing the range and capabilities that the band possess.

One drawback might be the fact that the vocals don’t reach the clarity during all the songs, much as they do in “The Means.” Often the wall of guitar and energy shield the listener from attaching one’s self from the lyrics. Sure, it’s a slight misstep for a promising new act, but for a fan of lyrics and vocals, it might be a bit disappointing.

Five songs later, you can see a band growing before your eyes. It closes with the sultry “Pendelum,” moving the band beyond all your expectations. Expect a powerful live show, and a bright future from this local act. To see that powerful live act, you should all check out the band this Saturday night at The Mohawk for their CD release party. It’s sure to be a rocking good time!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/ume-ep-the_conductor.mp3]

Download: Ume – The Conductor [MP3]

Reggae Time with the Meditations

I love my friends Corey and Levi, for many reasons, but one being their interest in music outside of my spectrum. This year they finally converted me, via The Big Takeover’s Top 50 Reggae Albums, to the ways of true reggae. I opted to share with you one of my recent discoveries, The Meditations, on this fine Thursday. This ain’t your mother’s reggae tunes!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/07-life-is-not-east.mp3]

Download: The Meditations – Life is Not East [MP3]

J Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Local Austin label, Western Vinyl, has caught hold of yet another bedroom country musician, but this time with a familiar name, at least to many. J Tillman is one of the various vocalists in last year’s adored Fleet Foxes.  On his latest release, Vacilando Territory Blues, he offers the public his take on meandering folk tunes, this time sans multiple part harmonies.

While most that are unfamiliar with Tillman’s solo work will see similarities with his other group, this is an album that sonically goes outside of the spectrum of the aforementioned group.  A noticeable difference upon first listen is that he does not seem overeager to fill all the empty space.  He allows for the presence of hollow moments, or negative space if you will.  This allows him to spend more time crafting the individual song structure, but that is the role when one chooses to go solo.

Oddly, the absence of multiple harmonies reveals one telling detail, that being that his voice might hold more strength than that other guy.  There is an element of sincerity, tinged with personal clarity, that makes his songs immediately personable to the listener.  It’s as if stepping out of the shadow allows him to find himself, and he does it through his songs.

Fans of modern alt-country and folk tunes will surely find a great deal of comfort in listening to songs like “No Occasion.”  Sure, there is a definite sense of familiarity with the acoustic styling of the song, not to mention the vocal tones, but you’d be hard tapped not to notice the force behind the song.  He uses a similar pattern throughout the album, which may be his one downfall.

As each song meanders through the album, the entirety of it all gets a little tedious.  Often it’s hard to differentiate one song from the next one, though separately they all are somewhat striking.  However, the patterns just go on and on, which can easily wear on any listener who is listening half-heartedly, allowing this album to merely seep into the background.

All in all, you’ll find comfort in the listening experience you get with J. Tillman here, though you may not fall head over heels in love.  It’s an above average piece of output, but it simply needs a little extra something to push it beyond the level where it rests.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/02-no-occasion.mp3]

Download: J Tillman – No Occasion [MP3]

Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light

Rating: ★★★★½

Much can be made about the sexual identity of singer Antony Hegarty, the man behind Antony and the Johnsons, just as much can be made of his choices for album artwork, which is equally as haunting, yet beautiful, as his his music.  But, aside from the front pages of gossip columnists, one most focus on one thing, and one thing alone. This album is f**king awesome.

The very instant that that The Crying Light begins, listeners are confronted with the overpowering presence of Hegarty’s voice.  His gentle piano carefully walks you through his lyrics, accompanied by the unique string arrangements we’ve all come to appreciate from his work.

As the album plays out, you grow to appreciate the simplest details of everything that this album brings with it.  Look closely at the lyrics, and you will not that Antony does not delve into the overly verbose vocabulary, choosing instead to tell his tales with the simplest of words, all the while creating superior poetry.  It’s something that only the truly greats can do.

And ever more daunting is the power behind his truly unique voice.  Sure, one could proximate it due to similarities to one Jeff Buckley, but the power behind Hegarty’s voice is second to none.  At each turn he seems to reach into thin air and pluck the perfect pitch from the sky.  At times, it can be overwhelming, and perhaps it is not for every listener out there, but the pure emotive quality behind his voice demonstrates what has made him one of the newest greats in our world.

A standout track, that demonstrates Antony willing to push forward comes via “Kiss My Name.”  A light inclusion of percussion, quick and to the point, beats through the background.  Perhaps his recent foray into dance-pop with Hercules and the Love Affair has encouraged him to open new doors.  If this is a sign of things to come, surely everyone will have to soon open their doors for Antony and the Johnsons, as nothing will match this spectacular album.

It may be early on, but it is hard not to reserve room for this album in year end lists.  Give it time, and don’t stand to the side while Antony and the Johnsons take over the world, one beautiful masterpiece at a time. Simply put, it’s perfect.  It’s f**king awesome.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/02-epilepsy-is-dancing.mp3]

Download: Antony and the Johnsons – Epilepsy Is Dancing [MP3]

Jennifer O’ Connor @ Stubbs – 1/20

The beautiful voice of Jennifer O’ Connor will be making its way into Austin tonight. Her folky singer/songwriter set is set to open of for Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls tonight at Stubbs, but we’re sure that the Matador signee O’ Connor will be the one who steals the show with her passion-filled harmonies.  It’s Tuesday, so what do you have to lose?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/jennifer-oe28099connor_here-with-me_04_valley-road-86.mp3]

Download: Jennifer O’ Connor – Valley Road 86 [MP3]

New Telekinesis

One of our favorite labels, Merge Records,  just signed Michael Benjamin Lerner, and his project Telekinesis, to their label.  The first single that’s been floating around is catchy as all get out, and we’re really looking forward to the release of his first album, set to hit stores on April 7th. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/coast-of-carolina.mp3]

Download: Telekinesis – Coast of Carolina [MP3]

New Television Personalities

There is something about British jangle-pop that really hits home with me.  Perhaps it’s the lo-fi quality or the romanticism, but at the forefront of it all has always been Television Personalities. They just recently released a new 7 ” titled The Good Anarchist on Elefant Records, which means we should hopefully have a new full length album coming our way sometime in March.  Check out the title track of said 7″!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/the-good-anarchist.mp3]

Download: TV Personalities – The Good Anarchist [MP3]

A.C. Newman – Get Guilty

Rating: ★★★★ ·

The majority of the listening world will know A.C. Newman by his other gig in New Pornographers. This new effort, released by Matador Records, isn’t far off from the land of his pop-supergroup, especially when one looks back at an album like Challengers.

From the minute “There are Maybe Ten or Twelve” takes off you can tell exactly the direction that this album is going to go.  It’s a subdued number, with high volume interludes, but the focus remains predominantly on Newman’s voice.

An album such as this is blessed by such a voice, as his is one that remains truly unique in this modern age.  He can go higher than most, while he brings it all back again to his normal singing voice.  In all his recordings, this is clearly the best he has sounded, which may owe a lot to remarkable production.

Keeping that in mind, most will settle with this album, knowing that your expectations will be met precisely.  Melodies will rise and fall, being matched at every corner, but, the pace isn’t exactly pushing listeners forward, looking for more from each song.  In fact, the only song that picks up any speed is “The Palace at 4 A.M.” Still, you can sit through this album in it’s entirety with a great deal of enjoyment; it’s just not going to grab you like other tracks A.C. Newman has done in the past, especially those featuring a certain Destroyer. Be sure to get through until the end for “All of my Days & All of my Days Off” is probably one of the best songs he’s written in years.

All in all, you come to the end of the album with one clear realization: A.C. Newman can spit out pop genius no matter where he is in his life.  Each song is interesting, in both melody and structure, as he often uses his voice to carry the songs, which is precisely where the whole album began.  It’s not every day when you come across a musician who can win you over with his voice alone.  And for that, we should all Get Guilty.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/01-there-are-maybe-ten-or-twelve.mp3]

Download: AC Newman – There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve [MP3]

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