Gospel Gossip @ Headhunters – 8/20

Sure there is lots going on these days, and Wednesday is packed of goodness, but my recommendation is to head on over to Headhunters for a surprise you’re sure to enjoy. I’ve been listening to Gospel Gossip‘s latest record kind of non-stop with its blend of shoegaze and pop. It’s like Dirty on Purpose, but with a female vocalist. Like I said, head somewhere unexpected and take it all in.

Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Much has been made of Ra Ra Riot‘s history as a band, which, though interesting and heartbreaking, doesn’t really do a sufficient job of discussing the band’s current output. The Rhumb Line is their first full length album, although the band has been around for quite sometime, with nothing more than an EP to their name. And, I suppose that we could be disappointed that only 6 of the album’s 10 songs are new, but that would take away from the stunning debut they have given us.

The album begins with “Ghost Under Rocks,” a tune driven by the orchestral cello and violin work that the band uses to create the darker tones of their pop numbers.  The blistering drum work on the opener adds just as much power, making a mark on the listener almost immediately.  They follow this up with another song off their EP, “Each Year,” but it’s a driving song, with the guitar carrying the song, and those listening, along.

They do their best Vampire Weekend impression with “St. Peter’s Day Festival,” but the use of orchestral pieces gives the song a little bit more splendor, making it a song that won’t wear you down over time.  Ra Ra Riot slows it down a bit for us with “Winter 05,” a song that relies musically on violin and cello.  It’s a beautiful song, and one that gives you a break from the fast pace of the album.

Then its back to the EP songs, and two of the best songs that band has written up to this point.  “Dying is Fine” is truly one of my favorite songs of the year.  The music makes you tap your toes, while the vocals couldn’t possibly be better.  “Can You Tell” starts off slowly, with reference to a long lost lover, before it bumps up the pace.  This might be the peak moment of the album.

In “Too Too Fast” we find the band relying upon synthesizers to hold the aesthetic of this song.  The female vocal accompaniment during the chorus is quite fitting, and it pushes the song further into the music of the past.  Still, the song has a certain freshness that tells the listener to keep on going.

However, the album kind off falls off from here.  “Oh La” just doesn’t have the same impact on the listener as the previous numbers.  It’s slower, and it kind of throws off the pace of the album.  From here the band jumps to a Kate Bush cover, which is good, but it takes the number of new original songs down to 5. “Run My Mouth” marks the point where the album kind of loses its luster.  The final song just doesn’t add much to the overall feel of the album; it’s almost as if it could have been left off.

Now that the album is over, you kind of feel a little let down.  It didn’t end as well as it started off, which disappoints.  Still, the first seven songs on this album are ridiculously good, even the ones that were revisited from the past.  It’s worthy of repeated listens, and it’s worthy of being in your collection.

Death Vessel – Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Sub Pop records claimed that most journalists would find it quite difficult to place Death Vessel, as the band is virtually indescribable.  However, I like a good challenge, and since I like this record, I have vowed to do it justice.

Joel Thibodeau is the man behind the music, and perhaps the reason people find it so difficult to classify his music is his voice.  His voice is what you might call androgynous, standing a thin line between being thrown in one direction or another.  Regardless, it is very soothing whilst matching the music that it carries along.

Musically, it isn’t as difficult to put into place, if you were one to do such things.  I suppose I am one for such things, and in my decision to this I have come to three various pieces of Joel’s musical recipe: Iron and Wine, Deerhoof and Stephin Merritt (solo).

Death Vessel has previously toured with Iron and Wine, and the touches of folk leanings are immediately noticeable, though not necessarily ripped off.  The production has the intimacy of early Sam Beem works, while maintaing its own personality altogether.  It’s not as gentle as Iron and Wine, which is where I think the strength lies in this album.

As far as referencing Deerhoof, that lies in the ability for the songs to operate on various tangents, pulling back together uniquely, and never making you feel as if you really strayed very far from the core of the song.  The first few songs alone go from folk, to a hint of rockabilly and on to vaudeville.  It makes for an interesting listen, yet maintains its own uniqueness.

Now Stephin Merritt references I don’t throw around lightly, but if you’ve ever run across his solo works, and looked at the instrumentation he uses, you will find that Mr. Thibodeau is not far off in his own endeavors.  He calls upon many many friends to gather and flesh out his songs, much as Merritt has always done.  The best thing about this effort is that while several songs contain multiple instruments outside from the usual fashion, they all seem to find enough room in these songs.

My only draw back with this album is my own inability to connect to the lyrics.  They are indeed outside the typical writing style, but at times they resemble Lewis Carroll. Despite my inability to connect, they are still displayed in such a polite manner as to make a listener draw in closely, going deeper into the music as they do so.

When its all said and done, this is a genuinely unique album worthy of multiple l suggest picking it up immediately.  And, if you fall in love with it, as I did, you can check out the band on September 12th at Emos Lounge.  Tickets are available at TicketWeb or you can click this link.

A Place To Bury Strangers @ Emos – 8/17

The darkness of A Place to Bury Strangers will soon descend upon the city lights of Austin, or at least the lights of Emos Alternative Lounge.  These sonic destroyers visit our town Sunday evening, taking a step away from their tour with Nine Inch Nails.  Expect to be wowed, and expect to lose your hearing.  Also of note…Austin’s Boxing Lesson will be one of the opening acts.  So make your way to Emos this Sunday night!

Click here to pick yourself up a set of tickets.

Toots & the Maytals @ Antones – 8/13

This summer I went back in time and rediscovered classic reggae, and by that, I mean the stuff that goes beyond the adoration for Bob Marley. Apparently it all had a great deal to do with the evolution in British punk, as well as that late 90s ska scene over on this continent. In that rediscovery lay the much heralded Toots, who some of you might remember from ACL a few years back. Lucky for me, he is playing tomorrow night at Antones w/ Outlaw Nation. Doors are at 8 PM.

Click this line to get yourself some tickets to the show

Smoking Popes & Koufax @ Mohawk 8/12

If you are looking for a night of classic indie pop from some well-established bands then you should head out to The Mohawk tomorrow night! Smoking Popes are headlining, along with Koufax, who used to be heralded as one of indie-pop’s greats. Not to mention, you will get to see the local Austin band, Masonic. It’s sure to be a good night of classic pop tunes in the vein of the indie realm. Koufax should be debuting some new material, which has the possibility of being surprisingly good. See for yourself.

Doors to the show open at 8 PM, and you can purchase $10 tickets to the show.

Check out the song “If You Don’t Care” below:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/smoking_popes_if_you_dont_care.mp3]

Download: Smoking Popes – If You Dont Care [MP3] 

David Vandervelde – Waiting for the Sunrise

Rating: ★★★½ ·

In early 2007, David Vandervelde droppped out of music sky, rocking me like the only the bastard son of Marc Bolan could.  For me, his first record, Moonstation House Band, was just a revamped T Rex–and for its part, I loved it.  I mean can really tire of T Rex?

This time around David Vandervelde is still stuck in that classic rock sound, but this one comes off far away from the likes Marc Bolan.  It’s much more subdued, and gone are the chunky guitar riffs that made the last albm so outstanding.

Here we find David hopelessly devoted to the largely acoustic stylings of folk rock.  Sure, his voice still holds a little bit of that T. Rex pitch, but musically, he’s chasing the like of Neil Young or The Band.  Despite his continuous homage to his influences without taking on a new approach, he still manages to write some incredible songs.

“Someone Like You” is quite possibly the best song he has ever written.  Lyrically it throws a look into the life of a struggling musician, one who is trying to cope with his rock n’ roll status, fueled by drugs and excess. Of course, said person dies.  It’s a little cliche, but the melodies in this song are simply ridiculous. This song can be played all day long.  Similarly, “I Will be Fine” is another great song, and an appropriate beginning to the album.  It’s a simple song, but one that sets the tone for the work that is being done on this album.   Lyrically, its lacking, but what are you going to do?

I’m not going to lie; I love this guy’s voice.  He has quite a range, and it does justice to every single song he writes.  He accompanies each melody and harmony the way one can only dream of, but lacking is his writing, lyrics, that is.  They appear really simple, and come off a bit cliched. The last album focused more on the sound of the band, as where this one is more sparse, so it opens you up to listening more to the lyrics–and clearly they lack much to be desired.

Overall, this is a good album, just not one that is going to show David Vandervelde breaking new ground.  If you love clean classic rock sounds, this one’s for you kids.  Excuse me while I go listen to “Someone Like You” for the eleventh time today.

Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst

Rating: ★★★★½

When it was announced that Conor Oberst would be stepping off Saddle Creek for a little bit, I was a bit taken aback; I expected a huge step away from his traditional sound. In some respects, the departure has changed the overall sound, but at the heart of this album is Conor Oberst at his best–ever.

Immediately upon first listen, the change is apparent. The string arrangements, and other effects of long-time producer Mike Mogis have disappeared. For me, it works to the benefit of Conor, because it establishes his voice as the focal point. Sure, in the past, that might have been a bad sign, but he clearly has control over his voice here; his voice sounds stronger than ever. And, in all honesty, I thought the grandiose arrangements on his previous albums got a little over-indulgent–ruining some songs.

However, this new album is listenable the whole way through. I struggled to find a song that I didn’t want to focus on for a moment of time; going back through most songs a dozen or so times before sitting down to write about it. Using headphones will definitely make your listening experience a great deal better, for there are some little nuances in this recording that really open up the album to the listener. The approach of this album seems to be a bedroom approach, which makes the entirety of this album more personable–although I hear it was more of a front porch recording in a quaint town of Mexico.

Lyrically, he continues to get better as he ages. He goes from first person to third person within songs, but all the while holding on to general themes and ideas. A lot of people will probably look to the subject matter, and his continual growth with mystical ideas, but the writing in general just keeps improving. Sure, you can take away some points for his simpleton Spanish where he mutters “El cielo es azul,” during “Eagle on a Pole,” but I suppose the mood struck him. He does it several more times as well.

If there is a fault in this album it might be the inclusion of “NYC-Gone Gone.” It doesn’t add much to the story of the album, but I’m just a listener. Also, there aren’t any standout tracks. For me, this means that the album is extremely even, which I think is good, but some people always want a single. This album suffices without one. Perfect.

Can I just add, that despite the turnout, I applaud Conor for disappearing off to remote locations to record his latest albums, as if Omaha wasn’t enough. I think it adds to the stories he tells, and the feeling of the albums, which, in this case, is extremely beneficial.

Don’t forget he will be playing with his new band at Austin City Limits this year. The man commands a stage well. Watch for yourself.

The Hold Steady @ The Parish – 8/6

Everyone’s favorite bar band, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible, is heading to Austin tomorrow night. The Hold Steady plan to melt faces and show the crowd a glorious time tomorrow at The Parish. The band’s live show has won over fans all over the world, so be sure to get there, otherwise you might feel left out when all your fans brag about the awesome show they saw. The Hold Steady will be accompanied by The Loved Ones.

Unfortunately, the show has just sold out. You might want to check out craigslist, or just show up and see if someone will sell you their ticket. 

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