Jaguar Love – Take Me to the Sea

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When I first head about the union of former Pretty Girls Make Graves member, Jay Clark, with two of the Blood Brothers, I was salivating in wake for the release of a full length.  The potential for this combination could reach no bounds in my imagination, but come to find out, there are some boundaries for this band.

The opening track, “Highways of Gold,” fails to let me down.  Each time I play this song I’m invigorated by the rise and fall of the guitar work, as it approaches the angular tour de force that I anticipated. Had they reined it in about thirty seconds, then this could be a front runner for one of my favorites of the year.

I suppose that at this point, I should let you know that singer Johnny Whitney’s voice can be grating.  Personally, I’ve adapted to it after settling in to several Blood Brothers’ albums, but I can foresee this as a problem for many listeners.  If you can’t look past it in the first song, then you can’t get through this album.

Still, the next three songs are solid tracks.  In particular, “Georgia” won me over with its proximity to a modern indie ballad done in the post-punk way.  Lyrically, these songs set the face, from the doomsday homages in “Jaguar Pirates” to the personal pain that comes with “Georgia,” which still kind of deals with the effects of living in the modern world.

However, the album starts to get repetitive at this point.  The musicianship is exactly what you expect, with tight drumming and throbbing bass, piled upon razor-sharp guitars, but at this point it kind of blends into itself.  There isn’t any differentiation in the vocals, and the music, like a Blood Brothers album, or the later Pretty Girls Make Graves records for that fact.  It’s not that the music is uninteresting, but the pace and power disappear.

Then comes the eighth track on the record, “Bone Trees and a Broken Heart,” which is another slow song for the group.  Strangely, their slower songs are just as intriguing to my ears as their louder material.  For me, it represents the talent this group possesses, not to mention their abilities to go pretty much anywhere on this record.  It’s just too bad that they don’t really go anywhere, aside from the expected barrage of noise I predicted in my earlier fantasies of this band.

Once you get away from Whitney’s vocals, you’ll find–those of you that like to rock–that this record has a lot of redeemable qualities about it.  It’s listenable all the way through, at least for those of this ilk. It might not be anything that takes you out of this world, but then again, it meets almost all of my expectations.  Good start fellas, now hit the showers.

The Walkmen – You & Me

Rating: ★★ · · ·

A few years back The Walkmen released an amazing sophomore album in Bows and Arrows, but as time has gone the by and by, the band has found it difficult to reclaim the strength of that album. Now, a few albums later, they were supposed to come back at us with everything back in place. Unfortunately for us, and more so for them, You & Me doesn’t get anywhere near that point.

In reading promotional information on their label’s web site, it said they wanted to approach the similar styling of bands such as The Modern Lovers, featuring Jonathon Richman. Upon listening to this album, you can tell that they did indeed approach that style, with the vocals put in the front of the mix, meant to carry along the songs.

The sad part is that Richman has a voice, that although not the greatest, still has the ability to carry his entire band along through his vocals. The Walkmen, in their attempt to take a similar approach, don’t quite achieve, which falls upon Hamilton Leithauser. His Dyalnesque leanings just don’t quite hold up to the songs, rendering the majority of this effort kind of pointless. It’s one thing to reference Orbison, Holly and Elvis in a press release, but it’s an entirely different thing to pull it off.

For me, the fault of the band is not so much their reliance upon Hamilton’s vocals, but their lackluster performance as his backing band. The music on this album just doesn’t seem to have a great deal of enthusiasm, nor does it get anymore creative than their previous efforts. In all honesty, their just isn’t a lot to hold on to musically, which does achieve the purpose of making us listen closer to Leithauser. I just don’t understand how there isn’t any effort in the music.

The one redeeming factor for this album could be in the song “In The New Year,” which was one of the first songs that they released to the public. It’s jangling guitar lines do add to this song, and the percussion is pretty solid, but they misstep when they claim “its going to be a good year.” I can’t imagine how putting out a record like this will make it a good year, but I’ve been wrong before.

For those of you who have never strayed away from the band during their tenure, you will probably find some redeeming qualities to this album, especially when it comes to some of their reference points. But, the majority of us, who have stood in the stands watching the band with skepticism, will continue to watch from afar in hopes that they one day recapture their long-lost magic.

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] 

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