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. 

The Faint – Fasciinatiion

Rating: ★★ · · ·

It’s been several years since The Faint last released a proper full length. What have they been up to you ask? Well, they left Saddle Creek and started their own label, blank.wav, and they built their own studio. Unfortunately, they did not decide to find new ground musically.

The Faint remind me of a group of marines in training; they’ve been treading water for hours (years), always with their head just above the water (the rest of the crowd). Slowly, their legs grew tired, and that is where we find this album. Tired legs = sinking band. I’m sorry, but the band is just getting old, which is a huge contrast to the time when I thought they were extremely fresh.

The album opens up decently, but nothing spectacular. The beats sound left over from Wet From Birth, their last album, but I do like the fact that you can actually hear the bass lines in “Get Seduced,” because they are at their best when they combine their dance tendencies with actual rock music. At about the third minute, the tone in Todd Fink’s voice changes, and its great, just not enough, and too late for me to love this song.

They follow up the album with “The Geeks Were Right,” which is the obvious single. It’s probably the most immediately accessible song; its the one you want to dance to with your friends. Strangely, its one of the shorter songs on the album, which is unfortunate because it is the best–hands down. Honestly, the rest of the album after that sort of fades into the background. It’s not an irritatingly bad listen, its just not memorable, which is strange for this band because they always have extremely redeeming moments on their albums.

Lyrically, there is a lot of reference to science on this album, which I suppose is a different twist than the usual outing for this band, but by no means will you find the words significant. That’s always been the fault of the the band; lyrics have come secondary to the music.

As I continue to listen to this band, and this album, I am recalling a certain band from the mid 90s: Weezer. Do you remember when Weezer made things seem fresh?  They blew onto the scene via MTV (back when they had those music video things), and we all took notice. Then they progressed with their next album, but stopped there. They’ve been rehashing the same sound ever since that point. For me, that sums up The Faint. They’ve been doing this so long, it all just sort of blends together, and I might be ready to put them on the back burner until they reinvent the wheel.

That being said, most classic Faint fans will find that there are things to enjoy on this album, but not nearly enough for this to be one of your favorites. More than likely, it will make you dance while you’re getting ready for work, then it will go on the shelf in a few weeks. Sad but true.

Two bonus points exist: 1) The album artwork is solid, which is always a bonus for collectors because it encourages us to actually buy the album outside of the digital world. 2) The Faint are coming to Austin’s La Zona Rosa on AUgust 15th, and regardless of whether you like the band or not, they put on the most phenomenal shows–better than Ghostland Observatory, by far.

You can buy tickets for the show at GetTix. They’ll be accompanied by new Matador Records signees, Jaguar Love.

I Got Jay Reatarded Last Night

It’s less than twelve hours since I walked away from the scuzzy walls of Red Seven, and still my ears are ringing from the sheer level of noise that I gladly witnessed, as rock n’ roll returned once again to my life. It’s funny, I listen to a lot of music, but its seems rock has become less of a staple in my music dietary supplements. I would like to extend my gratitude to Jay Reatard for reaffirming my belief in it’s greatness – even with possible hearing loss.

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Earlimart @ Waterloo/Mohawk – 8/5

California’s Earlimart will grace us twice tomorrow evening. They will first play a free set at Waterloo Records at 5 PM. Then they will be off to play a full set at The Mohawk with Austin bands Zookeeper and Silent Sunset (featuring Bill of Sound Team). I’ve seen them several times before, and they always put on an enjoyable show, and you have two chances to see them – don’t miss out. 

Tickets for the Mohawk show will be sold through FrontGate Tickets.

You can also check out our review for their latest album Hymn and Her.

Oxford Collapse – Bits

Rating: ★★★★½

Throughout this summer, music fans have mostly been greeted by mellower forms of tunes, with an absence of rock coming our ways–and by this, I mean the kind of music with loud guitars and banging drums. Well folks, Oxford Collapse wants to change that.

As the car peels out in “Electric Arc,” the drums come banging in your ears. Soon, the guitar will join this fray, and off the band goes. It’s hard not to feel your heart beating a little quicker in this song. Nice start boys.

They follow that up with another short song full of angular guitars and simple melodies, but its done just the right way, throwing the band back to the classic post-punk sounds of the mid-90s–a la Braid and Jawbreaker. Then they come with a tension building song in “Vernon Jackson,” which builds up continuously through the song, only to have the band slow it down in the end as the song begins to fade out. It’s clear by this point that they have enough control over themselves to pull back the reigns at just the right time.

They just keep going from here, pushing their guitars into your ears, as the drums pound away. Oxford Collapse sound tighter than they have, and a lot more comfortable as well, which may be why they claim “we’re doing fine” in “Young Love Delivers.” But, then they throw a change up. “A Wedding” slows things down, and sounds as if they took a cue from Final Fantasy, using string instruments to back the strength of their vocals. Its a good breathing point.

Then they go right back to it–walls of feedback thrown right back into your face as they continue their rocking onslaught. For me, they seem really straightforward with their approach, and they don’t seem to go off into the distance of atmospherics and noise as they did on their last album.

Towards the end, they start to switch it up, and its for the betterment of the album. “Children’s Crusade” is a brilliant song, and one that will probably make a lot of my mixes throughout the year. “John Blood” similarly slows things down, at least during the chorus, where a female chants her way through the chorus. Still, there is enough guitar work on this song, to make it border between rocker and ballad. “B Roll” also takes a gentler approach, but that approach is matched again by the tension building of the guitar work.  I do wish that this time, they just would have unleashed that guitar completely, but for me, this is their first misstep.

They close it off with “I Hate Nobody” which isn’t immediately gratifying, but as you work your way through the end of the song, it wraps up the album perfectly. Anguished guitars fueled by the deliberately dense drumming, and finally, you can breathe. It’s over.

It’s hard to find much wrong with this record. Personally, I think the mix on the vocals had some issues in a few places, but for the most part, I just went along with the album. It’s enjoyable as you follow around each of the corners and twists and turns.  Let’s hope for more rock like this as we wrap up 2008.

Oxford Collapse returns to Austin on August 27th at The Mohawk, but as of yet, tickets are not readily available.

Have a listen to a new song from their album:

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

Download: Oxford Collapse – Birthday Wars [MP3]

Jay Reatard @ Red Seven–8/3

This Sunday we will be fortunate enough to get to hear the garage rock of Jay Reatard.  He’s made lots of music news with his hard to come by set of 7″ series on Matador Records, and he will take the stage in our hometown at Red Seven.  If anything, it should just be a good old fashioned rock n’ roll show–just don’t get punched in the face. That means keeping your hands and feet in the bus at all times.

Pick up your tickets.

Also, you can hear University of Minnesota’s Radio K stream some in-studio performances by Jay if you hit this spot.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – s/t

Rating: ★★★★ ·

I know I’m a little bit late with this review, since other people have already fueled the career of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, but I feel like I have to encourage this even more so.

Much has been said about the singer/songwriter’s difficult past, and a few touch on his TV on the Radio/Grizzly Bear connections. I want to focus on the strength of his debut self-titled album.

As a fan of music, this is exactly what you want a debut album to be. You want to see a lot of promise, and you sort of want to see a weak spot or two; a weak spot shows that there is more to be improved upon; a hopeful glance into the future.

I expected this to be sort of a folk record, dominated by acoustic guitars and gentle vocals. From the opening track, “Buriedfed,” you can tell that this is not the case. It starts off gently, as many of the songs do, but then the song picks up with percussion, and the vocals really can stand alone. His voice is somewhere along the lines of a warble, but at the same time, there is a certain assuredness in its delivery. Imagine Conor Oberst if he used to sing hardcore tunes.

There is a lot of loss going on in this album, lyrically. It’s clear that MBAR has had some rough times, and he definitely uses that for his songs. The sad thing, and I don’t know if it is a personal reference or not, but a lot of the album questions the purpose of living, which I know can only come from a person who has truly been in that position. Its got a touch of tragedy, but you want to route for the man. My own personal reference reminds me of Eliott Smith, and his way of connecting you to his life trials–MBAR does the same.

For some reason, this album is really hard to put into exact words. It feels really new, or at least the approach comes from somewhere else. The album comes across really dirty in a certain sense; there is a certain sound developed in this man’s songwriting that makes you go into the the darkness with him. Each turn the album takes allows you follow willingly, which you will.

With lines like “Fuck you, I just wanted to die,” I worry about MBAR, even if he is writing from an omniscient perspective. This man has some demons, but music fans know that this often creates some of the more powerful tunes. Hopefully he has his act cleaned up, and we can look forward to more great releases from him in the future.

Check out a new song called “Buriedfed” by Miles right here:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/buriedfed.mp3]

Download: Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed [MP3]

JC & Co 7″ Release @ Emos–7/31

Tonight, Jason Chronis from Voxtrot will be playing with his band, releasing his first 7″.  Apparently, the band is his project, with a lot of help from other Austin artists, including members of Bel Aire.  The show starts tonight at Emos at 10 PM, and you can be one of the first to get your hands on the JC & CO 7″.  Seems like a solid choice to me. 

You can hear some of Jason’s music over at his Myspace Page

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