Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend

brendRating: ★★★½☆

Lately, we’ve seen more of Brendan Benson trading licks with that one guy from the White Stripes, but when he first came onto the scene, he was a pop crooner.  His album Lapalco remains overlooked, despite all the gems it offers listeners. Now he returns with a new record, My Old, Familiar Friend.  It’s a return to form, for the most part, though you can see the shift in his writing if you’re familiar with his work.

Opening the album, you see a glimmer of the Brendan of the past on “A Whole Lot Better.”  His vocals start low, as they always go, and change to the higher tones mid-syllable.  Even the lyrics seem to recall some of the old territory, but it’s the choruses that remind you of the old songwriter of yesterday.  But, noticeably, the structure of the songs themselves have begun to change a bit, which is good, considering we all admire growth with our favorite artists.

“Eyes on the Horizon” is yet another example of his growth.  It just seems that so much more is going on within the song, and while it may not be as clean as his previous output, you can glimpse the familiar, especially in the chorus. Perhaps the inclusion of guitar solos, of the classic rock sort, give away his most recent act The Raconteurs.  It’s a more mature songwriter we find here, which explains a lot of the lyrical content, as the story line in the album seems to revolve around reflection of a lost love.

Just as you thought you had a collection of b-sides from The Raconteurs sessions, at least the ones Brendan wrote, he kicks it up a notch near the end of the album, starting with “Poised and Ready.”  While he once sounded similar to the early Ben Kweller, he appears more like a rocking version of A.C. Newman. This second half of the record though is chock full of straight ahead pop rock songs of the most sublime sort. It’s the sort of stuff you know you’ll be singing along to during your days at work.  The catchiness of “Don’t Wanna Talk” will surely have you and your friends singing along in your cars. From there you can slide right into “Misery,” which is probably one of the best songs that you’ll find here on the album.  As far as song construction goes, it’s probably one of the more open songs, and the extra space allows for Brendan to work his magic for his audience.

Nothing on this album will blow you away with creativity, but if you’re the kind of person that cherishes solid pop rock to go along with a nice long drive, then you will definitely find something for yourself here.  Brendan Benson has a quality voice that will keep you coming back for more, as he churns out pop gems with his crafty songwriting and vocal inflection.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/09-misery.mp3]

Download: Brendan Benson – Misery [MP3]

Pissed Jeans – King of Jeans

jeansRating: ★★☆☆☆

On their third album, King of Jeans, Pissed Jeans come out firing, as you would expect them to do. It’s high energy barroom brawling, but in order to really dig deeply into their album, you would have to listen to the whole record extremely closely, which is often difficult to do given the intensity of the sonic force on display.

One of the difficulties in approaching this album is that you really can’t discern the relevance of the album.  It’s grounded in 90s hardcore, or even further back if you want to dance around with some of the influences. Still, a barrage of noise is not necessarily something that you find on the scene nowadays.  Perhaps this is refreshing in a certain regard, but in the end, you’re more than likely to lean back to teenage angst and nostalgia, or be turned off altogether.

Like most of the music the band wears upon its sleeve, you can barely follow the lyrics throughout the album.  Most of the vocals seem to waiver upon the screaming of various syllables, though the liner notes indicate otherwise. Even looking at the lyrics, you can’t really decide whether or not to take them too seriously.  It’s as if they come straight out of the notebook of a teenager, or some disgruntled youth trying to find his or her way.  Barking the lyrics doesn’t do much justice for the listener either, making the majority of the songs somewhat unlistenable.

Still, the album isn’t all filled with negativity, as this review may lead you to believe.  You have to be refreshed at the idea of a band bucking modern musical trends in pursuit of their own rewards.  Such a ferocity has not come across these ears in quite some time, and while that is probably due to age, albums like this tend to bring you back to your own angst-ridden collection, if you haven’t discarded everything at this point.

Probably one of the most enticing aspects, for those traveling the road of their past, is that the riffs even seem reminiscent of every hardcore band you listened to when you were at that phase of your life.  It comes off as a familiar rendition, yet done with a little bit more of an edge.  The ominous chords persist, and the growling vocals remind you of the band you always dreamed of making when you were in 9th Grade. Such is King of Jeans, fueled in the anger of our past dreams, turning and burning all the way.

New Tunes from Sea Wolf

seawolfSea Wolf has a new album titled White Water, White Bloom coming out on September 22nd here in the States on Dangerbird, and as a prelude to the release of the album, he’s offering “Stanislaus” as a bonus track for those interested. It’s definitely similar to his last release, and has that folk passion mixed with his wavering melancholic voice. Have a listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/stanislaus.mp3]

Download: Sea Wolf – Stanislaus [MP3]

FT5: Best Austin Music Venues

0814top5coverWe spent a lot of time this week debating our favorite venue.  What constitutes the perfect place to catch a show?  Is it sound alone, or beer prices?  Maybe it’s both.  We decided that we wanted to narrow it down to the best five places in town where you’ll most likely see one of us, or one of our favorite bands playing.  We even developed a rating system for them.  We’ll be using our typical 5 Star system (1 being the lowest, 5 the highest) to rate the following areas: Sound Quality, Band Quality, Beer Prices, Atmosphere, and Mobility during packed shows. Follow the jump for full article.
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FTC – Guided by Voices

gbvRecently I was reading a book from the 33 and 1/3 Series on Bee Thousand. It was perfect timing because everything else lately had seemed a bit stale, so I went back and played the album.  Over and over again, it reveals new sounds to me, just as the band’s output does for most listeners.  It’s great to see that Bob Pollard, sand Guided by Voices,  is still trucking along, releasing new albums to this day, but for those of you who missed out on the genius of this man and his band, I suggest that you go revisit the entire catalogue.  Here’s a little old school, straight off of Bee Thousand.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/08-echos-myron.mp3]

New Tunes from Ramona Falls

bro One of those classy bros from Menomena has a new solo project under the name Ramona Falls. His record with said name, Intuit, hits stores next week on Barsuk Records, and we’ve got a new little tid bit of tuneage for you to hear. It starts out slowly, but then it bursts forth, which makes many of us salivate for the upcoming release. Buen proveche.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/i-say-fever-1.mp3]

Download: Ramona Falls – Intuit [MP3]

Cale Parks – Swift Mars EP

caleRating: ★★★☆☆

It’s funny that Cale Parks spent the majority of this summer touring with Passion Pit, as the member of Aloha seems in an entirely different league altogether on his latest, the Swift Mars EP, which is out now on Polyvinyl Records.   As a musician, he most well known as a drummer, but his usage of electronics and layering on this EP tells a story of a different sort.

We’re first presented with “Eyes Wont Shut,” a precursor to the electronic features on this album.  While the music doesn’t sound too far from many of his peers around the park, his stalled delivery of vocals here actually strengthens the beats beneath the track.  A warm chorus breaks into a throwback glam-dance as the song sparkles to and fro, until it comes to an end.

On “Knight Conversation” we find his understated vocals accompanied by a female counterpart.  While the music here isn’t entirely out of this world amazing, it does just enough to push the song to its focal point, which definitely has to revolve around the vocal duets going back and forth.  The strength of the song lies in this recipe.

“Crystal Air” hits the album at its peak.  Here we see Cale layering just as we know he does best.  Simple progressing piano walks along the song itself, with various electronic atmospherics entering from stage left.  Although you might strain to hear the vocals at some points on the song, and the album for that matter, you are definitely drawn into his barroom persona, somewhere between Sinatara and Patrick Wolf. “One at a Time” supposedly is the single from the album, but it isn’t as pronounced as a winner as some of the previously mentioned tracks.  Vocals sort of seem drawn out, and somewhat secondary.  It’s just not a strong effort, and an odd choice for a single.

“We Can Feel It” closes out the EP with a swirling set of combined noises, from steady drums to the bursting of bubbles as they boil.  It’s a new setting for the album, somewhat reminiscent of a more experimental Grizzly Bear, minus the remarkable vocals harmonies.  As it ends, you can’t help but think that Cale Parks has a clear path ahead of him to break new ground and accomplish great things as his musical career continues to blossom before us.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/01-eyes-wont-shut.mp3]

Download: Cale Parks – Eyes Wont Shut [MP3]

Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper

jplentiRating: ★★★½☆

Julian Plenti isn’t really a new band, rather it’s the sidecar for Interpol frontman Paul Banks.  His latest release on Matador, Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper, attempts to re-up the ante for his career, and honestly, that of his band.   After a brief departure into a more mainstream approach Banks is seen hear , expectedly, treading the ground he’s walked upon for so long now.

Opening track “Only if You Run” demonstrates that despite going it alone, his heart is never too far away from his mainstay. However, the trickling guitar lines show a touch of brightness, which also seems to collide with the lyrical content.  He does however bring back that recognizable throaty vocal when he shouts “surprise” near the end of the track.

“Skyscraper” begins with a great deal of promise for new direction, as punctuated guitar strumming is accompanied by symphonic flourishes.  It’s a brooding number, one that might benefit greatly for some strong vocals, and just as you think there won’t be any, Banks enters the picture.  Haunting as he can be, it would have been nice to see him go a bit further in this direction on the entire record.

“Games for Days” probably sounds exactly like what you would expect from this album had you heard nothing else other than the involvement of Banks.  It’s as close as you get here to an Interpol cover song, although his work in the chorus does seem as if he tried to push himself a bit into new space, especially with the guitar work that crashes at the end, coming off a bit like a heavier version of The Killers. Of course, this song backs up to “Madrid Song” which is about as minimal of a song as you can carry on with.  It’s all piano and soundbytes; it would have been nice to see the album here.

But the thing is, you could see this train coming from miles away with the blogosphere telling you of the arrival of new work from Paul Banks.  Those of you who were die-hard fans of Interpol were salivating, and there are definitely moments here that shine, or rather give off a faint sparkle.  Still, aside from interesting moments such as “Unwind” with the blasting horns and marching vocals, the album is fairly predictable in regards as to the direction that you would expect it to venture.  This isn’t entirely a bad thing, after all, the last record was sub-par.  Julian Plenti is a solid reminder that the forces of Interpol are still something to be excited about as we head into the future.

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