The Calm Blue Sea – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

It would be extremely easy to come across this band, lumping them in as thieves of the popular instrumental music scence, yet that approach to this album would be a coward’s way out.

Sure, the self titled album from The Calm Blue Sea is filled to the brim of your stereo with sprawling guitar sounds that walk the thinnest lines back and forth between songs, almost as if the guitars intend to pace back and forth.

One element that sets them apart, and I know others use it, but I think the usage of the piano as the skeletal background for a good deal of the songs places a different spin on the entire album as a piece.  It coats the instrumental core of the album with a melodious undertone;  listen carefully for the treasures in this genre always rely upon close listening.

Another difference lies in the fact that they occasioanly use lyrics, predominantly in the song “Literal.”  It’s usage here recalls, to these ears at least, the atmospheric sounds of Statistics.  It creates an entirely different layer to the song, which is encouraging because various bands get trapped beneath the singular layers created by guitars and drums; The Calm Blue Sea uses vocals as a textural layer–admirable.

While other bands simply rely upon the ebbs and flows of their albums, withholding the more rocking elements for their live show, The Calm Blue Sea unleash these heavier moments upon us with joy, creating a beautiful cacophony of atmospheric noise.  It’s great to see that there are new bands still trying to put their own spin on an age-old tradition.

Ra Ra Riot @ The Parish – 10/3

The crooning pop of Ra Ra Riot will make its way into Austin this Friday, twice!  They will be playing a free show at our favorite record store, Waterloo Records at 5 PM.  Then they’ll graba bite to eat before heading on over to the Parish to close out the evening.  If you’re not sure about whether you want to go, just check out our review of the latest album The Rhumb Line .

You can find yourself tickets for the show at Frontgate Tickets.

Gentleman Jesse and His Men – s/t

Rating: ★★★★★

A few months back I was fortunate enough to come across a short album by Atlanta band, Carbonas. After careful research I came across Gentleman Jesse and His Men, a band fronted by Carbonas bass player, Jesse Smith. I adore the more abrasive album featuring Jesse on bass, nothing comes close to my level of enjoyment when listening to the power-pop of the band he fronts.

Immediate references will draw upon similarities to bands such as The Exploding Hearts, due to vocal delivery, and Buzzcocks, based solely on emotional similarities. Still, one would have to go much farther back, back into the 50s bandstand rock n roll in order to complete the circle of influences. Every riff seems straight out of an era, but done so refreshingly that its hard not to fall in love right away.

Remember those bands you grew up listening to when you were younger? This should have been one of those bands. This should have been the only one. Every song has staying power, and it goes beyond the box we’ve placed Gentleman Jesse inside. If teenagers had good tastes, then they would spend countless hours in their mirrors singing and bouncing along to this album with a hairbrush in hand, wishing they could take to the stage. This album has that much power.

Vocal inflections allow for the listener to differentiate between each song, though you might find that the rhythm section becomes a little redundant at times. Still, you could list every single song on the album as a hit. Pick a song, sing along and you’ll bob your head for the rest of the day.

“All I Need Tonight,” the third track definitely jumps out at you as one of the more powerful songs. The backing vocals bring back the simplicity in garage rock, just in time for the killer solo at the end of the song. It’s precisely the way it was always meant to be; straightforward rock music without meandering into noise and atmospherics. “The Rest of My Days” ask “where is time going,” and its clear that the rest of my days will be spent listening to this album, this song.

The latter half of the night packs just as much punch as the first half of the album. Songs like “I Get So Excited” and “You Got Me Where You Want Me” are meant to be sung by entire audiences. Each song is full of fervor, hoping to grab the audience and hold them close to the speakers one last time before the album winds down to its end. No one should skip a song.

After listening to the album in my ears for days, its hard to be really objective here; this album is the most refreshing thing to come by and cleanse my pallet, which is odd due to its apparent nostalgia in the realm of power-pop. Those of you interested in good clean pop rock will do well to find this immediately. I can see it nearing the Top 10 right now as it plays again and again.

The Broken West @ The Mohawk — 10/1

Longtime members of Merge Records, The Broken West are hitting up Austin tonight. The band comes to town fresh on the heels of their newest release, Now or Heaven and will be taking to the stage along with Hollywood Gossip. Mohawk says that they will open the doors at 8 PM, so expect the bands to take the stage around 9:30.

You can head on over to Merge Records to listen to the latest album from The Broken West. 

Blitzen Trapper – Furr

Rating: ★★★★ ·

On their first album, Wild Mountain Nation, Blitzen Trapper was all over the place.  They played classic rock in a crooked modern pop manner, but the vocals lacked clarity in delivery.  Their newest album, Furr, offered hopes of better production with the backing of Sub Pop Records, and dreams of consistency.

Those of us with high hopes might have to admit that despite the band’s efforts, we are only having our needs fulfilled on one level, that of the vocal delivery.  It’s predominant departure from their previous effort, which does make this one exceedingly better than its predecessor.

One would be hard-fought not to notice the 60s-70s rock influences draped across this entire album, but they were there in the past.  The previous albums spoke softly of such influences, but they step it up entirely on this album.  All of this is furthered by the strength in production on this album, which pushed the influences to the forefront, rather than disguising them in  a lack of clarity created by walls of noise.

They did write one of their worst songs ever, and chose to include it.  “Love U” is full of unadulterated yelping, and it rarely provides anything worth holding onto.  It’s merely walls of screaming, accompanied by sloppy musicianship, and it stands right in the middle of the album–just skip it.

Almost every single listener who has a weakness for the folkier moments in rock n’ roll will surely find the rest of the album enjoyable.  Each track seems to recall another musician at every turn, as if the band set out to write an album full of covers.  Songs like “Echos/Always on/EZ con” and title track “Furr” are purely magnificent.  The subdued tones of each song warrants repeated listens for the rest of the year; the folkier side of Blitzen Trapper is where the band, ultimately, performs at their best.

It would be easy to pigeonhole this band as one intent upon revisiting the past, but they seem to have their own spin on our heralded past.  One would be remiss to toss this band to the side due to a lack of originality; give it a couple of spins and you’ll find that the songs seem strikingly modern.  The band is knocking at the door step of a solid album, and Furr is an album that furthers that dream for both the listener and the band.

Little Joy vs. Los Hermanos

I’m all kinds of into audience participation, so I thought I would throw one more your way. Today, we will debate over whether the singer for Fabrizio Moretti’s (of The Strokes fame) newest project, Little Joy, is in fact better suited to front a band backed by Fab or by his old band, Los Hermanos. The kids love Little Joy, and Devandra Banhart produced the album, but something about the bossanova sounds of Los Hermanos are really working for me today. You make the call.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/little_joy_no_ones_better_sake.mp3]

Download: Little Joy – No Ones Better Sake [MP3]

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/09-09-condicional.mp3]

Download: Los Hermanos – Condicional [MP3]

New Music from The Decemberists

We all love The Decemberists, and we are stoked to hear that they are releasing a series of singles this year (October 14, November 4, December 2). The single series is titled “Always a Bridesmaid,” and this is the track off the opening single titled “Valerie Plame.” Those in the know might recognize the name, but for now, let’s just listen to the tune. Follow this link to preorder.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/01-valerie-plame.mp3]

Download: The Decemberists – Valerie Plame [MP3]

Gentlemen Jesse and His Men

I cannot stop listening to this album, or this song; Gentlemen Jesse and His Men seem to know where its at. Sure, it’s a little bit of a throwback, but we all loved The Strokes the first time around right?  Blast this song into the afternoon, and if you dig it like I do, then you can find the band’s self-titled debut out now on Douchemaster Records.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/i_dont_wanna_know.mp3]

Download: Gentleman Jesse and His Men – I Dont Wanna Know [MP3]

The Shaky Hands – Lunglight

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Lately it seems that the world has gone completely soft, or at least the spectrum of rock n’ roll has gone soft.  We desperately need a band that can grab us and shake the dust from our record collections.  The Shaky Hands appear to be that band, and their album Lunglight is just a taste of what they have to offer.

Opening track, “A New Parade” comes off with jangly pop affection, as pounding drums drive the song towards the end.  The vocals are a little raspy, with just a tinge of countrification a la Kings of Leon.

The band name is quite fitting, considering the sounds on this album have a sort of shakiness that can only be associated with pure, unadulterated rock.  It has this post-punk feeling to it, but fused with a country soul, and stirred with just the right amount of pop sensibility.  Although they carry such a signature sound, the album never seems to get old, always maintaining a sense of freshness in each song.

Lyrically, it seems that the album is filled with issues of struggle.  In today’s world we come across such battles between friends, lover and, ultimately, ourselves.  Understanding this, The Shaky Hands have set out to let us know that we are not alone in our daily issues; they, too, are confronting these demons.  If such battles must be fought, then we shall do it together.

And, the percussion is simply amazing here.  The drum work is all over the place, hammered out with precision that only comes to the those with the most devout practice routines.  You’ll find it difficult not to bounce your feet along to the driving rhythms here, which is at it should be with rock n’ roll.

Faults do exist on Lunglight, but they are things that can easily be overlooked.  The last three songs, for instance, extend over a minute longer than the previous songs, which has the effect of dragging the last moments of the record to the end. Also, it’s hard to completely buy into the vocals here.  Yes, they are reminiscent of other acts, as mentioned earlier, but at times you’ll find it hard to chase down the words.

In the end you will find that the band has created an album full of bright moments you can listen to time and time again.  Those who fall in line with bands like Kings of Leon (thats you RayRay) will surely find that great album you’ve been waiting for KoL to finally put out.

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