Pepper Rabbit – Red Velvet Snowball

Rating: ★★★★ ·

For a relatively new band, Pepper Rabbit seems to be moving at lightning speed.  With their debut release, Beauregard, just making its appearance in October of last year, this band is back in less than a year’s time. In this short of a time period, Xander Singh and Luc Laurent have culminated a slew of all new jams. Now, if it had been any other duo making this quick of a return, it would be easy to be apprehensive of the merit of said release. However, the two gentlemen on this record have a powerful sense of what sounds good meshed together and it’s this collaborative ease that pushes Red Velvet Snowball to it’s best.

Claiming the genre psych pop, Pepper Rabbit begins this sophomore effort with “Lake House,” which is naturally coated in raging synthesizers of all sounds and forms. It creeps in slowly at first, showcasing the electronic sounds before establishing a solid rhythm and letting the toned down yelp of Singh to enter. It is a good appetizer, letting you get used to their styling before they move onto their spectacular single “Rose Mary Stretch,” which is clearly the main dish. Bouncy synth once more begins the song, but it doesn’t last for long before the pop elements take over; the faint handclaps in the background, the steady build to its furious climactic finish, or the crashing cymbals along for the ride.

After these first two songs, Pepper Rabbit should have a strong hold on your ears, but if they don’t, for some strange reason, stick around. There are plenty of treats later on in the album. An example of this comes in the form of “Murder Room,” whose groovy beats warrants head bobbing and toe tapping.

But the best part about Pepper Rabbit is that the electronic elements don’t overpower the sound produced. So often, a band throws in too many bleeping synthesizers and you can’t hear the other elements: the drums, the vocals, the other little nuances that keep it from turning into one big cloud of noise. This band incorporated various other instruments into their repertoire, and played around with looping of sounds and the result is a sound that feels fresh and crisp. There isn’t a song on here that you’ll need to skip.

With the end of summer looming close, Red Velvet Snowball is resurgence back to feelings of bliss and carefree that comes along with this immense heat, so enjoy it while you can.

Leatherbag – Yellow Television

Rating: ★★★ · ·

In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, back in 2005, lead singer Randy Reynolds relocated to our great city of Austin. Lucky for us he did, because after this, he formed the American Rock band known as Leatherbag. Six years, various changes in the band and multiple albums, later, the band consists of three members: Reynolds, Drew Emmons, and Daniel Blanchard. Together, they craft a classic rock record in Yellow Television, which reflects on the general current state of things in the world.

The first number is dubbed “Imitation Generation” and kicks things off quickly and with the flair that one would expect of Leatherbag. A solid drum beat, angled guitars lead your in what seems calmly, but then it has those yelled catchy choruses with group vocals adding some texture behind Reynolds’ vocals.  As the name already suggests, the song comes off as more of a social comment on the repetition of any creative work by this generation. He remarks that “love is dead and so is rock and roll,” which is a bit grim, but gets the point across that we are in need of a little originality, perhaps to be delivered by this band in some form? It’s a good opening beat, but it isn’t exactly spectacular.

Then Leatherbag transitions to the title track “Yellow TV,” which relies on that catchy chorus to pull you into this band’s style if they hadn’t already. From here on, the rest of the album is relatively similar to these first two songs; which is a double edged sword. There is still the alluring rock style, which at some points reminds me a bit of Ted Leo, on jams like “Waxing Nostalgic.” However, it gets a bit redundant when the beginnings of most of the songs start out in the same way; it gets hard to discern one song from the other. Some are just too similar for their own good and you can get lost on the natural order of this album. That being said, stick around for “Sincerity,” which is ten minutes of bluesy guitar and the variety you’ve been missing up to that point.

Overall, it’s a pretty solid American Rock album. You can find the slightly grunge guitars and the sincerely indelicate vocals that you’d expect as well as some surprising freshness that you wouldn’t.  Albeit, there are some weaker tracks, and it gets a little repetitive at points, but there is still something worth enjoying on Yellow Television.

Richard Buckner – Our Blood

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Well seasoned and well-versed, Richard Buckner has been producing deep and devoted albums ever since 1994, which is, by my math, around seventeen years now. As this is an admirable feat in itself, it is even more important that in this time this gentleman has established himself as one of the greats of alt-country; a genre that is known to divide some fans. However, those familiar to Mr. Buckner’s sound should find what they are looking for, and those who are new to this man’s work should find something worth sticking around for.

Our Blood starts with “Traitor,” an opening number that kicks a little of everything your way. You have the deep and soulful voice of the man himself, the methodical guitar strumming, the gentle percussion instruments keeping things moving and some old fashion steel guitar to give it that country twinge in the background. But these are not the only elements of the track; as it progresses, the electronic elements (the synthesizer) become more apparent, and so does the darkness of the song. At the end, you are left in a state of bitter resentment, as you mourn the loss of someone close who chose betrayal, with Richard.

As it continues, the elements on this album that make you fully immersed in the music and the stories are the songwriting and those rugged, emotionally expressive, vocals. Like I just mentioned, it’s quite easy to lose yourself to this man’s tales, but it’s not because the sound is something radically life changing; as a matter of fact, the songs are musically quite simple in their nature. It is the songwriting rather, that makes this album stand apart from others. Listening to the weathered voice of a man singing about his troubles via intricate lyrics make them tangible. Buckner lures you in with his sentimental voice, and then keeps you with the story behind the emotion.

That being said, the instrumental parts of Our Blood are definitely nothing to overlook either, they just may not be the first thing you pick up on in your listening experience. For example, on “Witness,” amidst the fluttery guitar, you can hear delicate jingling of some percussion instrument twinkling in the background. It’s minute details like this embedded in these songs that provides for some variety on this very acoustic, yet good, album.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/traitor.mp3]

Download: Richard Buckner – Traitor [MP3]

Fruit Bats – Tripper

Rating: ★★★★ ·

You may or may not know this, but The Fruit Bats have been around for a pretty long time. I say you may not know them not to affront your breadth of knowledge of the musical scope, but to forgive the fact that they are one of those groups on the Sub Pop label that haven’t quite attained the popularity of bands like, dare I say, Fleet Foxes, or The Shins. However, popular doesn’t always mean that one band makes better music than the other; as “indie” music fans should know. Regardless, if you haven’t already hopped on the Fruit Bats express, now is as good of a time as any with their folksy yet pop filled fifth studio release.

Tripper begins with an introductory number that gives listeners a taste of the narrative style embedded inside all great Fruit Bats songs. “Tony the Tripper,” starts with delicate guitar strumming and the lead vocals of Eric Johnson, as you are gracefully eased into the storytelling about the title character. As piano parts trickle in above the bass-line during the chorus, you get the idea that Mr. Tony is a facet of Johnson’s personality; the wandering part of him coming out. It’s a quaint opening number, with the oh-so-pleasant-folksy attributes in full swing, that continues throughout the

On the third track, “Tangie and Ray,” there is a small shift to more a bluesy rock feel, and Fruit Bats show their multidimensional efforts that will make the transition from interesting to excellent on this album. At 3:13 long, it turns into a bit more a stomper than you’d expect from this band up to this point. With a kicked up drum beat and more prevalent piano, it’s a hearty break from the folk. However, you get right back to the folk on the next song, but this is not a bad thing in any way.

For me, the folksier songs are the better on Tripper. For instance, just when you think you’ve reached the end of the goodness, this band throws a beauty like “Wild Honey” your way, and it’s just astoundingly simple and elegant. It feels like a glorified Tallest Man on Earth track, with emotion packed vocals and all, ready for you to get lost inside its sound. If it doesn’t take your breath the first listen, have another, and let it sink in; the same can be said for any song on this album

It may easy these days to have access to a great deal of music, and it may be easy to pass over bands like Fruit Bats, but it is hard to find a grouping of tracks that have the power to both tell a story, and also move you sonically. So give Tripper a try; you’ll be missing out if you don’t.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/9788.mp3]

Download: Fruit Bats – Tangie and Ray [MP3]

The Fair Ohs – Everything is Dancing

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Let’s be honest; it’s hotter than blazes basically everywhere in the country. So what kind of music is perfect to ease the sweat on your brow or the sunburn on your shoulders? While there may not be any certain genre that can take away the heat entirely, perhaps just riding those heat waves out with summer themed music can help in some way. On Everything is Dancing, you’ll find the nautical guitar riffs and the surfy pop melodies that can make you feel as though on the beach, or at least close to something refreshing.

The Fair Ohs, hailing from London, kick off this debut with “Baldessari,” a summery-from-the-get-go number that doesn’t waste any of your time to get things started. Tropical guitars begin right as you press play, leading you to the waves of crashing cymbals and the yelping vocals of Eddy Frankel. He is also joined by what sounds like the rest of the band: Matt Flag and Joe Ryan, for some quality gang vocals. All of the elements combine and overlap each other to make for a complex, yet simply summery mix. Following this opener, is “Eden Rock,” in which this band just keeps moving forward, and faster. The pacing certainly increases on this second song, and so does the amount of cymbal, which contributes to an even simpler sound than that of the first.

At this point, it is plausible to wonder if The Fair Ohs are just a one trick pony; that all their songs revolve on their sunny disposition alone. However, this is an assumption to be proven faulty from later on songs off of Everything is Dancing. Example: “Marie,” the second to last number, brings in a slightly more somber feel to the beachy tunes. The overall beat is a little slower, and the sunshine switch is at half volume, alluding to the end of that favorite season when the band asks “where does summer go?”

But in reality, you’ll probably remember the sensationally fast-paced and mad summer tunes of songs like the band’s single and title track “Everything is Dancing, ” or even “Helio,” in which you can’t help but sing along with Frankel as he drags out his words, or move your feet to the those rolling drums in the background. In the end, it’s just a really fun and entertaining release; perfect to sweat out the last of your energy dancing through the heat of this summer.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/FairOhs-Baldessari.mp3]

Download: Fair Ohs – Baldessari [MP3]

Brilliant Colors – Again and Again

Rating: ★★½ · ·

A few years back, when all of your favorite bands were releasing their debut albums, so was Brilliant Colors. Except whereas other bands from Slumberland Records, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, were getting their jump to the buzzband title, this band remained relatively unknown. They put out their first release, Introducing, and while receiving decent reviews, it failed to make the same jump to popularity as the other bands of the time. Now, they’re back, with relatively the same sound, trying their luck once more at striking up a following with a successful sophomore record, Again and Again.

Things kick off with “Hey Dan,” which provides the classic dream pop vibe that this whole album spins off of. Immediately, you can pick out the misty, single toned vocals of the female lead singer, Jess, floating high above the catchy guitar riffs and the faded drums. With the crash of the cymbals and the raging guitar, it is infectious music of the shoegazey variety. It’s a strong start, and possibly the strongest song on here. However, later on, there are some other gems like “Hitting Traffic,” or “Back to the Tricks,” that, when listened to on their own, rival the first song with their quality and catchiness.

However, my biggest and only qualm with this record, which may prove too detrimental for listeners, is the repetition and altogether similar songs here. There is sure as hell not a lot of variety, which may work for bands just going with the stellar single approach to the musical world, but it fails for bands like this that don’t have that one to stand above the other.  Separately, there are some good songs as aforementioned, but collectively, they all mesh together in one hazy pop blob. In this way, it is far too easy to let this music fall to the background as boring; Brilliant Colors do nothing to entice, to pull you back in, after the first song.

Thus, Again and Again is not necessarily an album in which you end wanting to do what the name suggests.  Sure, there isn’t a horrible song on here, but there isn’t a really grand one either. Brilliant Colors have found the mediocre middle of the road, and if that’s what you’re okay with, then, by all means, spend the afternoon with this serene pop record.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/02-How-Much-Younger.mp3]

Download: Brilliant Colors – How Much Younger [MP3]

Gardens & Villa – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

So much can be said about a band’s debut album; most importantly, it is the first real taste at the style of the group. For Gardens & Villa, this debut is even more important considering the fact that they did not produce an EP as an introduction. With that in mind, this album feels even more impressive, as the songs feel much more mature and aged than that of a group just getting things together.

The opening track proves to be one of the finer moments from the start. “Black Hills,” begins with pulsating synthesizer beckoning your ears to wait keenly for this song to kick into gear. Then percussion is added to bump things up a notch, but not to an outright dance number. Instead it comes across as more of a casual psych pop number, with the vocals pushing it to something more. In stark contrast with the deep tones of the synth, the vocals are edgy, and borderline on falsetto in moments. Mellow, yet still bubbly, this opener finds the right balance between moody and groovy.

The next noticeable standout comes on “Thorn Castles,” a short number that only feels shorter when sandwiched in between the rest of the numbers on this album. On this track, what stands out the most are the vocals provided by lead singer Chris Lynch. Running along the lines of a shriek, it completes the eerie-cheery vibe that Gardens & Villa have definitely got going for them. In fact, this theme seems to persist into every song, and even takes over completely at the end of “Spacetime,” when the beat slows down to a gait and the vocals eases from its starkness into to a creepy whisper.

As far as variation in pacing goes, this album is all about the changes: one instant, you have “Chemtrails,” and the next “Star Fire Power,” which are perhaps both songs at the opposite end of the pace spectrum for this band. “Chemtrails” is a crawler, laden with minute details and elegant harmonies at its close. It is followed directly by “Star Fire Power,” which is a stellar dance party number that begins slowly, and then builds to a catchy chorus with a deep bass line that is sure to have you bobbing your head.

Looking at the whole album, I do not see a song that sticks out as horrible or misplaced. There are definitely some that resound above the rest, and others that fell mediocre in comparison, but on a whole, this is an impressive and enjoyable first effort.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Gardens-Villa-Star-Fire-Power.mp3]

Download: Gardens & Villa – Star Fire Power [MP3]

The Postelles – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Hailing from New York City, The Postelles seem to have the perfect infectious sound for the summertime. With catchiness reminiscent to that of past releases of bands like The Drums and Surfer Blood, they have crafted a fairly simple, yet bubbling pop album in this freshman debut.

The album begins with “White Night,” which shows off the instant capabilities of this band to make you move your feet. Jangly guitar welcomes you in, along with some punching drums and the vocals of Daniel Balk. Fast paced and furious, The Postelles jump right into their rock and roll pop. Balk’s vocals, complete with a borderline yelp, are joined by the rest of the gang on the chorus, giving the illusion that this group belongs in an earlier era. It’s a fresh little number at two minutes and forty seconds, leaving you ready to skip back and start all over, but following is “Sleep On the Dance Floor,” which is a bass driven slower number, that still has the jamming guitar of the first song.

After these first two songs, it’s not hard to see the likability these guys bring to the table; each song seems fit for the beach, or ready to put on your summer party mix tape, but the fun doesn’t stop there. “1 2 3 Stop,” the band’s lead single, comes third on the album, and if the first two didn’t have you dancing, then this should surely be the one. On this track, you can hear the crashing cymbals above the rest of the chaos during the chorus, with Balk leading the way. His voice is edgy, allowing you to sing right along with him.

The rest of the album follows suit of these first three songs: a mixture of fast paced blazers of songs like “Can’t Stand Still” and “Sound the Alarms,” as well as those slower moving ones like “Whisper Whisper” and “She She.” It’s a fairly complete first album, with the majority of songs that you’ll be anxious to play over and over again. Some may be slightly put off in the end by the lack of depth; most songs are done in three minutes, but I find this album packed with energy and pure fun. Isn’t that what summer is all about?

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Electronically driven, but vocally backed, is what Handsome Furs have shown us their sound consists of on their past two full-length records. It seems on Sound Kapital, they chose to put an even larger strain on the electronic elements of each song, nixing the guitar somewhat completely. Although an interesting choice, this heavy electronic sound is one that works stylistically for Dan Boeckner and his wife, and follow member, Alexei Perry.

This album starts out somewhat misleading on “When I Get Back.” Sure, there is the lovable drawl of vocals, but there is also this backing dub-esque beat that throws the number off a tad bit. Despite this underwhelming start, Handsome Furs progress as the album moves along. After the pace increases on “Damage,” they follow with “Bury Me Standing,” which is the first real standout track, complete with raging synthesizers, a hint of electric guitar and quickly iterated lyrics. Here, you also have the introduction of a mechanical feeling emoted from the songs. The repeated lyrics turn into a motif, feeling similar to a machine doing the same thing over and over.

This proves to be a bit of a double edged sword for this band. For some, this may prove to be simply too much because of the doubly repetitive base in synth. However, others may be allured by the gripping intensity of Boeckner’s vocals that Handsome Furs has not previously been known for, as exemplified on the power double of “What About Us,” and “Repatriated.” As I mentioned before, it seems like as this album moves along, the songs get better and better, and these two are no exception; they don’t contain the redundancy that the earlier tracks seem to have. Or perhaps the band’s sound just grows on you with more exposure.

But the most impressive song for me comes at the very end with the seven-minute stunner that is “No Feelings.” The exact opposite of its namesake, this song is packed with head bob inducing beats, but is also driven intensely by the power of Boeckner’s vocals. He successfully takes over the song, as opposed to letting the electronic aspects have the lead, and it does not feel longer than any of the other songs on Sound Kapital because it is so enjoyable. The track itself ends with the repetition of “no feeling” over and over, contributing to the overall theme of the growth of industrial behavior, in the most careful way possible.

With the large focus on electronic beats, I was pleasantly surprised with this album. The prevalence of Boeckner’s vocals draw away from heavy synth, creating nostalgia for those who love his power in his other works, and furnishing a new love for those who haven’t delved into his catalog.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/07_Repatriated.mp3]

Download: Handsome Furs – Repatriated [MP3]

Bon Iver – s/t

Rating: ★★★★½

If someone were to tell me that a band with falsetto, auto tuned on occasion vocals, and folk music backing was one of the most soothing and beautiful sounding groups they had ever heard, I would probably scoff at them and laugh. When describing Bon Iver, it seems as though this band should not fundamentally sound as lush and gorgeous as it does, but I’m not complaining. After their first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was released back in 2008, Justin Vernon and company have been gaining praise, as well as attention, and this sophomore effort certainly seals their place as giants of the Indie world.

From their last album, there is certainly not that much immediately different to the sound of Bon Iver. You have the faded and distant sounding drums, the swells and builds in sound, the delicate ferocity in Vernon’s falsetto voice. It’s all there, but now it sounds a touch more refined and practiced than that of the previous release, as though the band went the extra mile to make these tunes sound polished and pristine. On “Holocene,” the third track, the intricacy in the layers of sound is especially noticeable. Gentle guitar floats upon subtle waves of synthesizer, the ever-graceful vocals leading the song at a meander. Such is the kind of song where you just want to close your eyes and let the music hit you like a gentle breeze; it’s simply beautiful.

One of the more noticeable changes of this group is the distancing of lyrics and the focus on the sound of their wispy music. The instruments do not overpower the songwriting, but they share the space coming out of your speakers rather than the words riding above. This does make it a bit more difficult to discern exactly what words Vernon utters, which is only a drawback if you don’t have the luxury of looking them up in the album booklet. If anything, this vagueness makes me want to listen to this collection of dramatic songs more, in attempts to ascertain the meaning behind them.

The bottom line is that this album is simply magnificent. Whatever you want to call it, folk, drifting soft rock, it is beautiful in every song, in every note, and capable of pushing you emotionally. It is the perfect anthem for anything: driving, walking the dog, bedroom listening, and I can see this becoming a staple in a large number of listening catalogs. Rightly so.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/08-Calgary.mp3]

Download: Bon Iver – Calgary [MP3]

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