Beach House – Depression Cherry

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Beach House and Dream Pop have become essentially synonymous these days, and rightly so; Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand have been cranking out the dreamiest tunes for a little more than a decade and Depression Cherry marks their fifth full-length release. 2010’s crescendoing and huge Teen Dream solidified their place as Dream Pop masters while 2012’s Bloom showed them exploring choppy percussion’s effect on their hazy and soaring tunes. So what does Depression Cherry have in store for us? In a press release written by the band, they called it “a return to simplicity,” but later mentioned their disdain for uttering those words. While they may not think fondly of this sentiment, it was a prematurely apt descriptor for the album.

Starting off with, “Levitation,” Beach House doubles down on this sentiment right off the bat. The familiar synth sound, fluttering guitar and Legrand’s whispery yet substantive vocals declare: “I go anywhere you want to” while the track warms up, making it feel like the band is reintroducing themselves to us. It’s far from a ‘simple’ song, but it’s mild in that each element seems to share the limelight with the others, soloing when appropriate and then blending back in. Near the end, Legrand urges us to follow her and Scally into the rabbit hole of Depression Cherry, repeating, “There’s a place I want to take you,” before the track slowly dissolves and folds in on itself and into the next song, “Sparks.” From this first song, what’s noticeably different is the smoothness and warmth of the sound here. The guitar is a little buzzier than before, filling the space with yet another hazy texture; Legrand’s vocals are there-and-not-there, fog illuminated by headlights, simultaneously lush and hollow; the drums are even and tempered, the synths ubiquitous. It’s the kind of track that makes you want to close your eyes and just listen to the subtle magic unfolding and its subtlety marks the rest of the album.

As I mentioned before, the last two albums from this band took definitively clear paths, so what may seem unsettling to listeners at first is the lack of this strong inclination as to where we’re going. Sure, there are strong numbers that you’ll immediately latch on to, but it may take a little while for some of the numbers to really hit you. For me, these initial winners were “Space Song,” and “Bluebird.” “Space Song” is third up, and it features sharp and emotionally cutting guitar riffs that just slice and float through the mix, screaming through the hypnotizing haze of synth and vocal. Later, “Bluebird” is a bit more of a groove, still sleek and simmering, but the guitar is tight and close to the rhythm in a darker fashion.

Even though this album doesn’t seem to strike a clear directional path like their last two albums, this seems to be part of the allure for fans of Beach House. Depression Cherry doesn’t aim to be anything other than dream pop and at the end of the album, you can’t fault Beach House for doing more of what they do so well. Upon first listen it may seem underwhelming, but over time it trickles in to your psyche song by song akin to waves lapping against the shore—instead of choosing a direction, it seems this album is bent on getting lost and not wanting to be found, suiting the dreamy genre perfectly. Spend some time with this album and you’ll find yourself in the same position.

Gardens & Villa – Music For Dogs

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

When Gardens & Villa’s Music For Dogs initial sounds flood through your speakers, immediately you get the impression of an electronic system booting up; “Intro” is almost a minute of futuristic synthetic sounds waving through your speakers. The level of anticipation swells with the beginnings of the huge sounds, all of which point to what’s to come next. Now, this is not the kind of entrance that the band really needs to make—Music For Dogs marks their third full-length record, following last year’s Dunes. And yet, the band amps you up for this collection of songs all the same, properly ensuring you’ve transitioned into the right frame of mind before you begin the album.

And when you do enter the first real track, “Maximize Results,” the band hits you hard with their synth pop: pulsating synths create a constant harried motion to the song, all while the vocal performance doubles up on this mood. Underlying this borderline paranoid feeling there’s a groove to the song in the distorted guitar riffs and the handclap beat. This then transitions quite abruptly into the light and airy “Fixations,” which strikes quite a bright note after the heavy opening number. Here, the synths are still buzzy and drone-like, but not as oppressive and dark as the first number. The piano also helps to brighten up the song, with its bouncy notes joining the mix with flair. It’s a catchy contrast to its predecessor before the band jumps back into the overall darkness that seems to coat most of the record.

While the album starts out quite strong with these two solid tracks, it seems as though the energy is a little difficult for Gardens & Villa to maintain through the duration of Music For Dogs. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some great and memorable tracks on the record, as there are numbers like “Alone In The City” and “I Already Do” that tack onto the aforementioned tracks as standouts. Oddly enough, where this synth pop group seems to shine the brightest on this record is not when they’re grooving hardest, but when the songs push into a tender emotional level. “Alone In The City” is a bit of a tender ballad type track that puts the vocal performance of Chris Lynch at very focal point. His voice is raw as it honestly professes lines like “Stay away from me tonight/I’ve had enough for once and it felt alright” and “This place is a nightmare/if I can’t be right there in your arms.” The sounds are subtle, and the nuance of sound that the band brings is glorious via the soft chimes that softly unfold amidst the gritty guitar and gently floating synth sounds. Same goes for the last song of the album, “I Already Do—” the band strikes this balance of groovy tune with tenderness in the mix of premature nostalgia in both the lyrics and bouncing piano sound.

Music For Dogs hits hard at first listen, but then slowly fades into a different tone, but still shows a band that’s come a far way from their debut album of 2011. The tracks that float to the surface upon further listening are evidence of their growth and movement into a balance of harsh electronic sound with real human emotion.

 

 

Totally Mild – Down Time

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Totally Mild are a four piece outfit who hail from Melbourne, Australia and create lush and soft sounding indie pop. What started out as the project of front woman, Elizabeth Mitchell, became fully fleshed out with the help the collective creativity of the band as a group. The result is Down Time the debut album from these folks which will have your ears begging for more of the heaven-sent indie pop.

The first thing you’ll notice when you sit down to listen to this record, and what will bring you back again and again to certain tracks is the impossible crisp and delicate nature of Mitchell’s vocals. Half-falsetto, half simply so sharp they sound practically other-worldly in their effortless perfection, Mitchell’s vocals are easily the star of the mix, or at least the star that shines the brightest in the indie pop. Totally Mild’s sound is a mix of straightforward indie pop with hints of sun-bleached surf guitars and a dash of shoe-gaze. The guitars edge between jangly and clear and are always perfectly spliced into the mix, resulting in a concise and careful quality to Down Time.

In the crisp and pure sound of the vocals in combination with the instruments to make simply divine sounding pop, an interesting dynamic spurs in the middle part of the album in which these gentle sounding melodies make for some pretty dark tunes. In the three track knockout span that includes “Nights,” “The Next Day,” and  “Work It Out,” the band combines their sweet sounding pop with the spinning of morose lyrics: “All my nights end with all my friends dead,” “I’m in bed and I never want to go outside again,” “Lately I’ve used up all my faces of disdain.” But each of these numbers bring in the blacker notes to the tracks in different ways. The first out of the trio, “Nights,” adds a hint of sinister sound in the guitar licks, which are even and slow, while the other two of the tracks act as two parts of a whole. “The Next Day,” is about exactly what you’d expect it to be about and is a slow, somewhat self-deprecating track whose center break down is tragically filled with nostalgia, and longing. This leads seamlessly into “Work It Out” which brings in the darker elements with the cutty guitar parts and the sectionalized bits of the song. These three tracks alone are simply great, and show the kind of promise this band has.

For a debut album, there is a ton to appreciate about this release; it’s brief, filled with some great tracks that will pull you back time and time again. However, in the brevity, it seems to lack a bit of meat to its core. On a few of the numbers, the band seems to be getting to a build, or starting to build up, but then the song just ends instead of going in a different direction. This flatness isn’t a huge detractor from the enjoyability of the record, but a little more dimensionality would have pushed it from good to great. I look forward to hearing a sophomore release from Totally Mild.

 

EZTV – Calling Out

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Rating: ★★★★ ·
Sometimes the best creations happen out of happy accidents, which may be the case for the origin story of EZTV. What started out as the project of Ezra Tenenbaum was only able to come to life via the meeting of other band members Michael Stasiak and Shane O’Connell at an audition to be part of J. Spaceman’s backing band for a Spiritualized tour. Luckily, these gentlemen didn’t make the cut, but kept meeting as a band to flesh out the tracks that Tenenbaum had already made a dent in; enter EZTV’s Calling Out.

Calling Out  is a collection of twelve songs that each span about the length of three minutes and provide a piece of the puzzle that the band’s crafted of indie rock, glam rock, and hints of punk rock all packaged neatly for you in the form of nifty pop tracks. There’s a lot of good things going on here in this debut album and a lot of it has to do with the easy-listening style that EZTV spin onto the tracks. “Bury Your Heart,” the first track up for your ears is a testament to this. Tenenbaum greets you with the perhaps stoic proclamation of “You’ve got to bury/ bury your heart now,” in his warm, sun worn vocals. Meanwhile, the instruments on this song take what you’ve heard in regards to breezy pop and thread it with the subtle darkness of glam rock. The electric guitars are twangy and distorted, foiling the sweet sounding vocals. Percussion wise, the drums fill the rest of the sound space with airy lightness and the faint tinkle of tambourine so the track doesn’t float too high, but dips and soars evenly. At first listen the darkness may not be hyper audible, but upon further listening, you can hear the way it creeps in via the guitars.

Another style of track that you’ll find on this album is that which employs pop hooks in the best fashion. “The Light,” does this exceedingly well, and the vocals almost sound jazzy in fashion. Something about this track reminds me of early tracks from Ra Ra Riot, and the band leads you into the catchy chorus with the ease that’s omnipresent through the duration of the record. Later tracks evoke some sort of urgency in pace and tone, but still neither rushed nor harried. Take, “Dust In The Sky” or “Long Way to Go,” as examples of this: the former of these two has a bassline that pulses at the bottom of the mix, but then the guitars still meander in and out of the track. The latter of the two lets the guitars propel the track with speed but then there are percussive clops and those mild lyrics to bring it back to the subtle rock you’ve come to love on the earlier tracks. Subtlety and pure sound are the meat of the album, and with these at the core of the record makes listening to it feel as though you’ve rediscovered a long lost classic favorite.

If you were looking for a record filled with novelty– that is to say, one that gives you something that’s never been done before, then perhaps Calling Out isn’t really for you. Rather, these gentlemen have crafted an album that plays on the genre of indie rock that’s been done a thousand times and make it fresh with the melding of storytelling and bright pop instrumentation. There’s a reason straightforward indie records have been done so much, and here is an example of just why that’s the case; there are still things left to be said, and well said at that.

 

 

White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

White Reaper’s claim to fame first began after their explosive live act started turning heads and ears in Louisville, which led them to take off on a little tour in which the live act caught the attention of crowds nationwide. A little time has passed since this tour, and the four piece of young 20-somethings have used this bit of experience to craft this bombastic and raucous full length debut, White Reaper Does It Again. This record, though on the short side, is a rambunctious and explosive first album with select tracks that will surely be jammed in your head for a long time in the future.

The record’s start is explosive and immediately gripping: the first track, “Make Me Wanna Die” has enough fuzz on it to give you imagery of tv static all while you jam along. The instant you press play on the album and this song comes rapidly flooding through the speakers you can hear the band’s direction and genre fairly instantaneously— they waste no time in getting to the meat of their material. As I already mentioned, the electric guitar is ferociously fuzzy, raging through the track at high volume, the vocals from Tony Esposito are also heavily distorted and yet they crisply resound. Meanwhile, one element stands out quite cleanly from the mix, and that’s the intermittent organ sounding keyboard riffs which pop away from the mass of reverb and grit, acting like a cool wave of water to splash you in the face from the white hot guitar, vocals and cymbal-heavy drums. It’s a bright start to the record, and surely one of the bright stars on White Reaper Does It Again.

As the first track suggests, this album is a blistering shot of adrenaline to the heart from the beginning to the end and the band doesn’t ever really slow it down or pause for a break. Even in the middle of the album, where one might expect a lull in the garage rock, White Reaper give you the killer back to back duo of “Candy” and “Sheila.” The first of these two tracks centers around the rapid fire vocal delivery from Esposito, which is at once sweet and fierce. His voice, perfectly distorted, snarls and spits verse after verse, matching the guitar riffs and playfully bouncing around. These vocals are pushed to a new level on the next track, “Sheila,” on which I’m reminded of the vocals from Surfer Blood. This track simmers at the beginning, and the vocals serve as almost an agitator to bring the song to full volume. When the band bursts into the chorus, they truly shine, and all the elements come together for a buzzy whirlwind of garage rock.

While this is quite the impressive full length debut, I’ve found that some tracks simply stand out a little brighter than the rest. This is not to say those that I haven’t singled out here aren’t good or worth spending time with— on the contrary the whole record is quite gripping, but with further extended listening, there are certainly numbers that will stay with you for longer than others. Figure out which ones those are for you and spend some time with White Reaper Does It Again.

 

Carry Illinois – Alabaster

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Carry Illinois is an electric departure from the singer songwriter, acoustic guitar strumming scene that Lizzy Lehman has been a part of for years as she has developed as a musician. For this ensemble front woman Lizzy eschews her Martin Acoustic for a Fender strat. On the Alabaster organs swell and pianos sweeps chords providing the harmonic foundation while Lizzy’s lyrics and melody carve out the details above the sounds and rhythms of the songs. Lizzy draws on the everyday struggles and tedium of modern living on Alabaster. She has a knack for illuminating truths through a portrait of another as deftly as she can on her more autobiographical songs. For this album Lizzy leans more heavily on introspection and personal insight than with her previous solo work, which is an interesting irony. One might wonder if donning the costume of Carry Illinois has created a confidence that allows for more personal work to shine through in Lizzy’s song writing.
Musically Alabaster is an album that sits somewhere between Brandi Carlisle Americana and Dr. Dog’s breed of harmony infused indie pop rock. Alabaster is a big step forward from the Siren EP release in 2014. Both Alabaster and Siren represent a departure from the singer songwriter womb of the Austin via Kerville folk scene. I prefer the clean vocal sounds on Alabaster over the harmonica miked and red line hitting vocals on Siren. Lizzy’s is a voice that is best served clean and pure. While I preferred a safer choice for the vocal stylings, I found myself wanting a stronger step forward and reach just a little farther on most of Alabaster song arrangements. As a whole the album tends to lean a little too hard on the tropes and clichés of the Americana genre. Similar tempos and rhythm patterns blended songs together and listening to the album as a whole you’ll find yourself wishing for a break from the organ drones under sprinkles of piano.
There were three big stand out tracks for me. The first – Darkened Sky – hits all the notes of classic Americana. The track starts off with the recognizable strumming rhythm of Lizzy’s guitar and is quickly enhanced with a country train beat and layered strings and keys. The vocals are right in the sweet spot on this tune. Lovers of the Austin Americana scene will be drawn to this song like whiskey lovin’ hipsters to an Eastside Honky Tonk. Another of my favorites is the painfully sincere Lost and Found. Any listener with a small town childhood will connect with the message of emotional emigration in search of a meaning outside the comfort of youth. Lizzy grasps greatness on this song when the bridge crescendos from a pure, slow folk tune to a psychedelic, flanging power ballad.
In stark contrast to, and immediately preceding Lost and Founds psychedelic yearning we have the perfect pop gem that is Sleepy Eyes. From the first horn build to the last splash of the cymbals, this song had me hooked. Lizzy’s vocal sit nice and present in the mix, in a range high enough to make it immediately distinctive from the rest of the album. The dynamics are beautiful driven by a horn ensemble and the groove is wonderfully consistent with just enough sizzle on the cymbals. I should really let this song do the talking for me, so put it on right now, and while you add it go ahead and hit shuffle and let it ride. It’s an album that’s sure to grow on you and make it into the rotation of this year’s great Austin albums.

Bully – Feels Like

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

It’s not too terribly often that you get word of a pop-punk band like young four piece, Bully who have origins in Nashville. But this group, led by front woman Alicia Bognanno, hail from Tennessee and have put together an album filled with crunchy punk guitar hooks with catchy pop choruses and beyond powerful vocals that will grab you by the collar and not let go for its entirety.

“I Remember” is the opening track to end all opening tracks– it’s a forceful introduction to the band’s sound. The fast paced percussion and shredding guitars are the first things you hear, and then you get Bognanno’s distorted and cutty vocals, which sound as though they may give out at any second as she screams out declarations of memories both crass and tender. There are also moments of reprieve on this number where these vocals are softened, but that is only for a second before you’re back with Bully as they rip though this punk-pop opener.

This first track is merely a bite of the bite that this band has in store for you on this debut album, and to me, the bite is where Bully shines the brightest. Songs that use the off/on switch to mix the two genres are the highlights for me, like “Trash.” This song is as about as metal as the band gets, starting slow, and the vocals are, dare I say, delicate, and then surging into the chorus with fiery heat and Bognanno’s growling vocals. Earlier on the record you get somewhat subtle, “Brainfreeze,” which falls third in the track order, and while the vocals are still grainy and gritty, this song is a bit more refined than the others. Here is where the band strikes the balance between punk and pop– this song sounds like what would happen if a punk band covered a radio ready pop song, which is far from a bad thing. Another definite highlight is late track, “Milkman,” which is a catchy track with a hardcore ending. The bulk of this album is a solid mix of tunes which will catch your ear with their unique sound.

Feels Like is a rapid fire blend of punk attitude mixed with the goodness of pop sensibility. For a debut album, it makes for a great introduction to Bully, and also a good summer album to turn up loud as the heat begins to turn up on us. I look to the future to see what Bully has in store for a sophomore effort.

Abram Shook – Landscape Dream

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Oh you haven’t heard of Abram Shook? Seriously? Well, Abram Shook is a one of Austin’s truest gems as of late: a great songwriter and backing band who put out an album last year called Sun Marquee and already back with this stunning follow up record. On Landscape Dream, Shook and company take you both to 70’s rock and roll as well as soulful grooves of soft rock.

“Never Die” begins the album slowly and carefully, with some twee synth that harkens back to the grooves of yesteryear and Shook’s delicate whispery vocals beckon you to come with him on this journey before he is joined by the rock. This synth and vocals are soon joined by a burst of instrumentation: psychedelic guitar, stark percussive elements and even more synth. Then all of the sudden this burst of energy fades back out to just the vocals and synth sounds, now subtle and you’re left with Abram Shook and company stripped down to their core. This combination of soft and loud doesn’t overwhelm, but leaves you a little awestruck as to all that you’ve just heard—the song is fluid, moving you along with it. In one of the quieter moments, Shook tells you to “Listen, listen to the words” almost prompting you to keep your ears pricked for what’s to come.

This album is an oddly delightful mixture of misty ethereal sounds and outright rock and roll that is manifested through several different genres. There are proper links to psychedelic and garage rock on here, such as you’ll find on “Beach Glass” and “Find It” respectively. “Beach Glass” is a straight from the seventies track that involves a lot of gentle percussion, echo-y vocals and pulsing electronic sounds. “Find It” has the gritty guitars that ooze garage, while the vocals are still delicate, giving the juxtaposition of genre that you didn’t know you wanted. But then there are softer moments such as you’ll find on “Vessel,” which does eventually get a little rock and roll, but sticks in the realm of dreamy pop.

In all honesty, this album contains no bad track, and with each listen you sink your teeth further into the songs. Every time you pass through the 12 tracks on here, you find a new set of favorite tunes, and the ones that already were your favorites become ever more solidified as so. So pick this record up, spin it often, and get lost in the Landscape Dream.

 

Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

If you were clued in to anything about this album based off its name, it should be the psychedelic genre that Jacco Gardner employs. Patch this together with the album artwork and just like that you can already begin to see where Gardner is leading you with this sophomore effort. What these two signifiers don’t inform you is that like a drug trip, Hypnophobia slips in and out of lucidity; there are times when the music completely engages you and others that encourage you to fall away from focusing on the tunes at hand.

The overall tone of this album is fairly one note, which is why the aforementioned phenomenon is able to occur over its course. That’s not to say that this one dimension sound—heavily mysterious/spooky 70’s synth matched with wandering guitar riffs and Gardner’s soulful yet wispy vocals—isn’t enjoyable. On the contrary, to say that any of the songs on this album aren’t good would be false, but there’s a loss of suspense in the repetitive nature of the sound here. By around the third or fourth track on the record you begin to feel that you’ve heard all there really is to hear from Hypnophobia. While that isn’t necessarily true (some of my favorite tracks come on the end of the record) the lack of variety in the twee psychedelic genre wears a little bit on your hopes.

There are definite numbers that will have your attention more than others. For me, among those are “Find Yourself,” and “Before The Dawn,” both of which are more upbeat and rambunctious numbers for Gardner. It is in this space where Gardner seems to shine the brightest: “Find Yourself” enters your headphones swiftly and with force: the tinny synth here bounces around almost violently, which pushes the song from meek to commanding. Surprisingly, Gardner’s vocals are heavily distorted on this song, but they too feel more forceful than on the other tracks of the album, and lead you to the catchy chorus that somehow ironically makes me want to lose myself in the track. “Before The Dawn” creates more of a swirling kaleidoscopic listening atmosphere, but then the electric guitar joins the mix to ground you with the vocals, akin to the feeling of walking through an optical illusion tunnel.

To me, this seems like the kind of album that you put on to comfort you in the background of studying, working, reading, etc. It’s easy to get lost in, but still occasionally pops in to pull you back to it. Perhaps you feel differently—the only way for you to find out is to have a listen for yourself to Hypnophobia.

Other Lives – Rituals

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Over the years, Oklahoma’s Other Lives have built a reputation for themselves as the creators of cinematically sweeping rock music; their first two full-length albums were delightful examples of this unique style, with the more recent of those two, Tamer Animals, showing the growth of the band and their ability to evolve their sound. Rituals, their third full-length attempts to pursue this growth in a different direction via the incorporation of more electronic elements into the mix.

So how does a band that knocked their last album of grand and dramatic music out of the park introduce their audiences to a new spin on their sound? Well, in true Other Lives fashion, “Fair Weather,” the opening track, begins this adjustment subtly. This slow moving song doesn’t seem to be so different from what we’ve heard before from the band, but soon you pick up on more of the use of what sounds like synth or artificial drum beats, evoking a sort of cool groove that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The instrumentation on here is less folk influenced rock and more carefully crafted electro-inspired simmering rock.

This third album shows the band shifting to a subtler sound overall; a bit of the drama that the last album possessed is replaced with sleek smoothness, which works in some places, but falls slightly short of my high expectations in others. Take second track “Pattern” as a prime example of where this works well—the whole song is lined with fierce violin part that never stops, whose immovable presence creates a bridge between the other parts of the song. Similarly, this violin part is mirrored by tinkling piano that shows the level of nuance that this band is so good at. The vocals here are almost entirely falsetto, making for a swirling mix of high and low elements. Another delightful track that shows the smooth approach from the band is “Easy Way Out,” which uses Jesse Tabish’s smokily sinister vocals to assures us that “we can find an easy way out–” and man do I believe him. While neither of these songs really go far away from where they begin, they both use suspense to hold you in their grasp.

Rituals provides us with some more great tracks to add to our listening catalogue from Other Lives, but on the whole it doesn’t make the same leaps and bounds that their sophomore effort did. The sound is still engaging, and the addition of electronic elements works well with the orchestral and grand sound that this band has made their own, but I find myself feeling like I’m missing a little something. Regardless, if you haven’t already fallen in love with Other Lives, there’s really no excuse anymore: pick up Rituals and let the slow crawling sound take you over to the darkness that this band does so well.

 

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