Joan of Arc – Boo Human

Rating: ★★★ · ·

From the minute this album opens you are opened to the intricate guitar work of Tim Kinsella; its always the most delicate of strumming or so it seems. Its as if he is taking his guitar for a little journey; he speeds up, he slows down, but its always very personal. His work in Joan of Arc, and various other bands, has always been witness to this delicate guitar; it goes throughout the album.

In fact, this album, and this band for that matter, will always benefit from the unique playing of Kinsella. Each song he puts together has an entirely different feel than the last, yet each song on this album fits uniquely together. Somehow Kinsella consistently manages to use other musicians to construct unique mini-masterpieces of song; all these songs could stand alone without the use of lyrics.

Sadly, it is Kinsella’s lyrics, and more so, his voice, that seem to plague this album. His voice is usually too gentle to believe that there is passion in his voice, but when he does provide that passion, it is as if he straining to fake it. It never really comes together cohesively, and at times, his voice can destroy entire songs.

Lyrically, this album deals with a break-up, which has some really beautifully written moments. Unfortunately, the general theme of this album get a bit old, despite the variation in each song. It is a great album of break-up songs, but unfortunately the entire album is break-up songs; that doesn’t really work for this album.

There are two standout tracks on this album, worthy of your purchase, somewhere on the Interweb: the unfortunately named “Tell-Tale Penis” and “So-and-So.” The vocals and lyrics on “So-and-So” are the perfect way to finish this album, which continues to keep Joan of Arc swimming along in the rock n’ roll canon.

The M’s – Real Close Ones

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When this album bounced its way into my mailbox, I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to expect from The M’s, a Chicago based quartet.  Their last effort, Future Women, felt sort of scattered to me, but it definitely had a few upsides as a whole.  I figured this album would at least meet the same level.

Album opener, “Big Sound,” definitely steps up this album from the get-go.  The pounding drums and fuzzy guitars grab your attention, drawing you closer in as you listen for–wait, are those horns?  Indeed! Nice move.  This moves right into “Breakfast Score,” which sounds familiarly like another famous Chicago band–Wilco.  It’s hard to go wrong there.

By the middle of the album, I had already found a few favorites–the sort of songs I would easily put on a mix-tape for a friend.  Lyrically, I think one of my favorite songs is “Ultraviolent Men,” where the band encourages us to “let them fight it out,” which kind of hits at home with my own pacifism during current circumstances.

The one thing that does hold this album back is the inconsistency.  I like a band that is willing to try new things or explore other paths, but this band goes off a bit too much.  They can’t seem to get one sound together, and I know that is probably on purpose, but it is the one thing that irks me here.

“Days in the Sun,” definitely recalls Village Green era-Kinks, with careful melodies, accompanied by gentle guitar strumming and light piano.  It’s pure 60s pop; a nod to one of my favorite eras, making this my favorite track on the album.

This album has its faults, but in its entirety, it’s definitely listenable, and at times, quite memorable.  Perfect for a refreshing day basking in the sun.

Take a listen to the album’s single “Don’t Be Late” :

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/dontbelate.mp3]

dontbelate.mp3

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Lie Down in the Light

Rating: ★★★★½

“When there’s only one thing I can do, well you know I don’t want to do it. When there’s just one way to go through, sometimes I don’t want to go through with it.” These first lines from opening song “Easy Does It” off Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s new album Lie Down in the Light sets the tone for the entire record. I can just hear Bonnie saying: “If you think I’m going to do this like anyone else, well you’re wrong son.” Bonnie (famous alias of Will Oldham) doesn’t plan on making a record like one you’ve ever heard before. If he only has one way to do something, he’s not going to do it.

If for some reason you are waiting to know if this album is worth picking up, wait no longer, it’s well worth it. Oldham and company have made a superb album not like anything else being done right now. Sure, some bands may be attempting to recreate the americana/country/folk or whatever you want to call it from years past, but Oldham is head and shoulders above everyone else.

Oldham enlists his frequent counterpart Ashley Webber who invokes the spirit of countless country music women many years her senior. I’ve heard comparisons that Oldham and Webber are our generations George Jones & Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty which after a few listens to tracks like “So Everyone” & “You Want That Picture”, you might just start agreeing with those bold comparisons.

In a day with the mindset that everything needs to be recorded louder than ever, Oldham and friends prove that louder doesn’t always mean better. These songs can say more with the slight hint of percussion or slow strum of a guitar than most songs can say with the volume on 11.

If you’re an old fan of Bonnie ‘Prince’ and think you may be let down by this album, think again. Lie Down in the Light proves that Oldham doesn’t plan on letting up anytime soon. This is americana at it’s finest folks. Not much else I can say about this record, just buy it and enjoy the beauty of its simplicity.

Have a listen to one of ’08s best “So Everyone” & drop us a line with your thoughts.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/03-so-everyone.mp3]

Download: soeveryone.mp3

The Wedding Present – El Rey

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Long ago David Gedge hung up The Wedding Present moniker in favor of Cinerama. Recently, as in the last three years, we have seen the return of The Wedding Present–with two proper albums added to their already glorious catalog. Honestly, this newest one is the best work I think he’s ever done.

Our first hint at a classic return to form is his usage of Steve Albini-famed sound engineer-the first time they have united together since 1991’s Seamonsters. The reunion brings across a brilliant sound, where the guitars are extremely clean, while also carrying with them fire power. Then you have the pounding drums; the perfect mix of instrumentation to accompany Gedge’s voice.

For me, all the music creates quite a dynamic power. Songs like “The Trouble with Men,” carefully play with the soft/loud dynamic that made bands like Death Cab for Cutie or Pinback your favorite. It’s the album we all have been looking for, but we just didn’t know that it was out there for us. Well, solid rock albums are back in these days-brought to you by David Gedge and The Wedding Present.

Lyrically, he is as clever as he has ever been. Gedge comes across in his lyrics like that endearing older sibling who always has the answers to life that we search for on our own. He wants you to feel his characters and his words–and you listen. Of course, he also manages to keep pop culture references abundant–such as the Seinfeld reference in the brilliant “Soup” or a quick jab with Spiderman. This all serves as a reminder why we all love lyrics like these. For me, he is the poor man’s Bob Pollard.

This album is meant to bring perfection to your sunniest days. It makes you want to drive around town-or walk since that helps keep you in shape-with the guitars blasting out of your stereo as you sing along to every single word, as if they were your words. Ask yourself, isn’t this the sort of record you have been looking for? Here you have it folks, the completely triumphant return of David Gedge and The Wedding Present.

Here we have a new song off the album el rey entitled “The Thing I Like Best About Him is his Girlfriend”
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/09-the-thing-i-like-best-about-him-is-his-girlfriend.mp3]

Download: girlfriend.mp3

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Rating: ★★★★★

When one is confronted with the repeated hype of a band across the Internet word, as we all were with Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP, you want to find one thing, anything, that proves them wrong. You almost want to hate the album, but I’m sorry, this is not the album.

Personally, I wouldn’t have started the album with “Sun Giant,” since it may have appeared somewhere in the past, but it still sets the mood for this album. By the time “Drops in the River,” the third track, rolls around, this band already had me won over–I actually didn’t like the EP. Sure, its a gentle track from the beginning, but once it gets rolling its hard not to find yourself bobbing your head here. Then they go straight into “White Winter Hymnal,” which definitely is a stand out on the album.

Actually, its not a stand out at all because I am struggling to find the one song on here I can dislike, or at least dismiss. There isn’t one. I double-checked. Not a one.

Each song on this album has carefully crafted instrumentation, and it all fits so perfectly with the harmonies of lead singer Robin Peckfold, who at times is harmonizing with every one else in the band. It is quite an interesting effect–though I admit at times it makes the lyrics somewhat indiscernible. Still, you can’t hide the fact that each arrangement on this album seems to fit perfectly with the rest of the song–with the rest of the album for that matter.

My biggest complaint about this album is the timing of the release. This is just me being selfish, but where was this album during the winter? Everything on here screams perfect winter album to me. I know I know. I could easily enjoy this sitting around a campfire with my best friends, but I don’t have time to go camping right now. Still, it would be perfect for that.

My favorite songs are “White Winter Hymnal,” “Mykonos,” “Quiet Houses,” and “Oliver James.” Now, I could ramble off thousands of comparisons to this band, but I’m sure you could find more adequate ones elsewhere on the Internet. My vote is for The Clientele comparison, but that is just me.

I hope this little review gives you enough insight into this album, but to be honest, its really hard to write about such a solid album. See for yourself.

Fleet Foxes will also be bringing their live act to the Mohawk in Austin on July 2nd.  Get your tickets at The Mohawk’s website.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/02-fleet_foxes-white_winter_hymnal.mp3]

Download: whitewinterhymnal.mp3

Shearwater – Rook

Rating: ★★★★½

From the very first song, new Austin darlings Shearwater–via former Okkervil River bandmate, brought out a surprise. A minute into the first song and the music crashes against your ear. For me, it was the first of many surprises on this album that made it one of the best things I have heard this year. Jonathan Meiburg has finally come into his own.

Aside from the initial surprise, the thing that struck me as most fascinating was the loud/soft contrast between musical moments. It is this precise juxtaposition of sound levels that requires every listener to pay close detail to each note–which I feel ultimately brings you closer to the brilliance of this album. It’s a contrast between light and dark music, and in doing this so well, Meiburg has made an album that I feel stands completely alone–even if you choose to eliminate the lyrics entirely–which I don’t suggest.

Those lyrics, well, they are far better than I expected from my previous Shearwater experiences. “Home Life,” is a particular favorite, though I don’t dare to examine its meaning for fears of ruining your own interpretations. Now, accompanying those lyrics are supremely grandiose vocals. I was floored this time by the evolvement of his voice, which has little to compare it to–though initially I thought of Antony and the Johnsons–but it comes off much more epic.

Throughout this entire album I felt like I was on this enormous journey with various characters and within my own psyche–all of which I will gladly walk through again. This album carries you away with excellent vocals and sweeping musicianship, though I must admit that there is one journey not worth taking at all, “South Col,” which is the eighth track, and is a required skip to the next song.

I wish you all the best as you partake in your very own journey with Mr. Meiburg and his mates. May it be as fruitful to you as it was for me. Here is to good listening

Here’s the single off the new record entitled Rooks:
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/02-rooks.mp3]

Download: rooks.mp3

If you want to hear the entire album before you buy it, Shearwater is streaming it on their myspace page. Enjoy!

Mason Jennings – In The Ever

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Mason Jennings has long been the troubadour of my heart. From the first listen of his self-titled album–which would probably go in my Top 50 list–he had won me over. There was fire and originality, something I had yet to come across from others in the same genre of music. I buy every album; I am a loyal fan.

However, I finally feel that Mason and I are through. I feel it has been coming for a long time; I think now it is officially time for the two of us to part ways. Finally I feel as if he arrived at a point completely on the opposite end of the promise he once showed.

I first noticed this departure in common ground on his last album Boneclouds, which felt a little over-produced, and by that I mean everything sounded really clean. It didn’t feel as intimate as his past albums had. Not to mention there were throw away songs.

What about the new one? Well, I found several throw away songs, in fact, I found one in “I Love You and Buddha Too.” I understand the search for spirituality, and the welcoming of all religions-as we should–but this is quite possibly the worst song I’ve heard all year. You can add to the list of throwaway songs “How Deep is That River.” Sorry Mason old pal, but you have so much more.

I don’t want to slam this record entirely because I feel like there are some promising moments. For instance, “Memphis, Tennesee” has the heart and soul of earlier recordings, and the opening track, “Never Knew Your Name,” does hold onto some of those intimate moments that I feel like Mason and I shared in the past.

Unfortunately, this album has drawn a line in the sand. I’m now going across to that side where I can no longer afford to buy Mason albums on our old bond alone. If you like Mason Jennings, or singer\songwriters, then you most likely will find some solace in this album, but I don’t think this is an album that will win him a lot of new fans–it might lose him some old ones.

Hear “Fighter Girl” off the new album In The Ever
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/04-fighter-girl.mp3]

Download: fightergirl.mp3

American Princes – Other People

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Long ago, in a land quite our own, we weren’t really concerned with sound oddities or atmospherics; we liked our rock n’ roll straight up. Pour it in a glass and drink it down–then again, I was really young. Nonetheless, American Princes are that band serving up a tall glass of straight-forward rock–the kind I miss the most.

I think the first notice of this is comes across immediately upon the first listening of the voice. There is a sincerity in the fact that you can identify with the vocalist and the scratchiness accompanying his vocals–see Arts and Crafts band, The Constantines for a reference point. I like sincerity–not to mention minimal production.

Now, if I were to pick a radio single, and I like to pretend that I could, I would easily put “Real Love” on my set list. The chorus alone is enough for me to purchase this album. Its got the hook one needs to keep coming back.

One song that I didn’t expect from this veteran band, “Wasted Year,” doesn’t have any of the post-punk reference points of their other songs, but in fact, its this freshness that makes this an album worthy of repeated listens. Not to mention they toss me a ballad–clearly I am a sucker for such things–in the beautifully written “Don’t Ever Promise.” I must say, I appreciate differentiation in regards to albums.

Now, this band could have stuck to their guns, maintaining varied success as a solid post-punk outfit from Arkansas, but they pushed themselves. In that act, they push their fans–like me–to ask for more from their rock music. No longer can we settle for oddities and atmospherics, for, in fact, the simplest approach is quite possibly the one we love the most.

Hear “Real Love” off Other People:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/05-real-love.mp3]

Download: reallove.mp3

Spiritualized–Songs in A & E

Rating: ★★★★½

What else can I say to you that you haven’t already heard about this record? Probably not much, but I’ll give it a solid go.

You guessed it, this record deserves all the credit and applause that people have thrown its way. In fact, “Soul on Fire” will probably make my Top 5 Songs of 2008, and I can honestly say I am reserving it a place.

What on Earth is wrong with this record then? Very little. But, if I must give those that wish to find faults with the world something to enjoy, it is that the repetition of the word “fire” becomes a bit redundant, and in fact, makes the album disappear at various times. At points, during my listening pleasure–and I do mean pleasure–I found myself scrambling to find out which song was which.

Now, you combine that with the unnecessary atmospherics–yes, I realize that is a J. Spaceman staple-and you have some weak moments on this record. You, depending on your taste-those atmospherics pop up at least six times- will find something to dislike.

But hey! I love this album. Its got real slow burners like “Sweet Talk” and “Don’t Hold Me Close,” along with the aforementioned “Soul on Fire.” Then toss in a solid stomper like “Yeah Yeah” or the gaze-able “You Lie You Cheat”; this pretty much rounds out all angles necessary on a solid album.

This album gives you something to think about, by way of some in depth thinking, but it also lets you indluge that darker vein of rock n’ roll that we all have-or at least I suggest purchasing one. You can’t ask for more from this album, which is why I suggest you go out and get your hand on it–NOW!!

May I also suggest “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” for those unaware of the history of this band.

Hear one of the best tracks of ’08 “Soul on fire”:
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/05-soul-on-fire-1.mp3]

Download:Soul on Fire.mp3

Islands – Arm’s Way

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Immediately, I want to say that this record is probably worth the purchase–albeit one when there isn’t much else out there to buy. Initially, I listened to this album four or five times in a single day, but therein lies the problem–I can’t recall great moments about this one–I can’t recall the shapes of the songs, give or take one or two. Care to explain you ask? I do indeed.

For starters, this album is far too long to listen to in one sitting, and if you do, you will find it does nothing more than blend into the background as you and your buddies make dinner–steaks right? By my count, 8 of the 12 songs go over the 5 minute mark. Sorry, Nick Thorburn, I just don’t have that sort of time these days. Sure, they dabble in length, but not quite like this.

Now, is the music worth it? Yes-but not like you want it–not like your “Rough Gem.” The closest Islands come to replicating that playfulness is on the 4th track “Creeper,” and it doesn’t quite hit its mark. Here is our problem listeners: the affinity for clever, circus-laden melodies is gone. But, on the plus side–so are all those faux hip-hop moments. I miss the former–its always been the attraction for me.

What I do like about this album, especially apparent in the last three tracks, is the new darker side of this band, and I don’t mean that in regards to lyrics–I mean it in reference to the somber mood apparent in these tracks. We all know that Jaime Thompson is no longer a member, and this is really apparent, or at least to me, in these lyrics. I could be off, but, whatever the cause, it makes for some of the more special moments on this record. Like I said–I bought it. I listen to it from time to time, but I can’t tell why. Maybe you can?

Islands is playing Emos Austin on June 23rd. Click here to purchase tickets for da show.

Hear “The Arm” off the brand new album:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/islands-the-arm.mp3]

Download: Islands – The Arm [MP3]

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