My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

Rating: ★★½ · ·

When describing “Evil Urges,” the title track from Louisville-based My Morning Jacket’s new album, frontman/chief songwriter/spaceboots-wearin’ fearless leader Jim James talked about how the band would just “go off into space” when writing new parts to the song. The five-minute plus tune evokes soulful R&B grooves to Kentucky fried-dual guitar freakouts and back to it’s central refrain as it is relaunched into orbit. “Evil urges baby, they’re just part of the human way. It ain’t evil baby, if ya ain’t hurting anybody,” James sings in high-falsetto. And he couldn’t have made it more obvious himself because My Morning Jacket not only are throwing fans a musical curveball, but have some inner demons to conquer themselves on their latest offering.

As a faithful MMJ fan, I was fully aware writing a review of “Evil Urges,” their first album since 2005’s life-altering, astonishing marvel “Z,” was NOT going to be easy. However, it wasn’t as difficult writing this blurb as it was hearing this record in it’s entirety. “Urges” is a frustrating listen from the opening drum-wraps to the album’s final four seconds of nonsense. Missing are MMJ’s trademark reverb-soaked vocals, “motivated” guitar jams, and most depressingly, songcrafting.

The one thing I will forever adore about this band is how they create inspired songs laced with an honesty behind their Southern-tinged seven-to-eight minute rockers. Inspiration is certainly M.I.A. on this record.

“Evil Urges” zig-zags like a staggering “Glass Joe” in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, shifting from funky R&B grooves (title track) to James Taylor man-crushin’ (“Sec Walkin'”) to arena-sized riff-rockin (“Aluminum Park”) to WTF!? (“Highly Suspicious”) The song is so painful that by the time you’ve endured Olmec from Nickelodeon’s “Legends of the Hidden Temple” chanting “Highly Suspicious of You” for the 27th time, it makes you yearn for the cheesy, but appropriate sounds of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watchin’ Me.” Hell, if “Highly Suspicious” was released in 1984, MMJ would’ve given Berry Gordy Jr.’s prodigee a run for his top 40 blood money. Now if they could just get Jermaine Jackson to guest vocal on the chorus instead of a giant animatronic talking piece of foam.

After the undeniably disastrous first half of “Urges,” we’re introduced to a little ditty called “Two Halves.” It’s a nice 60’s-style doo-wop rock tune that reminds us this band can do anything they damn-well please and it works in all it’s Roy Orbison-worshiping glory.

“Librarian” has to be one of the best narratives James’ has ever penned. “Sweetest little bookworm, hidden underneath is the sexiest librarian…take off those glasses and let down your hair for me.” Obsessed much, I know, but the way this tune floats around amidst it’s dusty stack of books and pitch-black summer skies, it’s difficult not to be enthralled by the mood of James’ storytelling. Plus, it’s about damn time someone wrote a great song about a sexy librarian. Gentlemen, we’ve all been there, don’t deny it.

The album concludes with the haunting one-two punch of “Smokin’ from Shootin'” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 2.” “Shootin” is an excellent builder from Bo Koster’s quiet key-tappin’to guitarist/MVP Carl Broehmel’s heavy-plucking as James brings his A-game to a deafening climax that would make Charles Bronson proud. The song wanders into “Touch Me…,” an eight-minute disco “jambulance” where drummer Patrick Hallahan’s beating eerily reminds me of the B-52’s “Summer of Love.” It’s space-rock-prog-disco-psychedelia at it’s finest…woah.

“This feeling is wonderful…don’t you ever turn it off,” James exclaims as his gang caps off a confusing conclusion to a record that is more intrigued with sounding eclectic than creating the memorable MMJ moments we’re so fond of. If it weren’t for “Urges'” hard to swallow first half, this album would be destined for healthy repeated listens instead of turning the “wonderful feeling” off.

Don’t forget that the band will be showing off one of the best live acts around later this summer at Stubbs. The show isn’t sold out yet so hurry up and buy some tickets. And be sure to check out our (fake) interview with Jim James.

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

Download: evilurges.mp3

Eef Barzelay @ Mohawk (6/18)

Eef Barzelay, alt-country great and lead singer of Clem Snide will be playing Mohawk on Wednesday with a few other up and coming artists. Eef is touring in support of his new album Lose Big which hits stores tomorrow. Promising opening act Collin Herring wrote what could be one of my favorite songs of the year “Punches”. This should be a good way to spend your Wednesday evening. Check out Mohawk’s website to get tickets.

Here’s the title track off Eef’s new album Lose Big and that great track “Punches” from Colling Herring:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/08losebig.mp3] [audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/punches.mp3]

Download: losebig.mp3

Download: punches.mp3

Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

Rating: ★★★★½

Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is the fifth full length album from David Berman and the Silver Jews, and by my estimation it is the best he’s come up with yet. From the opening track until the very end, you’ll find yourself hanging on every single word out of his mouth, trying to understand each little line. Berman’s words here are at their best, but that is for you to decide.

Opener “What Is Not But Could Be If” begins the album with the darkened voice of Berman, somewhat reminiscent of a certain man in black. It’s clear at this point that Berman has definitely found his own niche in the world of off-beat country.

The album picks up pace with “Aloyisius Bluegrass Drummer,” where a solid rhythm section and a dancing piano rush us through the most clever two minutes to come across my ears.

The third track, “Suffering Jukebox” is full of sprawling guitars, but most importantly is the album’s introduction to Berman’s wife Cassie. Her sunny vocals seem to contradict those of her husband, but all in an effort to show the balance of a solid Silver Jews song.

“My Pillow is the Threshhold,” to me, comes off as an ode to the love song. “The pillow that I dream on is the threshold of a kingdom/ threshold of a world where I’m with you,” seems to sum up the meaning of the song, though one can never have just one simple meaning in a Berman song; this is just me guessing.

“Strange Victory Strange Defeat” is my personal favorite on this album. The battle of rebellious squirrels to win their freedom warms me inside. Then you throw on top of that the harmonizing of the Berman family at 1.5 minutes, and you have one of my favorite moments on an album this year.

You will find a taste of sunny California “oohs” and “ahhs” all over “Open Field,” which is probably one of the only songs on this album I don’t want to listen to ten times a day, probably just 7 or 8.

Literary genius abounds on “San Francisco BC,” the albums 7th track. See these two samples: “Romance is the douche of the bourgeoisie” and “I thought the wages of Metal should be heavily garnished.” A friend of mine told me that Berman comes up with the cleverest lines that you know you thought, but you just didn’t say them fast enough.

I dare not even attempt to make sense of “Candy Jail,” but the song still has this unending draw to me. Something about “peanut brittle bunk-beds” just sort of calls my name.

I have to admit that nothing stops a “Party Barge,” the 9th track on this album. Electric guitar mixed with sounds of sea ports (gulls, foghorns, etc), along with requests for coordinates from “lake directory,” just makes is all seem like summer.

Album closer, “We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing,” wraps up the album with a gentle number reminding us all that despite dreams and hopes, everything isn’t exactly perfect; still, Berman seems to insist that we all give it a try. And I say why not?

Obviously, I went about this review a bit differently, but that is just the thing about a Silver Jews album: no two people will ever get the same thing out of one of Berman’s songs, let alone albums. It’s the perfect conversation piece for you and your friends, trying to eat dinner as you all take turns at deciphering words and song meanings. Each person will walk away with their own interpretation, as they should. I just wanted to show ya’ll mine.

Now, if you are looking for that alt-country album with witty lines and gentle harmonies then you won’t be doing yourself a disservice if you purchase this album. Honestly, if you don’t buy this album, no matter what you are into, you are damned to admitting that you have done yourself a disservice by not allowing yourself the proper amount of time to enjoy Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea; there is only one way to remedy that situation, and that is to get your hands on this album as soon as possible.

You can stream this entire album on the band’s myspace page if you want to try before you buy.

We also have a song off the album entitled “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat” available for download:

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

Download: strangedefeat.mp3

At Mount Zoomer

Our crazy bothers from the northern side of the border Wolf Parade are streaming their new album At Mount Zoomer on my favorite social network website. The much anticipated follow-up to 2005’s Apologies to Queen Mary doesn’t hit stores until next week so why not try before you buy? Give it a listen and tell us what you think. Also, Wolf Parade will be blowing through Austin later this summer on July 25th at LaZonaRosa. Purchase your tickets for the show before it sells out! If you just can’t deal with the madness that is myspace, check out the song “Language City” below:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/languagecity1.mp3]

Download: Wolf Parade – Language City [MP3]

Black Kids

The Black Kids just released a new single “hurricane jane” off their forthcoming album Partie Traumatic due out July 7th on Mercury Records. Get ready for your Friday night with some sweet new dance music from The Black Kids.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/01-hurricane-jane.mp3]

Download: Black Kids – Hurricane Jane [MP3]

Jay Reatard Singles Compilation!

My favorite garage-rocker, Jay Reatard, is said to be distributing a brand new collection of singles this coming Tuesday, June 17th, via In The Red Records. The track listing has four old songs, which means we’ll get 13 brand new Jay Reatard songs, well, sort of. All the songs come from various 7″s, but if you don’t have those, this is brand new! It also comes with a complimentary DVD of four Reatard shows, which might help win you over to the gloriousness of Jay Reatard! According to Jay’s website, he will apparently be showing his face in Austin at Red 7 on August 3rd.
[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/01-blood-visions.mp3]

Download: Jay Reatard – Blood Visions [MP3]

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

New Music from CSS

If you haven’t heard by now Cansei de ser sexy, known to most as CSS, have made a few songs off their new album Donkey available for download and stream on their myspace page. The myspace page has one new song and also a sampler of tracks from the new album out July 21st on subpop. Below you will find the new song “Rat is Dead (Rage)” which is not available on the myspace page. I’m not sure if this song will land them another hot spot on the ipod commercials, but it’s pretty catchy none the less.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/01-rat-is-dead-rage.mp3]

Download: ratisdeadrage.mp3

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