Handsome Furs – Face Control

furs

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Dan Boeckner and his wife/girlfriend/whatever, Alexei Perry are releasing their second album, Face Control, on Sub Pop Records under the Handsome Furs moniker.  The first outing had a lot of interesting moments, carried mostly by Boeckner’s voice.  Interestingly enough, you don’t find the band breaking new ground with their latest release.

The instant the album kicks off with “Legal Tender” one will immediately note that the beats on this round are a lot more prevalent than on the last outing.  That’s not to say that Dan doesn’t throw in some slicing guitar licks, as he surely does so on this track, but they seem merely as extra moments.  It’s as if the beats support the entire infrastructure of the songs, while the guitar seems to be an afterthought.

Still, one has to question whether or not this is enough to carry an entire album’s worth of songs.  Answering this question will more than likely divide a lot of people, as the better tracks coming from this album, such as “Talking Hotel Arbat Blues” or “All We Want, Baby, Is Everything,” are really fantastic, displaying how some of the more thought out moments on the album can rise above the simplistic formula.

And yes, there is Boeckner’s phenomenal voice.  As part of Wolf Parade, he’s pushed his voice to the limits, sometimes letting his voice curl into a bit of a yelp.  This is not so on the Handsome Furs work, where we find him restraining himself quite a bit, allowing for the vocals to pull out every ounce of emotion from both his voice and the listener. Clearly the power of his voice is capable of serving as the backbone of an entire album, but probably not as the sole focus of said album.

“I’m Confused,” for instance, relies upon Dan entirely, using his voice to carry the entirety of the song until his guitar work angularly cuts through the background of the song.  It’s an interesting sound, but it fails in the fact that it comes across as if the whole song was just merely a momentary thought; it has no flesh or filling.  This is not what one asks for in such cases.  Sadly, this is the feeling a lot of listeners will be left with when listening to this album all the way through, time and time again.  There are moments when you can’t help but to be taken aback by the songs, but other moments exist when you might ask for a bit of density to the songs, a little exaggeration if you will.

You’ll come to the end finding that you’ve enjoyed the album as a whole, most notably for previously mentioned tracks, but you won’t find yourself dying to listen to it over and over again, only asking yourself questions about whether the band could have done more to fill some of the blank space that stands motionless throughout the album.

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Download: Handsome Furs – Talking Hotel Arbat Blues [MP3]

SXSW Watchlist: Jeremy Jay

jjIn case you didn’t follow our list of best albums of 2008, odds are you missed one of the gems of the year, Jeremy Jay. He’s got a new record slated this Spring off of K Records, and its been kicking around in our heads over here at ATH for the last few weeks. It’s a slow-burner, but as with all Jeremy Jay outings, it reveals more each listen.

This time out, he’s got a bit more of a step to his tunes, which is sure to delight audiences, as his unique stage dancing is one of the many reasons he’s so endearing. His understated speak-sing delivery is reminiscent of Calvin Johnson. His reliance upon classic R&B musical stylings, is more than just a throwback, as no one seems to do it with more passion. Simply put, its this passion and classic tinged tuneage that makes Jeremy Jay worthy of your time during SXSW.

He’ll be playing Wednesday, March 18th at the Beauty Bar at 1 AM.

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Download: Jeremy Jay – Slow Dance [MP3]

Tim Barry @ Emos (3/10)

tim Frontman for punkers Avail, Tim Barry, is making his way to Austin this Tuesday night.  He’ll be doing his folkier side of things, but that won’t make it any less punk rock, as those who caught his set at Fun Fun Fun Fest can attest.  His charm will win you over in a minute, and his songs will win you over the next.  Also on the bill is Austin Lucas, who made waves earlier this year with his joint venture with Chuck Ragan. The show is at Emos, with tickets costing a recession proof $8.  Doors are at 8 PM and show starts at 10 Pm.

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Download: Tim Barry – Texas Cops [MP3]

Cursive – Mama I’m Swollen

cursive

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Tim Kasher has always been a voice living on the darker side of lyrical content, filling his words with his own animosity, with the subject often turning to his own reflection.  Aptly titled, the new Cursive album, Mama I’m Swollen, is another album based on his own self-reflection, and, well, deprecation.

It takes a few seconds of ambient noise, thirty-four to be exact, before Cursive burst in with a fever known to most fans of the band.  The guitars cut through your ears with the sharpness of a polished knife, as Kasher sings ” don’t want to live in the now/don’t want to know what I know.” The sentiment seems to be that the man, himself, is unhappy with the way things have turned out.  Regardless, the ferocity of this song is a welcome opener.

Skip right ahead to the obvious single, “From the Hips,” which starts the opening minute with a gentle pace, pushed along by the guitar; its reminiscent of The Good Life, Kasher’s other focal point for musical expression.  That is until the drums kick in, carrying the song forward, with the remainder of the song revolving around the drums and Tim’s remarkable voice.  Happy Hollow horns close the song, a wonderful second track.

Then we find the angular guitar work of the band echoing in the dense hollows of the next few songs, as the sounds seems to bounce off your ears, just as Kasher’s voice rises and falls with that dark edge that only he can wield with such perfection.  It’s clear that he’s borrowed a bit from his other musical outing, but the darkness associated with Cursive albums clearly shines through the familiar elements. By this point, your four tracks into the latest musical excursion.

“Caveman” brings in a newer element to the fold, as it seems like a barroom stomper, filled out with the accompaniment of horns.  Here we find a man that seems content with where he’s at in his life.  On top of that, its clear by this point, the middle of the album, that Tim’s voice is back; its probably never sounded as strong as it does here. But, the sentiment is contradicted by the following song, as the gentle statement of “we’re going to hell, we’re going to hell” rings in listeners ears.  Lyrical content aside, this is one of the most beautiful songs on the albums, one where we once again see the passion of our pained hero.

From here on out, the fierceness of the songs diminishes, but there is clearly a brighter side to things.  Each of the following songs has a new attitude in the songwriting process.  While still holding tight to the stylistic leanings that put Saddle Creek Records on the map, there’s a new sense of clarity to the songs, as they seem less dense than previous efforts, which has made way for some of the stronger songs this side of the Cursive catalog.

Closing out the album is “What Have I Done.” Here, you find one of the better lyrics of the album, if not, the year, as Kasher sings “I spent the best years of my life, waiting on the best years of my life.”  It seems as if he’s looking back upon his whole life, or career, with a sense of regret, which is unfortunate, as this sets of songs are some of his best yet.  When he asks the audience “what have I done,” our response to Tim should be that he’s put together a complete album, full of masterful songs, including the grandiose closing statement at the end.  You’ve done great Tim.

FT5: Gay Dudes That Rock

0306top5coverHomosexuality may not always be the easiest subject matter to broach, but it’s one that people often turn away from when discussing homosexuality in modern rock n’ roll. However, some of the greatest inspirations for modern music all have their gentle touch. So in honor of these brave souls, who bared it all, we give you our Top 5 Gay Dudes That Rock.

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Quiet Company CD Release @ Mohawk (3/6)

3-6-09_cdrelease_poster-01-01Another local band worthy of your attention, Quiet Company, will be celebrating the release of their new LP Everyone You Love Will be Happy Soon at The Mohawk Friday evening.  Joining the band for the the show are two other up and coming Austin acts Jets Under Fire & The Rocket Boys.  Doors for this show open up at 9pm.  As a bonus, Juno Award nominated band Plants and Animals will be playing the inside stage after Quiet Company wrap things up outside.

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Download: Quiet Company – Seal My Fate [MP3]

Soundtrack Of Our Lives – Communion

tsool2009

Rating: ★★★ · ·

The 24 songs that make up Communion, the sixth LP (a double album) by stalwart Swedish throwback rockers The Soundtrack Of Our Lives (TSOOL), clock in at more than an hour-and-a-half. In theory, (and given the immediacy of modern acquiring and listening habits), the very notion of the double album is not only outdated, but a pompous statement of intent.

While there seems no discernible concept running through Communion that facilitates its length, it’s no small feat that the album coalesces as a whole. More than that, its songs offer enough surprises – and subtlety – to not just invite the listener, but warrant repeated exploration.

Splitting the difference between raucous Who-style garage jams (“Universal Stalker,” “Distorted Child”), and melodic Kinks and Sgt. Peppers-influenced songs (“Thrill Me,” “Pictures of Youth,” “Flipside”), Communion manages to maintain an identity of its own without too egregiously displaying its influences. At times TSOOL can sound a little too close to current bands mining the same rock history territory, (“Babel On” and “RA 88” are dead ringers for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and the nod to their friends in Oasis – or The Bees (adept in their own right at delving fully into the past – is evident on “Flipside.”

But despite its pomp, and the debts it owes, the distortion-soaked “Saturation,” and the delicate “Pineal Gland Hotel” and “Without Warning,” among others, show moments of clear, singular beauty. With an album this long there are bound to be throwaways, but rather than focusing on the occasional missteps, Communion is a rare treat: an album that warrants a start-to-finish listen, no matter how long the trip.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/the-soundtrack-of-our-lives-flipside.mp3]

Download: The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Flipside [MP3]

SXSW Watchlist: Kevin Devine

kdevineLong ago Kevin Devine was just your average singer/songwriter, coasting along on the coattails of pop-punk, although it was clearly that he never really fit in musically. His early shows were intimate affairs, as witnessed by last year’s performance at SXSW where the entire audience sat down to watch him intricately pick at his guitar. Still, there’s plenty of passion in his voice.

Kevin has a knack for writing careful lyrics combined with his innate understanding of melodies. He matches it all with his fervor and personality, as his stage banter makes it easy to fall in love with the man singing on stage. This year, he’ll be bringing his God Damn Band in tow to fill out the sounds for his upcoming release Brother’s Blood.

He’ll be playing at the Radio Room Patio on Wednesday, March 18th at 11:oo PM.

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Download: Kevin Devine – I Could Be with Anyone [MP3]

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