Okkervil River – The Stand Ins

Rating: ★★★½ ·

First off let me describe my distaste for songs that last under 1 minute running time, used mostly as some artistic statement, or as is the case in most places, useless filler. This album contains three such songs, which gives the fans of Okkervil River only eight new songs.  I don’t blame Okkervil River for their usage of this popular album filler; I just don’t understand it.

By now we’ve all been witness to the opening song, well, the second song–first one with words. “Lost Coastlines” was the first single released by the band, and as usual, it is one of the most immediately gratifying tracks of the album.  It seems to be the style of choice from these Austin heroes, as their albums always open with great strength.

They carry this ambition forward with “Singer Songwriter” and “Starry Stairs;” two of the stronger tracks on this album.  “Starry Stairs” features horn usage during the chorus, which definitely adds to the power of song, much in the way Beulah used the same instruments.  As it carries off into the end of the song, the guitars begin to grow a bit tedious; still, the song garners some interest do to the additional instruments in use.

For me, “Blue Tulip” is probably the least obvious song on the album for listeners, but there is such power in Will’s voice that it reminds you of his vocal meanderings in the early days.  His vocals alone carry the song all the way from start to finish, attracting the listener with every ounce of emotion he has available.  Slowly this song grows into your subconscious.

Then enters the next instrumental track from stage left.  It stops all the momentum the album had built up to this point.  You have to revert back to the previous tracks just to get back in the mood to move forward.  Yet another reason these little pieces should not be used.

“Pop Lie” enters as one of the more upbeat songs the band has written in years, yet it still just doesn’t have the punch of songs like “For Real,” from Black Sheep Boy.  I foresee moments of hand claps during the live show with this song, but it isn’t a winner for me.  “On Tour with Zykos,” is a beautiful song, where Will’s voice meets the piano in the most appropriate manner.  It’s clear that by this point in the band’s career that his voice has matured to extremely high levels–I still long for a little bit of that guttural noise.

“Calling and Not Calling My Ex” is the last song in this section of the album.  A good song, but not a great song.  At this point in the album I felt like more should have come my way as far as listening experiences go.  I know that the band originally intended a double LP, but these three songs fit in to what one can only assume are B-Sides.  They are all good songs, but none of them are great songs by any means, at least not in comparison to the tracks off Stage Names. And then they throw in another one of those instrumental pieces.  Annoyed.

The final song, “Bruce Wayne Campbell…” is a slow-burner, but midway through the song the entire piece picks up the pace.  It’s the perfect ending to this sub-par album.  There is loads of promise throughout the song, but as an entire piece it just doesn’t work.  It’s incomplete.

In summation I suppose that the last song encapsulates my feelings towards this album.  It doesn’t feel complete to me at all. The skeleton on the cover of The Stand Ins surely must be a representation of the skeletal imitations of these songs.  They are so bare bones at times that they lose the beauty that usually accompany the band’s later works.  I won’t say that I hate this album because there is plenty to enjoy, but it won’t get played over and over in my various listening stations until I start to mumble the words in my sleep.

The New Year – The New Year

Rating: ★★★★½

Long ago, in a time far far away, Bedhead graced us with a several albums throughout the nineties; each one revolved around their slow, emotive sound.  Years later, decades in fact, the Kadane brothers carry on with their similar stylings, only with a new moniker; The New Year.

Their third album under the new name, The New Year, carries with it similar sounds.  In fact, a fair assumption would be to assume that the bands are one in the same, despite the absence of several members.  Still, the Kadane brothers have always been the center of this slow-core universe, and they remain so today.

Case in point is the opening track, “Folios.”  For three plus minutes it slowly builds and builds; gentle guitars pick their way through the track, backed by the slightest of drum beats.  By the time the vocals join in the song is near its close, but it leaves you with one of the main thematic statements from this record, as Kadane sings “I don’t think the good years I have left can wait/so what are we staying for.”  It seems to be an album about isolation and moving forward.

The largest change on the album is the skeletal importance of the piano work.  Sure, I’ve seen it before on their previous projects, but here it gives a greater weight to each song in which it uses, and it is used as the sole instrument on “MMV.” It is just one of the many ways The New Year has managed to branch out their sound on this new album.

Interestingly enough, the band doesn’t seem to have too many contemporaries these days, which is perhaps why I find this album so interesting.  There aren’t any elements of folk dancing about, and you’d be hard up to find a dance number here; not to mention the fact that the excess noise in these songs is used merely as a compliment, not as focal point.   They’ve perfected their format, and without the like of American Football and other like-minded bands, The New Year is on top of their game.

For me, their specialty has always been their ability to control the ebbs and flows of their music.  As quickly as they build up the pace and the tension in their songs, they turn around and return it all back to the pleasant pacing of where they began.  Few bands have been able to touch on this balance, always dancing on crescendos, and yet always holding back.  I’m sure one day they will let go, and that one day will be everything you want it to be, but for now, I’m okay with their ability to control it.

The gentle approach of this album carries a lot of power for me as the listener, and for you as well, I hope. It’s the sort of album you want to play in your bedroom when you are all alone, just absorbing yourself in aan album in its entirety.  It lacks pretension, yet each listen unfolds more and more.  Put your headphones on, and get deep into The New Year.

If you are more of the live setting kind of person, rather than headphones, then you should check them out live when they come to Austin on September 20th.  They will be hitting the stage at Emos.

F*cked Up, Twice Born

Everybody has an itch for a little hardcore, and no one is doing it better than F*cked Up.  From their various SXSW shows to their upcoming Matador release, F*cked Up is a band that is sure to garner interest all over the place.  We’re just another group trying to give them our support.  Take a bite out of this!

[audio:http://www.spinner.com/2008/08/29/shearwater-flows-through-the-interface/]

Download: Fucked Up – Twice Born [MP3]

Cory Branan @ Cactus Cafe

One of our favorite new singer songwriter types Cory Branan, will be playing a set at Cactus Cafe tonight (9/4) along with fellow musician Greg Barkley of Oh No Oh My.  The starts up at 8:30 with tickets running you only $7.  Preview the show with “Tall Green Grass” by the man himself, Cory Brenan.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/03-tall-green-grass.mp3]

Download: Cory Branan – Tall Green Grass [MP3]

Danielson

This just in from Secretly Canadian: Expect a whole slew of new things from Daniel Smith and his family band Danielson from here until the holidays.  To start the Danielson party off, we have “Animal in Every Corner” featuring a remix by Kramer.  The track will be found on a retrospective album highlighting the first decade of Mr. Smith’s work entitled Trying Hartz due out this fall.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/animalineverycorner.mp3]

Download: Danielson – Animal in Every Corner [MP3]

Faces on Film – The Troubles

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Somehow this little group from Boston, who is actually just one dude, made its way into my pile of things to listen to.  Unaware of the band, Faces on Film has now won me over, unexpectedly, with their album The Troubles.

“Friends with Both Arms,” opens up the album pleasantly, with Mike Fiore coming across your ears like a more eager Hamilton Leithauser.  The vocal quality is quite similar, at least in that hollow echo aspect; here it sounds more complete than Hamilton.

From here it goes into “I’ll Sleep to Protect You.”  Upon several listens this sounds like a lost Modest Mouse demo that we never got the chance to hear.  It has a little more beauty, which I think keeps the track focused, but it still has that primitive folk sound.

Then we take a short jump onto “Natalie’s Numbers,” which recalls the bedroom folk of Eliott Smith, as far as guitar sound goes, with the vocal tracings of Win Butler.  The chorus is fixed with nonsensical lyrics accompanied by a female vocalists, and although its unexpected at this point, it provides an interesting view to the insight of this song.

“Troubles at Last” is one of those songs that shouldn’t have been included.  Its just studio noise.

“Famous Last Words” carries on with a bit of bounce, but it still appears to maintain that Arcade Fire association, which when prepared isn’t entirely off-setting.  I suppose the majority of this allusion is due to the vocals, all which resemble early AF.  And it’s juxtaposed with a Walkmen meets Modest Mouse echo of a song in “The Winner’s Daughter.”  Although the feeling is similar to that of other songs, it seems out of sorts for some reason, and is probably one of the weaker songs on the album.

The rest of the album follows suit, wearing concert t-shirts of previously mentioned bands, only adding a Dr. Dog reference point near the end with “Medical Mind.”  But just wait until the end because “Indicator, Indicator” is really fantastic.  It is the precise closing moment for this album, letting the listener relax and rest as the album draws to a close.

Despite a lot of obvious references, some too obvious, the album has an enjoyable quality to it, one which gives it some merit.  However, it lacks a bit of pace, and I mean that in the sense of the song, not in the flow of the album.  Each song would benefit from just a bit of pace, but then again, its not my album.  At the end, it ends the way it should, leaving Faces on Film with a few merit badges for their effort and a few more for quality.

You can download the entire album on their Myspace Page.

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