Calexico – Carried to Dust

Rating: ★★★★½

This is the Calexico I know and love. This is the Calexico I fell in love with when I was just a little lad. No offense to those of you who enjoyed the more rock oriented stylings of Garden Ruin from 2006, but I personally found that album mostly boring and too ordinary. No no, give me that band I used to know from the days of The Black Light or Feast of Wire any day. Much to my delight, newest album Carried to Dust shows a return to that missed form. The guys even hark back to the old Mexican themed album covers after the random black bird on the cover of their last album.

The sound I’m talking about is that dusty, old, spaghetti western, Quentin Tarantino movie soundtrack makin’ sound that’s been the staple of Calexico since their very beginnings. When listening to some of the tracks on this album, specifically tracks “El Gatillo” and “Man Made Lake”, can’t you imagine these as a build up to a bloody shoot out? Or our hero riding off into the Mexican sunset? I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

Another huge highlight on this album, and something I can’t remember Calexico pulling off before, is the sweet dueling vocals of “Inspiración”. The song almost seems like a Spanish version of a song that came out earlier this year called “You Want That Picture” featuring Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Ashley Webber. I loved that song and I can’t get over this one either. Maybe I’m a sucker for good male/female blended harmonies.

Then there’s Sam Bean of Iron & Wine.  Sam shows his face later in the album on standout track “House of Valparaiso”.  The song sounds like it could have easily been something left over from the 2005 Calexico/Iron & Wine EP.   Sam Bean’s rusty and worn voice fits perfectly with the intimate feel of this track.   If I had my way, Iron & Wine would merge with Calexico and take over the world.

I can’t really find any holes in the album, maybe besides random filler song “Sarabande In Pencil Form” and a possible throw away in “Writer’s Minor Holiday.”   Calexico can speed things up with the best mariachi bands and then bring you back down with a heart felt serenade. Here’s to hoping for more of the same from Calexico.

Xemumba ’08 Afterthoughts

The Latin music festival known as Xemumba can best be summarized as an audio/visual extravaganza that takes hold of your senses and never lets go. One minute you’re sipping on a beer listening to the latest salsa coming out of Cuba, and then your running upstairs to watch the UT ballet folklorico cuttin’ a rug. Oh and then you have tasty South American treats to munch on, while watching a Spanish documentary made by local film makers. Xemumba even had opportunities to help out less fortunate young hispanic girls in the community. Not impressed yet? After the jump is a quick review of each band we saw on Friday at the festival with photos (Saturday unfortunately was postponed to a later date. We’ll of course let you know when the event is rescheduled). 

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Whitley

This Aussie gentleman, Whitley, has been getting a lot of buzz lately so we thought it’d be a good time to jump on the hype machine.  Some of you may know that he put out an album about a year ago in Australia called The Submarines that received a ton of critical acclaim.  Now we the people of the United States will finally get our hands on this album September 30th.  Catch a preview of the album with “A Shot to the Stars” below.

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

Download: Whitley – A Shot to the Stars [MP3]

Sera Cahoone @ Emo’s Lounge (9/19)

You peoples in the internet world probably know we here at ATH are big fans of Sera Cahoone, so of course we have to let you know when she comes to town.  It also doesn’t hurt when Sera is playing with another great artist in Sam Champion.  Treat yourself to a great evening of live music on Friday night at Emo’s Lounge with Sera Cahoone & Sam Champion.  You can buy tickets to the show right now for only $10.

Free Music From Skybucket

The nice folks at Skybucket Records have a sweet little sampler you can download from their website.  The sampler features tracks from Through the Sparks, Dan Sartain, The Dexateens, and a whole slew of others.  Standout track “Slender Thread” from The Dexateens can be found below for your listening pleasure.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/06-slender-thread.mp3]

Download: The Dexateens – Slender Thread [MP3]

French Kicks Cover Lindsey Buckingham

It’s one thing to cover the Ramones, but entirely different to cover the Shirelles and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, but that is just what the French Kicks are doing.  Fresh off their release of Swimming, their newest album from Vagrant Records, the band is releasing a covers EP.  Here is their cover of “Trouble” by Lindsey Buckingham.

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

Download: French Kicks – Trouble [MP3]

ATX Converge @ Mohawk (9/19)

We just discovered that the White Denim show posted on the Mohawk website is actually a free by RSVP show put on by ATX Converge.  The lineup is pretty dang impressive: White Denim, Black Joe Lewis, Freshmillions and Belaire will all be on hand.  The show isn’t until Friday, but you better RSVP now before the window closes.  Make sure you get in line early since those RSVPs rarely guarantee you get in anything.  Doors are at 8.

Kings of Leon – Only by the Night

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Kings of Leon’s trajectory has been a strange and relatively quick one. Following 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood, they took the sexual swagger out of the garage for the next year’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, which proved that they were in fact more than the “Southern Strokes,” (though both not so secretly harbored arena-rock intentions). Heartbreak, especially songs like “King of the Rodeo” and “Razz,” saw Kings adding nuance and precision to their sound; they became a garage rock band with a an impeccable sense of melody and no pretensions. How could you not like them?

Then something happened. Last April’s Because of the Times saw the band sharpening even tighter their sound, and in the process supplementing their straight-ahead rockers with some out-of-left-field creative rhythms (“McFearless,”) and true-to-form stadium singles like “Black Thumbnail,” (a perfect show opener, which it was for years).  So they were toeing the line, experimenting and staying true, but toeing it well, growing and taking fans along for the journey.

But they seem to have hit a wall on Only By The Night. Rather than coalesce their forward-thinking intentions with four-on-the-floor burners like Aha Shake’s “Four Kicks,” and “The Bucket,” Kings of Leon have fully embraced a sort-of mechanized hybrid of rock: the rhythms are constantly creative thanks to drummer Nathan Followill, but the soul, the danger, the mess – they’ve all been stripped away.

Songs like “Be Somebody,” “17,” and “Revelry” lack any semblance of the tenacity and passion of much simpler, direct songs like “Razz,” or Youth’s “Molly’s Chambers.” On “Be Somebody,” singer Caleb Followill’s optimistic chorus sounds pallid and forced. (Even on Aha Shake’s “Soft,” when he was signing about erectile dysfunction, at least it was heartfelt. At least he was into it, so to speak).

Gone also are the rave-ups like “Spiral Staircase” “Velvet Snow,” “Taper Jean Girl,” “Pistol of Fire,” and “Wasted Time”; taken their place are songs like “Manhattan” and “I Want You” – essentially worn-down Because of the Times sequels (note that rhythmic similarities between “Manhattan” and Times’ “Fans”), and the paint-by-numbers slow-blues exercises of “Cold Desert” and “I Want You,” which, despite its title, has little heart besides a true desire to do something different in the studio.

There are a few wonderful moments on the album, included entirely in the first three songs. Synthesizer-led opener “Closer,” makes a strong case for their pursuit of the ambient, non-traditional rock song, and “Crawl,” despite the somewhat nonsensical lyrics – is it fair to even dissect them? – pounds with the distorted intensity of the Secret Machines song “Sad and Lonely.” Even “Sex on Fire,” retains some of the bounce of Times’ standouts “Ragoo” and “Fans.”

But with the dirt wiped clean and the gears on display, Only By The Night shines in an uncomfortable, affectless way. There is no build, no climax, no sweat, no come down. There’s only the intricate and precise instrumentation of an incredibly well recorded sound that, like their singer’s trademark indiscernible screech/wail, says very little.

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