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John Vanderslice – White Wilderness

Rating: ★★★★ ·

It seems odd that John Vanderslice doesn’t get more praise all over the world.  He’s done great work as a producer, put out some pretty solid records, and collaborated with favorites like John Darnielle.  Yet he never seems to get the credit.   However, on White Wilderness, he should begin to get some recognition, not only for his work with the Magik Magik Orchestra, but as an incredible songwriter as well.

You have to love the fragility in John’s voice from the minute that “Sea Salt” takes off, perfectly matching the quiet piano tinkering in the background of the song.  It might be a subdued opening, but as the string arrangements join, the depth of the song really begins to take off.  But, it’s almost as if John’s an on-looker sitting beside the orchestra, never really letting the strings overwhelm his sound.

“Convict Lake” seems to have a brighter side to it, as the horns and female vocal accompaniment definitely create one of the shiniest moments on White Wilderness.  What will stick out to listeners, however, is how well the lush orchestration fits in perfectly with Vanderslice’s songs.  He breaks into chorus at just the right time, and even lets his voice falter just a bit, evoking strong emotions from listeners. Surely one can appreciate his work as he goes quiet, then loud, then grows quiet, almost to a cool whisper, begging you to listen to his storytelling.

Perhaps for some, though, the album might be a bit tedious to work through.  Orchestrated moments left and right will definitely call a less self-indulgent Sufjan Stevens, but that’s a lot to endure for many listeners.  “The Piano Lesson” is one such song, where everything doesn’t quite fit together, as it has throughout the whole of White Wilderness.  It’s one of the few times where even John’s restraint doesn’t seem to give justice to the song living beneath the Magik Magik Orchestra.  But, bold artistic moves are made to divide us, and perhaps my subjectivity is getting in the way here.

John Vanderslice‘s bread and butter are those songs when he holds the orchestra back, as stated earlier.  “After It Ends,” though one of the shortest numbers on the record, is precisely the type of song that really should render the man a household name for music fans.  His gentle vocals and light guitar strumming provide the listener with the intimate moments we always yearn for from our greatest songwriters.  Even those songs like “Alemany Gap” where there’s light arrangements in the background allow Vanderslice to break on through with his love for melody.  Those enjoying this style of song will also adore “English Vines,” which is perhaps my favorite track of the entire album.  Light strings in the background, a little woodwind action and a softly strummed guitar.

All said and done, White Wilderness is a bold statement by a songwriter who hasn’t really gotten the praise he deserves.  He might have set out on such a large undertaking to finally make his name known.  Every track is worthy of repeated listens, some more so than others.  It’s time we gave John Vanderslice his acclaim because this record shows that he deserves every bit of it, if not more.

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Download: John Vanderslice – Sea Salt [MP3]

New Music From The Luyas

We all know that I love me a great female lead singer and Jessie Stein of Canadian band The Luyas is no different.  She has that subtle approach to her vocals most similar to Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof.  Combine that sweet vocal sound, throw in a catchy little beat and you’ve got this new single from the band “Too Beautiful to Work”.  You can hear this new tune and nine other new songs on the bands upcoming LP Too Beautiful to Work out February 22nd on Dead Oceans.

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Download: The Luyas – Too Beautiful To Work [MP3]

Free Mini LP from Brown Recluse

In preparation for the release of their album, Evening Tapestry, the catchy Brown Recluse have released an aboslutely free mini-LP for you to download, and perhaps hold you over for the time being.  This little release is titled Panoptic Mirror Maze, and I’ve been enjoying this all morning.  They even have a little video to go with one of the tracks, emphasizing that this band is just as hard working as they are enjoyable, which is quite a bit, if you’re asking me.  If this is the kind of music you’re into, then head right over to the band’s Bandcamp Page to grab this for yourself.

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Download: Brown Recluse – Notorious [MP3]

Bill Baird @ Church House Recording Studio (1/29)

Date1/29/11
LocationChurch House Recordings
Doors8pm
Tickets$10 @ Door

We just got word of a very special show going down at Church House Recording Studios on Saturday night in Austin(1161 Nickols Ave. in Austin).  The show features a performance by Sunset leading man Bill Baird playing some of the tunes from his experimental solo album Silence! as well as some new tunes he’s been working on.  Baird will also have a small group of Austin musicians helping out with his performance.  An opening set will be provided by Martin Crane of Brazos.  Below is track “” taken from Baird’s solo work.

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Download: Bill Baird – Cloud Breath [MP3]

New Track from The Feelies

When they first announced that they were reissuing old Feelies LPs on vinyl last year, I think I probably creeped out the people at Waterloo Records a bit much, as I was practically fawning over them.  Now, a whole lotta years later, the band is offering up new tunes for their record Here Before, which will come out on April 12th. This first single definitely has the group sounding a bit older than such classics as “Fa Ce La,” but it certainly brings back a lot of that blending of harmonies with a sense of quirk.  I’m glad the band’s back, as I’m realizing today I missed listening to them more than I knew. You don’t have to go back in time any more; here’s new music from The Feelies.

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Download: The Feelies – Should Be Gone [MP3]

Destroyer – Kaputt

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When thinking about Destroyer, one might envision the older drunkard who mumbles brilliant things under his breath. While Dan Bejar may or may not be drunk when he writes the songs for his albums, it is still obvious that he writes vaguely brilliant songs, often coupled with a variety of different musical accompaniments, which vary depending on the album. On Kaputt, it seems that Mr. Bejar has chosen to go the way of jazz, along with 80’s pop elements that put a new spin on his coded lyrics. 

 At the opening noises of “Chinatown,” it’s possible to think that perhaps you put a different CD into the player, due to the presence of saxophone and tambourine, but when the familiar guitar strumming is heard and Bejar begins his craft, you know you’re in the right place. The smooth jazz beat in the background mixes with voices, creating a hazy fog where Destroyer lives. It’s foggy enough so that you can see everything right away, but clear enough to understand and enjoy. Slowly, that irresistible beat pulls at the muscles in your feet and makes them tap, and you have been hypnotized by Kaputt.

I could go through the list of songs on this album and tell you of the brilliance in each and every single one, but that would spoil the fun for you. I will however tell you that along with this new jazzy sound, there are some other new aspects to the album, such as the presence of feminine vocals. No, Bejar does not climb to falsetto, but rather hires the vocal talent of Sibel Thrasher, who can be heard on almost every track. Whether it is a big part, or a tiny one, she adds another dimension to Destroyer—as if they needed more complexity. On “Kaputt”, she blends in with the lead vocals and disco beats, giving the impression that the narrator is an ambiguous figure, not just one man preaching to you about the delicate intricacies of life. At one point in the song, Bejar remarks that “it all sounds like a dream,” which sums up the lyrics, as well as the smooth music that becomes Kaputt, all swirling around in your head.

With this new spin on his wit, Destroyer’s choice to incorporate a different sound with their classic style contributes to the catalog of albums. It does not hinder the witty lyrics, nor does it take away from the intricacy that the group does so well. Bejar and company continue their path of wowing their audience with their sacred knowledge of changing just enough to keep their style fresh, but not too much where they have become unrecognizable.

If you’ve been a Destroyer fan since their origin in 1995, or this is your first experience with the group, the waves of cryptic lyrics will wash over you, leaving each person with your own spin on the meaning of his words, just like every well written album should.

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Download: Destroyer – Chinatown [MP3]

New Track from Hunx and His Punx

Oh man oh man!  I’m so excited about this new Hunx and His Punx that I can barely wait.  Hunx hasn’t put anything official out since the compilation titled Gay Singles, and really, this is his first official LP.  It’s going to be called Too Young To Be In Love, and so far, it sounds a heck of a lot more like a nice garage swing band, as opposed to the garage pop in singles like “You Don’t Like Rock n’ Roll.”  Seems like you could have a helluva good time just slow-jamming this with your lover.  The record also included some guest spots, namely that of Shannon of Shannon and the Clams, another band I dig quite a bit.  Come on people, get behing the feel good sounds, and buy the album when it hits stores on March 29th via Hardly Art.

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Download: Hunx and His Punx – Lovers Lane [MP3]

Fujiya & Miyagi – Ventriloquizzing

Rating: ★½ · · ·

Fujiya & Miyagi have to be the biggest conundrum in the music world, at least according to my tastes (read: opinion). They make these rhythmically pulsing beats, yet they seem to sort of live on one plane of sound, never really going.  Yet, through the years, people have continuously raved about the group, and now that their latest, Ventriloquizzing, is out, it’s time to take a close look at their work.

This record kicks off as you would expect, “Ventriloquizzing” sort of creating that atmospheric dance vibe fueled by bass work that just grooves and grooves.  But, that’s it, it purely grooves, and doesn’t go much further.  Just because you’re throwing in ambient noises in the background, doesn’t mean the work itself is really going anywhere.  The song, like much of this record, runs in place.

Don’t get me wrong folks, I like a little bit of groove, and I’ve admittedly enjoyed the group when I’ve seen them in the live setting, but it’s hard to really get into the Fujiya & Miyagi recorded material.  For one, when you throw a lyric at me like “you don’t know which side your bread is buttered on” right at me, it’s definitely not going to wow me.  And I know the band has never been one for overly creative lyrical content, but one expects some progression, some step further in the right direction.  It’s becoming increasingly hard to get beyond this point, as they keep throwing things at us like “vanilla, strawberry, knickerbocker glory” from their last effort.

There are some marked improvements that show the band is having a bit of fun with little playful elements like the opening of “Taiwanese Roots.”   But those moments only last for few brief moments, and then you go right back into the same tried and true formulaic approach the band have been utilizing since their inception.  By this point, you would think one would tire of such antics, but the band don’t seem to care.  I have a feeling that it’s all some sort of artistic approach that revolves around a school of thought that, in my mind, remains irrelevant for a reason.  You can give it up to the band, as they are probably tighter than 99.9% of the bands out there, but that’s not going to get me to enjoy their music anymore.

Ventriloquizzing is the fourth LP from the group, and it sounds exactly like all the one’s that came before it.  It’s not necessarily a bad listen, in fact, it’s perfect for the background, most likely at your favorite industrially decorated coffee house.  Still, Fujiya & Miyagi are a band that just tread water when I listen to them.  Lyrically, they never go anywhere, especially with songs like “Minsterone.”  Then, take into account that you could easily put together a best of compilation by this group, remove the lyrics, and everything would sound precisely the same, rendering it one of the worst records of all time.  I guess if you’re looking for a somewhat energetic album to run to while you’re living in an urban environment, then grab this and go.

Show Preview: Hex Dispensers and King Tuff @ Mohawk (1/26)

DateWednesday, Jan 26th
LocationMohawk
Doors900p
TicketsFREE w/ RSVP

Okay, you have to go to this.  First, The Hex Dispensers are one of the great bands in Austin, and I think they’ve been vastly overlooked.  It’s cool, you totally have the chance to make up for it.  Then, you can also catch opening act King Tuff, who’s been around for a bit kicking out the garage-y jams.  He recently put out a record with some friends as Happy Birthday, so if you remember that, you remember it being pretty solid.  And, you want the icing on your cupcake? It’s absolutely FREE, all you have to do is RSVP.  So, to recap, you get awesome tunes, and you don’t have to free. No excuses.  Here’s a track from Happy Birthday to get you in the mood.

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Download: Happy Birthday – Girls FM [MP3]


New Music From Milk Thistle

Austin’s very own Milk Thistle recently release a new EP Dread’s Bloom that we ATH kids have been spinning around our offices.  They’ve got a great driving sound that hits straight in your chest with heavy bass and powerful vocals to boot.  Below you can find my favorite song by the band “Goldin Theng”.  If this one strikes your fancy, you can check out two more songs by Milk Thistle over on their bandcamp page.  I believe the Austin scene is gonna have a great 2011.

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Download: Milke Thistle – Goldin Theng [MP3]

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