The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave

The_Twilight_Sad_-_Nobody_Wants_to_Be_Here_and_Nobody_Wants_to_LeaveRating: ★★★★☆

The last we heard from Scottish indie rockers, The Twilight Sad, was No One Can Ever Know, back in 2012. While this was a little bit of a set back for the group that has brought you excellent albums like Forget the Night Ahead, they’ve got their chance once again to add to their growing discography as well as to your listening catalogues. Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, besides being a ridiculously long title for a record, is oddly fitting, describing the feeling of uncomfortable ease that a lot of the tracks touch on in their swirling darkness.

If you’ve never listened to any of this group’s previous works, you ought to know that this band has this powerful darkness that presents itself in various forms. Be it in the accented vocal strength of James Graham, the thick layers of gritty guitars, or the oft-crashing percussion—this band does dark indie-rock very well. The opening three tracks serve as an excellent beginning for The Twilight Sad, each one embarking on a different twist on the pleasant discomfort aforementioned earlier. First track “There’s a Girl in the Corner,” has the band starting slowly, as if to introduce themselves again to you, but there’s still Graham’s vocals spinning you a tale of some figure in the background while electric guitar spirals like smoke around the whole thing, which eventually leads to Graham belting earnestly.

Then you hit superstar track “Last January,” and you become completely enraptured: the slow swirl of the first track has been replaced with a quick paced number, fronted by the simmering drums which beg you to tap along to them. They reach the chorus, and there are these waves of softer synthesizer that just fall gently over the track, melting everything together, producing an audible emission of that feeling of uneasy comfort that’s so addictive to listen to.

Later on you get the deeper set tracks from this band, each number becomes grounded in itself and takes you further down the rabbit hole. While the first tracks really pulled you in, the last tracks hold you under. “Pills I Swallow” is a four-minute exercise in reserved power, with its multi-level vocals and the tinkling of delicate electronic elements. Then “Leave the House,” is the quietest this band gets; this stripped track has Graham’s rich Scottish voice in total control of the ballad before it switches from quiet to loud.

Like earlier records from The Twilight Sad, this one has every inclination of a grower—while there are those immediate tracks that get you first go-round the record player, the band gives you numbers where the energy is embedded and surfaces with further inspection. For their fourth full-length album, this group proves they’ve got more to give you and it happens to be pretty damn good.

Shivery Shakes – Three Waves & A Shake

shivsRating: ★★★★☆

Shivery Shakes are a local outfit consisting of the mergence of two past bands: The Bubbles and International Waters. These four gentlemen released a self titled EP back in 2012 and have been making waves through their live act all over town in which they’ve showed off their fuzzy lo-fi sunshine garage pop. This debut, Three Waves & A Shake, is their first attempt at a full-length release, and its combination of witty lyrics buried under the sheen of shimmery guitars will have you shaking it all day long.

“Recurring Dreams” may be your first introduction to this band, but it’s definitely not a bad place to start your love affair. Immediately, you get a bit of wandering guitar that sounds like it’s waking up as you ease into their sound. Following is some gentle whistling that screams easy-going and then the hazy vocals chime into the mix; they’ve got this slight echo/reverb to them that makes them feel far away and yet right next to you while they engage you in the narrative of the song. Meanwhile, the guitars are wide-awake, and so is the track, but it keeps pulling you further in. Two-thirds of the way through, you get this little break down where the vocals kick out and the band gets to simmer their way back to a boil, layering the instrumentation upon itself again before they launch into final chorus. This an excellent beginning to the record, one which should not only have you hooked, but swooning.

What’s special about this bouncy record is that this group avoids the phenomenon of redundancy that often overtakes albums, such as this, that fall into the genre of fuzzy jangle rock. Until its close, Shivery Shakes keep it fresh and crispy, but not overdone. Take “Strange Houses,” the eighth track on the record, to be an example of the band reinventing their sound to keep you interested. Here, you can hear the Surfer Blood-esque crashing waves of guitars that melt into one riff after another. While this starts as a mellow tune, soon we unearth this uneasy feeling with the band. The song asks, “at the moment I lose it, how will I tell?” prompting a shift from the winding sunset riffs to cutting tangy guitar for a moment of nervous instrumentation before a return to the chill vibes of earlier. It’s the little details like this that make each song stand apart from the other and make you want to spin this record from start to finish.

This album is brimming with sunny jangly pop/rock that makes you want to put on your sunglasses and take a drive with the windows down, seizing full advantage of the lack of fall weather that Austin is benefitting from these days. Hell, wherever you are, put on Three Waves & A Shake and your sunglasses and have a blast dancing with this record and Shivery Shakes. You won’t be sorry you did: music-scout’s honor.


Bear’s Den – Islands

BearsDenIslandsRating: ★★★½☆

Bear’s Den is a three-part band from London that first caught my attention when I saw them open for someone right here in Austin. I was struck by their folksy based indie rock—some of the songs had that immediate tangibility in the live setting that comes with a group with good energy and chemistry. Islands is their debut record, one which has the group giving you ten tracks of this energy into one neat package for your consumption.

The band opens this debut with “Again,” which will immediately catch your attention for its looping banjo, full sounding acoustic guitar and steady drumbeat. This track has a cyclical kind of build to it, each time the band comes back around to the chorus they seem to have gained some steam. The vocals have this hollow yet vastly deep quality to them that intensify with the song as well as the addition of backing vocals to make them emotionally charged. Genre wise, this opener harkens that of folk, rock, and pop all in one, which is the case for the first part of the album.

Track, “Isaac,” takes a different approach than what you’ve heard thus far on Islands, turning to a softer sound that has me reminiscent of some Great Lake Swimmers track. It’s a pleasantly delicate tune, beginning with the plucking of banjo and acoustic guitar and vocals, devoid of any percussion. This song crawls along, the gang vocals combining with the instruments to generate a beauty of a number that finds itself in the lack of a steady beat created by drums. The rhythm comes directly from the expressed elements—it’s simple but also simply moving. Other well-crafted numbers that strike my fancy later on in the album are “When You Break” which has the band building up the suspense all the way through the track to its end. The song has this bubbling undercurrent of an electronic element that you may not even notice until the other elements cut out before the bridge kicks in. This is one of the best numbers on the record, and its got me listening over and over, each time the little nuances of it becoming apparent and appreciated.

While Islands is very easy on the ears, at places, it feels almost too easy. I’m left wanting some tracks that push the boundaries of folksy quiet indie rock, whereas a lot of these fall into the Mumford & Sons pattern of alternating quiet moments of stripped sound with loud twangy jam sessions. Bear’s Den moves beyond this at times, but if that’s your bag, this band does it well. Find a track or two to jam to before you hear it too many times on the radio.



The History of Apple Pie – Feel Something

appsRating: ★★★½☆

If you haven’t heard of London’s The History of Apple Pie, you probably shouldn’t beat yourself up about it, as they only released their debut album, Out of View, last year. The unintentional product of singer Stephanie Minh and guitarist Jerome Watson messing around with a guitar and a computer in a bedroom gave them their start. With an added touch of a drummer they found on the Internet, who magically came along with a bassist and another guitarist, they got their start. Now they’re back a year later to try and expand on their shimmery indie pop with Feel Something. Can they go beyond the glimmer and dole out a sophomore release that hits deep?

They kick things off with “Come Undone,” which has this undercurrent of electric guitar that runs through the whole song—be it in the background as that shiny, clean sound, or in the center of things with a little bit of added twang It’s not a bad first number, but the superstar song that simply steals the show for me is third up on the record, “Keep Wondering,” which is that kind of track that you’ll want to play on repeat all day, and maybe all week. It opens with a sort of preview for the number, as if you’re hearing the band rocking out in the other room, thirty seconds go by and you finally decide to open that closed door and there is the band at their finest, the jangly lead guitar knocking you off your feet with waves of striking sound, reinforced by the tambourine-heavy percussion and the crash of cymbals like waves off fresh ocean spray. If this wasn’t enough, then Minh steps in with her honeyed vocals that seem to float atop the mix with their airy quality. Altogether, this creates an easy listening song that also cuts through with a little rock in that guitar—simply a great track.

There are some other pretty killer songs on this record: I like the little simmering number “Puzzles,” which lets the group sink into a bit more of a sultry number. The guitar on this song has a bit of snarl on it as it loops through the tune, giving the band the most bite possible with their sugary sound. Just when you thought that the track was already a step in a different direction, then it kicks into a whole new level towards the end, capitalizing on the build they’ve made and making this track go from good to great.

Feel Something isn’t really a step in any direction away from The History of Apple Pie’s first album, but in a fair number of instances on this sophomore record, I’m all right with that. I’ve found some number tracks to add to the genre of glossy and sunny jangle pop, and maybe you can too.

Purling Hiss – Weirdon

homepage_large.635a11a9Rating: ★★★★☆

It seems like the genre of weirdo rock and roll is one that’s up-and-coming and is perhaps the trend of the present and the near future. Whether it be twisted in different angles with subgenres like psychedelic, garage rock, or lighter jangly pop, it is all the rage lately to be slightly off kilter and less straight edged. Purling Hiss have been doing this for years, but just how weird is Weirdon?

Turns out its not so freaky and more-so just plain good, albeit those things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. “Forcefield of Solitude” kicks the album off with the squall of some feedback before Purling Hiss lays down some psychedelically gritty guitars and far-away percussion to combine for this almost anthem-esque opening to the song as well as the record. Soon the vocals join the mix and offer some more grit, as Mike Polizze provides his hollow and yet somehow simultaneously engaging pipes. Though immediately striking, the track becomes absolutely swoon-worthy whenever it gets to the chorus, and you just want to sing along with the group…but wait, what’s that you hear? Handclaps? What’s better than handclaps? Nothing.

The first few tracks are a little deceptive, as Weirdon is not all straightedge garage rock either; oddly enough the more eclectic numbers in my opinion are the mellower tunes like “Reptili-A-Genda” and “Running Through My Dreams.” On both of these numbers, the emptier nature of the tracks allow for the guitar parts to stand out as extra twangy and almost sour sounding. “Running Through My Dreams,” makes this work very well for itself, and Polizze steps it down on his vocals, almost whispering you the words in the delicacy of the song. It’s a beautiful number that provides a large contrast between the more jarring and heavier numbers that surround it—solid track placement.

Though airing on the side of a little more straightforward garage rock than weird for the most part, Weirdon is clearly an album with a range; there’s jangle, fuzzy vocals, great cutting guitar licks and a balance and delicate imbalance of all those things. There’s a lot to love here, so get to listening.


The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion

avett__59847_zoomRating: ★★½☆☆

Magpie and the Dandelion is the eighth full length album from the Avett Brothers, a hardworking folk-rock band that has enjoyed considerable popularity since their 2009 major label debut, “I and Love and You”.  Fans of the band will discover another consistent album and a few worthy additions to the band’s live set list.  Those on the fence, however, are unlikely to be won over.

The Avett Brothers make simple, accessible music that always seems effortlessly authentic.  In keeping with their previous efforts, Magpie and the Dandelion is a fairly straightforward and minimalistic album.  Musically, the record holds no real surprises; the Avett Brothers stick to their winning formula: real instruments, sparse arrangements, calm, sincere vocal performances.  

Any band that insists on simplicity to the degree that The Avett Brothers do puts a lot of pressure on their songwriting.  On top of that, The Avett Brothers write very literal, direct lyrics and often repeat them.  I like the idea of The Avett Brothers.  I like their sound, their confidence, their openness.  It’s hard to say a critical word about this band because their message is so earnest and positive, but I’m going to give it a shot.  

The songs, specifically the lyrics, on Magpie and the Dandelion are something of a let-down.  My inner grammar Nazi perked his ears up early and often while listening to the album.  While nodding my head to the first track, “Open Ended Life“, (certainly the catchiest tune on the record) I heard the line: “I was taught to keep an open-ended life and never trap myself in nothing” (apparently this includes the constraints of proper syntax).  Okay, okay, I know that double-negatives, even those as easily avoidable as the one caused by the choice to use the word ‘nothing’ instead of ‘anything’ in this lyric, are accepted colloquialisms and should be forgiven.  It would also be nitpicky of me to get worked up over conflicts of tense, such as the one found in the line, “I lived it but now I’m wanting out,” from “Skin and Bones”.  Where this album loses me, however, is in its constant use of pronouns with vague or missing antecedents e.g. the line: “Apart you’ll see how true it is and how back then it possibly was impossible for you or me to know it,” in “Apart From Me”.  Besides the general clumsiness of the sentence, I’m left with no clue what the word it is supposed to refer to.     

There are sweet sentiments throughout, even bits of wisdom worthy to be hung over many a kitchen sink.  Elsewhere though, the album hits you over the head with lines such as: “When to know what I should for my heart to rest doesn’t meet with the actions I make, I will seek the approval of no one but you in love for the changes I take.”  I can’t begin to parse this statement.  Unfortunately, Magpie and the Dandelion’s ultimate song “The Clearness is Gone” could also serve as its ultimate description.

Despite getting hung up on some of the lyrics, I did manage to enjoy parts of Magpie and the Dandelion.  Although the opening track is ostensibly about packing up and hitting the proverbial road, in many ways this record is all about commitment and responsibility.  Songs such as “Good to You” and “Bring Your Love to Me” reflect the real cares and concerns of songwriters who have become fathers and husbands.  There are some great piano parts on the album, most notably in “Morning Song”, which is at once hopeful and bittersweet.  My favorite song on the album, by a long shot, is “Souls Like the Wheels”.  This is the only live recording on the album, and the song dates back to 2008’s The Second Gleam EP.  The finger-picked guitar here is brilliant, and in contrast to many of the other songs on the record, “Souls Like the Wheels” is effective and emotive.