Check the Latest from The Echocentrics

echoAdrian Quesada has pretty much combined a who’s who of Austin and part-time Austin greats to comprise his latest work as the Echocentrics. Yesterday, as I hope you heard, they unleashed one of the tracks that features Bill Callahan, who we haven’t heard from since about 2014. There’s something about his voice that’s always hit home with me; it’s somewhat forlorn, yet familiar and deep…maybe it’s how I want my voice to be. Anyways, once the production jumps in, the song takes off completely, adding a spirit not always associated with Bill. I particularly enjoy the little guitar part that dances between the 54 second and 1.14 second marks. Echo Hotel is the next project slated for release from the group; it hits on May 20th via Nacional.

Gun Outfit Unleash New Single

gunoutfitJust when you thought you had Gun Outfit pegged, they go and mix things up on you, tossing out a real slow burner as their latest single. Kind of sounds like the post-rock ghost of Bill Callahan, which I won’t be complaining about anytime soon. There’s all sorts of space in the track being filled in and out with guitar noodling and percussive touches to flesh out the number. Their new album, Dream All Over, definitely will be on my list of must buys, but just in case you haven’t been thoroughly convinced, give this one a listen. You can grab the album from Paradise of Bachelors on October 16th.

Did You Hear That New Parquet Courts Track?

parquetYes. You’ve by now heard about the new Parquet Courts song (and LP), but at the risk of redundancy, I’m going to post it too.  One, I really like this song; it’s like the band doing their best Bill Callahan impression…it’s a damn good impression.  Two, the guy that owns their label, What’s Your Rupture, is one of my Top 5 Nicest Dudes in Rock n’ Roll. Seriously. Nicest dude. Good friend. The new LP is called Content Nausea, and might feature some variance on the project’s sound, as we witness the band indulging in influences we might not have noticed early on.  This is probably one of my favorite tracks of the week; the rest of the album is out December 2nd.

Sonny Smith – One Act Plays

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Sonny Smith is most well-known, at least in the Interwebs for his work with the Sunsets, but the songwriter also has a few plays under his belt, although they’re probably more apt to be performed in song.  Luckily, the good people over at Secret Seven Records have released One Act Plays, a recording of songs/plays that Sonny recorded back in 2006 for a play called The Dangerous Stranger. 

Musically, it’s sort of what you expect from Sonny Smith, though it’s him stripped down to his bare bones, naked in front of the listener, as a true performer would be.  His voice in these recordings closely resembles Bill Callahan, which is fitting seeing as he’s playing the role of storyteller in these tunes.  But, he’s also got a lot of help from his friends such as Neko Case, Jolie Holland and Mark Eitzel; having all those guests on one record alone makes One Act Plays worthy of your purchase…and listening.

Thematically, Sonny admits to dealing with issues about family and redemption, and he also gives a nod to Sam Shepard.  But, despite the well-developed characters (as much as one can in one act), Smith perhaps should acknowledge the great job he did turning these acts into actual songs, so much so that you can get lost in the songs themselves.  My favorite is probably “The Stick-Up” just because it’s so stripped down, and the I chuckled each time the mention of stage directions comes into play; you don’t often get stage directions turned into actual lyrics.  It’s odd, but in providing musical accompaniment, the characters are humanized, which is precisely what a good playwright would hope to do.  You’ll even find “The Stick-Up (Part Two)” wrapping up the record, in case you feel like Sonny left you without a proper ending. Just remember, “when you shoot somebody, there ain’t no going back.”

Honestly, this isn’t a listening experience for everyone out there.  But, there’s definitely an audience for this, as Stephin Merritt can attest. While I enjoy the music quite a bit, I appreciate the combination of literary elements being thrust into the foreground.  For instance, the dialogue in “The Terrible Truth” brings to life a conversation between two men, who appear to be friends.  It begins in a call-and-response manner, as a dialogue would appear on stage, but there’s a moment when the vocals unite, and it’s such an emotional moment that your body can’t help but tingle just a bit; then it ends.  Like much of the songs, they’re all a separate entity or chapter, but they fit together, united by theme and song.  Only Sonny Smith seems capable of doing such a thing.  Find one song to love, or love them all, but if you love the theatre and you love music, then pick yourself up a copy of One Act Plays.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/01-The-Stick-Up.mp3]

Download:Sonny Smith – The Stick-Up [MP3]

You can order the LP directly from Secret Seven Records.

Top 15 Texas Albums of 2011

Oh man, is 2011 over already?  It is indeed, which means End of Year list time!  Of course, that means it’s time for you to tell us where we went wrong, but on this list, we’re thinking we got it pretty right on.  You’ll notice we expanded our list to a Top 15 of Texas Artists, as we thought our state did a great job, musically (not politically) speaking this year.  I’ll admit, it might be a little Austin-centric, but we’re based in the town, so get the Austin word a lot faster.  Apologies to Houston and San Antonio, as your scenes weren’t represented, but it’s nothing personal.  Feel free to leave us a comment to yell at us or tell us we were right on.  But, that being said, remember this is just the OPINION of a few dudes keeping it real in Austin.

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Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Our knowledge of Eric Bachmann predominantly resides in his roll as the main man in Archers of Loaf, but as years have gone by, Eric’s crafted some beautiful records.  Some have been under his own name, but most have come via the Crooked Fingers moniker, and Breaks in the Armor might just be his best non-AoL record yet.

Bachmann has this greatly affecting voice, and it’s this voice that carries album opener, “Typhoon.”  Musically, the song has this dark trickling guitar line, which fits the vocal nicely, as Eric’s voice has this deep wooded quality to it.  By the time we move into the second track, “Bad Blood,” you get two things that Breaks in the Armor is really all about, Backmann’s storytelling, and this sort of alt-country, middling between mellow rocker and Americana.

But, while those elements definitely earn their keep throughout the entirety of this record, there are quieter moments for which I’ve always appreciated Eric’s solo work, especially with Crooked Fingers.  “The Hatchet” is little more than a slow-picked ballad, with Bachmann doing his best to yank at your emotions through the power of his voice.  It’s similar to Merge Records label-mate Richard Buckner, using little more than the vocal to evoke maximum emotion. “Heavy Hours” also lives in this same vein, although you’ll find a bit more of a lush arrangement helping to carry the harmony along, not to mention the help of Liz Durrett on backing duties. For some reason, this track sounds a whole lot like Bill Callahan, not that there’s really any need for comparisons, since Mr. B has been around for so long–perhaps it should go the other way!  If you’re not sure which side to take, listen to “Our New Favorite,” the album closer, before you make up your own mind.

One of the best things on Breaks in the Armor, aside from the emotional storytelling, are those semi-rockers that pop up here and there. “The Counterfeiter” is a gem of a track, and it picks up a rolling movement from the get-go.  In the end, Eric belts his way in and out of the chorus, but in doing so with Durrett (again) he maximizes the song’s emotive quality.  He even has a bit of fun, throwing a little “whoo” in the middle of the track.  These little flourishes have been present throughout the Crooked Fingers period, but it’s the lush arrangements that accompany songs like “Your Apocalypse” that really show the growth  in Bachmann’s writing and recording.

The release date of this record seems perfect, as fall begins to creep into our lives, bringing cooler weather and darker days. Breaks in the Armor is filled with introspective stories, allowing you to search on your own during those days when the rain keeps you inside.  For a man with such a rich musical history, Bachmann’s work with Crooked Fingers only seems to be improving with each continued release.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Crooked-Fingers-Typhoon.mp3]

Download: Crooked Fingers – Typhoon [MP3]

New Music from Richard Buckner

I’ve always really enjoyed the work of Richard Buckner, quietly loving his music in my bedroom for countless hours.  We haven’t heard from his since Meadows, which quickly burned out in my CD player, but now Merge is announcing his newest release, Our Blood, which will hit stores August 2nd. If you like things like Bill Callahan, you’re going to love listening to Buckner.  His vocals have such great quality and emotion that he could probably sing without music and I’d be just as enthralled with the idea of a new release as I am with the music attached.   This is going to be something truly special, I can feel it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/traitor.mp3]

Download: Richard Buckner – Traitor [MP3]

New Track from Sarabeth Tucek

I’ll admit it, we probably don’t do the best job of promoting female musicians as much as we should around these parts. But, something about Sarabeth Tucek caught me today, perhaps it was the simplicity of her offering.  There’s just a gentle guitar that meanders throughout, and then there’s just the vocal that goes atop it all.  Something in the way Tucek sings is awfully reminiscent of one Hope Sandoval, but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking. Regardless, she’s got a striking voice, and you can hear more from Sarabeth when her album, Get Well Soon, hits stores on May 24th.  Sometimes you just need a little love from the ladies. Oh, and apparently she sang with Bill Callahan on Smog‘s Supper back in the day.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/sarabethtucek_getwellsoon.mp3]

Download: Sarabeth Tucek – Get Well Soon [MP3]

More Shows For Monday

It’s been a crazy couple of days for shows in Austin, and Monday is no different.  You won’t get the huge amount of options like you did on Friday/Saturday, but you still will have your pick of three better than average shows.  So if you’re looking for some sweet music to check out on a Monday night in Austin, follow the jump to see where we think you should be.  Follow the jump.

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Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Listening to a record from Bill Callahan can often be a daunting affair for all, as his songwriting is superb, but often overshadowed in his work by his abilities as a wordsmith.  Once you indulge in Apocalypse, it’s definitely going to be difficult to find your way out, which is precisely what makes this one of Bill’s strongest releases to date.

Kicking off the album is “Drover” and the lyric “the real people went away/I’ll find a better way someday.”  If you’re looking to unravel Bill’s meaning, especially in regards to the themes within, you’ll probably begin to think Callahan is trying to reclaim America for himself, for his types.  It’s such a beautiful idea, expressing hope amidst a country that’s possibly in decline.  Toss this in with the strumming of the guitar, the occasional string flourishes and light percussion, and surely you will recognize what a strong track this is.

“America!” doesn’t stray too far from this theme, though the discussion seems to reflect upon the great exports of our world from a man missing his homeland, though when referencing someone like David Letterman, it’s difficult to see how seriously we should take the lyrics.  The song itself uses sort of a carnivalesque stomp and some cascading guitar solos to move everything along, all the way to cacophonous end.  It’s odd, as it leads right into the softer “Universal Applicant,” a track that utilizes a hint of flute beneath a shaker of sorts, yet this isn’t the entire story of the track.  A light-hearted guitar chord takes over a few minutes in, with some extremely minimal drumming, providing the track with a bit of an emotional boost, while Callahan sort of walks his lyrics through the rest of the number.

After so many spins, it’s hard not to fall in the love with the latter-half of this album, one of the strongest statements of Bill’s career, in one man’s mind.  “Riding for the Feeling” sort of hovers over the guitar work, clinging to gentle stringing and some careful arrangements that bring the story of Bill’s world in the Apocalypse to life.  It’s pointless to influence you with thoughts on emotional meaning, as each listener will surely bring their own interpretation to the table, but regardless, you’ll want to play this song again and again. Then skip ahead to “One Fine Morning,” nearly 9 minutes of Bill Callahan writing at his best.  Heading out on his journey, Bill seems to be looking over the landscape of America just as much as he’s looking back over his life.  Amidst the quiet dance of guitar strumming and piano, he seems to realize that he, like us all, has to confront “the hardest part,” hoping that when it all comes to an end, there will be a little sun left on the horizon.  It wraps up a wonderful album, by wrapping up a wonderful track.

“One Fine Morning” serves as the final statement here on Apocalypse, and while the record might slowly fade into the background, you’ll reach over and immediately play it all over again.  Slower pacing seems to suit Bill Callahan, his voice especially, allowing him to give us an honest account of his thoughts in a way only he can pull off.  Nothing more needs to be said; it’s just an endearing listen from start to finish.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Bill-Callahan-Babys-Breath.mp3]

Download: Bill Callahan – Baby’s Breath [MP3]

Apocalypse is out on Drag City on 4/5.

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