Dark Blue Offer New Tune

ceremonyWhen I first heard this track from Dark Blue, I had to go back and re-read the information I had on the group.  I knew it was a super-group of sorts, so I immediately thought of Calvin Johnson; it’s not Calvin though.  It’s actually just a bunch of rad dudes from rad bands like Ceremony, Paint It Black, Strand of Oaks and some others.  The lyrical delivery sort of sounds like David Gedge wrote the lyrics and gave the band instructions on how to sing, although the music has it’s own power altogether.  There’s distorting guitars shooting off and simple rhythmic pounding.  If you like any of the nonsense I name checked here, then pick up the group’s album, Pure Reality, via Jade Tree on October 7th.

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Crystal Stilts – Nature Noir

crystal-stilts-lpRating: ★★★☆☆

Having loyally followed Crystal Stilts since their inception, listening to Nature Noir has been sort of a personal issue over the last few weeks.  At times, I’m completely in love, seeing some of the group’s best work come to fruition, yet other times, I get stuck in the muddier down-trodden sounds, inevitably giving the album a rest.  Is it good? Yes. Is it great? Eh. Decide for yourself.

Each time I go through the first few tracks I’m not sure which side of the road I’ll end up on.  “Spirit in Front of Me” has some great moments, with Brad Hargett’s deeply down-trodden vocals winning me over, but there’s this snaking horn that weaves in and out of the tune. And there’s “Star Crawl,” which features this great guitar sound, but there’s no real pace to the song; it sort of staggers in place, even with its nod to psych breakdowns.  And then Nature Noir really begins to take off, for me anyways.

“Future Folklore” definitely takes cues from the world’s obsession with psychedelia, though they spin it in their own light, adding a pounding rhythm that really propels the song.  Hargett has the perfect voice for this sort of tune, coated in this smoky sensation that lays the band alongside various contemporaries.  It’s nestled right up to my favorite tune from the group to date, “Sticks and Stones.”  You’ll find a kinder, gentler voice here, playing perfectly in step with this great guitar line that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a number of indiepop releases.  If there were 9 more songs just like this, I’d easily proclaim this as my favorite LP of the year.

And there are definitely tunes that have a new feeling to them, though it’s definitely rooted in the sound Crystal Stilts have come to create.  On “Worlds Gone Weird” I feel like they’re channeling Calvin Johnson whilst adhering to their own aesthetic.  It’s songs like this with Brad’s vocals clearer than they’ve been that definitely make the latter part of Nature Noir worthy of repeated listens.  I mean, if you can listen to “Nature Noir” and not find pure enjoyment out of the desert guitar sound juxtaposed with Hargett’s vocals then you’re a better listener than I.  Ultimately, it all comes to a close with “Phases Forever,” and despite the overbearing atmospheric hum atop the song, I’ve grown to quite enjoy the tune.  There’s an acoustic guitar at work, accompanied by the occasional string arrangement (which is part of that hum!) that really highlights the band’s growth.  I feel like this is the perfect statement to wrap up the entirety of this album.

As I reflect upon the countless spins I’ve given Nature Noir, I begin to appreciate more of it than I initially thought.  Sure, the first few tracks are probably my least favorite on the latest Crystal Stilts release, but I can’t hide from the fact that you’ll hear some incredible pieces within the confines of this record.  I wouldn’t blame a soul if they loved this record, but I’ll have to settle for just liking it.

Kicking Track from Foxygen

Seems like every band coming out right now has a tendency to make a nod to the past, but that being said, I still find all the new twists on the old sound quite interesting.  Foxygen is the newest signing by our friends over at Jagjaguwar, and I’m really enjoying the duo’s hip old school sound.  Some people are tossing around the Kinks, but I sort of see it as a melding of Calvin Johnson and the past.  There’s definitely flourishes that surpass the tendencies of classic rock, which allows the band to remain progressive whilst still paying homage to their forefathers. Enjoy this little jam, and pick up Take the Kids Off Broadway on July 24th.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Foxygen-Make-It-Known.mp3]

Download:Foxygen – Make It Known [MP3]

Introducing You to Velcro!

When we hung out with Twerps the other night, their bosses so to speak, Chapter Music, suggested we get to familiarize ourselves with Velcro, the next big thing to come out of Australia.  The Melbourne group has released two EPs already this year, with my favorite being the first, Highest View.  There’s elements of bedroom electronic pop that they experiment with (fleshed out on their later EP Inadequate Lover) on the track featured below, but I like the innocence the song takes on in its simplicity; it gives you that endearing emotional appeal that a lot of bands seem to short for nowadays.  The rest of their brief catalogue sounds a bit like a Calvin Johnson meeting Diamond Rings in a sunny place.  Familiarize yourself with the band by checking out their BANDCAMP page (free EPs!!!), and then keep an eye out for more great things from the group.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Curfew.mp3]

Download:Velcro – Curfew [MP3]

Jeremy Jay – Splash

Rating: ★★★★☆

2010 is going to be a busy year for Jeremy Jay.  His first album of the year, Splash, is just being released, while there is another album slated for release later in the year, not to mention his work on the movie Belle Epine.  Will all the work distract his natural knack for writing amazingly introspective pop numbers?  By the sounds of this album, Jeremy is still going strong, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

JJ begins the album with “As You Look Over the City,” which one can assume is his own personal narrative about his recent move to London, demonstrating his ability to approach the subject matter from third-person.  His guitar never seems over-bearing, and the accompaniment by his band always seems perfectly fitting to his deep croon.

While many will accuse Jeremy of staying in the same vein as his last two albums, there are definitely differences.  Point of evidence one: “It Happened Before Our Time.”  This is the first time he’s really messing with his vocal delivery, changing the pitch and the tone, both going a long way to evoke the mood of the song.  When his voice lightly echos in the background of the song, you can tell that he’s really pushing the boundaries of what he can do.  Then you have the second piece of evidence, ” Splash,” which has a quicker paced guitar line, sort of reminiscent of a more nostalgic version of The Thermals.  All the while his voice lands quietly atop his music, as it always seems to do.

One of the best things about Jeremy Jay is that while he sounds so familiar, he definitely has a taste all his own.  You can see his constant form of wondering, especially in the way that he writes his lyrics.  Take, for example, “Someday Somewhere,” where the chorus itself evokes that sense of search, or that sense of longing for something. He’s often in his own world, dancing around, using that speak-sing approach that was made known by his mentor of sorts, Calvin Johnson.  You combine that approach with his lyrics and you are left wondering, but in an involved sort of way, as listeners should be.

Everything about Splash really does sound familiar, but as the album takes a turn near the end, starting with “Why is This Feeling So Strong,” you get the feeling that Jeremy Jay is about to make his move; at times it almost feels as if he’s about to let loose a power chord to just blow you away, yet as always, he refrains.   He’s got one more album coming out this year, and the way he’s pushing his sound, who knows exactly where that record will end up, but we can only hope that he continues to put out consistently enjoyable collections of songs such as this.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/01-As-You-Look-Over-The-City.mp3]

Download: Jeremy Jay – As You Look Over The City [MP3]

Pants Yell! – Received Pronunciation

pantsyell-received

Rating: ★★★★☆

Amidst the world of lo-fi stands one Slumberland Records band who is willing to go against the grain.   Ladies and gentleman we present to you, Pants Yell!. Well, we don’t actually present them to you, as Received Pronunciation is the group’s third proper release.  Still, after being all over the SR catalogue this year, and I assure you, we’re still into it, we now have a new record to fall in love with as the year draws to an end.

You see, when opening track “Frank and Sandy” comes through your speaker, you’re not sure what you were expecting, but you most assuredly weren’t awaiting the haphazard delivery of the lyrics, let alone the song itself.  It just seems to sort of traipse along, ever really reaching any sort of climax.  Such restraint, however, is actually refreshing.

You can find much clarity and precision on every single song that plays through this album.  If you added heavy string arrangements, and perhaps a few more witticisms you might call this a Belle and Sebastian record.  Still, that is lazy journalism, but if I told you that they sound like a much more confident Oh No! Oh My! you would probably be a little confused.  More so, there is a particular youthfulness in this that B&S have moved beyond, perhaps even a little naivete, but such innocence, especially in the banality of the lyrics really makes the listening experience one of the most enjoyable of the last several months.  Take the humorous “Spider,” which seems like an elementary student channeling Calvin Johnson.

This album just continually seems to give back to the listener, each song seemingly a touch different then the last, while consistently staying in the same place.  Take “Someone Loves You” versus “Not Wrong,” two songs that have similarity in song structure, but the hurried percussion in the former picks up the tempo, creating a song that sounds nothing like the tune that will follow two tracks later.  And as the album draws near to an end, it all seems so familiar.  Perhaps those who fell in love with Jeremy Jay will find that they can take his promise and craft, hand it over to a set of vibrant like-minded youths, and it will come out like Received Pronunciation.

Everyone is sure to grab ahold of this band, as they are clearly ready to step into a light of their own.  Three albums into their career, and it seems that the group can’t go too wrong.  Let’s cross our fingers that Pants Yell! continue to build upon the talent and joy displayed in their latest effort, Received Pronunciation.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/06-Someone-Loves-You.mp3]

Download: Pants Yell! – Someone Loves You [MP3]

From the Closet: Calvin Johnson

beat For those of you into all the newest lo-fi hits of the last few years, there is really one man we need to look towards: Calvin Johnson. The man was the driving force behind the great Beat Happening and also the Halo Benders, which featured Built to Spill frontman Doug Martsch. Clearly, this man’s fingerprints have been all over the musical landscape, and he’s at it again this Saturday night at Emo’s, as he takes the stage with his new outfit Hive Dwellers; former Nation of Ulysses frontman Ian S. will also have his new outfit Chain and the Gang as the show headliners.

So hit up Emos this Saturday night for a definitive good time. Here are some tracks from the closet.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/02-left-behind.mp3] [audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/track08.mp3]

SXSW Watchlist: Jeremy Jay

jjIn case you didn’t follow our list of best albums of 2008, odds are you missed one of the gems of the year, Jeremy Jay. He’s got a new record slated this Spring off of K Records, and its been kicking around in our heads over here at ATH for the last few weeks. It’s a slow-burner, but as with all Jeremy Jay outings, it reveals more each listen.

This time out, he’s got a bit more of a step to his tunes, which is sure to delight audiences, as his unique stage dancing is one of the many reasons he’s so endearing. His understated speak-sing delivery is reminiscent of Calvin Johnson. His reliance upon classic R&B musical stylings, is more than just a throwback, as no one seems to do it with more passion. Simply put, its this passion and classic tinged tuneage that makes Jeremy Jay worthy of your time during SXSW.

He’ll be playing Wednesday, March 18th at the Beauty Bar at 1 AM.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/05-slow-dance.mp3]

Download: Jeremy Jay – Slow Dance [MP3]

Vivian Girls – s/t

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Everyone seems keen on the Vivian Girls lately; you’ll find their name on every independent blog or web site across the world.  Despite their recent rise to glory, it’s completely clear that the girls have a great deal of work to do in order to rise all the way to the top.

After a set of 7 inches, and a short run of their self-title debut, the girls have re-released the entire debut; this time on In the Red Records. It’s odd how such a short career has risen sky-high, and one must question whether the downturn in the global market has finally led to inflation in the minds of indie connoisseurs .

“All the TIme” opens this album, and the earnestness in the song definitely creates a sense of interest for the listener. The soulful female vocals, reminiscent of ancient R&B singers, carries the song amidst waves of sheer noise.  This is about as far as one can go with garnering loads of praise upon the band; their efforts here fail in regards to the critical praise they have recently achieved.

Throughout the entire album, the drum work is somewhat shoddy, relying upon the cymbals and pounding snare work, which harks back to the more straightforward punk sounds that came out of New York in the eighties.  For some reason, the drums lack the proper clarity in the final mix, which destroys their overall effect, almost rendering them the label of juvenile.

Every song seems to follow in the footsteps of the first track, playing upon the the female harmonies.  Momentarily, one might be distracted from the walls of noise and feedback at first, but as the album continues to push forward with the varying levels of sonic noise it appears as if Vivian Girls are trying to hide their capabilities behind such noise, disguising their talent from the ears of listeners.

No one seems to be linking the girls to the fame and popularity of Beat Happening.  Sure, Calvin  Johnson carried the band for years, but just go back to the album Jamboree and listen to Heather Lewis sing on “In Between” and you will clearly see that the Vivian Girls have quietly lifted their style from everything in that song.  The only difference is that they surround the pop elements with unnecessary noise.  Clearly, they have work to do if they want to achieve the longevity of Calvin’s low-fi pop genius.

Listening to this album is something that one should do with skepticism.  All the hype in the world just doesn’t come through your speakers the way that you want it to do.  You can’t blame the Vivian Girls for this, for it’s clear that they didn’t rise to fame without merit.  There are elements of enjoyment here, along with promise, but the punch in the face you all hoped for doesn’t come through in the end.