Show Review: Conor Oberst @ Stubbs (9/20)

IMG_2947-2Conor Oberst takes a moment to stop in and say hello to his Austin fans and the reception and crowd participation (though, maybe not encouraged) screamed at me something I’ve been denying from my first intimate moments with his music in a dark bedroom on a lonely, suburban street; Conor Oberst is a household name. No, he is not on the front cover of EW from time to time promoting himself.  Yes, he still thinks of himself as an independent musician, pumping his heart through his quill with only the purely artistic need to express himself and his feelings.  Maybe, though, after so much time, twenty-one years, of painting musical landscapes in which his poetry can frolic, we have all chosen him as a member of our family.  Follow the jump for more.

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Show Preview: Desaparecidos @ Mohawk (10/30)

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Date Wednesday, October 30th
Location Mohawk
Doors 6:30
Tickets $25 from Mohawk


I don’t understand why this show hasn’t sold out yet, so be warned, you better grab the last remaining tickets as soon as you can.  Desaparecidos rose to prominence long ago, as singer Conor Oberst star also began to rise nationally.  But, as soon as they rose, they disappeared, much like their name would imply…many of their fans were never able to catch the act live.  Now’s your chance, and if you needed more convincing, just check out the openers.  I’ve not got too much info on Purple, but I’ve loved everything that’s come our way from The So-So Glos. They’ve won over fans on their brief stops through town, and they’ll definitely be an important part of what I can only expect is an incredible evening.  Cheers to Transmission for bringing them all to Austin.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/06-The-Happiest-Place-On-Earth.mp3]

Download: Desaparecidos – The Happiest Place On Earth [MP3]

Mellow Tune from Flower Orgy

FlowerOrgy_Press2_webFlower Orgy wasn’t a band that was on my radar until I heard this new track they released to preview their upcoming 7″.  My first listen really reminds me of that intimate quality that Conor Oberst had as a bright-eyed young kid.  There’s light brushes of piano playing behind a quietly strummed guitar.  This is definitely a song that I can see myself listening to for some time, which makes me excited to meet the work of Nate Luce and Flower Orgy. The new 7″ will be available on May 14th.

Liam the Younger – After the Graveyard

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Liam the Younger is the project of Liam Betson, a man who’s spent some time playing with his friends, Titus Andronicus.  But, that’s about all he shares, or at least his music shares, with his friends, as After the Graveyard is a stripped down affair of bedroom folk tunes.  It’s just now being released by Underwater Peoples, after being stored away for the perfect day.

One of the first things you’ll notice when listening to opener “Current Joys” is that there’s definitely a minimal recording quality with the album, but I promise that won’t detract from the listening experience–not one bit. There’s a familiarity in Betson’s voice, which reminds me of Elf Power (in vocals only), but it’s his approach, which includes the recording hiss, is reminiscent of a young Conor Oberst.  If you listen to “Ode to Then,” it’s hard not to see the similarity, as his delivery definitely has that same feeling of nonchalance.  And while indifference might not be the most charming attribute for a human, you can appreciate it in the musical sense, as the songs on After the Graveyard come across as personal introspections.

For the most part, most Liam the Younger songs on this effort don’t go too far beyond the 2 minute mark, which might do a bit of a disservice to the songs themselves.  You barely have time to soak in the special quality of each number before you’re on to the next number, but tread carefully, as there are definitely some real gems. “It Is Good” is one such track, and probably one of my favorite of this entire collection.  It begins with a softly picked jangling guitar, which then moves up a bit to more of a steady strum.  The pace carries on for the rest of the song, finally fading towards the very end.  Find this song, and no matter what, you’ll be pleased Liam sat down to pen any songs at all.

All in all, a great deal of these songs come across as brief demos, as if they’re not fleshed out quite as one would expect.  It’s always great to hear someone having fun recording tracks all on their own, but one is left to wonder what would happen with a bit more time spent with each song, narrowing down the precise elements that really stand out.  Don’t get me wrong, After the Graveyard is absolutely chock-full of such elements, so much so that it’s a bit overwhelming at times, but I’d love to see Liam the Younger go back in time and re-record all these tracks with everything he’s learned. Pretty sure he’d be indie newcomer of the year.  For now, he’ll have to settle on being a musician with loads of talent, who just needs a touch more time.

Liam the Younger – Clear Skies Over Black River

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Once again, Liam Betson is the man behind the recent Liam the Younger releases.  This is his second album under the moniker, finally seeing release (on the same day as the first) after being stored away, then shared with a few friends along the way.  While his association with Titus Andronicus is probably an easy point for critics to point at, there’s definitely something else going on beneath this set of songs, all of which benefit from an expanded length, in comparison to his other release, After the Graveyard.

Anyone can pick at a guitar and crop a tune nowadays, but it takes someone special to really evoke the emotions out of a listener.  Liam the Younger accomplishes this on all his tracks, just like a few others before him.  “Leaving Black River” again recalls both the playing and singing of young Conor Oberst.  You can feel the earnestness in his singing, so much so that he occasionally hits that off note, yet not quite like Oberst’s warble–it’s a little more gentle. Also, there’s hints of a humorless Adam Green on “Country Wide,” which comes across like a haphazard ditty–that is until eventually you fall in love with the track, realizing that Liam Betson might just be the new singer for you.

Adam Green sticks out the most in comparison when you look closely at the lyrical stylings on Clear Skies Over Black River. Take “Walking,” for instance, a song that’s very casual in its composition and seems to merely be recorded thoughts, albeit from different perspectives, of every day happenings.  This is the sort of thing that made Green and his Moldy Peaches so charming, just as it does with Mr. Betson.  Stripped down to guitars, you really just get to listen to the man tell his stories, and everyone loves a nostalgic storytelling moment.

But, don’t let me drown you in comparisons, as this record is so much more than all that.  For one, listen to the whisperingly soft “Beneath the Weeping Willow Tree,” and try to not tell me that this is the sort of song you’ve always been toying with in your bedroom. Or go with Liam on “Clear Skies” as he reminisces about his good day, a la Ice Cube.  These are friends that make you feel close to the artist, allow you to get drawn into his craft; for a lot of us, that’s all we’ve been looking for our whole lives.  Each track on Clear Skies Over Black River is just that, a song you can feel yourself writing, you just didn’t happen to write it, Liam the Younger did.  It’s personal; it’s a musician stark naked with nothing but his guitar; it’s something you’ll want to come back to time and time again.  That’s what great records and songwriters do, and that’s what you have here.

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Having been a long time fan of Bright Eyes, I was really interested to see how his return to the name would go, since I haven’t been overwhelmed, necessarily, by his Conor Oberst output.  For the most part, it’s a return to form, though most people will find that The People’s Key more closely resembles Digital Ash as far as production goes, rather than going the route of lush orchestration that was present on Lifted.

Of course, the album opens with over two minutes of spoken word, which, if you’ve been a fan, is something Conor has almost always used to begin his records, and in doing so, he seems to be stating that while it might have been some time, he’s still treating Bright Eyes as he always has.  Once “Firewall” gets going, you’ll find that his country-twang has dissolved returning him to the more soft-spoken troubadour of old.  And who doesn’t love a bit of Magic Mogis orchestration to accompany his work.

When I first heard “Shell Games,” the piano backbone reminded me of early work on Fevers and Mirrors, except this is definitely a more mature Oberst, one who now should celebrate great control over his voice.  As the song moves along, there’s definitely a more futuristic (read electronic) sound pushing the track.  My favorite line is “I’m still angry with no reason to be,” showing long-time fans that he’s still out there searching for the perfect path, much like the search we’ve all gone upon ourselves. Then to move from a semi-ballad to “Jejune Stars,” well, its a perfect move, while both songs share some sonic similarities, but differences allow for change in perceived mood.  Personally, the stuttering of the guitar lines, not to mention the rise and fall chorus, make this track a stand-out in my mind.

“A Machine Spiritual” opens up with some typical strumming, which slowly retreats into the background of the song as Conor’s voice takes control.  For some reason, his approach on this song, as well as throughout The People’s Key, gives him a sense of rejuvenation, as if he’s gone back to his twenties. He seems gentler somehow, almost more naive, but perhaps this all revolves around his subject matter.  Using bits like “impart to me/your wisdom/and eventually I’ll float into the ether” remind us that one of the great thing about Bright Eyes, past and present, is that he often walks the same path that his listeners seem to take; sometimes we’re all looking at a world we’re not happy with, struggling to find our own meaning, in a world we’re not sure we can necessarily change. It’s this sort of a theme that goes along with “Ladder Song,” that constant pursuit for what it all means, and how we can change it all.  Ultimately, it seems that Oberst realizes we all must live on our own terms, and the song is incredible, if not one of his best.  The fragility in his voice during the chorus, his openness with listeners, and the simplicity of the structure of the song serves as a reminder of just what an incredible writer he is…love him or hate him.

It’s been said that this would be the last Bright Eyes release under the name, and if so, then I’ll admit I’m probably a bit saddened by that thought.  The People’s Key is a reminder of just how amazing Oberst is as a songwriter, and that with his pal Mogis behind production duties, how heartfelt his music can truly be.  If he does manage to leave it all behind, let’s just hope that his new work can somehow manage to encapsulate all the things that make listening to his work great such as spirituality, great lyrics, and a certain nakedness, one that allows us to see ourselves in our favorite musicians. Here’s to that.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/02-Shell-Games-1.mp3]

Download: Bright Eyes – Shell Games [MP3]

FT5: Guys I’d Go Gay For

We’ve dedicated some time in the past to Hot Ladies of Indie Rock, which, well, is totally acceptable for a heterosexual male.  But, one of my homosexual brethren, Marcus, brought to my attention that I need to give some respect to some of the men of indie rock.  So, in discussion with my lady friend, I decided upon the five guys that I would be willing to go gay for, with, of course, the lady’s permission. It might sound a touch ridiculous, but come on, its a fun subject to discuss, albeit, one that will likely not come to fruition.

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ACL Preview: The Many Faces Of Monsters Of Folk

We’re going off the deep end here with a bit of a different look at our next featured artist for our Austin City Limits Festival coverage.  The band is a sort of super-group, made up of renowned musicians in the indie world, and we’ve borrowed some ideas from our great friends over at theManyFacesOf.com.  Hopefully you enjoy this feature, and without further ado, we introduce you to The Many Faces Of Monsters of Folk.  Follow the jump for more.

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FTC: Desaparecidos

In all honestly, I had probably written Desaparecidos off entirely, putting them away for the better part of the rest of my life.  It’s not that I dislike the album, in fact, quite the opposite.  I probably played their own album Read Music/Speak Spanish at least once a day for the better part of two years.  Recently the band made headlines reuniting to protest Arizona immigration, as well as similar policies in their home state of Nebraska.  I busted the record out again, and it fits perfectly with my new attitude of more rock, less electronics.  No one shredded it with such political angst, which still remains relevant today, if you listen closely to the lyrics.  Oh, and they had some dude in their band named Conor Oberst, who doesn’t sound all country, like that guy with the Mystic Valley Band.  This is probably one of the greatest pieces of music to ever come out of Omaha, and that says a lot considering the rich heritage of the town.  Who knows, the way Rick Perry runs this state, maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll reunite to overthrow that Texan dictator.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/06-The-Happiest-Place-On-Earth.mp3]

Download: Desaparecidos – The Happiest Place On Earth [MP3]

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