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]

Monsters of Folk – s/t

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Rating: ★★½ · ·

Let’s face it, rarely do collaborations with bands you love to death ever truly work out.  Sure, Queen and Bowie pulled off a song, but could they pull off an entire album?  I doubt it.  Now, we’ve been presented with Conor Oberst, M. Ward, and Jim James, along with Mike Mogis, joining together as Monsters of Folk.  Could these boys rise above the hype and fulfill our dreams?

First off, I’m not sure where to begin with Jim James vocals as of late.  Sure, he definitely has a bit of range that I didn’t expect, but it’s not nearly as warm as it once was, especially if you listen to the album opener “Dear God.” He just sort of lost me after Z, so it’s hard to get into his vocals on this album.

Conor Oberst, of late, has let me down.  I once swore by his name, and bought every little bit of music he put his hands on, especially when Mike Mogis was at the helm.  Still, his work with the Mystic Valley Band has taken a turn for something that I just really get behind at all.  You’ll find that a lot of the tunes on this record sort of seem like they branch off of the ideas he’s been throwing at us lately.  “Temazcal” appears to be a left over from his time in Mexico, and it’s one of the stronger tracks on this album, as it features minimal input from the others.  Sorry Conor, but your strengths lie when you leave the band behind you.   I mean I know it’s not about record sales, but have you noticed sales dropping since you did that whole double album thing?

To be frank, M. Ward seems to be the only one here who has sort of won me over lately with Hold Time.  His guitar stylings and delivery are definitely consistent on this album, especially when you look at songs like “Baby Boomer.”  This easily could have been on any of his last few recordings, except when Conor Oberst interjects during sparse moments.  You have to love the warmth of Ward, and the controlled warble of Oberst does provide a decent counter-point.  His trademark sound is all over this album, but since he doesn’t get to give it the full go, it doesn’t quite have the same impact as you think it should.

As you can see, there are obviously great musicians all over this album, which is precisely why there are going to be some pretty decent moments on this album.  You can’t have two great songwriters, and Jim James, put together in a room to come up with just random slop.  But, the album doesn’t really connect the way that you want it to in the end. A lot of the sounds showcase the recent missteps of the various authors, instead of allowing for their individual talents to open up and rise above the group.  For me, it seems as if they are all huddled to close together, not allowing each other the necessary breathing room to push each other as you would hope that they would do.  If they aren’t going to push one another, why not just write songs for each other to share?  I think the outcome there might have been more effective.  In the end, you’ll listen to this record a few times, find your favorite tunes, and then put it away.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/02-say-please.mp3]

Download: Monsters of Folk – Say Please [MP3]

Conor Oberst & the Mystic… – Outer South

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Rating: ★★ · · ·

Conor Oberst has long been able to manage his own evolution as a songwriter.  Since he was a young lad in his hometown of Omaha he has asked for little help outside of Mike Mogis and Andy Lemaster; on Outer South he gives up a fair amount of the writing to various members of his Mystic Valley Band.  Unfortunately, this group of mystics just doesn’t come across nearly as convincing as anything previously released under Conor’s name.

A noticeable difference here is that the acoustic guitar and orchestration that usually accompanies an Oberst outing, even on last year’s self titled album, has always played a significant role in the presentation of song.  Even the spectacular work of Mogis always seemed to raise the guitar to the heavens for all to listen; this round, the full-on band approach that began to evolve on Conor Oberst has fully taken root.

The side effect, not only of allowing others to take part in the songwriting, but the encouragement of the full band sound, aside from the mostly acoustic “Ten Women” or “White Shoes,” makes much of the record seem somewhat disjointed.  The album seems to waver between various songwriters, and the effect makes it difficult to grasp the album as a whole entity.

The good news aside from the lack of cohesiveness is that there are some bright moments on the album that solidify the progress that Conor has made as a musician.  Many a detractor always commented on the warble that existed in his early recordings, especially when you look at Fevers and Mirrors, but that unstable vocal has long since disappeared, making way for a more mature vocal.  His songs benefit from this; “White Shoes,” for example, is probably one of the better songs he has written (furthered by the fact that it seems to be mostly him on guitar).

Perhaps this sort of evolution is completely acceptable, and in fact, it should really be encouraged.  No one wants to listen to the same record being recorded time and time again, so you have to give it to the man for going out into new territory, but in doing so he is bound to alienate various listeners, perhaps even his most diehard fans.  The error with the album, though there are bright spots, is that he has lost his intimacy throughout the recording of this album.  Where he once seemed to speak to you in your bedroom through your speakers, he now shouts at you as the lead speaker for a group of musicians.  Let’s forgive him for now, and hope the intimacy returns.

Outer South is out now on Merge Records.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/09-white-shoes.mp3]

Download: Conor Oberst – White Shoes [MP3]

NPR Streams New Stuff

lytle300NPR is streaming a few new to stores albums and one that isn’t even out yet as part of their Exlcusive First Listen series.  For Starters, they are streaming the new Camera Obscura album, St. Vincent’s latest Actor, and the new Conor Oberst joint.  On top of that, a First Listen for Jason Lytle’s new album Yours Truly, The Commuter, which isn’t our for a week or so, went up a couple days ago.  We gave you first single “Brand New Sun” from Lytle’s new album a while back and we’re really digging the whole thing.  What’s your take?

New Tunes from Conor Oberst

conorConor Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band have a new album, Outer South, coming out soon, and the Internet just keeps popping up with songs for us to listen to prior to the actual release. This new song is titled “Nikorette”, and it’s a lot like the last one, with its usage of full on band. But, if this song piques your interest and you want to listen to the entire album, or preorder the thing, just head on over to Merge Records to listen to the whole streaming album.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/08-nikorette.mp3]

Download: Conor Oberst – Nikorette [MP3]

New Tunes from Conor Oberst

mysticConor Oberst and his Mystic Valley Band are at it again, releasing a new album, Outer South, this May on Merge Records. The first single from the album is titled “Slowly (Oh So Slowly).” Listening to the track, the vocals are really solid, but I’d be remiss not to say that the production seems to favor the full band approach, over the backing band approach used previously. You be the judge.

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

Download: Conor Oberst – Slowly (Oh So Slowly) [MP3]

Albums Of The Year: 30-16

The year of 2008 is winding to a close, so it’s only appropriate that we wrap it up with our year-end albums list. We don’t expect many to necessarily agree with our list, but we worked really hard to make sure we had what we thought were the best thirty albums of the year. These are the records that spun over and over again in our heads and stereos, so this list is dedicated to their longevity in 2008.  We’ve conveniently broken it down into two segments, with albums 30-16 after the jump. Read more

Ben Kweller – How Ya Lookin’ Southbound…

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Long forgotten Texan, Ben Kweller, has finally released some new music, coming our way this time with a tour EP that you can pick up here. No matter where you find it, its good to have new tunes from this guy.

From his first days in Radish, it seems as if Ben has been trying hard to find his own voice. Sometimes it seems to depend on where he’s living, or who he’s hanging with at the time he’s recording. His last album definitely seemed to have a NYC vibe to it. This time, we find him going, dare I say, Ryan Adams. Although, you can definitely feel the influence of the road on this album, it seems almost as if BK has returned to Texas.

“Fight” is a twangy little number, accompanied by some slide-guitar. Of course, the lyrics are every bit Ben Kweller, using clever rhyming couplets a la Conor Oberst. The end half of the song has a definite honky-tonk feel to it as the piano solo courses through the latter half of the song. It’s strange hearing Ben’s voice on this track.

He continues the country-tinged efforts with “Things I Like to Do.” It’s almost exactly like the first song, at least in instrumentation, but this is the first song when you can clearly make the distinction between Ben Kweller and any other alt-country singer. There’s possibly a little too much slide-guitar on this song, but it’s one of the more warming songs on the EP.

“Sawdust Man” is the only song on this album that just doesn’t fit. It’s ridden by a piano throughout, which definitely makes it seem as if he is trying to pull of a little Dr. Dog. There are several moments when his voice clearly struggles to hit its note, which is really disheartening. For some reason, this some just doesn’t come across the way one would hope. We all make mistakes.

He scores a definite winner, however, with “The Biggest Flower.” This song maintains a little bit of that coutnry sensibility that has been driven into this EP, but at the same time, it brings back the pop element that made Ben Kweller so endearing to us all. This is probably one of the more mature songs hes written, which makes it the stand out track on this EP.

The EP is closed off with “Somehow,” another fine tune. One might describe this as a whiskey song. It seems as if the song is full of longing and loneliness, just judging the feel of the vocals. That’s not surprising considering this is an EP written around Ben’s most recent touring scheduling. It’s a fine close to a pretty decent offering from one of our favorite Texans.

And speaking of that touring schedule, Ben Kweller is coming to Austin on November 2nd. You can buy yourself a set of tickets over at Frontagate Tickets.

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