Special Pop Goodness from Electric Guests

You figure that if Danger Mouse can back it, then it has got to have something to it, right? Well, such is the case with the debut record coming out from Electric Guest sometime in the Spring of 2012.  However, in the meantime we can satisfy our craving by picking up their new 7″ on Decmber 13th.  It’s got the track below, which sort of has smooth little feeling to it, like a more floating R&B track.  It’s definitely getting me to tap my toes quite a bit, and hopefully it helps round out your day in a positive light. Can you spot the Danger Mouse touch?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Electric-Guest-American-Daydream.mp3]

Download: Electric Guest – American Daydream [MP3]

The Black Keys – Brothers

Rating: ★★★★☆

Though they may not be related, the relationship between Akron’s Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach is as close a bond as you will find.  When they link up, things just seem to fall into place; even here on their latest, following a 2 year hiatus from ‘The Black Keys’ proper. In the time following the polarizing Attack and Release in 2008, Auerbach has released his critically acclaimed Keep It Hid, Carney released an album with his side project Drummer, and the group collaborated with many high profile rappers for yet another critically acclaimed release 2009’s, BlakRoc.  While some may be lead in different directions following a break or may show signs of rust, The Black Keys engine is running like a finely tuned motor. Their latest Brothers, continues in their latest music trend, to build on their more refined sound, for better or worse.

Brothers is another heavily produced album, but this time it is mostly all self-produced in several sessions. The effect is again clean and polished, proving that they have learned a lot of tricks in 2 years. While (it seems) they desire to keep a ‘broke ass’, stripped down blues-rock anthem, they are discovering new recording methods after working with producer Danger Mouse, who pushed them in the opposite direction. Luckily for the listener, they seem to have struck a balance.  Many listeners will enjoy the latest over-production on the past 2 studio albums, but I for one am always relieved that Dan and Pat continue to tour without the extras.  The question for many will be whether or not they will tour with an additional member, as many tracks here carry bass lines. During SXSW this year, they were still only a duo; so that gives me hope. There’s something romantic about blues music in its simplicity and when surrounded by fancy recording contraptions it’s easy to get carried away. Here, for the most part, it’s back to the roots and these ‘Brothers’ continue to be one of the best touring acts around and continue to grow their brand based on this simple, rare talent.

The album begins with a foray into new vocal territory for Auerbach with ‘Everlasting Light’, as he utilizes a falsetto voice. If the Black Keys are known for one thing, it has become Auerbach’s raspy voice. For most listeners, this opener doesn’t sound like a typical Black Keys song, especially as the entry point into the new material, though it is catchy. However, ‘Next Girl’ is much more traditional for the duo, though after hanging with the likes of Q-Tip and Raekwon, they seem to have picked up a hip hop influence or two, expecting Mos Def to chime in after the first verse and chorus. Similarly, ‘Too Afraid to Love You’ holds the same vibe very effectively. The first single on the album is the lone Danger Mouse produced track, ‘Tighten Up’ and by now, most of you have should have heard it.  No doubt this track is a Danger Mouse special and continues to get better with time. Another new venture for the duo is the instrumental track ‘Black Mud’ with a 60’s vibe pipe organ and heavy feedback.  The frist half of the record is solid, but the duo really hits their stride with the great three track combo of ‘Ten Cent Pistol’, ‘Sinister Kid’, and ‘The Go Getter’, highlighting some of the best songwriting for Auerbach, which is becoming old-hat.

In general, the record is lengthy and carries much more subdued blues ballads than energetic numbers apart from ‘Howlin’ For You’ and ‘She’s Long Gone’.  However, this overall slower tempo doesn’t mean the potency is not there. The question for many fans will be do they come across better with the new tricks or rather without the added production gimmicks; essentially back to the roots of simple Kimbrough-era instrumentation. The tunes are great and Auerbach’s songwriting is as solid as ever.  The lone detractor for me is Carney’s percussive style is so restrained throughout that his power and energy is long gone from the Thickfreakness days.  In most tracks, I could see a drum machine being used in his place and no one would notice (maybe even with him on bass). I don’t want to condone a band not evolve, and I feel this album is one of their most polished, complete, and accessible/ genre-bending. It will most certainly grasp a new audience and appease the masses that are growing used to this newer sound. I just hope the boys travel back to Akron and revisit Pat’s basement soon. That said, Brothers still one of the best albums of the year so far and their best since Rubber Factory.  If Austin gets lucky enough to have the boys back for ACL, they will no doubt dominate the massive crowd they are likely to receive.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/The-Black-Keys-Tighten-Up-WR.mp3]

Download: The Black Keys – Tighten Up [MP3]

Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Rating: ★★★★½

If you’ve been living in a cave for the past 10 years or so, here’s a music tip: There’s an indie rock band from New Mexico called the Shins and there’s a music producer from New York named Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton). They are both good at their respective positions and have enjoyed very lucrative careers. Well the romantic tale begins in 2004 in Denmark when Shins front-man James Mercer met with Burton and they discovered a mutual respect and fandom.  After years of playful collaboration in a secret, bunker-type studio, the result is virtually seamless.

The resources of Mercer and Mouse blend together in a way that is well thought out and intriguing as first, but it’s not life changing music. (For me, Chutes too Narrow changed my life) It is, at the least, very enjoyable. The record is no doubt a candidate for best album released so far; however just ask me about it at year’s end.  If you listen to the radio, chances are, you’ve heard the first single, ‘The High Road’.  The group also just began their tour with a stop at the Late Show with David Letterman (AKA How can anybody stand him?) performing the single live for the first time to great success. The group isn’t going to blow you away with their live performances, but no one should find that surprising.

The track ‘Your Head is on Fire’, pulls a page from Animal Collective with very Panda Bear-esque vocals and samples mixed in. This simple but effective layering technique falls away displaying some of the best of Mercer’s lyrics on the album and I find myself going back to this track in particular for repeated listens. ‘The Ghost inside’ sounds like the next Gnarls Barkley single/ Gorillaz until Mercer’s lyrics come back in about half way through. (How ironic that the Gorillaz new album was also released the same day?)

‘October’ and ‘Citizen’ are about as vintage Shins as we find on the new record, circa 2007. On both tracks we find intriguing lyrics of which Mercer is well known, though the latter, it is the only track that feels over-produced.  It’s really the only track that feels significantly different from the rest, though the final third contains wonderful musical dénouement.

‘Mongrel Heart’ with a good hearty bass line that drives the track and ‘The Mall and the Misery’ finish off the record strongly, but fall to make any real lasting impression for me. It is a smart record that holds a good tempo throughout, with each track holding an infectious beat which is becoming something of a Danger Mouse calling card. So at your next party,  if you were wondering  how to make the Broken Bells ‘cocktail’: Take one part Shins, one part Gnarls Barkley, and one part Gorrilaz, mix with ice and strain (for a smooth consistency), garnish with a little Panda Bear and serve in a high-ball glass (Nothing too classy). Repeat as needed.  Your buzz may not last as long as you’d like.

Austin gets 2 chances to catch the group at SXSW:

Wednesday March 17th @ Stubbs – NPR’s Official Showcase

Friday March 19th @ Lustre Pearl – Dickie’s/Filter Party

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/01-The-High-Road-1.mp3]

Download: Broken Bells – The High Road [MP3]

New Music From Broken Bells

broken-bellsA new song called “High Road” from the new Danger Mouse & James Mercer (Shins) project has been spreading over the internet today.  The duo recently announced that they were teaming up as Broken Bells and plan to release their debut self-titled LP on March 9th via Columbia Records.  Pre-order options are available on the new Broken Bells website.  This new jam sounds a lot like…. well a lot like what you would expect to hear if Danger Mouse#mce_temp_url# produced a Shins album.  Duh.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/01-The-High-Road-1.mp3]

Download: Broken Bells – The High Road [MP3]

Albums Of The Year: 15-1

A few days ago, we gave you part one of our albums of the year list.  Today we bring you the best of the best from a wide range of artists who brought the noise this year.  We’ve fought it out amongst our ATH writers for weeks and these are the albums that we all loved.  These 15 albums went into thunderdome and emerged victorious.  Follow the jump to see if your favorite band made the Top 15 of 2008.

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10/27 Gnarls Barkley ACL Taping

Even with Austin City Limits Festival in the forefront of the weekend, many of the major acts found their way to the University of Texas campus to tape an episode of the Austin City Limits television show. One of the groups making their ACL debut in front of the famed Austin backdrop was Gnarls Barkley on Saturday night. Show review and setlist after the jump.

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Beck – Modern Guilt

Rating: ★★★☆☆

When reviewing a Beck record I think you come across some very difficult waters. The man is revered by so many, and at the same time, it’s become increasingly difficult to put a definition on his music. You have to respect that, yet at the same time, it’s not the easiest thing to write about.

With this album, you have the uber-producer Danger Mouse aiding the production along the way. It’s kind of an odd step, and one that I was skeptical of – I’m not a DM kind of guy. That’s where we begin.

The album opens well enough with “Orphans.” You have some of the staple touches of DM, accompanied by the gentle guitar work of Beck, for which he always wins me over. He throws in some hand-claps as well, which I believe is becoming a bit of a Beck staple. It’s a good start.

“Gamma Ray” is the next track, and its the track you expected to hear on this album. It’s got a bouncing little bass line that pushes the song all the way through. Sure, you have vocals and such, but if you can’t get into this bass line, then you can’t get into this song. This is definitely a high-point on the album.

“Chemtrails” seems like an odd song to follow the previous track. It’s mellow atmospherics leave it completely juxtaposed to “Gamma Ray,” which is probably the intention. Stay with this song because it picks up in the end, with Beck or Danger Mouse, doing his best Stereolab/Air imitation.

The album’s title track comes next. Once again, this is a head bobber. You can’t help but realize that your feet are tapping, while Beck’s familiar voice dances on in the background. Honestly, I’m starting to realize that his voice is playing second fiddle on some of these more upbeat songs, which is kind of disappointing.

I didn’t get much from “Youthless.” You can blame me for poor tastes I guess. Perhaps because it comes off to me like Beck vs. Gnarls Barkley.

I love the next track, or I love the vocals on this next track, “Walls.” The beats present in the background don’t do much to enhance this song. Beck has that passion in his voice here, but it’s the kind of passion that makes you wish he would just pick up his guitar and sing it to you straight.

Then you can skip the next track. I did.

We find ourselves at “Soul of a Man.” This is a solid track, and another of the upbeat numbers you will find, even if the guitar sound does come off like every other garage rock tune you’ve heard in the past years. But, the pace is stepped back up on the album, which is probably where the focus of this album should stay, which it does. “Profanity Prayers” continues the pace, with pounding drums in your ears. One of the better songs on the album. To me this album just screams good times. This should definitely be included in the live set; it just has that feel to it.

Then we close the album with “Volcano.” A down-trodden little number where the acoustic guitar work really makes me reminisce about Sea Changes. It’s a good call to close the album here. For me, its the song that most resembles the Beck I came to know and like. Nice call here.

As I play this time and time again, I can’t help but feel a little distance from it. I don’t find Danger Mouse’s work very interesting, in fact, I think it kind of comes off like everything else he’s done recently. Perhaps he’s just tapped into the same thing one too many times. Due to that, it just doesn’t have the feel of a solid Beck album. Sure, there are some high points, like “Gamma Ray” and “Volcano,” but there are some moments that just don’t reach the listener.

I guess at the end of the day, he can do whatever he really wants to do. He’s earned that right, and as long as he keeps releasing albums with several great songs, I think he’ll still be important. I’m just waiting for him to put out that solid album, all the way through. I’ll keep waiting.

Below is “Gamma Ray” off the new album:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/02-gamma-ray.mp3]

Download: gammaray.mp3

Beck’s Modern Guilt Details & New Song

Details about Beck’s new album Modern Guilt have been flooding the news trails on the interweb today. The album is set to be released on June 7th in the UK and June 8th stateside. The album is produced by the great Danger Mouse who seems to be turning everything he touches to gold. The recently released Black Keys album Attack & Release produced by Danger Mouse will surely be in my top ten of the year so I’m sure Beck’s newest will be killer. Beck’s also playing that little thing called ACL Festival later this summer and If you’re still waiting to get tickets to that, stop what you’re doing and buy one now. You can also stream a new song off Beck’s new album on his ilike page entitled “Chemtrail”.