Women – Public Strain

Rating: ★★★ · ·

As a Canadian indie band, Women made some waves with their self titled first release two years ago, be it a spot on “Pitchfork’s top songs of the 2000’s,” and comparisons of their sound to the likes of Deerhunter and, to stretch it, The Velvet Underground. Since then they have been hard at work with this new album, Public Strain, which would hopefully follow their debut in the combination of moody rock music.

Opening up the album is “Can’t You See,” which begins with an intense amount of feedback and ambient noise. This background noise continues through the whole song as somewhat monotonous vocals echo slightly above. The bass line throbs constantly, but those screeches in the background seem a bit too prominent for this simple of a song, and I find myself wishing they were gone about halfway through. “Heat Distraction” then loses the nasty noise in the background and moves to a faster, out right rock beat with repeating layers of guitar that serve as the main focus of the song.

Such is the main focus for this whole album, layers of sound topped with wavy guitars as icing on the cake (not your favorite kind of cake, but one that is still edible). Women vary between slow movers that showcase the dark sound that this band does so well, such as “Penal Colony,” whose melancholy lull carries over into a purely instrumental piece, leaving the listener to ponder where exactly the band is trying to lead you, but they attempt to give an answer to this question on exceptional tracks like “Locust Valley,” where intricate guitar playing and a simple chorus of just “oohs and aahs” make up the simple song. With songs like these, Women know where to put the builds in their album; it comes after another song that, I feel, has too much feedback and not enough actual music to hold it up.

They finish off with “Eyesore,” a rather long closer, but probably the best song on the whole album, as “Black Rice” was on their prior work. It seems like the singing and the guitars are almost equal, which gives this song an eloquent balance between pure instrumental and indie rock. There are breaks in the song in which the guitars outweigh the vocals, and in turn, bits where the vocals seem to be the main focus, which makes this song enjoyable for the six minutes and twenty five seconds it lasts.

This leads me to my biggest problem with this album: the vocals are not prominent enough, and they seem to blend together with each song. Every listen, it becomes more tolerable and the flaws become less noticeable. However, it just seems as though Women haven’t really made up their mind in terms of who they are.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/women-narrow.mp3]

Download: Women – Narrow With the Hall [MP3]

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Deep within the confines of the vast, mysterious internet, news of a certain album emerged. Following the leak debacle of the last release, Bradford Cox and Co. took a more ambiguous approach to releasing a record. The Atlanta based quartet known for their post-punk, shoe gaze roots and enthralling live shows have been relatively quiet since the fantastic Microcastle and pre-release fiasco. The only news we heard even related to Deerhunter was a small tour with untitled new material. This tour debuted while much more press attention was paid to Bradford Cox’s solo outfit Atlas Sound, with its 2009 release of Logos and subsequent tour. Grumblings here and there and a subversive marketing strategy soon after allowed us to put the pieces together and alas we find ourselves in the midst of another gem of a record, Halcyon Digest released via 4AD.

On the opening track ‘Earthquake’, Deerhunter takes a slow, steady approach in reintroducing themselves to the listener. At once, we find ourselves in the middle of an alien, yet unmistakably familiar soundscape. Like the spider and the fly, Cox has a way of pulling the listener in with his swan-song voice while slowly sucking the life out his prey with the rhythm. Though this process is not a violent one; it’s a beautiful dance where Deerhunter spin their web, all senses at once pulsate before it seems like it’s too much. The tapping of a foot turns to muscle memory and we can barely hear the world around us. Rise and fall, these moments erase from existence and what are left are Cox, Pundt, Fauver, Archuleta , and their stunning torturing devices only to open us up and let them in. There’s no way to resist, as our grey matter is their lunch.

On Cryptograms, the band went through a rough stretch and this era brought out a more disjointed song structure while producing some of the group’s most complex ambient elements thanks to Lockett Pundt’s silky-smooth approach. With Microcastle, Cox and Co. reformed with a new purpose and the while the ramblings of previous times are more or less gone, a stronger comprehensive album composition emerged, though the group can’t quite reach that same level at present. There are elements of both sides to the story on display here with ‘Basement Scene’ and ‘Revival’, respectively. This shows that the band is aware of their roots and is willing to not hide their past while searching for perfection. Obviously they are on the right track and even find a new lighter style as heard on ‘Desire Lines’, a definite highlight on the record.

“The devil is now gone from me” croons Bradford Cox on the near perfect track ‘Helicopter’, but I don’t believe him. It’s evil how seamlessly he can create touching and soft, yet unreasonably haunting lyrics. It’s straight up sinful how he can pair these lyrics to the music with such reason and perfection. The tone changes and compositions on this track alone are catching the eye and ears of everyone far beyond the indie community.

With Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter have found themselves as comfortable in their own sound and skin as never before and we can hear this stability in the record as a whole. The vast waves of psychedelia contrasting with the subtle nuances Cox is growing to become well known for are everywhere to be heard. Hipster communities will wine and cry about it, but they’re going to need to find a new band to love, as Deerhunter is soon to become mainstream news. This album has solidified them in the driver’s seat in the indie genre (perhaps even more) and there’s no hope of commandeering the wheel. They are on a road, destination unknown, and you might as well jump in the back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/08-Helicopter.mp3]

Download: Deerhunter – Helicopter [MP3]

Twin Tigers – Gray Waves

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s hard nowadays for a debut album to really blow people out of the water, unless you’ve had success and backing from various media outlets.  Twin Tigers have had a mild amount of press in that regard, but odds are the release of their album Gray Waves will have more people clamoring to find as much information on the group as possible.  This record moves back and forth between several musical spectrums, often times within the same song; in following this formula the group has constructed one of the most creative straight-ahead rock records in recent memory.

From the moment you click play on your stereo, you get the feeling as if you’re in for something entirely special; the discordant noise sets an ambient tone before the drums and feedback squall shatter the sonic setting on “Passive Idol.” But, just as you expect a blistering number, Twin Tigers pull back, choosing to create a more melodious moment for listeners.  Mathew Rain’s vocals seem to have some sort of echo in them, which makes him seem both haunting and dangerous.  Either way, you can’t help but to fall into this record from the get go.

“Red Fox Run” recalls some of the mid-to-late career albums of Sonic Youth, in so much as it maintains a balance between using appropriate melody and blistering noise.  Movement within the song is hard to ignore, and you can tell that thought went into every detail of the way the song unfolds.  Similarly, “Everyday” grabs you right from the get go, using a summery underlying hook that borders on bubble pop.  Still, waves of guitar noise remain in the background, and the chorus provides the perfect amount of angst that is necessary for pure rock songs.  All this before the song blasts into another direction towards the ending, only to return to the hook featured at the beginning.

Yet, Twin Tigers are not a one-trick pony they refuse to rely upon their Sonic Youth tendencies, or Rain’s howling Jesus and the Mary Chain vocals.  They’re capable of almost anything here, as “Gray Waves” suggests.  If they ended at the midpoint, this would easily be a great song of typical indie pop such as Deerhunter, but they push beyond influences, forging new ground all on their own, as witnessed by the darker vocal performance by Rain near the end.

An aside that is necessary here is the performance of Dougie Crump.  A steady drummer is a definite must if you’re going to construct mini-suites mid-song.  You’ve got to have someone who can keep everyone on track by providing the perfect rhythm; Young does this spectacularly.  On top of that, his work is magnificent in its own regard; his drum fills alone really flesh out the group’s sound as a whole. Cheers to that Richard.

All in all, Gray Waves is a remarkably refreshing debut.  Angular guitars cut and feedback throughout the entirety of the record, all the while Rain tries to utilize his vocals to keep a hint of melody to the core of Twin Tigers.  Not once can you deny the creativity and vibrance of this young band; they’re here to take their influences and build a world all their own.  And, who knows, the way they cut and paste the sonic collage here shows they just might tear that world all to pieces, but odds are you’ll still love every minute of it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/03-Everyday.mp3]

Download: Twin Tigers – Everyday [MP3]

Atlas Sound – Logos

walkabout-cover

Rating: ★★ · · ·

I must preface this review by stating that I have never been a fan of the work of Bradford Cox.  I realize that this is heresy in today’s indie scene, but I really just have a difficult time giving a shit when there is so much more quality music to which to listen.  Now I’m not saying the man isn’t talented, he is.  His work with Deerhunter is listenable, but I feel like I have heard it all before, and better. I have listened to Deerhunter’s entire catalog and all I am left thinking “Man, this would be great, if My Bloody Valentine had never existed.” Then I go and listen to My Bloody Valentine instead.

So with the release of Bradford Cox’s solo project, Atlas Sound, new album, Logos (Kranky), I approached it with trepidation. Surely the My Bloody Valentine influences would be stripped from the sound and I would finally be able to see what Bradford Cox could really bring to the table creatively.  Plus there were numerous high profile guest appearances, most notably Lætitia Sadier of Stereolab and Noah Lennox of Animal Collective, which warranted, at least, a cursory listen.

You know what? On the first listen of Logos, with the lack of My Bloody Valentine influences, it tricked me into actually liking this record.  I wanted to listen to again. It was light and airy. There was room to move around in it rather than the oppressive wall of sound that is a Deerhunter album. 

But on subsequent listens this album felt familiar for all the wrong reasons.  I know that artists rely on their influences. It’s what makes them who they are.  But there is a huge difference between being influenced by an artist and mimicking.  Bradford Cox continues to come off as an imitator, a highly talented one, but an imitator, nonetheless. While what he is releasing is good, it feels like he has yet to find a voice of his own. 

The majority of Logos sounds exactly like Joan of Arc b-sides and not awesome How Memory Works b-sides, but shitty Live in Chicago, 1999 b-sides.  When joined with Lennox (Walkabout) or Sadier (Quick Canal), we have the highest points of the album, but ultimately the songs sound like the sum of their guest musician’s full time bands.

I hope Bradford Cox finds an original voice soon, because people will soon tire of a band that continually pull too liberally from way more interesting sources.

Atlas Sound will be playing at Fun Fun Fun Fest on the Orange Stage this Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Walkabout-w_-Noah-Lennox.mp3]

Download: Atlas Sound – Walkabout (w/ Noah Lennox) [MP3]

Karen O and the Kids – Where the Wild Things Are

WTWTA

Rating: ★★★½ ·

I must admit: I am definitely biased towards anything based on or has anything to do with Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, as, I am sure, most people in my generation are. The story of Max resonated in my young and precocious heart, so when I heard of the cinematic adaptation a few years ago I was both excited and fearful. That is until the names Spike Jonez, Dave Eggers, and Karen O became attached to it.

The motion picture soundtrack for ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ while not perfect as an independent release, fits perfectly with the story of Max and the Wild Things.  It is fragile and joyful and dangerous all at the same time.  I couldn’t think of a more perfect performer to bring this story to life through sound. Karen O, of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is herself a wild thing.  She conveys this on the single ‘All is Love’ through ecstatic yelps along side an untrained children’s choir.  This craziness carries through other tracks like ‘Capsize’ with it’s frantic hand claps and screams, and the overall joyousness of ‘Rumpus’.  But there is a softer side to these wild things.  On the somber ‘Hideaway’ and ‘Food is Still Hot’ Karen O and the Kids recall the emptiness Max felt being away from home.

Something must be said about Karen O’s backing band ‘The Kids’, because they are just as much responsible for the magic of this soundtrack as O is.  ‘The Kids’ consist of a who’s who of indie rock musicians: Brian Chase and Nick Zinner (The Yeah Yeah to Karen O’s Yeah), Bradford Cox (Deerhunter and Atlas Sound), Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence (The Dead Weather & Raconteurs), and others, including that omnipresent children’s choir. 

This is an incredibly fun release whose magic probably won’t be fully realized until a complete viewing of the film, but if you have kids in your life you will want to keep this on hand, because it is an infectious listen.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/karen-o-_-the-kids-all-is-love.mp3]

Download: Karen O & The Kids – All is Love [MP3]

Free Lollapalooza Sampler

lollapaloozaWith Lollapalooza inching closer and closer, now is a good time to start talking about the festival and some of the bands playing.  We couldn’t think of a better way to introduce some bands to the public than with a free sampler from the fine folks at Lollapalooza.  The itunes sampler includes hit tracks from festival artists like The Raveonettes, Langhorne Slim, Deerhunter, and a few others.  Head to the Lolla site now to get your hands on it.  Until then, here’s our favorite track from the playlist, Fleet Foxes single “Mykonos”.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/fleet_foxes-mykonos.mp3]

Download: Fleet Foxes – Mykonos [MP3]

Top 40 Songs Of The Year

So when we thought making an albums of the year post was hard, this one proved to be even harder.  How do you take literally thousands of songs and narrow it down to the best 40 of the year?  Not too sure how to answer that question, but we tried.  Each of these songs scream 2008 in our ears.  As evident by this list, the year in music was quite a good one and we had some tough choices to make.  We’ve got some of the songs streaming for you or links to the song on youtube.  Follow the jump to see if your favorite tune of the year made the list.

Read more

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

Deerhunter @ Emo’s (12/2)

Deerhunter are bringing their tour with Times New Viking through town on Tuesday night at Emo’s.  Doors are set for 9pm with tickets available now for only $12.  Earlier in the day, Times New Viking will also be doing a free instore at local record shop End of an Ear around 5pm.  You should  take a peak at our recent review of Deerhunter’s 2008 album Micorcastle or stream a song from that effort below.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/deerhunter-neverstops.mp3]

Download: Deerhunter – Never Stops [MP3]

Deerhunter – Microcastle

Rating: ★★★★ ·

For most of the fans of Deerhunter, this album seems to have been floating around the world in some form or another, so many of you have already gotten to know Microcastle, the band’s sophomore release.  Those of you that haven’t listened to it yet will definitely need to get your hands on this album.

Admittedly, the band has left behind a little bit of the atmospherics that were present in Cryptograms, instead pushing forward with a more immediate sound.  Mr. Cox has even gone so far as to say that he didn’t mind if the band took on a sort of Strokes‘ sound, which, it really doesn’t.  You can only go so far before you aren’t the same band, but Deerhunter sound every bit themselves here.

Sure, the songs definitely ascribe to a little bit of the pop, but they surround each song in their very structured fuzziness, clouding every inch of tape with something worthwhile for the listener.  It’s as if they chose to completely focus on every song, providing all of them with their own personality so that in turn, they resonate individually with the listener.  Slowly, the band builds each song, as if they were putting together tiny bricks in order to construct microcastles.

A lot of the songs, however, are reminiscent of the sounds bands like Grizzly Bear or Gravenhurst.  Gentle vocals are paced between intricate musicianship, and then walled in with extemporaneous sound, creating the perfect song within a soundscape.  It’s becoming a bit over-done, but you won’t find any who do it much better than the Georgians from Deerhunter.  But, they also jump far away from this in songs like “Cover Me Slowly” and “Nothing Ever Happened,” which may be more in the way of what future albums might sound like.

For now, the band seems to be happily stuck between their own walls of sound and their desire for a less eclectic sound.  They do seem at their best when they push the pace a bit, allowing themselves a touch of greatness, but each time they resume to other formats, they fall back into something more commonplace in the modern indie music market.  Either way, Deerhunter have created another album that is sure to rise to the top of many people’s year end lists; as it should.

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