Top Albums of 2017

Lists are arbitrary and burdensome, but why not join the fun everyone else is having? We gathered our lists, separate lists for all of us, then combined them into one that had 50 albums. What you get here are the four writers/contributors of ATH, giving you their meaningless opinions on what we thought was the jam in 2017. It’s alphabetical, and we put the initials next to it so you could track down your enemy!

 

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Show Review: Fleet Foxes @ ACL Live at the Moody Theater

Wednesday and Thursday nights, The Moody Theater played host to one of the biggest acts in the indie world, Fleet Foxes. The band was coming in hot after the release of their triumphant third studio full-length,Crack-Up,and droves of excited fans poured into the venue to catch a performance for the first time in a long time. What they got was musicianship at its finest– two nights of precise and profound music that fed the excitement of the crowd as the band seamlessly wove together new and old tracks from their catalogue of folk rock.

Read on for my thoughts on the show, as well as some pics from the ever-awesome B. Gray.

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Show Preview: Fleet Foxes @ ACL Live (08/16, 08/17)

Indie folk gods, Fleet Foxes, are coming to our city tomorrow and Thursday and if you don’t have tickets yet you best get to stepping and try to find some, as these two evenings are bound to be nights to remember. The last time Austin played host to Robin Pecknold and company was the 2011 ACL festival, so it will be nice to see the band again with full and proper sets in an intimate setting–the Moody Theater seems like the perfect venue for such a group. A lot of time has passed since then, and with the release of their phenomenal third full-length,Crack-Up,earlier this year, we are on course for two transfixing evenings of orchestral beauties new and old. Personally, I’m stoked to see how the band weaves together the introspective new material with the sweeping folk of the past. With their now expansive catalogue of gems, there really isn’t any way they could go wrong.

To top things off, the band is bringing along the quiet bedroom folk of Bedouine. If you haven’t checked them out yet, take a listen below and get excited for this complimenting opener.

If you don’t already own it and you’re not into holding a 2xLP through the whole show, go buy it on the Nonesuch Records page. Trust me–Crack-Upis one of those records you need to hold in your hands.

 

 

Small Feet Hook Up with Barsuk Records

simoneI make no excuses for my love of really powerful pop music, even if it comes in the simplest of forms.  That’s exactly why I like listening to the music of Small Feet…the project of Sweden’s Simon Stalhamre. When you listen, you’ll probably be most attracted to Simon’s voice…it creates the emotion that I remember when I first listened to James Mercer (before he got boring), and perhaps a touch of Fleet Foxes in there too. Also, if you listen closely around the 3 minute mark, I swear you can hear an homage to Third Eye Blind. Barsuk will release From Far Away Everything Sounds Like the Ocean on August 7th, so pencil in a date for some pop music.

Greylag Sign to Dead Oceans

greylagA few years ago there was this wave of folk/Americana being remained and tossed out left and right.  Bands like Fleet Foxes and Cave Singers dominated my own personal listening playlists, but the genre hasn’t really hit me again until I heard this track from Greylag, who’ve just signed to Dead Oceans.  They’ve got similarities to both previously mentioned groups, with the instrumentation resembling the former and the vocals harkening to the latter.  Their album will be self-titled, and it’s set for an October 14th release…should make great times for fall listening.

Boy & Bear – Harlequin Dream

boy-and-bear-harlequin-dream

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Harlequin Dream is the second LP from Australian folk-rock band Boy & Bear.  Like their 2011 debut, Moonfire, this is a great sounding, very well produced record with several memorable tunes.

Boy & Bear work within the same reverb-soaked modern folk-rock style of bands like Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses.  Vocally, it’s hard not to hear a major Fleet Foxes influence here.  Still, Boy & Bear have found their own sound, and their tunes are generally more driven and upbeat than their contemporaries.

Harlequin Dream feels more pop and less folk-influenced than Moonfire.  The first five songs are all fairly bright, high-energy tunes.  The album slows down for the first time and takes a slightly reflective turn with “A Moment’s Grace”, before picking back up with the folk-sounding “End of the Line”, which has enough banjo in it to feel like a Mumford and Sons piece.  The next song, “Back Down the Black”, feels very out of place here, maybe because its subject is so much more serious than anything else on the album.  The last two songs are my personal favorites, especially the mellow, meditative “Arrow”.

The vocals throughout Harlequin Dream are quite strong.  There are some really well done, smooth harmonies as well as some impressive displays of range.  The title track in particular is incredibly hard to sing along to, although it’s catchy enough to make you want to try and fail (I did).

Lyrically this feels like a fairly straightforward rock record, with many of the songs covering such inexhaustible subjects as desire and loss.  The mood stays lighthearted throughout the album, but there’s still room for some complex lyrical structures in songs like “Real Estate.”

I like how Harlequin Dream expands upon the Boy & Bear’s already solid sound.  I definitely think that this band is only going to get more popular, and I don’t really have any criticisms of this album other than the fact that the ridiculous cover makes my eyes hurt.

Poor Moon – s/t

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Side project of two members of Fleet Foxes or not, Poor Moon is essentially the child of Christian Wargo, bassist/vocalist for the aforementioned band. For years, Wargo wrote and recorded songs on his own before he decided to bring along Casey Wescott, as well as Ian and Peter Murray to help bring his bank of demos and songs to fruition. Thus was born Poor Moon—a band to adapt a collection of songs into a collective album.

Naturally, with musicians from such a well-known band in the folksy/indie scene, people will be drawn to Poor Moon for its ties, but those who come looking for the vast dependency on warm harmonies and big, swelling folk sounds will have to keep on looking, because for the most part, this effort showcases folk sound on a smaller, minimalist scale. Take the first song “Clouds Below” for example, begins with some gentle guitar plucking and the soft vocals of Wargo, which meander in coolly, harmonizing with the impossibly higher backing vocal to create a serene and simple opener. This sets the tone for the album, alluding to signs of a peaceful, folksy sound.

But, the band picks it up a bit from where they leave you after “Clouds Below” especially on the third track “Same Way,” where things get groovy. One of the strongest on the album, the song employs some opening ‘ooh’s’ and is backed by strong melodic xylophonic sound as well as big echoing drums that fill the previously empty background of the song. There is a quite an enjoyable breakdown towards the end of the song that is just long enough to give you a taste of the musical ability of the members of this band and it makes you desire a bit more depth from the songs of Poor Moon. Through the rest of the album, you listen for little pieces of this depth that the band demonstrated on this song, but sadly they are in short supply. It isn’t the lengthy and full storytelling and serene folk album that feels right for the genre and it comes across as a group of songs that were forced to sound similar, as opposed to the authentic and natural production of an album.

Most of the songs are relatively short for folk numbers that are reaching to be meaningful and impress a feeling upon their listeners, which leads me to my biggest complaint about this album; there just isn’t enough on here to really make an impression on those who take a listen the first way through. With repeated listens, it’s possible to grasp and really hold on to the music that has been so meticulously laid out for its audience.

Albums Of 2011

We’ve already brought you our songs of the year and Texas albums of the year, so now it’s time for the much anticipated albums of the year list.  I’m sure many of you will notice some big names off the list and you will be ready to plead your case about why we are wrong.  We’ll hear ya out… Feel free to drop us a comment with your own list or just to debate with us.  Follow the jump for list.
50) The New Tigers – s/t

49) Secret Cities – Strange Hearts

48) AM & Shawn Lee – Celestial Electric

47) Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

46) Blue Skies for Black Hearts – Embracing the Modern Age

45) Geoffrey O’ Connor – Vanity is Forever

44) Dum Dum Girls – Only in Dreams

43) Destroyer – Kaputt

42) Obits – Moody, Standard and Poor

41) The Rosebuds – Loud Planes Fly Low

40) Tim Cohen – Magic Trick

39) Bad Sports – Kings of the Weekend

38) Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis

37) Chad Van Gaalen – Diaper Island

36) Male Bonding – Nothing Hurts

35) Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion

34) Cold Cave – Cherish the Light Years

33) Devon Williams – Euphoria

32) Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

31) Sonny and the Sunsets – Hit After Hit

30) Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde

29) Wax Idols – No Future

28) Grooms – Prom

27) Cut Off Your Hands – Hollow

26) The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

25) Ducktails – Ducktails III

24) Papercuts – Fading Parade

23) Atlas Sound – Parallax

22) Mind Spiders – s/t

21) Craft Spells – Idle Labor

20) Yuck – s/t

19) The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

18) Comet Gain – Howl of the Lonely Crowd

17) The Drums – Portamento

16) Snowmine – Laminate Pet Animal

15) King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

14) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Belong

13) Girls Names – Dead to Me

12) Light for Fire – s/t

11) Other Lives – Tamer Animals

10) Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

9) Iceage – New Brigade

8 The Antlers – Burst Apart

7) Seapony – Go With Me

6) Pure X – Pleasure

5) Cloud Nothings – s/t

4) Real Estate – Days

3) Gold Leaves – The Ornament

2) The Twerps – s/t

1) Wye Oak – Civilian

So that’s it ladies and gents, we are officially putting an end to 2011.  What do you like and what do you not like?  Let’s hear it.

Gold Leaves – The Ornament

Rating: ★★★★½

Every once in awhile, you come across a record that fits into your life perfectly, filling the empty emotional space, revitalizing your spirit.  Just one listen to Gold Leaves is all it takes to find that The Ornament seeps into your soul, establishing itself as an album that meets all your musical needs.

“The Silver Lining” is one of those perfect pop songs, carefully constructed for the maximum benefit of listeners.  It’s a gentle number, similar to the recent work of Camera Obscura (in construction at least).  But, what makes the track stand out is Carl Olsen’s voice.  It waivers somewhere between Ward and Banhart, touching every emotional chord for those with a hankering for all things sad-bastard.  While there’s a bit of solemnity to the opener, “The Ornament” provides a bit of brightness with just the slightest change in pacing.  You’ll find that same careful arrangement with every bit of accompaniment propelling the song’s essence. It’s not a track to be taken lightly, echoing in your memory long after the song has skipped onto the next.

“Endless Dope” opens a new chapter for Gold Leaves.  While other tracks have featured lush arrangement, this track seems more sparse in those regards, though elements still remain.  But, Olsen’s vocals play the main role here, drawing you into his poetic verse, as opposed to letting you get washed away with waves of pop brilliance. Similarly, “Cruel & Kind” refuses to rely upon the maximum arrangements, carefully meandering through your mind.  Inside this track you’ll find yourself getting lost, but in a manner that only the best of music can accomplish; it’s simplicity lets you drift in and out of consciousness, always drawn back by the inherent melody built within the tune.

Even when The Ornament doesn’t draw itself out with meandering tracks, a great deal can still be accomplished.  For instance, “Hard Feelings” is one of the shortest songs on the record, but in a short span you’ll find trickling guitar lines, string pieces swirling in the background, and Olsen at the center of it all.  Eventually, it crashes spectacularly in the middle, switching things up just slightly. There’s a denseness to this number, as it seems filled to the brim, but in writing in that fashion, Gold Leaves still leaves room for the melody and the emotion to find its way to your inner ear.

If you haven’t found room in your day for this collection, then you need to put down everything immediately.  The Ornament is the kind of album that begs to be listened to, begs to be played over again and again.  After one listen, you’ll end up clearing your schedule, finding yourself lost inside the depth and emotional pull of everything Carl Olsen has managed to put together for this outing. Not a note goes wasted, and that in and of itself, is something to praise–but this record is so much more. So stop reading this now, and drift away with Gold Leaves.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Gold-Leaves-Cruel-And-Kind.mp3]

Download: Gold Leaves – Cruel/Kind [MP3]

More New Music from Gold Leaves

Awhile back we brought you an early listen to “The Ornament,” the first single from the upcoming album, The  Ornament, by Gold Leaves.  It’s really easy to see comparisons to other folk acts such as Fleet Foxes, but one thing I enjoy that is a bit different is the lush arrangements behind the sound on each track.  We’ve got another one today, and you’ll hear hints of the kind of orchestration you usually find on the quiet tracks of Papercuts records. Yeah, those are great qualities to have, so you won’t hear any complaints coming from my end right now.  Be sure to pick up the record on August 16th via Hardly Art.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Gold-Leaves-Cruel-And-Kind.mp3]

Download: Gold Leaves – Cruel/Kind [MP3]

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