More with John Andrew & the Yawns

jayI’ve written before about John Andrews & the Yawns, the newest project from John (who also works in Quilt and Woods).  I’m really drawn into this track, which might just come from the dreary weather, as I feel like there’s a definite Grateful Dead or Neil Young approach here (only one which I’m willing to admit I accept).  The band explores a modern folk twist, which you’d likely expect, but the twang and the drawl of the song really goes into hippy harmony territory.  Dammit. I like it. Don’t tell my friends! Look for Bit By the Fang via Woodsist on April 14th.

Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold

Rating: ★★★½ ·

With the current indie landscape coated in folk harmonies and wooded soundscapes, it seems only fitting that Beachwood Sparks would return after taking a break 11 years ago.  Interestingly, The Tarnished Gold, while bearing similarities to the modern landscape, has a sound more classic in structure, carefully crafting the perfect listen for fans of all sorts.

Immediately you fall in love, or at least I did.  “Forget the Song” sounds like an American version of The Crayon Fields, except filled with a bit of slide guitar and twang.  It’s got the same slight echo on the vocal, with guitars and casual drumming all tied in to perfection.  Other songs fit this exact same  style like “Tarnished Gold,” which is perhaps why I’ve enjoyed listening to Beachwood Sparks so much lately.  The guitars definitely give it a more country/folk feel, but the gentle vocals will absolutely carry you away. You’ll also find hints of other great American music throughout.

“Sparks Fly Again” is filled with noodling guitars and vocal harmonizing, but what caught me off guard was the seemingly Grateful Dead chorus jumping in and out.  It’s not there in a jam band sort of way, which enables me to appreciate the track all the more, but it definitely reminds me that my age is having me walk a fine line with the hipster abhorred hippy ilk. But, please don’t tell anyone that I just admitted to that.  The presence of these sort of moments are all over The Tarnished Gold, demonstrating that the band is much more rooted in the classic structure of Californian pop music, rather than joining the bandwagon of modern folk acts.

With all their traditional stylings, one of the things I like best about this Beachwood Sparks record is its ability to go live it out on its own terms.  “No Queremos Oro” is a quirky Spanish pop tune, almost like a sunny Mariachi ballad.  Of course, my love for all things Latin American forces me to love this track, but you have to have courage to put something like this in the middle of a classic folk tinged album; I applaud the band for that.  Luckily, it’s also followed by my favorite track here: “Earl Jean.”  I like the sound of the guitar strumming, spliced with some intermittent guitar jabs (noodles?) coming in and out. It’s explosion of bright guitars at the midway point is truly special, and feels so familiar that I swear I wrote it myself.

The more I get involved with The Tarnished Gold, the more I feel that it’s going to become the perfect soundtrack for my summer here in Texas.  As the warm sun beats upon my back, I can hear the slide guitars meeting on the humid air of the harmonies. There’s elements of folk music, classic Americana, and even your modern indie feel; it’s pulled off to perfection, giving Beachwood Sparks a return to glory that seems much deserved.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Beachwood-Sparks-Sparks-Fly-Again.mp3]

Download:Beachwood Sparks – Sparks Fly Again [MP3]

Darker My Love – Alive as You Are

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When California’s Darker My Love released their album 2 in 2008, you could definitely feel the psychedelic history of their home state coming through.  But, we fast forward to the present day, and it seems that their take on California rock has swayed a bit, moving into a different, albeit better, direction.  The new album Alive as You Are charts new territory, and while it may surprise old fans, it’s not to be dismissed.

Listening to lead track “Backseat” you find a fresher version of the band, one that is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, if you extracted excess amounts of hippy.  It’s got a hint of the same drug culture, yet feels like the eternal setting of California.  This song even features some pseudo-jam guitar solos, though none that will make you drool in your beard while rocking the same solo for six hours a la Jerry Garcia.

While the album does seem steeped in the history of American folk/jam/whatever, it still has a presence that is pertinent to the modern music scene. “Split Minute” uses a deeper toned vocal atop the same crisp guitar sound found in the opening minutes, which sort of brings to mind bands like Blitzen Trapper, yet with the right amount of restraint, and none of the bravado–all good things from this end. It all leads to the early high-point for Alive as You Are, as “New America” just flat out wins.  It’s got a bit of a meandering guitar line throughout, but the half-sung vocal really establishes a casual mood.  What really pushes the song into the winner category is the chorus near the end, which just wraps the song up in this great little crashing harmony.

It’s odd, but even those who aren’t fans of the San Francisco roots music, such as myself, will probably find themselves digging deeper and deeper into the carefully crafted melodies that are evident throughout.  Slide guitars don’t even do much to dissuade listeners, and songs like “Trail the Line” are the perfect example of how, if executed properly, this style of music can remain vital and fresh in today’s world.  Amazing choruses seem par for the course on this record by Darker My Love.  The delivery of the words “please make up your mind, for me” just hit you in the face at precisely the right time, and nothing can go wrong for the band at this late juncture.

If you’re looking for detractors, you’ll be hard pressed to find one, though surely this album would be more successful during the late autumnal season, as opposed to the sweltering summer months.  And, yes, it does appear to drag in a few spots, but Alive as You Are succeeds on so many different levels that its remarkable to even think of this as the same band from a few years ago. I don’t know, but it makes me want to go listen to Neil Young.  Darker My Love have a dark name, and dark imagery projected on their cover, but everything about this record is warm and bright, making it one hell of an album, no matter what time of year you listen to it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/07-Trail-The-Line.mp3]

Download: Darker My Love – Trail The Line [MP3]

FT5: Road Trip Albums

Well students, it’s nearly finals time for a lot of you and before the prospect of (dare I say it) summer school, many of you have two or so glorious weeks of freedom. It’s time to hit the old dusty trail and have some adventures farting on each other, spilling beer in your friend’s car and of overheating engines in the middle of nowhere. The wildly adventurous times of our youth elude many of us today, but the memories remain; stuck together like the pack of gummi-bears that fell into the dash air vent. Yes, the good old fashioned road trip is about as American as it gets. Piling in a car, carrying more people than available seatbelts and heading towards the border or greener pastures (wherever they might be). Two questions become instantly prevalent: 1.) What should we listen to? and 2.) Where to? (Although the second is MUCH less important) After all, music and the open road are as inseparable as college and binge drinking. Fear not my young compadres, throw the calculus and audio books out the window and crank up the tunes. Here is the FT5 of Road Trip Albums to get you down along the road and back again.

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ACL Interviews: Suckers

suckers_ACLToday we focus on some of the lesser known bands of ACL with an interview spotlighting relatively new Brooklyn band Suckers. We spoke to the man simply known as Pan this week via phone to find out a little bit about this new project. I think you will all be glad to know that Pan is in full support of my Pearl Jam pick for ACL. So there. Follow the jump for full interview.

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