Show Pics: Grizzly Bear @ Stubb’s (4/8)

Hi, nice to meet you. You mind giving me some air?

Wow, Stubb’s was it packed for Grizzly Bear. So packed that the photo pit was moved in to allow for more people space because the show was oversold. I didn’t know that sardines had date nights. Was it worth it the uncomfortably close neighbors?

A couple quick notes on the show including my love for Owen Pallett and of course the human monopod show pics…

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Top Albums of 2012: 50-1

Here it is.  I know you’ll hate it; I know you’ll disagree, but that’s not the point in making an arbitrary list.  We here at ATH worked really hard to fit in the tastes of the four of us, and when we decided upon our Top 50, it really boied down to simple math.  What albums did we love when they came out?  Do we still enjoy spinning those records months later? If they’re in the Top 50, then the asnwer is probably yes.  I mean, our Top 2 records came out in January, and still play a vital part in my weekly listening.  There’s no disclaimer here.  We are who we are, we like what we like, and we hope that’s okay with you. If not, drop us a line and let us know where we went wrong.

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Levek – Look a Little Closer

Rating: ★★½ · ·

When a band deems itself belonging to the “Mickey-Mouse Tribal” genre, it’s difficult to know exactly what they mean. I take it to mean music that’s paying homage to another time—a sort of nostalgic music. Still, what does this entail? For Levek it means music coated in synthesizers and old-fashion elements of sound that bring you back to yesteryear, but which yesteryear is this band evoking? The 70’s, the 60’s, or neither?

To be honest, this album is a little all over the place: on one song you’ll find chill experimental music, on another you’ll find a track that sounds like something you’d hear in an elevator, and another evokes Grizzly Bear in its slow burning intensity. While all of the songs on Look a Little Closer fall along the same level of calm, there is a large disparity in the sound of this band from song to song, and this overall discontinuity disrupts the flow of such a record.

This disparity is present at the beginning of the album, until the sound that Levek decides to stick with appears. The first song, “Black Mold Grow,” has a chill, 1970’s vibe to it, complete with the meek vocals of front man David Levesque. The track is soft and seems to float on a layer of thin air, bouncing on light percussion and sugary harmonies, but then it bursts into a disco-y sound at the end, with layers of warmth that give it a full and rich texture.  Such rich texture dissolves by “Terra Treasures,” the third song on this album, which reminds me of a song you’d hear only in an elevator; the synthesized organ and the flat percussion doesn’t really go anywhere. Fourth up is “With a Slow Burn” whose bubbling serenity calls the sound of Grizzly Bear to mind. However, the second half of the album falls into the exact opposite pattern in which the songs begin to blend together in their similarities.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m all about diversity within a band’s sound, as it is what prevents all of the music on an album from meshing into one giant song. There is, however, a difference between continuity and the over-repetition of sounds. Look a Little Closer could use a little more of both of these elements in separate doses.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/08-Girl-In-The-Fog.mp3]

Download:Levek – Girl In The Fog [MP3]

Grizzly Bear – Shields

Rating: ★★★★½

With their release of Veckatimest in 2009, Grizzly Bear essentially placed themselves on the map for those of you who had no prior knowledge of these indie rockers. Receiving accolades upon accolades, that album made it to the top of end of year lists and fans swooned over the brooding, yet airy sounds of this band.

While I was a fan of that last album, I have to confess that I didn’t enjoy it to the same obsessive level that others seemed to. After too much repeated listening, I found myself tuning out of the music and forgetting I was listening; the passive and subtle nature of this band made it easy for them to slip into the background. Thus, the biggest change I was hoping for in Shields was a shift from the passive, to a more aggressive and gripping sound dispersed through the whole record.

The singles for this release foreshadow the success of this album. “Sleeping Ute” and “Yet Again” have that same edge to them that prior Grizzly Bear singles, like “Two Weeks” possessed. First up is “Sleeping Ute,” which is guitar heavy, to say the least. Loops of distorted guitars welcome you in, and then the crash of the lighter-than-air-percussion follows and it isn’t long before the familiar calming vocals of Ed Droste break into the mix. At four minutes and thirty-six seconds of experimental rock bliss, this track is excellent for you to embark on your journey through Shields. It grips you right from the beginning, doling out a rockier jam than expected from Grizzly Bear, but the band also backs off for the last minute of the song, introducing a winding and equally interesting sound. “Yet Again” holds this same outright rock flair, complete with the catchiness of the aforementioned past single.

Unlike Veckatimest, it’s not just the singles on Shields that really catch your attention—the way it should be on cohesive album. Each song is enticing and an important part of the record. Even on the slower numbers, take “The Hunt,” for example, on which it’s difficult to slip away from the captivating nature of the music. Even late in the game, the band still manages to cram in another fully fleshed out song in “Sun in Your Eyes.” This closing piece is multi-crescendo’ed and epic in nature, spanning seven minutes in length, but never losing your complete attention through each swell and fall.

Grizzly Bear have certainly stepped up their game—fans of their previous work will grow impossibly more smitten and newcomers will have a hard time resisting to fall in love.

New Music from Villagers

Long ago I raved about Becoming a Jackal, an album by Villagers that I think a lot of people really overlooked.  But, now they’re back with a brand new single that is scheduled to come out on October 22nd, and with a recent tour with Grizzly Bear, I think they might finally start to break into the big time.  “The Waves” is every bit as dramatic as the earlier output from the band, but this one has a different approach.  For me, this tune utilizes the electronic production as its backbone, and the emphatic beauty ensues.  I just picked this up on iTunes, so you too can grab it early if it suits your fancy.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/VILLAGERS-The-Waves.mp3]

 

New Track from Canon Blue

Our writer JWag turned me onto this great track, and I’ve been playing this track all morning long. Daniel James is the man behind the project Canon Blue, and he’s worked in the past with Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear (who seems to work with everyone). This time round, he’s been hanging with Efterklang, prepping the completion of his new record, Rumspringa.  It’s going to come out on August 16th on Temporary Residence, and you’re going to love the craftsmanship of the songs on this collection, both orchestrated carefully and maintaining a clever pop lineage.  Trust me, you’ll love this track.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Canon-Blue-Indian-Summer-Des-Moines.mp3]

Download: Canon Blue – Indian Summer (DesMoines) [MP3]

Snowmine – Laminate Pet Animal

Rating: ★★★½ ·

If you haven’t heard of Snowmine, and odds are that you haven’t, sadly, then let’s just say that you’ll probably fall in love with listening to Laminate Pet Animal.  It’s got references to all sorts of sub-genres beneath the indie umbrella, with each demonstrating the unique craftsmanship of this Brooklyn group. This record has the band poised to start their introduction to the masses.

“Beast in Air, Beast in Water” has a really ornate approach, using a dark percussive skeleton to kick off the entire affair, met with ghostly group vocals.  As the vocals quicken, your anxiety is met with a sweeping harmony of a chorus, including a nice little symphonic arrangement to provide extra depth.  Seriously, just let this chorus warmly wash over you.  And if you thought the band would only stick to one direction, their intentions to mix things up are made with “Penny,” the second track on Laminate Pet Animal. There’s a bit more of a driving momentum to this number, though it has a similar, though more melodic, vocal approach.  Again, you’re greeted with a gorgeous rising pitch vocal in the chorus.  Songs like these are easily appreciated by all.

Perhaps one of the more gratifying things about Snowmine is their willingness to explore the outer spectrums of indie rock.  “Danger in the Snow” has sort of a tribal beat that runs through it, and the rest of the song feels as if you’re meeting the more spastic younger brother of Grizzly Bear.  Once again, arrangements of horns and what not strengthen the sound, providing a more distinct sound for the group, rather than allowing them to live as pure mimics. But all this barely holds up to what the rest of the collection has in store for you…just wait for more direct pop joy.

Perhaps too much of the first half of Laminate Pet Animal is dictated by experimentation and lush arrangements, for once “Let Me In” breaks in, there’s no turning back.  This is perhaps the best song on the record, and perhaps one of the best tracks of the year to date.  It’s such an unassuming track, mingling along with trickling guitar lines, rim shots on the drum, and a wondrous melody that captivates you time and time again. Similarly, “Hologram,” closes out this effort from Snowmine with a slow-paced, piano-backed ballad.  Emphasis here is definitely placed on the craft of each harmony, making sure it coincides with multiple vocals tracks and various entrances and exits of instruments.  More than “Let Me In,” it delves a bit further into the creative side, but near the four minute mark, the speed picks up, carrying the song to a triumphant close.

Listening to this record is something everyone should participate in this week.  The songwriting is magnificent, as well as the emphatic touches of careful accompaniment.  Putting it all together perfectly is the key that makes Laminate Pet Animal such a success, and you’ll walk away from the effort wishing you had more from Snowmine to take with you.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/05-Let-Me-In.mp3]

Download: Snowmine – Let Me In [MP3]

Twin Shadow – Forget

Rating: ★★★★ ·

It seems like nowadays, you throw a label on a band, give them a bit of hype, and sure enough, it usually works out for the band, deserving or not.  Finally, we’ve come to a band in 2010 who deserve this adoration, Twin Shadow.  While a great bit of Forget is dominated by electronic textures, there’s this underlying attention to details that equips the album with layer after layer of pure beauty.  Even when things don’t seem to fit altogether, somehow it’s tied in neatly, crafting one hell of a debut.

You walk right into a hint of synthesized darkness, mild beats, creating something of a somber sensation, just as George Lewis Jr. makes his first appearance.  Hidden behind the instrumentation, or barely intruding, Lewis’ vocals evoke that Murray Lightburn feel, warm and affecting. There’s all these odd touches of instrumentation, crafting something wonderfully unique, all as the song works its way towards a bliss-filled ending.

Everything about the way Lewis and Grizz Bear chap Chris Taylor built Forget makes it one of the most rewarding listens on this side of pop music.  “Shooting Holes at the Moon” jumps off with this groovy little work on the drums, then there’s some throbbing bass rhythm added in, along with all sorts of hints of string work in the background.  It’s all about the funk, yet as Lewis jumps in to join the party, he brings a suave element, giving the song a bit of a house party feeling, if that party was full of sweet tunes.  Those little guitar short shots in the background just make the element of electronics just rise above your typical cliched laptop band.  This is precisely where these sorts of bands should live; they should aspire to be Twin Shadow.

Seriously, “Yellow Balloon” recalls those late nights spent in dingy dancehalls with your friends, while whiskey poured from the bar.  And yet Lewis still wants you to do your thing, he just wants to add a touch of class, which usually comes by way of his soulful voice and the various textures.  Easily this could disappear as just another chillwaved track, but the fact that you can decipher the real instruments, brings this jam into the forefront.  Don’t forget the delivery of Lewis when he coos “the secret handshakes/the swimming hole/keep awake.” So right on.  Twin Shadow easily could border on the line cheesy, yet you have to return time and time again to the craft of the songwriting.  “Slow” has this Edge-influenced guitar line that runs in the background, which definitely harkens back to an era of innocent electronic music, but instead of sticking with his clean polished vocals, George decides to throw an echo-y yell in the background of the chorus. He’s challenging our conceptions, or rather challenging us to go back to the days of refreshing club hits.

Forget had the potential to fall flat on its face, a victim of its own hype.  But, George Lewis Jr. wasn’t going to let that happen, choosing to create music that he thought was both beautiful and fun.  In his pursuit, he created an album that rises above the doldrums of your everyday electronic music, providing us with our first vision of what Twin Shadow is really all about. After listening to this record, we’re all about what ever Lewis and company are all about, especially if sounds this ridiculously good.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Twin-Shadow-Yellow-Balloon.mp3]

Download: Twin Shadow – Yellow Balloon [MP3]

Miniature Tigers – Fortress

Rating: ★★★½ ·

A couple of EPs and a full-length under their belt sees Miniature Tigers returning to the fold, offering up another gem of an indie pop record for the masses.  Fortress has the band coming off confident as ever, backed by popular demand and praise from the blogosphere, not to mention classic print media like Rolling Stone.

A little bit of tinkering with percussive elements brings the listener’s ear closer on the album’s first track “Mansion of Misery,” just before the drums bounce in, along with Charlie Brand’s vocal presence.  It climaxes with a crashing bit of cymbals, right before piano and rising vocals carry us into the end.  It’s a formula indicative of where the band lives, switching things up to meet their fancy.   They employ it again on “Rock n Roll Mountain Troll,” going in three different directions in just over a minute, but the chorus is where you’ll grab the most pleasure from this track, not that there’s a bad spot in it.

Single “Gold Skull” has the benefit of working with Neon Indian, though you have to admit that a producer can only do so much, you know, if the song isn’t actually there.  Electronic blips raise the bar on the band’s pop elements, giving it a bit more of a pulse.  Warm melodies come in and out of the song, putting this group on a competitive level with every other band out there.  However, this song just has a certain something that rises above the rest, making it a favorite for many lists come the end of the year. From here they go right into another grand number, “Bullfighter Jacket.”  Aside from the somewhat annoying “yayayayaya” throughout the song, there’s this ridiculously glorious drum work that accompanies every harmony created by the band.  It’s like a more elaborate version of the Dodos, working with better melodies and higher pitches.

But, you should know that this isn’t all about pop goodness and sweeping melodies.  Miniature Tigers have a bit more to offer you here.  You can take “Dark Tiger” and the fragility in Brand’s vocal display, and you’re in some different world entirely, as if you’ve gotten lost in a world of lollipops and gumdrops, finding yourself reflecting in a bit of solemnity.  Sure, there are some light touches of multiple harmonies within this track, but for the most part, it’s lightly picked guitar and a fragile lead singer.

In the end, Fortress is exactly what you wanted it to be; it’s an album with crafty melodies in the pop spectrum, but leaning to the left of the main vein in American music culture.  Listening to this album, it seems to have the same craftiness of Grizzly Bear, using delicate touches here and there to build the sonic element within the tracks, but at the same time, Miniature Tigers are a lot more accessible in the long run.  This is an enjoyable listen, giving you a sense of positive emotions listen after listen.  Definitely a good place to find yourself as summer winds down, and you need a little revitalization.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/play.mp3]

Download: Miniature Tigers – Gold Skull [MP3]

Inlets – Inter Arbiter

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Sebastian Krueger has a lot of creative friends, but it’s his own talents as the creator for the Inlets project that really make the listening experience completely worthwhile.  Inter Arbiter is the newest album from the group, the first since the Vestibule EP.  While it has many traces of the last outing, it’s clear that the whole construction has only gotten more detailed, building layer upon layer of instrumentation to craft an ornately beautiful album.

“Canteen” is the first real track to demonstrate the process of Inlets, with that odd time signature guitar playing, and minimal percussive accompaniment.  While many people see the minimalism as a nod to Steve Reich, there is a much more pop-oriented structure to the writing of this record, as evidenced on “In Which, I, Robert.”  This track is by far the most accessible of the ten, with the hook being brought into play by the vocal performance, and the call-and-response vocals that jump out in the background.  It’s probably one of the shortest numbers, but it’s the one many people will go back to as their favorite.

“Bright Orange Air” was the band’s first single off Inter Arbiter, and while it carefully walks you along the cusp of Krueger’s falsetto, the musicianship is what will stick with you long afterwards.  As much as you don’t want to draw comparisons to Grizzly Bear, you can definitely sense the relationship between the two bands here, from the rim shots on the drum that keep pace to the vocal melody, all accompanied by what is surely a clarinet (or another woodwind).   It’s this interesting approach that perhaps draws people to make the Reich comparison, but really just needs to simply go in the books as superb craftsmanship.  Interestingly, it’s often the vocal performances on the most diverse songs that really grabs at the listener.  This is precisely the case on “Bells and Whistles,” which does have all that the title suggests, but I found myself holding onto the vocals, and the way they seem to rise and fall in the middle of notes.  Just beautiful.

Near the end of the album, “Famous Looks” offers more of the same, though with a bit of a faster pace. It leaves room for the next album to show continued progression, as one can’t stand in place for too long in this genre without appearing too redundant.  Perhaps it is the much more pronounced percussion breaking through, but this song is one of the more exciting, if you can even call it that.  Oddly, that’s not what Inter Arbiter is about at all.

The new album from Inlets delves into extreme craftsmanship that remains soft and gentle throughout, despite the ebbs and flows in the mood of Inter Arbiter.  For those looking for a more experimental approach to modern pop construction, this is a brilliant place to land, while others can simply bask in the warmth created by Sebastian Krueger and friends.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/inletsrobert.mp3]

Download: Inlets – In Which I, Robert [MP3]

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