Atlas Sound – Logos

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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]

Owen – New Leaves

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Rating: ★★★½ ·

Owen’s sole member, Mike Kinsella, has been tooling around the scene since before we even knew what a ‘scene’.  With his brother, Tim, Mike helped start the groundbreaking band Cap n’ Jazz in 1989 which, with a solitary LP and a handful of singles and compilation tracks, changed the way we saw indie rock.  Since the bands split in 1995, Kinsella has put in time with such indie luminaries as Joan of Arc, American Football, Owls, and eventually settling with a his current solo project, Owen, in 2001.

In that time Kinsella has released five albums under the Owen moniker.  Each of these albums, while progressing with minor changes from one to the next, have essentially remained the same: Kinsella’s calming, but oft-times uncertain voice, telling of drunken late nights and one night stands, all with a background of lush acoustic melodies that surround you in blankets of finger-picking, hammer-ons and pull-offs.  If Kinsella weren’t such an accomplished lyricist and musician this formula would become tiresome.  In all honesty, for this reviewer, it had gotten tiresome around 2004 with the release of Owen’s third album, I Do Perceive.  I had grown tired of the clever narratives and pretty songs about finding girls and losing said girls.  I had all but written off Mike Kinsella.

But starting with 2006’s At Home With… and continuing more in his current album, New Leaves (released this week on Polyvinyl Records), something happened with Owen: Mike Kinsella grew up.  After a marriage and a new daughter, Kinsella’s lyrics have matured. Now he is longing for change in his life.  In the first single “Good Friends, Bad Habits” Kinsella laments about being jealous of his friends late nights and bar fights, but in the refrain he clarifies “Sometimes, like every time she breathes, I embrace my routine”.  This sentiment is carried on throughout New Leaves, in songs like the title track and “Amnesia and Me”.

There are still the tracks, most notably “Ugly on the Inside” and “Brown Hair in a Bird’s Nest” that hearken back to his previous lyrical content, and it just seems tired compared to recent domesticated enlightenment. Overall, though, New Leaves is a beautiful and heartfelt record that deserves a listen or two, but it would be nice to change things up every once and a while.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/02-good-friends-bad-habits-1.mp3]

Download: Owen – Good Friends, Bad Habits [MP3]

Joan of Arc – Boo Human

Rating: ★★★ · ·

From the minute this album opens you are opened to the intricate guitar work of Tim Kinsella; its always the most delicate of strumming or so it seems. Its as if he is taking his guitar for a little journey; he speeds up, he slows down, but its always very personal. His work in Joan of Arc, and various other bands, has always been witness to this delicate guitar; it goes throughout the album.

In fact, this album, and this band for that matter, will always benefit from the unique playing of Kinsella. Each song he puts together has an entirely different feel than the last, yet each song on this album fits uniquely together. Somehow Kinsella consistently manages to use other musicians to construct unique mini-masterpieces of song; all these songs could stand alone without the use of lyrics.

Sadly, it is Kinsella’s lyrics, and more so, his voice, that seem to plague this album. His voice is usually too gentle to believe that there is passion in his voice, but when he does provide that passion, it is as if he straining to fake it. It never really comes together cohesively, and at times, his voice can destroy entire songs.

Lyrically, this album deals with a break-up, which has some really beautifully written moments. Unfortunately, the general theme of this album get a bit old, despite the variation in each song. It is a great album of break-up songs, but unfortunately the entire album is break-up songs; that doesn’t really work for this album.

There are two standout tracks on this album, worthy of your purchase, somewhere on the Interweb: the unfortunately named “Tell-Tale Penis” and “So-and-So.” The vocals and lyrics on “So-and-So” are the perfect way to finish this album, which continues to keep Joan of Arc swimming along in the rock n’ roll canon.