FT5: My Most Divisive Bands

It’s interesting being a huge music fan. You come across bands that you absolutely adore, and you rush to make mixes for your friends who ultimately decide that they hate the one song you were most excited for them to fall in love with when you made it.  I started thumbing through my catalog and the Internet, diligently searching for the bands in my collection that I love, but I feel people hate; I also looked at bands on the net I know people love, but I hate.  Here’s my list of the Top 5.

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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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Thomas Function – In the Valley of Sickness

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

When I fell across the Alabama outfit Thomas Function last year at SXSW, I absolutely loved what they brought to the live performance.  Their vibrant energy and jangling guitars brought so much force that it was hard to ignore them.  So when Fat Possum sent me their new album, In the Valley of Sickness, I was eager to see if their live stage presence would carry over the recorded material.  Surprisingly, sort of, they do live up to my expectations, if not exceed them.

As soon as you hear the vocals, you’ll recognize them, at least if you’ve been hanging out in the Austin area for the last few years.  The voice sounds exactly like The Strange Boys, with a whole lot of Southern influence, but just a touch more clarity than the Austin kids. Sure, they sound a bit off-kilter, but the energy hiding behind the vocals is enough to push the music along.

As you go track by track through this album, you can tell that these boys are all about having a little it of fun, which is great to see, as this is the least arty record to come out this year.  “Day in the Shade” comes at you full force, and it almost seems as if these boys are going so fast that they are bound to run off the tracks at any moment.  Still, they hold back just enough to finish the song.  You also can’t deny the humor from this album, which shows once again, that Thomas Function is just out there enjoying their rock n’ roll lifestyle.  On “Picking Scabs” the call of “are you going to buy a record or not” seems to show that these boys know their place in the music world, and if you help support them, you’ll keep them out on the road to rock for years to come.

For me, I can’t really go on with this review without mentioning “Belly of the Beast.”  It’s like mellow power-pop with a twist from the Deep South.  Backing vocals are used to perfection, and touches of organ don’t ever seem to hurt a song with jangling guitars.  Similarly, “Two Pigs” is another such tune that shows the band’s abilities, even when they aren’t going full force in your face. Holding back seems to suit the group, if not only to show their diversity as songwriters.  These two songs fit perfectly into the album, and by filling out the sound, it shows Thomas Function knows no bounds.

For all those kids who loved the early Kings of Leon albums, or just enjoy a touch of Southern rock in their punk, you’ll want to find your way to a record store to get your hands on In the Valley of Sickness.  This group is far and above one of the more enjoyable listens for this year, and you’ll treasure all the foot-stomping moments Thomas Function gives you for the rest of your days.

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Download: Thomas Function – Belly Of The Beast [MP3]

FT5: Bands I Refuse To Apologize For

0619top5coverSince this is my first post, I thought I should give everyone a little bit of insight into who I am. Unlike the other ATH writers, I refuse to have “Guilty Pleasures.” Either I like a band, or I don’t. I won’t apologize or make excuses for what I listen to, and I try not to give other people a hard time for what they like (one exception would be Nathan). I’m not saying every band I like is great. Sometimes they have great musicians with bad lyrics and catchy beats. Sometimes they’re just catchy. And the best is when I hate a band, but I hear them so often that I’m tricked into liking them. That being said, here are five bands on my iPod that have play counts at or around 30, and that’s just since April.  Follow the jump for more.
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Frantic Clam – Anatomica EP

Rating: ★★★★ ·

This is the second EP from new Austin band Frantic Clam, and this one easily demonstrates that the horizon could be endless. Anatomica screams of a young band progressing, moving beyond their influences in order to discover their own sound.

Opening stomper “We Own the Night” still maintains the roots rock remedy of their first album, but the increased focus on the vocals show the band pushing beyond the boundaries they faced on their previous effort. But, they don’t just rest with their old styling, as they push forward into “Korean Beauty Queen.” Many will see a TV on the Radio vocal similarity, but there is more beneath the vocals. Slick guitars seem to cut through the song, creating space for the rest of the band to fill out the sound with various elements.

Then you encounter a song like “Indiana,” which goes in a completely different direction than the earlier tracks on the EP. It’s a mellow number that shows a band who knows when to hold back, bringing in the listener closer. The chorus gets a little muddy in the middle, but each verse really is able to stand on its own as a perfect piece of modern pop. The title track “Anatomica” is unlike any song on this short collection. It’s a bit like early Kings of Leon, emotionally, but it has it’s own attitude-an attitude altogether Frantic Clam. Throw in a sing-along element, and you have an inspiring song.

Lyrically, you can tell that the band has fallen upon hard times, which is unfortunate, as we wish that upon no one, but perhaps this has led to the focus of this new EP. One thing for sure, is that this band is set upon leaving themselves with varying directions to pursue. You can tell by listening to this effort, along with their last, that they are not eager to be pigeonholed, which is refreshing in and of itself. Congratulations to the band for another positive step forward.

Stop by the Beauty Bar this Wednesday, January 14th, to get your hands on this new EP. Not to mention a slew of other shows they have lined up for your listening pleasure.

FT5: Disappointing Albums Of 2008

In 2008 we saw all kinds of releases across the board. Noise-pop seemed to be a pretty big deal, as did lo-fi production. But when preparing for our year-end lists, we came across the conundrum of deciding the biggest disappointments in 2008. Today’s Friday Top 5 is full of albums that our staff really looked forward to listening to when they were released, but instead fled in fear as to what our ears had just heard. List is after the jump

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The Shaky Hands – Lunglight

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Lately it seems that the world has gone completely soft, or at least the spectrum of rock n’ roll has gone soft.  We desperately need a band that can grab us and shake the dust from our record collections.  The Shaky Hands appear to be that band, and their album Lunglight is just a taste of what they have to offer.

Opening track, “A New Parade” comes off with jangly pop affection, as pounding drums drive the song towards the end.  The vocals are a little raspy, with just a tinge of countrification a la Kings of Leon.

The band name is quite fitting, considering the sounds on this album have a sort of shakiness that can only be associated with pure, unadulterated rock.  It has this post-punk feeling to it, but fused with a country soul, and stirred with just the right amount of pop sensibility.  Although they carry such a signature sound, the album never seems to get old, always maintaining a sense of freshness in each song.

Lyrically, it seems that the album is filled with issues of struggle.  In today’s world we come across such battles between friends, lover and, ultimately, ourselves.  Understanding this, The Shaky Hands have set out to let us know that we are not alone in our daily issues; they, too, are confronting these demons.  If such battles must be fought, then we shall do it together.

And, the percussion is simply amazing here.  The drum work is all over the place, hammered out with precision that only comes to the those with the most devout practice routines.  You’ll find it difficult not to bounce your feet along to the driving rhythms here, which is at it should be with rock n’ roll.

Faults do exist on Lunglight, but they are things that can easily be overlooked.  The last three songs, for instance, extend over a minute longer than the previous songs, which has the effect of dragging the last moments of the record to the end. Also, it’s hard to completely buy into the vocals here.  Yes, they are reminiscent of other acts, as mentioned earlier, but at times you’ll find it hard to chase down the words.

In the end you will find that the band has created an album full of bright moments you can listen to time and time again.  Those who fall in line with bands like Kings of Leon (thats you RayRay) will surely find that great album you’ve been waiting for KoL to finally put out.

Kings of Leon – Only by the Night

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Kings of Leon’s trajectory has been a strange and relatively quick one. Following 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood, they took the sexual swagger out of the garage for the next year’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, which proved that they were in fact more than the “Southern Strokes,” (though both not so secretly harbored arena-rock intentions). Heartbreak, especially songs like “King of the Rodeo” and “Razz,” saw Kings adding nuance and precision to their sound; they became a garage rock band with a an impeccable sense of melody and no pretensions. How could you not like them?

Then something happened. Last April’s Because of the Times saw the band sharpening even tighter their sound, and in the process supplementing their straight-ahead rockers with some out-of-left-field creative rhythms (“McFearless,”) and true-to-form stadium singles like “Black Thumbnail,” (a perfect show opener, which it was for years).  So they were toeing the line, experimenting and staying true, but toeing it well, growing and taking fans along for the journey.

But they seem to have hit a wall on Only By The Night. Rather than coalesce their forward-thinking intentions with four-on-the-floor burners like Aha Shake’s “Four Kicks,” and “The Bucket,” Kings of Leon have fully embraced a sort-of mechanized hybrid of rock: the rhythms are constantly creative thanks to drummer Nathan Followill, but the soul, the danger, the mess – they’ve all been stripped away.

Songs like “Be Somebody,” “17,” and “Revelry” lack any semblance of the tenacity and passion of much simpler, direct songs like “Razz,” or Youth’s “Molly’s Chambers.” On “Be Somebody,” singer Caleb Followill’s optimistic chorus sounds pallid and forced. (Even on Aha Shake’s “Soft,” when he was signing about erectile dysfunction, at least it was heartfelt. At least he was into it, so to speak).

Gone also are the rave-ups like “Spiral Staircase” “Velvet Snow,” “Taper Jean Girl,” “Pistol of Fire,” and “Wasted Time”; taken their place are songs like “Manhattan” and “I Want You” – essentially worn-down Because of the Times sequels (note that rhythmic similarities between “Manhattan” and Times’ “Fans”), and the paint-by-numbers slow-blues exercises of “Cold Desert” and “I Want You,” which, despite its title, has little heart besides a true desire to do something different in the studio.

There are a few wonderful moments on the album, included entirely in the first three songs. Synthesizer-led opener “Closer,” makes a strong case for their pursuit of the ambient, non-traditional rock song, and “Crawl,” despite the somewhat nonsensical lyrics – is it fair to even dissect them? – pounds with the distorted intensity of the Secret Machines song “Sad and Lonely.” Even “Sex on Fire,” retains some of the bounce of Times’ standouts “Ragoo” and “Fans.”

But with the dirt wiped clean and the gears on display, Only By The Night shines in an uncomfortable, affectless way. There is no build, no climax, no sweat, no come down. There’s only the intricate and precise instrumentation of an incredibly well recorded sound that, like their singer’s trademark indiscernible screech/wail, says very little.

More New Kings Of Leon

Kings of Leon have another new song called “Sex on fire” you can check out on the band’s myspace page.  The song will appear on the King’s new album Only by the Night set for release later in September.  The band also has some new tour dates they just posted to their website with a stop at Austin’s own Music Hall on the list. Tickets will go on sale August 15th for the event.  We’ll post ya a reminder again closer to the sale date.

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