Melancholy Tune from Whoa Melodic

whoaOne of the little labels of the world that I follow closely is WIAIWYA, who don’t release too often, but when they do, they always have their finger on the pulse of great tunes. They’ve just upped this brand new song from Whoa Melodic, reminding me of just how well they are at picking up great acts. This track definitely has a somber feel to it, but in doing that, there’s also a lyrical promise to be true to one’s self. It’s got that same musical sentiment as M. Ward, but for some reason, feels more accessible and sincere. As of now, looks like this will be released as a 7″ come November.

Three Kelley Stoltz Records!?!?!

kelleyThree new Kelley Stoltz records? That’s a gift to us all. I feel like he labored with his follow-up to To Dreamers, so it’s great to see the songsmith back so soon with three new albums, although one is being attributed to Willie Weird. Regardless, I’ll go on a limb here and say that Stoltz is the poor man’s (or rich man’s, depending on your view) M. Ward. He’s got the same great recording processes that tie into the nostalgic landscape of American music, yet he’s a little bit left of center…so perhaps he’s never gotten his due.  I’m hoping these three releases get him some much deserved accolades. It seems the big release is In Triangle Time via Castle Face in November, whilst 4 Cuts and the Scuzzy Inputs of Willie Weird albums come out on Stroll On, a UK label. Here’s some samples:

Melancholy Storytelling from Tom Brosseau

tommyboyI can’t say that I’ve been too familiar with Tom Brosseau up until this point, but after listening to a great deal of his new work, I think I’m going to join in with the applause.  He’s got a classic style to songwriting; it’s one that puts him next to old work of Kelley Stoltz and M. Ward.  There’s a transparency in his narratives, but there’s also a sound that I recall hearing around my house as a young kid….later in my smoke-filled one-bedroom apartment.  His new effort Perfect Abandon will find it’s way into the traditional American cannon when it’s released on March 3rd via Crossbill Records.

She & Him – Volume 3

sheandhim

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When it comes to indie queens of the Continental United States, there’s no skirting around it, Zooey Deschanel holds her own. Toting her own TV show, girly advice website, and, of course, half of this dynamic duo, she’s got her plate full. And of course, the Him of the title, M. Ward, has his own musical career in addition to this side project. So sometimes it’s even easy to forget about She & Him, but Volume 3 is a nice little reminder of the talent within this pair.

This third effort in this series of albums from She & Him is far from a reflection of its collective members being busy with their own lives, and more of a representation of the goodness that these two have to offer to the indie music scene. First up, they come at you swinging in “I’ve Got Your Number, Son,” which makes for a burst of color to start the album. High-pitched yelps and ‘oohs’ from Zooey are the first sounds to reach your ears, and from this instant, you know Volume 3 is going to be a work of higher energy from these two.

Higher energy, yes, but they still stick to their retro, Phil Spector ‘wall-of- sound’ style for this third work. Which leads me to essentially the same criticism I had with Volume Two: there’s just not a lot different than their previous album, or even Volume One. Granted, it works for the two of them, as Deschanel’s vocals seem to belong to another era entirely, and are suited nicely by the musical accompaniment of rag-timey piano, acoustic guitar, some simple bass lines. However while the band takes advantage of this to craft a style, which they have thus adhered to up to this point, on the tracks that don’t exactly pop out from the rest, the lack of novelty works against these two and I found myself tuning it out—it’s been done before…by them.

But that’s not to say that Volume 3 doesn’t have some mighty fine good tunes for fans or those who have been under a rock since 2008. In fact, there are quite a few hits on here that stand out not only on the album level, but also through She & Him’s whole catalog. There’s singles like “I Could’ve Been Your Girl” and “Sunday Girl,” that evoke a sassier side of Zooey, playing on her vocal tones and even employing a bit of playful French. On the other hand, at the end of the album you have some excellent slower numbers like “London” and “Shadow of Love–” both will wow you with their simple power and beauty within Deschanel’s vocals.

The bottom line is there’s nothing really fundamentally new to the style on Volume 3, which may exactly be what the band is going for by continuing the trend of entitling their albums ‘Volumes.’ If such is the case, then this is a contender for the most hits.

ACL Battles: M83 vs. M. Ward

Well it’s time ladies and gents, time for everyone to start mapping out that ACL schedule and deciding who is really going to be worth your time in the sun.  While skimming through the schedule, the first major conflict I see for a lot of people has to be on Friday with M. Ward and M83 both going on at 7:30.  Now I also see Thievery Corporation going on around the same time, but I’m going to leave them out of the mix since they aren’t really my thing.  

So who you gonna pick?  The atmospheric electronic jams of M83?  Or would you rather go with the songwriting style of the legendary M. Ward?  I think I know who I’d pick…. I think.  

Let’s hear your thoughts.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/02-never-had-nobody-like-you.mp3]

Download: M Ward – Never Had Nobody Like You [MP3]

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/M83-Midnight-City.mp3]

Download: M83 – Midnight City [MP3]

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]

ACL Preview: The Many Faces Of Monsters Of Folk

We’re going off the deep end here with a bit of a different look at our next featured artist for our Austin City Limits Festival coverage.  The band is a sort of super-group, made up of renowned musicians in the indie world, and we’ve borrowed some ideas from our great friends over at theManyFacesOf.com.  Hopefully you enjoy this feature, and without further ado, we introduce you to The Many Faces Of Monsters of Folk.  Follow the jump for more.

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She & Him – Volume Two

Rating: ★★★ · ·

After a stunning debut that won over many a doubter, She & Him return for their second album, Volume Two.  You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t appreciate the first effort, at least to a certain degree, but would the yearning for a second helping of Zooey be nearly as fulfilling as the first run through?  Honestly, it’s probably equally as rewarding as the first record, but that gets lost in the fact that it doesn’t find the group really pushing any limits.

“Thieves” finds the duo transported to precisely the place where they left off, cashing in on our adoration for Motown girl-groups of the past or female country singers with lush orchestration.  While you can see that this was definitely mapped out a whole lot better, with Ward’s raspy whisper singing along during the chorus, it’s not too far removed from the last release, something that may trouble some listeners.

“In the Sun” displays Zooey’s vocal prowess.  Perhaps it’s not the most perfect voice of all time, but you’ll find it every bit as enchanting as you did the first time you heard her sing while watching Elf. However, it has to be M. Ward who steals the entire show here; his guitar work cutting in and out of the song definitely makes this a whole lot more memorable than some of the tracks you’ll hear this time around.

While the album opens with a more upbeat feeling, due mostly to predominantly featured piano, the warmer songs hold the bread and butter.  “Me and You” is probably the most simplistic song, yet the arrangement of the song, accompanied with slide guitar makes it extremely powerful.  She & Him back this up with “Going to Get Along Without You Now,” a song that definitely has a hint of playfulness to it, but Ward’s simple strumming holds the song in place, never letting it stray to far into the realms of kitsch.  Which is not how much of the latter half-of the album goes.

Perhaps the redundancy of the piano work here makes it all seem a bit too childish.  There’s not a lot of exploration on the keys, instead relying upon simple chord progression. While it was charming mixed in on Volume One, this time around it comes off as if the band has run out of ideas. You can contrast that with some of the simple guitar songs, like “Brand New Shoes,” which comes in near the end, and you can feel as if something just hits home with your heart when the piano is absent.

In the end, “If You Can’t Sleep” closes out the record, doing so in a bit of a different fashion.  The title definitely reflects the emotional appeal of the song, and the pacing, which makes perfect sense, as the band isn’t one to push boundaries too far.  All in all, Volume Two leaves you with the feeling that She & Him didn’t want to stray too far away from their original work.  That being said, a detractor here is that it doesn’t stray too far at all, and you get the feeling that this sits perfectly next to Volume One. It’s a pleasant enough listen, just one that isn’t nearly as exciting as the first time you heard Zoeey and Matt together.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/She-Him-In-the-Sun.mp3]

Download: She & Him – In the Sun [MP3]

New Music From She & Him

she-and-himFinally!  What a nice surprise to get up this morning and find a much anticipated new track from super duo She & Him.  This new track “In the Sun” will appear on the sophomore LP Volume Two which is due out March 23rd on Merge.  The new track also features some guest vocals from Tilly & The Wall.  Nice.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/She-Him-In-the-Sun.mp3]

Download: She & Him – In the Sun [MP3]

Free Sampler From 4AD

4adThe huge UK record label 4AD are back in action again at the end of the year with another free sampler that highlights their releases from 2010.  You’ll see ATH favorites Camera Obscura, Big Pink, M. Ward, and a slew of others.  You’ll also find this gem from The National called “So Far Around the Bend” which appeared on the Dark Was the Night compilation.  The sampler is free to download for the price of an email address.  While you’re at it, check out the sampler released by 4AD around this time last year.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/1-05-So-Far-Around-The-Bend.mp3]

Download: The National – So Far Around The Bend [MP3]

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