Strawberry Whiplash – Hits in the Car

Rating: ★★★★ ·

It’s strange to think that Hits in the Car is truly the debut record for Strawberry Whiplash; seems like I’ve been posting their singles or B-Sides for years now.  Regardless, this collection of thirteen great pop tunes is pretty spot-on for a debut, going between infectious indie pop and noisy janglings; its all worth every minute of time you invest, and one can only suspect that you’ll get more back the more you put in.

Perhaps one of my favorite attributes of this sort of pop is the simplicity of both the entire construction, from song title to the execution of the track itself, it’s no small feat to pull this off as well as Strawberry Whiplash does.  Take, for instance, “Everyone’s Texting,” which might seem like sort an arbitrary song, as we’re aware everyone is definitely texting.  But, from the slight jangle in the guitar work, to the steadying drum beat, the song is more than just plain commentary; it’s pristine pop.

For me, one of the best things about Hits in the Car is the effortless playfulness that seems to coincide with the group’s work.  You can listen to “What Do They Say About Me” and hear that nostalgic swirling guitar, but Sandra’s vocals, purposefully stuttering at points, show both the fun and attention to detail that goes into pop like this.  Even smashing hit “Stop Look and Listen” plays with the vocal delivery, which either demonstrates the fun they’re having, or just their reliance on capturing the perfect hook–it all works for me.

Even more promising is some of the slight experimentation that comes into play on the album, showing that Strawberry Whiplash have other places they’re willing to go, musically speaking.  “It Came to Nothing” has this great little power-pop swagger to it, as Sandra sings gently atop it all.  Or you can listen to the band as they dabble in the noise-rock territory, one of the few songs where Laz takes control of the vocal duties.  The other track where he features prominently is “You Make Me Shine,” a song that sounds remarkably like something you’d expect the Magnetic Fields to craft. You’ve got to credit a group that aren’t willing to be pigeon-holed by their own sound, or the masses for that matter.

When it boils down to it all, you can easily write about each one of these songs as great singles, and assuredly that’s what the group intended with the titles Hits in the Car.  What’s surprising is that they pulled it off, rather successfully.  You can listen to Strawberry Whiplash‘s new effort bits at a time, or as an entire collection, but no matter what, you’re going to find yourself loving it.  It’s simple, it’s poppy, it’s experimental; really, it’s just a gem of a record.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/straw05.mp3]

Download:Strawberry Whiplash – Now I Know It’s You [MP3]

Dreamy New Track from Strawberry Whiplash

Long ago we posted about the newest record from Strawberry Whiplash, Hits in the Car.  Now the band have returned with their second single from the record, “Now I Know It’s You.” While the first single was pure pop goodness, this one has a little bit more of a hazy quality, giving off that dream-pop vibe you know that we love.  The great thing about the group is that their tracks are always short and to the point, giving you the goodness you know you crave.  So, if you’re like us, go pick up the record on March 27th from the good folks over at Matinee Recordings.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/straw05.mp3]

Download: Strawberry Whiplash – Now I Know It’s You [MP3]

More New Music from Cats on Fire!

Cats on Fire have to be my favorite Finnish group, though there have been some great ones of late.  Their first record Our Temperance Movement played on my record player for a solid year, and this new effort All Blackshirts to Me will is shaping up to be one of my favorites in 2012. It’s slated to be released by our friends at Soliti Music and Matinee Recordings, with the overseas release date stated as March 28th. On this new jam, it starts off with just a bit of trickling pop vocals, then it reaches this pinnacle, which honestly has me spinning around my room in absolute glee. Definitely can’t get enough from these guys, can you?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/A-Few-Empty-Waves.mp3]

Download:Cats on Fire – A Few Empty Waves [MP3]

Azure Blue – Rule of Thirds

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Tobias Isaksson might not have the biggest name recognition here in the United States, but he’s been plying his trade in pop songwriting for some time with his former bands Irene and Laurel Music.  His debut record for the excellent Matinee Recordings is titled Rule of Thirds playfully maneuvers back and forth between traditional new wave and modern electro-pop, all the while referencing heartbreak through various allusions.

Album opener “Fingers” clearly defines the scope of Rule of Thirds from the get-go, offering a trickling bit of synth work as Isaksson warmly whispers his lyrics of love lost.  While the pacing of the track is slow, it provides a precursor to what will follow, establishing a strong foundation for the record’s entirety.  Immediately following is one of the standout tracks present here, “Catcher in the Rye.”  Musically, the electronic work almost builds to an arm-swinging dance hit, but what’s interesting is the juxtaposed vocal presence, begging you to remain a bit subdued; it becomes more of a genuine pop gem rather than a dance floor banger. For a bit, the album kind of walks this same line, which at times can be to its detriment, being a bit too complacent, but pushing through reveals much more depth waiting on the latter half.

One of the tracks that immediately stood out to me on the first several listens was “Long Way Down.”  The opening synth sequence was enough to hook me originally, yet it continued to evolve more into a traditional pop song, forcing me to realize that my Azure Blue listening experience may have been all wrong from the start, as it’s more carefully crafted pop tunes that rise above the label of mere synth pop.  “Dreamy Eyes” might completely contradict that little offering, as it’s definitely one of the most upbeat, danceable tracks, but the following track, “The Shore,” is anything but electro-pop.  Musically, yes, there’s some electronics here, but the minute details applied to “The Shore” demonstrate that this could easily be transferred into some genius guitar ballad.  Tobias seems to carefully consider the way his lyrics are delivered, with pitch and tone harmoniously fitting into the musical background.

The more you fall victim to the genius of Rule of Thirds, the more you realize that you could easily replace every bit of electronics with traditional guitar and drums, creating wondrous pop tunes, yet Isaksson as Azure Blue doesn’t seem to be content with normalcy.  He’s carefully crafted an album of love lost around intricate electronic details, providing listeners with track after track of gorgeous, melodious songs, the type that will sink deep into your soul the more you listen.  For this, amongst other reasons, the record is a huge success and worthy of many hours of your time.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/azure01.mp3]

Download: Azure Blue – The Catcher in the Rye [MP3]

More Great Pop from Azure Blue

Just recently we brought you a tune from Tobias Isaksson and his project Azure Blue, and we’ve got another wonderful track to share with you. This number comes from the band’s Rule of Thirds record, which you can purchase right now from Matinee Recordings (one of my favorites).  On the track below, there’s this old school New Order feel, at least in the organic construction of the song, but Isaksson’s vocals have a very different quality, almost airy or dreamy.  It alters the club-driven soundscape, but carries you into a far off place in your mind nonetheless.  Pick up the album at your local store now!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/04-Little-Confusions.mp3]

Download: Azure Blue – Little Confusions [MP3]

New Music from Azure Blue

For me, it’s been a great week, seeing the triumphant return of probably the best small label out there.  Matinee Recordings had a silent summer, but they’re back, and their roster now includes Azure Blue.  The group is primarily the project of Tobias Isakkson, who played prominent roles with Irene and Laurel Music.  Matinee will be releasing Rule of Thirds this December, and the band is already getting comparisons to groups such as OMD and New Order.  Sounds like a perfect way for Matinee to wrap up the year, and for you as well. Try out this little gem.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/azure01.mp3]

Download: Azure Blue – The Catcher in the Rye [MP3]

Fresh New Track from Strawberry Whiplash

It’s possible that I might have talked about Strawberry Whiplash too many times on these pages, but hey, at least I’m not trying to force Thom Yorke down your throats?  Luckily for you, there’s great new news coming from our dear friends over at Matinee Recordings, who’ll be releasing the Stop, Look and Listen EP from the Scots sometime in Decemeber (I hope!). You’ve just got to love Sandra’s voice, and the strength of the production makes the band sound absolutely superb.  For those of you who get lost in great pop music for days, this new track from our dearest Scottish band will have your head spinning.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/straw04.mp3]

Download: Strawberry Whiplash – Stop Look and Listen [MP3]

Champagne Riot – Moonstruck EP

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When I first got a press release of Champagne Riot, I expected that one of the participating members of Northern Portrait would bring me more hooks of the angular sort.  Not surprisingly, the Moonstruck EP definitely has plenty of hooks on it, but with a more delicate electronic bend, as opposed to my preconceived power-pop sort.

“Moonstruck” begins the affair with a nice little intro, but then this pounding rhythmic groove jumps in, as electronic beats seem to walk across the track.  Caspar Bock’s voice have this gentle quality that really bring the song together, and while you’re tempted to kick your boots up on the dance floor, there’s a bit of a steadying effect to the song.  Regardless, it kicks off the four-song trek joyfully.

You’ll find a bit more of traditional electronic-pop on “Goldrush.”  Every beat here is a bit more subdued than on the opener, which opens way for this soaring harmonic vocal that really seems to carry the entire track.  This track reminds me of the innocent joy I had as a young kid, when I first busted out New Order‘s Republic, before I worked backwards through the catalogue. Perhaps my favorite element of this song is its straightforward presentation; its not trying to be clever or witty, just wants to be a great track, which it is.

“Heart Stab” is possibly the one track here that just gets to sweet for my ears.  In the mix with a full album, you could probably slide it in nicely, but perhaps too much of a good thing can be bad.  It sounds really familiar too, and perhaps that’s why this song sort of irks me, due to the fact that I can’t place it! Still, there’s a bit of a twisted element in the lyrics, which sort of makes you wonder where Champagne Riot could truly go if they had time to craft an entire record of such music.

Your short journey with the Moonstruck EP ends with “A Friend of a Friend.” You’ll find that this song holds the future for Champagne Riot, as electronic elements are definitely present here, but piano/keyboard touches occasionally dominate the beats themselves, not to mention that the vocal delivery has this soothing quality.  You’ll find somewhat of an operatic montage moment in the latter half of the track, demonstrating that the duo are capable of pushing themselves in regards to their entire sound.  By the end of your journey, you can’t help but to wear a smile.  The tunes are written well, the melodies are great and sometimes we just need to let loose and enjoy this sort of fun.

You can pick it up at the Matinee Recordings Store.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/1Moonstruck.mp3]

Download: Champagne Riot -Moonstruck [MP3]

New Music from Champagne Riot

If you know me, you probably know that I think Matinee Recordings is one of the top 2 indie labels (the other being Captured Tracks), and they’ve got me excited all over again.  They’ve just put out the newest work from Champagne Riot, which features the bassists of neat-pop group Northern Portrait.  The four song collection is titled the Moonstruck EP.  The lead track “Moonstruck” definitely has more of an electric feel than a great deal of the work on Matinee, but what’s present, as a label standard it seems, is infectious hooks and melodies, making you want to go back and spin the song over and over.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, or this great duo.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/1Moonstruck.mp3]

Download: Champagne Riot -Moonstruck [MP3]

New Music from Strawberry Whiplash

You know how much we love Matinee Recordings, one of the best, if not the best, small labels around right now.  They’re releasing a special gift for their fans, The Matinee Holiday Soiree EP, and its filled with exclusive holiday tracks from five of the bands on their roster, including my personal favorite Math and Physics Club.  You also get to hear this new Strawberry Whiplash track, which despite having a holiday theme, doesn’t sound too far off from the splendid pop this label has been churning out for some time. You can preview it Here, then head over the the Matinee site to get your hands on your very own copy.  This is the perfect gift for your pop loving friends; its reasonably priced, and filled with good tunes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/straw03.mp3]

Download: Strawberry Whiplash – Santa Needs a Holiday [MP3]

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