ATH & ACL 2018: A Weekend One Recap

As you likely know, many of your faithful ATH crew members ventured out this weekend to take part in this thing called Austin City Limits Festival. Have you heard of it? It’s kind of a big deal. As always, the festival was run smooth like a baby’s bottom and a good time was had by all. Part of what we do to earn our keep is to offer opinions on the music side of things and overall thoughts/concerns from the weekend. Each member of the team who attended this weekend will share their own opinions.

Follow the jump for more from me and Nicole with a little gallery from around the grounds by bgray.

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New Track From The National????

TheNationalSingleEventThis is not a drill, nor a late April Fools joke as I first suspected. Everyone’s favorite broody sad dad rock band The National have dropped an out-of-left-field new track called “Sunshine On My Back,” which is probably the closest this band has ever been to an upbeat dance track, although the lyrics would have you believe otherwise. While the first part of this track sounds like the classic track from these gentlemen, as you progress the sound is a lighter kind of somber than we’re used to hearing with Matt Berninger’s vocals higher and airier than usual, but I’m digging it.  My day has been made by this surprise track, and I hope yours will be too.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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Rating: ★★★★★

Though already a staple of brooding indie rock and alternative music in general, The National are going to be one of those bands that follow you years down the road, regardless of their continuation of putting out new records. Fact of the matter is, time after time they have doled out albums whose entirety have wowed audiences, as they are filled to the brim with tracks that speak on a deeper emotional level while also rocking out pretty hard at points. If you haven’t figured it out by now, they’re sort of a big deal, and if you haven’t fallen in love with them by now Trouble Will Find Me is yet again another perfect place to start.

Around for 14 years and counting, this group of middle-aged men has found an uncanny way of speaking to you in ways you never thought they could and they keep on digging their way deeper on this sixth full length studio release. They’ve made some changes, but overall they’re still the same tight knit crew of brooders that will break your heart in some strange way that you enjoy. First up on Trouble Will Find Me is “I Should Live In Salt,” which brings you into the new sound for the band. As always, front man extraordinaire Matt Berninger croons away behind the lead vocals, but his voice has found a new vulnerability in its higher register here. Instead of his deep baritone, borderline mumbling voice, which is the norm for the band, we are introduced to this higher version of our favorite dark and cynical voice and the result is already and emotive difference. If you can believe it, The National have added yet another layer to their emotive depth, making this one of their most accessible albums.

As with any brilliant album, upon the first listen through, every song seems to be fighting for the prize of best track in your mind; every twist and turn the band takes seems to build upon something bigger. On Trouble Will Find Me, this is truth in every sense—the imagery carries through from track to track and if you’re listening closely, from their previous releases. However, it’s not just a rehashing of what they’ve already done, but a slightly different take on the dark and swirling mood that The National is famous for. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still extra dark and swirling like you like them, but at places, these dark clouds part a little to reveal a little glimmer of light. Take some lyrics from one of the most anthemic songs the band has written, “Graceless:” “Put the flowers you find in vase/if you’re dead in the morning they’ll brighten the place/don’t let ‘em die on the vines, it’s a waste.”

When I said accessible earlier, I didn’t mean easy or lazy or boring, but the very opposite. I could go through song by song here, iterating to you how excellent each one is, but Trouble Will Find Me speaks for itself. If you’ve been present in the indie world in the last few months, it’s quite possible you’ve already heard anywhere from one to five of the songs off this album without participating in any sort of illegal activity; the band has played the songs. They were confident that every song on this album is a solid, well-produced addition to their already extensive catalogue of highly emotive and outright beautiful music. They were right.

 

New Music from The Forms

If you haven’t caught onto this by now, you definitely should.  The Forms are finally returning this year with Derealization, set to be released in February as a Double LP, which will include their first album, Icarus. It’s got some pretty sweet guest spots, including one Matt Berninger. Personally, it’s really striking to hear how different, yet familiar, his voice sounds on this track.  I’m not sure if it’s the recording or what, but I know that it seems a bit rougher–I toally dig it.  Just add this to the string of hits coming your way in February.  Sure, it’s only six songs, but you buy it on vinyl, and it’ll be well-worth it.  And expect to see the band in Austin around SXSW.

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Download: The Forms – Fire To The Ground  [MP3]

FT5: Guys I’d Go Gay For

We’ve dedicated some time in the past to Hot Ladies of Indie Rock, which, well, is totally acceptable for a heterosexual male.  But, one of my homosexual brethren, Marcus, brought to my attention that I need to give some respect to some of the men of indie rock.  So, in discussion with my lady friend, I decided upon the five guys that I would be willing to go gay for, with, of course, the lady’s permission. It might sound a touch ridiculous, but come on, its a fun subject to discuss, albeit, one that will likely not come to fruition.

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The National – High Violet

Rating: ★★★★½

When this album first came to me I must admit that it was not as immediately as enticing as I had hoped.  Steady listening rotations slowly worked this album into the expected experience that I had hoped for from The National‘s High Violet.  While I’m not coming out to say that this is the band’s best work (time will tell friends), I’ll admit that their continued growth and attention to details makes the group unstoppable, as they put out records that continue to be played on repeat at my house, and that of all my close associates.

“Terrible Love” begins rather slowly. sneaking its way to a catastrophic end of sonic force.  Matt Berninger’s vocals really are something other worldly, as demonstrated here; it’s as if you’re listening to your father or grandfather tell a story of his trials and tribulations, as demonstrated by this opening track.

Early press discussed the darker dimension of the album, and you can get that feeling, even if you went by the track titles alone.  But, songs such as “Sorrow” and “Anyone’s Ghost” indicate that something went missing in the life of the narrator, which we can assume might be Berninger himself.  It’s all very melancholic, and is increased by the baritone vocal quality, but the darkness is what makes this album so striking, like everyone’s favorite lyric from “Conversation 16,” “I was afraid I’d eat your brains/cause I’m evil.”  It’s interesting trying to decipher between singer and narrator, as clearly these are the dark times of love for one of our two heroes.

While a lot of the praise for The National‘s dynamic is always given to the Dessner duo, this album clearly demonstrates the power that Bryan Devendorf wields in the band.  Whether it be his machine gun snare hits, his cymbal work, or his precision drum fills, he is the one piece that continues to amaze as you listen to High Violet (“Mr November” anyone?).  Still, one of the strengths of the band does rely upon the Dessner’s usage of varying dynamics, even those that are most subtle.  For instance, there’s a moment in “Little Faith” where everything seems to empty out, albeit very briefly, before going back into the song.  Such attention to detail is used time and time again like the accompanying strings in “Afraid of Everyone” that eventually meet up with a little discordant guitar; all this happens before the number even sets off entirely.

You continue through this collection of songs, and each song strikes a different chord within.  “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is probably the most straightforward rock song on the album, but you can’t help but feel the alienation in the song as Berninger croons that “Ohio don’t remember me.”  Once again, the loud-soft dynamic, even used for just one phrase, makes the lyrics, and the song, hit some sort of nerve for the listener.   And you can juxtapose the rock element with a song like “Runaway” that seems to sort of ebb and flow in the middle of the song.  If it weren’t for the subtle touches and vocals, this could very well fall under some folk realm, and yet the song seemingly climbs to a climactic point that it never quite reaches, forever holding back, holding you, the listener, back.

In its closing statement, High Violet, finds Matt really pushing his vocals, yanking every bit of emotion he has left out of his larynx.  As always, the group never fails to make a grand sweeping move with their closing moments, as echoing vocals join in here, you find yourself lost in the emotive qualities of the band.  This is precisely what makes The National one of the best bands around these days, utilizing every little nuance to craft the most emotionally taxing and bewildering music you’ll find, then begging you to come back and listen all over again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/The-National-Bloodbuzz-Ohio.mp3]

Download: The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio [MP3]