New Tunes from Jonsi

jonsiAs there seems to be a temporary lull in the career of Sigur Ros, their members seem to be making the push forward with music of their own. Jonsi has  a new album coming out in March on XL Recordings, and oddly, this opening track seems similar to a more symphonic Mew piece, which also features lyrics in English!  It’s really like the soundtrack to Peter and the Wolf meets Mew. Try it.  And find Go, the album, out March 22.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Jónsi-Boy-Lilikoi.mp3]

Download: Jónsi – Boy Lilikoi

Mew – No More Stories are Told…

mewRating: ★★★½☆

Mew will officially receive the award for the most long-winded title of 2009 later this year (so long I refuse to include it here), but the album deserves more attention for the musical ground it walks rather than the ridiculousness of the title alone.

While they might be labeled as off a prog sort of grouping, let’s focus more on the fact that they tend to present themselves more as a deconstructionist band.  “New Terrain,” the album’s opening track, has various segments recorded backwards, which lends itself to the mounting tension in the song.  You can feel the song pushing forward as the album pushes ahead. Following this up is the disjointed guitar work of “Introducing Palace Players,” which uses a semi-staccato guitar line with odd musical accompaniment to construct the entire song.

The unique voice of singer Bjerre is something that recalls that far-off echo meets harmony voice, sort of like Ben Gibbard. While early on in the album, the vocals don’t necessarily mix perfectly with the musical approach of the group, you find that listening carefully will bring the world of the instrumentals and the vocals together. By the time that you reach the mellow songs such as “Silas the Magic Car” or “Cartoons and Macreme Wounds” you can see that everything has eventually become glued together.

While the lyrics seem to paint a bleak story, based on the title of the album alone, the music doesn’t necessarily comply with the overall emotional aesthetic No More Stories are Told… would leave one to believe. “Hawaii” is an energetic number that recalls a multitude of bands that have hit the scene lately such as Efterklang. Steady percussion and serpentine guitar collide with gang vocals before Bjerre comes in alone.  It’s a perfect Hawaiin themed song, aside from the abstract approach to songwriting that the band exudes. Wait for it to blast off near the end of the song, and you’ll completely understand the sentiment behind these words.

Still, you can’t ignore the lyrics throughout the record, painting a solemn outlook on the world as a whole.  “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” comes off as a joyous number, but as Bjerre sings “feels like someone put a hex on you” he seems to be agreeing that everyone eventually comes up against forces that work against us.  It’s not as if it will all end here though, as his agreement that life is not easy is just an affirmation that despite hardships, there is light on the other side.  Such goes the story of the record, as every dark moment meets a brighter future.  Although the album suggest otherwise, a great story is being told throughout, and everyone will find the musical accompaniment equally as gratifying on the latest Mew effort.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/01-New-Terrain.mp3]

Download: Mew – New Terrain [MP3]

Division Day – Visitation

ddayRating: ★★★☆☆

Los Angeles quartet Division Day have been discussed in circles of dream pop and shoegaze sine the release of their first album, and while both those genres or stereotypes find homes on this album, it remains a more focused album than their previous effort. Visitation grabs onto the reigns of their past and propels the band into a more finished product.

You can immediately feel the dark spiritual quality that persists through this record from the opening minute of “Reservoir;” distorted drums cadences collide with a trainwreck of guitar.  All this meets the melodic vocals, almost as if the entire song is riding upon a crescendo. “Malachite” resembles the first song, if only in the pummeling drumwork, as the overall emotional appeal of this tune seems to crash rather than rise.

So we come upon “Chalk Lines,” which hit the Internet a bit ago, and at first it appeals to be one of the more accesible songs, though careful listens reveal various guitar squeals into the outer regions of the song’s negative space.  It’s this effect that makes the band resemble a darker version of Mew; the pounding drums with meoldious vocals seem almost like mirror copies  of one another.

Other areas on the album appear to veer away from the various associated genres, such as “Planchette,” which comes as close to a ballad as you might find, although the instrumentation here is extremely sparse until the rest of the band joins.  It reminds you of various soundscape groups, using guitar squalor to coat the melody, along with programmed fixtures in the background.

You’ll find an interesting listen if you check out “Surrender.” It’s a more exploratory OK Computer-era Radiohead track, almost as if it’s the middling ground between said album and Kid A. The industrial appeal of the track provides some variance to the album, and it’s placement here is perfect, as it mixes up the shape of the album; this is one of the things lacking on Division Day‘s debut.  Such a technique is also employed when the band makes their way to the album’s title track.  Around this point, the shift seems to go away from the instruments, albeit rather briefly, instead focusing on the strength of the dynamic vocals.  This song is everything you want a dream pop song to be, even with the M83 textural effects vibrating in the background.

Visitation shows Division Day finally coming into an understanding of what they do best as a group, and when they hit their stride, you see them creating wonderful moments throughout the entirety of this record.  Here’s the the band’s growth and maturity, and let’s hope for prosperity.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/division-day-chalk-lines.mp3]

Download: Division Day – Chalk Lines [MP3]