Friday Top 10: Austin Albums of 2010

It’s that time of year folks, the time when we THINK we know what’s the best of the best.  In a year where some old faces reemerged, and some new faces joined the scene, we had a hard time narrowing things down, but these are our favorite Ten Albums by Austin bands in the year 2010.  If you think we’re wrong, we’re cool with you voicing your opinion, but be nice, these are just one group’s opinions.

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Roky Erickson w/ Okkervil River @ Paramount (4/24)

Date 4/24/10
Location Paramount Theatre
Doors 7pm
Tickets $37 @ Protixk

Hot off the release of his long awaited new LP, Roky Erickson joins Okkervil River on the stage for a show at The Paramount Theatre on Saturday.  The price may seem just a tad high, but not really when you consider what you’re getting out of the deal: a legend in this town along with one of our best bands of the last decade.  Deal.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Roky-Erickson-Okkervil-River-Goodbye-Sweet-Dreams.mp3]

Download: Roky Erickson & Okkervil River – Goodbye Sweet Dreams [MP3]

Roky Erickson w/ Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil

Rating: ★★★★ ·

The troubled history of Roky Erickson has been well-documented in the past, especially in the touching You’re Going to Miss Me documentary. However, the last few years have seen a resurgence for the famed singer, and he returns now accompanied by another local act, Okkervil River.  But, you can put all that business aside right now, and turn your focus to what a phenomenal listening experience you will have listeninig to True Love Cast Out All Evil.

We get a brief glimpse into the history of Roky as the album opens with “Devotional Number One,” which is a field recording from his time spent at Rusk State Hospital.  There’s an eeriness to the recording, but his voice is so warm, yet so fragile that you can’t help yourself from falling into this song.

Listening to this record over and over again, the first track that really hits you is “Goodbye Sweet Dreams.”  There are flourishes of orchestral work in the background, which you can leave at the foot of Will Sheff who manned production.  But, when Roky says “don’t leave me now/my love does not too bright burn” you get a hint at the soul of a man who no longer wants to be left on his own.  You can’t look away from him now, or I suppose turn a deaf ear.

As the record progresses you’ll notice that no longer is this a man delving into psychadelic rock; he’s gone completely country, and it’s so heart-felt that he’s bound to receive accolades left and right.  “Be and Bring Me Home” has that countryfied warble to it, and light touches of piano only emphasize the voice that much more.  “Please, Judge” is a wonderfully soft-spoken ballad that relies more upon the imagery of Erikson, and while the lyrics aren’t first person, you can’t help but feel a litlte bit of the singer inside.  You can even hear a few squalls of noise throughout, making it all more than just a mere country ballad.

What’s great about this record is that even though it stays in one place (the country) you still get some rockers out of True Love Cast Out All Evil. “Bring Back the Past” is a pretty upbeat number, even when supplied with a bit of a Nashville stomp.  It fits perfectly with “John Lawman,” though the latter has a much more devilish undertone.  Feedback lies beneath the lyrics “I kill people all day long,” chasing the lyrics throughout the entirety of the song.  It’s one of the most spectacluar live numbers too, as you can hear the scratchiness and emotion of Roky behind the mic.

Closing the record, we return to the intimate setting of Mr. Erickson.  “Birds’d Crash” is a slow burner using vocals and a ringing guitar line to really flesh out the song.  For me, I just love his approach to writing lyrics, and the clarity of his voice is incredible throughout the whole of the album.  To bookend it all, we find ourselves with another field recording.  Listen closely to this one, as its an awful bit quieter than the album’s opener, but in putting your ear close to the speaker, you get to end the album in Roky’s world.

As an album, it’s remarkable how seamlessly True Love Cast Out All Evil really is.  You have to credit Will Sheff for not really putting his stamp on the album, instead choosing to let Roky Erickson do all the work on his own, with just a little help from his friends.  It all points to one thing: Roky is back, and with a record like this, we’re all entirely grateful to have him here again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Roky-Erickson-Okkervil-River-Goodbye-Sweet-Dreams.mp3]

Download: Roky Erickson & Okkervil River – Goodbye Sweet Dreams [MP3]

Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Two years ago Jonathan Meiburg released Rook under his project, Shearwater; it was an operatic endeavor, which came across forceful in moments, while resting quietly in others.  His band returns with The Golden Archipelago, along with an abbreviated dossier, unless you opt to shell out the bucks for the completed dossier.  An album such as this is not something to take lightly; it’s full of depth and precision, all of which successfully push the listener into the realm of masterpiece as created by Meiburg and associates.

“Meridian” is a tricky album opener, especially for those mindful of the band’s past releases, Rook in particular.  Slowly the song builds upon the quietest strum of guitar matched perfectly with Jonathan’s falsetto.  The tone is somewhat ominous, especially with echoing vocals in the background and the orchestral touches.  You expect a crash of some sort, similar to that exhibited on the first track of Rook, but instead, the song sort of fizzles to an end suddenly.  It pushes you into “Black Eyes,” which is perhaps the loudest of the tracks on this collection.

Once you arrive at “Landscape at Speed” you begin to arrive at core of the album.  Consistent rim shots provide a hollow percussive element to barely audible strumming.  Instead of focusing this number on the guitar work, Shearwater fills out the space with various snippets of noise.  It’s the sort of restraint demonstrated in the work of fellow Austinites, Spoon; these sorts of approaches tend to keep listeners in a holding pattern of sorts, asking you to indulge yourself in the cinematic quality of the record.

However, songs like “God Made Me” are precisely what make everything Meiburg does relevant to the broader spectrum of music listeners.  His strong vocal performance in front of string instruments begs you to hold onto every emotion within, only to release it during the semi-chorus that leaves his vocals feeling somewhat scratchy like his one-time bandmate from Okkervil River, Will Sheff.  The barrage of banging pianos only heightens such a release, yet he manages to let you rest quietly as the song fades into thin air. Finally, he seems to have taken his songwriting as seriously as he’s taken the orchestration of his previous albums.

Those looking for an album constructed of singles and hits might not find such numbers here, at least not apparent to the naked ear, so to speak. “Castaways” has a pounding drum beat that illustrates that Shearwater is more than just a project of Meiburg.  But, his vocals cresting and crashing warrant the song one of the most accessible on the album, though time spent with The Golden Archipelago finds all these songs as such.

Perhaps the best summation of this album is the second to last song, “Uniforms,” existing in a dense world brought on relative noise before kicking in with powerful vocals.  Just as the vocals signal for bombast, they’re immediately pulled back in favor of a more gentle confrontation with the listener.  At  2.5 minutes into the song, you’re greeted with the complete ensemble of the band smashing everything into a raucous moment, all before the song peters out.  With that, you find yourself at the end of an album that seems to revel in the contrasting experiences of quite and loud; it’s a trick used by many in the past, yet never done in such an operatic manner as we find here on The Golden Archipelago.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/08-Castaways-1.mp3]

Download: Shearwater – Castaways [MP3]

FT5: Greatest Disappointments of the 00s

0108top5coverAlright, so we just finished wrapping up the 00s, and it’s left some of us (namely me) feeling a bit nostalgic for a decade that went by way too quickly.  It left me thinking about things I ruined or things I succeeded in, but most of all, it’s left me reflecting upon the most disappointing moments in my life.  Oddly, I deflect my own animosity for my life, and turn to the world of music.  Below is the five most disappointing things for me, musically, in the decade that passed.  Some have a chance at redemption, but others, well, you blew it big time.

bengibbardstolemygirlfriend5. Ben Gibbard stole my girlfriend

Look, I know that this happened only recently, but I also have come to believe that Zooey‘s hotness has only increased exponentially in the past few years.  All that aside, it’s not just that Ben stole my girlfriend (really, he did!), but he stole the dreams of me and my many like-minded friends.  Out of nowhere, he popped up his now skinny head, and crushed the dreams of many.  Shame on you Ben Gibbard.

 
 

thewrens_meadowland4. The Wrens don’t put out another album

The Wrens put out Meadowlands, which is absoltuely one of my all time favorite albums, and that feeling of joy when I put the needle to the record will never fade away.  What did fade away was the feelings of joy I had in regard to The Wrens.  Lead man Charles did a little bit of work, most recently with Will from Okkervil River, which means dudes were getting work done.  Why didn’t I see any of it at all?  Why did they leave me just as I was falling in love? Nearly a decade with no new tunes? You fail.

 
 

wilco-yhf3. Wilco couldn’t replicate Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

You go against the odds and record one of the most brilliant masterpieces in modern pop music, one which everyone still talks about, but then you slowly decline all the way towards 2009s Wilco, the Album.  You can’t entirely blame the guys, as they lost Jay Bennett (as did we all, RIP), but they went from such great heights to such a low.  Not only this, but people somehow kept believing in them, as if they could bring back the magic.  I admit it! I was a sucker; I fell for it.  Never again Wilco!

 
 

weweredeadbeforetheshipevensank2. Modest Mouse sold out

Sure, this is the age-old debate about whether or not you deem it okay to allow your favorite secrets to better themselves and move their careers forward.  My answer? No!  Modest Mouse had the control of the indie world after Lonesome Crowded West; they could do no wrong.  Sure, a lot of people think Moon and Antartica was their best, but those people are wrong!  Modest Mouse went to the majors, lost their luster, and they lost a fan (though I know I’m not the only one).

 
 

ryanadams_cardinology1. Ryan Adams

I’ll admit that I was a little bit late jumping on the Ryan Adams train, but I jumped all the way on.  It baffles me how the guy that made Whiskeytown brilliant, then put out Heartbreaker, can rush down the hill of mediocrity so quickly.  I know he landed Mandy and all, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I willingly sat down to listen to things like 29 or CardinologyRyan Adams was my biggest disappointment.

 
 

Look, I know you all disagree with some of these, and I get that, but I had to let you know how disappointed I was in these things; isn’t time to be reflective, at least for another week? If you had a bigger disappointment, or want to tell me why I am wrong, we’re all for it! Leave a comment.

FT5: New Austin Music Icons

0403top5cover1As we are well into the year 2009, it’s time we take a good look at what makes the Austin music scene work so well.  We’d like to say that it’s us, but we know that a whole lot more goes into the scene than the many writers and fans in the city limits.  Instead, we turn your eyes to those Icons, those heralded heroes of our town; the ones that make it all run so smoothly.  Be it a musician or producer, these are our favorite Austin Icons.  We also excluded those who made Austin music famous, and then left the town for not-so-better waters. Yea, I am looking at you Britt Daniel! Why did you leave us? Just for that, you aren’t an Austin Icon; these next five characters are!   Not only that, but these aren’t your grandparents Austin Icons.  This isn’t Stevie Ray playing guitar, nor is this the Janis playing at Threadgills; these are your new Icons, paving the way for the new artists and the new scene!  Follow the jump for our top 5 new Austin music icons.

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New Tunes from Will Sheff

We all love Will Scheff and his band Okkervil River, but Will recently released a split 7″ with Charles Bissell of The Wrens. Will covers The Wrens “Ex-Girl Collection” while Charles covers Okkervil’s “It Ends With a Fall.” The release is already out in stores, but if you want, you can head straight over to Jagjaguwar Records to purchase your very own copy. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/ex-girl-collection-the-wrens-cover.mp3]

 Download: Will Sheff – Ex-Girl Collection [MP3]

Top 40 Songs Of The Year

So when we thought making an albums of the year post was hard, this one proved to be even harder.  How do you take literally thousands of songs and narrow it down to the best 40 of the year?  Not too sure how to answer that question, but we tried.  Each of these songs scream 2008 in our ears.  As evident by this list, the year in music was quite a good one and we had some tough choices to make.  We’ve got some of the songs streaming for you or links to the song on youtube.  Follow the jump to see if your favorite tune of the year made the list.

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ACL Interviews: Stars

Amy Millan is a quite the busy lady. She sings for major Canadian bands Stars & Broken Social Scene, tours with both acts, and somehow found the time to put out a solo record. The Canadian songstress, currently on tour with Stars, answered a few questions for us before her band’s performance at last weekends ACL festival. Amy and I discuss why she won’t be doing a BSS Presents album, how Stars can win a Juno award and why MP3s are just as good as vinyl. Read about these topics and many more after the jump.

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The ACL Top Ten

We decided to take a different route in reviewing the events of ACL and we thought a Top 10 List would be the way to go.  This isn’t just a list of our favorite bands, rather a list of the best things, moments, memories or any other tasty randomness we could come up with that went down over the weekend.  We obviously would love to hear what else we maybe missed from our list.  This isn’t just our opinion, it’s what we heard from you good peoples that attended this year’s ACL.  List is after the jump.
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