FTC: Braid

Vinyl reissues are always a great reason to go and revist the classics, or at least those albums you regard as classics.  Luckily, Polyvinyl Records agrees, as they are re-releasing four of the albums by emo band Braid.  They’re one of my favorites for the genre, mostly because they brought on just a little bit more punk and experimentation than some of the other groups.  Their tunes always had that bounce that got me into the scene as a teenager, yet they also had more agression than a lot of the other groups around at that time.  Singer Bob Nanna’s voice has always been one of those I really enjoyed, especially in the live setting.  Unfortunately, the band didn’t last forever, eventually parting ways, though 3/4 of the band went on to form Hey Mercedes.  HM always seemed a bit softer to me, but I still got into it.  Go back and revisit Braid, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor. The track we bring you is from Movie Music Vol. 2.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Braid-Grand_Theft_Autumn.mp3]

Download: Braid – Grand Theft Autumn [MP3]

New Music From Aloha

01111_Aloha3Polyvinyl Records band Aloha are yet another band returning in 2010 after a lengthy break in new material.  The band’s new LP is set to be called Home Acres and hits stores March 9th.  Head down below and you’ll find brand new single “Moonless March” from the upcoming LP.  Anyone ready to offer up some first impressions?

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/02-Moonless-March-1.mp3]

Download: Aloha – Moonless March [MP3]

New Tunes from Love Is All

loveisallIt really hasn’t been too long since we last heard from Love Is All, the band having put out a 12″ last year with covers and some new tunes.  Now, they’ve switched up labels completely, landing on Polyvinyl for their new release.  Said album hits stores on March 23rd, and is yet another number filled title, Two Thousand and Ten Injuries.  Give this new tune a whirl.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Love-Is-All-Kungen.mp3]

Download: Love Is All – Kungen [MP3]

Owen – New Leaves

New_Leaves_digipak_3.inddRating: ★★★½☆

Owen’s sole member, Mike Kinsella, has been tooling around the scene since before we even knew what a ‘scene’.  With his brother, Tim, Mike helped start the groundbreaking band Cap n’ Jazz in 1989 which, with a solitary LP and a handful of singles and compilation tracks, changed the way we saw indie rock.  Since the bands split in 1995, Kinsella has put in time with such indie luminaries as Joan of Arc, American Football, Owls, and eventually settling with a his current solo project, Owen, in 2001.

In that time Kinsella has released five albums under the Owen moniker.  Each of these albums, while progressing with minor changes from one to the next, have essentially remained the same: Kinsella’s calming, but oft-times uncertain voice, telling of drunken late nights and one night stands, all with a background of lush acoustic melodies that surround you in blankets of finger-picking, hammer-ons and pull-offs.  If Kinsella weren’t such an accomplished lyricist and musician this formula would become tiresome.  In all honesty, for this reviewer, it had gotten tiresome around 2004 with the release of Owen’s third album, I Do Perceive.  I had grown tired of the clever narratives and pretty songs about finding girls and losing said girls.  I had all but written off Mike Kinsella.

But starting with 2006’s At Home With… and continuing more in his current album, New Leaves (released this week on Polyvinyl Records), something happened with Owen: Mike Kinsella grew up.  After a marriage and a new daughter, Kinsella’s lyrics have matured. Now he is longing for change in his life.  In the first single “Good Friends, Bad Habits” Kinsella laments about being jealous of his friends late nights and bar fights, but in the refrain he clarifies “Sometimes, like every time she breathes, I embrace my routine”.  This sentiment is carried on throughout New Leaves, in songs like the title track and “Amnesia and Me”.

There are still the tracks, most notably “Ugly on the Inside” and “Brown Hair in a Bird’s Nest” that hearken back to his previous lyrical content, and it just seems tired compared to recent domesticated enlightenment. Overall, though, New Leaves is a beautiful and heartfelt record that deserves a listen or two, but it would be nice to change things up every once and a while.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/02-good-friends-bad-habits-1.mp3]

Download: Owen – Good Friends, Bad Habits [MP3]

New Tunes from Headlights

headlightsOne of our favorite new bands, Headlights, has a new album coming out soon.  The album is titled Wildlife, and it comes out October 6th on Polyvinyl. This new track has a bit of a different touch, although it’s still brimming with pop, there is a certain element of lo-fi fuzz added.  You can try out the song, and check out the band on tour this fall.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/headlights-get-going.mp3]

Download: Headlights – Get Going [MP3]

Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping

Rating: ★★★★☆

Of Montreal have been purveyors of cool for quite some time now, and they are a group, or a man, continuing to push the boundaries of pop music. Here, Kevin Barnes, does his best to deconstruct pop structure in order to make Skeletal Lamping one of the more interesting listens of the year.

Let’s rid ourselves of the main flaw that is present on this album, and in fact, I’m quite disappointed with the lyrical output. Much has been made of Barnes’ alter-ego, a super-sexed black transsexual, but the presence of that person destroys a lot of the album’s credibility. Lyrically, this album pushes the limits of acceptance beyond it’s barrier, and although I’m sure various people’s will claim that “we can do it softcore, if you want,” but that doesn’t make the sexual innuendo worthy of our attention. Typically, Of Montreal albums maintain credible lyrics, in some manner, and sure, they exist here and there, but most will be turned off by the ridiculousness present.

Now, the band has continuously been moving towards an electronic sound since Satanic Panic in the Attic, and this album is what one can assume is the last step. For the most part, it’s difficult to find where full-band participation might come into play, as the majority of the skeletal instrumentation is electronic. However, the group, as per usual, splices their elements carefully throughout the backbone of electronic sounds. One of the highlights might be the horns on “An Eluardian Instance,” where they blast in with perfect accompaniment.

One of the most spectacular aspects of this album, based merely on Barnes’ attempt to tear down the walls of modern pop, is that listening to the entire thing is like going on a scavenger hunt for perfect pop gems. Harmonies abound, hopping in and out of the core of each song, hiding around the corners of our hearts. You must carefully follow through each song in order to get the most out of this album. It’s a daunting task.

Therein lies the problem most listeners will encounter. Can you stomach the hours of careful listening to find one of the most gratifying listening experiences around? It’s a hard choice for most, and one that most people will not be able to make until several listens of the album, and by that point it’s too late, you’ve already put it aside for the rest of the year. But, if you hold on for a couple more listens, you will be making some of the stranger mix tapes among your groups of friends, based solely on the fact that you used clips from the 47th second on when you decided to include “Death is Not a Parallel Move” on your year end mix.

It’s not an easy listen by any means, but weeks into your listening experience you will find that there are more and more elements you missed, ultimately asking you to return again and again to one of the more interesting listens of the year.

31Knots – Worried Well

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Bush years have done a number on the psyche of 31Knots songwriter and guitarist  Joe Haege and it shows in the nervous energy that permeates Worried Well, the latest long player from the Portland/San Francisco trio. Using complicated rhythms, off kilter time changes, and borrowing as much from CAN and Sonic Youth as they do Fugazi, 31Knots manages to maintain and build upon the unique sound first laid out on 2005’s Talk Like Blood.

The album kicks off with a 43 second A capella hand clap session and brief rumination about the corrupting power of your money before kicking into the album proper. On the first full track “Certificate” you get a sense of the angular guitar work of Haege, complex bass lines provided by Jay Winebrenner, and the amazing stop and start drumming style of Jay Pellici. You may also get the notion that Dick Cheney is tapping you phone calls.

Lyrically Haege touches on themes of evil corporate backrooms, a war obsessed oligarchy, and a nation under surviellence. It’s the use of intelligent allegories that keep this commentary from slipping into the pretentious. Much like how Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto can tell you about how Capitalism is killing you in a round about way without inducing an immediate eye roll, Haege possesses this magical power as well.

Describing 31Knots to another person can be a bit problematic and this is why they are often categorized in indie/prog/math rock category, which essentially means these guys have managed to create a truly distinctive sound. Musically the album is filled with irregular guitar pulses, noisy synthesizer elements that build up then collapse, a small tickling of the ivory here and there and even a little Latin drumming. Tracks such as “The Breaks,” “Strange Kicks,” and “Worried But Not Well” are the high points that find 31Knots at the top of their game. On the whole they seem to be refining and perfecting the sound laid out in their two previous albums.

While a few tracks stray from their previous sound, most notably the Duran Duran inspired “Upping the Mandate” most of the album finds them on familiar territory mixing and matching the better elements of their catalog. Unfortunately the album closer, “Between 1&2,” is a bit of a slow Eno influenced toss away, but the rest of the album is strong enough to forgive the filler.

The only problem with the uniqueness of 31Knots sound is that by default they end up aping themselves over the course of a few albums. If you created a Venn diagram of their last three releases the amount of overlap is what keeps this album out of the great category, and into the very good. Pick up a copy of Worried Well, if a band’s dilemma these days is that they have such a distinctive sound that it lends itself to a little repetition, it’s a fine problem to have.

Have a listen to a new track from the album entitled “Compass Commands” :

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/31knots-compass_commands.mp3]

Download: 31Knots – Compass Commands [MP3]

Joan of Arc – Boo Human

Rating: ★★★☆☆

From the minute this album opens you are opened to the intricate guitar work of Tim Kinsella; its always the most delicate of strumming or so it seems. Its as if he is taking his guitar for a little journey; he speeds up, he slows down, but its always very personal. His work in Joan of Arc, and various other bands, has always been witness to this delicate guitar; it goes throughout the album.

In fact, this album, and this band for that matter, will always benefit from the unique playing of Kinsella. Each song he puts together has an entirely different feel than the last, yet each song on this album fits uniquely together. Somehow Kinsella consistently manages to use other musicians to construct unique mini-masterpieces of song; all these songs could stand alone without the use of lyrics.

Sadly, it is Kinsella’s lyrics, and more so, his voice, that seem to plague this album. His voice is usually too gentle to believe that there is passion in his voice, but when he does provide that passion, it is as if he straining to fake it. It never really comes together cohesively, and at times, his voice can destroy entire songs.

Lyrically, this album deals with a break-up, which has some really beautifully written moments. Unfortunately, the general theme of this album get a bit old, despite the variation in each song. It is a great album of break-up songs, but unfortunately the entire album is break-up songs; that doesn’t really work for this album.

There are two standout tracks on this album, worthy of your purchase, somewhere on the Interweb: the unfortunately named “Tell-Tale Penis” and “So-and-So.” The vocals and lyrics on “So-and-So” are the perfect way to finish this album, which continues to keep Joan of Arc swimming along in the rock n’ roll canon.

The M’s – Real Close Ones

Rating: ★★★★☆

When this album bounced its way into my mailbox, I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to expect from The M’s, a Chicago based quartet.  Their last effort, Future Women, felt sort of scattered to me, but it definitely had a few upsides as a whole.  I figured this album would at least meet the same level.

Album opener, “Big Sound,” definitely steps up this album from the get-go.  The pounding drums and fuzzy guitars grab your attention, drawing you closer in as you listen for–wait, are those horns?  Indeed! Nice move.  This moves right into “Breakfast Score,” which sounds familiarly like another famous Chicago band–Wilco.  It’s hard to go wrong there.

By the middle of the album, I had already found a few favorites–the sort of songs I would easily put on a mix-tape for a friend.  Lyrically, I think one of my favorite songs is “Ultraviolent Men,” where the band encourages us to “let them fight it out,” which kind of hits at home with my own pacifism during current circumstances.

The one thing that does hold this album back is the inconsistency.  I like a band that is willing to try new things or explore other paths, but this band goes off a bit too much.  They can’t seem to get one sound together, and I know that is probably on purpose, but it is the one thing that irks me here.

“Days in the Sun,” definitely recalls Village Green era-Kinks, with careful melodies, accompanied by gentle guitar strumming and light piano.  It’s pure 60s pop; a nod to one of my favorite eras, making this my favorite track on the album.

This album has its faults, but in its entirety, it’s definitely listenable, and at times, quite memorable.  Perfect for a refreshing day basking in the sun.

Take a listen to the album’s single “Don’t Be Late” :

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/dontbelate.mp3]

dontbelate.mp3

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