FT5: Indie Rock African Americans

This is a serious subject, and one I don’t plan to take very lightly.  As I’ve attended several shows recently, even small local ones, I began to look at the racial dynamic in the Austin music scene.  Oddly, one giant sore thumb sticks out: the lack of African-American attendees at these shows.   This is probably the same way in every city across the land, and I tend to think it’s quite unfortunate.  I’m not here to debate how to solve the problem, if you deem this a problem, but rather to honor my Top Five African-American participants in the realm of indie rock.   This is just my opinion, but I immediately banned the guy from Bloc Party because he put out two bad records and continues to make bad electronica music.
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Jaguar Love – Hologram Jams

Rating: ½ · · · ·

When the Jaguar Love project first came to fruition, it was initially 2 parts Blood Brothers and 1 part Pretty Girls Make Graves.  They released an incredible single with “Highways of Gold.”  That was then.  Now the band is 2 parts Blood Brothers and no parts PGMG; will this affect the sound of Hologram Jams?  The answer is yes, and you’ll be surprised how much.

Take Me to the Sea, the group’s first album was fueled with the energy you would expect from Blood Brothers, but this new band doesn’t even really resemble anything of that, other than that you can always recognize Johnny Whitney’s vocals.  That’s about the only thing remaining that you will find on Hologram Jams.

Unfortunately, the missing percussionist Jay Clark really leaves a huge gaping whole in the music.  Instead of turning to another drummer, the remaining duo went straight to a drum machine.  The Nylon Tour in 09′ featured the group as such, but many hoped that this was just a temporary solution.  Without Clark, the beats seem really uninspired, and the guitars of Cody Votalato don’t really add an extra dimension.  If you take “Cherry Soda,” it just sounds like programmed beats with auto-tune. 

After all the promise of the early recordings of this band, Hologram Jams is an enormous let down.  Lyrically, it just seems extremely cheesy. Here’s a sample from “Up All Night” : “We stayed up all night, and saw the sun come up.”  This is disheartening, as the lyrics just come across as if they were written by a teenager in the midst of his first experience with partying. 

While your nostalgic tendencies want to recall the glory dates of Blood Brothers, this album seems to damage everything that they established.  People remarked that this was a New Order meets Black Flag, but instead it comes across like a hardcore Kesha album, only cheesier. 

Perhaps the criticism is extremely unfair, and I’m being overly harsh.  I thought about that sincerely, especially after I praised this band all during the summer of 08, but I feel like I owe every person who read that stuff an apology.  This is possibly one of the least enjoyable listening experiences of my life.  I can back this up with four simple comments: 1) These sound like the beats already programmed into any keyboard you buy at Wal-Mart 2) The guitar doesn’t even seem to serve a purpose on this record 3) Lyrics are pre-pubescent 4) I just deleted this from my iTunes.

Sorry guys, but while I love early Jaguar Love moments, Hologram Jams is the least listenable thing I’ve come across in a lifetime.

New Tunes from Snake Rattle Rattle Snake

snakeWe’re happy to tell you about some new friends we’ve made from Denver, Colorado: Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. They’ve just released their self-titled EP, and they’ve already got us wanting more.  We’re offering up one of these tracks to you, which showcases the brooding vocals of Hayley Helmericks.   For some reason, this recalls a really dark version of Pretty Girls Make Graves if they were more post-industrial than post-punk, if that makes sense to anyone but me.  The group is making their way to Austin for SXSW, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on their arrival, along with other various details.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/03-Parallel-Lines-1.mp3]

Download: Snake Rattle Rattle Snake – Parallel Lines [MP3]

The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy

caves

Rating: ★★★★½

Most people who have followed this band will surely know that the components that make up The Cave Singers have established themselves in a world outside the folk realm in which they currently live.  Guitarist Derek Fudesco, for example, probably is most well known for his role in Pretty Girls Make Graves, but let’s not get carried away here, as the band are now establishing themselves as a new voice coming out of the rainy Northwest. Welcome Joy is their second album, and it builds upon the strengths of the last record, and in doing so, finishes as one of the better releases of the summer.

When the gentle strumming of “Summer Light” begins the album, you immediately find yourself lost among the foothills of the Appalachians, coated in an earthy morning mist, as the guitars gently strum.  Pete Quirk’s throaty vocals are met here in this scene with additional vocals from Amber Webber of Black Mountain. You expect campfire songs from this band, but you don’t expect them to come off as beautifully simple as this one.

As the group introduces you to “At the Cut” you can here the post-punk influences in the vocal, and they seem to carry over through the song itself, giving it more than just your traditional neo-folk appeal so many people have been living with lately.  It’s this interesting aspect that makes The Cave Singers so appealing to so many.  They aren’t here to play the role of pretty balladeers, though their songs may come off as such; they came here to rock a bit…jangly percussion and all.

While it appears at times as if Quirk smoked too much at times, this album finds him with perfect accompaniment.  Amber Webber is joined by her sister Ashley on “Shrine,” and it carries the song from something rather banal into an otherworldly country stomp towards the end of the song. This is followed by “Hen of the Woods,” which stands out as one of the great tracks on this album, among many great tracks.  There’s nothing you can really explain about this song, but you’ll be sure to feel it as it comes through your stereo.

“VV” is one of the brighter songs on the album, coming in near the end with harmonious guitar parts, as light as you’ll find on this album.  Oddly, this is the one song on the album that seems rooted in traditional folk writing, although the structure of the song itself towards the middle definitely has a more modern spin upon it.  And as Welcome Joy draws to a close with “Townships” and “Bramble” you begin to notice the care that The Cave Singers put into the production of this album.  Every inch of space seems well thought out, as if they left various places open for your mind to wonder in the woods of your own brain.  To top it off, it never seems to get old; it never runs in place.  An album such as this is a delight, and dare we say, a Welcome Joy, as the summer comes to a close.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/the-cave-singers-at-the-cut.mp3]

Download: The Cave Singers – At The Cut [MP3]

Jaguar Love – Take Me to the Sea

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When I first head about the union of former Pretty Girls Make Graves member, Jay Clark, with two of the Blood Brothers, I was salivating in wake for the release of a full length.  The potential for this combination could reach no bounds in my imagination, but come to find out, there are some boundaries for this band.

The opening track, “Highways of Gold,” fails to let me down.  Each time I play this song I’m invigorated by the rise and fall of the guitar work, as it approaches the angular tour de force that I anticipated. Had they reined it in about thirty seconds, then this could be a front runner for one of my favorites of the year.

I suppose that at this point, I should let you know that singer Johnny Whitney’s voice can be grating.  Personally, I’ve adapted to it after settling in to several Blood Brothers’ albums, but I can foresee this as a problem for many listeners.  If you can’t look past it in the first song, then you can’t get through this album.

Still, the next three songs are solid tracks.  In particular, “Georgia” won me over with its proximity to a modern indie ballad done in the post-punk way.  Lyrically, these songs set the face, from the doomsday homages in “Jaguar Pirates” to the personal pain that comes with “Georgia,” which still kind of deals with the effects of living in the modern world.

However, the album starts to get repetitive at this point.  The musicianship is exactly what you expect, with tight drumming and throbbing bass, piled upon razor-sharp guitars, but at this point it kind of blends into itself.  There isn’t any differentiation in the vocals, and the music, like a Blood Brothers album, or the later Pretty Girls Make Graves records for that fact.  It’s not that the music is uninteresting, but the pace and power disappear.

Then comes the eighth track on the record, “Bone Trees and a Broken Heart,” which is another slow song for the group.  Strangely, their slower songs are just as intriguing to my ears as their louder material.  For me, it represents the talent this group possesses, not to mention their abilities to go pretty much anywhere on this record.  It’s just too bad that they don’t really go anywhere, aside from the expected barrage of noise I predicted in my earlier fantasies of this band.

Once you get away from Whitney’s vocals, you’ll find–those of you that like to rock–that this record has a lot of redeemable qualities about it.  It’s listenable all the way through, at least for those of this ilk. It might not be anything that takes you out of this world, but then again, it meets almost all of my expectations.  Good start fellas, now hit the showers.

Share the Jaguar Love

I just recently picked up this fanciful new EP from Jaguar Love–featuring two members of The Blood Brothers and one young gent from Pretty Girls Make Graves. Now, if you are expecting a conglomeration of post-punk sounds, well, you are pretty close with that one . The single “Highways of Gold” is incredible, putting me on the edge of my seat for the full-length–which is set to arrive in stores on August 19th via Matador Records. My one warning–and those of you that liked The Blood Brothers will know–the enjoyment of J. Whitney’s voice must come with time.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/01-highways-of-gold1.mp3]

Download: highwaysofgold.mp3