The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

Rating: ★★★ · ·

A brief synopsis of the Twilight Sad has some ups and downs.  They burst onto the scene with the explosive Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, filled with squalling guitars and blissful pop.  But, then they took an odd side-step with Forget the Night Ahead, which was a more straightforward approach.  Now, officially three albums into their career with No One Can Ever Know, the band is still treading the darker side of humanity, just with much more polished edges and electronic flourishes.

James Graham’s vocals have always been a vital part of the Twilight Sad, and it takes the lead on opener “Alphabet.”  More important, however, is that the guitars work that made the band such a bombastic group is now being replaced by shades of electronics, at least in the foreground of this track.  You can’t claim that this is a poor track, but the absence of the dynamics that flourished early in the band’s career really aren’t present on No One Can Ever Know. Still, with Graham’s prowess, it’s hard to dislike anything the band puts together.  “Sick” almost feels like it’s utilizing some of the electronic playfulness we found on Kid A or Amnesiac, combining grooves, beats and strengthened vocals. Just one listen to the chorus and you’ll surely find yourself fawning over this number.

Even though it’s easy to see the differences from album one to album three, the band’s not completely lacking energy on this effort.  In “Another Bed” you’ll find a pulsating rhythm brooding beneath the number, and melded with further electronic swaths that cut through the track.  Similarly, “Don’t Move” uses the same stylistic accompaniment, although the pounding of the drums definitely provides hints of a darker force just waiting to explode on No One Can Ever Know.  Yet, there’s something amiss, even as you see the band is aided by their craftsmanship. The whole of the record feels really sterile, and lacking a bit of passion, which drew me to the band long ago.  “Kill It in the Morning” is perhaps the only track of the collection that really sees Graham pushing himself, and it doesn’t arrive until the end.  But, you should definitely give it a listen as there’s hints of Trent Reznor in the production of the song; the ending where it drops off and you get Graham again is also a special moment.  You just get the feeling that the band is capable of so much more.

For what it’s worth, No One Can Ever Know is an enjoyable listen, and one that brand new fans will surely appreciate.  But, followers of The Twilight Sad might be a bit disheartened by the listen, as the group still seems like they’re trying to find their footing in the current musical landscape.  I appreciate the dark quality musically and lyrically, but it’s placed too simply, lacking much of the force you know the band is capable of producing.  Perhaps this is just a stepping stone to greater ambitions, and only time will tell. For now, we can be pleased, just not blown away.

Friday Top 5: Album Covers of 2011

Well, it’s a little later than last year but it’s time again to turn the music down and put on your art-critic monocles and top hats.  Yes, in a year where some heavy hitters came along with some high quality production, I did my best to highlight of few of the lesser known ‘other’ artists involved in completing the full album package. Just like the last two years (2009, 2010), my discriminating eye is looking for quality in a holistic sense when it comes to album artwork. Essentially my main question is whether or not it could stand on its own bringing into the discussion composition, tone, balance, introduction of text and its use, color, etc. With that said, here are a few of the best album covers for 2011.

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Friday Top 5: Same Name Songs

Hey, it’s me Jon. Back for some insightful commentary on popular music. JK JK LOL!! I’m actually here with another thinly veiled excuse for rambling nonsense and forced humor. Today’s list is about songs that have the same title (not to be confused with cover songs). For no reason in particular, I have decided to give myself bonus points for selecting songs with maxim musical disparity. Read on if you dare.

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Friday Bottom 5: ACL 2009

1009top5coverSo just as I did last year, I’m going to take a minute to be a negative nancy and focus on some of the downer moments of our ACL weekend.  As always, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives and I still enjoyed my festival experience (no matter how much it rained).  You’ll notice that most of my list consists of things that no one can really do anything about so that leaves me hopeful that next year will be near perfection.  I’m willing to bet that you can guess my #1 & #2 slots, but damnit if that weather wasn’t the worst I can ever remember.  Yes it may even top the 107 degree heat and the dust from hell.  So follow the jump for my bottom 5 of ACL 2009.

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Why? – Eskimo Snow

whyeskimo

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Following their critically acclaimed third LP, Alopecia, Berkeley, California’s Why? return with Eskimo Snow, a new collection of hip hop infused indie rock.

The word “new” may be misleading because the tracks on Eskimo Snow were recorded during the same sessions as 2008’s Alopecia.  One might think that songs recorded in the same session would carry familiar ties between them, and sure there are similarities, most notably singer/MC Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf’s distinct voice, but, for the most part the bulk of the similarities end there.  I guess the clearest example would be explained like this: Eskimo Snow : Amnesiac :: Alopecia : Kid ARadiohead, on Kid A, was focused with a clear vision and while Alopecia isn’t a high concept album it shares the same focus.  Yoni Wolf spits self-deprecating, acid tongued rhymes that tell tales of loneliness and depravity.

On Eskimo Snow, like Radiohead on Amnesiac, Why? offer up a much looser collection of songs, and while these songs aren’t bad they also don’t make up a very cohesive release. Wolf mostly abandons the rhymes for traditionally sung vocals.  In an interview with Pitchfork, Wolf noted that his work on Eskimo Snow was “the least hip-hop out of anything I’ve ever been involved with”.

There are several tracks, such as ‘Against Me’, ‘These Hands’, and ‘The Blackest Purse’ that are reminiscent of the bands earlier work.  I would have much preferred a tight EP, rather than this meandering album.  I am looking forward to their next release with a truly new batch of songs.

Why? will be performing Sunday, November 8th at Fun Fun Fun Fest. They take the Orange Stage at 3:50 p.m.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/03-Against-Me-1.mp3]

Download: Why? – Against Me [MP3]

FT50: Albums of the ’00s

0828top5coverWhat?   You still listen to THAT album?  That record is so 2004!  Well, that’s okay, because we really like that one too, which is why we decided to come up with a list of our favorite albums of the last decade (2000-2009).  Sure, these might not be YOUR favorite records, or the most critically acclaimed, but we sat down and really thought out every record from the past ten years that we keep coming back to in our collections.  You’re likely to disagree with some of these, and we won’t tell you we’re absolutely right we just know that these happen to be OUR favorites.  If you think we totally blew it here, feel free to tell us so, but be nice, as our egos are kind of fragile.  Follow the jump for more.

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Division Day – Visitation

dday

Rating: ★★★ · ·

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]

FT5: Album Closers

0731top5coverIn the current state of the music industry, we’re all overly concerned with singles, rather than the completed album.  But, long ago, people put thought and art into the creation of the ending of an album, the summation of their musical statement.  We all have sat in our rooms, at least I hope, waiting for that last song, that last breath of music, in hopes of the perfect summation to an album.  A brilliant closer almost always warrants a brilliant album, and we’ve compiled a list of our favorite album closers that always guarantee we listen to said album all the way through until the needles hits the vinyl and emits that hiss signaling the end of the record.
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FT5: Long Songs Worth Your Time

0710top5coverAdmit it: you have the attention span of a coked out squirrel. You don’t want to hear jam bands, experimental noise bands, or ambitious concept albums. You’re a 21st Century, internet-streaming, iPod-shuffling, next-button-pressing, son of a bitch.

I forgive you. Yet I must insist that you occasionally look to songs stretching beyond that holy 3 minute mark to satisfy your fickle rock and roll urges.  Here are 5 Long Songs Worth Your Time.  Follow the jump for the full list.

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Other Lives – s/t

other

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Other Lives have gone through exponential changes since their early debut under the name of Kunek.  Back then, the band was known for enchanting audiences, willing them into a silent submission.  The power of the band still exists, though their self-titled debut [of sorts] shows that the band is willing to crawl out from beneath the Radiohead similarities into their own bright future.

We can get that comparison out of the way immediately; the only resemblance the band has to Thom Yorke’s posse is in the resonance of singer Jesse Tabish at certain points, but that is probably where you must draw the line in the sand.  Sure, the sounds are familiar, but they are approached with an entirely new set of lungs that allows for the band to breathe on its own.

Take, for example, “Black Tables” which begins slowly with a darkened piano progression, as strings wrap themselves tightly around each note, clearing the way for Jesse Tabish to lay down his lyrics. Almost two minutes pass in the song where there is little else besides the piano, strings and vocals.  Then, at the 2’48 mark in the song, the drums kick in, and the song takes off like a rocket blasting into the atmosphere of dense sounds.   This is precisely where Other Lives will take you, as they don’t rest on the traditional songwriting strategies.  Instead, they create an album full of miniature movements; these movements sometimes exist within songs themselves, often changing on the spur of a movement.

“E Minor” is one of the highlights, well, if you were to pick up a particular highlight, as close listeners will hear the strumming on the guitar as the piano playfully meanders through the background.  Tabish’s voice hits a different pitch at several moments, exposing his versatility.  This immediately followed by “Paper Cities,” which seems to broach the subject of war, or at least the loss of certain aspects of a modern society.  One could consider this a single, if the band were capable of creating something as basic as a single, but even this song seems to go beyond those expectations of traditional singles.

The band even has the ability to throw a more light-hearted tune in the end when they offer up “AM Theme.”  Sure, it maintains the solemenity of the earlier tracks, but there is something brighter bubbling beneath the surface of the song itself.  Perhaps the brevity of the tune allows for it to open up quickly, before its able to branch off into something more epic; it does go into the song “Epic,” however, which ends the album.

This album is sure to be an eye-opener to many, as the band gradually begins to pick up fans along the way.  It’s an interesting listen to say the least, and one that changes with each song.  Other Lives have created an album of diverse sounds and uniquely moving muiscal movements.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/03-black-tables.mp3]

Download: Other Lives – Black Tables [MP3]

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