ATH & ACL 2018: A Weekend One Recap

As you likely know, many of your faithful ATH crew members ventured out this weekend to take part in this thing called Austin City Limits Festival. Have you heard of it? It’s kind of a big deal. As always, the festival was run smooth like a baby’s bottom and a good time was had by all. Part of what we do to earn our keep is to offer opinions on the music side of things and overall thoughts/concerns from the weekend. Each member of the team who attended this weekend will share their own opinions.

Follow the jump for more from me and Nicole with a little gallery from around the grounds by bgray.

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Nada Surf Show Review @ 3Ten ACL

Sometime in 1996, I bought the first Nada Surf LP. Yes, I bought it for that one song. But, unbeknownst to me, it was the start of my love affair with the band.

But, admittedly, I wouldn’t fall in love with the group until 2003, with the quiet release of Let Go. Notable releases from the same year included Echoes by the Rapture and Meadowlands by the Wrens (among countless others). Somehow, this LP has always stuck by me; of every record released in 2003 it’s the one I still listen to the most (with Ted Leo and the Wrens right behind). It was the perfect pop album, coming at the perfect time in my life.

Saturday night, Nada Surf brought that entire album to life. Surprisingly, I still know every single word to that album, and I sang along throughout the entirety of the first set, other than La Pour Ca (I don’t speak French). Personal favorites like “Blonde on Blonde” sounded as crisp as ever, and I was reminded just how much I love “Killian’s Red.” It’s funny, the ominous tones of that track never quite clicked as much as they did beneath the fog machine and blue lighting of 3Ten. Still, the band went through it in a business-like fashion, never missing a beat, with a few moments of charm added in like Ira and Daniel sharing a mic to open with Blizzard of 77′ backing vocals.

The latter half of the set was filled to the brim with countless numbers from the band’s past and present, even throwing in a Joy Division medley for a moment to charm the audience. And when they ended the evening, it never really ended, as they took it all out to the streets for a late evening serenade. Pretty sure every one left the evening reflective and pleased.

And for what its worth, my night ended with me feeling grateful for all the pop bands still hanging in out there. Nada Surf may never have gotten the critical acclaim, but they just kept writing great songs. They’re still here writing, whilst trends and hip acts have faded away. And as for Saturday night, they gave us a little of it all, reminding me of a never-ending love affair that began in 1996 at the Best Buy near my house.

Pete Astor – Spilt Milk

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Rating: ★★★★½

People rarely rave about records anymore. No matter what, people inevitably find themselves listening to single and hits, but don’t you dare do that with Pete Astor‘s new album, Spilt Milk. If you do, you’re likely to miss one of the purest pop albums likely to surface this year.

You can possibly separate Spilt Milk into two styles, bouncing jangle pop and pure pop balladry. Opener “Really Something” falls into the first category, while a song like “Good Enough” ends up in the latter grouping. But, what one should focus on is the central theme of pop music. To me, it means accessible and catchy, and I feel like if we were all given such options more often, then Pete Astor might be our favorite artist. But, that’s not where we live, nor where we seem to be heading, making this effort all the more outstanding.

Some bands rush songwriting, trying to push out the next hit, trying to stay relevant in a culture adhering to consumption, but within the confines of this album, you have the purest dedication to great songwriting. In doing so, Pete’s managed to craft an album that endears itself to fans of all styles, leaving you with a lesson incraftsmanship; it’s one that I can see enduring in my playing rotation for time to come (and probably yours too).

In the end, Spilt Milk isn’t a musical exercise that will hit you over the head immediately. You have to digest it slowly, which is best with tracks like “There It Goes” that will pull at your heartstrings. Still, you’ll find an inner joy (and maybe a hop in the step) when you put on “My Right Hand,” among others. It’s a listening journeyyou must dedicate yourself to, and in doing so, you’ll reap the greatest reward…a listen that won’t easily be turned off…or forgotten.

Carry Illinois – Alabaster

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

Carry Illinois is an electric departure from the singer songwriter, acoustic guitar strumming scene that Lizzy Lehman has been a part of for years as she has developed as a musician. For this ensemble front woman Lizzy eschews her Martin Acoustic for a Fender strat. On the Alabaster organs swell and pianos sweeps chords providing the harmonic foundation while Lizzy’s lyrics and melody carve out the details above the sounds and rhythms of the songs. Lizzy draws on the everyday struggles and tedium of modern living on Alabaster. She has a knack for illuminating truths through a portrait of another as deftly as she can on her more autobiographical songs. For this album Lizzy leans more heavily on introspection and personal insight than with her previous solo work, which is an interesting irony. One might wonder if donning the costume of Carry Illinois has created a confidence that allows for more personal work to shine through in Lizzy’s song writing.
Musically Alabaster is an album that sits somewhere between Brandi Carlisle Americana and Dr. Dog’s breed of harmony infused indie pop rock. Alabaster is a big step forward from the Siren EP release in 2014. Both Alabaster and Siren represent a departure from the singer songwriter womb of the Austin via Kerville folk scene. I prefer the clean vocal sounds on Alabaster over the harmonica miked and red line hitting vocals on Siren. Lizzy’s is a voice that is best served clean and pure. While I preferred a safer choice for the vocal stylings, I found myself wanting a stronger step forward and reach just a little farther on most of Alabaster song arrangements. As a whole the album tends to lean a little too hard on the tropes and clichés of the Americana genre. Similar tempos and rhythm patterns blended songs together and listening to the album as a whole you’ll find yourself wishing for a break from the organ drones under sprinkles of piano.
There were three big stand out tracks for me. The first – Darkened Sky – hits all the notes of classic Americana. The track starts off with the recognizable strumming rhythm of Lizzy’s guitar and is quickly enhanced with a country train beat and layered strings and keys. The vocals are right in the sweet spot on this tune. Lovers of the Austin Americana scene will be drawn to this song like whiskey lovin’ hipsters to an Eastside Honky Tonk. Another of my favorites is the painfully sincere Lost and Found. Any listener with a small town childhood will connect with the message of emotional emigration in search of a meaning outside the comfort of youth. Lizzy grasps greatness on this song when the bridge crescendos from a pure, slow folk tune to a psychedelic, flanging power ballad.
In stark contrast to, and immediately preceding Lost and Founds psychedelic yearning we have the perfect pop gem that is Sleepy Eyes. From the first horn build to the last splash of the cymbals, this song had me hooked. Lizzy’s vocal sit nice and present in the mix, in a range high enough to make it immediately distinctive from the rest of the album. The dynamics are beautiful driven by a horn ensemble and the groove is wonderfully consistent with just enough sizzle on the cymbals. I should really let this song do the talking for me, so put it on right now, and while you add it go ahead and hit shuffle and let it ride. It’s an album that’s sure to grow on you and make it into the rotation of this year’s great Austin albums.

Show Review: Ty Segall @ The Mohawk (9/5)

Ty SegallA Ty Segall show is always going to be an event at the Mohawk.  Whether it’s his own performance, or the crowd jam packed into the space, you always leave knowing your place.  Brian and I hit up his latest Austin stop last Friday, with local openers ThinkNoThink and Wand kicking the night off.  Despite a drizzle here or there, it was sweltering inside, if one was to judge from the faces exiting the pit.  Read on for a few brief thoughts and B. Gray’s photos.

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The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion

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Rating: ★★½ · ·

Magpie and the Dandelion is the eighth full length album from the Avett Brothers, a hardworking folk-rock band that has enjoyed considerable popularity since their 2009 major label debut, “I and Love and You”.  Fans of the band will discover another consistent album and a few worthy additions to the band’s live set list.  Those on the fence, however, are unlikely to be won over.

The Avett Brothers make simple, accessible music that always seems effortlessly authentic.  In keeping with their previous efforts, Magpie and the Dandelion is a fairly straightforward and minimalistic album.  Musically, the record holds no real surprises; the Avett Brothers stick to their winning formula: real instruments, sparse arrangements, calm, sincere vocal performances.  

Any band that insists on simplicity to the degree that The Avett Brothers do puts a lot of pressure on their songwriting.  On top of that, The Avett Brothers write very literal, direct lyrics and often repeat them.  I like the idea of The Avett Brothers.  I like their sound, their confidence, their openness.  It’s hard to say a critical word about this band because their message is so earnest and positive, but I’m going to give it a shot.  

The songs, specifically the lyrics, on Magpie and the Dandelion are something of a let-down.  My inner grammar Nazi perked his ears up early and often while listening to the album.  While nodding my head to the first track, “Open Ended Life“, (certainly the catchiest tune on the record) I heard the line: “I was taught to keep an open-ended life and never trap myself in nothing” (apparently this includes the constraints of proper syntax).  Okay, okay, I know that double-negatives, even those as easily avoidable as the one caused by the choice to use the word ‘nothing’ instead of ‘anything’ in this lyric, are accepted colloquialisms and should be forgiven.  It would also be nitpicky of me to get worked up over conflicts of tense, such as the one found in the line, “I lived it but now I’m wanting out,” from “Skin and Bones”.  Where this album loses me, however, is in its constant use of pronouns with vague or missing antecedents e.g. the line: “Apart you’ll see how true it is and how back then it possibly was impossible for you or me to know it,” in “Apart From Me”.  Besides the general clumsiness of the sentence, I’m left with no clue what the word it is supposed to refer to.     

There are sweet sentiments throughout, even bits of wisdom worthy to be hung over many a kitchen sink.  Elsewhere though, the album hits you over the head with lines such as: “When to know what I should for my heart to rest doesn’t meet with the actions I make, I will seek the approval of no one but you in love for the changes I take.”  I can’t begin to parse this statement.  Unfortunately, Magpie and the Dandelion’s ultimate song “The Clearness is Gone” could also serve as its ultimate description.

Despite getting hung up on some of the lyrics, I did manage to enjoy parts of Magpie and the Dandelion.  Although the opening track is ostensibly about packing up and hitting the proverbial road, in many ways this record is all about commitment and responsibility.  Songs such as “Good to You” and “Bring Your Love to Me” reflect the real cares and concerns of songwriters who have become fathers and husbands.  There are some great piano parts on the album, most notably in “Morning Song”, which is at once hopeful and bittersweet.  My favorite song on the album, by a long shot, is “Souls Like the Wheels”.  This is the only live recording on the album, and the song dates back to 2008’s The Second Gleam EP.  The finger-picked guitar here is brilliant, and in contrast to many of the other songs on the record, “Souls Like the Wheels” is effective and emotive.

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