Telekinesis – Telekinesis!

tele

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Telekinesis is more or less made up of one man, Michael B. Lerner, who gathered what one can assume is a group of close friends to flesh out his debut album.  The self-titled album, well, save for a change in punctuation, is the first most will hear from Mr. Lerner, and with such a solid album, we’re sure to hear more from the man and his band in the future.

“Rust” is the album opener, and it sets the mood, or revels in the setting of the music, as it would be hard not to place the music on this album somewhere in the Northwest.  Here, you’ll find the band sounding a bit like old Earlimart bedroom recordings.

Then listeners will come across what we will call the meat of the album, which is probably the most consistent tracking on any album this year.  Kick starting our hearts is “Coast of Carolina,” which begins with gentle acoustics before kicking right it in with its energy legs. There is an element of lo-fi recording to this song, and to the majority of the songs that appear on this album, but they also have a surefire pop sensibility.  Rock songs like “Look to the East”  will remind some of us of early Ben Kweller recordings before he thought coke and country was where its at.

“Foreign Room” is another song that clearly locates the album and its narrator, as Lerner does his best to emulate Eliott Smith; the wavering in his voice will be the first key to this comparison.  But, he doesn’t just rely upon Smith’s old tricks, instead pushing forward with a quick paced guitar.  It’s like the entire Northwest went pop as the rain made way for a years worth of sunshine.

Just as you get used to the harder moments on the album, or the faster elements one should say, Lerner slows it all down with “Great Lakes.”  His voice is pitch-perfect here, and the space on the song is all filled in such a fashion that one would be hard pressed not to adorn the band with praise just like the rest of their cohorts along the Northwest Corridor. And so the album closes with an acoustic number that bookends the album precisely the way one would expect.  Through all the peaks and gorges, it’s hard not to appreciate such a subtle ending as this.  A love song no less.

And with the entirety of this album, each listener will find something that they can appreciate, as Telekinesis appeals to many different styles and many different tastes.  It’s an album that many will appreciate, a few will love, and most will respect; the best thing about the album is it leaves the door wide open for future accomplishments by Michael Benjamin Lerner.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/05-awkward-kisser.mp3]

Download: Telekinesis – Awkward Kisser [MP3]

The Thermals – Now We Can See

now

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Ever since they first released More Parts Per Million The Thermals have stuck pretty close to home as far as their sound goes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  On Now We Can See, the band’s fourth album, we finally get the benefit of listening to the culmination of years on the road and in the studio honing their skill.

Finally the band seems to have reached their apex as far as maturity goes, and it this is probably the most complete album the band has been able to put together.  Singer, Hutch, seems to have a great deal more control over his voice in comparison to years past, and the clarity with which he sings allows for the cleverly composed lyrics to shine through.  This has always been one of the band’s more overshadowed attributes, but those that have been listening all along will surely be aware of Hutch’s prowess as a wordsmith.

Much will be made about the somewhat gothic approach, as the lyrics tend to show narrators looking back upon life from the beyond; still, the focus seems to look back with a sense of nostalgic accomplishment.  The lyrics don’t seem to look back with a sense of resentment or disappointment, but rather reflect a coming to terms with the life one has led, which is probably the best way to approach such morbid subjects.

Of course, most listeners will immediately flock to to the infectious pop single of “Now We Can See” with it’s “oh way oh whoa” chorus of catchiness.  This is probably one of the better songs the band has put together, but we all know the band can churn out at least five or six solid tracks per album.  What other tunes will listeners identify with you ask?

“At the Bottom of the Sea” is surely a track that exhibits the more mature side of songwriting that the group has taken on in recent years, as the song bares no resemblance to the brashness that accompanies the rest of the album as a whole.  It’s as close to a ballad as the band has come, but it still shines with Hutch’s voice bursting through at the appropriate moments.  “Liquid In, Liquid Out” is another shocking song, settling in at just under two minutes.  This is the most simplistic power-pop the band has produced to date, and the clean quality demonstrates the ability the band has to go off into different ranges.

Fortunately for us, The Thermals seem to be at their best when they are having a blast.  Catching their live show, you will immediately pick up on the shared energy between the members in the group.  This is the first album where you can really hear the vibrance of the band come through from the studio.  You can picture the band having a blast in the studio, and we’re all better off letting them have fun and create such joyful listening experiences.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/09-liquid-in-liquid-out.mp3]

Download: The Thermals – Liquid In, Liquid Out [MP3]

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]

Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels

great

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers have consistently managed to put out albums of sufficient folk-pop, resting on the tightrope between overtly melancholy and cleverly sprawling acoustic-pop.  Their newest album, Lost Channels is of precisely the same vein; this isn’t an entirely bad thing considering it’s done so gracefully.

Immediately, “Palmistry” establishes the album’s purpose, as the gentle voice of Tony Dekker is accompanied by a similarly gentle strumming of guitar, as other instrumental pieces flesh out the song; it’s as if the band is painting precision landscapes with a brush so gentle it barely scratches the surface of the canvas.

Every number on this album has a familiar touch, as the band never tries to push too far beyond their pre-established boundaries.  The one admirable quality here is that they can continuously add layer after layer to each individual song, but never take away from the crystal-clear quality of the song.  Take, for example, “Concrete Heart;” it opens with a basic approach to a soft folk tune, just before strings creep into the background, and all the while there is a tinkering piano waiting to enter stage left, completing the song.  It is this delicate approach to songwriting that makes Great Lake Swimmers crafters of the perfect song; no tune has too much, or too little for that matter.

Even with a majority of the songs resting in the same spectrum of the genre, the band never stays in one place for too long, which allows them to keep the listener from growing bored.  Just a song away from solemnity comes “The Chorus in the Underground,” which shifts the approach over to a more bluegrass playing field, equipped with banjo and all. It’s a pleasant enough number, but the focus always rests around Dekker’s voice.

Sure, most bands rest their case on the singer’s voice, but not all bands will utilize this as an instrument all its own.  Dekker has a certain softness to his voice, which lends it to rest carefully in several different ranges of music; he can go from traditional folk to country-pop to bluegrass.  Up and down he rides with his voice, but it still maintains its very distinct quality, which seems as if current artists have borrowed from its fragility.

And with each new moment on the album, comes an entirely new picture to be painted in your mind, hidden in the caverns of your subconscious. The band, like Gravenhurst, crafts their songs around a certain moment within the group dynamic, and these moments are later fleshed out to create enjoyable moments for the listener.  You could describe it as organic, or as folksy soundscapes, but you best describe it as restful beauty, as this is the ultimate adjective for Lost Channels.

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

Download: Great Lake Swimmers – Concrete Heart [MP3]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

yeah_yeah_yeahs_-_its_blitz_-2009

Rating: ★★½ · ·

In the year 2002 and 2003 the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the indie scene with a certain verocity and vitality that kept us all on the edge of our seats, seething with anticipation for future releases.  Fever to Tell, for the most part, lived up to the expectations, though it still felt a little clean in comparison.  Jump seven years ahead, and we have It’s Blitz, the latest effort from the band.  The distance couldn’t be greater.

One of the first elements that you will notice upon listening to the first track “Zero” is that frontwoman, Karen O, seems to have lost a bit of her animalistic prowess, as if she has been caged in a zoo.  The ferocity in her voice on the opening track, and the entirety of the album is rather lacking.  Where we once lauded her for her passion and energy, we’re now left confused by what seems a sort mild indifference.  Still, she does demonstrate her ability to carry a note here, but we saw such abilities on “Maps.”

Much will be made in the press for this album about the entirely new sound the band has come to take upon themselves.  The brashness and angular guitar work from previous efforts has completely disappeared; electronics samples and tired beats have replaced the fervor that once existsed as a tractor beam for listeners everywhere.

Mellow songs, such as “Skeletons” do show the band willing to explore that sonic range outside of their traditional forays, but such moments don’t seem as well mapped out this time around.  It’s difficult when listening to such tracks to figure out where the band was going, which loses some listeners, encouraging them to skip ahead to the next track. “Runaway” is another such song, and the piano structure just isn’t enough to psuh the song in any new direction.

“Dull Life” is one of the few songs on the album that seems to recall the past greatness of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Still, even when this song picks up the pace, where are those demonic guitar licks from Nick Zinner? It’s as if the man traded in his trusted axe for a child’s hatchet, a bejewled one nonetheless.

All in all, the album has some moments that every listener will most likely enjoy, but it doesn’t seem like this is really enough to warrant repeated listens.  The band shows their maturity as a group, but they discard everything that made them abrasive and frightening, exchanging them instead for a bunch of furry rabbits that you keep in a cage behind your house.  Sure, electronic moments make for great sound, but this band isn’t the one that was supposed to be giving those to us.  We asked them to break us down with passion and voice, but instead they just want to hold hands and walk along the beach.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/yeah_yeah_yeahs_-_zero.mp3]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero

Beep Beep – Enchanted Islands

islands

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When Beep Beep released their first album off of Saddle Creek Records, one was hard pressed not to find the similarities to heralded post-punk groups like Q and Not U, which is not really a far off comparison, seeing how far the group have gone in changing their sound on the group’s second album, Enchanted Islands.

Of course you will notice that knife-like guitar licks still cleverly cut through the album with precision, but what has evolved beyond the angular guitar-play is the evolution of the funk.  Bass lines are much more pronounced this time around, at least on songs like “Secrets for the Well” or “The Whispering Waves.”

More pronounced on this album, however, is the conceptualization, or the effort that Eric Ray and Chris Terry put into telling a story with each different tune.  Some stories revolve around traditional mysticism, such as struggles with mermaids, while others like “Seppuku” are interested in Japanese ritualistic suicide through disembowelment.  It’s not necessarily a unified concept that runs throughout the album, but one of different perspectives on enchantment. It’s is this disjointed approach to the album that both succeeds and holds the band back at moments.  In success, the band has crafted a varying album, layered with changes in tempo and structure, as well as vocal pitch.  Each song opens up like a Russian matryoshka dolls, revealing pieces within pieces.  At the same time, the effort seems disjointed at moments, as if the epic storytelling proved too much for those at the helm.

You will find some straightforward songs in the presentation of this album, both seeming to tie into each other, lyrically.  The ease with which a listener can approach these songs allows for them to shine in the mix of the album, as they step out for just a moment before being consumed again by the whole of the album.  “Return to Me” and “I Miss You” both loosely rely upon a classic approach, with gentle guitar accompanied by soaring lyrics.  Odds are that most casual listeners will find these the standout tracks, as they are easily consumed, but more rewarding moments exist throughout the entirety of the record.

And that is how it all comes to be on Enchanted Islands, as one must journey with the band, through the dark and light moments, behind the chords and into the lyrics.  Each time you find yourself traveling one way, the wind blows, moving you in an entirely new direction within the album, which makes Beep Beep one of the more interesting listens to come out at this point in the year.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/10-i-miss-you.mp3]

Download: Beep Beep – I Miss You [MP3]

Harlem Shakes – Technicolor Health

harlem

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Every once in a while you walk across a band with a little bit of a reputation, and very little else.  This is where you come across Harlem Shakes, a band that has been slowly climbing the indie-pop ladder rung by rung.  Their new album, Technicolor Health, will only encourage more people to climb upon their back as they aim to reach the top.

Opening the album, you’ll find that various electronic elements are crawling all over the first song, much the way that they crawl all over the entire album. But, these little bleeps and blips grab more urgency when the rest of the band kicks in, throwing horns and guitar into the mix.  It’s an eclectic sound to say the least, but they manage wrangle it all together in an effort to create pop gems.

Singer Lexy bares a strong resemblance to the vocal registry of John K Samson of The Weakerthans, especially in “Strictly Game,” though just as you start to hear that in his voice, it changes directions.  This is precisely one of the elements of this album that allows listeners to maintain their interest, as the band takes turn after turn through their pop repertoire, leaving nary a stone unturned.  The entire kitchen sink has been nicely set in this album, and yet it still all sounds remarkably charming.

Some of the songs are downright destined to encourage you to shake your boots, but then there are other moments that seem to show a certain bit of restraint.  “Niagra Falls” appears to pay homage to a bit of classic rock elements, and one might even say shares a missing link with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, back when they were still good.  The piano laden track bubbles gently beneath the surface of your ear drum, drifting off quietly just before it gets annoying.

Such seems to be the story of the band.  What once would be considered overbearing self-indulgence in instrument usage is restrained just enough so as not to appear as such.  Just as you think it all begins to get to be a bit too much, the band pulls it all back in, honing their skills in the craft of restraint. Your left with a great sense of respect, as the combination of such instruments never seems to be entirely too much, though looking at the inclusion of these things would lead you think otherwise.

Everything here is simpler than one expects, which is how this band will win you over.  They’ve created an album full of songs that push your boundaries of listening, yet draw you in with catchy melodies and clever lyrics.  At times, it might be a bit much for the listener due to the overabundance of sounds, but like the band, you should show restraint, and give this album a proper chance, as repeated listening provides for great rewards.

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

Download: Harlem Shakes – Niagra Falls [MP3]

Strange Boys – and Girls Club

strange

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Austin’s very own The Strange Boys finally have an album for everyone to share with their friends, though we suggest doing so in a legal manner.  After all the waiting, we finally get to see what these young gents have to offer us all; it’s precisely what we all expected, and this is meant in an endearing fashion.

One of the first things most listeners will come across is that the album sounds a bit muddy, as if the boys dragged these songs from beneath a rock on the patio of your favorite dive bar. It’s a taste that most listeners will have to endure, but many more will find rewarding.

Similarly, listeners will likely complain that singer Ryan Sambol’s vocals are a little bit shattering.  At times his lyrics are downright hard to decipher, drowned in a Southern sort of drawl, and drawn out until the very last possible syllable.  Still, if you give it a bit of love and devotion, it’s bound to worm its way into your heart.

Where precisely would one place the music on this record?  Besides Austin?  Well, step back into the storied history of a struggling middle class during the sixties.  Turn right just past the nearest alley, and walk into the dingy bar filling with smoke as we speak.  Here you will find the band and their album and Girls Club. It’s a dense sound, filled with frustration, fear and a destiny all of its own; a destiny soaked, more often than not, in debauchery.

Similarities abound, especially when one focuses on some of the melodic moments, such as the guitar during “No Way for a Slave to Behave,” which resembles the last era of the great American sock-hop.  It swings you left and right, as you grab the girl nearest you.  If it didn’t have that raw emotion and production, one might find such a song on American Bandstand.

Blues and R&B elements are also in abundance, making one reminisce for the legendary days where teenagers snuck off to cozy up to their romantic interest such as on the song “This Girls Taught Me a Dance.”  Even with such elements, they band pull out little rays of sunlight with the guitar work, creating moving songs intended for masses motivated for the subversive culture.

Combine this all with various other classic rock n’ roll elements, and by that we reference Chuck Berry, not your local station that plays everything by the Eagles.  It’s a fusion of everything dirty about the story of rock n’ roll, and even the lyrics seem to draw from a day when causing a ruckus was more of just a good time as opposed to a violent act.  Stories of stealing girls from their man along with serving time don’t seem to revel in senseless crimes, rather the need for diversion in the sterile world.  Use hit song “Heard You Want to Beat Me Up” as an example for such lyrical meanderings.

And the story is written.  You find yourself slowly warming up to a band intent upon returning to the day when music not only had artistic elements, but moments devoted purely to the enjoyment to those on stage and in an audience.  Every twist and turn, every influence, and every word will make you yearn for precisely the same thing, and you’ll want to share it with the band.

Jeremy Jay – Slow Dance

jeremy-jay

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Jeremy Jay seems to be relentless when it comes to releasing material, as this is his second album in two years, on top of various 12″s and 7″s.  Slow Dance, once again released by K Records, is not a huge departure from last year’s effort, but there are some subtle differences that demonstrate Jeremy’s move into brand new territory.

“We Were There” enters the game with some noticeable keyboard work to comfortably coat the song in a dense fog of 80s synth melodies.  At the core, it’s still the same old Jeremy pushing forward driving rhythms to accompany his spoken word delivery, but the new element displays a decision to pursue different ground.

“In This Lonely Town” picks up the same style from last years A Place Where We Could Go, with its swaying rhythm moving back and forth across the speakers.  At this point it seems as if the man can construct these songs with such ease that it’s hard to see him not releasing an album a year.  “Gallop” plants its roots in the same soil as the preceding song, but that bass line just begs you to bop along the way.

“Canter Canter” and “Slow Dance” pull back the reins just a little bit, as they drop the steady groove that has given the album its pacing up until this point.  Not only do the vocals seem to take a step back, but the overall movement of the tracks demonstrates Jeremy’s newfound appreciation for a track that will build and build upon itself.  Still, the vocal lay of the land is the most noticeable change here, as if our narrator is slow dancing his way through a field of poppies.

Then comes “Winter Wonder” into the scene.  Another slow number, but the remnants of this song don’t seem rooted in either classic rock n’ roll nostalgia nor 80s throwback. In fact, it’s one of the most modern songs Jeremy Jay has constructed to date, which definitely wins him some points, as he seems to finally control the slower tendencies of this album.  But he immediately jumps back into the classic R&B sound on “Will You Dance With Me.”  The barely audible piano meshed with the bass work propels the song along, though still noticeably slower than pervious numbers.

The closing number here is probably one of the better songs he’s written to date.  It’s as if he is channeling a more traditional approach to independent music, with gentle guitar work smeared with flowery vocals.  This would fit perfectly in the lexicon of classic 90s indie pop songs, and it’s the perfect close to another admirable piece of work from Jeremy Jay.

As it all draws to a close, the one thing that will remain with listeners is that Jeremy Jay has gone a bit slow on us.  While the first half of the album benefits from the pacing of old, the second half demonstrates the songwriters capabilities to compose slower melodic moments.  Not a huge change overall, but another solid piece of work.

3/13 Balmorhea at Ballet Austin

balmorhea09Releasing a CD is bound to be something special for those involved, so Austin band Balmorhea needed something special for the release of their new album, All is Wild, All is Silent.  The band chose to use the acoustics of Ballet Austin, offering the most intimate atmosphere possible to its fans.  Intimate settings can play out in various ways, as we will see shortly.  Follow the jump to read our full show review.

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