Malajube – Labyrinthes

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

With the release of their second album, Labyrinthes, our favorite francophiles, Malajube, were poised to hit the United States running full steam ahead.  The question everyone wanted answered was whether or not they would convert from their first language to a more commercial language, one that would surely break them into the independent scene in the neighboring country. The answer, dear reader, is an emphatic “no!”

They open the album with the epic “Ursuline,” which has a certain sense of urgency once the songs gets going, but just as you expect the band to push over the top and rush through the song, they scale the entire number back, slowly leading you towards the outro of the song.  It’s a statement the listener must respect, as the band has the capabilities to lead you wherever they wish.

Still present this time round is the organic sound.  Usage of gang vocals, both brash and soothing go in and out of the record.  Pianos, guitars, drums and extemporaneous instruments/sounds are also used indiscriminately.  It’s a sound that one has come to expect from our northerly neighbors, as they seem to rely a lot on the soundscapes of fellow Canadians, Broken Social Scene. This time around, the band sounds a lot warmer than on Trompe L’oeil.

Yet, through it all, the band sound just like something you would listen to on something like KEXP. The guitars are driving, providing the pace of the record, but the band can pull that sound away from you immediately, resting, instead, on atmospheric “oohs” and “ahhs.”  Clever combinations of sound come within each song, which is precisely why this band garners the interests of fans today.

And you’ll come across songs such as “Heresie,” which will win you over in a short span of time.  In fact, the coupling of the aforementioned song with “Dragon de glace” is probably one of the more special moments you find on the album.  It’s a mellower Malajube than the one presented on the earlier part of the album.  It’s a pleasure to come across a band that puts out an album where to layout of the songs on the album shows a strong thought process, as if they wanted you to listen to the album all the way to the end.

But, the one detractor, as alluded to earlier on, is the fact that the band, while respectable, maintain their allegiance to their native tongue.  It’s not that the vocal element is not appealing, as one can take a certain emotive quality away from the songs, but its the lack of a connection between the band and most listeners.  Musically, the band can take you many places, but a lot of people will want to connect with the lyrical content, and that is simply not possible for people versed in English.  It’s the one miss on this album, though for many, it’s a pretty big miss.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/06-les-collemboles.mp3]

Download: Malajube – Les Collemboles [MP3]

Islands – Arm’s Way

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Immediately, I want to say that this record is probably worth the purchase–albeit one when there isn’t much else out there to buy. Initially, I listened to this album four or five times in a single day, but therein lies the problem–I can’t recall great moments about this one–I can’t recall the shapes of the songs, give or take one or two. Care to explain you ask? I do indeed.

For starters, this album is far too long to listen to in one sitting, and if you do, you will find it does nothing more than blend into the background as you and your buddies make dinner–steaks right? By my count, 8 of the 12 songs go over the 5 minute mark. Sorry, Nick Thorburn, I just don’t have that sort of time these days. Sure, they dabble in length, but not quite like this.

Now, is the music worth it? Yes-but not like you want it–not like your “Rough Gem.” The closest Islands come to replicating that playfulness is on the 4th track “Creeper,” and it doesn’t quite hit its mark. Here is our problem listeners: the affinity for clever, circus-laden melodies is gone. But, on the plus side–so are all those faux hip-hop moments. I miss the former–its always been the attraction for me.

What I do like about this album, especially apparent in the last three tracks, is the new darker side of this band, and I don’t mean that in regards to lyrics–I mean it in reference to the somber mood apparent in these tracks. We all know that Jaime Thompson is no longer a member, and this is really apparent, or at least to me, in these lyrics. I could be off, but, whatever the cause, it makes for some of the more special moments on this record. Like I said–I bought it. I listen to it from time to time, but I can’t tell why. Maybe you can?

Islands is playing Emos Austin on June 23rd. Click here to purchase tickets for da show.

Hear “The Arm” off the brand new album:

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

Download: Islands – The Arm [MP3]

Mates of State – Rearrange Us

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Who doesn’t want to wrap this band up in a Taco Cabana tortilla, dip them in some queso and eat them for a late night snack? Maybe that’s not exactly the image you had in mind but can you blame me? Mates of State is the band you want to bring home and introduce to the family. The band you wish no one caught you smiling about every time you heard their songs. Mates of State have been doing their thing for a while now and doing it very well I might add. Doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well. The first time I heard “La’hov” from My Solo Project (2001) I knew this band had something good going on. They brought you the sound that always made you want to dance and sing at the top of your lungs. After My Solo Project Mates dropped three more very solid and likeable albums each with superbly written pop jams that all ages can’t resist. On top of these three albums, MOS got hitched and also dropped two kids along the way. So now the act manages the music industry along with two little ones.

The bands most recent effort, Re-Arrange Us, sees the band growing up a lot or showing their age if you will. Kori Gardner(every indie fan boy’s dream girl) begins to use less and less of her famous electric organ that everyone fell in love with in the first place. I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing but I can see some die hard fans turned off by this, me being one of them. I do like the way Mates is attempting to grow up a bit & seeing what’s going to work for them as a band in the future. They are evolving as a band, refining their sound & trying new things, I’m just not sure if it is paying off. The album starts off with “Get Better” with it’s slick drums and tight hook that you can’t say no to. “The Re-Arranger” is the feature track of the album. It shows Mates going back to what they do best: sing-a-long lyrics and the best pop rhythms money can buy. If every song on the album sounded like this one, mark it down as the best of the year. Unfortunately, that’s not the case….Not every song on the album will cause you to sing-a-long, but at least will make you tap your feet. The songs are strong but something seems to be missing.

The beats are good, the lyrics are like always, the sound is refined, so what else is there? The songs tend to be good but what about after several listens? They start getting hard to tell apart…. And this can’t be Mates best work… can it? What happened to the days of “Nice Things that Look Good” or even “Fluke”? I miss the organ. Fine I said it. Who doesn’t? As much as I like these songs, I also find some faults in them. After a few listens, the album starts to sound like maybe it was rushed or the band is just going through the motions. They still put a smile on my face but I miss the old rockin’ days of Mates of State. Mates is still putting out music that rivals most any pop outfit but I think they could be the best pop band around if they really put their minds to it. Here’s one fan boy missing the days of the mighty Kori Gardner and her trusty electric organ.

Don’t miss Mates of State blowing through Austin at Emo’s June 13th. Click here to purchase tickets before they sell out. Never miss the chance to see Mates live!

Hear “Get Better” off the new album now:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/01-get-better.mp3]

Download: Mates of State-Get Better.mp3

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