SxSW 2013: The Spin Party @ Stubb’s

While it is usually a rather homogenized list of artists, this year’s Spin Party featured some names I wanted to see. Parquet Courts and CHVRCHES were included in the day’s agenda which also gave me a shot to double back on Unknown Mortal Orchestra and check out Solange (Beyoncé’s “indie” sister, y’all). Sorry, had to skip Kendrick Lamar for Girls Names and Small Black . I am sure there were some freebies which I ignored. I got to skip the line with my fancy Red pass and there is a photo pit at Stubb’s, so thank you Spin Mag.

Read on for plenty of pics and my notes on each artist…

Read more

Free Sampler From Spin

Music magazine Spin has a brand spanking new online sampler full of some solid tunes that you can download and take with you on itunes.  The compilation features some of the buzz indie bands right now like Henry Clay People, Jaill, Villagers, Menomena, and a few more.  You’ll recognize most of the 15 songs from our website, but this will allow you to get them all in one place.  Below we’ve got new(ish) song from Department of Eagles called “Brightest Minds”.  That one appears on a new B-Side/early recording LP from the group that just hit stores last week on the American Dust label.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/depteaglesbrightestminds.mp3]

Download: Department of Eagles – Brightest Minds [MP3]

Vampire Weekend – Contra

vampire-weekend-contra

Rating: ★★ · · ·

Everyone began salivating when news of a new Vampire Weekend hit the streets, but as the leaks of the singles came, people began to feel a bit uneasy as we neared the release of Contra.  Sadly, the feelings of unease have not been quelled, as this record, despite wanting to be great, is nothing more than a mediocre rendition of the last.

Opening with “Horchata” seems logical, as you take one of the catchier numbers (and yes, it IS one of the catchiest) from the album, and put it up front.  It makes complete sense, but it sets up the rest of the album for a bit of a lackluster performance.  You get a lot of the same tinkering in this song too with non-traditional percussive elements–a sign that this album isn’t progressing too far.

So you find yourself sort of immersed emotionally in this album, and you hit upon “Holiday.” It replicates some of the energy that we discovered with “A-Punk,” yet not enough that one could really call it a standout track, like you could with the aformentioned “A-Punk.”  Ezra’s voice at this point does seem really solid–in case you’re looking for positives.

Then you breeze through the rest of the album, fast-forwarding til you hit the slow-mover that is “Taxi Cab.”  It’s really difficult to move beyond the banality that is this song; it’s the most bland piece of music I’ve come across in the last few months.  It sounds like they wanted to create a touch of Enlightenment piano work atop their summery pop.  But, a few repeat listens of this song will open your eyes to the strongest moments on the album, this song leading into that moment.

And you finally arrive at the one-two punch that is “Run” and “Cousins.”  Okay, so the beat on “Run” sounds too familiar to early Vampire Weekend efforts, but Ezra’s voice sounds much more influential at this point, coming off as one of his stronger vocal performances on the record. The brother song, “Cousins” is probably most reminiscent of the high-octane fun that you found in “A-Punk.”  It’s hard to get beyond the yelping, but if you can put that aside, you’ll find Contra‘s strongest moments yet.  It’s catchy, and yet not too stylistically repetitive.

But, as the album winds out, everything is lost.  You’ll find some beats that will surely propel the band to SPIN glory, but you won’t really find too many other moments in the remaining songs that you’ll want to put on over and over again.  “Diplomat’s Son” finds Ezra trying his best to sing a nice little Hawaiian ballad a la Iz, but it’s not enough to sustain listeners.  Seriously bro, stop singing, and get to rocking. That all leads to the band’s misstep on the record.

Listening to Contra repeated times is sure to wear listeners down.  The redundancy in the sonic appeal gradually fades as you go from song to song, and what once seemed interesting, just isn’t.  Listeners, despite their best intentions, will surely come to the realization that whilst they wanted the best for Vampire Weekend, their needs just weren’t fulfilled.  You’ll be left wondering why you spent your money on a record that you can easily forget the moment its over.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/01-Horchata-1.mp3]

Download: Vampire Weekend – Horchata [MP3]

Miniature Tigers

We might be just a bit late in telling you about Miniature Tigers out of Phoenix, but good things come to those that wait.  After releasing two EPs in 2008 that piled up the accolades from well known critics like Spin & Rolling Stone, the band is looking to grow their fan base into the new year.  With a sound that’s poppy and pretty easy on the ears, these guys might just be the new Vampire Weekend you peoples are all looking for.  If you’re digging “Cannibal Queen”, you’ll have to buy their new album Tell it to the Volcano on iTunes.  Physical copies are only available if you make it out to a show.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/07-cannibal-queen.mp3]

Download: Miniature Tigers – Cannibal Queen [MP3]

Coldplay – Viva la Vida

Rating: ★★★ · ·

In 2000, when MTV showed two music videos a day instead of one, I recall watching a video featuring a squirrel-y looking fellow walking along a merky morning beach. I didn’t care much for the redundant slow motion effect or the dusk-to-dawn illusion, but as a teenager, was enthralled in what this hoodie-wearin’ bloke had to say. “Yellow” was my introduction to Coldplay. Since releasing 2000’s Parachutes, the London quartet have sold more than 32 million records worldwide, filled countless arenas and made legions of Dodge Caravan-driving soccer moms in the process. You know a band is doing something right when you make a phone call to your mother and SHE asks you, “Have you heard the new Coldplay record?” No small feat…

Much has changed in Camp Coldplay since then. While 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head proved this band was destined to “rock” stadiums, 2005’s snoozefest X&Y brought us back to Earth proving that re-hashing singles is not always the brightest of ideas. Exhibit A: X&Y’s “Speed of Sound” tried it’s darndest to match the success of “Clocks” by sounding just like “Clocks.” Exhibit B: “Fix You,” a song that I’m pretty sure GOD wrote was X&Y’s answer to “The Scientist.” The boys we’re in dire need of assistance because the formula was already walking on thin tightropes.

On their fourth installment, the Tex-Mex-titled “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends,” that help comes in the form of producer Brian Eno (U2, Talking Heads) to assist in ship-shaping their form. Gone are the power ballads Coldplay are known for and the over-production of their past records. Instead, listeners are treated to a multitude of sonic landscapes, sweeping strings, and a buttload of church organ. Luckily, this change works in Coldplay’s favor showcasing a band that’s capable of writing challenging music rather than worrying about living up to their position as the “Biggest Rock Band in the World.”

I promised myself I wouldn’t mention any other bands in this review, primarily the obvious one that has a letter and a number in it (sigh), but after hearing “Life in Technicolor,” the opening instrumental track off the record, it’s an arduous task not to mention Coldplay’s Dublin doppelgangers. It’s a shimmering two minute piece that opens the album nicely transitioning into “Cemetaries of London,” a drag-of-a-tune that sounds more like Big Country with it’s lagging chants and guitatist Jonny Buckland’s Edge-riffic licks. Now if only these cats can learn some quality jigs for their live show.

As the album progresses, the band explores darker territories. “Lost!” is a well-crafted song mixing powerful organ and drummer Will Champion’s Afro-beats, and “42” is a stunner with it’s unique and daring structure. However, it’s difficult to sympathize with future Sir Chris Martin when he sings “I just got lost…every river that I tried to cross.” Martin has never been known for his profound lyrics and it definitely doesn’t do him or his troupe any favors on Viva la Vida. It hurts the record if anything. “Yes” with it’s “Walk Like an Egyptian” style strings, monitone vocals, and “profound” lyrics could’ve been spared from this record. However, the second half of the song dubbed “Chinese Sleep Chant” is English trance at it’s best. If only I had my glowsticks…

“I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t put an end to all violence and suffering.” Obviously, Martin was joking when he said this about the record in a recent SPIN Magazine interview, but after hearing the mighty one-two punch of Apple iTune’s smash “Viva la Vida” & first single “Violet Hill,” I would not be surprised if this record in fact ended all violence and suffering. Okay, I’m blowing smoke up your ass, but both songs serve as an excellent juxtaposition when describing the album as a whole. Everything from Martin’s fixation between life & death to the album’s awful Revolutionay War cover art that was ripped out of the pages of a 7th grade Social Studies book are embodied nicely during the record’s climax. “Strawberry Swing” is fantastic blending Buckland’s Afro-pop guitar hook and bassist Guy Berryman’s stomping rhythm. However, it’s all brought to a screeching halt when the final track “Death and All His Friends” wraps up the album. Sadly, it’s a trite tune that sounds more X&Y than Viva la Vida. The second half of the song revisits the beginning of the record. “And in the end, we lie awake and we’ll dream of making our escape,” Martin delivers in Abbey Road fashion over Eno’s soundscapes. It’s a comfortable refrain that does not coincide well with the 1st half of the song. And in retrospect, that’s how Coldplay’s Viva la Vida plays out. An easy-flowing record that gets lost periodically in it’s own ambition.

You can hear the title track to the new album below:

Download: Coldplay – Viva La Vida [MP3]