Surely Happyness has hit your radar, as they’ve had an incredible run the last year or so. They maintain their balance between huge walls of guitar noise and pop sensibility that really harkens back to the late 90s when bands like Grandaddy and The Comas were gods in my listening rotation. You’ll hear a screeching guitar in the middle here before they bring back the power hook that comes with every vocal. If you love pop, but still love to rock a bit, then there’s not going to be a better band for you in 2015. Look for their new effort, Weird Little Birthday, on March 24th via Bar None.
I’ve written about the Bilinda Butchers on several occasions, and their label has put up the album for the lucky NYP…but I suggest you also order the white LP version of the band’s new album, Heaven. One of the reasons I love their approach to the album is they’ve taken the story of a Japanese woman’s diary being written in the 1800s and allowed it to inform the record. You have these interesting little instrumental pieces, or songs like the one below, all adding depth to the life of the character, Nakajima Ume. The more pop oriented tracks remind me of the Comas (who I miss). You can order the LP from Orchid Tapes if you so like (and you should).[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/The-Bilinda-Butchers-HEAVEN-02-Less-Than.mp3]
Download: The Bilinda Butchers – Less Than [MP3]
A few years back I Was a King burst into my life, and I couldn’t have been happier. They recalled bits of my favorite under-appreciated band, The Comas, as well as hints of Teenage Fanclub. On their latest outing, Old Friends, the group adds a few little twists to the foray, though nothing that ultimately changes the established sound of the group.
From the minute you get into opening track “The Wylde Boys,” you can tell that Old Friends will definitely have a bit of a facelift. There’s this distortion/horn jam opening the track, and in fact, it probably detracts from the band’s meat and potatoes. But, once the killer drumming jumps in appropriately and those warm hypnotic guitar lines clean things out, you’re in heaven.
Once you get into the nitty-gritty of the album, fans of amazing power-pop will definitely find themselves enjoying repeated listens. “Echoes” has a great little stomping beat that supplies perfect opportunities for the guitar to wrap itself around your eardrums. These are the type of tracks fan of I Was a King were probably expecting from this record. But, as much as these moments clearly leave you in love with the band, there are some disarming elements, at least as far as construction of the songs go.
Take the single, “Daybreak,” which would be one of my favorite songs, period, if you could only remove some odd things that just don’t belong. First, you have that thirty second intro, seemingly belonging to a Beirut demo that made the trash. Second, that damn horn! Why on Earth does a splendid band with incredible hooks add the usage of a horn to flesh out their sound? It’s reminiscent of the time Cursive included horns to their post-punk sound; it doesn’t work. Some things are better left untouched. Perhaps the band found themselves stuck in a rut, battling to push themselves in a new direction, but this might not have been the best direction one could go.
Excitingly, there are some new touches here that excite me, as a long time fan. “Snow Song” begins with some acoustic strumming, and Frode’s voice sounding as pristine as it does in the live setting. It’s not straight-ahead power-pop, and it doesn’t have to be in order for I Was a King to pull it off. This is something I probably wish the band realized more. “Old Friends,” similarly has this great little bit of swing to it, and this cool, breeze-like vocal that accompanies the entire track. It’s a great closer, and a great piece of songwriting.
Oddly, Old Friends is still a winning record. There are a few miscues here and there, but even those odd spots don’t do enough to make you forget that the combination of melody and shredding guitars never sounded as perfectly as it does here. And the drumming, the drumming is phenomenal. I Was a King might have pushed themselves for this new record, and while I may not whole-heartedly agree with every step, I can appreciate spreading out into new territory. As long as they can still write those power-pop hooks that win any reasonable listener over, they’ll continue to progress, and continue to make me a fan, day after day.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/I-Was-A-King-Daybreak.mp3]
Download: I Was A King – Daybreak [MP3]
Andy Herod was always one of my favorites, especially when he fronted the Comas. Now, he’s still working on his latest project, Electric Owls. They combine a lot of his rootsy folk elements with flourishes of electronics. The band has just released the new Cullowhee Songs EP on Vagrant, which features members of Band of Horses and other Comas remnants. Herod always had this way of connecting with me as a listener, and based on this track, it seems like he still has that special touch. Give this track a spin, and if you likes, then go back and check out all the old Comas stuff, as well as the last Electric Owls record. I bet you’ll be pleased.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/ElectricOwlsIWasaFlood.mp3]
Download: Electric Owls – When I Was a Flood [MP3]
When The Comas decided that it would be best to call it quits, at least for the day, I knew that I would miss their fuzzed-out space pop. Ever since their first break on Dawson’s Creek, I was absolutely in love. Luckily, leader of the bunch, Andy Herod, opted to take on the Electric Owls moniker and release Ain’t Too Bright on Vagrant Records.
As soon as this album kicks off, the fuzz begins, coating the acoustic strumming before Herod’s distinctive voice jumps into song. For a fan of this man, it’s good to hear these familiar vocals, and the return of that space-age pop sound that Herod and friends perfected with Spells.
It’s great to see that Herod and his new posse haven’t neglected that quirkiness that made his old band so interesting, using electronic samples and other sounds to add an atmospheric background to the scope of each song. But still, they maintain the feel of all the current bands. “Halloween Mask” easily fits in the modern pop landscape, dancing not far away from the works of Rogue Wave. This song reminds us of Herod at his best, crafting careful cool hits with a hint of futuristic hipsterdom.
Reading notes about his return, it would seem that Herod needed this return to music. His first foray had left him and his mates exhausted, but as all great writers do, he got the itch to write again. That personality breaks through the surface of this album, as more traditional songs have been penned. Songs like “Darken Me” with it’s folk leanings and foot stomping percussion remind listeners of the personal touch that music can bring. “Two Stories” has that similar personal stretch, with the song being drawn gently from personal experience of the narrator, presumably Herod himself.
This outing is less intense than the past efforts that have involved Herod, but this is not entirely a bad thing, as he first warmed his way into my heart with A Def Needle In Tomorrow long ago, which seemed to be a stripped down affair in comparison to his later work. Still, it’s great to have the voice of an old friend bringing back memories of simple pop tunes with a space-age edge. You never know how much you miss a particular songwriter until they make their way back into the music industry; we gladly welcome back Andy Herod and Electric Owls to the foray.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/04-darken-me.mp3]
Download: Electric Owls – Darken Me [MP3]
Occasionally the overseas hype makes its way to these Eastern shores, and in those cases it rarely amounts to much. This time, I Was a King, aim to put all that hype to rest, as they have an album of such quality that it’s hard not to immediately fall in love with every single song on the album.
From the opening moments of the album, there is a definite haziness to the production, as if the album was washed in a dense Irish fog; that sentimentality will remain throughout the record, though the album definitely breaks through in a major way.
More than likely, you will find that this album borrows largely from the late 90s Brit-pop as the guitars carry a certain amount of fuzz, and you would be hard pressed not to find some similarities between the band and Teenage Fanclub. There’s elemental grit on almost every single song that comes your way, but beneath it sleeps that great pop beast that is near and dear to our hearts.
One issue that some might take upon immediate listens is that the lyrics are not openly decipherable; one must listen closely throughout the entire album in order to get a hold on the precise subject matter. But isn’t this what we all want from our music? Does music have to be so immediately accessible? No! This album answers that time and time again, as it unfolds with rewarding moment after rewarding moment. And those vocals are so warm and inviting that they recall little known band The Comas, so much so that one might confuse the singers as the same man, but alas, there is a great distance between the two.
It’s difficult to describe such an album that goes all over the place and yet remains stationary. The album artwork in this case is a sufficient descriptor of the album, as each song is full of different colors and sounds. In part the album is 90s power-pop, but psychedelic moments shine through from the same core, only to be outdone by the space fuzz guitarmonies that cradle the vocals. This is an album that refuses to be defined, and it refuses to sit in one place. Here you have ADHD recorded, perfected, and sold to appease your ears.
No matter what you find enjoyable, you will find that this album is perfectly suited for you and your listening. It’s not overtly abrasive where you can’t sleep with it at night, nor is it near mellow enough where you don’t want to crank it all the way to eleven; you won’t be able to put this one down. Please, spin it again and again.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/14-norman-bleik.mp3]
Download: I Was A King – Norman Bleik [MP3]