Loch Lomond Channel Indie Greats

lochlomondOkay, so perhaps the indie rock explosion bubble burst long ago, but the remnants of that still remain with lasting influence of Arcade Fire and the Decembrists. That’s exactly where Loch Lomond picks up, with a combination of those two, only slightly less orchestrated. There’s still a poetic note in the lyrical content, and symphonic touches that flourish in all the right places, so the Portland act isn’t too far removed from everyone’s heroes. This song was released via Tender Loving Empire to kick off the band’s tour through the West, and it’s a great way to start off your week…so says I.

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ACL Lineup Is Here!

untitledThough the lineup unofficially leaked yesterday, we were holding off to make sure everything was all official and whatnot before posting anything.  So if you haven’t seen it yet, the ACL lineup was just announced this morning for both of the festival weekends.  Of course ATH is excited about seeing The Strokes again, but as usual, we’re enjoying the undercards with groups like Kurt Vile, Waxahatchee, Talk in Tongues, Jose Gonzalez, etc.  Check out the full lineup here and form your own opinions.

You can also pick up a 3 day pass at 10am central time by following this link.  Do it.

The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

watwwabwRating: ★★½☆☆

The Decemberists have long been a staple band in the indie rock world, coming together at the beginning of the new millennium and being fairly prolific ever since. While they’ve gone slightly different directions over the years, the raw distinctive vocals of Colin Meloy and folk influenced base have always been the center of their albums: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is no exception to this.

The strongest part of this album is the beginning, particularly the first few tracks, which lead you to believe these folks have a little something different for you this time around. Opener, “The Singer Addresses His Audience” sees the band breaking the barrier between audience and artist, as Meloy acknowledges his supposed influence on his listeners. He talks a lot about how the band has had to change over the years “to belong” to us, but what is great about this song is the way it really explodes at the end. What starts as simple acoustic guitar and vocals builds into this whole band effort of huge sound: strings, group vocals, piano, building drums and guitars all come together in one orchestration of the control of nuance, which this band does quite well. They chant “To belong” over and over, making you feel welcome to the album and happy that something so warm belongs to you.

They continue this bombastic sound on to the next track “Cavalry Captain,” that comes in hot with jangly percussion and horns. This song feeds off the energy and excitement that the first track ended on, and the dramatic and formal lyrics start to make you feel right at home with The Decemberists. “Philomena” continues the streak, but feels a little more old timey—the female “ooh-ahhs” and overall strong presence in this song makes it interesting the whole way through. The melody meanders and frolics, feeling whimsical and light.

But around the middle of the record, the songs start to fall flat, reminiscent of what they’ve already done before, or just not pushing past plain indie folk rock. “Anti-Summersong” sounds almost like a parody of their own sound; the cartoon-esque backup vocals and harmonica making the band sound silly. There’s not a whole lot of new territory here, and their sound feels really pared down to a stale formula: the freshness from the first tracks has been lost.

At the end of the album, it’s hard to figure out where I stand. There are some good tracks on this album that will probably make my listening catalogue, but on the whole, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World lacks that knock-you-off-your-feet factor to make it more than just tolerable songs. Perhaps fans of The Decemberists will argue otherwise.

 

Quiet Company – We Are All Where We Belong

Rating: ★★★½☆

If you’ve lived in Austin for any amount of time and paid any attention at all, I think it is safe to say you ought have heard of Quiet Company. You may not have listened to their entire discography, but I’m sure the name rings some sort of bell. If you don’t live in Austin, and haven’t heard of this band before…get on it! Time is-a-wastin’. You already have three full-length studio albums to catch up on, and now you have another: We Are All Where We Belong makes four full indie-rock albums to divulge your senses upon.

In comparison to those other albums, this most recent one seems to be the most hook laden. On the first track, “The Confessor,” you get the mellow vocals of Taylor Muse meandering in until the song is more than halfway over, in which some piano bounces up the rhythm and kicks it out of the intro-phase and straight into the jamming. For first song, it is a good indicator of what this album is going to be as well as a good cleansing start for the band. On the next song, “You Me & The Boatman,” keeps things kicking and I’m reminded vocally and musically of early Motion City Soundtrack, but perhaps that’s just me. There is a steady interest maintained.

Five songs in, you get to one of the tastiest jams on here, which also just happens to be the band’s single from this album, “Fear & Fallacy, Sitting in a Tree.” The beginning of the four-minute track is quiet, but some pounding drums help build up the song to the explosive, gang vocal finish, complete with crashing cymbals and even some horn work. “Are You a Mirror,” the song directly following, reminds me a lot of The Decemberists.’ You have the ever-present acoustic guitar and those musical breakdowns with more horns; it’s the kind of music that makes you smile because of the lushness of its sound. Before this song ends, you get the repeated words of the chorus layered over a beat that allows the song to fade to the next flawlessly.

All in all, these fifteen tracks, for the most part, are pretty darn good. You may need to give it a few listens before you’re able to navigate through the jungle of indie-rock to find your favorites, but this is not grueling task, as all of the songs are listenable as well as a testament to local pride. Keep on Keepin’ on Quiet Company.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/fear-_-fallacy_-stitting-in-a-tree.mp3]

Download: Quiet Company – Fear & Fallacy, Sitting in a Tree [MP3]

New Music from All the Apparatus

Portland seems to attract music of the shanty sort, much like All the Apparatus.  The ensemble cast have just completed and released All the Apparatus, the self-titled album that will surely have you fawning.  An easy comparison would be to make a Decemberists association, but the heavier vocals give me a the feeling of a more complex Murder by Death.  It’s sort of like a folk-core version of Efterklang, but maybe that’s a stretch.  Regardless, the group makes sweeping music for sweeping your house, and for all those other times when you just want to listen to really great tunes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/alltheapparatus_pdxrose.mp3]

Download: All the Apparatus – Portland’s Rose [MP3]

The Decemberists – The King is Dead

Rating: ★★★★☆

After not the greatest reception of their last album, The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists have made their way back to the classic sound of their folk rock. This time around they have shifted ever-so-slightly to a larger influence of bluesy, Americana tones. As this is their seventh full-length release, The Decemberists are far from amateurs.

The King is Dead begins with “Don’t Carry it All,” which is an immediate stomper. It starts as though the beginning of an epic novel- slowly growing more intricate and detailed, without becoming too heavy at the end. Once again the listener is treated to the superb writing that this band brings to its albums. Blazing harmonica and the strikingly unique and bittersweet vocals of lead singer Colin Meloy combine with string work and methodic percussion to create this enjoyable, albeit not groundbreaking, sound for the first song. The group moves right along to “Calamity Song,” which picks up the pace. Fierce guitar strumming and refined howling in the chorus adds a touch of wildness to the album before they tone it down for “Rise to Me.” On this number, steel pedal guitar and vocal harmonies in addition to harmonica once again shape it to be the most classically blues sounding song of the album thus far.

As on the preceding album and those before it, The Decemberists have always been nothing short of excellent storytellers and songwriters, if one can consider those two different things. On “Rox in the Box,” you get brilliant lines such as “We all do what we can/ we endure our fellow man.” While on the two complimentary songs “January Hymn,” and “June Hymn,” Meloy takes you on an imagery filled journey through winter and summer, two drastically different seasons. These songs are similar in their simplicity, but different in the images they create.

It is really hard to find a song that is lacking in good qualities on this album; I didn’t find any. With their outstanding songwriting in hand, the album heads towards its finish with “This is Why We Fight.” Like the first track, this one is laced with several instruments and lyrical strengths. During the chorus Meloy bites the endings of his words, giving edginess to the song. “Dear Avery” then rounds off the album slowly and softly, more steel guitar ending the album as it began: bluesy.

While this is an excellent effort from The Decemberists, it isn’t a stretch. Simple blues elements added an interesting spin, but it seems as though the group was discouraged from their last album to stray from their classic sound too much. If anything, the album artwork is a testament to my feelings towards this work; it’s really pretty, and I like it a lot, but it’s not mind blowing. It would have been nice to see where they could go, but I’m far from complaining.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Down-By-The-Water-1.mp3]

Download: The Decemberists – Down By The Water  [MP3]

New Music from The Decemberists

After their dallying with a rock-opera it seems that The Decemberists are back at what they do best, offering up eclectic folk tunes with lyrical genius for those of you interested in those sorts of things.  The first single has Colin singing with some female vocal contributions, and we’re excited to report the guitar sound harkens back to the golden days.  Their new record is titled The King is Dead, and it will hit stores on January 18th on Capitol Records. I’m crossing my fingers for another Picaresque.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Down-By-The-Water-1.mp3]

Download: The Decemberists – Down By The Water [MP3]

Math and Physics Club – I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do

Rating: ★★★★☆

Seattle group Math and Physics Club have one full-length and a few EPs under their belt, but after a short break it seems that they’re ready to continue their foray into the world of perfect pop tunes.  I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do is not power-pop, nor is it twee, instead its just crafty pop rock of the best sort.  It’s straightforward, and in being so, you find you’ve enjoyed the entire album without even being aware of why it sounds so good.  There’s no hype, there’s just great songs.

“Jimmy Had a Polaroid” opens with a swirling guitar line, but in a few short seconds the band bounces off on the backbone of great drumming.  Guitar chords battle between sharpness and gentle strumming, all the while commenting on the good times shared in relationship.   The idea of relationships is quite often a theme on this record, especially when you step into songs like “Trying to Say I Love You.”  Singer Charles is doing his best to prove a point, trying to win back the one he loves.  His efforts don’t seem to be effective, but the understated song just wins your heart time and time again, as often the simplest lyrics are often the ones that we connect with the most.

From here, Math and Physics Club take a bit of a divergence from their clever pop, going in the direction of The Decemberists.  In fact, its exactly what you wish The Decemberists sounded like, as banjo and horns are accompanied by well-crafted words, but of the overly verbose sort.  The only other song that slightly shifts away from the group’s sound on I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do is “I’ve Been That Boy,” which is just vocals and quiet guitar strumming (a touch of tambourine).  Oddly, such basic songs are often the hardest to write, and pull off successfully, yet I keep coming back to this tune time and time again.

Including upbeat numbers on this record really has paid off for the band.  “Will You Still Love Me,” which features guest vocals from Jen Garrett, pushes the pace, while still retaining the infectious pop sound of the group.  Adding a female vocal to balance the male counterpart pays off huge dividends, making the song one that lasts in your memory.  Even the inside joke of “We’re so DIY” has a faster pace, all the while carefully mocking the present state of indie rock music.  If it weren’t for an amazing melody, and the hint at putting fun (created by the “oh yea” chorus)  into the song, people might take offense; it’s hard to dislike a song so enjoyable.

In the end, I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do draws to a close before you even know it.  Ten songs in under thirty minutes, and yet you’ll turn right back to your stereo and press play.  While some may seek some sort of artistic virtuosity, it is often the band’s like Math and Physics Club that make the most delicious records.  They’re not trying to win any awards, they just want you to enjoy great pop tunes, and on that basis alone, this record is a huge success.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/mapc07.mp3]

Download: Math and Physics Club – Jimmy Had a Poloaroid [MP3]