Minks – Tides End

minks-tides-end

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Those of you who reveled in the shadowy electronic pop of the first release by Minks might find this hard to swallow, but for all intents and purposes, Tides End is a pretty straightforward pop record.  Gone are the hazy vocals and coats of atmospherics, though the lyrical material still maintains a bit of darkness.  While some of the winter layering of the previous effort might have been shed, the core aesthetic remains the same, leaving listeners with a shimmering album for any time of day.

It’s hard not to notice the immediacy of the beats and the glittery touch as soon as you press play on Tides End.  “Romans” bursts forth with a beat built to pick up the feet on the dance floor, before Sonny Kilfoyle gently croons his way into the mix.  By the time you make it to the chorus, you’ll definitely notice similarities to surf-pop wunderkind The Drums (just my opinion). Still, this album succeeds in its ability to completely depart into a more accessible pop spectrum, such as you’ll hear on “Everything’s Fine.”  Ringing bits of guitar accentuate the beats, and you’ll find it hard not to get stuck with the simple chorus in your head. Personally, I like the slight bit of restraint, as the beats aren’t pounding down your door; they’re airy, yet full of merriment.

Really, you could write about any of the new songs from Minks in the same manner, praising their thoughtful approach to songwriting, allowing for the hooks to bloom, rather than be buried beneath over-processed studio touches. There are, however, a few songs that step outside the boundaries set forth by Kilfoyle on this release, such as “Painted Indians.”  It playfully drifted in, as many of the songs do, but then the forceful entry of the lyrics were surprising, in a good way.  It provided a touch of variation, even as the verses received the calm smoothing vocal Sonny seems to prefer on this go round.

My first go round, I definitely gravitated towards “Margot” as my favorite hit on Tides End, but the more I listen, and the more I notice the care in every twist and turn, the more often my favorite tends to change. Right now, I’m really digging the oddly exuberant “Doomed and Cool.”  Sure, there’s an obvious nostalgic bent, even with the guitar tones, but I’m not going to knock anyone for loving old school pop music.  You should probably listen to “Ark of Life” as well, just in case you’re looking for your favorite new love song.

I think a lot of people are going to be on the fence with Minks after this listen.  Their first album was dark, yet enchanting.  Tides End, well, it’s simply enchanting.  There’s no mystery to the pop sensibility, and in many ways, that makes it much more enduring, and endearing. And, if you’re looking to get snobby, one can go through the whole record twice, and not feel like you’ve listened to the same thing…such are the careful touches that were put into the production and writing of this record.  I assure you, given time, you’ll find yourself really enjoying the listen from start to finish.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/02-Everything-s-Fine.mp3]

Download: Minks – Everything’s Fine [MP3]

Generationals – Heza

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

Heza is the third proper full-length from Generationals, and while the sound remains largely the same, there are some definite shifts that alter the musical landscape for the group.  One thing is for sure though, the band consistently find themselves crafting perfect pop tunes that we’ll all enjoy.

“Spinoza” starts things off the right way, giving you some quick paced guitar work that reminds me of the modern surf-pop of bands like The Drums.  Of course, one thing the Generationals always have to make them stick out is the affecting vocal tone present on all their efforts.  It’s the perfect way to make surf-pop their own.  But, just as you think you’ve got the group pinned down, they go in a different direction on “Extra Free Year.”  This tune is filled with a thick bouncing bass, and the delivery of the vocal is much more subdued than on the previous track.  Little bits of guitar trickle in and out of the song, but it’s largely driven by the rhythm section.  It took me awhile to warm up to it, but it grew on me eventually.

By the time you arrive at “You Got Me,” you realize that Heza definitely has an emphasis on giving you hooks surrounded by the blips and beeps of electronica, though that’s not a huge step in a new direction, as those elements have been present before.  But, while past songs have seen those attributes used to push the track, here it seems to flesh out a mellower vibe.  There’s even vocal samples from a speech that fill out some of the empty space.  It’s tracks like this that suffice, though they’re not necessarily going to go down as my favorite. Still, it sets the mood for “Put the Light On,” which is one of the album’s standouts.  Guitar work is sparse, yet jagged, and there’s a warm atmospheric mood accentuated by some keyboard touches.  Those soaring high vocals that always do the trick are here too, allowing listeners to really fall in love with the great vibes provided by Generationals.

While I think that Heza is a little unfocused at points, the remarkable tracks are extremely memorable.  “Awake” is perfect in that it shows some restraint in pacing.  Had the band forced the issue, pace wise, I think they might have had a guaranteed iTunes commercial spot, though I’m glad they didn’t, as the true joy from this track comes when you let it slowly unfold.  This is where the band excels most on this effort, rather than their more traditional bouncing pop ditties.

After spending several weeks listening to Heza, I think that it’s an album with some great high points, and not really any lows.  Surprisingly, Generationals have excelled this time around on warmer, slower tracks.  You’ve still got your catchy pop tunes that will no doubt become live favorites, but if you spend time with the record, you’ll surely find clarity in their more pristine ballads.  Might not be top of the pops just yet, but the group continues to win my heart.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/02-You-Got-Me.mp3]

Download: Generationals – You Got Me [MP3]

Sunny Pop from Cayucas

We love pretty much everything that’s being put out by Secretly Canadian, and this new release from Cayucas is surely going to be another hit we’ll adore for some time.  The recent signing has an upcoming 7″ featuring two tracks to give us all an introduction to the band.  This first taste is just what you’d expect a California pop band to construct, full of vibrant energy and tasty melodies.  It sort of sounds like the meeting ground between The Drums and Generationals, both bands we fawn over, so how could we, and you, not love this?

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/01-Cayucos.mp3]

Download:Cayucas – Cayucos [MP3]

Catchy Pop from Ski Lodge

I’ve been jamming this new tune from Ski Lodge that made it into my inbox over the weekend.  It’s got a little hint of that surfy-guitar pop that’s really popular right now, but I like that the vocals take on a nice focus in this track.  You can find the track on the short Ski Lodge EP, along with three other jams, all which are as equally as catchy as this one here.  It sort of reminds me of the innocence of the Drums early on, giving you that same casual bounce that just invades your mind.  Try it out!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Ski-Lodge-I-Would-Die-To-Be.mp3]

Download:Ski Lodge – I Would Die To Be [MP3]

Show Preview: The Drums @ The Parish (10/23)

Date Sunday, October 23rd
Location The Parish
Doors 800p
Tickets $13 from Frontgate

For all intents and purposes, this is sort of a must see show.  The Drums have pretty much dominated the surf-pop spectrum for the better part of two years, and their latest record, Portamento shows a great bit of maturity–not to mention some killer tracks.  Yes, I admit that I definitely had some issues with their last set over at the ND awhile back, but that’s neither here or there.  I’m going to be at this show, swinging my arms, taking part in all the joyous harmonies and surfy riffs the band brings.  Plus, it’s gotta sound great over at the Parish. Come on out kids.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/04-Money.mp3]

Download: The Drums – Money [MP3]

The Drums – Portamento

Rating: ★★★★½

After much global adoration, and possibly some skepticism, The Drums return to follow up their self-titled debut.  This outing appears to still bubble and brood, if not more so than the band’s first record, which makes Portamento a thoroughly enjoyable listen from start to finish.

If you wanted to see how the group would move into their next phase, then you need to look no further than “Book of Revelation.”  Bouncing bass rhythms control the sign, and while similarities remain vocally, there’s a definite growth in Jonathan Pierce’s voice, sounding much more grounded. And if that didn’t solve your dilemma, then perhaps you can look at “What You Were” to see the band attempting to distance themselves, just a hint, from their past. Pierce’s delivery is vastly different than earlier work, sounding almost indifferent, in an endearing fashion.  Even a horn instrumentation demonstrates the band moving forward.

You’ll still find some excellent numbers worthy of your favorite flailing arms dance move such as the single “Money.” While the lyrical content may not see the band pushing through literary barriers (that’s never been their style), the speedier pace of the drumbeat and Pierce’s vocal shifts during the chorus will allow any listener to realize this band has hooks galore. But, the first half, while catchy and superb in its own right, doesn’t hold much water to the depth of exploration the band made in crafting the second half of Portamento.

With songs like “Lets Go Surfing” on their debut, it seemed the group was intent upon beating you over the head with these incredible hooks.  But, The Drums have switched things up just a bit on this go round, allowing the tracks to brood a little bit, rather than being so forceful.  “If He Likes It Let Him Do It” has a much darker quality than most of the tracks we’ve heard from the group, sounding more like some sort of dark-wave post punk, as opposed to bright surf-ish dance pop. Even the album closer, “How It Ended” seems much more patient in its approach to grabbing listeners, coming off with a much warmer tone than what we were presented with in the band’s early works.  Musical touches are familiar, allowing the fan base to appreciate the olden days, but the best thing is that new listeners will find themselves rewarded by Portamento’s ability to pull you in for a whole song, even album, rather than just a momentary hook.

While I’ll admit that I have some reservations about the group, due entirely to a live performance I witnessed, I can’t escape the fact that the band simply crafts amazing records.  For me, Portamento is a huge step up, and is worthy of ten times the repeated listens in comparison to the first release from The Drums.  It’s got hints of everything any modern listener needs: dance, bounce, brooding, atmospherics.  You really can’t go wrong spending your time listening to this entire album again and again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/04-Money.mp3]

Download: The Drums – Money [MP3]

The Postelles – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Hailing from New York City, The Postelles seem to have the perfect infectious sound for the summertime. With catchiness reminiscent to that of past releases of bands like The Drums and Surfer Blood, they have crafted a fairly simple, yet bubbling pop album in this freshman debut.

The album begins with “White Night,” which shows off the instant capabilities of this band to make you move your feet. Jangly guitar welcomes you in, along with some punching drums and the vocals of Daniel Balk. Fast paced and furious, The Postelles jump right into their rock and roll pop. Balk’s vocals, complete with a borderline yelp, are joined by the rest of the gang on the chorus, giving the illusion that this group belongs in an earlier era. It’s a fresh little number at two minutes and forty seconds, leaving you ready to skip back and start all over, but following is “Sleep On the Dance Floor,” which is a bass driven slower number, that still has the jamming guitar of the first song.

After these first two songs, it’s not hard to see the likability these guys bring to the table; each song seems fit for the beach, or ready to put on your summer party mix tape, but the fun doesn’t stop there. “1 2 3 Stop,” the band’s lead single, comes third on the album, and if the first two didn’t have you dancing, then this should surely be the one. On this track, you can hear the crashing cymbals above the rest of the chaos during the chorus, with Balk leading the way. His voice is edgy, allowing you to sing right along with him.

The rest of the album follows suit of these first three songs: a mixture of fast paced blazers of songs like “Can’t Stand Still” and “Sound the Alarms,” as well as those slower moving ones like “Whisper Whisper” and “She She.” It’s a fairly complete first album, with the majority of songs that you’ll be anxious to play over and over again. Some may be slightly put off in the end by the lack of depth; most songs are done in three minutes, but I find this album packed with energy and pure fun. Isn’t that what summer is all about?

Generationals – Actor Caster

Rating: ★★★½ ·

On their 2009 album, Con Law, the duo known as Generationals sort of left their mark by being all over the place, touching on various genres of modern indie pop.  For their second album, Actor Caster, the band sounds a lot more confident, clearly having spent loads of time developing their sound into a cohesive gem of an album, ready for mass consumption by anyone and everyone.

Kicking off the party with “Ten Twenty Ten” seems like as good an option as any for the band, as it definitely has this rootsy pop-rock guitar bubbling through it, ready to boil over with melodic pop momentum.  Here the band sounds really steady, and instead of hitting you over the head with hooks like on their last release, those moments slowly build beneath the songs on Actor Caster, making it more infectious the more you listen.  Similarly, “I Promise” uses this jangling sunny guitar line to reach up and grab you and carry you swinging arm in arm out the door. A slight piano track in the background adds to the jangling, giving more texture to the band’s sound, again making lasting impressions.

Of course, the band will definitely find themselves compared to other groups with some of the tracks present here, namely comparisons to The Drums.  But, unlike the latter, Generationals have something stronger in their summery swagger, such as “You Say It Too.”  It’s got that clever little surf-rock guitar hook here, and vocals upon vocals, some oohs to boot, but it’s got more substance than other like-minded groups.  In “Goose & Gander” you’ll find yourself sitting at your desk, or wherever  you are, tapping your feet.  You can try all you want to avoid it, but once a hook inserts itself in your subconscious, there’s nothing that will get you away from happily swaying moments from left to right.

You’ll still be able to find bits of pop experimentation on this record, so don’t go thinking it’s all same-old same-old.  “Tell Me Now” is probably one of the more distinctive songs on this entire collection, and it’s the vocals that seem to take hold of you here, as opposed to the overall hooks of guitars and melodies.  That’s probably one of the greatest things about listening to Generationals, they just have an arsenal of hooks and pop wonderment that will instantly win you over; there’s no fighting it folks, so you may as well just let yourself get absorbed in it all.  Whether you want a jangling guitar, or a piano-laden track or even a sing-a-long chorus, you’re going to find it here.

In the end, their ability to harness that exuberant energy into a more confined sound is going to be greatly beneficial. Actor Caster is just chock full of hit after hit, begging you to open up the windows and share these joyous listening moments with anyone, and everyone, who is willing to open their ears. At the end of the day, Generationals have constructed yet another record full of tracks that you can, and should, take anywhere, as they’ll be around for some time, destined to bring you every bit of sun your heart desires.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/09_Greenleaf.mp3]

Download: Generationals – Greenleaf [MP3]

Unsubstantiated Rumor: The Drums @ the ND (9/25)

The Drums album, released earlier this year, had been on my radar for quite some time. It used jangling surf-guitars, smooth rhythms, and a pretty killer vocal to win me over pretty quickly.  I was excited, to say the least, to see the band on their return venture to Austin, but something was amiss last night.  This might just be hearsay, and one man’s opinion, but I almost left early due to the fact that I can’t guarantee, nor do I want to, that the band actually performed live.

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