Show Preview: The National @ Austin Music Hall (12/4)

Date 12/4/11
Location Austin Music Hall
Doors 7pm
Tickets SOLD OUT!!!

Ok here’s the deal, any of you readers who have yet to see The National live in any setting, whether it be ACL festival, a smaller venue, or a huge amphitheatre, it’s time to rethink your priorities.  Having seen the band in multiple settings over the years, they are easily one of the top 10 live bands around.  Any self-respecting music fan, despite the show being sold out, should find someway to attend this concert.  Indie kids Local Natives are more than worthy opening support for the evening and shouldn’t disappoint as well.  In all honesty, I wish this wasn’t at AMH, but it should still be worth whatever you have to spend on craigslist to get a ticket.

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

Download: The National – Exile Vilify [MP3]

New Music from Sharon Van Etten

I know Turkey Day is drawing near, but there’s still some great music leaking out today, so I’m going to try and stay on top of it.  This new track from Sharon Van Etten has me really excited, and not just because it features members of The National, Walkmen and Wye Oak; it’s because I’ve got a bit of a crush on Sharon…and her music too! The songstress has a new album coming out titled Tramp, which will be released on Jagjaguwar on February 7th.  This song’s got a nice little cascading guitar line cutting through the rhythm guitar, and Van Etten’s voice sounds every bit as beautiful as I remember it in the live setting.  This is shaping up to be a good 2012 already.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Sharon_Van_Etten_-_Serpents.mp3]

Download: Sharon Van Etten – Serpents [MP3]

The Antlers – Burst Apart

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Back in 2009, this band first made their way to the top of the Indie-scene with the release of their stunning album, Hospice, which graced the sound systems of many with its emotionally progressive lyrics and cathartic sound. With the release of Burst Apart, it feels as though this band has already been around for a long time, despite it only being their sophomore effort. While not as pressing as their last, this second release from the band shows appropriate growth for The Antlers.

On Hospice, they reminded me a bit of another Brooklyn band, The National, in their dark and somewhat dreary lyrics. Now, on this album, they seem to be a tad more focused on the aesthetic aspects rather than just the lyrics. The approach feels more ethereal and vague, giving out the sense of maturity and complexity. I’m not saying this band gave up their narrative writing in exchange for a smoother record. Rather, it’s just not as prevalent on this work. Take “I Don’t Want Love,” the opening song, for example: the sweeping guitars and the half falsetto of Peter Silberman flowing over the top of methodic drum beats. There is still that desire to throw away all emotionally caustic elements, but it simply enveloped inside the wail of the arching guitar; it’s a great opener for The Antlers.

They follow up their opener with “French Exit,” on which the sound transitions to an almost danceable beat. The bass resounds heavier, accompanied by some electronic elements to boot to make for a head-bobbing and foot tapping experience, which is not what one would quite expect from this band. After they follow this with “Parentheses,” the single from this album, The Antlers keep doling out hit after hit.

On numbers like “Rolled Together” you start with some ultra faint guitar drizzling in, and once again the strange, and oddly high-pitched wails of Silberman. They build upon themselves in this one; guitars trade places with the vocals until they mix and become one cohesive wave of elegance. They finish with “Putting The Dog To Sleep,” which sounds as dark as the title denotes. Silberman asks someone to “prove to me I’m not going to die alone,” and you can feel the demons that plague this man transmitted through his captivating lyrics.

Sonically, this band is quite strange. If you separated all of the elements that this band has and isolated them, they would sound weird and moody. However, when together, they weave into a blanket of comfort that is able to convey all sorts of feelings and release. I find it odd that The Antlers would release this now, one the brink of summertime, when it would have been the perfect late fall/early winter jam. Regardless, it’s an excellent work, worthy of listening at anytime of year.

New Music From The National

I’m sure many of you ATH faithful readers realize that when a new song by The National pops up around the web, we’ll be posting it when we get the chance whether you’ve heard it elsewhere already or not.  For me and most of this crew, last year really was an impressive year for the band.  They put out the steller LP High Violet, toured like crazy, and quietly released some awesome B-sides and new tunes like the one below.  This track called “Exile Vilify” is oddly enough set to appear on the soundtrack for upcoming videogame Portal 2.  These guys continue to amaze me all the time.

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

Download: The National – Exile Vilify [MP3]

Low – C’mon

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Low has definitely been around for a while: since 1993 they have been crafting their signature slow core beats for the world to enjoy. Hailing from Duluth Minnesota, this three-part band certainly knows how to spin beautiful tales of whatever they fancy and if nine studio albums wasn’t testament enough to this, than this tenth should seal the deal.

To start things off, Low showcases their most distinctive quality right up front on “Try To Sleep.” Sounding distantly akin to that of some Mott the Hoople song, the album begins with the male/female harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. The light percussive tinkling in the background combined with the slow strumming of the thick guitars comes together to make for a killer groovy jam. Despite the predictability of this sort of sound, you can’t help but take comfort in the peaceful elegance that they create. They are able to drift from a grungier kind of sound to that of clear and compact, forming their own kind of musical genre. From the first to the second song you can see this transition fairly well. On “You See Everything,” Parker takes lead vocals, and her buttery voice just coats everything in a golden light of majesty. The song meanders its slow churning way along, with Parker putting her touch of sweetness upon the topmost layer.

For an album that doesn’t have a big change in tempo, it manages to stay interesting until the very end. “Nightingale,” the third to last track, leaps out as dark and formidable, but twists into a peaceful, but still somber lullaby-esque song. Sparhawk has this sour drawl-like quality to his voice that makes everything drenched in emotion; it’s easy to tell that this man puts a lot of himself into his music. His deep and powerful voice is similar to that of Matt Berninger from The National. Like Mr. Berninger, Sparhawk can convey maximum emotion with his minimalist style.

While C’mon does not falter in its strength, it does get a bit heavy after a while. It’s not too heavy that it would deter from further listening, rather, it grows on you. Low leaves with the feeling that this album was a long-term work that this band really strived to perfect. For a group that has been around for so long, this is true evidence of their talent and longevity and it is another great edition to their ever growing catalog of albums.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/01-Try-to-Sleep-1.mp3]

Download: Low – Try to Sleep [MP3]

C’mon is out now on Sub Pop.

Friday Top 5: 2010 Album Covers

It’s time again to turn the music down and put on your art-critic monocles and top hats. Yes, today is the day we judge 2010 releases strictly on their visual packaging aesthetics as opposed to their auditory aptitude. It’s also a way to highlight the ‘other’ artists who have created the artwork and often don’t get the credit besides a sub-par blurb in the liner notes. 2010 was filed with beautiful artwork and it has been a struggle to dwindle them down to 5, but alas, my favorites are to be found below. Just like last year, I’m looking at the entire package; composition, balance, tone, meaning and originality. Use of text is not necessary as we saw last year, but when it is used, it must compliment the piece as a whole. I don’t claim to be an expert, but when looking back through this year’s album artwork, here are the ones that caught my eye.

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Matt and Kim – Sidewalks

Rating: ★★★★ ·

This is an album that can be perceived in two very different directions.  You can look at it in reference to all the other music that comes your way – the complex, indie, intricate guitar filled albums that blow you away. Or you can just take this album in for what it is: a man with a keyboard and a lady on the drums, turning out simple and catchy tunes. I chose the latter of those two options. 

Sidewalks starts out with “Block After Block, “ classic Matt & Kim: electronic synthesizer patterns and the yelp of Matt carrying over the hyper beat provided by Kim. By the end of the song, by the end of my first listen I was singing along with him on the “Block after Block” line of the chorus; it’s just that catchy.

 I tried to dislike this album, really, I did. But halfway though “AM/FM,” the second song, those repeated “oh ay oh ay oh oh ay ay oh-a-oh’s” had me hooked and there was no turning back. In the first six songs Matt & Kim don’t pause for a breather, instead they turn out song after blistering fast song. Each and every one of these first six jams is quick and ever so danceable. Your toes should be tapping and your head nodding like crazy.

If Matt & Kim haven’t won you over before the first four songs, just wait until “Where You’re Coming From.” This is the epitome of why this album is so enjoyable. It starts out as a simple beat and builds over the course of the song, progressively adding more and more elements to the song, whether it is the buzz of synth, or the electronic beeps and boops. Just when you think they are going to push it too far, Matt & Kim throw it all together and make you feel like the guitar isn’t a necessary instrument for musical greatness.  The climax of the song is one of pure bliss; cymbals crashing, voices echoing, lyrics falling into their place perfectly, and the electronic noises blending together with the actual beat.

As I mentioned before, the first six songs are a nonstop party, but this doesn’t mean the last four tracks are boring, on the contrary, Matt & Kim finish ever so strongly.  They slow it down on “Northeast,” showing a bit a depth to their music from an emotional stand point because the imagery in the lyrics show true feeling as opposed to simple beats. They then bring back their rambunctious energy on “Silver Tiles  and culminate everything together with “Ice Melts,” leaving the listener in the same place where Matt & Kim started, except perhaps a little out of breath.

So before you turn your nose up at this work because it is currently in the number three spot of top albums on iTunes, give it a listen with an open mind.  Yeah, it isn’t the equivalent of work from artists like The National, but I believe that you’ll find an entertaining and danceable bunch of songs in Sidewalks, that are sure to make your party mix for the rest of the year.

ACL Wrap-Up: The Top Ten Acts

Well, we’ve finally recovered, and we hope your sunburn is peeling and your liver is resting quietly in a tub of water.  After a long weekend, filled with good memories, tunes and pretty much anything else we needed, we got down to the nitty-gritty. That’s right folks, after careful collaboration, and tireless hours of discussion, we bring you our Top Ten Acts of Austin City Limits 2010.

FT5: Guys I’d Go Gay For

We’ve dedicated some time in the past to Hot Ladies of Indie Rock, which, well, is totally acceptable for a heterosexual male.  But, one of my homosexual brethren, Marcus, brought to my attention that I need to give some respect to some of the men of indie rock.  So, in discussion with my lady friend, I decided upon the five guys that I would be willing to go gay for, with, of course, the lady’s permission. It might sound a touch ridiculous, but come on, its a fun subject to discuss, albeit, one that will likely not come to fruition.

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New Music from Philistines Jr.

You probably know Peter Katis better as the man behind the soundboards for records from The National and Interpol (not to mention TGUK), but he’s working on releasing an album of his own with help from his brother and friends.  The group goes by Philistines Jr, and their new album If a Band Plays in the Woods comes out October 19th.   This track is really short, but you get the feeling that with a collection of songs that sound like this, it’s going to be a winner.  Personally, these vocals just sound great, and I can’t wait for this to come my way.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/PhilistinesJr-The_Bus_Stop_Song.mp3]

Download: Philistines Jr – The Bus Stop Song [MP3]

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