You Like the Smiths? You’ll like Ancient Times

tumblr_mjrohl6lAc1rbayaao1_500This new tune from Ancient Times has been making its way around the indie pop blogs as of late, and I’m really enjoying it…meaning it’s sharing time.  Immediately you’ll notice the vocals taking on that Morrissey croon, but the more I listen, the more I see that the music is a bit different.  There’s not that sheen to the guitar, though you can see a bit of a jagged edge in the playing.  While the Moz is out hating on everything with meat, you can happily visit with Ancient Times today to get you through.  I suggest jamming here, then heading off to the Soundcloud page for an extended taste.

Hollywood Gossip – Dear as Diamonds

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When their EP, You’re So Quiet, came out awhile back, you wouldn’t have been off to declare Hollywood Gossip one of Austin’s best twee bands.  They sounded sunny with trademark jangling guitars cutting back and forth across the short collection.  But, a year and a half later, they’ve matured on Dear as Diamonds, albeit in their very own style.  It looks like Austinites can now rejoice, as we finally have a quality band to fill the void left by the recent break-up of Voxtrot.

“Sleepwalkin” begins the album in a similar place that we last found the group, but the slight changes, such as letting the guitars ring for just a bit longer, give the song a little bit more warmth. What used to be covered in witty lyrics and crisp guitars has now evolved into a full sound, moved forward by a rambunctious closing moment featuring exuberant shouts from singer Tyler Womack. It’s these closing moments, and time changes mid-song, such as in the various spots on “Summer Haze” that point towards a band who’ve grown quite a bit.

“Turn It Up” is definitely one of the many feel good songs you’ll find on Dear as Diamonds, and this is the first time you’ll notice some changes in the vocals of Womack.  In the past you might have found hints of groups like The Smiths, but on this track you can definitely hear a bit of Hutch from The Thermals; you should really dig this song.  This track offers a grittier guitar as well, which is just another show of the progress the band has made.  But, don’t think that their catchy jangle-pop days are completely gone.  “Narcissus in a Window” uses a bubbling bass line for a backbone courtesy of Cory Ryan, and starts with that jangle we’ve come to associate with Hollywood Gossip. Mid-song, they change it up, stripping away that jangle for a heavier guitar tone.  One of the many things that makes this track great, along with others here, is that instead of stopping short, as many of the tracks from their EP did, they continue to grow the song a bit, fleshing out all the details. It’s hard to skip ahead when all this goodness hides in wait.

Yet another change that is sure to win over many new fans is the element of softly strummed guitar.  First, you have the short ditty “Out of My Depth,” which has Tyler questioning himself over that lightly played guitar.  Short and sweet, to the point, and enjoyable all the same.  Closer “All That I Want” also utilizes a similar style for the greater part of the song, illustrating the strengths of Womack’s voice.  Once again, the band pushes the song into new areas they haven’t visited before, at least not on recorded material, when they hit the 3 minute mark (roughly).  The rest of the group joins, and a guitar solo swings in to provide a different dynamic altogether. Ryan joins in on the fun in the end, carrying us out on a high point.

Hollywood Gossip really hit the high-water mark with Dear as Diamonds.  In drawing from their pasts whilst pushing forward, they wrote a collection of songs so enjoyable that not a one of them should be skipped over.  The past gave me fuzzy feelings listening to the group, but now I’m sure that I’m in love with this band. You should be too!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/05-Narcissus-In-A-Window.mp3]

Download: Hollywood Gossip – Narcissus in a Window [MP3]

The Drums – s/t

Rating: ★★★★ ·

The Drums have been on everyone’s radar for a little under a year now, but their star has continued to shine all the way up to the release of their self-titled album.  Their combination of surf guitar hooks and 80s electronic beats is destined to make this record the smash of the summer.  It might possibly be too sweet, but this is the kind of fun we should all have as we sit in our kiddie pools drinking beers with our friends this summer.

Opening with “Best Friend” you’ll find that bouncing groove of the bass moving you right into your first dance movement of the album.  Jonathan Pierce’s hip little croon will keep you swaying, just as it should.  It’s possible that this might not be the most artistic work, but there’s no denying that from the moment The Drums begins, it’s catchy as all get out.

First single from the group “Let’s Go Surfing” was one of our favorite Songs of 09, and it still has the same charm it did when we first heard it. Beach guitar sounds fused with whistling and a charming lyrics make it hard to ignore this song, and no matter how long you listen to it, it still has the kick you ask for in a great single.  Then you come into the beneficial “Book of Stories.”  While it retains the same surf-dance sensibility of early tracks, it definitely slows things down, turning the album in a different direction.  It’s pleasing to see such a variance here, as too much straight lo-fi pop might have put listeners in a sugar coma.  Similarly “Down by the Water” does the same thing, just a few songs later.  It provides a nice contradiction to the infectious pop moments, and Pierce’s voice rises high in the most charming way possible.  Personally, it gives The Drums more in common with bands like The Church rather than the surf version of New Order or The Smiths.

“Forever and Ever Amen” is accompanied by a killer video, and the swirling melody within this sound, despite a redundant bass line, really makes you swing your arms in pure ecstasy.  As the chorus goes “forever, baby its forever,” you feel as if you’re being sucked into some perfect John Hughes montage.  In fact, you can see the Breakfast Club dancing about the library here, at least in my mind, which is perfectly fitting.  It’s a reminder that the album is filled with a certain sense of innocence and frivolity that, when done in good taste, reaps marvelous rewards for listener and songwriter alike.

Time will surely tell how important The Drums self-titled debut actually is.  But, one thing is for sure right now: their intelligent pop tactics combining summer sounds with electronics is the perfect music for kicking off summer in the right way. This album is full of melody, hooks and just simple fun, and while that might not always be my cup of tea, it surely seems to be working with this record.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/02-lets-go-surfing.mp3]

Download: The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing [MP3]

Cats on Fire – Dealing in Antiques

Rating: ★★★★★

Just a disclaimer, this is a collection album, including rarities, B-Sides, covers and a new track, all of which date as far back as 2002.  That being said, Cats on Fire is probably the one band that deserves your attention that you’ve possibly overlooked (mistake!).  If this is the case, then Dealing in Antiques is a great starting point, a place to find your footing as your obsession begins to grow.  For those of you already in the know, you have to be ecstatic to have access to these wondrous tunes.

You’ll know immediately that this group is willing to go out on a limb, as the being this collection with “Your Woman,” a cover of the hit by White Town. Still, keeping true to their form, there is a bit more of a jangle in the chorus guitar chord, giving more of a smooth bounce than the original provided with its club-banger tendencies.  They then lead you into 19 more tracks, each one worthy of your careful listening ear.

“Poor Students Dream of Marx” establishes the band’s sound as far back as 2004, and we’re lucky that they had such foresight to see their own greatness, even so early on in their career.  Personally, the way the guitar is played throughout the entire song just really gets me, especially when it picks up speed and difficulty.  Steady percussion keeps pace, allowing the guitar to cut in and out of the song, all of which accompany Mattias Bjorkas voice (imagine Morrissey-mixed with Jarvis Cocker, except more of a warmth tone as opposed to blatant sexuality).

However, not a band to be pigeon-holed, the group offers tracks like “Something Happened.”  There’s a bit of a gentle strumming along the guitar here, yet it all has a more country feel, almost folk-ish, showing that the band isn’t all about pristine jangle pop (though they knock that genre out of the park).  They immediately follow that with “On His Right Side,” which is one of those tracks that exhibits the beauty of this collection, as understated piano walks quietly in the background of Bjorkas and a heavily strummed guitar.  As Bjorkas reaches for that falsetto, you can’t help but to tingle just a bit; these are the sorts of moments that create cult followings.

As much as you’d liked to ignore the Morrissey similarity between Bjorkas and the man himself, a song like “You Will Find Me Where You Left Me” does definitely bring the aged crooner to mind.  Yet, there is a certain solemnity to the way Mattias sings throughout this song, as if he’s not seeking your understanding, merely evoking his own personal sentiment.  “Honey Your Baby” probably doesn’t do much either to distance Cats on Fire from The Smiths either, yet you have to really leave all that aside, as the sharpness of Marr is not quite as present here, instead replaced by a warmer, gentler guitar.   If you ask me, this is where the band achieves their bread and butter, asking you to fall in love alongside the record, rather than to merely listening to a story of another man falling in love.

Really, if you want a perfect record, this is probably as close as you can come.  You’ve got your jangle pop tunes, as previously mentioned, yet you’ve got slow burners such as “They Produced a Girl,” one of the band’s earliest songs on this collection.  The vocal quality is a bit dense, but its the perfect juxtaposition to the rest of the record, showing how what was rough merely needed a bit of polishing before creating gem after gem.  And to close out the record, they offer a new track, “The Hague.”  One listen to this track will make you salivate immediately for the next album, as this one surely isn’t enough.

If it weren’t for great little labels like Matinee Recordings, many people would probably not have the access to Cats on Fire, which would be tragic.  Listening to Dealing in Antiques gives the aura of a band beginning an enduring cult following.  You want all your friends to love this album, yet at the same time, you feel as if you’ll lock these tunes away forever.  Such is the way a quiet legacy is built, and such is the one you have before you after looking through the closet of this wonderful band from Finland.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/cats04.mp3]

Download: Cats on Fire – The Hague [MP3]

New Tunes from Magic Bullets

San Francisco’s Magic Bullets once shared connections with members of Girls, but don’t let that fool you! This band is everything you love about groups like Orange Juice and The Smiths.  It’s got new-wave post-punk guitar chops and a bit of yelping vocal to boot. You can find this killer track, along with many others when the band release their second album Magic Bullets on Mon Amie Records on June 15th. Enjoy kids.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/04-Track-04-1.mp3]

Download: Magic Bullets – Lying Around [MP3]

FTC: The Go-Betweens

gobetweensIt’s rare that an Australian band maintains the longevity like that of The Go-Betweens. They began their careers in 1977, and were on and off until about 2006 when original member Grant McLennan passed away unexpectedly.  Fortunately for everyone out there, the band left a slew of wonderful tracks, and albums, out there for all those music fans who came to fall in love with their music.  If you’re not familiar with the band, you might want to take a peak at Bellavista Terrace, which is a compilation of sorts of the best of their early works.  You’ll find tracks for fans of The Smiths, but you also find a history that led to some beautifully crafted pop gems on later albums such as Oceans Apart.  Their popularity was brought back to my attention when a bridge in Australia was recently named after them, a high honor in my opinion.  So sit back, enjoy this track, and go browse the beautiful history of The Go-Betweens.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/06-Cattle-and-Cane.mp3]

Cats on Fire – Our Temperance Movement

our-temperance-movement

Rating: ★★★★½

Occasionally, you come across a group that is reminiscent of everything you truly love.  Clever lyrics, jangly guitars, smooth vocals; all joining in unison in order to craft that perfect pop song. Cats on Fire have constructed 10 such songs with their second album Our Temperance Movement. Consider us lucky that Matinee Recordings was able to put out this album by the Finnish quartet.

Immediately upon pressing play, you will more than likely realize that the band shares a certain affinity for bands such as Felt or the Smiths, sharing those classic vocal similarities, but not in such a fashion where you feel as if they’re merely playing the role of imitators.  Singer Mattias Bjorkas can hold the sway in his voice just like Lawrence or Morrissey.  But, you’ll find that in listening to his voice, it stands alone an a different entirely.

Now, the band probably has a lot of influential waters that they could soak up with a sponge, all of which are visible in their songs, but a different comparison comes to mind when listening to the album.  Our Temperance Movement recalls early Belle and Sebastian records, or just your favorite pop album, where every single song is so good that it would be hard to decipher which song on the album was meant as the single. You won’t be able to find a throwaway track here, which is an oddity in this year’s music output.

“Lay Down Your Arms” has that familiar jangly guitar you’ll recall from all those classic recordings, creating a mood of stomping about your local pub dancefloor.  As the vocals sway back across the song, you can’t help but feel moved by the meldious tune.  “Letters from a Voyage to Sweden” follows shortly after, with tales of watching a cruiseliner filled with adulterers and sodomites.  Even with such a taboo topic, the song rolls along; it’s the perfect song for quiet headphone moments lying in your bed in thought.

With songs like “Tears in Your Cup,” Garden Light” and “Fabric” neatly tucked into the latter half of the album, you’ll find that your listening experience is never lacking in above average tunes.  Especially when you encounter the bookend to the album “Farbic” with its backing female vocals and bouncy strum.

As the album wraps up completely you’ll be rushing to record your favorite tracks for that next great mixtape you are preparing for your friends.  You only want the best tracks, and every song on this album will suffice to prove to your friends just how great your tastes are; so go on and introduce them to Cats on Fire.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/02-lay-down-your-arms.mp3]

Download: Cats on Fire – Lay Down Your Arms [MP3]

From the Closet – Morrissey

whatupWell, it’s not exactly a traditional from the closet, as The Mozz is still around and kicking out great tunes, but we here at ATH feel like we need to honor the man this week with his very own segment. Morrissey will be making his way to Bass Concert Hall this Sunday night to belt those songs out to all you lovers, and odds are you won’t regret the price of the ticket. Whether you love him from the Smiths or his solo work, we all have to give in to the fact that his voice alone influenced hordes of indie kids for years to come. For that, and for your great songs, we bring you Morrissey, out from the closet.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/19-the-more-you-ignore-me-the-closer-i-get.mp3]

New Tunes from Bricolage

bricoGlasgow, Scotland has a certain place in my heart, as my favorite band stems from the region, not to mention their influence Orange Juice. Yet, here comes another great band, Bricolage, that seems to owe a bit of love towards the aforementioned band.  Throw in a touch of The Smiths, and you’ve got a rollicking good time.  The band is set to release their self-titled album on Slumberland this May.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/08turnuover.mp3]

Download: Bricolage – Turn U Over [MP3]

The Lodger – Life Is Sweet

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Leeds band The Lodger released this album in May of this year, but Life Is Sweet has been taking its time to get completely acquainted with those of us on American soil.  Surely you will find tragedy in that, for this record is precisely the type of album that made British music a mainstay in U.S. college radio throughout the 90s.

This album opens up with “My Finest Hour,” which is a piano-laden song, gently sweeping along.  It floats somewhere in the world of Belle and Sebastian until the chorus brings in pounding piano and a quickened pace with the vocals.

Moments later you’re treated to the best song on the album, not that the rest aren’t here for your enjoyment.  It’s a foot-stomper of a song, with guitar work similar to that of Franz Ferdinand, but with a more pop-driven vocal.  “The Good Old Days” is sure to get you moving, no matter what your into.  It’s the perfect blend of upbeat indie rock and modern pop music.

The more you listen to the album, the more the infectious melodies lodge themselves inside your brain.  It’s similar to the first time you threw on a Smiths LP or even Orange Juice.  It isn’t anything that will go down as the most creative music of all time, but it’s the fact that the band has honed their skills to perfection; they get the most potential out of every single song on the album.

You could drop the name of pretty much every seminal Brit-pop band from the early eighties on when describing this band, but despite their shared commonalities with their influences, The Lodger is able to go beyond those same sounds; they create a sound entirely their own.  Surely this deserves our notice over here in the United States, as we can only hope that we get more guitar-pop from our distant cousins rather than the same re-hashed dance music time and time again.

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