Show Preview: Nick Diamonds @ Holy Mountain – TONIGHT

islands14You’ve got about a month to close out the existence of Holy Mountain, and like we all expect, the venue is doing it in style, leaving you with some great shows (and memories).  Tonight is no different, as they’re bringing Nick Diamonds of Unicorns, Islands, Human Highway and Mister Heavenly. Whether you know it or not, Nick’s had a pretty big influence in the indie music realm, and in the ATH offices, so it’s probably best you go see him in such a small space.  Plus…he’s friends with Michael Cera, so maybe that guy will show up since his movie career is over. The Tulips will be opening, so come early, celebrate Nick and Holy Mountain.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/the-sound.mp3]

Download: Human Highway – The Sound [MP3]

Mister Heavenly – Out of Love

Rating: ★★★ · ·

What do you get when you take 1 part Modest Mouse, 1 part Islands/Unicorns, and 1 part Man Man? Well, the ultimate supergroup in my opinion; you get Mister Heavenly. Out of Love is the name of their first work together, and while the edgier voice of Ryan Kattner might not seem like the best fit for Nic Islands, it’s a surprising juxtaposition, leaving listeners with an abundance of solid tracks.

When Nic begins the brief verse for “Bronx Sniper,” you wonder just how his notable pitch will fit with Kattner’s banging style.  Once Ryan joins in, you can rest assured that the two fit well together, with Nic’s tendency to exaggerate his vocals at times blending interestingly with his throatier counterpart.  If you were looking to see how the two would fit, this isn’t the best example, as “Mister Heavenly” seems to be the best statement from the group of Out of Love. Ryan begins with his organ-stomp, but then Nic throws in his smooth delivery and a nice guitar line.  When you expect Nic to burst forth on the chorus as he would with Islands, instead you find Kattner.  And back and forth they go, successfully.

Perhaps what seems to have worked best for Mister Heavenly is that the group seems to have reawakened Nic’s noisier side, as he hasn’t seemed this endearingly frantic since the late days of Unicorns.  His last few releases have seen him become really polished, cleaning up his delivery a bit.  But, he’s always had this dark side, which you really get to see resurface on songs like “Doom Wop.” There’s a coat over the vocals, yet you can still hear both singers belting out their lines distinctly.  It’s a revitalized energy that longtime fans will be happy to see. Also, Ryan does deserve praise at this point for his own vocal range, which seems to be go anywhere he wishes (see “Diddy Eyes)–to great effect.

And at the heart of the whole project for Out of Love is Joe Plummer, the group’s unsung hero.  All those familiar with both Islands and Man Man will surely be aware that the groups have vastly different styles to songwriting, so you’ve got to have a solid kit-man to hold it all down, and Plummer does a great job keeping the group together.  Each member tosses his style in and out of every song, with those dirtier piano based parts coming from Kattner, and Nic’s penchant for stellar guitar hooks, so Plummer’s ability to keep it all sounding tight is with a doubt the band’s saving grace.

There’s a gem here and there, like “Pineapple Girl,” living on the higher pitches, but one thing that might hold back praise from some is that there’s nothing outstanding.  Every song written by Mister Heavenly has the potential to be extraordinary, but it’s mostly standard fare, which is sort of a letdown. You want everything to be incredible, and instead it’s all just good.  That being said, there’s not really a throwaway track on Out of Love, so the group has that going for them.  Who knows where they’ll go from here, but as of now, this is a solid start for a much-hyped supergroup.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Pineapple-Girl.mp3]

Download: Mister Heavenly – Pineapple Girl [MP3]

Show Review: Islands @ The Parish (7/6)

Many people were over at La Zona Rosa last night grooving to Edward Sharpe, and I get the attraction–there are some good tunes there.  But, for me, it came down to choosing the guy from the Unicorns, not the guy from IMA ROBOT (Edward).  On top of that, I have to admit that its hard to dislike anything Islands do.  Follow the jump for the full review and fancy photos.

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FT50: Albums of the ’00s

0828top5coverWhat?   You still listen to THAT album?  That record is so 2004!  Well, that’s okay, because we really like that one too, which is why we decided to come up with a list of our favorite albums of the last decade (2000-2009).  Sure, these might not be YOUR favorite records, or the most critically acclaimed, but we sat down and really thought out every record from the past ten years that we keep coming back to in our collections.  You’re likely to disagree with some of these, and we won’t tell you we’re absolutely right we just know that these happen to be OUR favorites.  If you think we totally blew it here, feel free to tell us so, but be nice, as our egos are kind of fragile.  Follow the jump for more.

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New Tunes from Islands

islandsWe’ve been closely following news that Islands will be releasing Vapours this September on Anti Records. Anything Nic Thorburn lays his hands upon turns up to be genius in our books, be it this band or Human Highway or the much missed Unicorns. This new track is a different approach to songwriting for him, with the empty space left open for his voice to soar.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/islands-no-you-dont.mp3]

Download: Islands – No You Don’t

Clues – s/t

clues

Rating: ★★½ · ·

From the ashes we shall rise, or at least the former members of Unicorns, Alden Penner, and Arcade Fire, Brendan Reed, believe this.  They have risen from their past with the formation of a new group, Clues.  Their self-titlted album is out now on Constellation, and while it may not demonstrate the brilliance the two are capable of creating, it has some moments worthy of highlighting in your music catalog.

You see the Unicorns resemblance immediately, as the opening track “Haarp” begins with a quiet little whisper before slowly picking up the pace.  As the pace is quickened to a steady trot, the tension rises, and even the guitar styling is so similar that you would swear that this is a B-Side from Penner’s former mates. This is either a complaint for those who loved that project, or an place worthy of garnering interest among new hordes of fans.

It would be great if we could discard that reference, but unfortunately we cannot; as of this point in time, Penner is being marked by the success of Nic Thorburn. While you can find similarities in the playing styles of the two former Unicorns, it seems that what sets Clues apart from the past is the jaggedness that he seems to hold onto.  “Approach the Throne” is full of just that, as the choppy guitars hammer away.  It’s not the sort of pop sensibility of Islands, but one should be happy is set to making his own mark here. “Cave Mouth” similarly shares the affinity for disjointed melodies and angular guitars, with the lyrics being turned down in the mix so that the music takes the focus.

There are moments that do approach chasing that pop sensibility, or at least the ballad aesthetic.  “You Have My Eyes Now” and “Ledmonton” are just a few songs that show the slower side of things; these songs unfortunately don’t encourage the listener’s attention span, which render them, sadly, as throwaways.  Not throwaways necessarily, but the mellow moments are not very successful here, though “Ledmonton” does sport some chanting choral moments near the songs ending.

Oddly, the Arcade Fire influence is not really here, unless you tie it all in to some of the zany moments that exist throughout.  But it’s clear that Reed’s style of drumming was not the founding influence that broke his previous band.

In the end, you wonder whether it’s fair to judge a band by it’s members former labors. Is such a judgment just?  Probably not, but that is the unforutunate truth in dealing with Clues.  You look at the sparkling moments here, and look back to their past; you look at the dull moments and wonder where this band will go. Truth is, only time will tell.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/06-perfect-fit.mp3]

Download: Clues – Perfect Fit [MP3]

Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free

akron

Rating: ★★★★ ·

When you come across the musical landscape today, it’s fairly easy to classify most groups within a certain genre, especially when it comes to independent music.  Akron/Family‘s new album, Set Em Wild Set Em Free (out now on Dead Oceans) , does not fit easily into any such category, and listeners are better off for the approach to songwriting that the group has taken.

“Everyone is Guilty” jumps the album off with a funky math rock instrumental moment, but just as you brace yourself for a prolonged psychedelic math trip, grouped vocal harmonies bounce in, altering the landscape within the song; the song progresses, bouncing back and forth between the gang vocal approach and the elemental science funk.  For the most part, this song serves as the perfect opening to the album, as it lays down the dichotomy of the entire album.  This album is one that never stays in one place for too long, combining various albums, different paces and a variety of other musical tricks to make this one of the most diverse listening experiences of the year.

Of course, there are moments when the experimentation goes a step too far, but alas, no band is truly perfect.  Take the longest song on the album, “Gravelly Mountains of the Moon,” which meanders along well enough, as all the songs on this album do, but then it is destroyed by irritating noise experimentation. Such moves are a rarity in this case, but this is one moment, of the few, when they band fell off the tracks. Similarly, “Creatures” tries to delve into some electronic drum work, and although the vocal performance is memorable, it detracts from the song a bit as the atmospherics lead the listener to wander.

Still, there are some clearly perfect moments in abundance.  The gentle rolling along of “River” creates a song that suits the title of the song, as it seems to gently move along due to the steady pacing of the drums.  It’s as if you can hear the river coming down towards you.  “Sun Will Shine” is another gem off the album, which recalls the structures of a band like The Dodos who construct and deconstruct with perfect execution.  Even the haunting moments of “Many Ghosts” brings to mind the folkier side of bands like the Unicorns, as Akron/Family uses various instruments to create a wall of oddball sounds to accompany their finely woven tunes.

For those interested in this album, you will not only be rewarded by an enjoyable listening experience, but you will find that the length is suiting as well.  This is an album where you will get what you paid for in length, as well as in the quantity of songs.  Sit back for a spell, and let Set Em Wild Set Em Free take you away for awhile.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/07-many-ghosts.mp3]

Download: Akron/Family – Many Ghosts [MP3]

Human Highway – Moody Motorcycle

Rating: ★★★★½

This album didn’t receive too much press, nor did the band, but this is definitely an ex-Unicorns side project worth noticing.  Human Highway consists of former UnicornIslands front man Nick Thorburn and singer-songwriter Jim Guthrie–it’s about as Canadian as you can get.

Opening track, “The Sound,” will probably make a cut for many singles of the year lists, and probably mine.  It’s got sort of an island feel to it–by that I am referencing the volcanic ocean formations rather than Thorburn’s band, though that is there too.  Guthrie closely resembles Patrick Wolf here, but the overall feel pushes you for a little beach time.  It’s probably the most upbeat song on the album.

From here they go on to pursue their original intentions in creating this record, that of chasing after the harmonies of 50s/60s R&B groups.  They can achieve this fairly easily considering Thorburn’s abilities to tie harmonies in twisted knots, and they do this throughout the record.  In fact, this really is the record for the most part.  It’s a stripped down affair full of matching harmonies with accompanying guitars and minimalist percussion.

Those of you searching for the awkward catchiness of the Unicorns and Islandswill probably have a momentary lapse of judgment when you listen to this album.  Immediately, it won’t be accessible to your ears, but I beg you to go on for a few more listens.  This album resembles all those bands and projects you love from Thorburn, but in a more traditional singer/songwriter vein.  It’s like an acoustic Islands album, which probably garners it more longevity than Arm’s Way–the album by the aforementioned band that came out this year.

You’ll find all the great harmonies you’ve come to love, and you will find Thorburn’s vocal styling all over the place–he frequently goes from casual crooner to that soft whisper we’ve come to know so well in his productive career.  I don’t want to take away from Guthrie’s presence here either–his heavier voice, though gentle, definitely adds a sublime contrast to the higher pitched Nick T.  And of course, you will find that the lyrics, though a bit more personal, still have that hint of absurdity.

At the end of the day you will come to find that this album is hard to put away.  Each song continuously unfolds for me, turning me into fans of different songs throughout the day, only coming back to revisit the album in its entirety.  I might be on an island all by myself listening to this, but damned if I don’t enjoy every instant.