Craft Spells – Idle Labor

Rating: ★★★½☆

It’s not that Craft Spells are necessarily a new band, nor are they one bringing you anything particularly new in the way of bedroom pop, but that isn’t going to devalue their version, or your likelihood of unlimited enjoyment.  Captured Tracks has just released the group’s record, Idle Labor, and like similar artists coming off the label, it’s chock full of shaking percussion and darkly tinged lyrical affectation, leaving listeners spinning about their bedrooms or dingy clubs, whatever works.

One of the first winners from Idle Labor is going to be “You Should Close the Door,” which has a hint of jangle to the guitar work, though it leans more towards a certain lo-fi affinity along coastal regions.  The bright hues of the chords are juxtaposed with the baritone vocals of JP Vallesteros, providing a haunting effect for those with their ears tuned in closely.  But, while the guitars play an underlying role in the sound of Craft Spells, it’s the percussive element that definitely influences the band and fans alike.

“Your Tomb” really has a steady pacing to its drumming, which gives a pleasurable pace to a track that otherwise appears quiet.  Gentle touches of percussion dictated the movement in your feet, and you’ll know after a couple of spins precisely what I’m talking about here, as your feet will grow weary.  Okay, perhaps the sharply ornate guitar sound coming from tracks such as “After the Moment,” probably contradict the idea that guitar sounds are meant to service the drumming here, but that’s precisely what seems to make Idle Labor ultimately successful.  You’re enjoying the groove of it all, then comes a track that encourages the swaying of hips and possible twee two-stepping on the dance floor.

However, it’s not all pseudo-angular dance moments, as there’s definitely a subtle new-wave vibe you’ll find featured in various tracks.  “Given the Time” begins with a darker intro than almost all the other tracks, yet it quickly picks back up into the 80s vibe of swirling melodies surrounded by somewhat monotone vocal displays.  Sure, you can probably do a nice stomp of the boot if you’re sticking to the bass groove on the track, but it definitely has an underlying pop element that’s buried, more so than on other tracks. “Party Talk” has the same mannerisms, once you consider some programmed percussive elements being added here, which don’t dominate Idle Labor, as much as one might think, not noticeably at least.  It also features a great deal of experimentation, when you compare it to some of the more minimalist songs.

It’s easy to say that Craft Spells have crafted (see what I did there) another bedroom gem for Captured Tracks, but the more you involve yourself in a close listening process, the more other elements slowly begin to leak out, making this more than just a casual listen for fans of the style.  Idle Labor, while stylistically similar to other acts on the label, and in the scene in general, eventually moves itself out from beneath its peers, leaving you with a deeply personal listen that’s fitting for play at home, at the office or at the club…what a trifecta of pop magic.


Download: Craft Spells -After the Moment [MP3]

New Song from Sarandon

It’s unfortunate that a lot of bands go largely unnoticed, especially when you can see that they would fit in with so much going on, both past and present. Such is the case with Sarandon, who’ve just released their new album, Sarandon’s Age of Reason, in the States via Slumberland Records. Now, this isn’t going to be your normal SR release, mostly because the band have a much more proto-pop-punk feel to them, with the sort of delivery of bands like early Wire. Sarandon’s Age of Reason is full of songs just like this one, and while I think this band would have been an enormous success in say 2002-2003, I still definitely dig the sound they’re kicking out. Trust me, you should love this stuff.


Download: Sarandon – Piglet [MP3]

Show Preview: Akron/Family @ Parish (4/1)

Date 4/1/11
Location The Parish
Doors 8pm
Tickets $15 @ Frontgate

Akron/Family released a crazy experimental album earlier this year and are now stopping into Austin at the Parish Friday night in support of the new LP.  Joining the band as opening support is Delicate Steve.  I’ll be anxious to hear what these new songs sound like translated to the live setting.


Download: Akron/Family – Silly Bears [MP3]

New Music from Rosebuds

With all the great releases coming out this year, it’s no wonder that we haven’t heard about every little thing on the radar.  One of the things I’m most excited for is this new one from the Rosebuds titled Loud Planes Fly Low, which comes out on Merge Records on June 7th.  There’s definitely some interesting sounds coming here, as the track we’re posting has this really mellow clarity to it, while this TRAILER VIDEO featuring another track definitely has that whispy pop quality of past Rosebuds tunes. I guess we’ll have to wait and see which route the band takes, but either way, I bet it’s good.


Download: The Rosebuds – Second Bird of Paradise [MP3]

Secret Cities – Strange Hearts

Rating: ★★★★☆

Just last year it seemed like Fargo’s Secret Cities were pleasing us with their album Pink Graffiti, but it’s been a little over a year, and they’ve already got a new one, Strange Hearts, being released by the great Austin label Western Vinyl.  Not a great deal has changed on this run around, but you’ll definitely hear the sounds of a band sounding a lot more confident with their sound, not to mention their ability to create varying nuances in their writing.

While you can easily say that album opener “Always Friends” is reminiscent of Grizzly Bear‘s work, this isn’t mimicry by any means.  Guitar sound is a lot cleaner, almost light-hearted tropicalia in nature, and the vocals have a bit of an echo, though not that occasionally overbearing choir sound.  You see, the band have stepped up their game, expanding on what we knew them to be, allowing them to be more playful when they wish (listen for the whistling) throughout Strange Hearts.

Coming on as a great surprise is “The Park” where Marie Parker takes bloom.  Her appearance is loaded with gentle piano and a nice little shaker used for percussive elements, just before the songs blooms into pure chamber ecstasy.  Interestingly, the Secret Cities even mix it up mid-track, as the pace of the song jumps up.  All in all, it’s one of the most successful tracks, and one that many people will surely put on their latest mixtapes. You can match it up with the sweet, but short, “No Pressure,” which again utilizes the strengthened voice of Parker, showing a definite maturation in her performance.

Coming upon “Strange Heart” you’ll find the band really working to fill out the various textures within a singe track.  Instruments and harmonies seem to be working against one another, yet conceptually the idea comes together masterfully, providing a delicate lushness to the group’s sound.  And, if you’re going to look into keys that make such tracks successful, you have to give it up to the production, which almost allows for listeners to hear the exact strumming of strings just as sound hits your ear; it’s an oft-overlooked affect, and one you’ll hopefully find endearing.  But amidst Strange Hearts and the depth emphasized in the band’s growth is one gem of a track that seems to play over and over again, “Forest of Love.”  Perhaps its due to the upbeat nature of the track, similar to the album’s opener, or the entire arrangement, but whatever you find hiding for you in this record, surely this song is going to have something for everyone.  And, it walks right into “Portland” in such a powerful way that you’re left reeling from the emotion that comes with listening to such an enjoyable sequence of song.

Having put out Strange Hearts in such quick succession to Pink Graffiti definitely could have had it’s downfall; the band might have rushed too fast, and not given attention to details, as one would want. Such is not the case here, as you’ll see when you go pick up the most recent outing from Secret Cities.  It’s filled with clever arrangements and the care of creativity that makes moderately good albums, great.


Download: Secret Cities – Love Crime [MP3]

New 7″ from Circle Pit

You know what you should have done yesterday?  You should have gone to your nearest record store and picked up this brand new 7″ from Australia’s Circle Pit, a band that’s been on our radar for some time.  The 7″ Slave/Honey was just released by our friends at Hardly Art, and it’s definitely one of my favorite short listens so far this year.  Luckily, you can sample the entire 7″ by going HERE. If you find yourself enjoying this droned pop music then go get yourself a copy; it will be worth your time.

New Track from Vetiver

Seeing as we’re huge fans of Sub Pop, we’ve known this one was coming for sometime, but we hadn’t gotten a chance to hear anything new. Then today out comes “Can’t You Tell,” the first single from the new Vetiver record, The Errant Charm, coming to you on June 14th.  This song has less of a traditional feel for the band, adding a little bit of bounce in their step, at least in comparison to their folk stylings on past efforts.  Similar to bands like the Fruit Bats or Foreign Born, they’ve added a bit of a pop element, perhaps seeking out a happier vibe for us all. Give this one a listen.


Download: Vetiver – Can’t You Tell [MP3]

Show Preview: Great Nostalgic @ Emo’s (4/2)

Date 4/2/11
Location Emos
Doors 8pm
Tickets $6 @ Door

We here at ATH are such huge fans of Austin band The Great Nostalgic that we’ve almost taken it as our personal mission to help grow their populairty.  With a debut record so forward thinking and creative, it’s been easy to support them as best we can.  This Saturday at Emo’s, the group is celebrating the release of their sophomore effort Hope We Live Like We Promised with a headlining show supported by some other local buzz bands.  Joining GC on stage are Burgess Meredith, One Hundred Flowers, and recent ATH fave Royal Forest.  With a great lineup, cheap door fee, and even cheaper tall boys, you should be there.  We haven’t gotten around to a proper review of the new album yet, but we’ve gotten a snew preview, and can guarantee that it’s going to be a huge leap forward for the band.  Why not pick up a copy at the show?


Download: Great Nostalgic – Wilderness [MP3]

Brown Recluse – Evening Tapestry

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Despite the creepy implications of their name, Brown Recluse is far from such dark arachnid qualities in their music. Instead they rely on pop, and at that, psychedelic pop laden with airy vocals and crisp instruments. Ironically, many happy and jubilant sounds are produced from this band on Evening Tapestry.

Starting off with “Hobble To Your Tomb,” Brown Recluse begins on a high note. As one of the more interesting numbers on this album, it serves its pertinent job of making me want to see where this band is going to go for the rest of the album. It builds gradually, with short spurts of organ-like synth, and stop and go styling. The horn work at the end creates such promise. Seriously who doesn’t love horn work? However, the song doesn’t really go anywhere; much like the rest of the songs as a whole.

 While this album is chalk full of groovy pop tunes, it just won’t make the transition between good and great to me. Perhaps it is the blandness of the lead vocals; they suit the music, but at the same time there isn’t that disparity that allows for some noticeable separation of instruments and singing. It doesn’t command your attention, but lets you wander a little ways off, and it’s easy to get distracted from the tunes that are brightly playing away. The same goes for the shortness in each of the songs, which, sadly, but inevitably causes them all to sound similar.

Despite it’s one-note-nature, Evening Tapestry still has its moments. Such moments occur on numbers like “Impressions of a City Morning,” that starts with some quick, yet soft drums, and follows with the jingle-jangle of a tambourine. At some points during this number, I get the feeling of some old Belle and Sebastian song, chalked full of that story-telling diction and delicate vocal qualities that Stuart Murdoch does so well. Another stand out comes on “Monday Moon,” that relies on jangly guitars and the slight wail of some funky synthesizer to spin a poppy tune.

To be honest, most of the songs on this album are likable; there just isn’t enough variety in general to warrant excellence or even longevity. As I listen to this over and over, I just can’t latch onto hardly any of the songs. They run their course and then are done, becoming forgettable. Instead of falling in love with Brown Recluse, I feel more so like being their friend; I’m not quite ready to spend all my time with them, but hanging out every once and a while could be alright.

Evening Tapestry is out now on Slumberland Records.

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