My Morning Jacket – Next Stop Austin

For those of you lucky enough to have tickets to tonights SOLD OUT MMJ show at Stubb’s, here is a little taste of what’s to come via ATH’s Dallas TX correspondent.

The band played the Palladium Theater in south Dallas Saturday night to a packed and enthusiastic crowd. This venue is similar to Austin Music Hall in size and presentation, but even with a line stretching around the block waiting on the doors, there were tickets still available (for a time) at the box office.

Show review and pictures after the jump

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David Lindley @ Cactus Cafe (8/15)

David Lindley plays the extremely intimate Cactus Cafe on the UT campus Friday night. Who’s David Lindley? Only one of the most sought after sessions guitarists in the world –  he’s played with Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon to name a few – in addition to fronting bands of his own. Ben Harper cites his unique slide guitar style as a major influence. If you go, be sure to pay attention to the equipment Mr. Lindley breaks out for he’s a bit of an eccentric with a reputation for using cheap, amateur guitars which generate a distinct sound. Still need convincing? Check out the clip below of him performing “Where’s Jimmy?” live somewhere circa 97. Tickets are at the door for $20 with things starting at 9pm.

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

Download: David Lindley – Wheres Jimmy [MP3]

08/06 The Hold Steady @ The Parish

In front of a sell out crowd at The Parish on Wednesday night, Brooklyn’s finest The Hold Steady set off some M80’s with their raucous set-opener “Constructive Summer.” “We’re gonna build something this summer,” declared frontman Craig Finn as the “party pit” stumbled their way to the front of the stage. Touring in support of Stay Positive, the gang was sharper than keyboardist Franz Nicolay’s on-stage attire and brought a steady flow of beer-drinking, pot-smoking, Max Weinberg-lovin’, ass-shaking rock ‘n’ roll. This was my third time seeing The Hold Steady and by far, their best show in Austin yet. A lot had to do with the Parish’s flawless acoustics and the band’s diverse choice of songs for the evening (review and set list after the jump). Read more

Sigur Ros – med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust

Rating: ★★★★ ·

This band is epic. Given the task of singing “Happy Birthday” at an 8 year old’s birthday party, they could likely stretch the performance several minutes with multiple movements involving choirs of children and the London Sinfionetta. (see Ara Bitur`) That is just the natural skill of this foursome from Iceland. And though they showcase that skill in several areas of their new album; med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust, they have expanded their repertoire with looser, shorter, more traditional songs this time around.

The first track/single “Gobbledigook” isn’t quite their attempt at Ipod commercial appeal, but at just over three minutes, they might finally get to play on Letterman. In fact, there are only four songs on the album clocking in past five minutes. The single uses heavy percussion, alternating acoustic guitar lines, and harmonized vocals to create something… fun. Somewhat of a departure from the glacial, sparse musical landscapes they have focused on with their past five albums.

Building on the same theme, the second track is Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur. Though accompanied with brass and string sections and a soaring vocal melody, the driving force in this track is the bassline, piano, and four on the floor drumbeat.

Fans of the traditional epic sounds of Sigur Ros will also find much to enjoy on endalaust. Five minutes into Festival, the bassline and steady kick drum start the final build. Symphonic horns and strings add from there. Vocal harmonies, additional horns, and seemingly whatever other instrument is lying around the studio, take hold of the simple melody and build it to a stunning climax.

For me, the peak of the album comes with the turning point in Ara Bitur at four and a half minutes through the song. A simple piano line is augmented with lightly struck bass, and Jonsi’ Birgisson’s repeating vocal is suddenly accompanied with an entire symphony and children’s choir. At its peak, the song features 90 musicians playing at once. Recorded in one take in the Abbey Road studio in London, this is most epic track on the album.

In several niches of popular music, you can find dramatic shifts in loud/soft dynamics with bands like Explosions in the Sky, or even certain tracks like “Everlong“ from the Foo Fighters, but songs like this show just how far above their contemporaries Sigur Ros can be. It is tough to describe the resulting energy in this song relative to where it begins. Just make sure you only listen to it on empty desert roads with no speed limit, or seated comfortably in your home. But turn it up.

So with endalaust, Sigur Ros have shown that while they can narrow their scope and create succinct, meaningful, and well constructed songs that open them up to shorter attention spans and wider appeal, they are still kings of the epic.

Coldplay – Viva la Vida

Rating: ★★★ · ·

In 2000, when MTV showed two music videos a day instead of one, I recall watching a video featuring a squirrel-y looking fellow walking along a merky morning beach. I didn’t care much for the redundant slow motion effect or the dusk-to-dawn illusion, but as a teenager, was enthralled in what this hoodie-wearin’ bloke had to say. “Yellow” was my introduction to Coldplay. Since releasing 2000’s Parachutes, the London quartet have sold more than 32 million records worldwide, filled countless arenas and made legions of Dodge Caravan-driving soccer moms in the process. You know a band is doing something right when you make a phone call to your mother and SHE asks you, “Have you heard the new Coldplay record?” No small feat…

Much has changed in Camp Coldplay since then. While 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head proved this band was destined to “rock” stadiums, 2005’s snoozefest X&Y brought us back to Earth proving that re-hashing singles is not always the brightest of ideas. Exhibit A: X&Y’s “Speed of Sound” tried it’s darndest to match the success of “Clocks” by sounding just like “Clocks.” Exhibit B: “Fix You,” a song that I’m pretty sure GOD wrote was X&Y’s answer to “The Scientist.” The boys we’re in dire need of assistance because the formula was already walking on thin tightropes.

On their fourth installment, the Tex-Mex-titled “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends,” that help comes in the form of producer Brian Eno (U2, Talking Heads) to assist in ship-shaping their form. Gone are the power ballads Coldplay are known for and the over-production of their past records. Instead, listeners are treated to a multitude of sonic landscapes, sweeping strings, and a buttload of church organ. Luckily, this change works in Coldplay’s favor showcasing a band that’s capable of writing challenging music rather than worrying about living up to their position as the “Biggest Rock Band in the World.”

I promised myself I wouldn’t mention any other bands in this review, primarily the obvious one that has a letter and a number in it (sigh), but after hearing “Life in Technicolor,” the opening instrumental track off the record, it’s an arduous task not to mention Coldplay’s Dublin doppelgangers. It’s a shimmering two minute piece that opens the album nicely transitioning into “Cemetaries of London,” a drag-of-a-tune that sounds more like Big Country with it’s lagging chants and guitatist Jonny Buckland’s Edge-riffic licks. Now if only these cats can learn some quality jigs for their live show.

As the album progresses, the band explores darker territories. “Lost!” is a well-crafted song mixing powerful organ and drummer Will Champion’s Afro-beats, and “42” is a stunner with it’s unique and daring structure. However, it’s difficult to sympathize with future Sir Chris Martin when he sings “I just got lost…every river that I tried to cross.” Martin has never been known for his profound lyrics and it definitely doesn’t do him or his troupe any favors on Viva la Vida. It hurts the record if anything. “Yes” with it’s “Walk Like an Egyptian” style strings, monitone vocals, and “profound” lyrics could’ve been spared from this record. However, the second half of the song dubbed “Chinese Sleep Chant” is English trance at it’s best. If only I had my glowsticks…

“I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t put an end to all violence and suffering.” Obviously, Martin was joking when he said this about the record in a recent SPIN Magazine interview, but after hearing the mighty one-two punch of Apple iTune’s smash “Viva la Vida” & first single “Violet Hill,” I would not be surprised if this record in fact ended all violence and suffering. Okay, I’m blowing smoke up your ass, but both songs serve as an excellent juxtaposition when describing the album as a whole. Everything from Martin’s fixation between life & death to the album’s awful Revolutionay War cover art that was ripped out of the pages of a 7th grade Social Studies book are embodied nicely during the record’s climax. “Strawberry Swing” is fantastic blending Buckland’s Afro-pop guitar hook and bassist Guy Berryman’s stomping rhythm. However, it’s all brought to a screeching halt when the final track “Death and All His Friends” wraps up the album. Sadly, it’s a trite tune that sounds more X&Y than Viva la Vida. The second half of the song revisits the beginning of the record. “And in the end, we lie awake and we’ll dream of making our escape,” Martin delivers in Abbey Road fashion over Eno’s soundscapes. It’s a comfortable refrain that does not coincide well with the 1st half of the song. And in retrospect, that’s how Coldplay’s Viva la Vida plays out. An easy-flowing record that gets lost periodically in it’s own ambition.

You can hear the title track to the new album below:

Download: Coldplay – Viva La Vida [MP3]

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

Rating: ★★½ · ·

When describing “Evil Urges,” the title track from Louisville-based My Morning Jacket’s new album, frontman/chief songwriter/spaceboots-wearin’ fearless leader Jim James talked about how the band would just “go off into space” when writing new parts to the song. The five-minute plus tune evokes soulful R&B grooves to Kentucky fried-dual guitar freakouts and back to it’s central refrain as it is relaunched into orbit. “Evil urges baby, they’re just part of the human way. It ain’t evil baby, if ya ain’t hurting anybody,” James sings in high-falsetto. And he couldn’t have made it more obvious himself because My Morning Jacket not only are throwing fans a musical curveball, but have some inner demons to conquer themselves on their latest offering.

As a faithful MMJ fan, I was fully aware writing a review of “Evil Urges,” their first album since 2005’s life-altering, astonishing marvel “Z,” was NOT going to be easy. However, it wasn’t as difficult writing this blurb as it was hearing this record in it’s entirety. “Urges” is a frustrating listen from the opening drum-wraps to the album’s final four seconds of nonsense. Missing are MMJ’s trademark reverb-soaked vocals, “motivated” guitar jams, and most depressingly, songcrafting.

The one thing I will forever adore about this band is how they create inspired songs laced with an honesty behind their Southern-tinged seven-to-eight minute rockers. Inspiration is certainly M.I.A. on this record.

“Evil Urges” zig-zags like a staggering “Glass Joe” in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, shifting from funky R&B grooves (title track) to James Taylor man-crushin’ (“Sec Walkin'”) to arena-sized riff-rockin (“Aluminum Park”) to WTF!? (“Highly Suspicious”) The song is so painful that by the time you’ve endured Olmec from Nickelodeon’s “Legends of the Hidden Temple” chanting “Highly Suspicious of You” for the 27th time, it makes you yearn for the cheesy, but appropriate sounds of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watchin’ Me.” Hell, if “Highly Suspicious” was released in 1984, MMJ would’ve given Berry Gordy Jr.’s prodigee a run for his top 40 blood money. Now if they could just get Jermaine Jackson to guest vocal on the chorus instead of a giant animatronic talking piece of foam.

After the undeniably disastrous first half of “Urges,” we’re introduced to a little ditty called “Two Halves.” It’s a nice 60’s-style doo-wop rock tune that reminds us this band can do anything they damn-well please and it works in all it’s Roy Orbison-worshiping glory.

“Librarian” has to be one of the best narratives James’ has ever penned. “Sweetest little bookworm, hidden underneath is the sexiest librarian…take off those glasses and let down your hair for me.” Obsessed much, I know, but the way this tune floats around amidst it’s dusty stack of books and pitch-black summer skies, it’s difficult not to be enthralled by the mood of James’ storytelling. Plus, it’s about damn time someone wrote a great song about a sexy librarian. Gentlemen, we’ve all been there, don’t deny it.

The album concludes with the haunting one-two punch of “Smokin’ from Shootin'” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 2.” “Shootin” is an excellent builder from Bo Koster’s quiet key-tappin’to guitarist/MVP Carl Broehmel’s heavy-plucking as James brings his A-game to a deafening climax that would make Charles Bronson proud. The song wanders into “Touch Me…,” an eight-minute disco “jambulance” where drummer Patrick Hallahan’s beating eerily reminds me of the B-52’s “Summer of Love.” It’s space-rock-prog-disco-psychedelia at it’s finest…woah.

“This feeling is wonderful…don’t you ever turn it off,” James exclaims as his gang caps off a confusing conclusion to a record that is more intrigued with sounding eclectic than creating the memorable MMJ moments we’re so fond of. If it weren’t for “Urges'” hard to swallow first half, this album would be destined for healthy repeated listens instead of turning the “wonderful feeling” off.

Don’t forget that the band will be showing off one of the best live acts around later this summer at Stubbs. The show isn’t sold out yet so hurry up and buy some tickets. And be sure to check out our (fake) interview with Jim James.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/mmj_evil_urges.mp3]

Download: evilurges.mp3

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