Little Joy – s/t

Rating: ★★★★☆

Most will recognize the percussionist of Little Joy, the newest offshoot made up of Strokes drummer Fab Moretti. Toss in Rodrigo Amarante and Binki Shapiro, and you have the line-up for LA based Little Joy.

Those in search of the upbeat pop specialties that Albert Hammond has thrown our way will surely not find what you are looking for in these songs, but instead you will find an entirely different genre, what one will call beach-influences crooner tunes. It would suffice to say that this group has created eleven perfect lounge tracks for your favorite smoky dive bar.

“The Next Time Around” is the album’s opener, which contributes the first of many island infused tracks. Guitars and percussion lie in the back of the song, as Amarante croons, not entirely like Julian Casablancas, but not too far off. It’s easy to see why Fab chose to work with this fellow; in the middle of the track there is an influx of Portuguese lyrics, which add to the Latin appeal of the album.

Listening to this album one should recall quiet moments spent on beaches with their friends, much like the members of Team Zissou. In fact, if you recall the soundtrack to the Wes Anderson movie Life Aquatic, you will find that this album is very reminiscent of the guitar work done by Seu Jorge, although the majority of the music here is in English; none of the songs are Bowie covers either.

“No One’s Better Sake” is the fourth track on the album, and it’s one that has the largest resemblance to The Strokes. The progression sounds strikingly similar to a few of the songs off Room on Fire, but a little organ work gives it an entirely different feel. Once again, Amarante croons in that very familiar tone. Even the progression of the song sounds too familiar to dismiss as mere coincidence.

Be sure to listen to “Don’t Watch Me Dancing.” This song features the female vocals from Binki Shapiro, and it’s one of those perfect little songs that creeps into your head as the day passes into the by and by. It’s a mellow little ditty, but most will appreciate the emotive number, possibly one of the strongest tracks on the album.

One thing missing from this album is a substantial pace. The lack of pace, and the organization of the songs on the album makes it a tad difficult to immerse yourself completely in the album. Even good beach parties have a few rollicking moments that move the crowd; this album seems to lack that pace and emotion entirely aside from one or two brief moments.

At the end of the day, listeners will have a decent debut album from Little Joy to attach themselves to for evening listening. If anything, this album is the perfect conversation starter as your friends try to figure out why the songs sound so familiar, yet so much like their last trip to Cancun. You’ll enjoy the album too; it just won’t make your top albums of the year list.

Ben Kweller – How Ya Lookin’ Southbound…

Rating: ★★★★☆

Long forgotten Texan, Ben Kweller, has finally released some new music, coming our way this time with a tour EP that you can pick up here. No matter where you find it, its good to have new tunes from this guy.

From his first days in Radish, it seems as if Ben has been trying hard to find his own voice. Sometimes it seems to depend on where he’s living, or who he’s hanging with at the time he’s recording. His last album definitely seemed to have a NYC vibe to it. This time, we find him going, dare I say, Ryan Adams. Although, you can definitely feel the influence of the road on this album, it seems almost as if BK has returned to Texas.

“Fight” is a twangy little number, accompanied by some slide-guitar. Of course, the lyrics are every bit Ben Kweller, using clever rhyming couplets a la Conor Oberst. The end half of the song has a definite honky-tonk feel to it as the piano solo courses through the latter half of the song. It’s strange hearing Ben’s voice on this track.

He continues the country-tinged efforts with “Things I Like to Do.” It’s almost exactly like the first song, at least in instrumentation, but this is the first song when you can clearly make the distinction between Ben Kweller and any other alt-country singer. There’s possibly a little too much slide-guitar on this song, but it’s one of the more warming songs on the EP.

“Sawdust Man” is the only song on this album that just doesn’t fit. It’s ridden by a piano throughout, which definitely makes it seem as if he is trying to pull of a little Dr. Dog. There are several moments when his voice clearly struggles to hit its note, which is really disheartening. For some reason, this some just doesn’t come across the way one would hope. We all make mistakes.

He scores a definite winner, however, with “The Biggest Flower.” This song maintains a little bit of that coutnry sensibility that has been driven into this EP, but at the same time, it brings back the pop element that made Ben Kweller so endearing to us all. This is probably one of the more mature songs hes written, which makes it the stand out track on this EP.

The EP is closed off with “Somehow,” another fine tune. One might describe this as a whiskey song. It seems as if the song is full of longing and loneliness, just judging the feel of the vocals. That’s not surprising considering this is an EP written around Ben’s most recent touring scheduling. It’s a fine close to a pretty decent offering from one of our favorite Texans.

And speaking of that touring schedule, Ben Kweller is coming to Austin on November 2nd. You can buy yourself a set of tickets over at Frontagate Tickets.

…Trail of Dead – Festival Thyme

Rating: ★★★½☆

It’s been quite some time since anyone has given serious consideration to Austin’s And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, but it seems like the local boys are rearing up to put out another new album.  In order to prepare us all for this new venture, the band has offered up a short four song EP titled Festival Thyme.

Since their last album So Divided, they seem to have lost a little bit of credibility in the music world, as other keep wishing for a rehash of the phenomenal Source Tags and Codes. Let’s face it, this is not the same band, not by a long shot.

The opening track, “Bells of Creation,” has an enormous sound, filled to the brim with swelling guitar sounds piled upon the backs of simple piano tracks.  It’s a much more mainstream approach to the writing process, which we’ve witnessed from these men before, but the chorus is as brash as anything they’ve done before now.  Did he just say “I felt like Satan?” Surely that will get your attention, at least for all you Satan lovers.

“Inland Sea” is the next track on the EP, and once again you see that the band has moved into a much larger scale sound.  The ever-present piano serves as the focal point for this song, as the band moves in and out of the song.  For some reason the vocals, with their emo-tendencies kind of grab at my heart strings.  It’s the same sound as before; it just sounds strangely different.

The final musical track on here, “Festival Thyme” is actually one of the better songs I’ve heard from the band, especially in their most recent years.  It definitely has a post-punk leaning towards Oasis sound, which takes a minute to get used to at first, but give this song a chance.

In fact, give this band a chance.  Sure, they’ve moved on from their origins, or what we deem origins, but who is to say that a band cannot grow up and move forward.  They’ve missed a few steps in the past, but they are still here trying to push on back against the masses.  That, and you’ve gotta love a band based in Austin, Texas.  Here’s to new ground for this well respected band.

And, the artwork is ridiculous.  Ridiculous and good.

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cardinology

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Dear Ryan Adams,

Back in the day you put together an amazing album Heartbreaker. In all honesty, that record is going to be remembered for years to come; it really is that good. But, now you come back at your fans with Cardinology!

First off, what on earth is going on with the album artwork? Is this one of the remaining pieces of the set from Roadhouse? Maybe that’s where you found the sound for this album. Perhaps it’s your attempt at establishing yourself as the artist formerly known as Ryan Adams, which would be understandable, as you bare no resemblance to the man who stepped out of the shadows of Whiskeytown.

This new record, Cardinology, well, it just doesn’t make any sense at all. Sure, many of those will remember some of the scattered breakthrough moments you shared with your old band, but your best efforts always seem to come from areas when you step aside from the full on band approach. Here, we find you overshadowed by the entire band, and often, you don’t even sound like yourself anymore.

For the most part, the opening to this album sounds like you wanted to take a pop approach to writing country songs, but you end up sounding like the Gin Blossoms or Third Eye Blind covering Americana songs. It feels overly contrived, as if you lost that magical touch that drew so many people to you in the first place. Listening to this album makes you seems as if you drifted further away from yourself; we were all sad to see you go.

As listeners, we appreciate some of the strong songs that do make their way through, such as “Let Us Down Easy” or “Crossed Out Name.” Each of those seems to exist in that distant place where you lived for so long, yet rarely visit these days. It has so much personality in the song, especially lyrically. You could go so far as to say that “Evergreen” can also be lumped in with the same batch of songs; they are all personal, making them more personal for the audience listening to your records.

Then again, as you make headway, you add a song like “Stop.” If anyone decided to rip off Neil Young playing the piano, it had to be you. There is no passion here, and the lyrics seem so ridiculous. Did you really write “you are not alone,” and throw it into a song? Way to be original. You know what would be original? A Ryan Adams record without the Cardinals that broke our hearts; a record that made us believe; a record we all really need.

Deerhunter – Microcastle

Rating: ★★★★☆

For most of the fans of Deerhunter, this album seems to have been floating around the world in some form or another, so many of you have already gotten to know Microcastle, the band’s sophomore release.  Those of you that haven’t listened to it yet will definitely need to get your hands on this album.

Admittedly, the band has left behind a little bit of the atmospherics that were present in Cryptograms, instead pushing forward with a more immediate sound.  Mr. Cox has even gone so far as to say that he didn’t mind if the band took on a sort of Strokes‘ sound, which, it really doesn’t.  You can only go so far before you aren’t the same band, but Deerhunter sound every bit themselves here.

Sure, the songs definitely ascribe to a little bit of the pop, but they surround each song in their very structured fuzziness, clouding every inch of tape with something worthwhile for the listener.  It’s as if they chose to completely focus on every song, providing all of them with their own personality so that in turn, they resonate individually with the listener.  Slowly, the band builds each song, as if they were putting together tiny bricks in order to construct microcastles.

A lot of the songs, however, are reminiscent of the sounds bands like Grizzly Bear or Gravenhurst.  Gentle vocals are paced between intricate musicianship, and then walled in with extemporaneous sound, creating the perfect song within a soundscape.  It’s becoming a bit over-done, but you won’t find any who do it much better than the Georgians from Deerhunter.  But, they also jump far away from this in songs like “Cover Me Slowly” and “Nothing Ever Happened,” which may be more in the way of what future albums might sound like.

For now, the band seems to be happily stuck between their own walls of sound and their desire for a less eclectic sound.  They do seem at their best when they push the pace a bit, allowing themselves a touch of greatness, but each time they resume to other formats, they fall back into something more commonplace in the modern indie music market.  Either way, Deerhunter have created another album that is sure to rise to the top of many people’s year end lists; as it should.

High Places – s/t

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Brooklyn duo High Places recently released their newest LP, a self titled affair, to much critical claim. Those kids over at PFork gave it an 8! Having come across it ourselves, we opted to look deeper into the album in attempt to uncover the mystery.

Upon first listen, most will find that the music, well, there really doesn’t seem to be much music. Sure, there are some electronic beats dancing here and there with a little mixture of the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure, but there really isn’t anything along the lines of what the majority of the world would define as music. A close examination might reveal that the skeleton for almost every single song on the album stems from too much indulgence into someone’s collection of Animal Collective B-Sides.

Some refer to such music as IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music. Listening, you might find it difficult that the word intelligent has been mentioned at all because clearly it takes very little intelligence to create this music. It’s reminiscent of the stuff all your nerdy friends were making on their own computers back when things like Garage Band were just coming into play. Simpletons.

However, despite obvious lack of creativity, or melody for that matter, there is a highlight all over this album, almost blanketing the sheer horridness. That savior is Mary Pearson, the vocalist for the band. Her range is not all that grand, but she is precisely what most listeners seem to be enjoying these days. She is your girl next door indie songstress, albeit one who has chosen to make this album. One would love to find here step outside the confines of this one-dimensional genre in search of deeper melodies or more creativity.

Those of you who consider yourself intelligent should not listen to those in love with this band, well, you are intelligent, so you should be informed. Listen, listen, then check back with us at ATH so we know that we weren’t too far off on this one.

Sebastien Grainger – Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains

Rating: ★★★½☆

The majority of the world might not recognize the name of Sebastien Grainger, but most of you know who he is, and I’m sure some of you saw him play. Grainger is the former drummer for Death From Above 1979, that dueling barrage of blips and banging that burst onto the scene a few years back. Dude’s on his own now; the question is can he deliver like he used to do when he stood atop his stool breaking our ears and his drums?

Upon first listen, you will immediately discover that Sebastien has long ago departed from the intensity he once carried into our bedrooms. “Love Can Be So Mean,” the opening track, is about as deliberate a step into the pop spectrum of things we could expect him to go; he goes there unexpectedly, but he still brings a punch or two with him.

For some you might hear a touch of his past in a good amount of these songs, as the guitars usually carry a large amount of fuzz with them, much like that horse we’re beating into the ground. Another similarity in transitions is the vocal quality built into these songs; the vocals never sound very clear, coming off muddled in the mix. It’s not horrible, especially since he attaches a lot more melody this go round, but you can still see the shadow of his past looming just over his shoulder.

“I’m All Rage Live 05” is Sebastien doing Wolf Parade, which is okay since they both hail from north of the border, but the most disheartening thing about this song is that Sebastien holds back during the chorus; he has every opportunity to let loose like we know he can, but he holds back instead. It gives a less angst-ridden approach to the song, but most would love to see him belt it out. And it’s clear he has plenty of angst to let out, as evidenced by songs such as “I Hate My Friends.”

There are steps in all sorts of directions here, which makes this album a little unfocused. There are some allusions to 80s power ballads mixed with shadows from his past wrapped around various other late-nineties influences (see Saddle Creek Records, the label releasing this album). You’ll even find more direct approaches to ballads and harmonies, but you won’t find focus. When he’s on, the record has amazing moments worth playing again and again; when he’s not, you just hope he can rein it all in for the next go round. Really, you just want him to let loose completely.  A record without the evident inhibtions from this record could just prove brilliant.

Have a listen to latest single “By Cover of Night” below:


Download: Sebastian Grangier – By Cover of Night [MP3]

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