Cult of Youth – s/t

Rating: ★★★½ ·

The minute we heard “New West,” the first single from the self-titled album from Cult of Youth, I’ll admit that I was more than intrigued.  It’s got a bit of a old barroom punk rock ethos, yet the more I listened to the track, the more I discovered about the band and their sound.  Sneaky strings lurked in the background, and that dirty bass line never ceased to grab me.  Dirty alcoholic punk mixed with strings you say? Yes, I do, and oh so much more.

Kicking off the record is “New West,” the aforementioned track that really piqued my interest.  Sean Ragon’s desperate growling vocals evokes a bit of spirit I long thought had disappeared. Despite the song’s desire to have this layer of grit, there’s still an uncanny beauty from the guitar parts matched with the related string instruments.  It’s quite a special track.  From here, the band really sort of keeps pace with this sort of shantie-like track, as if the band’s leading you to sea with their brash blend of folk and punk ethos.

Track four, “Casting Thorns” is when the band begins to alter the sound, creating a space for the string arrangements to really shine in the forefront.  Ragon doesn’t have the same raspy vocals, seeming more calm here as he strums the guitar.  But, there’s still a level of darkness that underlies the track, giving a bit of an angrier tint to the traditionally folk sounds apparent here. It’s this sort of change that leaves the band sort of stuck in the middle of their own sound, which has both positive and negative attributes.  “Through the Fear” even introduces a bit of horns, making the band sound increasingly dynamic.  It’s good to see that the band evolves beyond the sound that I originally noted them for upon my introduction to the group.

The latter half of the album does tire a bit, though there are some exceptional tracks hiding here. “Lorelei” has a great strummed guitar driving the song along, and Ragon’s baritone sounds incredibly haunting here, but in a manner that makes you appreciate a good spirit watching over you.  It’s the most unassuming track of this collection, and perhaps that’s why it’s so successful, or that it precedes the one misstep the band makes, that being the seven-minute sleeper, “The Lamb.”  Okay, so there are some musical elements here that are to most people’s liking, but the song could have been wrapped up much quicker, as it seemed to carry on perhaps beyond its welcome point.

All in all, Cult of Youth has done a great job with this self-titled effort, offering new fans a hint at what they’re all about, but leaving plenty of room for growth and directional jaunts in the future.  You have to appreciate a band that’s not dying to get tied down in one place, and with the diversity of this record, who knows where they’ll go, but I’m sure it will be good.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Cult-Of-Youth-New-West.mp3]

Download: Cult Of Youth – New West [MP3]

New Music from The Bell

Who isn’t a fan of hook-laden post-punk with sweet melodies and electronic pulses?  Well, you should be; you should also be a fan of The Bell, a group from Sweden who are about to release their latest record Great Heat through Badman Recording Company.  Based on this first single, the album is going to be filled with really solid melodies, fueled by the band’s usage of electronic flourishes, giving the band a sound that fits perfectly into any late night gathering of debauchery.  It’s got this powerfully forceful beat, yet it’s still possesses hints of beauty for those who like things a little polished. Take a listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/04_today.mp3]

Download: The Bell – Today [MP3]

New Sonny and the Sunsets

I’m not sure quite how Sonny Smith manages everything he does, and still manages to make most if downright enjoyable.  Between making album art for fictional bands he’s created, not to mention the music, then an EP with his friends in the Sandwitches, and now he’s back with his group’s own new record, Hit After Hit, which comes out April 12th on Fat Possum.  This track has the more stripped down country feel that the latter half of the group’s last release contained.  In the meantime, I’m sure that Sonny’s got more in the works we don’t quite know about yet, but I’ll happily be satisfied with this here song.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/02_I_Wanna_Do_It.mp3]

Download: Sonny & the Sunsets – I Wanna Do It [MP3]

New Tunes from Heidi Spencer

Well, this is a bit of a change up for us this week, as we’ve been running around with lots of high energy tracks, but I couldn’t resist a bit of mellowness as the week winds down. Heidi Spencer & the Rare Birds have been making a huge wave over with the NME, and you can tell that a lot of American audiences will definitely enjoy her work due to its similarity to a woman and her harp. Regardless of similarities, Spencer does seem to have a bit more of a traditional folkie in her.  You can check out her album on March 29th, titled Under Streetlight Glow. Give the tune a listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Alibi_20110201_155016.mp3]

Download: Heidi Spencer – Alibi [MP3]

New Music from High Tension Wires

You’ve got to be all about High Tension Wires if you’re a Texas, especially an Austinite or Dentonian! The band is comprised of some our best punk/power-pop/garage bands around, namely Marked Men and Riverboat Gamblers, so you have to know it’s going to be a good time all around.  The band’s got an album coming out on Dirtnap Records around March 15th titled Welcome New Machine.  If you base it off this first single, it’s everything that you need in a good power-pop album.  It’s got some catchy hooks, no-nonsense drumming, and even a bit of backing vocals.  It’s all positive energy, and there’s not a thing wrong with that in my book.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/backbone.mp3]

Download: High Tension Wires – Backbone [MP3]

Contest: PS I Love You Tickets & 7″ Giveaway

Man, have we got a deal for you! PS I Love You is playing a gig next Tuesday night (3/1) at the Mohawk (indoors), and we’re fortunate enough to have a pair of tickets to give you absolutely free.  But, not only are we offering you tickets to this excellent show, but we’re also going to be giving away the brand new “Leftovers” single 7″, which is a split with Diamond Rings.  Both bands have gotten loads of praise already, and it seems like their stars are only going to be rising higher and higher in 2011.  All you need to do is leave a comment telling us which band you’re most excited to see at SXSW, and we’ll pick our favorite end of day Saturday (2/26). Oh, and speaking of SXSW, PS I Love You will be back for the festival as well, so stay tuned for more news on the band’s travel itinerary, but for now plan on meeting us at the Mohawk next week.  Below is a sneak peak at a track from the new 7″.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/1-Leftovers.mp3]

Download: PS I Love You – Leftovers [MP3]

New Track from Sloan

You don’t get much better than the Canadian group Sloan.  They’ve been cranking out albums for years, giving us all a nice taste of blistering guitar pop that’s never failed to win this writer over.  Now we’ve got news that the band are releasing their tenth album, The Double Cross, on May 10th via Yep Roc here in the States. One thing you can be absolutely sure about is that the record is going to be filled with hooks and sing-a-long moments that will stick in your head for years to come.  Hopefully a single like this one will finally give more press to the much deserving band, as there are very few who’ve done it for so long, so successfully.  And, if you’re just stumbling across the band, go back and check out the 30-odd track from Never Hear the End of It, quietly released a few years back.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Sloan-Follow-The-Leader.mp3]

Download: Sloan – Follow The Leader [MP3]

Tim Cohen – Magic Trick

Rating: ★★★★ ·

For most listeners, you’re probably expecting anything coming from Tim Cohen to somewhat resemble his haunting vocal performances from his main gig, The Fresh & Onlys.  But, while that dark tinted vocal is still there, Tim’s been creating music on his own for some time, this being his second solo release in about a year (making that 3 in a year, all work included).  Magic Trick establishes itself as his most timeless release to date, making Cohen a hot commodity in the small indie rock community.

“I Am Never Going to Die” sounds precisely like something your father might have listened to if he grew up in the late 60s.  It was probably a track played by his roommate while they sat in some bong circle, promising one another that they were going to make themselves happy.  Yet you won’t have to travel back in time to enjoy this piece, nor do you necessarily have to partake in recreational drugs; Tim’s music, as well as the themes throughout Magic Trick, apply just as much now as they did then.

The haunting vision of Tim Cohen that I have in my head revolves around those vocals, teetering on the edge of despair, such as you get on a song like “The Flower.”  Still, even with his songs having this shady quality, a track like this reminds you of dark crooners such as Richard Hawley, giving you dense pop songs in a simply beautiful format.  Similarly, “Ledgerdemain” operates in the same spectrum, using a heavy vocal to discuss themes of love as seen through one man’s perspective.  The light piano touches and floating female vocal accompaniment definitely bring an extra punch to this number.

But, perhaps the most notable style present on Magic Trick are the allusions to the psychedelia of years past, only viewed through a more modern lens. It’s hard to go through listening to a track like “The Spirit’s Inside” without noticing the cascading guitars that go with the moody electronic piano.  Not only that, but it hints back at those low-budget movies during the black-and-white era where your hero has a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.  “Season of Fires” definitely has some California vibe to it, almost as if it’s the long lost Doors demo, except a tad bit better, as Cohen’s a better poet in my mind.

One of the remarkable things about listening to Magic Trick in its entirety is that you want to put some many songs in certain generic boxes, pushing influences onto the Tim Cohen, but where he seems to have progressed greatly on this album are the darker pop tracks, like those mentioned above or the album closer, “I Looked Up.”  Such touches of songwriting demonstrate that he’s more than just a one-trick pony.  While it may seem that Cohen’s been around for quite some time, this record is the first one that really shows he’s heading in the right direction, even if we didn’t see them coming right away.  Tim Cohen might be a man who loves the past, but he’s certainly the man of the moment.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Tim-Cohen-Dont-Give-Up.mp3]

Download: Tim Cohen – Don’t Give Up [MP3]

New Track from Mueran Humanos

One of the great things about the Internet is that you can hear all sorts of crazy things from around the globe, which is the exact case with Mueran Humanos.  The band’s name roughly translates to Die Humans, so I mean, you’ve got to appreciate that sort of bold statement.  Musically, the duo, who come from Buenos Aires, use a moody electronic element to hash out their sound, giving us this first single titled “Festival of Lights.” There’s definitely a throbbing dance club element buried in this track, so if you like it, be sure to go find yourself a copy of the group’s self-titled debut from Blind Prophet Records.  And, of course, we’re always happy to translate.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/02-Festival-De-Las-Luces.mp3]

Download: Mueran Humanos – Festival De Las Luces [MP3]

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