Tom Gabel – Heart Burns

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Tom Gabel has made his fame as the voice behind americana-punks, Against Me; this time he decides to step outside his typical arena for a solo affair.  His stellar performance at Fun Fun Fun Fest this year with the Revival Tour led us to check out his latest solo release.

“I Can’t See You, But I Know You’re There” opens the album, and it’s a pleasant enough song.  The straining vocals known with Against Me fans is still pretty evident,and the entire song revolves around loose acoustic guitar, with the focus resonating with the lyrics, which appear to discuss the loss of a dear friend.

He follows this up with “Anna is a Stool Pigeon.”  This is the acoustic guitar work that one would expect from Tom, and its definitely more reminiscent of his performance at Fun x 3.  It’s got some harmonica accompaniment, and overall it’s taking a more country approach, though the lyrical content is a little bit lacking. He continues in this vain for the most part, though there is a misstep in the middle.

“Random Hearts” is a song that recalls the most recent effort of his main band, New Wave.  It’s electric guitar work and percussion samples don’t come across with the usual sincerity that is associated with a Tom Gabel song.  Sure, the album offers you an acoustic version, but the version here definitely sticks with you; the case is the same with a song like “Amputations,” where the electric guitar just doesn’t seem to benefit his style at all, although the lyrical content here is definitely one younger crowds could get behind.

That being said, the album does have one of the better songs he’s written, “Conceptual Paths.”  Sure, there are some minor drum samples in the background, but the strumming of his acoustic guitar recalls those special moments he is capable of creating.  It’s easily the strongest song on the record.

All in all this is a decent offering from one of punk’s great voices.  It would be nice to seem take a few more leaps towards a direct country approach, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.  One can’t be too disappointed to have this set of songs to add to their collection.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/02-conceptual-paths.mp3]

Download: Tom Gabel – Conceptual Paths [MP3]

Dirty on Purpose Call it Quits

Brooklyn band Dirty on Purpose have quietly been one of those great bands that filled my heart with joy.  Their combination of noise and warm pop won me over every single time.  Sadly, the band has decided to call it quits, playing their last show this New Year’s Eve in New York City.  You can download a few of their amazing tracks, as well as their final EP, by visiting RCRDLBL. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/01-audience-1.mp3]

Download: Dirty on Purpose – Audience [MP3]

The Theater Fire – Matter and Light

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Theater Fire are one of Texas’ best-kept secrets, nestled in the neighborhoods of Ft. Worth.  They first entered our musical consciousness with their self-titled debut, which attached folk and indie maneuvers to casual Americana.

Their third album, Matter and Light, hits stores nationwide this month, but those in Texas can already get their hand on it by traveling to your favorite independent record store. You will find that this album is a much grander affair, pushing the band in a much more complex direction.

To be fair, it sound strikingly like the final Beulah album, Yoko, only done with a country-tinged personality.  The opening musical number, “It’s All the Same” jumps in with a pounding rhythm backed by horns and piano; it’s a whirling-dervish affair, painted with crystal clear lyrics that come out like one of your best friend’s cousins from Beaumont.  They follow up with “Uncle Wayne,” which goes back to a more straightforward country approach.  It’s guitar matched by percussion and banjo elements, but with a different singer than the first track.  Here, you can definitely understand the David Berman quality to the band.

At this point in the album, the mission of the band is entirely clear, even though you are only two songs in to your listening experience.  The band has continued to push themselves, filling in empty musical space with various forms of percussion or other multi-instrumental elements.  In filling out such empty spaces, it makes the band sound more complete than ever, which is to their benefit.

A particularly interesting moment comes in the middle of the album when the band pays homage to one of our late-great heroes, Elliot Smith. They do a full-on instrumental jam of Elliot’s “Say Yes” that focuses primarily on the songwriter’s ability to create timeless melodies, much as this song does.

They close out the album with “It’s a Secret.”  The brooding quality of this song accompanies the sparse lyrical composition, as a lover or a friend attempts to reveal a secret.  It’s the perfect song for this band, as it plays to all their best traits; using dense vocals that correlate with the large-scale sounds the band have adopted. It’s the perfect ending to a strong album.

FT5: Disappointing Albums Of 2008

In 2008 we saw all kinds of releases across the board. Noise-pop seemed to be a pretty big deal, as did lo-fi production. But when preparing for our year-end lists, we came across the conundrum of deciding the biggest disappointments in 2008. Today’s Friday Top 5 is full of albums that our staff really looked forward to listening to when they were released, but instead fled in fear as to what our ears had just heard. List is after the jump

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The Lodger – Life Is Sweet

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Leeds band The Lodger released this album in May of this year, but Life Is Sweet has been taking its time to get completely acquainted with those of us on American soil.  Surely you will find tragedy in that, for this record is precisely the type of album that made British music a mainstay in U.S. college radio throughout the 90s.

This album opens up with “My Finest Hour,” which is a piano-laden song, gently sweeping along.  It floats somewhere in the world of Belle and Sebastian until the chorus brings in pounding piano and a quickened pace with the vocals.

Moments later you’re treated to the best song on the album, not that the rest aren’t here for your enjoyment.  It’s a foot-stomper of a song, with guitar work similar to that of Franz Ferdinand, but with a more pop-driven vocal.  “The Good Old Days” is sure to get you moving, no matter what your into.  It’s the perfect blend of upbeat indie rock and modern pop music.

The more you listen to the album, the more the infectious melodies lodge themselves inside your brain.  It’s similar to the first time you threw on a Smiths LP or even Orange Juice.  It isn’t anything that will go down as the most creative music of all time, but it’s the fact that the band has honed their skills to perfection; they get the most potential out of every single song on the album.

You could drop the name of pretty much every seminal Brit-pop band from the early eighties on when describing this band, but despite their shared commonalities with their influences, The Lodger is able to go beyond those same sounds; they create a sound entirely their own.  Surely this deserves our notice over here in the United States, as we can only hope that we get more guitar-pop from our distant cousins rather than the same re-hashed dance music time and time again.

Los Campesinos – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Two records in one year is a highly ambitious goal from anyone, but the majority of the songs released on the debut full length from Los Campesinos, Hold On Now Youngster, has been lying around for a few years.  Still, the band aimed to keep the pace with their angular jangling pop, releasing We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, in the last week.

Everything about this band just screams sheer fun. The guitars pummeling your ears as the gang vocals ebb and flow throughout each song, and you find that your hooked immediately.  Their flirtation with nonsensical lyrics makes code deciphering something all of us can enjoy.  It’s energetic, and they never let up, not for a second.

Trading male and female vocals is always a perfect way to gather fans quickly, be it a band like Comet Gain or a group like Mates of State.  The dynamic quality of such songwriting always makes it interesting for any listener, and lets face it, with so many bands putting out decent albums nowadays, it’s hard to find one that perfectly distinguishes itself from the masses.  Yet again, Los Campesinos are standing out in the crowd.

A lot of credit gets thrown around for vibrant young bands, chasing the teenage underclass with energy-packed singles.  Bands like Ra Ra Riot or Tokyo Police Club most recently come to mind, but Los Campesinos stand above the rest.  Their guitars always seem to be combatting one another, as if the war to write a pop song could only be one.  Aforementioned vocals dynamics prevail, mixing it up around any corner, just for kicks.

Take title track, “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” for instance. It opens up with a killer percussion line powered on by a little synthesizer, just before the rest of the band comes in for the attack.  Swelling guitars pulsate, up and down, then make a splash, hinting at the chorus.  Throw in a set of gang vocals, and you have a perfectly juvenile song written for adults.

Sure, the band is not breaking newer ground here with this album.  In fact, you’ll find that a lot of the sounds appear strikingly similar to previous works put out by the band this year.  Still, listening to an album like this reminds you of what fun we can all have if we just let it all loose once in awhile, taking in everything for the sake of fun.

Love is All – A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Last time round, this Swedish outfit brought us cleverly crafted pop tunes that wrapped themselves tidily inside walls of noise and shaky vocals from front-woman Josephine Olausson; this time around, we pretty much get the same thing, but in an appealing manner.

A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night starts off with “New Beginnings,” and that fresh starts is filled with horn blasts and driving guitar lines.  It’s a rapid kick-start to the listener; it’s a call to arms of sorts.  Midway through the song, the trading of male/female vocals is done up to perfection, creating delicious moments of joy.

One of the most impressive things about Love is All is that the band is still able to incorporate the usage of hors in a way that compliments the songs.  Each song is filled in with this delicate tough, which allows for the swirling of listeners to evolve a little more sporadically.  It’s one of the things that this band does to near perfection.

Along the way the band puts two of the better tracks next to each other, strengthening the middle of the album.  “Sea Sick” seems to be an escapist song, as the protagonist in the song wants escape the mundane, screaming “I’m bored to death, I’m bored of this shit.”  It’s juxtaposed to one of the best songs of the year, “Wishing Well.”  The playfulness expressed in the lyrics, and the aesthetic quality of the song create instantaneous joy.  Not to mention, this definitely has to be one of those songs that makes the audience bounce as they scream along to the chorus in unison with the band.

Suddenly, you get a slow-burner, as “When Giants Fall” comes across the stereo.  The band leaves plenty of room for feedback and dense group harmonies that echo in the background of the song.  Something about this song has a haunting quality to it, sort of like a gospel version of early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Then “Rumours” brings the pace right back for you.  Swing those hips kids.  Slow it down; now right back to it.

Possible detractors do exist in this album, like the fact that you still can’t tell exactly how much you would enjoy Josephine’s voice in a live setting.  Or, some of the atmospheric elements added for textural purposes, such as the male spoken vocals in the background of “19 Floors” get a bit grating.  Other than that, you’ll find that this album is every bit as exciting as the first one, some of it exceeding it’s forbearer.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Sunday at Devil Dirt

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Despite it’s abilities to work, this still remains one of the strangest duos that has come to light. You could see Jagger and Bowie, but Lanegan and Campbell? Still, two albums in, they are perfecting their devilish-folk musings on Sunday at Devil Dirt.

As per usual, Mark Lanegan, former Screaming Trees singer, takes the lead vocals on this entire album, coating every single song in his whiskey-drenched Southern drawl, coming off like a less-carnivalesque Tom Waits. His voice is fitting for David Lynch screenplays, and yet he matches it with the sweetness of Isobel Campbell.

Most of the musical arrangements on the album come from Campbell, who continues to contrast her traditional role as queen of twee by creating brooding folks songs; each song is carefully constructed with equal part haunting orchestration and guitar picking. It’s this match of sounds that provides for a demonically sultry soundscape throughout.

Most of the time, Isobel doesn’t really make an appearance on the album, at least not as the focal point, which is disappointing, as her voice was one of the most memorable of the late 90s. Still, she does have some stand out moments, which make the tracks stand out from the rest. Her vocal bombast during the chorus of “The Raven” provides the perfect counter-balance to Lanegan. Similarly, the duo trade vocals on “Who Built the Road,” which demonstrates the unique harmony shared between these two juxtaposed musical characters.

One of the more endearing tracks, meaning one of the most upbeat–spiritually speaking, is “Keep Me in Mind Sweethear.” It’s a short number, but even Lanegan makes the longing sound natural, and not nearly as dark has his typical outing on this album. Oddly, at this point in the album, you can feel the lighter side of things shining through, which is ironic since it all comes at the end of the album, but it encourages you to look forward, and move on.

Overall, this is just another example of the dynamic shared between two great voices in independent music. It comes just in time for the cold weather to encourage whiskey drinking and story telling among friends; may your holidays come off something like this album.

Belle and Sebastian – BBC Sessions

Rating: ★★★½ ·

It’s difficult to rate a release of a band which has achieved adoration throughout the independent music world, especially when that release consists of various John Peel Sessions and a live recording in Belfast.  However, the gauntlet has been layed down, thus the rating has been thrown out.

The compilations is made up of multiple discs, the first being the BBC Sessions alluded to in the title of the release.  Now, Belle and Sebastian has always been a quiet band, especially if you listen to the mix of Tigermilk or If You’re Feeling Sinister, but on this disc you will find many of the classic songs from that era, such as “Judy and The Dream of Horses.”  A lot of these songs haven’t really changed much from the original recordings, in fact, they stay exactly the same as the first time they came out of your speakers.  Still, the quality of the recording is exceptional here, perhaps even better than the original recordings, so there is something to take away.

Overall, the first disc is a reminder of the band’s distant past, as the presence of Isobel Campbell is no more.  Listeners will find beauty in the intro of “The Magic of a Kind Word,” but those sorts of reminders only show how far the band has come.  Favorites still sound wonderful, such as “Sleep the Clock Around” and “Seymour Stein.”  It’s a pleasant reminder, but the lack of variance leaves much to be desired for the most die-hard of fans.

Disc two is a live album, recorded in Belfast, which is right near Holywood, in 2001.  It’s got a decent offering of songs, though they don’t really meander far from various other live recordings that have been thrown around for years.  There are some pleasant surprises that come from the band’s past, like their covers of “Here Comes the Sun” and “I’m Waiting for the Man.”  It’s a pleasant reminder of the youthfulness the band has maintained, always dancing the night away in your bedroom speakers.   It also demonstrates the leaps and bounds the group has made in more recent live performances.

In the end, its a very decent offering of music for those who are in love with Belle and Sebastian. For those who haven’t steeped themselves in the history of the band, or are completely oblivious to their existence, they might find some value here, but all true fans know that there are much greater starting points to the history of one of the greatest bands in modern history.

Frantic Clam – Celebrity EP

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Local Austin band Frantic Clam originally joined forces while serving in the armed forces in Iraq.  The two founding members, Zack and Joe,  spent their spare time crafting simple tunes.  Celebrity is the band’s first EP, but a full length album is scheduled for release this Winter.

Opening track “Mary Elizabeth Winstead” is definitely rooted in a Southern soul sort of vibe, as the guitar work is really gritty.  The vocals are reminiscent of a Issac Brock being raised in the Deep South, with backing vocals added to fill in some the empty space in the song.

They wander off to “Everything is Perfect,” which is probably the best song on the album.  The vocals at the beginning are really crisp, which packs a stronger punch than some of the fuzzier recording that comes along later.  It’s a gentler approach to their songwriting; an attribute the band should consider employing full time.

“Richard Cory” is another mellow number at track 3.  A slower pace allows the band to focus on the melodies here, and this ends up demonstrating the band’s abilities to intertwine hooks with their space infused Southern rock sound. Similarly, “Amnesty” is filled with space keyboards and lyrics battling the mundane world, along with mundane problems.  It comes off like an old Grandaddy b-side.

They close the album with samples of Oz, as they finish with “The Emerald City.” It’s a song that exhibits a bit of funk, as if the band smashed into Stereolab all of a sudden.  It is another sound that demonstrates the possibilities the future holds for this band.  Keep an eye on this group, as I’m sure we’ll hear more of them in the future.

Speaking of hearing more, the band has a gig on December 12th at Hole in the Wall, so go check it out; keep it local.

You can also check out single from the album Richard Cory elsewhere on our site.

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