Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

Rating: ★★★★½

How does one truly classify a band like Animal Collective?  Let alone, how does one place a name on something that is easily unidentifiable?  You can’t, which has often led to praise for this band, as many love that which we don’t completely understand, yet sounds so beautiful.  Merriweather Post Pavillion is the first Animal Collective album that fully reaches beyond and into the masses.

From the get go, the band quickly falls into their typical IDM driven pop music. However, from the first entry on this album, there is a certain clarity to the vocals.  Animal Collective obviously has pushed beyond their own borders, grasping onto the vocal element with a clearer sense of purpose than before.  It’s a breath of fresh air, with a presence all it’s own.

This oddity in styling is reemphasized by the band choosing to also stay a little closer to the mainstream with the lyrical content.  Not only do the vocals sound better, but the lyrics aren’t coated in outsider allusions.  Oddly, this is the closest the band has come to writing meaningful lyrics that will translate to the laymen.  Don’t fret though, the band still primarily seems to use the vocal as an instrument in itself, as lyrics repeat time and time again.  This is where many people will find the Brian Wilson comparison obvious, though they’ve clearly expanded with spending time writing lyrics.

Many will claim that the album closer “Brothersport,” which caused loads of Internet controversy with its leak is the most accessible of the songs present here.  It would be hard to argue that all songs are not accessible this time round, but also consider “Summertime Clothes” as another popular ditty as the mini-chorus of “I want to walk around with you” dances along.

While this may be the first complete album the band has put out, there are always going to be detractors to an album by this group.  Occasionally, the band repeats itself too often, making the listener lose focus in the progression of the song.  It goes on a bit long, and many will get detached as they listen.  In all likelihood this album will be best on vinyl, listened to one side at a time. This is fortunate for all us fans because the band releases the vinyl version on January 6th, while Domino Records will release the CD version on January 20th.

As usual, the band has the knack to suspend listeners in a pop-induced trance, as rhythms steadily pound in your ears, accompanied by the vocal as an instrument.  It’s difficult to predict how some will react, but most can admit that there are many beautiful moments created by clever crafts of Animal Collective.

Glasvegas – s/t

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Glasvegas is the newest Scottish band to hit the United States, and they are expected to make big waves on our shores. Their debut self-titled album has been floating around the Internet for months, but it finally hits records stores here this week.

From the moment that the first song actually kicks in, a minute or so into the song, you hear one of the staples of this band, as they surround the entirety of their songs in swirling atmospherics, coating the songs in a certain denseness that adds layers of emotion to their songs.

Immediately following the introductory song comes one of the better singles from 2008, “Geraldine.” The percussion drives this song perfectly, pounding in your ears as angular guitars cut the landscape or the rest of the album. This is a song you’ll want on all mix tapes you make this year; it’s just a perfect song.

The band doesn’t let up here, as the next five songs are all uniquely wonderful. The crashing chorus of “It’s My Own Cheating Heart” is definitely one of the joys of this little intercession, as cymbals crash in your ears and guitar blasts encourage a little light head-banging. This middle section is the highlight of the record, as the songs never seem to stagnate or come off as copies of the previous tunes. It all ends with the great “Daddy’s Gone.” This is a slower number, but one that showcases the bands capabilities as true songwriters.

Then the band winds the rest of the album down, a little too slowly. The pounding drums and atmospherics dissipate, settling into the softer side of things for the ending. It leaves listeners to contemplate the two weaker elements of the album. One, the lyrics are ridiculous at points.  “You are my sunshine/My only sunshine,” is actually used as a lyric?  It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek, but some people will be turned off by it. Also, while the vocals are definitely interesting due to vocal inflection, the Scottish tones will eventually wear you out, as you struggle to understand the spoken word at points.

Still, at the end of the album, most will be pleased with the outcome. They will see promise in a the new young band, and we can expect a big year from Glasvegas.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/07-daddys-gone.mp3]

Download: Glasvegas – Daddys Gone [MP3]

New Tunes from Diego

German band Diego has just released their album overseas, and I’m not quite sure if it will ever make it to our shores. That is quite a disappointment, as this band is one of the more enjoyable listens that has come across my ears this week. It’s part Editors, part Ian CurtisWait, aren’t those the same thing? 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/02-fan-city2.mp3]

Download: Diego – Fan City [MP3]

All American Rejects – When the World…

Rating: ★★★½ ·

The All-American Rejects have been playing their pop-punk stylings for years, perfecting their formula as best they know how. Their last effort brought mainstream hits with “Move Along” and “It Ends Tonight,” both scoring huge hits for the masses. This time around, on When the World Comes Down, the band steps a little aside from their formula, growing a bit in the process.

Of course, the band has a few hits on the way with this album, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.  Album opener “I Wanna” is one of the stronger upbeat songs on this record, with the focus resting on Tyson Ritter’s voice just before the rest of the band joins in for the fun.  Everyone, regardless of where you stand on pop music, can appreciate the strength in the chorus, though its lyrics might be a little hollow.

Skip ahead a few tracks and you will find the first single from the album, already climbing the charts: “Gives You Hell.”  Surprisingly, this song doesn’t rest on the bands combination of solid percussion and guitar-monies, instead putting the focus crisp percussion.  This is a song that will probably stay around for months and months, in all arenas.

But, they follow all this up with “Mona Lisa,” which is a slower number than the first minutes of this album have to offer.  Acoustic guitars and Ritter’s voice are the perfect match here, creating one of the more surprising moments on the album.  It also boasts of being the song with the best set of lyrics here.

The album is filled with tunes familiar to AAR fans, although they might be a little more subdued on this effort.  You can still find really strong guitar work, regardless of what you’re into these days.  A newer touch is the usage of extemporaneous atmospherics to fill out some of the space on this album.  It shows a bit of maturity for the group.

Those of you interested in this album will surely find lots that you love here, while those who do not will leave this album be.  Nonetheless, it’s another solid performance from a group who knows exactly what they are doing, and seems to have a lot of fun doing it. Let’s have some fun with them.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/the_all_american_rejects_-_gives_you_hell.mp3]

Download: All American Rejects – Gives You Hell [MP3]

Envelopes – Here Comes the Wind

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Envelopes is a little known band from France, so little known that no one wants to release their record in the United States besides iTunes. However, their second full length, Here Comes the Wind, is definitely one of the more complete releases of 2008.

If one was to label the band’s sound, you would be pretty close if you threw it under the genre of jangle pop. The melodies are bubbling full of brightness, making the joy of the songs immediately accessible for listeners. Throughout the album, the band presents you with hook after hook, encouraging you to bob your head in shear ecstasy.

Vocally, they combine male and female vocals, as if they were trading roles. At times, the vocals recall Frank Black’s Pixies yelp, but at other moments it’s the croon of David Byrne they seem to be evoking. Despite reference points, they seem to mix it up enough to keep you interested, as no song sounds exactly the same, which is what most of us seem to enjoy.

Lyrically, the band has never been one to provide the deepest meaning in their songs, which we could blame on the fact that the band is working with a second language. Still, the lyrics are easily distinguishable, which allows listeners to hold onto certain songs, and sing them loud for all of your friends.

Most noticeably, you can feel a true influence of the Pixies. The bass lines sound as if the band jumped Kim Deal and stole her stylings. Angular guitars crash into each other, creating waves of beauty. But, at the core of it all is a true pop sensibility, free of the darker elements that went with their immediate influences.

This album is wonderful through and through. It won’t wear you out after hundreds of spins, and each time you put it on, you seem to get more out of it. A complete album is a rarity nowadays, so head on over to iTunes and pick this one up before your friends get hip.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/10-03-heaven.mp3]

Download:  Envelopes-Heaven [MP3]

Albums Of The Year: 30-16

The year of 2008 is winding to a close, so it’s only appropriate that we wrap it up with our year-end albums list. We don’t expect many to necessarily agree with our list, but we worked really hard to make sure we had what we thought were the best thirty albums of the year. These are the records that spun over and over again in our heads and stereos, so this list is dedicated to their longevity in 2008.  We’ve conveniently broken it down into two segments, with albums 30-16 after the jump. Read more

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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