New Tunes from Twin Shadow

twin-shadowThe story goes that George Lewis Jr. had been struggling with writer’s block until he began to wonder the streets of Berlin.  It seems at this point he came to the decision to record some sublime electro-pop tunes that will soon be released by Grizzly Bear‘s Chris Taylor’s Terrible Records.  He’s got some 7 inches coming your way in the Spring, and based on this track, you’re going to love Twin Shadow.  It recalls a touch of TV on the Radio for me, but hey, that’s just me.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Twin-Shadow-Yellow-Balloon.mp3]

Download: Twin Shadow – Yellow Balloon [MP3]

Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

romance-is-boring

Rating: ★★½ · ·

Just looking at the blood dripping down the leg of the cover of Romance is Boring, and you can tell that there is a dark shift in the writing of Los Campesinos!. Long have they been a band of rapturous joy and sheer energy, but as we grow older, ultimately our views begin to shift.  This is a record of changing winds; it is a band looking in new directions.

On “A Heat Rash…” you can immediately tell that the band, while retaining some of their trademark sounds, has switched gears, albeit just slightly.  Musically, there is still an overall feeling of joy amidst Gareth’s lyrics, but the fervent energy seems somewhat absent here.  It seems that the urgency of the band has dissipated with the times.

Yes, you will find the traditional Los Campesinos! tracks filled with possibly too much noise for one listener; you’ll find those songs that encourage you to scream atop your lungs with the band, such as “This is a Flag. There is No Wind” or “Straight in at 101.”  These songs bring energy to the group, reminding you of the band’s original sound, but overall, such rambunctious moments are few and far between here, which may be disheartening to long-time fans of the group.

Instead, you’ll stumble across slow movers like “Coda: A Burn Scar in the Shape of the Sooner State.”  While Gareth’s vocals are coated in minor distortion, the group itself recalls a gloomier version of I’m From Barcelona.  Multiple instruments come in and out with the song fading away into walls of feedback.  This isn’t the only tune that demonstrates a more solemn side of the band. “In Media Res” messes with the song structure that the LC has often employed, using quiet moments back to back with louder constructive moments within the song.  It’s not a slow number, but it definitely doesn’t have the pace of previous efforts.

When you hit across the record’s title track, “Romance is Boring,” for some reason, the album seems kind of muddled.  It’s as if the group set out with one thing in mind, yet they were unable to deliver upon their ideas, or at least they weren’t comfortable straying too far away from their comfort zone.  It’s filled with noise, a la the usual LC stuff, but experimenting with feedback and distortion gets a bit annoying at times.  And if you ask me (which you didn’t) the gang vocals by album three are getting a little bit tiresome, as are Gareth’s lyrics.  What once seemed clever, now seems a bit banal.

For some reason, it seems as if the group just came across a bunch of old alternative records, and they decided that loud frequencies would be rewarding for their live sound, which is quite possible, though it doesn’t translate to the album.  “I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed So You Know,” the closing track, just seems like a bunch of children messing around in their garage.  And wait until you hear the metal moments on “I Warned You Do Not Make an Enemy of Me.”  Did they really put those guitars in there?

By the end of Romance is Boring, it seems that Los Campesinos! have finally warn their listeners down.  They don’t seem nearly as cohesive as they once did, which encourages a lot of the noisier moments to come across in quite an amateur fashion.  It’s loud and boisterous, but it’s too much so at times.  It seems that the band has split their personalities on this, leaving them stuck in the middle somewhere.  It makes for an uneven album, one that doesn’t do the group as much justice as you hoped it would. It’s not nearly as fun as the group CAN be, and not nearly as dark as they seem to want to be.  Expect the next album to make a decision for us and them.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/The-Sea-Is-A-Good-Place-To-Think-Of-The-Future.mp3]

Download: Los Campesinos! – The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future [MP3]

Jonathan Richman in Austin (1/25-1/28)

JonHonLet’s face it, if you don’t know who Jonathan Richman is, odds are you’ve been living under a rock.  His influence is all over the place, from Art Brut to Jeremy Jay.  After breaking up The Modern Lovers, Jonathan went solo, which is how we’ll find him this week as he hits Austin for four nights in a row.  You should catch one of these shows for sure.

1/25 – Cactus Cafe – 8:30 PM

1/26 – Cactus Cafe – 8:30 PM

1/27 – Continental Club – 8 PM – $10

1/28 – Continental Club – 12 AM – $10

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Jonathan-Richman-Our-Dog-Is-Getting-Older-Now.mp3]

Download: Jonathan Richman – Our Dog Is Getting Older Now [MP3]

New Tunes from The Mynabirds

lbIt’s been awhile since we heard anything from the other half of our favorites Georgie James, but finally, Laura Burhenn is back.  She’s got a new group called The Mynabirds who will be releasing their debut album, What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood, on April 27th on Saddle Creek Records.  We’ve got a sample track for you to get to know the band.  If you ask me, it sort of sounds like Rilo Kiley if they were out to have a ball.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/TheMynabirds_NumbersDontLie.mp3]

Download: The Mynabirds- Numbers Dont Lie [MP3]

New Tunes from Parenthetical Girls

girlsNews began to circulate Friday that Parenthetical Girls will be releasing a five part series of 12″ starting on February 23rd.  Seems like a fairly large undertaking, which will eventually all fit together like a proper album, but regardless, the first song off the series is ridiculously good.  I had it on repeat for a better part of this weekend, so we wanted to bring it your way.  If you like it, it comes on the first installment of the series, On Death & Endearment.  Buen provecho.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Evelyn-McHale-1.mp3]

Download: Parenthetical Girls – Evelyn Mchale [MP3]

Beach House – Teen Dream

beach-house_teen-dream

Rating: ★★★½ ·

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t quite gotten on the Beach House bandwagon. In the past, their dreamy bedroom pop has just seemed far too dull for me to ever fully absorb; I’ll admit that’s a fault of my own and not the music.  Yet listening to Teen Dream, something else unfolds.  There isn’t some grand gesture that comes out of nowhere; it’s just that the logical progression of the group has finally caught up with my own personal tastes.

From the opening moments that the guitar comes into play on “Zebra” I found myself captivated immediately.  Gentle “ahhhs” in the background create a perfect introduction to the song, allowing for the vocals to carry the song the rest of the way.  Sure, it’s not the most moving song in the world, but it holds the listener with an emotional appeal, one that is only heightened by the percussion that comes in near the end of the song.

When you come upon “Norway,” it’s obvious why this would come out as the single for the record.  Electronic maneuvers bring life to the album, although it’s odd that those little flourishes seem somewhat out of tune (anyone else?).  The “ay ay aay” of the chorus is playful in the manner that it strings out the mono-syllabic moments into perfect resonant melodies.  This song is backed up by “Walk in the Park,” which seems a lot like a Papercuts track.  Programmed percussion atop those echo-y vocals builds the perfect cascading pop moment, which shows that the band, though often stuck in one place, can evoke quite a bit of emotion.

“Better Times” wears the influence, seemingly, of Chairlift, using electronic structures to build the backbone of the song wile waiting for the rest of the song’s sound to come together.  Vocals definitely carry this song, and you can tell that the focus on achieving the perfect tonality definitely aids the tune as a whole.  It’s at this point where you start to see the past and the present finally start gel, bringing the best moments out of the duo, especially when the quickened vocal delivery starts in with about two minutes remaining.

Coming into the last song, it honestly is hard to find a throwaway track.  All the songs on the album work cohesively, and finally the music seems to have shown some movement overall. “Take Care” captures all the little moments from the album, throwing them together in Teen Dream‘s final chapter.  Yet, there are some moments here that illustrate the one detractor I still have in listening to Beach House.  Near the three minute mark the percussion could easily pick up, or let loose, yet the band restrains itself.  In doing so, they lose the propensity for sending the listeners off on an ultimate high note of euphoric musical waves, instead leaving them to rest precisely where the album began.

In conclusion, Teen Dream is a really good record, one that all Beach House fans will surely fall in love with after purchase.  For  those like myself, who largely ignored the band(though I’ve seen them three times), this might be the record that forces you to go back and look a little closer at the group’s catalog.  Personally, I still find that they don’t take enough musical risks, choosing to hold back when I’d like to see them let go a little bit, but that’s just my preference.  For the rest of you, you’ll find that this record is more than just one to go to sleep with at night; it’s an album to be played at all times, which is really all you can ask for from Beach House. Move over folks, I’m ready to jump on the wagon now.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Beach-House-Norway.mp3]

Download: Beach House – Norway [MP3]

The Magnetic Fields – Realism

fields

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When The Magnetic Fields last put some tracks down on tape with Distortion, we saw the band with a wash of feedback and, well, distortion.  They return, however, with Realism, a record with cleaner production, purposefully, and one that allows the minimalist chamber pop group to open up their doors once again to the more enchanting orchestration of mastermind Stephin Merritt.

Choosing to open the album with “You Must Be Losing Your Mind” is an appropriate choice for the group, as it reflects the traditional songwriting structure that the band used to win over so man fans with 69 Love Songs. Combining the low-end vocals of Merritt with Claudia Gonson creates a sublime juxtaposition.  Musically, it also goes back a bit, which will immediately remind avid fans, and new listeners, how great the band can be when they’re at their best.

By the third song, you find the group at their most playful during “We Are Having a Hootenanny.”  Well, lyrically, its extremely playful, especially with the buzz Merritt attaches to words ending in “s” or “z.”  For some listeners, this will be the precise moment when they get lost in the joy that is the listening experience of having The Magnetic Fields on repeat. Sure, the lyrics aren’t something that will shake you to your core, but the wit used with the rhyme schemes, as well as supplying bountiful oddities, always creates a pleasurable listen.

“Walk a Lonely Road” and “I Don’t Know What to Say” are those perfect pop moments that we all appreciate in Merritt.  You find him low in the vocal range, barely above the level of the music itself, which makes you listen even more closely.  Gentle strumming of the ukulele, or one of its cousins, in these songs consistently resembles some sort of medieval folk tune, which is perhaps why they get lumped into the chamber pop group.  Still, for me, there is always something magical in those moments, as if I’m listening to something that I feel doesn’t fit into my everyday listening, yet it only makes me adore it even more. If you listen to “Seduced and Abandoned,” and do not feel yourself immediately transported back to the times of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms then perhaps you’re not listening close enough.

Yet, the one thing that keeps this album from rising to the top of the band’s overall catalog, which in all honesty is near perfect.  There seems to be a lacking in creativity that was present early on in the album, despite having “The Dada Polka” near the record’s end. For some reason, you feel as if the earlier passion and creativity sort of ran out near the end of recording; it loses the cohesiveness of the album as a whole. Still, there is the saving grace in “From a Sinking Boat.”

It’s strange, but the end of The Magnetic Fields‘ albums always has this one brilliant moment that inevitably brings you back to falling in love with the band. Once again, you find the cello entertaining the tinkering piano, while Merritt sings, barely audible above the instrumentation.  It’s a slow mover, yet it’s a bookend to the entire album. It closes with a bright moment, just as it began.  While the moments in between may not always be the band’s best, it’s hard to find something truly wrong with any of the songs in this collection; this is just another record to enjoy time and time again, as like all MF albums, Realism sort of feels timeless.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/01-You-Must-Be-Out-Of-Your-Mind.mp3]

Download: The Magnetic Fields – You Must Be Out Of Your Mind [MP3]

New Tunes from Turin Brakes

turinAs the year goes on and on, it seems like everybody is getting in on the releasing of albums.  Turin Brakes is the next group we’re excited about hearing from, especially because of this new acoustic pop number “Apocolips.”  It’s more tried and tested tunes performed and written by the duo.  You can find this album on their new album Outbursts, which comes out March 30th via Cooking Vinyl.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Apocolips1.mp3]

Download: Turin Brakes – Apocolips [MP3]

Eels – End Times

eels

Rating: ★★★★ ·

It seems like not too long ago that we last heard from Eels, which is correct, as Hombre Loco came out in 2009, but we find E here on this album a far different man than where we encountered him.  End Times, as the cover art suggests, shows a worn man living in isolation; he’s a man broken by love, or at least we can assume it is he, as E’s always been honest with us in his writing.

When the album opens with “In My Younger Days” you find a stripped down Everett, naked in front of his listener.  He paints a picture of the difficulties he’s encountered overcoming loneliness in old age, something he found far easier in his “younger days.”  The sparse instrumentation here is one huge difference from Hombre Loco, as you barely find a percussive element in the songwriting, except for the full-on country rocker, “Gone Man,” which aside from the lyrics, is one of the weaker songs on the record.

It’s clear throughout that E is reminiscing with us, as if he’s casually telling the story of love lost; it’s a story many listeners will soon turn to in their time of loneliness and strife.  “In the Beginning” tells of the honeymoon phase, where problems seem trivial, as you’re consumed by the romance of it all.  Unfortunately, the gruff vocals force the inevitable upon you, pushing you to see that in End Times things have clearly changed.

During “A Line in the Dirt” you find a couple at their worst moment, both afraid to be alone, yet knowing that the end will bring nothing but that very feeling.  It’s clear that neither character wants to be without the other, though they can’t find a way to make it work.  The juxtaposition with this song and “End Times” is perfect, as the story line reaches its climactic pinnacle.  The album’s title track draws the story to a close, at least the break-up itself, and there is no going back from here.

Throughout the album, you find a narrator who is putting himself on display for his audience, revealing himself during his hardest times.  It’s reminiscent of Sea Changes by Beck, where the songwriter meets with disillusionment and solitude, unwilling to accept his fate.  Yet, as the album comes to a close, we find E “On His Feet.”  He seems to have succumbed to the fact that the cyclical aspect of relationships coming and going is something we all must go through at some time or another.  While he may not have been willing to give into it easily, it seems at the end of the record, he’s accepted his faults in the destruction of his relationship, and he’s ready to be back on his feet again; he’s ready “to be alright.”

It’s hard to adequately describe the music in his album, as it comes far behind the role of the lyrical value, which is possibly one of the few faults you’ll find on End Times. The story is one that we can all relate to, which is perhaps why this seems to be an ultimately more personable record than Hombre Loco.  Let it be known that regardless of where life finds him, E knows his way around writing heartfelt tunes, and this album is chock full of them.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/EELS-Little-Bird.mp3]

Download: Eels – Little Bird [MP3]

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