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]

A2W: Yellow Fever

yellowAt the end of the year, we had a hard time keeping our heads above water, trying to grasp our end of the year lists and what not.  In doing so, we missed the chance to alert you to the duo that is Yellow Fever.  Sure, they’ve been running around Austin for several years, but recently, they’ve seen their star rising in their musical horoscope.  Vivian Girls opted to release the groups self-titled debut album on their label Wild World.  It’s an album full of simple ditty’s a la early K Records groups such as the Beat Happening, but instead of Calvin as the front man, you have the wonderful Jennifer Moore.  It’s got enough hooks to grab the casual listener, and enough depth to instill true adoration from Austin fans. You’ll want to keep an eye on this group in 2010, especially on February 19th when they take the stage with Chain and the Gang and The Strange Boys.  Sounds like a line-up of classic indie rock, and by that, I mean the stuff pre-Pitchfork. Do yourself a favor and head on out to grab a copy of Yellow Fever so you’ll know all the songs in time for the show.

Surfer Blood – Astrocoast

surfer blood

Rating: ★★★★½

Over the last year, people have been suggesting that Surfer Blood might be the biggest band we hadn’t come across, leaving the band in the spot for breakthrough artist of 2010.  On Astrocoast, they live up to the hype, and in most cases, they far surpass what expectations we all had, creating one of the most colorful, yet playful, debuts we’ve come across in quite some time.

One would be hard pressed to pigeonhole this band at all, as they seemingly bounce from one spot to another throughout this 10 song debut.  For this listener, it sounds as if someone is channeling a Floridian soulmate of James Mercer of Shins fame.  There is something in the pitch in songs like “Floating Vibes” or especially in “Twin Peaks.” It’s not just the delivery of the lyrics, or the way the melody is approached, but it really feels as if the spirit of Mercer lies in there somewhere. “Twin Peaks,” by the way, is one ridiculously good song; you can listen to it on repeat, as I did, and never grow tired of it.

“Swim,” the album’s second track is such a bright moment that you can’t help but be won over by the fervent approach to bringing about swelling guitar waves and vocals that seem to echo through the room of your favorite local venue.  It’s this feeling of rawness that doesn’t seem forced, or steeped in some historical infatuation with bands of days gone by, though undoubtedly it does come from such moments.

“Take It Easy” comes like a close cousin to many of the songs of New York new wonders The Drums. Both bands have a club appeal that still seems rooted in the hallowed grounds of surf rock.  Like those New Yorkers, there is a certain vibrance to the writing itself, which moves it beyond pastiche, bringing a refreshing approach.  At this point, three songs in, the band should have completely won you over.

Near the end of the record, the boys slow it town just a hint, but the jangling of their guitars brings to mind a great deal of the work that came out of the Flying Nun label of New Zealand.  Perhaps the band is unaware of this, but that’s a sure-fire way to get straight into my heart, which allows me to look beyond the fact that the two 6 minute jams at the end, “Slow Jabroni” and “Anchorage” lag a little bit as far as pace goes.  Using time, these songs unfold into powerful pieces all their own.

All in all, this a sparkling debut from a band we know little about.  It’s full of playful tunes, whimsical lyrics, and load upon load of melodic hooks driving straight for your ears, and your heart. It’s refreshing to hear such a solid album arise beyond the hype, and fulfill on all the promise, which is precisely what Astrocoast does.  Based on this, Surfer Blood surely will be the breakout band we all heard they would be, and its deservedly so.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/02-Swim.mp3]

Download: Surfer Blood – Swim [MP3]

Spoon – Transference

SpoonCover

Rating: ★★★★ ·

A few years back, Spoon created a pop masterpiece when they put out Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (is that enough Gas?).  They return here with Transference, a record that may not be as easily accessible as their previous effort, but one that seemingly feels more rewarding than its predecessor.  Where Ga Ga Ga hit you in the face quick, Transference takes time to unfold before you, often upon repeated listens.

As the hazy organ work grinds over the opening moments of the album, you can tell that the tendency to rely upon hooks is gone.  Still, when you hear the audio switch from having Britt in another room, to having him right in your ear, you can tell that hooks aren’t required to reveal the power in this record.  It’s a dense tune, but it feels more like the reworking of tracks off Kill the Moonlight.

A lot of listeners will wonder where the catchy numbers have gone, as this record feels striped down and dirty by the time you get through the first three songs.  Then you come across “Who Makes Your Money.”  Initially, I couldn’t understand this song in the spectrum of the Spoon catalogue, but the more I listened to the record, the playfulness with which Britt approaches the vocals is so rewarding in time that it’s hard not to see this as one of the album’s stronger moments, which says a lot considering how simple it feels.

Oddly, the slow burner that is Transference is just picking up the pace.  “Written in Reverse” makes waves as it did upon its release as the single months back.  You combine that with the grittiness of “I Saw the Light,” and you can’t help but feel as if Spoon are finally hitting full stride midway through the album, preparing to carry you into bliss.  Such is the moment when you arrive at the brightest moments on the record, with “Terrible” and “Goodnight Laura.”

“Terrible” has the lo-fi appeal that everyone seems to crave in their musical coffee, yet it maintains the clever layering that Spoon has always held on to in their songwriting.  As the song barrels along, you can feel the classic moments of the band’s history come back into the present.  Then you stumble upon “Goodnight Laura,” which has to be my hand’s down favorite song on the album.  It reminds me of “Black Like Me” of Ga Ga Ga in its ability to evoke the utmost emotion from the listener, except it utilizes a piano as opposed to the use of guitar. Yet the hits don’t stop coming right here.

Transference fades into its closing moments filled with tunes like “Got Nuffin,” a song you already should have heard by the group, and “Nobody Gets Me But You.”  Neither of these songs feels completely polished, unlike the last album, so it maintains the quality that was established at the beginning. It has that sense of trial and error, though they clearly care less about the errors, choosing to leave them as part of the complete portrait they intended to create.

In closing, a lot of people just don’t get Spoon. They’ll claim that the band lack some sort of killer instinct, or that they chose to produced the album themselves, but let’s not forget they have Jim Eno and Britt Daniels, both who have produced records of brilliance in their own right (White Rabbits anyone?).  At the end of the day, the more you listen to this album the more you will get out of it, as it unravels bit by bit, leaving you with such a wonderful record that you’ll have to look hard to find faults.  It reaffirms that Spoon is one of (if not the only) the most consistent bands around, and Transference just adds to their list of quality records.

New Tunes from JJ

jjphotoOur friends over at GvsB alerted us to a new tune that will be coming out on JJ‘s new album JJ n° 3, which hits stores March 9th via Secretly Canadian. Based on the adoration by all the blogs last year, this should be an album you’ll want to check out.  I can’t help but feel as if the harmonica changes their dynamic on this tune, but in a good way, I assure you.  Grab a listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/03-let-go.mp3]

Download: JJ – Let Go [MP3]

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