The Thermals – Now We Can See

now

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Ever since they first released More Parts Per Million The Thermals have stuck pretty close to home as far as their sound goes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  On Now We Can See, the band’s fourth album, we finally get the benefit of listening to the culmination of years on the road and in the studio honing their skill.

Finally the band seems to have reached their apex as far as maturity goes, and it this is probably the most complete album the band has been able to put together.  Singer, Hutch, seems to have a great deal more control over his voice in comparison to years past, and the clarity with which he sings allows for the cleverly composed lyrics to shine through.  This has always been one of the band’s more overshadowed attributes, but those that have been listening all along will surely be aware of Hutch’s prowess as a wordsmith.

Much will be made about the somewhat gothic approach, as the lyrics tend to show narrators looking back upon life from the beyond; still, the focus seems to look back with a sense of nostalgic accomplishment.  The lyrics don’t seem to look back with a sense of resentment or disappointment, but rather reflect a coming to terms with the life one has led, which is probably the best way to approach such morbid subjects.

Of course, most listeners will immediately flock to to the infectious pop single of “Now We Can See” with it’s “oh way oh whoa” chorus of catchiness.  This is probably one of the better songs the band has put together, but we all know the band can churn out at least five or six solid tracks per album.  What other tunes will listeners identify with you ask?

“At the Bottom of the Sea” is surely a track that exhibits the more mature side of songwriting that the group has taken on in recent years, as the song bares no resemblance to the brashness that accompanies the rest of the album as a whole.  It’s as close to a ballad as the band has come, but it still shines with Hutch’s voice bursting through at the appropriate moments.  “Liquid In, Liquid Out” is another shocking song, settling in at just under two minutes.  This is the most simplistic power-pop the band has produced to date, and the clean quality demonstrates the ability the band has to go off into different ranges.

Fortunately for us, The Thermals seem to be at their best when they are having a blast.  Catching their live show, you will immediately pick up on the shared energy between the members in the group.  This is the first album where you can really hear the vibrance of the band come through from the studio.  You can picture the band having a blast in the studio, and we’re all better off letting them have fun and create such joyful listening experiences.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/09-liquid-in-liquid-out.mp3]

Download: The Thermals – Liquid In, Liquid Out [MP3]

New Tunes from Jay Reatard

jayDid everyone know that I love Jay Reatard? Okay, so if you follow ATH, it’s pretty clear that I’m a huge fan, and I had promised not to throw his name around for a bit, but I can’t help it. Jay is re-opening his past, meaning he’s relaunching Shattered Records so that everyone can get their hands on his extensive back catalog. Not to mention, he’s offering a subscription to a Singles Club for $75. And, and, he’s giving away a new tune.  Here is that new track!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/jay-reatard-youre-gonna-lose.mp3]

Download: Jay Reatard – You’re Gonna Lose [MP3]

Other Lives – s/t

other

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Other Lives have gone through exponential changes since their early debut under the name of Kunek.  Back then, the band was known for enchanting audiences, willing them into a silent submission.  The power of the band still exists, though their self-titled debut [of sorts] shows that the band is willing to crawl out from beneath the Radiohead similarities into their own bright future.

We can get that comparison out of the way immediately; the only resemblance the band has to Thom Yorke’s posse is in the resonance of singer Jesse Tabish at certain points, but that is probably where you must draw the line in the sand.  Sure, the sounds are familiar, but they are approached with an entirely new set of lungs that allows for the band to breathe on its own.

Take, for example, “Black Tables” which begins slowly with a darkened piano progression, as strings wrap themselves tightly around each note, clearing the way for Jesse Tabish to lay down his lyrics. Almost two minutes pass in the song where there is little else besides the piano, strings and vocals.  Then, at the 2’48 mark in the song, the drums kick in, and the song takes off like a rocket blasting into the atmosphere of dense sounds.   This is precisely where Other Lives will take you, as they don’t rest on the traditional songwriting strategies.  Instead, they create an album full of miniature movements; these movements sometimes exist within songs themselves, often changing on the spur of a movement.

“E Minor” is one of the highlights, well, if you were to pick up a particular highlight, as close listeners will hear the strumming on the guitar as the piano playfully meanders through the background.  Tabish’s voice hits a different pitch at several moments, exposing his versatility.  This immediately followed by “Paper Cities,” which seems to broach the subject of war, or at least the loss of certain aspects of a modern society.  One could consider this a single, if the band were capable of creating something as basic as a single, but even this song seems to go beyond those expectations of traditional singles.

The band even has the ability to throw a more light-hearted tune in the end when they offer up “AM Theme.”  Sure, it maintains the solemenity of the earlier tracks, but there is something brighter bubbling beneath the surface of the song itself.  Perhaps the brevity of the tune allows for it to open up quickly, before its able to branch off into something more epic; it does go into the song “Epic,” however, which ends the album.

This album is sure to be an eye-opener to many, as the band gradually begins to pick up fans along the way.  It’s an interesting listen to say the least, and one that changes with each song.  Other Lives have created an album of diverse sounds and uniquely moving muiscal movements.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/03-black-tables.mp3]

Download: Other Lives – Black Tables [MP3]

New Tunes from John Vanderslice

vandersliceSinger-songwriter John Vanderslice is set to release his 7th album, Romanian Names, via Dead Oceans on May 19th.  This album supposedly is crafted of shorter songs, some more upbeat, but this song here isn’t that at all. This is the album’s longest, and possibly slowest, tracks.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/john-vanderslice-fetal-horses.mp3]

Download: John Vanderslice – Fetal Horses [MP3]

Merge Score Covers Pre-Order!

coversOne of our favorite labels, Merge Records, has compiled a great set of covers as part of their subscription series SCORE! Unlike the rest of the series, Merge will be offering up this series of covers to the masses, but only a limited amount will be released. Not to mention, all proceeds will go to the charity of the curators choice! Good tunes and humanitarianism? Count us in. Head over to pre-order the album now. And in the meantime, check out this new Shins cover of Tenement Halls. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/the-shins-plenty-is-never-enough.mp3]

Download: The Shins (Tenement Halls Cover) – Plenty if Never Enough [MP3]

Bob Mould on Daytrotter

bobNormally we wouldn’t just throw Daytrotter session after session in your face, but that site is the place to be, as they’ve gathered two greats in their studios. Earlier this week it was Stephen Malkmus, and now it’s our Number One Gay Dude That Rocks, Bob Mould. The man goes into the studio to play four new songs off his upcoming album for Anti Records titled Life and Times. This track is a great preview into the album, as is the entire session.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/bob-mould-i-m-sorry-baby-but-you-can-t-stand-in-my-light-anymore.mp3]

Download: Bob Mould – I’m Sorry Baby But You Cant Stand in My Light [MP3]

New Old Tunes from XTC

xtcBack in the day, the great band XTC recorded a few albums under the moniker Dukes of Stratosphear, pressing their music in the way of 60s psychedelia. They recorded two albums, under this name, 25 O’Clock and Psonic Psunspot, both which are pretty hard to come by nowadays. Lucky for us, a certain Andy Partridge of XTC fame will be reissuing said albums on Ape House. Also, staff-writer Corey would be mad if we didn’t also tell you to check out XTC album Black Sea, which he loves. Here is one of the tracks from The Dukes of Stratosphear.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/xtc-as-the-dukes-of-stratosphear-brainiacs-daughter.mp3]

Download: The Dukes of Stratosphear (XTC) – Brainiac’s Daughter [MP3]

Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels

great

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers have consistently managed to put out albums of sufficient folk-pop, resting on the tightrope between overtly melancholy and cleverly sprawling acoustic-pop.  Their newest album, Lost Channels is of precisely the same vein; this isn’t an entirely bad thing considering it’s done so gracefully.

Immediately, “Palmistry” establishes the album’s purpose, as the gentle voice of Tony Dekker is accompanied by a similarly gentle strumming of guitar, as other instrumental pieces flesh out the song; it’s as if the band is painting precision landscapes with a brush so gentle it barely scratches the surface of the canvas.

Every number on this album has a familiar touch, as the band never tries to push too far beyond their pre-established boundaries.  The one admirable quality here is that they can continuously add layer after layer to each individual song, but never take away from the crystal-clear quality of the song.  Take, for example, “Concrete Heart;” it opens with a basic approach to a soft folk tune, just before strings creep into the background, and all the while there is a tinkering piano waiting to enter stage left, completing the song.  It is this delicate approach to songwriting that makes Great Lake Swimmers crafters of the perfect song; no tune has too much, or too little for that matter.

Even with a majority of the songs resting in the same spectrum of the genre, the band never stays in one place for too long, which allows them to keep the listener from growing bored.  Just a song away from solemnity comes “The Chorus in the Underground,” which shifts the approach over to a more bluegrass playing field, equipped with banjo and all. It’s a pleasant enough number, but the focus always rests around Dekker’s voice.

Sure, most bands rest their case on the singer’s voice, but not all bands will utilize this as an instrument all its own.  Dekker has a certain softness to his voice, which lends it to rest carefully in several different ranges of music; he can go from traditional folk to country-pop to bluegrass.  Up and down he rides with his voice, but it still maintains its very distinct quality, which seems as if current artists have borrowed from its fragility.

And with each new moment on the album, comes an entirely new picture to be painted in your mind, hidden in the caverns of your subconscious. The band, like Gravenhurst, crafts their songs around a certain moment within the group dynamic, and these moments are later fleshed out to create enjoyable moments for the listener.  You could describe it as organic, or as folksy soundscapes, but you best describe it as restful beauty, as this is the ultimate adjective for Lost Channels.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/04-concrete-heart.mp3]

Download: Great Lake Swimmers – Concrete Heart [MP3]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

yeah_yeah_yeahs_-_its_blitz_-2009

Rating: ★★½ · ·

In the year 2002 and 2003 the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the indie scene with a certain verocity and vitality that kept us all on the edge of our seats, seething with anticipation for future releases.  Fever to Tell, for the most part, lived up to the expectations, though it still felt a little clean in comparison.  Jump seven years ahead, and we have It’s Blitz, the latest effort from the band.  The distance couldn’t be greater.

One of the first elements that you will notice upon listening to the first track “Zero” is that frontwoman, Karen O, seems to have lost a bit of her animalistic prowess, as if she has been caged in a zoo.  The ferocity in her voice on the opening track, and the entirety of the album is rather lacking.  Where we once lauded her for her passion and energy, we’re now left confused by what seems a sort mild indifference.  Still, she does demonstrate her ability to carry a note here, but we saw such abilities on “Maps.”

Much will be made in the press for this album about the entirely new sound the band has come to take upon themselves.  The brashness and angular guitar work from previous efforts has completely disappeared; electronics samples and tired beats have replaced the fervor that once existsed as a tractor beam for listeners everywhere.

Mellow songs, such as “Skeletons” do show the band willing to explore that sonic range outside of their traditional forays, but such moments don’t seem as well mapped out this time around.  It’s difficult when listening to such tracks to figure out where the band was going, which loses some listeners, encouraging them to skip ahead to the next track. “Runaway” is another such song, and the piano structure just isn’t enough to psuh the song in any new direction.

“Dull Life” is one of the few songs on the album that seems to recall the past greatness of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Still, even when this song picks up the pace, where are those demonic guitar licks from Nick Zinner? It’s as if the man traded in his trusted axe for a child’s hatchet, a bejewled one nonetheless.

All in all, the album has some moments that every listener will most likely enjoy, but it doesn’t seem like this is really enough to warrant repeated listens.  The band shows their maturity as a group, but they discard everything that made them abrasive and frightening, exchanging them instead for a bunch of furry rabbits that you keep in a cage behind your house.  Sure, electronic moments make for great sound, but this band isn’t the one that was supposed to be giving those to us.  We asked them to break us down with passion and voice, but instead they just want to hold hands and walk along the beach.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/yeah_yeah_yeahs_-_zero.mp3]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero

Leonard Cohen @ The Long Center 4/1 & 4/2

lennyLet’s face it, there really isn’t a better show in town this week. If you are nearing the end of your life, wouldn’t you like to say that you were there when Leonard Cohen played the Long Center in Austin? Sure, tickets may be a bit much, but you can’t go wrong with buying one of these. I mean, really, you can pay your bills next month, but Leonard only comes to Austin once in a lifetime, so live it up with Leonard this week.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/07-a-singer-must-die.mp3]

Download: Leonard Cohen – A Singer Must Die [MP3]

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