Chad Van Gaalen – Soft Airplane

Rating: ★★★★ ·

“Willow Tree” opens up the newest effort from Chad Van Gaalen, Soft Airplanes.  From the start you experience what Chad is all about, but only one aspect.  The quite folk song is underlined by his soft vocals, which appear to have some sort of vocal affect that provides an emotional echo.  Regardless, this is the song you want to hear while sitting on your back porch.

Then you swing at the folk moniker and you miss.  “Bones of Man” completely throws you off track, walking the line of rhythm based bands such as Pinback.  Even his vocals aren’t exactly the same, which is a bit refreshing.  It’s a good song, though I must admit that it doesn’t have the draw of the opening track.

And back he goes again with the off-kilter folk tunes, though this one has stronger percussion work than the first song, though by no means is it over-powering–just more noticeable.  By this point, his voice is back, and you can really immerse yourself in it.  For some reason, it sounds like a folkier version of Brendan Benson.

From here he cruises off to sunnier times, or at least the feeling in “Inside the Molecules” is all things California.  His guitar sounds a little more bluesy, but the atmospherics clinging to his vocals kind of carry that breezy aura you’d expect to find in a California bar band. He doesn’t jump so far with his next song, “Bare Feet on Wet Griptape,” but this song just didn’t work for this listener.  It seems sort of casual, and even the lyrical commentary isn’t too insightful.

Suddenly, you’re transferred to future land where folk meets samples, and I know its been done before, but it’s sort of like James Figurine meets Grizzly Bear.  I still can’t decide if that is a good thing or not.  You should probably decide for yourself.

At this point I feel like I’ve run the course of this album.  I don’t mean to say that in adding that point that you can turn off the record at this point, because there are definitely some key points to be visited throughout the rest of the album, but he jumps and jives across genres.  Van Gaalen does it so effortlessly that a listener agreeably goes with him, no matter where he travels.  His vocals have a haunting sense of freedom attached to them, and when he steers away from the folk as he does on “TMNT Mask,” its believable. Sure, one could ask for more focus here on this album, but at the same time I think the differences in sound add a texture to the album that you won’t really find elsewhere.  Besides he paid homage to the long forgotten Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I’d down with that.

This is good stuff.

Fujiya & Miyagi – Lightbulbs

Rating: ★★ · · ·

Fujiya & Miyagi have garnered interest all over the world for several years now, and to a certain extent, they’re a band that does deserve some of the accolades that have been thrown to them.  However, they have got to do something to mix it up before they grow entirely stale for music audiences across the globe.

On the opening track of their last album, Transparent Things, they threw “Ankle Injuries” in our face.  It’s throbbing bass line moved your feet, but not too much because, let’s face it, it’s not this band’s style. On Lightbulbs they offer us a very similar tune in “Knickerbocker.”  It’s a clever trick because you immediately think the band will fulfill our fantasies of a danceable album.

Unfortunately for us, we don’t ever get to reap the benefits of their aptitude. The rest of the album comes off extremely mundane, which, in all honesty, is quite along the same lines as their debut release.  Every single beat is enjoyable enough, but not a single one has anything out of the ordinary to offer up, which tends to make the entire album sound seamlessly boring.  For some reason they take the most straightforward approach to writing dance songs, and the more focused they get on this album, the less danceable the songs get.  It’s like we all started dancing together, but everyone got bored and went home with their significant others.

I could speak on the lyrics and their attributes, but it’s extremely hard to find a lot of redeemable qualities about the words across this album.  Each song has little differentiation in the lyrics themselves, and most repeat throughout the album.  It makes everything entirely too redundant, limiting the ability of the song to rise above the music.  For me, it’s hard to even recall a special song because each one ends up sounding like a repeat of its predecessor.

This album is shorter than the previous one, which does make the songs more listenable, if you are into this sort of streamlined dance music.  For all the promise that they have, they rarely come across as a band that has warranted our attention.  Throw out the single, and you would probably find an album that you played once through and then put on your iPod strictly for workout tunes.  It’s an album that easily sinks into the background of your subconscious, where it will likely stay for eternity.

Colourmusic – F, Monday…

Colourmusic – F, Monday, Orange, February, Venus, Lunatic, 1 Or 13

Rating: ★★★★½

Oklahoma’s Colourmusic won me over long ago with their fantastic live shows, something I mentioned in the past, and now we are here to see if their debut album lives up to the hype of one of the most exciting bands around.

They open the album with “Motherfather,” a light tune that evokes some of the band’s British influences.  And you can add to that joy a brief bass solo.  It’s a clear statement from the beginning that Colourmusic will be a difficult band to define.

Immediately afterwards they push forward with the grittier “Put in A Little Gas.”  The song is fueled by the distorted guitars, juxtaposed with the playful chorus–or is that a verse? This song is sure to be the staple of the band’s live show, as the repetitive lyrics make it difficult for any crowd participant to ignore.

This act keep the pressure on with the continually upbeat “Gospel Song.” It’s the indie world’s response to call and response choir work, with a sexual undertone that may or may not be intentional.  Clearly this is a song that makes you want to throw your hands up and stomp around the floor of your room until the floorboards are nothing but dust.

I’m tempted to say that “Spring Song” has a little too much kitsch.  There is a line of playfulness that the band can cross at times, and this is one of those times.  Still, there is an attractive quality to the song that makes this song enjoyable.  I wonder if, as they say, “everyone is singing my song.”  It is catchy.

Enter “Circles.” It’s one of the band’s oldest songs, and it is one they’ve mastered to near perfection.  The constant switching in time builds the momentum throughout the song, encouraging you to tag along with the band.  Go far enough, and you’ll find yourself caught up in the chorus near the end of the circle, swinging yourself and your loved one “all around.”

“Someday Speaks Loudly” is something I can’t really describe.  It begins with some atmospherics, then the ghastly vocals float carefully through the core of the song, as the drumming builds in the background, crashing quietly into the end of the song.  Something is so familiar about this song.  I can’t place it, but if you can, let me know.

Prepare yourself for “Yes.”  This is easily one of the better songs on the album.  Sure, it gets a touch redundant lyrically, but its one of the more powerful songs the album has to offer.  Totally Belle and Sebastian playing metal songs.

“Rock and Roll Polar Bear” employs a similar tactic seen in this album.  It is a song that builds, slows down, then builds.  This is the key to Colourmusic and their intoxicating quality; they know precisely how to construct a song to evoke everything on their minds. I’m not sure there are other bands who can switch it up as quickly and convincingly.

Make sure you don’t skip “You Can Call Me by My Name.”  I don’t have anything bad to say about this song. Each moment in this song seems to fit exactly perfectly with the bands intentions; this is definitely one of those songs that people will beg for live.  It’s a solid song.

When I listen to “Fall Song,” I find it hard not to escape the Simon and Garfunkel reference points.  It’s either the gentle vocal quality that goes throughout or the effortless guitar work that evokes that idea.  This has to be a S & G cover song.  It has to be.

“Winter Song” is the best song on this album, and one of the best songs you will hear this year.  Honestly, it might not jump out at you immediately, but sometimes the simplest songs allow you to get carried away in your own mind, and in this case, you can go far.  Come on, “lets fall in love,” with Colourmusic.

The last two songs, “Try” and “Moolah” are a fitting end to the album.  They offer a glimpse of everywhere this band has gone on the album, and hint at possible planets they can visit in the near future.  As the album draws to a close, you realize that each song fits in to the album as whole.  It’s as if Colourmusic took their time to craft a great album–imagine that.  Everyone can find something in this album, and odds are, if you listen carefully you’ll find some special moments that you can hold close to your heart.  Let’s thank these guys for that.

Oh, and don’t forget to check them out at this years Fun Fun Fun Fest.

And as an ATH exclusive, we have a new track for you to sample:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/02-put-in-a-little-gas1.mp3]

Download: Colourmusic – Put in a Little Gas [MP3]

Why? & Mt. Eerie Tonight @ Mohawk

Tonight you will get a chance to hear Why?, and perhaps determine why there is a lot of hype about this band at the moment.  Personally, I’m thinking that the opening act, Mt. Eerie, should be enough of a reason to head that way this evening.  I mean how can you not like the experimental folk of Phil Elvrum?  Tell me Why?

The show starts at 8 PM at the Mohawk.  You can still get tickets at the door for this one.  Enjoy your night.

Okkervil River – The Stand Ins

Rating: ★★★½ ·

First off let me describe my distaste for songs that last under 1 minute running time, used mostly as some artistic statement, or as is the case in most places, useless filler. This album contains three such songs, which gives the fans of Okkervil River only eight new songs.  I don’t blame Okkervil River for their usage of this popular album filler; I just don’t understand it.

By now we’ve all been witness to the opening song, well, the second song–first one with words. “Lost Coastlines” was the first single released by the band, and as usual, it is one of the most immediately gratifying tracks of the album.  It seems to be the style of choice from these Austin heroes, as their albums always open with great strength.

They carry this ambition forward with “Singer Songwriter” and “Starry Stairs;” two of the stronger tracks on this album.  “Starry Stairs” features horn usage during the chorus, which definitely adds to the power of song, much in the way Beulah used the same instruments.  As it carries off into the end of the song, the guitars begin to grow a bit tedious; still, the song garners some interest do to the additional instruments in use.

For me, “Blue Tulip” is probably the least obvious song on the album for listeners, but there is such power in Will’s voice that it reminds you of his vocal meanderings in the early days.  His vocals alone carry the song all the way from start to finish, attracting the listener with every ounce of emotion he has available.  Slowly this song grows into your subconscious.

Then enters the next instrumental track from stage left.  It stops all the momentum the album had built up to this point.  You have to revert back to the previous tracks just to get back in the mood to move forward.  Yet another reason these little pieces should not be used.

“Pop Lie” enters as one of the more upbeat songs the band has written in years, yet it still just doesn’t have the punch of songs like “For Real,” from Black Sheep Boy.  I foresee moments of hand claps during the live show with this song, but it isn’t a winner for me.  “On Tour with Zykos,” is a beautiful song, where Will’s voice meets the piano in the most appropriate manner.  It’s clear that by this point in the band’s career that his voice has matured to extremely high levels–I still long for a little bit of that guttural noise.

“Calling and Not Calling My Ex” is the last song in this section of the album.  A good song, but not a great song.  At this point in the album I felt like more should have come my way as far as listening experiences go.  I know that the band originally intended a double LP, but these three songs fit in to what one can only assume are B-Sides.  They are all good songs, but none of them are great songs by any means, at least not in comparison to the tracks off Stage Names. And then they throw in another one of those instrumental pieces.  Annoyed.

The final song, “Bruce Wayne Campbell…” is a slow-burner, but midway through the song the entire piece picks up the pace.  It’s the perfect ending to this sub-par album.  There is loads of promise throughout the song, but as an entire piece it just doesn’t work.  It’s incomplete.

In summation I suppose that the last song encapsulates my feelings towards this album.  It doesn’t feel complete to me at all. The skeleton on the cover of The Stand Ins surely must be a representation of the skeletal imitations of these songs.  They are so bare bones at times that they lose the beauty that usually accompany the band’s later works.  I won’t say that I hate this album because there is plenty to enjoy, but it won’t get played over and over in my various listening stations until I start to mumble the words in my sleep.

The New Year – The New Year

Rating: ★★★★½

Long ago, in a time far far away, Bedhead graced us with a several albums throughout the nineties; each one revolved around their slow, emotive sound.  Years later, decades in fact, the Kadane brothers carry on with their similar stylings, only with a new moniker; The New Year.

Their third album under the new name, The New Year, carries with it similar sounds.  In fact, a fair assumption would be to assume that the bands are one in the same, despite the absence of several members.  Still, the Kadane brothers have always been the center of this slow-core universe, and they remain so today.

Case in point is the opening track, “Folios.”  For three plus minutes it slowly builds and builds; gentle guitars pick their way through the track, backed by the slightest of drum beats.  By the time the vocals join in the song is near its close, but it leaves you with one of the main thematic statements from this record, as Kadane sings “I don’t think the good years I have left can wait/so what are we staying for.”  It seems to be an album about isolation and moving forward.

The largest change on the album is the skeletal importance of the piano work.  Sure, I’ve seen it before on their previous projects, but here it gives a greater weight to each song in which it uses, and it is used as the sole instrument on “MMV.” It is just one of the many ways The New Year has managed to branch out their sound on this new album.

Interestingly enough, the band doesn’t seem to have too many contemporaries these days, which is perhaps why I find this album so interesting.  There aren’t any elements of folk dancing about, and you’d be hard up to find a dance number here; not to mention the fact that the excess noise in these songs is used merely as a compliment, not as focal point.   They’ve perfected their format, and without the like of American Football and other like-minded bands, The New Year is on top of their game.

For me, their specialty has always been their ability to control the ebbs and flows of their music.  As quickly as they build up the pace and the tension in their songs, they turn around and return it all back to the pleasant pacing of where they began.  Few bands have been able to touch on this balance, always dancing on crescendos, and yet always holding back.  I’m sure one day they will let go, and that one day will be everything you want it to be, but for now, I’m okay with their ability to control it.

The gentle approach of this album carries a lot of power for me as the listener, and for you as well, I hope. It’s the sort of album you want to play in your bedroom when you are all alone, just absorbing yourself in aan album in its entirety.  It lacks pretension, yet each listen unfolds more and more.  Put your headphones on, and get deep into The New Year.

If you are more of the live setting kind of person, rather than headphones, then you should check them out live when they come to Austin on September 20th.  They will be hitting the stage at Emos.

F*cked Up, Twice Born

Everybody has an itch for a little hardcore, and no one is doing it better than F*cked Up.  From their various SXSW shows to their upcoming Matador release, F*cked Up is a band that is sure to garner interest all over the place.  We’re just another group trying to give them our support.  Take a bite out of this!

[audio:http://www.spinner.com/2008/08/29/shearwater-flows-through-the-interface/]

Download: Fucked Up – Twice Born [MP3]

Faces on Film – The Troubles

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Somehow this little group from Boston, who is actually just one dude, made its way into my pile of things to listen to.  Unaware of the band, Faces on Film has now won me over, unexpectedly, with their album The Troubles.

“Friends with Both Arms,” opens up the album pleasantly, with Mike Fiore coming across your ears like a more eager Hamilton Leithauser.  The vocal quality is quite similar, at least in that hollow echo aspect; here it sounds more complete than Hamilton.

From here it goes into “I’ll Sleep to Protect You.”  Upon several listens this sounds like a lost Modest Mouse demo that we never got the chance to hear.  It has a little more beauty, which I think keeps the track focused, but it still has that primitive folk sound.

Then we take a short jump onto “Natalie’s Numbers,” which recalls the bedroom folk of Eliott Smith, as far as guitar sound goes, with the vocal tracings of Win Butler.  The chorus is fixed with nonsensical lyrics accompanied by a female vocalists, and although its unexpected at this point, it provides an interesting view to the insight of this song.

“Troubles at Last” is one of those songs that shouldn’t have been included.  Its just studio noise.

“Famous Last Words” carries on with a bit of bounce, but it still appears to maintain that Arcade Fire association, which when prepared isn’t entirely off-setting.  I suppose the majority of this allusion is due to the vocals, all which resemble early AF.  And it’s juxtaposed with a Walkmen meets Modest Mouse echo of a song in “The Winner’s Daughter.”  Although the feeling is similar to that of other songs, it seems out of sorts for some reason, and is probably one of the weaker songs on the album.

The rest of the album follows suit, wearing concert t-shirts of previously mentioned bands, only adding a Dr. Dog reference point near the end with “Medical Mind.”  But just wait until the end because “Indicator, Indicator” is really fantastic.  It is the precise closing moment for this album, letting the listener relax and rest as the album draws to a close.

Despite a lot of obvious references, some too obvious, the album has an enjoyable quality to it, one which gives it some merit.  However, it lacks a bit of pace, and I mean that in the sense of the song, not in the flow of the album.  Each song would benefit from just a bit of pace, but then again, its not my album.  At the end, it ends the way it should, leaving Faces on Film with a few merit badges for their effort and a few more for quality.

You can download the entire album on their Myspace Page.

Bloc Party – Intimacy

Rating: ★ · · · ·

Several years back, Silent Alarm blew us away. It’s angular guitars cut and diced as we all spun in awe of the newest British band to hit the states. Our minds spinning, we salivated at the chance for more Bloc Party. All I can ask for at this very moment is no more Bloc Party.

Two albums after their debut, they’ve weighed me down with their efforts to recreate that original brilliance, and I’ve got few nice things to say about these boys. In all honesty, this album has left me to encourage them to hang up their hats… call it a day boys.

The opening track doesn’t do anything to prepare the listener for the barrage of trash that is to come their way, except to offer the lyric that “this s**t is long.” Too long indeed. Sprawling guitars matched with little music creativity push my fingers to fast forward beyond this useless noise.

Once you arrive at the second track its clear that the band have taken on an entirely new direction. Intimacy‘s production lacks the exciting percussive sound that they established long ago, instead mixing in what one can only assume are digital drum samples… and do I hear horns? At this point in my listening experience I’m not sure what to say. Speechless.

However, there is some exciting guitar work on the third song, “Halo,” but it’s so muddled in the mix of the song that it almost disappoints you to hear the promise of this band’s sound being watered down by shoddy engineering. And that is thrown immediately into one of the worst songs the band has written. “Biko” not only lacks any passion, but there isn’t even a trace of real musicianship in this song. I think they might have looped the guitars. Gross.

Bloc Party, however, just continue to push on, angering me with each new track. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but whoever covered all of these songs in walls of noise, and I don’t mean precious ambience… I mean ridiculous noise, obviously had a few too many pints. The album is lacking a certain clarity, which is where it lost me. Skeletal song structures have promise, but the level of noise deems almost every moment of promise useless.

They’ve piled on loads of electronic samples into this album, which doesn’t really do them any favors. Their strength was always in the dueling guitar work, but once they strip that away, they don’t have much to offer us anymore. All the passion they once threw our way has been lost in new directions. I only wish they knew about the power of guitars, since they fail to use them often enough on this album.

By the end of the album, I just feel like I’ve been drained of every drop of social niceties. There isn’t a decent thing to say about this album at the end of the day. Some have indicated that the latter half offers a touch of redemption, but in all honesty, the latter half is equally as aggravating as the first half. Bloc Party have discarded their musicianship for an electronically fused album, and in the process they have discarded the majority of their adoring fans.

The GZA @ Emos – 9/3

We don’t often do a lot to cover our hip-hop brethren, but I figured that I would take this moment to pay homage to one of the only rappers that I ever really paid attention to when I was  younger. For me, hip-hop was Wu Tang, and the GZA was the glue.  This Wednesday night at Emo’s he’s going to play his classic Liquid Swords in its entirety.  Those into hip-hop won’t want to miss this night.

You can pick up your own set of tickets over at Ticketweb.

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