Carry Illinois – Alabaster

carrRating: ★★★★☆

Carry Illinois is an electric departure from the singer songwriter, acoustic guitar strumming scene that Lizzy Lehman has been a part of for years as she has developed as a musician. For this ensemble front woman Lizzy eschews her Martin Acoustic for a Fender strat. On the Alabaster organs swell and pianos sweeps chords providing the harmonic foundation while Lizzy’s lyrics and melody carve out the details above the sounds and rhythms of the songs. Lizzy draws on the everyday struggles and tedium of modern living on Alabaster. She has a knack for illuminating truths through a portrait of another as deftly as she can on her more autobiographical songs. For this album Lizzy leans more heavily on introspection and personal insight than with her previous solo work, which is an interesting irony. One might wonder if donning the costume of Carry Illinois has created a confidence that allows for more personal work to shine through in Lizzy’s song writing.
Musically Alabaster is an album that sits somewhere between Brandi Carlisle Americana and Dr. Dog’s breed of harmony infused indie pop rock. Alabaster is a big step forward from the Siren EP release in 2014. Both Alabaster and Siren represent a departure from the singer songwriter womb of the Austin via Kerville folk scene. I prefer the clean vocal sounds on Alabaster over the harmonica miked and red line hitting vocals on Siren. Lizzy’s is a voice that is best served clean and pure. While I preferred a safer choice for the vocal stylings, I found myself wanting a stronger step forward and reach just a little farther on most of Alabaster song arrangements. As a whole the album tends to lean a little too hard on the tropes and clichés of the Americana genre. Similar tempos and rhythm patterns blended songs together and listening to the album as a whole you’ll find yourself wishing for a break from the organ drones under sprinkles of piano.
There were three big stand out tracks for me. The first – Darkened Sky – hits all the notes of classic Americana. The track starts off with the recognizable strumming rhythm of Lizzy’s guitar and is quickly enhanced with a country train beat and layered strings and keys. The vocals are right in the sweet spot on this tune. Lovers of the Austin Americana scene will be drawn to this song like whiskey lovin’ hipsters to an Eastside Honky Tonk. Another of my favorites is the painfully sincere Lost and Found. Any listener with a small town childhood will connect with the message of emotional emigration in search of a meaning outside the comfort of youth. Lizzy grasps greatness on this song when the bridge crescendos from a pure, slow folk tune to a psychedelic, flanging power ballad.
In stark contrast to, and immediately preceding Lost and Founds psychedelic yearning we have the perfect pop gem that is Sleepy Eyes. From the first horn build to the last splash of the cymbals, this song had me hooked. Lizzy’s vocal sit nice and present in the mix, in a range high enough to make it immediately distinctive from the rest of the album. The dynamics are beautiful driven by a horn ensemble and the groove is wonderfully consistent with just enough sizzle on the cymbals. I should really let this song do the talking for me, so put it on right now, and while you add it go ahead and hit shuffle and let it ride. It’s an album that’s sure to grow on you and make it into the rotation of this year’s great Austin albums.

Bully – Feels Like

bully-feels-likeRating: ★★★½☆

It’s not too terribly often that you get word of a pop-punk band like young four piece, Bully who have origins in Nashville. But this group, led by front woman Alicia Bognanno, hail from Tennessee and have put together an album filled with crunchy punk guitar hooks with catchy pop choruses and beyond powerful vocals that will grab you by the collar and not let go for its entirety.

“I Remember” is the opening track to end all opening tracks– it’s a forceful introduction to the band’s sound. The fast paced percussion and shredding guitars are the first things you hear, and then you get Bognanno’s distorted and cutty vocals, which sound as though they may give out at any second as she screams out declarations of memories both crass and tender. There are also moments of reprieve on this number where these vocals are softened, but that is only for a second before you’re back with Bully as they rip though this punk-pop opener.

This first track is merely a bite of the bite that this band has in store for you on this debut album, and to me, the bite is where Bully shines the brightest. Songs that use the off/on switch to mix the two genres are the highlights for me, like “Trash.” This song is as about as metal as the band gets, starting slow, and the vocals are, dare I say, delicate, and then surging into the chorus with fiery heat and Bognanno’s growling vocals. Earlier on the record you get somewhat subtle, “Brainfreeze,” which falls third in the track order, and while the vocals are still grainy and gritty, this song is a bit more refined than the others. Here is where the band strikes the balance between punk and pop– this song sounds like what would happen if a punk band covered a radio ready pop song, which is far from a bad thing. Another definite highlight is late track, “Milkman,” which is a catchy track with a hardcore ending. The bulk of this album is a solid mix of tunes which will catch your ear with their unique sound.

Feels Like is a rapid fire blend of punk attitude mixed with the goodness of pop sensibility. For a debut album, it makes for a great introduction to Bully, and also a good summer album to turn up loud as the heat begins to turn up on us. I look to the future to see what Bully has in store for a sophomore effort.

Abram Shook – Landscape Dream

Landscape-Dream-Cover-Image-620x620Rating: ★★★★☆

Oh you haven’t heard of Abram Shook? Seriously? Well, Abram Shook is a one of Austin’s truest gems as of late: a great songwriter and backing band who put out an album last year called Sun Marquee and already back with this stunning follow up record. On Landscape Dream, Shook and company take you both to 70’s rock and roll as well as soulful grooves of soft rock.

“Never Die” begins the album slowly and carefully, with some twee synth that harkens back to the grooves of yesteryear and Shook’s delicate whispery vocals beckon you to come with him on this journey before he is joined by the rock. This synth and vocals are soon joined by a burst of instrumentation: psychedelic guitar, stark percussive elements and even more synth. Then all of the sudden this burst of energy fades back out to just the vocals and synth sounds, now subtle and you’re left with Abram Shook and company stripped down to their core. This combination of soft and loud doesn’t overwhelm, but leaves you a little awestruck as to all that you’ve just heard—the song is fluid, moving you along with it. In one of the quieter moments, Shook tells you to “Listen, listen to the words” almost prompting you to keep your ears pricked for what’s to come.

This album is an oddly delightful mixture of misty ethereal sounds and outright rock and roll that is manifested through several different genres. There are proper links to psychedelic and garage rock on here, such as you’ll find on “Beach Glass” and “Find It” respectively. “Beach Glass” is a straight from the seventies track that involves a lot of gentle percussion, echo-y vocals and pulsing electronic sounds. “Find It” has the gritty guitars that ooze garage, while the vocals are still delicate, giving the juxtaposition of genre that you didn’t know you wanted. But then there are softer moments such as you’ll find on “Vessel,” which does eventually get a little rock and roll, but sticks in the realm of dreamy pop.

In all honesty, this album contains no bad track, and with each listen you sink your teeth further into the songs. Every time you pass through the 12 tracks on here, you find a new set of favorite tunes, and the ones that already were your favorites become ever more solidified as so. So pick this record up, spin it often, and get lost in the Landscape Dream.


Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia

jacco-gardner---hypnophobia (1)Rating: ★★★☆☆

If you were clued in to anything about this album based off its name, it should be the psychedelic genre that Jacco Gardner employs. Patch this together with the album artwork and just like that you can already begin to see where Gardner is leading you with this sophomore effort. What these two signifiers don’t inform you is that like a drug trip, Hypnophobia slips in and out of lucidity; there are times when the music completely engages you and others that encourage you to fall away from focusing on the tunes at hand.

The overall tone of this album is fairly one note, which is why the aforementioned phenomenon is able to occur over its course. That’s not to say that this one dimension sound—heavily mysterious/spooky 70’s synth matched with wandering guitar riffs and Gardner’s soulful yet wispy vocals—isn’t enjoyable. On the contrary, to say that any of the songs on this album aren’t good would be false, but there’s a loss of suspense in the repetitive nature of the sound here. By around the third or fourth track on the record you begin to feel that you’ve heard all there really is to hear from Hypnophobia. While that isn’t necessarily true (some of my favorite tracks come on the end of the record) the lack of variety in the twee psychedelic genre wears a little bit on your hopes.

There are definite numbers that will have your attention more than others. For me, among those are “Find Yourself,” and “Before The Dawn,” both of which are more upbeat and rambunctious numbers for Gardner. It is in this space where Gardner seems to shine the brightest: “Find Yourself” enters your headphones swiftly and with force: the tinny synth here bounces around almost violently, which pushes the song from meek to commanding. Surprisingly, Gardner’s vocals are heavily distorted on this song, but they too feel more forceful than on the other tracks of the album, and lead you to the catchy chorus that somehow ironically makes me want to lose myself in the track. “Before The Dawn” creates more of a swirling kaleidoscopic listening atmosphere, but then the electric guitar joins the mix to ground you with the vocals, akin to the feeling of walking through an optical illusion tunnel.

To me, this seems like the kind of album that you put on to comfort you in the background of studying, working, reading, etc. It’s easy to get lost in, but still occasionally pops in to pull you back to it. Perhaps you feel differently—the only way for you to find out is to have a listen for yourself to Hypnophobia.

Other Lives – Rituals

unnamedRating: ★★★½☆

Over the years, Oklahoma’s Other Lives have built a reputation for themselves as the creators of cinematically sweeping rock music; their first two full-length albums were delightful examples of this unique style, with the more recent of those two, Tamer Animals, showing the growth of the band and their ability to evolve their sound. Rituals, their third full-length attempts to pursue this growth in a different direction via the incorporation of more electronic elements into the mix.

So how does a band that knocked their last album of grand and dramatic music out of the park introduce their audiences to a new spin on their sound? Well, in true Other Lives fashion, “Fair Weather,” the opening track, begins this adjustment subtly. This slow moving song doesn’t seem to be so different from what we’ve heard before from the band, but soon you pick up on more of the use of what sounds like synth or artificial drum beats, evoking a sort of cool groove that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The instrumentation on here is less folk influenced rock and more carefully crafted electro-inspired simmering rock.

This third album shows the band shifting to a subtler sound overall; a bit of the drama that the last album possessed is replaced with sleek smoothness, which works in some places, but falls slightly short of my high expectations in others. Take second track “Pattern” as a prime example of where this works well—the whole song is lined with fierce violin part that never stops, whose immovable presence creates a bridge between the other parts of the song. Similarly, this violin part is mirrored by tinkling piano that shows the level of nuance that this band is so good at. The vocals here are almost entirely falsetto, making for a swirling mix of high and low elements. Another delightful track that shows the smooth approach from the band is “Easy Way Out,” which uses Jesse Tabish’s smokily sinister vocals to assures us that “we can find an easy way out–” and man do I believe him. While neither of these songs really go far away from where they begin, they both use suspense to hold you in their grasp.

Rituals provides us with some more great tracks to add to our listening catalogue from Other Lives, but on the whole it doesn’t make the same leaps and bounds that their sophomore effort did. The sound is still engaging, and the addition of electronic elements works well with the orchestral and grand sound that this band has made their own, but I find myself feeling like I’m missing a little something. Regardless, if you haven’t already fallen in love with Other Lives, there’s really no excuse anymore: pick up Rituals and let the slow crawling sound take you over to the darkness that this band does so well.


Turn To Crime – Actions

turntocrimeRating: ★★★★☆

Turn To Crime, or the project of Detroit’s Derek Stanton and company, has been garnering a growing amount of attention lately—and rightfully so. After their debut release last summer that introduced us to their gritty noise synth rock, they’ve countered with Actions, which, simply put, evades all chances of being pegged with one sweeping bulk genre title. Instead, they give us seven tracks that break our notion that an album should be all one genre.

When listening to this album for the first time, it may seem a bit disjointed; you move from track to track with the band, going with them down each song’s own path, but then you make what feels like an about face with the next tune. This phenomenon is present in the jump from opener, “This is What You Wanted” to the second and title track “Actions.” The first song begins eerily with synths coming in subtle waves of sound for the first minutes of the track before the band launches in with more active and looming synth beat and twangy guitar. Using the build of suspense and instrumentation, the minimalism of the song is gripping, hooking you in and making you wait for the drop and wondering if one will ever come. But the break doesn’t ever come, instead the track builds and builds and then ends abruptly, with “Actions” unapologetically starting anew. Suddenly you’re far from the tense opener and into the breezy second track, light guitar riffs scattering through the soundscape, the drum machine beats easily providing the casual rhythm, and the vocals warbling through fuzzily.

Both the tracks are great, but completely different tones and styles. However, on your third or fourth cycle through the songs, the link between them all becomes apparent in the drone-like synthesizers, which underscore the album in its entirety as a dark refrain. All the places that this record goes, the synth follows, casting its dark shadow over it in just the right ways. You get middle song “Light,” which proves to be the most outright post-punk track on the album, with the hodge-podge percussion and shredding guitar, but it’s not complete without those electronic sounds creep in at its end. “Without a Care,” builds its whole frame around the synth, but the song strikes me as bordering on americana, with songwriting at the center and the repeated chorus rounding out the tune.

Actions is not for the faint of heart or the seekers of easy entertainment; it’s a record that takes a bit of time for you to really dig into and enjoy, but with a little bit of love, you’ll find the rewards are worth the repeated listens. Indulge in something different than your usual run of the mill with Turn To Crime’s post-punk synth americana, genre-transcendent of all prior expectations.


Sam Cohen – Cool It

ES010_SamCohenCoolItRating: ★★★☆☆

2015, as its seen us so far, appears to be the year of the solo-artist; that member of the band who wasn’t the front man, or woman, striking out on their own to craft exactly their vision under their name, or perhaps just to create music that’s a little different from other projects. Sam Cohen is no exception to this phenomenon: a past member of Apollo Sunshine and the man behind Yellowbirds, he has put those other projects aside for now to focus on Cool It, a laid back psychedelic rock record, which he recorded completely on his own, save for a few guest appearances by other members of Yellowbirds. The mellow tone of the solo debut dominates the sound, but there are moments of sharpness in the mix that snap you from the smoky depths of this trance and into clarity.

The overall sound on Cool It, as I mentioned earlier is a blend between soft rock and psychedelic music, which seemingly is synth driven, but is, in fact, produced from heavily distorted guitars. Opener “Let The Mountain Come To You,” is about the most rambunctious and energized track you’ll hear from Cohen here, though still fairly even and relaxed. On this opening number, the guitars are fuzzed out to the max, growling along while some lighter and winding sounds join the mix. Cohen’s vocals are echoey, wafting in even-tempered and effortlessly. All the buzzing guitars and glazed vocals contribute to a gentle sound on the album, and the whole thing feels coated in a bit of warm glow.

Lyrically, the album mirrors the style of music: a mix between hazy and lucid, stark imagery mixed with colloquial and casual remarks on the mundane, both of which converge in philosophical musings. There are tracks like “The Garden” that describe a day in the life of a musician: “Went to your house on Friday, drank a few beers, we played the gig on Sunday for the past six years.” But then there are tracks like the obviously Hemingway-inspired “A Farewell To Arms,” on which Cohen appears to assume the role of the protagonist from that 20th century novel, calling after Catherine. It’s clear that there are both erudite and colloquial approaches to the lyrics on the album, which beg to be the center of attention on the album.

Cool It is easy listening, the kind of record that you spin on your day off and begs you to do little else but simply fade into it. The problem, or perhaps some would hear this as a solution, is that sometimes it’s a little too easy; the music is pleasurable but not challenging, allowing you to zone out entirely and lose focus on the songs. Whether you see this as a positive or negative is up to you.

Pupppy – Shit In The Apple Pie

pupppycover_5Rating: ★★★½☆

Will Rutledge began what would become Pupppy back in 2013 as a solo project, but two years and the addition of three other band mates later, Rutledge has fully fleshed out his sound into Shit In The Apple Pie, the debut album for the band. This first release is nine songs of slacker pop whose witty lyrics and acoustic rock that are bound to delight you with their sincerity and potential for all out rock and roll.

The sound that you’ll find on this debut release is the kind that makes you want to sit down and do nothing but listen to the music. As I listen to this record, I’m immediately reminded vaguely of Modest Mouse, and Ben Kweller, but moving forward through the songs it’s so clear that Pupppy moves beyond these likenesses and into their own space of glazed down indie pop. While the first two songs are excellent tunes, on my first pass through, the first track that really grabbed my attention was the lovely, self-deprecating “Shithead.” This song is a wonderfully quiet track that gives you the whole picture from the beginning and never once apologizes for its gently churning pace, just like Rutledge’s lyrics are unabashedly honest, “If you want something else go and find it yourself/ you see I just can’t help myself.” While these lyrics are frank, the music matches this song perfectly, an unassuming yet intriguing combination of acoustic and guitar riffs, what sounds like a bit of banjo and simplistic percussion; you’ll want to linger on this song for a great deal of time, but continue on as this isn’t all that Pupppy has to offer you.

Immediately after this song, you get the mild violence that accompanies the quiet numbers on this debut release. “Outkast,” utilizes stop and go at its beginning, Rutledge’s vocals making the whole track sound a bit post-punk/emo, their nascent quality oozing with emotion. While this song is fast-paced and rock and roll at that, you still get imagery-laden lyrics that twist the narrative of nights out. Juxtaposed with songs like this are the quiet and stripped, like closer “Sundress,” that is tender and easy both in lyrics and sound, rounding out the album on a wistful note.

Not only does the band do slow and tempered well, but they also exceed in the realm of spiraling out of control via their slacker pop/rock. For a debut album, Shit in The Apple Pie is fairly impressive: all nine songs are audibly well-crafted, leaving you with thirty minutes of concise pop music. Look out for Pupppy.


Avid Dancer – 1st Bath

unnamed (1)Rating: ★★★☆☆

Jacob Dillion Summers, or the man behind the moniker of Avid Dancer, has lived quite a variety of lives. From a strict childhood home in which he only listened to Christian music, to joining the Marines as a drummer, to currently living in Venice Beach—Summers’ life has been anything but linear or straightforward. Naturally, this is mirrored in his music: while sometimes he gives you dance tracks of sultry indie pop, at other times he is reserved, spinning tunes of delicate acoustic music. 1st Bath is Summers’ debut full-length release, and he’ll have you dancing for sure.

Opening track “All The Other Girls” is a mild beginning, but it gives you a solid foundation for the rest of the album. This song grooves along from its initial moments, a combination of crisp percussion, soft synth sound, clean electric guitar licks and Summers’ even toned distant vocals. You think that you’ve discovered all there is to hear from this number, but then at the end you get a surprising entrance of saxophone that adds a surprising yet enjoyable outro. Then, a few tracks later you get the soft side of Avid Dancer in the form of radio ready gentle pop song, “All Your Words Are Gone.” This is quite a departure from the two songs that came before it, evoking a wistful and fairly whimsical quality. Summers sings carefree lyrics like “Throw away all things not worth needing/ Open your eyes and start believing,” and there’s even a “da-da-da” break within the track.

By the time you get to “I Want To See You Dance,” you’re itching for another danceable tune from Avid Dancer, and this track does not fail to deliver just that. Here, we’re back to the sultry dance-able indie pop, which shows Summers at his best. This song evokes the feeling of standing on the edge of the party only to be pulled onto the dance floor by your friends or perhaps an alluring stranger and then having the time of your life in a sweaty blur of motion. The drums are hi-hat heavy, there’s a gritty guitar riff in there, some synth meanders in and out and the lyrics provide the role of that ensnarer; roping you in with his words.

For a debut record, 1st Bath shows great promise from Avid Dancer although its focus could be a little narrower. I find myself returning to some of the catchier dance beats, but some of the slower numbers haven’t quite captured my full attention. Regardless, there is enough substance here to merit a looking forward to what Jacob Dillion Summers has in store for us in the future.


John Andrews & The Yawns – Bit By The Fang

john andrewsRating: ★★★½☆

You may know John Andrews from his work as a part of both Woods and Quilt, which he contributed not only his talents in recording, but also in touring with these two acts. Somehow, amongst the hectic schedule of being part of two bands, he has also found time to write and record an album of his own. Bit By The Fang is John Andrews and his imaginary backing band’s debut solo album, and it’s packed with lo-fi Americana.

John Andrews and the Yawns have a sound that is difficult to describe. At moments, the music seems to lean towards  bluesy rock, and the next you’re made to believe Bit By The Fang is a work dominated by jangly guitar. This mixing of genre, perhaps even in just one song, works well for Andrews, and you can hear this happening from the very start of the record with opener, “Don’t Spook The Horses.” Leading off with that grittily distorted cutting electric guitar, the song blazes in to your headphones and instantly hooks you. Joining that guitar is ragtime piano and Andrews’ feather-light vocals that waft and warble in to the mix. He spins a tale in those echoed vocals, a carnival-esque whirlwind of sound that serves as a wonderful introduction to his solo work.

The strongest parts of this album come like bookends at the beginning and the end. As I just discussed, the first track is a great start, and Andrews continues this strong start with “Peace of Mind,” which sways more to the blues side of sound. Its slow-moving rhythm and prominently groovy bass part serves as the core of the song, while that bouncy piano is still there to lighten the track. “Angel,” a brief little piano ditty, echoes that of early 20th century simplistic rag music, but its nevertheless an interesting tune after you’ve grown accustomed to the complex layers that Andrews has thrown your way so far.

While the middle of this album listens a little flat, the end picks back up again for the last few tracks. “Quitting The Circus” is a song that is at once eerie and rock’ and roll: the vocals seem extra twisted and somehow slightly sinister while the guitar hits hard and loud, almost drowning out the piano. Last track, “No Gun,” is a music box lullaby that has Andrews posing philosophical questions atop pensive piano, slow and easy.

Bit By The Fang is yet another solid release from Woodsist Records, and John Andrews has managed to put his name on my map as a solo artist. I’ll be looking forward to what the future holds for this talented musician, be it as part of another band or on his own.


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