Greg Ashley – Another Generation of Slaves

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Rating: ★★★★½

The past few weeks I’ve been listening to Another Generation of Slaves pretty non-stop.  When it came down to the arbitrary rating system, I wavered between a 4 and a 5, then settled on the now visible 4.5. While those numbers may mean little, all I can say as I write is that Greg Ashley has left us with a record that, at this point, is the best collection of songs I’ve heard this year.

“East Texas Plain” is a brilliantly solemn ballad.  It opens with a barroom piano while some understated percussion provides the perfect accent to Greg Ashley’s voice.  There’s something that goes into his vocal delivery that offers a familiarity to it; I keep thinking that he’s a more palatable Richard Hawley.  I particularly like how there’s just a little buzz in the recording too, providing some authenticity to what lays within.  Yet, Ashley doesn’t want to create something that weighs you down with one simple style.  “Brother Raymond” is a bluesy offering that brings a little bit of a rock n’ roll swagger to his creation.  It’s the perfect placement too…giving a bit of energy before bringing you to the best track.

It’s not that Another Generation of Slaves peaks entirely early, but I cannot get “Awkward Affections” out of my head.  There’s not too much to the actually lyrical content, but there’s a huge emotional pull going on inside.  Perhaps it’s the repeated séance of “you make me feel like shit/I wanna kill myself.”  If you’re looking for a song that begs to be played again and again, you should find a way to get your hands on this number.  However, the early tracks, like the three above all fall under 4 minutes, while it seems Greg saved his more laborious tracks for the latter half of the record.

The last few tracks on this record are all over 5 minutes, with my personal favorite being “Prisoner #1131267.” I love the piano work on this track; it sounds like there’s some classical training here, but at the same time, the way it’s used makes it seem like it’s just about to go out of tune; it buzzes and hums in your speakers.  It’s songs like these, which is pretty much every track, where you can hear an artist putting every bit on the line, musically.  Sure, Ashley might sound subdued at times, but other moments exist where he’s just belting out the notes, maximizing his passion.

I can’t really explain how much I love listening to Another Generation of Slaves.  There are songs that sound like cowboy piano ballads, then there are others with horns to jazz things up a bit.  There’s no telling which way Greg Ashley is going to take you on this listen, but I can assure you that no matter which way he goes, you’re not going to be let down one bit.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/03-Awkward-Affections.mp3]

Flagland – Love Hard

flagland

Rating: ★★★ · ·

When you first look at Flagland‘s new record, you’re probably going to find it a bit daunting; it’s 20 songs, which for some might be a lot, but don’t let that deter you.  Love Hard deserves your listening ears.  The listen is all over the place, but while that might be tiresome to a few, it actually makes the entire journey quite fun.

“Superlove” casually opens the adventure with a strummed guitar and calming vocal, before the rough edges start to shine a little bit.  Those gritty bits make their way as the opening to “Searchers,” but stick around for the pounding drum and maneuvering bass line that leads the way for a nice bit of distorted guitar work.  While the rhythm bounces along there’s some stuttering vocals to clear the way for the knifing guitar bits. Then you’re jumped into a fast-paced rocker via “Swingin,” which resembles a quickened Southern garage tune. But, Flagland slows things down for a bit.

“Happiness” is more of a pop song disguised as an anthemic guitar tune.  There’s a touch of frailty to the vocal performance, and to show they don’t mind being their own act, they even toss in some space-age samples.  The tune hops a long to catch little end. Then you’re quickly given another slow burner via “Not a Joke.”  It sounds like a catchy garage demo, but I mean that in a good way.  Personally, I’d skip a song or two and find yourself at one of the stand outs of Love Hard, “Monster.”  There’s a familiarity to this track, though I can’t quite put my finger on it (early Liars may haps). Regardless, it’s a pummeling tune that definitely provides your angst with an outlet.

You see, Flagland doesn’t stay in one place for long, and while I admit that I know that’s troubling for listeners, it’s made the listens enjoyable because you’re not inundated with a monotonous style.  One of my favorite tracks as you move to the latter half of the record is “Sugarcube.” It blurs the lines between pop-punk and power-pop, catchy in every sense of the word. It goes along well with “It’s Your Time,” which might be the best song that J Mascis forgot to write.  Vocals are pleasant while the distorted guitars have a heavier tonal quality; the last time I played the record, it was my favorite jam of that round.

It’s refreshing to come across a record like Love Hard.  Sometimes you get bogged down with one sound or one sonic direction from a band, but Flagland aim to keep things interesting.  They add snippets and quick songs to keep the pace of the record moving forward, then fleshing out your listen with longer numbers.  If you’re tired of the same old thing, then you’ll want to pick up this album.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/12-Sugarcube.mp3]

Download: Flgland – Sugarcube [MP3]

 

She Sir – Go Guitars

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

While they’ve been working at crafting their owned dreamy indiepop for some time, the boys in She Sir have largely gone unnoticed.  But, good things come to those who wait, with the group putting together their most confident record to date, Go Guitars (Shelflife Records). There’s not a bad song on the record, and listeners will surely find several of the tracks more than memorable.

“Portese” sets the tone early, with a guitar that has angular intentions ringing immediately in the foreground, while a dreamier chord cascades in the distance.  Russell’s Karloff has this whispering gentleness to it that creates the emotional pull for the listener; his performance on this track is purposefully understated, giving you more of a feel from the song’s craftsmanship.  Then you’re off into the beautiful world of “Kissing Can Wait,” a track where the vocals are surely the winner in the tune; they playfully move in line with the progression of the bass and drums, molding the song into an upbeat number that leaves your spirit lifted.

Other songs offer more of a dream-pop style on Go Guitars, such as the album’s first single, “Condesendidents.” Karloff’s voice has this soft quality that seemingly rests in the background of the track.  Personally, I like how the group breaks out into a relaxed pop jam near the end of the track (about 1.5 minutes); it’s a special moment on the record that illustrates She Sir have decided to go in whatever direction they see fit. And, you can’t cruise through the record without taking on “Snakedom;” this is the best song that’s not on Captured Tracks.  There’s a lively beat going on in the background, while the guitars work against each other to create a swirl of blissful pop.

Honestly, those were the things I expected from the band.  What I didn’t expect were songs like “Bitter Bazaar.”  It starts innocently enough with a lightly strummed guitar line, but the steady vocal opening prepares you for the song’s driving intentions.  It sets the scene for a track that appears reserved, though your short wait will see the band pushing the pace and spinning bright guitars twirling around your ears.  This is by far one of my tracks the band has left us with, so be sure to give it your undivided attention.

While some bands might get caught up in adding too much to their music, the one thing that stands out in Go Guitars is that the band isn’t trying to do too much, musically.  They know what they’re doing, and they’re going to offer listeners the perfect version of that sound.  She Sir will leave you with a listen that merely asks for you take it all in and let the warmth of the indiepop deliciousness take care of the rest; your listen will be better off for it.

 

New Bums – Voices In a Rented Room

new bums

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Sitting in my room by the lamp light seems like a fitting way to listen to the new release from New Bums, though this room is paid for.  Going from song to song, Voices In a Rented Room is an album that truly fits best when you’re wrapped up in your own solitude, letting the tracks wash over you.  But, with that in mind, it’s also one of the things that might wear on the listener.

“Black Bough” is one of the best slow jams I’ve heard in a really long time; it deserves to make it onto any playlist you create. I love the way the vocals were recorded, seemingly entering your ears on the cusp of the wind. There’s a heavy-heart that arrives too via the solemn strumming of the guitar; it helps establish the forlorn characteristics that accompany the track throughout.  Moving forward into “Pigeon Town” you find more of the ornate guitar play that is associated with Ben Chasny and his earlier work with Six Organs of Admittance. But, while both these songs are carefully structured, including the string touches on the latter tune, it’s easy to see yourself getting stuck in the same listening space; there’s not a lot of movement sonically in Voices In a Rented Room.

For an audience new to the writing of these two, I think there’s several songs that you’ll find special.  I can’t tell if it’s the recording itself, but I love the sincerity that’s present in a track like “Mother’s Favorite Hated Son.” If you listen closely, you’ll hear a bit of a buzz coming through your speaker as the deeper notes are struck; it reminds me of listening to a record I’ve listened to far too many times, worn out by the needle. That same slight buzz is present on “It’s the Way,” but the vocals are definitely what attracted me to this number.  I love how the higher pitch in the vocal is matched by a slight string touch; it’s ever so gentle, but it adds the perfect listening sensation.

Therein lays both the strengths and weaknesses of going through this release from New Bums.  Every song seems to have purpose, and with that comes a great attention to each little detail, each shift in pitch.  Those artists’ brushstrokes give each track a redeemable quality, but it does make it hard for a passerby to fully grasp what is beneath the surface.  It’s not something you can rest with in the background, but a piece you have to immerse yourself into, maximizing your relationship between the emotional pull and the band’s intentions. If you’re willing to dig deep, you’ll find a great bit of happiness in hearing Voices In a Rented Room.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/01_Black_Bough.mp3]

Download: New Bums – Black Bough [MP3]

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

One of the things that I’m always fearful of when listening to a musician working under their own name is that the music will have a tendency to get stuck in one space; it can make for a boring listen, despite your initial interest.  Luckily, that’s not how the story of Burn Your Fire for No Witness unfolds; Angel Olsen and her band have constructed a record that holds enough diversity to keep you guessing at every track.

“Unfucktheworld” had me immediately.  There’s an intimacy of the strummed guitar that’s striking, but even more appealing is how the recording still holds a bit of the buzz and crackle; it creates a sense of sincerity that one hopes for from a singer-songwriter.  But, she doesn’t stay there for too long, moving quickly into her best rock version with “Forgiven/Forgotten.”  It’s a sound that purifies the space between Vivian Girls and Screaming Females, and it serves Burn Your Fire for No Witness well by adding some movement within the album’s first moments.

For my two cents, if you’re asking, I appreciate the songs where Angel Olsen has her voice hiding just below the main mix.  “Dance Slow Decades” is one such song, allowing for the listener to attend to every minor detail for the first minute or so, just before the vocal explodes with a hollow drum beat emphasizing the emotional touch.  It’s a stark contrast to the following track “Enemy,” which creeps me out in an odd manner; it seems like Olsen is sitting next to me singing into my ear.  Although there’s still that quiver in her voice that comes with personal expression, I prefer to keep a bit more distance, playing the role of musical voyeur.

Still, the best part of the record is the diversity that goes into every track, even into the length of the songs.  As times, Angel has this sultry troubadour quality like in her performance on “High and Wild,” but she can still manage to have this pristine vocal quality on display; she does this remarkably well in the album closer, “Windows.”  These things seem like minor details, but they make the album something that exists beyond the confines of a single track, begging you to sit with it for the entirety of your listen…this is a rare feat nowadays.

When you’re finished listening to Angel Olsen‘s new album, you’re going to find that you’ll have to go back and listen again.  It’s an album that holds no great single, but rather unfolds as an undeniably wonderful listen from start to finish.  It’s easy to find an artist losing themselves and their listeners in one place while crafting a record, but that’s the opposite of what you’ll find while listening to Burn Your Fire for No Witness. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/02-Forgiven_Forgotten.mp3]

Download: Angel Olsen – Forgiven/Forgotten [MP3]

 

 

Delay Trees – Readymade

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

When listening to the new effort from Delay Trees, their second effort for Soliti Music, the Finnish band are prepared to take you on a carefully constructed journey through their musical world. It’s often a cold and sterile world, but it offers an undercurrent of melody that eventually finds its way into your listening heart.

Readymade begins with an introductory piece of instrumentation, carefully placed as the opening moment to your journey with the band. From here, you fall into the realm of “Fireworks,” which utilize a circling guitar line that creates an ominous tune.  While the mood crosses into a bleak arena, the natural warmth that’s left by the melody will find listeners stirring in their seats, drawn into the emotional nature of the track.  These Finnish boys will soon move into a post-rock world of angular guitar chords and a brooding bass line with “Steady.”  Here, the work of the group seems less focused on the development of the vocals, instead allowing the listener to be immersed in the land created by Delay Trees.

But, while the group does seem to have the map planned out for your listening experience, they also have a few tracks that really rise above the rest of the record.  “Sister” is a calming track, sitting near the front end of the album; its pacing is rather slow, yet the vocal delivery is what you’ve got to focus on here.  It draws you in close, coming across as a faint whisper in the stark environment crafted by the group; I’m particularly fond of the way the pitch rises ever so carefully.  Then, of course, there’s the lead single, “Perfect Heartache.” You’ll find that the guitar parts really win out on this number, ringing at the beginning, then being fleshed out into softened distortion. There’s even a bit of swing created around the 2.30 minute mark, with “oohs” and a twanging guitar bit.  You’d be remiss to skip out on this song. Following it up with “Howl” provides a nice emotional switch too.  This track really has a brighter vocal quality that indicates the wide array of touches the band have put forth in crafting the record.

I loved the work of Delay Trees with their record, Doze, but I feel like this album is leaps and bounds above the former.  Each song offers the listener something, and each one has its own identity, yet they’re all tightly wound together to create a cohesive listen.  A writer could write about each track, and a listener could rave about each individual song.  All these things lead to a rewarding sit down that will encourage fans to come back to Readymade again and again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/06-Perfect-Heartache.mp3]

Download: Delay Trees – Perfect Heartache [MP3]

Temples – Sun Structures

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

The opening moments of Sun Structures will set the definitive tone for Temples, immediately making a nod to the storied past of psychedelic music. But, while that genre has gradually grown stale, this record still illustrates that there are a few gems left to be eked out of the staple sound.

When I put on “Shelter Song,” my ears recoiled a bit; that guitar sound needs to be retired for a bit.  But, as the song unfolds there’s some great harmonized pop moments unleashed on the listener.  It’s done in a casual fashion too, illustrating the reserved cool that permeates through every inch of Sun Structures.  And it doesn’t take too long for the record to move into one of its many hits, “Sun Structures.”  This song, like the album, takes its time to build you up; my favorite thing about these collection of songs is that they come to you slow and relaxed, as if the band expected you to really indulge in the listening experience.

And while I’ve clearly lumped Temples into a corner, there are songs that demonstrate that the band have one foot in the past and one stepping into a new realm.  The one-two punch of “Keep in the Dark” and “Mesmerise” provide some energetic spins on the genre.  The former opens with a light-hearted stomp that includes a bit of fuzzed out riffs near the end; there’s also this explosive beauty that bursts forth through the lyrics.  The latter track is all pop.  It’s tucked nicely in a warm cocoon of psychedelic vibes, but it’s the perfect place for such a track, giving you a bit of palate cleanser to allow you to digest the rest of this listen.

What has amazed me most about listening to Sun Structures is that despite the length of the songs, they never wear you down.  Even on a song like “Sand Dance,” there’s so much to offer aside from what you’re initially being offered.  On this tune you’ll find a very classic psych sound, but then there’s this spaced out jam that unfolds to close out the track.  The band is not just interested in finite sounds defining what they’re doing; it’s quite refreshing.  And, the closing number, “Fragment’s Light,” is an airy closing touch, which again allows you to reflect on everything you’ve heard before.

My advice to you when listening to Sun Structures is to set aside some time to devote to listening to it as a whole.  I understand that in today’s world we often don’t have the time, but if you rush your listen, as I might have done on the first few plays, you’ll miss out on a very cohesive release that seems to be arranged perfectly.  It’s easy to lump Temples in with the masses of psych bands riding the waves of a tired trend, but if anything, this release shows there’s far more laying in wait, if you’ll only take a little time.

Juan Wauters – NAP: North American Poetry

juanwauters

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Juan Wauters is best known for his work with the Beets, but he’s stepping out now to make a name for himself.  His first full-length, North American Poetry, builds on his songwriting, but still bears the mark of his previous work.  There’s some hits and some misses, but those hits are definitely worth your undivided attention.

If you’re just now encountering Juan Wauters, I’d advise you to skip “Let Me Hip You to Something.”  It’s not a bad song by any means, but the vocal performance might not be the best introduction; you should come back to it later once you have a finer understanding of Wauters. The next two tracks, however, are must listen destinations.  I love the chugging power of “Sanity or Not,” which might bear a resemblance to a lot of modern garage-pop tracks, though the guitar playing provides an emotion that evokes a sense of traveling.  Then “Lost In Soup” offers a slower version of Juan’s goals, using interesting lyrics to keep things playful, while driving home a strong melody listeners will find endearing.

I think one of the great things about listening to North American Poetry is that the majority of the songs are fairly short, so you get a fresh spin with each song; it makes the songwriting last longer, as  it can get stuck in one place, stylistically speaking. “Woke Up Feeling Like Something” again has that familiar Wauters’ guitar chug on the tune is familiar, presented in earlier tunes on the record, but the “oohs” and the careful way he delivers each note are just right for this number. Then there’s “All Tall Man Will Fall,” which feels more like a poetry experiment fitting with the album’s title.  This is one of the distinctive touches of Juan’s music; he keeps things playful lyrically, using various syllabic inflections to impact the message.

The last few tracks do get the extra benefit of including the voice of Carmelle.  Her performance on “Breathing” alone makes the song rise above some of the previous tracks; differentiation can always add so much to a record’s collective spirit. Similarly, “How Do They All Do” uses Carmelle, though there’s a slower pace to this number.  Personally, I think the album would have been more successful as a whole if these two tracks were spaced out, rather than stuck right next to each other at the end.  Her voice is vital, however, fitting in seamlessly with the songs Juan presented her.

In the end, I find that I enjoy most of the tracks on North American Poetry.  I love the lyrical playfulness, as well as the heart of the songs themselves, but that being said, at times the album gets stuck in one place.  Had the appearance of Carmelle been scattered, it might have added just the right touch to make Juan Wauters solo debut a great listen, rather than just a good listen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/04-Escucho-Mucho.mp3]

 

Quilt – Held In Splendor

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

While the masses revisit the soul of the sixties, the sounds eventually blend together, leaving you with more of a rehash effort than a remaining, but on Quilt‘s new album, Held In Splendor, they make those nods, but they incorporate a more expansive palate, creating a more diverse sound that’s wholly their own.

You’ll start your journey with “Arctic Shark,” which comes across as a sexualized stomp with Anna Rochinski taking the vocal lead.  You can imagine her swaying in front of a field of friends as the sound of sitar enters the picture, but it’s her flowing melody that really takes the focus.  Interestingly, the band are just incorporating bits and pieces of their influences, rather than over-indulging.  You’ll hear that unfold even more as Held In Splendor moves forward with “Saturday Bride;” the harmonizing alone makes the song worth your time, but it’s the restraint shown in the psychedelia that allows you to see that they’re not willing to allow their own personalities get carried away in reminiscing.

I think one of the most successful pieces of the Quilt‘s composition is that they keep songs short and sweet, with the majority of the tracks living beneath the 3 minute mark.  Songs like “The Hollow” are short and to the point, yet they’re actually filled with multiple musical movements within. This track begins as a bit of a casual poet’s ballad with intricate guitar playing being enforced by string arrangements, yet the pace is adjusted as the drums push the song forward just a bit.  These mini-movements are what allow the group to keep their music impactful, without wearing you thin with too many historical references.

Personally, I think my favorite tracks are those with a traditional balladry to them, such as “Eye of the Pearl” and “Talking Trains.” The former is a steady number with a great vocal performance, emphasized by a nice backing vocal that’s draped directly atop the main vocal.  And while the latter is a ballad, the guitar has a darker tone, which is more fitting for Rochinski’s vocal performance.  Both songs represent the fact that simplicity often requires more skill in order to make the songs standout, and in the case of these two songs, it’s true.

While the genre of psychedelia and paisley-influenced jams allows many of us to revisit our favorite musical era, the realm of that genre can often get tired and wearisome, treading over itself far more often than going in new directions.  That being said, Held In Splendor doesn’t get bogged down in nostalgia, instead using it as a launching off point for Quilt‘s dynamic songwriting process. It’s a listen draped in history, but pushing us forward towards a new future…you’ll like where you end up.

Doug Tuttle – s/t

dougtuttle

Rating: ★★★½ ·

What does one do when the project they’ve devote their time to dissolves?  For Doug Tuttle, there was only one option: forge ahead.  His self-titled effort is his first effort since MMOSS broke-up, but in all honesty, it’s ultimately more rewarding than his previous work; he seems to have found his own way while writing these songs.

“With Us Soon” takes listeners back a few decades with a sun-coated psychedelia, accented by an instrumental buzz that works its way in and out of the track.  But, most importantly, the underlying current is one of a pop-centric songwriter; this attitude will unfold further as your listen continues. While the following tune “Forget the Days” does wear some of the influences of Doug Tuttle‘s past, including the throbbing bass work, it’s the way his voice drifts carefully over every inch of the song, lightly bouncing along and giving a warmth to the listener’s ear.

Tuttle doesn’t shy away from his past too often, with most songs including the dreaded psych nod, but even when the song indulges a great deal, there’s clearly something working beneath.  “Turn This Love” is filled with a noodling guitar that perhaps goes on solo for too long, but the chorus alone warrant many repeated listens.  It’s a dreamy vocal that you’d easily find haunting any music head’s secret play list.  Of course, those indulgences do go too far on occasion, like in the following track, “Where Your Plant Love Is…Where It Grows.”  What can I say? I’m a vocals guy, and it just doesn’t do it for me here.

For my tastes, Doug Tuttle does succeed when he lets his inner songwriter shine, making things simpler and more focused.  My favorite track is “I Will Leave,” which comes near the end of the effort.  There’s a simple sincerity to the track, with just a hint of California jangle seeping into the guitar.  The vocal is steady, showing just what a voice Doug’s got, and possibly hinting at the future. There are hints at his songwriting prowess throughout, especially with a song like “Better Day” wrapping things up, so the record really ends on a high-note, closing with a wonderful 1-2 punch.

I imagine it’s hard to leave your past behind, and it’s clear that Doug Tuttle just isn’t there, and maybe he doesn’t need to leave it all behind.  He takes all the bits and pieces of his previous work while weaving a narrative of his own.  It’s a self-titled record that’s strong from start to finish, and far more than just a record wearing psychedelic influences.  You’ll love the melodies and the craftsmanship, and you might find that Doug Tuttle is the only thing you need right now.

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