The last time we touched on a single from Walter Etc, I was raving about the bands infectious guitar pop. This single illustrates a slightly different approach to the band’s sound, though every bit as endearing as their first tune. It’s built on a nice little piano backbone with steady drum emphasis and strummed guitar. You’ll probably hear folks throwing some Dr. Dog references around, but you add a horn or two and you have that Beulah vibe (something I sorely miss in the world). The group will release Gloom Cruise on August 25th via Lame O/Lauren Records.
J Bengoy is an old-school feeling act, though they’re a fairly new band from Vermont. They grabbed my by offering up a Beulah comparison…a sure fire way to get me to listen. I can definitely sense that style in their work, especially in the way the chorus is delivered, heavy on hooks and harmony. There’s a slight twang to the vocals on display, though they hold just enough melody to keep your ears close to the speaker. Something wicked awesome is brewing up their in Vermont, so stay tuned as I hope to bring you more news from this act in the near future.
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I actually haven’t heard anything about Blue-Eyed Son in so long that I can’t even remember the last time I busted out their old record, but I’m glad the group is back in the fold. They’ve got a new five song EP titled Shadows on the Son that will be heading your way on May 28th courtesy of Eenie Meenie Records. It’s weird, but every time I listen to the group, I think back to the innocent days of Beulah, where great pop songwriting and usage of horns was bred out of late night jams rather than extensive layering. Regardless, I really think people should write more songs like this, both musically and lyrically.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/01_All_Went_Black.mp3]
Download: Blue-Eyed Son – All Went Black [MP3]
Who thought that true twee pop went away and died? Well, if it did, the word certainly didn’t reach the Memphis group Magic Kids. Their new album, cleverly titled Memphis, is full of that old fashioned bounce and melodic shuffle that adorned some of the greatest indie albums of all time. That being said, this record is good, though probably not quite on the list of all time greats.
“Phone” does throw some musical allusions around, though the one that sticks with me, at least in regards to instrumentation is Beulah. It’s got emphatic horns riding the crest of jangle guitars. Backing vocals provide a nice warmth that fans of only the best indie pop will appreciate, and the strings continue with that nostalgic nod. But, “Candy” has a much more current spin on pop music, using a driving rhythm and male/female vocal tradeoff moments to create a saccharin sweetness destined to give your ear some serious cavities.
“Superball” is a good listen, though the best moments are the rising and falling melodies in between verse and chorus. Something about it gives it a touch of adolescence, and that goes beyond the reference to the childish toy in the title. Then, the group suddenly switches pace on the listener, giving the rest of Memphis a mellower twist. Songs like “Summer” demonstrate the depth of the group as a whole, layering the various elements of the group carefully, creating a much stronger sound. Perhaps it’s the arrangement, or the change in pace, but you can extract more emotion from the latter half of the record, though the first three tracks are still quite enjoyable.
Still, “Hey Boy” signifies a band well versed in hooks. It begins with the female vocal entry, coming in quite playfully, but then it takes on a little bit of pace, using electronic touches, and a rolling drumbeat to take you on a summery trip full of good times. Similarly, songs like “Sailing” carry a wave of bounce into the audience’s ear, although not with the same amount of whimsy that was applied to earlier songs on Memphis. There is a certain sense of maturity with the craftsmanship on the latter-half of the album, even though playful elements like handclaps are still apparent. They’re not really giving up on the tried and true tradition of twee, rather they’re actually making their own adjustments as a group, building their own sound.
In the end, Magic Kids have created a really strong debut album, and it’s one that will provide listeners with endless pleasure, which seems to redeem itself the more and more you absorb Memphis. If you just put aside the first three songs, you’d have a really consistently fun record of great hooks and solid melodic moments, but you don’t want to discard those songs either. They’re catchy, but in their own way. Some might take a listen to this and claim to see the band growing up before your ears, and that’s a valid point, as the songs clearly progress in a more meaningful manner as the album goes one. That being said, you’ll want to listen to it all anyways, as it’s just plain good fun.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/03-Superball.mp3]
Download: Magic Kids – Superball [MP3]
When Beulah called it quits many thought this might be the last we had heard of Miles Kurosky. He hid under the radar for a little bit, but the instrumental orchestrations within his mind eventually won out, encouraging Miles to take to the studio once again. The Desert of Shallow Effects is his first solo album, and while it doesn’t stray too far from his previous works, it serves as a reminder that he still has the ability to craft amazing pop gems surrounded by big band moments.
The album opens with a slow burner, “Notes From the Polish Underground.” Miles doesn’t do too much to push the energy on this number, instead choosing to let the horns and piano flesh out the song. It’s reminiscent of his work on Yoko, which left Beulah on the quieter side of California pop. But, he moves on quickly with “An Apple for an Apple.” Seconds into the song, you get a ringing guitar, one that comes in and out of the song. Here is the Miles that fans will fall in love with all over again. Instruments abound, production wise, but it’s his warm vocal drenched in a faint moment of backing vocals that celebrate the exuberance we once associated with the singer.
While this record has moments where Miles brings back that passionate mini-yelp, such as “I Can’t Swim,” energetic moments are clearly not all that will define his return to form. The Desert of Shallow Effects also utilizes his softer side to great effects. “She Was My Dresden” is really just a song for him to strum along while you are soothed by his vocals. What’s relevant about this song in regards to his past is his focus on first-person storytelling it’s one of the few songs on this album where his feelings are the sole focus of the work. In contrast, he has other slow turning songs like “Housewives with Knives” and “West Memphis Skyline” where he looks at writing from the third-person perspective. Despite the change in lyrical content, these quieter moments also show that he’s polished his songwriting in this style, fusing his own distinctive writing with his lush orchestration. Perhaps time has allowed him to clear the cobwebs a bit, and construct sublime moments all over.
Suffice it to say, The Desert of Shallow Effects is a triumphant return for Miles Kurosky. Sure, he does seem a bit undecided on precisely where he wants to go now that he’s back in the music game, but what remains central to this album is that he can still create amazing songs, use his friends to provide great backing moments, then carry you into momentary bliss. We should all consider ourselves lucky that such a wonderful voice has returned to the music scene to warm us over with his sunny chamber pop tastes.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/10-West-Memphis-Skyline-1.mp3]
Download: Miles Kursoky – West Memphis Skyline
Miles will also be playing the following SXSW shows:
3/17 @ Red Eyed Fly – 3:20 PM 3/18 @ Emos 9 PM 3/19 @ Home Slice Pizza – 5:15
In this week’s edition of From the Closet we bring you the band Beulah. I was fortunate enough to catch them for the second time on their final tour for their album Yoko. Needless to say, I was quite a fan of the group; their blend of sunny pop fused with horns and perfect backing vocals just fit that time of my life. I still travel back in time with their classic record The Coast is Never Clear, which everyone really needs to have in their collection; you won’t find a bad song on the album. Luckily, though Beulah have gone away, main man Miles Kurosky is heading back into the world with some new tunes. He just released a new EP titled The Desert of Shallow Effects via Majordomo and available through iTunes, and he’s got a new album slated for March. Based on his output with Beulah, it’s bound to be chock full of great tunes! So lets travel back in time with Beulah, and relish in the simple of days of sunny pop with no pretension.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/07-Gravitys-Bringing-Us-Down.mp3]
Suffice to say that I really enjoy really clean indie-pop, especially when it’s done like the band Hiawata! does. They’re another Scandinavian bunch just pumping out good tunes, and the track we’re throwing out below will come out on their new album These Boys and This Band is All I Know. This track put me down sounds a little bit like taking the vocals from Beulah and making them run through a maze of 90s radio pop like Tripping Daisy.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/04-put-me-down-1.mp3]
Download: Hiawata – Put Me Down [MP3]
This Tuesday evening California’s The Donkeys will make their way into Austin. Something about this band begs to be noticed, and perhaps it’s the sunshine of bands like Beulah that make this a show we should all attend as winter dances in and out of our lives. The show goes down at The Mohawk, on the inside stage no less. Our friends over at Transmission Entertainment tell us the show kicks off at 10 PM.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/08-nice-train.mp3]
Download: The Donkeys – Nice Train [MP3}
Theater Fire are one of Texas’ best-kept secrets, nestled in the neighborhoods of Ft. Worth. They first entered our musical consciousness with their self-titled debut, which attached folk and indie maneuvers to casual Americana.
Their third album, Matter and Light, hits stores nationwide this month, but those in Texas can already get their hand on it by traveling to your favorite independent record store. You will find that this album is a much grander affair, pushing the band in a much more complex direction.
To be fair, it sound strikingly like the final Beulah album, Yoko, only done with a country-tinged personality. The opening musical number, “It’s All the Same” jumps in with a pounding rhythm backed by horns and piano; it’s a whirling-dervish affair, painted with crystal clear lyrics that come out like one of your best friend’s cousins from Beaumont. They follow up with “Uncle Wayne,” which goes back to a more straightforward country approach. It’s guitar matched by percussion and banjo elements, but with a different singer than the first track. Here, you can definitely understand the David Berman quality to the band.
At this point in the album, the mission of the band is entirely clear, even though you are only two songs in to your listening experience. The band has continued to push themselves, filling in empty musical space with various forms of percussion or other multi-instrumental elements. In filling out such empty spaces, it makes the band sound more complete than ever, which is to their benefit.
A particularly interesting moment comes in the middle of the album when the band pays homage to one of our late-great heroes, Elliot Smith. They do a full-on instrumental jam of Elliot’s “Say Yes” that focuses primarily on the songwriter’s ability to create timeless melodies, much as this song does.
They close out the album with “It’s a Secret.” The brooding quality of this song accompanies the sparse lyrical composition, as a lover or a friend attempts to reveal a secret. It’s the perfect song for this band, as it plays to all their best traits; using dense vocals that correlate with the large-scale sounds the band have adopted. It’s the perfect ending to a strong album.
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.