God Help the Girl – s/t

godRating: ★★★★☆

God Help the Girl is the project of Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian. It’s a fourteen song story created by Murdoch meant to be accompanied by his musical craftwork.  His devotion to the craft of pop writing has expanded greatly as evidenced by this album, which began during his writing for Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

Unlike most Murdoch penned songs, this entire album is fairly void of his soft-spoken voice, instead being replaced by Catherine Ireton on almost every song, aside from “Funny Little Frog” and the two instrumental tracks, “A United Theory” and “The Music Room Window.”

Here we find a remaking of The Life Pursuit’s “Act of the Apostle” opening the album, though it hardly seems recognizable, if any connection at all.  This version comes with Ireton’s vocals accompanied by some appropriate string arrangements.  For all intents and purposes you see this song as the introduction of the story’s narrator.

“God Help the Girl” quickly follows the opener, and it’s one of the most similar to the traditional Murdoch stylings.  Piano backbone and Ireton’s delivery remind you of other Glaswegian band Camera Obscura, which is all the more appropriate seeing as that band, and this project, both travel back in time to 60s pop girl groups. You can just imagine this song coming across with a dance routine and sharply dressed females filling the void in sound.

“Pretty Eve in the Tub” is a track one can possibly dismiss, but it’s going to strike home with most listeners, including the author, for the full use of Murdoch’s voice during the song.  It’s one of the few instances here when he steps in front of the microphone during this project.  However, he also utilizes his voice to trade verses during “Hiding Neath My Umbrella.” Such a song seems fitting in the B&S catalog, though the string arrangements take it further into the musical spectrum.  You’ll find that Murdoch’s arrangements allow for the presentation to go beyond their usual limits.

One of the more developed songs is “Musician, Please Take Heed.” Slowly, for the first minute, it builds with the focus playing upon the vocals, but then the chugging jangly guitars Stuart typically utilizes come into play.  From here the song takes off with a galloping pace as strings are added atop the entire track.  Stuart then returns in the following track with “Perfection as a Helper.”  Backing vocals are so noticeable in this song, which is due to their immediate throwback quality.  At this point, it’s clear just how far he’s really pushed himself in the production of the album.

Every song makes a powerful statement on the album, and there isn’t one that really goes awry when put into the perspective of the album as a story.  Murdoch is at his best with his songwriting, and even the closing moments are spectacular, such as “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie.” Lovers of his pop song writing will see he’s gone beyond his concise tunes and into a whole other world; this album is the better for it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/02-god-help-the-girl.mp3]

Download: God Help the Girl [MP3]

Camera Obscura In Austin (6/15)

camera-obscuraWe’ve had our calendars marked for Camera Obscura coming to town ever since we fell in love with their new release My Maudlin Career.  So now the time is here and lucky for all us fans, the Glasgow band is playing two shows on Monday!  First up is an intimate stripped down Camera set at Waterloo Records around 1pm.  Second is a full on proper set around 9pm at Antone’s downtown.  Hellz yeah!  The late night show features opening support from Anni Rossi and an entrance fee of $20.  Check out one our favorite jams from the last year below and tell me you aren’t pumped up for this one!

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/french-navy.mp3]

Download: Camera Obscura – French Navy [MP3]

FT5: Albums of the Year (So Far)

0529top5coverAs we see it, we’re about midway through the year as far as record releases go, seeing as how no one really puts albums out in December for fear of being left off year-end lists. Since we’ve hit the half-way mark, we thought we would throw out a list of our Top 5 Records so far this year. Keep in mind, this list is subject to change, should something mind altering come our way, or should we just get bored with one of the following records.

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NPR Streams New Stuff

lytle300NPR is streaming a few new to stores albums and one that isn’t even out yet as part of their Exlcusive First Listen series.  For Starters, they are streaming the new Camera Obscura album, St. Vincent’s latest Actor, and the new Conor Oberst joint.  On top of that, a First Listen for Jason Lytle’s new album Yours Truly, The Commuter, which isn’t our for a week or so, went up a couple days ago.  We gave you first single “Brand New Sun” from Lytle’s new album a while back and we’re really digging the whole thing.  What’s your take?

Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

cameraRating: ★★★★☆

Something seems to exist in the Glaswegian waters these days, as more and more substantial music sets sail for America via Scotland. The newest album, My Maudlin Career, from Camera Obscura is just another example of a country that is pushing out superb tune after superb tune.

Long has the band been haunted by their kinship to Belle and Sebastian, but here we see them completing the step away from such association, much as they did on their last album, Let’s Get Out of This Country.  They’ve stepped away from the modest pop stylings of their earlier days, immersing themselves instead in a history of 60s soul and R&B.  This time around, the band has gradually drifted into the perfect dance halls from historic days long gone.

Tracyanne Campbell is the focal point of this entire album, as it should be.  Her delivery, especially in songs such as “French Navy” is nearly perfect, spinning masterful webs of melody at every turn.  She finally seems comfortable in the limelight, and that confidence shows through and through.   But, she’s not the only vocal presence here, as there are some carefully placed “oohs” and “ahhs” visiting the landscape of this album (see The Sweetest Thing).

Musically, the album is quite close to its predecessor. It’s as if the music was crafted carefully in the Motown studios; all the arrangements are done with such precision that you’d be hard pressed to find a point in this record when anything seems off-kilter.  One thing that might be lacking for some listeners, however, is that the music doesn’t have the pace, or some of the urgency, that went with the last album.  Sure, songs like “Swans” and  “My Maudlin Career” have a sligth pace, and a certain vibrance, but there is no “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken.” But, this serves the album sufficiently well, as the album comes across with a lot more balance than the previous effort.  Its nostalgia is fitting, and the album is the most even output in the band’s history.

Through and through, the album comes across with moments of meandering melody and a whispering sense of longing, which, afterall, seems to be the lyrical focus of the album.  The very mention of “maudlin” recalls a certain sense of emotional sentimentality, as if you’re looking back with a sense of longing.  It’s no mistake that the lyrics match this focus; the music seems to further the intent as well.  And of course, the ever present ideal of love, and loves past, present and future.

Listeners be sure to make it all the way until the end of the album, as “Honey in the Sun” is one of the most rewarding songs on the album.  It’s the bookend that sums up the thematic elements of the lyrics, and adds further detail to the growth of this very talented group of musicians from Glasgow.  Nicely done Camera Obscura.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/11-honey-in-the-sun.mp3]

Download: Camera Obscura – Honey in the Sun [MP3]

FT5: Things To Buy On Record Store Day

0417top5coverThis Saturday, April 18th, is Record Store Day all across these United States. Sure, that seems like just another Saturday to most buyers, but the true record geek in all of us is already waiting in line. You see, on Record Store Day, you get to do two things: you get to support your favorite local indpendent record store and you get loads of limited edition stuff.  Me, personally, I can’t wait. I’ve already crafted a list so as to move through my favorite record store with ease in pursuit of such rarities that one can only dream.  The following is the list of the great things one can find at their local indpendent store, and we encourage you to do so, as this is the day the stores give back to us, and we give back to them.

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FT5: Anticipated SXSW Artists Releases

0313top5cover1While we were roaming around town last week, we started thinking about some of the upcoming releases that have got us peeing our pants in anticipation this year. Then we saw some of these artists during SXSW and got even more excited for what’s to come. For today’s Top 5, we wanted to take a look at some of theses new releases and rank them in order of just how excited we are about them. Some big names who were in town (Decemberists, Dan Auerbach, etc.) have already put out some solid releases this year, so we’re hoping that these won’t let us down. Follow the jump for our full Top 5 of anticipated releases from SXSW artists.
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New Tunes from Camera Obscura

cameraThe newest Camera Obscura record, set to come out via 4AD Records on April 20th, has to be my most anticipated album of the year. Lets’ Get Out of This Country is still one of the greats of recent time, so I’m happy to present you with the first single of the forthcoming album, My Maudlin Career

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

Download:  Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career [MP3]

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