Azure Blue – Rule of Thirds

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Tobias Isaksson might not have the biggest name recognition here in the United States, but he’s been plying his trade in pop songwriting for some time with his former bands Irene and Laurel Music.  His debut record for the excellent Matinee Recordings is titled Rule of Thirds playfully maneuvers back and forth between traditional new wave and modern electro-pop, all the while referencing heartbreak through various allusions.

Album opener “Fingers” clearly defines the scope of Rule of Thirds from the get-go, offering a trickling bit of synth work as Isaksson warmly whispers his lyrics of love lost.  While the pacing of the track is slow, it provides a precursor to what will follow, establishing a strong foundation for the record’s entirety.  Immediately following is one of the standout tracks present here, “Catcher in the Rye.”  Musically, the electronic work almost builds to an arm-swinging dance hit, but what’s interesting is the juxtaposed vocal presence, begging you to remain a bit subdued; it becomes more of a genuine pop gem rather than a dance floor banger. For a bit, the album kind of walks this same line, which at times can be to its detriment, being a bit too complacent, but pushing through reveals much more depth waiting on the latter half.

One of the tracks that immediately stood out to me on the first several listens was “Long Way Down.”  The opening synth sequence was enough to hook me originally, yet it continued to evolve more into a traditional pop song, forcing me to realize that my Azure Blue listening experience may have been all wrong from the start, as it’s more carefully crafted pop tunes that rise above the label of mere synth pop.  “Dreamy Eyes” might completely contradict that little offering, as it’s definitely one of the most upbeat, danceable tracks, but the following track, “The Shore,” is anything but electro-pop.  Musically, yes, there’s some electronics here, but the minute details applied to “The Shore” demonstrate that this could easily be transferred into some genius guitar ballad.  Tobias seems to carefully consider the way his lyrics are delivered, with pitch and tone harmoniously fitting into the musical background.

The more you fall victim to the genius of Rule of Thirds, the more you realize that you could easily replace every bit of electronics with traditional guitar and drums, creating wondrous pop tunes, yet Isaksson as Azure Blue doesn’t seem to be content with normalcy.  He’s carefully crafted an album of love lost around intricate electronic details, providing listeners with track after track of gorgeous, melodious songs, the type that will sink deep into your soul the more you listen.  For this, amongst other reasons, the record is a huge success and worthy of many hours of your time.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/azure01.mp3]

Download: Azure Blue – The Catcher in the Rye [MP3]

More Great Pop from Azure Blue

Just recently we brought you a tune from Tobias Isaksson and his project Azure Blue, and we’ve got another wonderful track to share with you. This number comes from the band’s Rule of Thirds record, which you can purchase right now from Matinee Recordings (one of my favorites).  On the track below, there’s this old school New Order feel, at least in the organic construction of the song, but Isaksson’s vocals have a very different quality, almost airy or dreamy.  It alters the club-driven soundscape, but carries you into a far off place in your mind nonetheless.  Pick up the album at your local store now!

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/04-Little-Confusions.mp3]

Download: Azure Blue – Little Confusions [MP3]

New Music from Azure Blue

For me, it’s been a great week, seeing the triumphant return of probably the best small label out there.  Matinee Recordings had a silent summer, but they’re back, and their roster now includes Azure Blue.  The group is primarily the project of Tobias Isakkson, who played prominent roles with Irene and Laurel Music.  Matinee will be releasing Rule of Thirds this December, and the band is already getting comparisons to groups such as OMD and New Order.  Sounds like a perfect way for Matinee to wrap up the year, and for you as well. Try out this little gem.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/azure01.mp3]

Download: Azure Blue – The Catcher in the Rye [MP3]

Fresh New Track from Strawberry Whiplash

It’s possible that I might have talked about Strawberry Whiplash too many times on these pages, but hey, at least I’m not trying to force Thom Yorke down your throats?  Luckily for you, there’s great new news coming from our dear friends over at Matinee Recordings, who’ll be releasing the Stop, Look and Listen EP from the Scots sometime in Decemeber (I hope!). You’ve just got to love Sandra’s voice, and the strength of the production makes the band sound absolutely superb.  For those of you who get lost in great pop music for days, this new track from our dearest Scottish band will have your head spinning.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/straw04.mp3]

Download: Strawberry Whiplash – Stop Look and Listen [MP3]

Champagne Riot – Moonstruck EP

Rating: ★★★½ ·

When I first got a press release of Champagne Riot, I expected that one of the participating members of Northern Portrait would bring me more hooks of the angular sort.  Not surprisingly, the Moonstruck EP definitely has plenty of hooks on it, but with a more delicate electronic bend, as opposed to my preconceived power-pop sort.

“Moonstruck” begins the affair with a nice little intro, but then this pounding rhythmic groove jumps in, as electronic beats seem to walk across the track.  Caspar Bock’s voice have this gentle quality that really bring the song together, and while you’re tempted to kick your boots up on the dance floor, there’s a bit of a steadying effect to the song.  Regardless, it kicks off the four-song trek joyfully.

You’ll find a bit more of traditional electronic-pop on “Goldrush.”  Every beat here is a bit more subdued than on the opener, which opens way for this soaring harmonic vocal that really seems to carry the entire track.  This track reminds me of the innocent joy I had as a young kid, when I first busted out New Order‘s Republic, before I worked backwards through the catalogue. Perhaps my favorite element of this song is its straightforward presentation; its not trying to be clever or witty, just wants to be a great track, which it is.

“Heart Stab” is possibly the one track here that just gets to sweet for my ears.  In the mix with a full album, you could probably slide it in nicely, but perhaps too much of a good thing can be bad.  It sounds really familiar too, and perhaps that’s why this song sort of irks me, due to the fact that I can’t place it! Still, there’s a bit of a twisted element in the lyrics, which sort of makes you wonder where Champagne Riot could truly go if they had time to craft an entire record of such music.

Your short journey with the Moonstruck EP ends with “A Friend of a Friend.” You’ll find that this song holds the future for Champagne Riot, as electronic elements are definitely present here, but piano/keyboard touches occasionally dominate the beats themselves, not to mention that the vocal delivery has this soothing quality.  You’ll find somewhat of an operatic montage moment in the latter half of the track, demonstrating that the duo are capable of pushing themselves in regards to their entire sound.  By the end of your journey, you can’t help but to wear a smile.  The tunes are written well, the melodies are great and sometimes we just need to let loose and enjoy this sort of fun.

You can pick it up at the Matinee Recordings Store.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/1Moonstruck.mp3]

Download: Champagne Riot -Moonstruck [MP3]

New Music from Champagne Riot

If you know me, you probably know that I think Matinee Recordings is one of the top 2 indie labels (the other being Captured Tracks), and they’ve got me excited all over again.  They’ve just put out the newest work from Champagne Riot, which features the bassists of neat-pop group Northern Portrait.  The four song collection is titled the Moonstruck EP.  The lead track “Moonstruck” definitely has more of an electric feel than a great deal of the work on Matinee, but what’s present, as a label standard it seems, is infectious hooks and melodies, making you want to go back and spin the song over and over.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, or this great duo.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/1Moonstruck.mp3]

Download: Champagne Riot -Moonstruck [MP3]

New Music from Strawberry Whiplash

You know how much we love Matinee Recordings, one of the best, if not the best, small labels around right now.  They’re releasing a special gift for their fans, The Matinee Holiday Soiree EP, and its filled with exclusive holiday tracks from five of the bands on their roster, including my personal favorite Math and Physics Club.  You also get to hear this new Strawberry Whiplash track, which despite having a holiday theme, doesn’t sound too far off from the splendid pop this label has been churning out for some time. You can preview it Here, then head over the the Matinee site to get your hands on your very own copy.  This is the perfect gift for your pop loving friends; its reasonably priced, and filled with good tunes.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/straw03.mp3]

Download: Strawberry Whiplash – Santa Needs a Holiday [MP3]

Bubblegum Lemonade – Sophomore Release

Rating: ★★★½ ·

You probably can search the Internet for a good deal of time before you discover a lot on Bubblegum Lemonade, the Scottish group from Glasgow, who are currently part of the incredible roster on Matinee Recordings.  We do know the band is fronted by Laz, who does work with some other groups, and that he’s a 12 string Rickenbacker enthusiast.  Other than that, all you really need to know is that he’s released his second full-length, aptly titled, Sophomore Release; on top of that, it’s just one heck of a good listen.

If you’ve been following the band, you’ll luckily notice the gem “Caroline’s Radio” from this year’s 7″ of same name.  This song features crystal clear pop guitars, with a bit of distortion in the middle, and casually gentle vocals.  Everything about this song echoes the band’s name, it’s pure bubblegum pop, in the greatest way possible.  Personally, I dig the way the band sounds tight, as if you’re in the recording studio with them, as they stop and start at various moments throughout the song.  Following this up, you’ll find a nod to another Glaswegian band, namely that of Teenage Fanclub, on “Maybe Someday.”  Melodies are similar, though Bubblegum Lemonade seems like the squeaky clean younger brother, crafting harmonies, but weary of cramping big brother’s style.

“You Only Leave Twice” is one of the song’s on the record that will immediately jump out at you.  Up until now, Sophomore Release has had classy power pop jangles, but this song is more of a fire pit type track, featuring some tribal rhythms and acoustic strumming.  Female backing vocals add another dimension, giving the impression that we’re all sitting around in a circle happily bringing joy to one another.  Skip ahead a few tracks and you’ll find the catchy “Alice Please.”  There’s some effects running on the vocals that provide a bit more distortion, making this a heavier song, which fortunately goes along with the number’s thematic issues.

If you listen to the entire album from start to finish, you’re likely to discover that the entirety goes by quite breezily, yet brings you an undervalued sense of happiness.  Songs like “Autumn Sky” just have this understated beauty, perfected by our man Laz here.  It’s got a bit of atmospheric coating, yet done in such an innocent way that you’ll surely picture the singer giving you a smirk from behind the master tapes.  Or perhaps you’ll find yourself falling in love with “When She Goes,” which uses some psychedelic guitar lines and female backing vocals to fit in just another moment of whimsical exuberance to Sophomore Release.

From start to finish, this album doesn’t offer you a bad track, nor one that you can skip as you look for that hidden gem.  Everything about the delivery, the innocence and the magic of pop music lives within the walls of Sophomore Release, which should make us all rejoice in the fact that secretive figures craft some of the most incredible power pop that will ever fall on our ears, so cheers to that Bubblegum Lemonade.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/bubble10.mp3]

Download: Bubblegum Lemonade – You Only Leave Twice [MP3]

More New Tunes from Bubblegum Lemonade

Man, we really thought that we had our end of year list set, but then our favorite label, Matinee, jumps up to remind us about this amazing gem. Scottish band Bubblegum Lemonade are releasing their newest next week, titled Sophomore Release.  The latest single isn’t straight power-pop, but harkens back to a more innocent folk-influenced sound, kind of like a more kick ass version of Sonny and the Sunsets.  Seriously, if you’re looking for one last record to complete your collection for the year 2010, this better be on it, or else you’re in trouble.  You can pre-order this release HERE.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/bubble10.mp3]

Download: Bubblegum Lemonade – You Only Leave Twice

New Music from Northern Portrait

We talked about how much we loved Danish band Northern Portrait just after the release of their latest full-length, Criminal Art Lovers.  The group is back now with an amazing new 7″, which features album track “Life Returns to Normal” and B-Side “Some People.”  Sure, there’s a bit of a Morrissey sound in the lead single, but you’ll find that the vocal delivery is actually more fulfilling.  I know, bold statement, but you’ll have to see for yourself.  The swirling jangle of the guitars on “Some People” creates an effecting mood, sure to be loved by all modern pop fans. You can get your hands on the new 7″ by heading over to the Matinee order page.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/06-Life-Returns-To-Normal-1.mp3]

Download: Northern Portrait – Life Returns To Normal [MP3]

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