Relick‘s been making waves here in Texas for the past few years, and you can now stream their great new Twin House EP! These six tracks definitely have a central musical theme, taking on touches of the world left behind by Rilo Kiley, but I also think that singer Amber Nicholson has a tendency to sound a little bit like Neko Case…which is never bad in my book. A lot of the tracks have that indie rock influenced Americana approach, but I love how they throw “Sun” into the mix to change things up and provide some musical differentiation. They’re self-releasing their Twin House EP next week, so stream it while you can!
I’ve always been enchanted by Eleanor Friedberger, ever since I caught her and her brother back in the day at a local record shop in town. Her music, as well as that as her other project (Fiery Furnaces) has always seemed to change and be molded to fit various whims…yet it’s always been interesting. Today, news broke via varying sources that she was putting out a new solo effort on January 22 of next year; it’s titled New View. Her voice in this track, and actually the track itself, sounds like a Neko Case penned New Pornos song; there’s a great bit of accompaniment, but Elanor is clearly the star. Didn’t expect this, but definitely made my day.
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When it comes to indie rock super groups, you really can’t beat the likes of The New Pornographers. Making music together since 1999, this Canadian band consists of the best of the best, each of which have their own successful career be it alone or with another band. There’s Carl “A.C” Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder, just to name off a few, but let’s be honest: you should probably know who this band is as they’ve been around for longer than a decade and Brill Bruisers makes for their sixth full length release. Though it is sixth in a line of solid releases, by no means does it feel trite or banal—The New Pornographers have managed to do it once again.
With a band that is a culmination of so many great individual artists, I’m always flummoxed as to how this group can create a cohesive sound for their group. Sure, different artists take the lead on a track-to-track basis, incorporating their own styles, but Brill Bruisers manages to come together fairly easily. From opening title track to the last and glittering “You Tell Me Where,” the group hits their stride multiple times and gives you some great tunes.
I think it partially depends on which lead vocalist you like the best that will leads you to your favorite numbers. There’s Newman’s opening “Brill Bruisers,” which kicks the album off en medias res with the groups shimmery indie rock; the percussion is essentially all cymbal, the guitars’ blend in with the mix, synthesizers wander around through the song and the vocals of Newman lead you fearlessly through these airy walls of sound. Of course, he’s not alone, you get a lot of gang vocals singing back up through the whole song, which gives it an even lighter, poppier feeling. Later on you get Bejar’s unmistakable warbling vocals up to bat on “War On The East Coast,” which happens to be my favorite track on the record. The track seemingly makes comment on today’s general feeling of chaos and disarray—“look what we’re living in.” While the track rages on in full fury of to a build at the end, the choral hook has Bejar crooning “Oh, I don’t care, I don’t care,” making you want to scream right along with him, even if the sentiment is apathy, it’s still relatable. However, it’s not just the tracks with an outright lead vocal that will get you falling for them. On the contrary, “Fantasy Fools,” has a shared lead vocal that elbows its way into your list of highlights as well.
Though there’s a lot to love on Brill Bruisers, for me the album doesn’t go above and beyond to give you a sound that you want to sing to the world about. Sure, you’ll come back and jam with this group of lovable indie-poppers now and again, but there’s just a little bit missing from this release to push it to the next level.
The folks that run Austin City Limits, the real Austin City Limits, ya know, the TV show approaching forty years of bringing bands into your living room, always take advantage of artists just sitting around before, between or after a festival weekend. Neko Case is one such artist and I was delighted to see and more importantly hear her taping because of conflicts on the Sunday nights at Zilker.
This isn’t her first taping, so that means mostly material from the last two albums. I’m really liking Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You and we gave Middle Cyclone four stars back in the day.
Read on for thoughts on her set and a few pics of the event…
I know that through his association with The New Pornographers AC Newman often gets stuck in that middling ground between Neko Case and Dan Bejar, but his third solo effort, Shut Down the Streets, is a statement of sorts. It demonstrates his knack for writing incredible pop songs with lush arrangements, built for longevity in your record collection.
“I’m Not Talking” threw me at first, opening with a few electronic flourishes before the guitar and the rest of the lush orchestration joins in. It all builds brilliantly, making way for AC Newman‘s voice, accompanied by Neko, to resonate with the listener. There’s something about listening to that distinctive voice that makes his songs so familiar, but even when the vocals subside, there’s beautiful music in between, which demonstrates the progress he’s made on this effort. In the past, his voice has really stuck out as the sole instrument on his solo recordings, but much care has been placed on the construction and arrangements of these tracks. “There’s Money in New Wave,” might sound mostly like a guitar strummed ballad, but tiny touches of percussion and string accents bring out the best in this song, making it more than your standard fare. Oh, and the high pitch of his voice always warms my heart.
But, I can see a lot of people saying that Shut Down the Streets is marked too much by the influence of Newman at the moment of writing this record, himself citing psychedelic-era singer-songwriters. With that being an obvious influence, I think it actually crafts a broader sound that benefits both the album and the listener. In the past, there’s always been that difficulty of escaping your main gig, or side gig (whatever he prefers to call it nowadays), with many songs seemingly coming across as polished demos for New Pornos. You won’t get that when you listen to a song like “You Could Get Lost Out Here,” which is an expansive song that unfolds at the typical pace, though brimming with twinkling electronics, eclectic percussive moments and quieted guitar picking. It’s like AC’s fronting the soundtrack to Peter and the Wolf…with more pop sensibility of course!
Still, if you’re a true AC Newman fan you’ll find heaven in songs like “Wasted English,” a tune that features more vocal accompaniment from Case. It’s got an accordion that serves as the main backbone here, rather than the guitar, which is present, though distant. Or you might enjoy “Hostages” for its bounce and spirit, and again, Neko’s appearance. You see, I think he’s always had these tracks inside, but he just need a little help finding a new way to flesh the songs out. For the most part, Shut Down the Streets is very much what you’d expect from Mr. Newman, filled with splendid melodies/strong ballads, yet he’s differentiated himself slightly. He’s added a more complete sound by throwing in all the accompaniment at his disposal, filling out an album that’s both warm and rewarding, listen after listen. Surely his best to date.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/a_c_newman_not_talking.mp3]
Download:AC Newman – I’m Not Talking [MP3]
Shut Down the Streets is available now from Matador Records.
You know, I feel like I beat the world over the head today with some rock n’ roll, so I figure we could close out the day with a little touch of perfect pop from our beloved AC Newman. The singer has teamed up with his New Pornos bandmate, Neko Case, combining for a mellow little pop ballad that’s sure to give you a spritual lift as you try to wrap up the world’s longest Friday. This track will be featured on Newman’s upcoming record for Matador Records, Shut Down the Streets, which will hit the stores on October 9th. Hope everyone has an awesome end to your Friday. Be safe out there folks.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/A.C._Newman_-_22Encyclopedia_of_Classic_Takedowns22.mp3]
Download: AC Newman – Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns [MP3]
Sonny Smith is most well-known, at least in the Interwebs for his work with the Sunsets, but the songwriter also has a few plays under his belt, although they’re probably more apt to be performed in song. Luckily, the good people over at Secret Seven Records have released One Act Plays, a recording of songs/plays that Sonny recorded back in 2006 for a play called The Dangerous Stranger.
Musically, it’s sort of what you expect from Sonny Smith, though it’s him stripped down to his bare bones, naked in front of the listener, as a true performer would be. His voice in these recordings closely resembles Bill Callahan, which is fitting seeing as he’s playing the role of storyteller in these tunes. But, he’s also got a lot of help from his friends such as Neko Case, Jolie Holland and Mark Eitzel; having all those guests on one record alone makes One Act Plays worthy of your purchase…and listening.
Thematically, Sonny admits to dealing with issues about family and redemption, and he also gives a nod to Sam Shepard. But, despite the well-developed characters (as much as one can in one act), Smith perhaps should acknowledge the great job he did turning these acts into actual songs, so much so that you can get lost in the songs themselves. My favorite is probably “The Stick-Up” just because it’s so stripped down, and the I chuckled each time the mention of stage directions comes into play; you don’t often get stage directions turned into actual lyrics. It’s odd, but in providing musical accompaniment, the characters are humanized, which is precisely what a good playwright would hope to do. You’ll even find “The Stick-Up (Part Two)” wrapping up the record, in case you feel like Sonny left you without a proper ending. Just remember, “when you shoot somebody, there ain’t no going back.”
Honestly, this isn’t a listening experience for everyone out there. But, there’s definitely an audience for this, as Stephin Merritt can attest. While I enjoy the music quite a bit, I appreciate the combination of literary elements being thrust into the foreground. For instance, the dialogue in “The Terrible Truth” brings to life a conversation between two men, who appear to be friends. It begins in a call-and-response manner, as a dialogue would appear on stage, but there’s a moment when the vocals unite, and it’s such an emotional moment that your body can’t help but tingle just a bit; then it ends. Like much of the songs, they’re all a separate entity or chapter, but they fit together, united by theme and song. Only Sonny Smith seems capable of doing such a thing. Find one song to love, or love them all, but if you love the theatre and you love music, then pick yourself up a copy of One Act Plays.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/01-The-Stick-Up.mp3]
Download:Sonny Smith – The Stick-Up [MP3]
You can order the LP directly from Secret Seven Records.
The Dodos are a long way from where they were musically in 2008. What started as a duo of percussive madness faded to a more reigned in, and slightly boring effort, on Time to Die. With such a distinct and limited amount of sound producible with only a few members in a band, it seems like the only direction that The Dodos could go with No Color is backwards.
This revert to their old style of barely controlled chaos starts from the beginning with “Black Night,” but it isn’t exactly as rough as songs like “Fools.” Logan Kroeber starts things off with his furious drumming as always, and you can feel that this sound will build up to something great when Meric Long steps in with his strong, yet tinted with a tiny shred of whine, vocals. This song starts the album out right; a step back from too much production, but not a setback in the quality of the song. They continue this walk down percussive and rhythmic lane for the first three songs, which takes up a large chunk of this simple nine-track album, which is definitely something that I wanted to see.
On “Sleep,” the presence of Neko Case is especially apparent; her simple role in background vocals alters the very nature of the song. She takes what would have been just an ordinary song from this group and adds the icing on the cake, if you will, making something already desirable and good into something grand. While I wouldn’t think that I would enjoy the song with a lot of instruments from this group, it works surprisingly well. Normally what seems most effective for The Dodos is simplicity, but on this pretty little number the layers of instruments, a bit more depth to the vocals with the addition of Neko, and the overall contrast in complexity makes this a sure standout track.
A little later comes “When Will You Go,” which feels more like a pop tune than that of their traditional tunes at first—the drums feel far away, while the guitar is precise and tight. There isn’t the general feeling of about to spin out of control, or that climactic ferocity, but it’s an interesting spin for the group. Yes, the drums and guitars kick up toward the end, but it’s still a good knock at a solid poppier sounding tune, if that’s where they were trying to go.
After “Don’t Stop,” rounds out No Color with some intricate drums and then a final resounding beat, you feel pretty satisfied. There are certainly some weak places here and there, but for the most part, The Dodos have managed to entertain once again with their zestful rambunctiousness.
It’s not like Greg Cartwright is new to the game of rock n’ roll, but he manages to continuously add the tiniest tweaks to his sound, crafting solid album after album. This time around, we find Greg joined by Coco Hames of the Ettes to form The Parting Gifts. Their new release, Strychnine Dandelion, is all over the map, but it lives in a place of nostalgic sound, harkening back to the 60s, twisted through a bit of gritty garage influences.
Pressing play on this LP will probably excite you, as it should, but don’t let “Keep Walkin” fool you. Jangling garage pop with a catchy chorus definitely makes this song a winner, yet you’ll find that as the record unfolds this song is sort of a one-off, as its the most modern sounding track on Strychnine Dandelion. Still, the more you proceed with your listening, the more other gems will unfold before you.
Cartwright channels his inner Tom Waits on “Strange Disposition” scratching at his throat to release his vocals over the piano-laden track. As the guitar drifts in and out of focus, you clearly get the sense that Greg’s in full control of his gifts at this point in his career. “Shine” really wins you over with the couplet of “I’ve been saving my best lines/for when her eyes meet mine.” Sonically, the song definitely gives a nostalgic nod to classic country-tinged rock of yesteryear. Guitar soloing adds an extra bit of class to the track as well.
Let’s not forget that Coco Hames plays the foil to Cartwright in The Parting Gifts. Abundant nostalgia leads to the group to calling upon the girl-group sound during “Born to be Blue.” It’s a subdued track, with the focus on Hames as she finally takes the lead all on her own, while Gret coos some monosyllabic sounds in the background. She furthers this sound on “Sleepy City” where her pitch definitely has a sultry innocence that makes the tinkering piano seem obsolete, instead letting the listener be drawn in by her voice, which has hints of a classier Neko Case. We shouldn’t forget that her role throughout Strychnine Dandelion also works great juxtaposed against Greg’s.
The closing moments of Strychnine Dandelion don’t make following the musical shifts less enjoyable. The records title track, “Strychnine Dandelion” has a twirling in the clouds arrangement, using strings to further the sound of The Parting Gifts, while that tiny hint of piano allows Cartwright to control his slight warble to great effect. And then Coco returns to close it all out for us with “This House Aint a Home.” She’s got a bit more of a country chanteuse on this number, once again displaying the band’s ability to wander all over the map, musically speaking. Up to this point, the band has covered a great deal of territory, from country rocker to barroom ditty to garage pop, giving us all a bit of everything we love, in both current and past sounds. That factor, along with the fact that they offer up 15 tracks, allows listeners to traverse the annals of musical history, done to perfection by The Parting Gifts.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/partinggiftskeepwalkin.mp3]
Download: The Parting Gifts – Keep Walkin [MP3]
After the release of Challengers it seemed like people were ready to disregard The New Pornographers altogether. Poor reviews for an album couldn’t keep this band down though, as they’ve returned with their fifth record, Together. It stands in the same ground as a great deal of the rest of the last record, but it pushes the rock element a little bit further, brightening the sound a bit, just making things louder overall.
Opening moments on “Move” have that shredded guitar sound you’ve come to expect from an AC Newman penned song, but with a little strings to match the top of it all. Throw in the bounce and those pop-perfect vocals (girl harmonies thrown in for good measure) and you’ve got a great opening track. But, you get the perfect mix when you move into the next tune, “Crash Years.” It’s fronted by the female force this time around, though the jangly guitars and orchestral accompaniment aren’t anything to shake a stick at. Then you find yourself at “Your Hands (Together),” finding the band employing all their old tricks. A rolling drumbeat, guitars strumming off beat, and the combination of male/female vocals. Together starts out great, and it doesn’t seem to slow down.
However, the band switch gears a bit by going to a Dan Bejar penned number. He’s written three songs for this record, and each one is remarkable in its own right. Not sure if it’s Bejar’s odd vocal delivery, or just his craftsmanship, but his songs always stand out in The New Pornographers sound. “If You Can’t See My Mirrors” is probably the best of the three Bejar tracks, using some brilliant swirling guitar melodies to balance out Dan’s vocals. The light female vocal beneath his adds a perfect touch as well. Don’t skip out on “Daughter of Sorrow” as it’s reminiscent of Dan’s work with Destroyer, but instead of him working solo, he uses the posse at hand to expand his own distinctive sound.
While the album does slow down a bit right in the middle, it’s not entirely a detractor. Perhaps the sequencing comes as a bit of a shock, as you can find better places to fit these quieter moments, but “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” and “My Shepard” showcase the band’s ace in the hole. Female vocals have long been a part of the groups dynamic, and they come into perfect play in the middle of this album. Fans of Neko Case and Kathryn Calder will appreciate the fact that the girls get to carry their own weight for a sustained period of time.
One of the strengths of the band, and Together, is that they seem to have returned to uniting all their forces into one cohesive product. “Up in the Dark” is a powerful song, using the dual vocal approach, and a stomping rhythm to move it along. Even when the song takes turns for the swirly pop moments, you can’t help but feel that this is the band at its best. While “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” might seem a bit odd, really just using the vocal approach of the band to make its point, it really is a good song, though it might not fit that well with this collection. So they close it with “We End Up Together,” making the perfect statement for the album’s closing. Everyone seems to play a part in this song, fitting the whole band, well, “together.” Seeing such sentiment makes you appreciate the effort on Together all the more, and it demonstrates to us all that as long as The New Pornographers put in all the pieces, they can create great records just like the one we find here.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/new_pornographers_your_hands_together.mp3]
Download: New Pornographers – Your Hands Together [MP3]