Original Slumberland Records Act Lorelei Returns

Slumberland Records has made a name for itself recently by signing big acts like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Terry Malts, but we often forget just how long the label has been promoting great tunes. Luckily, a lot of their first wave of bands are coming back to the fold as the label’s popularity continues to rise.  One such act is Lorelei, who will be releasing their first album since 1994 on August 14th.  The record is called Enterprising Sidewalks, and it picks up where the band left off, crafting beautiful melodies backed by some jagged cutting guitars.  This is the sort of music that gave the label the ability to rise to its current position, so I’m happy to see a solid return to form.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/01-Hammer-Meets-Tongs.mp3]

Download:Lorelei – Hammer Meets Tongs [MP3]

Crocodiles – Endless Flowers

Rating: ★★★½☆

A few years back, Dan Treacy of Television Personalities used Crocodiles as his backing band, and that’s when I first caught wind of the group.  I trust Dan, so I scoured the net in search of news, only to stumble upon a group that I thought was unfairly being compared to Jesus and the Mary Chain.  Sure, I see the similarities, but as evidenced by Endless Flowers, the group has a lot more in relation to jangling art-pop than JMC.

“Endless Flowers” does utilize some squalling guitar wailing to kick off the whole affair, but vocally, it harkens back to the musical re-imagining of early 00s band such as Longwave; there’s a simple melodic tone that gives listeners that soft-footed shuffle.  “Sunday” again has that atmospheric guitar sound, so everyone’s going to already toss the JMC comparison back onto Crocodiles, but mentally I’m stripping the sound off these tracks, choosing instead to focus on the bright quality of the vocal delivery; it provides a youthful exuberance akin to Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

As Endless Flowers evolves, you begin to see the gentler side of the band, offering a steadier dosage of pop melody as preferred to noise.  “No Black Clouds for Dee Dee” is definitely a heartfelt ballad, considering the band’s relation to Dee Dee (not Ramone).  It’s a standout song, demonstrating that the group’s not always content with upping the noise quotient. Interestingly, as they begin to unleash a lighter side, they also begin to let that element fully collide with their noisier moments.  It leads to some of the longer tracks, such as “My Surfing Lucifer” and “Dark Alleys,” with the latter remaining as one of my favorite tracks on the record.

They break through it all to wrap up the record quite nicely, giving you a rollicking stomp track in “Welcome Trouble.”  The jagged guitar line cutting in the background just builds you to the raucous stomp that ups the ante during the chorus.  It’s got a bit of post-rock swagger to go along with the energetic chorus, and it definitely helps illustrate the group’s progressive direction. Closing out with the quieter “You Are Forgiven” again finds Crocodiles in a steady ballad form that should leave no doubt that the band is capable of affecting songs without having to fill each track with noise.  Admittedly, the chirping of the birds in the background of the recording might make it seem like a B-Side or an afterthought, but the strength of the song itself warrants its inclusion here.

I can see the Internet still hyping up the JMC connection, but perhaps when I listened to Endless Flowers, I was hoping for more, so I forgave its presence and looked closer at the core content in the songs.  If you approach listening to the latest from Crocodiles then I have the feeling that you’ll understand where I am coming from.  Regardless, I’ve had a lot of fun listening to this whole album, especially when you turn it up to 10 (11 is so cliche).

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Crocodiles-Sunday-Psychic-Conversation-9.mp3]

Download:Crocodiles – Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9) [MP3]

New Synth Pop From Ice Choir

Drummer for Pains of Being Pure at Heart Kurt Feldman has always been the one in the group who seems to keep himself busy during lulls with his full time band.  Between his time with his original group Depreciation Guild, POBPAH, and now with newer group Ice Choir, the guy gets around.  His current project Ice Choir just released their very first 7″ single “Two Rings” via Shelflife Records a couple days ago and we’re pretty pumped to pick it up.  The style truly embodies the genre synth pop and confirms that the return of new wave is in full force.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/icechoir_79.mp3]

Download: Ice Choir – Two Rings [MP3]

Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy

Rating: ★★★☆☆

What happens if you remove a bit of fuzz in the production process?  You get a breezy pop gem like Romantic Comedy.  It’s the second record from Big Troubles, and their first from Slumberland Records.  All those looking for a brighter vocal sound, but with the same general feel as the group’s first outing, will certainly be pleased.

You can definitely hear the polish in opening track, “She Smiles for Pictures,” as the guitars have sort of an angular bounce. Vocally, there’s a nice bit of soft comfort in the delivery, sort of like what you’d expect an American Teenage Fanclub to sound like.  But, it’s the next track that will force you to stand on one side of the track or the other.

“Misery,” for all intents and purposes is Pains of Being Pure Heart lite.  Get rid of the scuzz from the aforementioned band’s debut, and you’ve got little gem.  However, I like the fact that the vocals are so clean and clear; it’s something you don’t normally associate with a PoBPaH record, so for me it wins.  Yet, I can see it being derivative, but weren’t the Pains originally the same thing? Perhaps some people grow up faster.  “Sad Girls” is similar here, providing a hint of soft-bit swagger, but the vocals during the chorus are what allow the band to differentiate themselves, sounding much different than the nearest comparison.

Personally, I really like the straight pop gems, such as “Softer Than Science,” which has a bit of the Lucksmiths sense of melody.  There’s a pounding bit of drum work, and the guitars are definitely sharpened.  But, there’s a nice bit of restraint in this number, letting the band focus on their harmonies.  It’s a song that contradicts its successor, “Time Bomb,” the closest track you could call a straight ahead rocker.  The noisy solo in the end definitely reminds you of those 90s guitar moments we’ve all come to treasure.

Yet, Big Troubles faces sort of a problem in the long run.  Romantic Comedy, while definitely enjoyable, wears down listeners quiet quickly.  You’ll likely go from really enjoying the whole record, then the magic begins to fade a bit.  It’s not entirely their fault, as we’ve just been bogged down with so many like-minded records in the last few years.  In order for you to be the best, you’ve got to rise above the rest, and I’m just not entirely convinced the band accomplished that feat.  Still, a good listen from start to finish.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Big-Troubles-Misery.mp3]

Download: Big Troubles – Misery [MP3]

Brilliant Colors – Again and Again

Rating: ★★½☆☆

A few years back, when all of your favorite bands were releasing their debut albums, so was Brilliant Colors. Except whereas other bands from Slumberland Records, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, were getting their jump to the buzzband title, this band remained relatively unknown. They put out their first release, Introducing, and while receiving decent reviews, it failed to make the same jump to popularity as the other bands of the time. Now, they’re back, with relatively the same sound, trying their luck once more at striking up a following with a successful sophomore record, Again and Again.

Things kick off with “Hey Dan,” which provides the classic dream pop vibe that this whole album spins off of. Immediately, you can pick out the misty, single toned vocals of the female lead singer, Jess, floating high above the catchy guitar riffs and the faded drums. With the crash of the cymbals and the raging guitar, it is infectious music of the shoegazey variety. It’s a strong start, and possibly the strongest song on here. However, later on, there are some other gems like “Hitting Traffic,” or “Back to the Tricks,” that, when listened to on their own, rival the first song with their quality and catchiness.

However, my biggest and only qualm with this record, which may prove too detrimental for listeners, is the repetition and altogether similar songs here. There is sure as hell not a lot of variety, which may work for bands just going with the stellar single approach to the musical world, but it fails for bands like this that don’t have that one to stand above the other.  Separately, there are some good songs as aforementioned, but collectively, they all mesh together in one hazy pop blob. In this way, it is far too easy to let this music fall to the background as boring; Brilliant Colors do nothing to entice, to pull you back in, after the first song.

Thus, Again and Again is not necessarily an album in which you end wanting to do what the name suggests.  Sure, there isn’t a horrible song on here, but there isn’t a really grand one either. Brilliant Colors have found the mediocre middle of the road, and if that’s what you’re okay with, then, by all means, spend the afternoon with this serene pop record.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/02-How-Much-Younger.mp3]

Download: Brilliant Colors – How Much Younger [MP3]

New Jam from Letting Up Despite Great Faults

Feeling as if the Pains of Being Pure at Heart left you behind by strengthening their sound with a little bit of the loud? Well, if you miss those whispering vocals amid melodious post-rock, then let me introduce you to Letting Up Despite Great Faults.  The LA band has been working really hard, and they’ve readied a brand new EP, titled Paper Crush.  It will be released by Old Flame on the 2nd of August, and I’ve just been blasting it around my house all afternoon.  Sure, there are similarities with POBPAH, but don’t just think this band is here to rip any one off.  The vocals are superb, pristine, yet quiet, and the album has a ferocity that you wouldn’t necessarily expect upon first listen.  Get ready folks, as this is something really special.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/03-Teenage-Tide.mp3]

Download: Letting Up Despite Great Faults – Teenage Tide [MP3]

Show Preview: POBAH @ Emo’s (4/9)

Date 4/9/11
Location Emos
Doors 9pm
Tickets $12 @ Ticketweb

Here’s one of those shows that comes around every once in a while that some bloggers only dream about.  On the stage Saturday night at Emo’s is long time ATH favorite band Pains of Being Pure at Heart along with recent blogger favorite Twin Shadow.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing tons of our local music friends there as we all see which band can deliver on their hype.  See you kids at the show.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/saynotolove-1.mp3]

Download: Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Say No to Love [MP3]

Dream Diary – You Are the Beat

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

When you think of recent lo-fi/dream pop releases of the past few years, of the various names that come to mind, one of them is bound to be the sweet sounds of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. So what could be better than a band that sounds exactly like them, save some different members? Nothing right?  

Right off the bat, it’s easy to see the similarities between Dream Diary and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. On “Paper Flowers,” you have the same bright guitars, synthesizer hum, and breathy-whispered vocals. However, it’s missing the element that makes all the instruments and vocals connect seamlessly, and it comes off exactly like a cheap knockoff karaoke POBPAH song; even the pacing is akin to that of “Stay Alive.” Halfway through I wanted to know where Kip and Peggy were.  Everything that the band is doing in terms of their sound is right and euphonic; it doesn’t sound repulsive, it just feels wrong. The vocals fall flat and the melodic shoe-gaze pop rhythms just resound emptily with nothing to carry them.

A standout song, regardless of whether it sounds original or not is found in “Something Tells Her.” Tambourine shimmers and shakes it’s way around the track, and with the female vocal presence layering over the top of the male, the normal flatness is expelled. This makes for a twee tune that actually goes somewhere that feels right and I feel like if Dream Diary focused on making more tunes that sounded like this, they could have made this album so much better. A few tweaks here, a few changes there and they could have just made pop jams in their own way, avoiding the dreaded criticism of sounding too much like another group. Sorry Dream Diary.

Take it this way: when you want the horribly unhealthy neon orange macaroni and cheese from a box do you reach for the mediocre store brand? Hell no, you get Annie’s or even Kraft for that matter. In some instances name brand matters, and this is one of them. So as the last track of You Are the Beat, “Audrey of Spirits,” fades to its mediocre shoe-gaze ending, calmly scroll down your iTunes to P, and listen to the real version. If anything, this album made me hungry for upcoming release of POBPAH.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Dream-Diary-Something-Tells-Her.mp3]

Download: Dream Diary – Something Tells Her [MP3]

Cloud Nothings – s/t

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s funny how one of the great hopes for indie rock is being played by a 19 year old from Cleveland.  Dylan Baldi is the teen sensation behind Cloud Nothings, and perhaps his youth and naivete allowed him to create one of the best records of the year.   The self-titled album is everything you could ask from a record: creative, energetic, heart-felt, and just fucking great.

As soon as you press play you just get highly-fueled kick to the face, as “Understand at All” opens with a statement that you’re not going to have much room to breathe here.  Incredibly, you have these angular guitars cutting in and out, yet it all holds tightly onto several melodic moments of hook; you don’t find good energetic rock these days with such pop undertones.  “Not Important” works as the excellent follow-up here, moving just as quickly into the fray as the opener.  A little twist is the rawness of Baldi’s vocals here, almost straining a bit, but it’s pulled off successfully.  Personally, the drum work on this track really  is the winner, though it’s hard to say there’s anything wrong with Cloud Nothings up to this point.

However, it’s not all high octane indie rock.  “Forget You All the Time” might actually be one of the best kept secrets on this album, wrapped at the four spot.  Pacing is slowed, and the melody is really sensational.  Dylan’s vocal performance is one of the warmest of all the tracks here, and you can’t help but be won over by every inch of the recording.  But, it’s sort of the one-off, and though rewarding, it might be nice to see if Cloud Nothings explore a little bit more of that direction in the future.

You know, writing a record review typically isn’t too difficult. You write about a couple of your favorite tracks, point out the flaws you saw, etc, but Cloud Nothings is pretty impossible to write about if you cut it into pieces.  There’s probably not enough praise I can give Baldi on this installation in his catalogue.  Everything seems to offer up little pieces of my somewhat tainted indie past.  Perhaps its the chorus in “Heartbeat” that recalls twee C86 records on speed or the brashness of “Rock.”  You’ll find bits of influences all over the map, from Superchunk to GBV to possibly Pains of Being Pure at Heart (or the like), but it sounds refreshingly sincere, as if Baldi has no intention of just copying his peers or his record collection.

While I’m not sure Cloud Nothings are here to save indie rock, this self-titled record is about as good a record as I’ve heard in a long time.  You can cut your favorites and put them into playlists, or you can play the whole album in its entirety, as its not too long by any means.  In the long run, I’m sort of glad Baldi is so young.  It means, as long as life goes well, that we can expect more excellent records for years and years to come. And if you take one listen to this record, you’ll be grateful.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Cloud-Nothings-Understand-At-All.mp3]

Download: Cloud Nothings – Understand At All [MP3]

New Music from Secret Shine

It seems strange to me that there were all these incredible bands rocking around the British Isles long ago, yet they hardly got recognition.  Somehow, shoegaze music returned to the fold, and with it, many of these great bands.  Such is the case with Secret Shine, one of the bands from the great Sarah Records catalog.  The group has returned, and will release The Beginning and the End on December 25th.  If you’ve been loving groups like Pains of Being Pure at Heart, or others that border on shoegaze/dream pop territory, then this will be the perfect fit for your collection.  This single is warm, hazy, but overall, absolutely beautiful. Get down with the past, as its the present now.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/secret-shine-no-more-inside.mp3]

Download: Secret Shine – No More Inside [MP3]

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