The Clouds Are Ghosts – Fractures

fracturesRating: ★★★½☆

You’ve probably never heard of local band, The Clouds Are Ghosts. Though, while you were blissfully unaware, they formed back in 2008 and released a self-titled debut in 2009. After rearrangements in band members and some time to get new material together, this band is back to release a sophomore record, Fractures, the sound of which will have you wondering just what have you been doing that was so important as to miss out on this band.

The very first track of this record, “54,” is enough to pose that question, alone. An infectious number, it grows from humble beginnings to a full on cinematic explosion of an ending. This “electronic pop” band, as they’ve dubbed themselves, open with clear piano riffs and the crisp vocals of Jason Morris, covering the bouncy piano and the simmering percussion with a nice top coat of pop gloss. As the song progresses, the group moves faster and grows in their sound, adding elements and Morris’ vocals pushes things forward; the build is catching, forcing you to pay attention to the music. It ends with some screaming guitar added to the mix in a final rise of sound and intensity that should have you jamming along.

As far as genre goes, it’s a little hard to pin The Clouds Are Ghosts in one defining sound group, as the songs go various places on this record. You have songs like “Angelface,” a slow mover that still has all the elements of a power pop ballad; delicate guitar and piano compliment Morris’ voice being stretched to its limits. A great addition to this song is the clacking percussion, putting the final little touch that pushes the song from simple to elegant. On the other hand, you have songs like “Tinkle,” in which I’m reminded a bit of Death Cab For Cutie, with an electronic twist. The synth that begins to run through the album gives it a cohesive transfer from the simmering pop grower that it started with through to its turn to electro slow jams. This works, for the most part, but I am left with a little longing for more tracks like “54,” toward the end of the record to spice things up from the leaning-towards-repetitive pattern they form.

Though this doesn’t detract altogether too much from The Clouds Are Ghosts sophomore release, and it definitely shouldn’t prevent you from listening to this record. I believe you’ll find something to enjoy on Fractures, and a new band to add to your collection of Austin Gems.

Warpaint – s/t

warpaintRating: ★★★☆☆

In 2010 these four ladies snaked their way into the limelight with their sound that somehow seemed to ooze just the right amount of softness and raw power. The result of this well-balanced combo was a killer debut album in The Fool, and left fans in high anticipation as to what would follow. Which leads us to the real question: can this sophomore effort carry over the dynamic that L.A’s Warpaint established without becoming tired?

Through a two minute “Intro” track, the band declares themselves once more as the psychedelic, musically swirling group that you remember them to be. There’s an exciting air in the Introduction, not only reminding you of the musical elements that first pulled you into Warpaint, but also the lack of the delicate vocals builds the anticipation for the rest of the album. After the two minutes of musical opening, these ladies kick in with “Keep It Healthy,” that revolves, for a hot second, around the mumbling guitar riff, but only until the group vocals chime in their almost militaristic chant. This track is interesting in its constancy—whereas tracks from previous releases seemed to meander a bit, with the vocals trading off between the ladies, this song has one direction and it stays there.

This direction is one you want the group to follow, and lead single “Love Is To Die” does just this, beginning with ethereal “oohs,” ambient noise and a bubbling bass line that seems to be a shade darker than anything you might find on their previous album. The psychedelic-light rock music has turned impossibly skin crawlingly more chilling, becoming the nightmare to the last records’ dreamy nature. On “Disco/Very,” the vocals have been textured with a buzzing effect and this sound imagery evokes voodoo vibe, as if the women of Warpaint are casting spells with their song. The lyrics reflect this sinister sound as well: “Don’t you battle/ We’ll kill you/ We’ll rip you up and tear you in two.”

My biggest complaint about this record is that the middle tracks, for the most part, blend together and lack the catching effect that the tracks at the beginning and end posses. There’s too many tracks that you could simply live without, though they may be a nice soundscape for your daily tasks.

In the case of this sophomore release, the album artwork is a perfect indication to what lays inside. The greenish yellow hues surround layered images that create a shadowed, vague singular image, reflective of the buzzy and eerily murky sound. If The Fool seemed dark and lurking, then Warpaint only retreats further into the shadows, which works for the group in some instances, and becomes a little monotonous in others.

Mirror Travel – Mexico

mirrortravelRating: ★★★★☆

Living in Austin, I sometimes forget just how many great bands come out of this city, so I love it when I stumble across one such as Mirror Travel who is bound to make waves. Formerly known as Follow That Bird, this trio is made up of Lauren Green as front woman on guitar and vocals, Paul Brinkley on bass and backing vocals and Tiffanie Lanmon going to town on the drums. Together, they come together to give you Mexico, their first proper release as a group, and not to mention a stunning display of good old rock and roll with a hint of dreamy elements to bring you into the present.

First, they present you with an ambient introductory track comprised of delicate guitar sound, a shaker for percussion, and some other gentle sounds to warm you up to the sound. Immediately, it strikes me as the lead into of an Explosions in the Sky track, but “Sands” is just about as mellow as it gets before they kick into their punch-you-in the face, dare-I-say psychedelic rock, like the calm before the desert storm. “I Want You To Know,” begins purely with a killer bass line and a finally you get a taste of the real cutting guitars and the raspy vocals of Green. Her voice is pure power, staking its claim amidst the buzz of the guitar and evoking a cross between Stevie Nicks and Dolores O’Riordan at points. The vocals don’t seem to be especially mixed above the instrumental parts of the songs, but sound as if she is in another room and you’re just lucky enough to have stumbled upon the sound  and stayed because you liked it so much.

This group isn’t only about melting your face with their angular guitar sound and kick ass vocals coming from the front woman, but they’re also here to make you dance, as any good rock and roll band should. Infectious tune, “Parties” comes fourth up on the album and will have you humming along with the choral hook while you’re jamming. Not to forget the ending of the song in which the guitar cuts out for a fast second and some rolling drum work in the background gives the song that build to put it over the top from good to grand. If you’re going to listen to only one song off this record, make sure it is “Parties,” as it’s bound to be one of the best tracks of the year.

Though it seems to only listen to one song from this effort would be a crime. I dare you to find a track you don’t like on Mexico; it’s easy to put this album on repeat and listen to it for days. In fact, that’s what I have been doing and will continue to do so. Look out Austin, as well as the indie world—here comes Mirror Travel.

The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still

Heat-and-the-Heart-Lets-Be-Still-1024x1024Rating: ★★½☆☆

If you haven’t heard Seattle band, The Head and the Heart, I’d be pretty surprised, as they are one of those groups that has undergone a Mumford and Sons leap from small timers to radio-played ‘indie folk band,’ consumed by the general public. Though they made said jump, their 2010 self-titled debut did not garner the popularity nor the recognition that the singles did, which allowed for the band to fall a little off the map since that release. Let’s Be Still offers the opportunity for this group to prove themselves to their fans and the general public that they are more than a one trick pony. Will they take that opportunity?

They start out on a positive note, with two back-to-back numbers that seem to show some growth from the band. “Homecoming Heroes,” starts out with the bouncy piano and violin work that the band made their signature. Raspy male vocals guide you along through some easy rhymes, while backing vocals smooth the background over with some ‘oohs.’ It’s a fun number, starting things out with an instrumental break at the end that is quite enjoyable. Second track, “Another Story,” is reminiscent of a simpler Cave Singers song, with slightly rambling lead vocals, which works well for this band—it gives a dose of chaos and unpredictability that you wouldn’t expect from them, proving to be the best track on the record.

Though, on the whole, the album falls into the same chasm that their debut did, just without those superstar crowd pleasers. The songs on Let’s Be Still aren’t all bad, but they do combine to make for a bit of a boring album. Those spunky numbers that spiced up their initial release just aren’t there, or if they are, they aren’t as bright and passionate; pun intended, the heart seems a missing from this album. Track after track it seems like all the numbers blur together in one massive, slow tempo, folksy pile. The smaller nuances that drew in audiences are lost when there is little differentiation from song to song. Even the brightest of numbers from the album, such as “Friends,” seem a little flat. They’ve lengthened the album, but thirteen mildly interesting tracks don’t make for an effort I see myself coming back to listen to regularly, or even at all.

Perhaps you’ll think differently, but this is not the strong sophomore effort that I wish for bands of this nature, and it seems as though The Head and the Heart have missed their chance to win me over. The enticement was there from their singles, but I couldn’t take that bait to really bite into their first album; Let’s Be Still doesn’t offer me much of a worm.

Cults – Static

cultsRating: ★★★½☆

It’s been two years since New York buzz band, Cults, released their self titled debut album, which was catchy as all get out, but proved to be a little juvenile upon repeated listening. Now they’re back with sophomore release, Static, that interestingly features eerily similar album artwork as before. Still depicting a male and female mid jam, but this time in a pixilated form, the artwork, as well as the title, signifies no real departure from their original sound. That being said, Static comes off as a bit of a reexamination of their first record; they revise where they went wrong two years ago to make a record not only with a greater listening longevity, but one that is more enticing in its subtleties.

Though Cults prove this to be true after a bit of a slow start. The first track, “I Know,” is a hazy, ultimately skip-worthy track that may have been better left off the record, though it serves perhaps as a semi-introduction to the groups’ approach to music this go-round. Second up is an enticing number that incorporates the old and new sound. “I Can Hardly Make You Mine,” touts the familiar sugary vocals of Madelin Follin articulating simple lyrics, along with some xylophone-esque tinkering in the background. However, the vocals and tinkling xylophonic sounds are no longer gimmicks of this bands sound, but attributes that add texture to the overall mix. There are more layers and better ones at that, and such attention to detail makes each song seem more thought out and planned.

But the real superstar of this album is single, “High Road,” which is fourth up on the track list. Begging you to put this song on repeat and just drive around, slow and steady urban jungle beats welcome you, and swelling synth sounds make you stick around for the catchy chorus. Follin’s vocals on this number together with the smooth and cool instrumentation remind me of a Frankie Rose tune.  After this number the songs seem fairly interesting and good, but this single definitely sticks out as a sure highlight that you will want to revisit over and over again. Honorable mentions for other stand out tracks go to “Were Before” for a groovy bass line and hair raising vocals, as well as “So Far” for its gritty guitar.

At the end of the day, this record may not be what a diehard fan of Cults’ original record really wants; Static is a touch more mature in its sound. However, to me, and perhaps newcomers to Cults, this serves as ultimately a positive change for the group. So if you weren’t a huge fan before, maybe it’s time to give Cults a second chance: they’re still fun and youthful, but Static is a ‘young adult’ record, while Cults was a ‘preteen’ record.