I Was a King – s/t

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Rating: ★★★★½

Occasionally the overseas hype makes its way to these Eastern shores, and in those cases it rarely amounts to much.  This time, I Was a King, aim to put all that hype to rest, as they have an album of such quality that it’s hard not to immediately fall in love with every single song on the album.

From the opening moments of the album, there is a definite haziness to the production, as if the album was washed in a dense Irish fog; that sentimentality will remain throughout the record, though the album definitely breaks through in a major way.

More than likely, you will find that this album borrows largely from the late 90s Brit-pop as the guitars carry a certain amount of fuzz, and you would be hard pressed not to find some similarities between the band and Teenage Fanclub. There’s elemental grit on almost every single song that comes your way, but beneath it sleeps that great pop beast that is near and dear to our hearts.

One issue that some might take upon immediate listens is that the lyrics are not openly decipherable; one must listen closely throughout the entire album in order to get a hold on the precise subject matter.  But isn’t this what we all want from our music?  Does music have to be so immediately accessible?  No! This album answers that time and time again, as it unfolds with rewarding moment after rewarding moment.  And those vocals are so warm and inviting that they recall little known band The Comas, so much so that one might confuse the singers as the same man, but alas, there is a great distance between the two.

It’s difficult to describe such an album that goes all over the place and yet remains stationary.  The album artwork in this case is a sufficient descriptor of the album, as each song is full of different colors and sounds.  In part the album is 90s power-pop, but psychedelic moments shine through from the same core, only to be outdone by the space fuzz guitarmonies that cradle the vocals.  This is an album that refuses to be defined, and it refuses to sit in one place.  Here you have ADHD recorded, perfected, and sold to appease your ears.

No matter what you find enjoyable, you will find that this album is perfectly suited for you and your listening.  It’s not overtly abrasive where you can’t sleep with it at night, nor is it near mellow enough where you don’t want to crank it all the way to eleven; you won’t be able to put this one down.  Please, spin it again and again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/14-norman-bleik.mp3]

Download: I Was A King – Norman Bleik [MP3]

The Great Nostalgic – s/t

thegreatnostalgicstalbumcover

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s rare nowadays when an artist will actually create a world and sound, one which takes you upon a journey within an album.  We’re a culture that’s reverted back to the days of singles and 7″s, but some of us still yearn for that legendary trip throughout an album, carried up and down by the songwriters; that is precisely what newcomers The Great Nostalgic have created with their debut self-titled album.

Opening the album with “Grace,” a song based entirely around deep piano chords creates a moment of solemnity, encouraging the listener to settle down as the album begins to take flight.  And from here the band go straight into “The Kingdom” where the band slowly start to assert themselves as a complete force to reckon with as guitars crash carefully mid-song.  Subject-wise, the band sets us up as singer Abram Shook carries you back home with him to a place where his memories hold great importance.  Listen close as wave after wave of guitar noise crash upon you near the song’s end, coated in a dense fog of noise.

From here, we journey into a song about “Young Lovers,” one of the songs destined to be a hit with audiences.  Here you find a bounce to the band that wasn’t present in the earlier moments of the album, and its a welcome change of pace as the band carry you to yet another plateau in their reptoire. Listening, you can bounce along the entire time, but the prize comes as the snare drum rattles in tight unison with guitar work at the end of the album.  But, just as soon as your body is moving, they draw you back in with a more subtle song.  Shook seems to be dealing with a bit of defeat, but his undying love, or infatuation, pushes him to hunt his love, played in part by the band’s occasional guest female vocalist, Pink Nasty.

Still, they’ve got haunting elements to carry with them, as they do in “Fall River Dream” in which the narrator seems to follow aimlessly down a river filled with mistakes and dreams both touching and demonic.  Our narrator yearns to be free, hoping the water washes it all away.  And off we go with “Fire Brigade,” which has a looming sense of doom, especially when the guitar work is shortened, matched by the pounding of phenomenal guest drummer John Kolar (Sunset).  It’s an epic moment in the album, one filled with a sense of complex dark chaos.

Thus comes one of the best tracks on the album, though admittedly, they are all exceptional in their own right, “County Line.”  Combining keyboard elements and angular guitar work creates a certain tension, yet allows for pristine pop moments.  It takes us back to the story of the young lovers, but in doing so it brings a certain sense of ferocity, along with accusations of someone “living someone else’s life.”  Juxtaposed, however, is “Legend,” one of the songs that bubbles with creativity alongside an atmospheric sound of swelling guitars and electronics just before the pace is quickened; the introduction of horns certainly moves this song into a realm beyond its predecessors.  And so “Queen and Country” reintroduces you to Pink Nasty along with Diedre Gott and Abram Shook, together at last, at least as far as lyrical delivery goes.

And the album begins to draw to a close with ‘The House of My Father.”  Rumbling drums melded with Shook’s voice, as it echoes in the forefront of the song make for memorable moments, and the urgency with which the band performs does not go unnoticed.  Here we rise to the seeming climax of the album, after various ebbs and flows through the valley of the album.  Then we have the end, the “Return to the Kingdom” where we go back to where it all began, to a place where its full of memories.  Marching goes the band, and our heart beats along until the end, where we are blasted by the album’s coda.

So through it all, the band mixes up their textures, their approaches and their delivery.  They carefully craft an album that allows you to start at one point, and follow the band until the end.  One couldn’t have asked for more from a fairly young band, as they deliver one of the most complete albums to come out this year.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/07_county_line.mp3]

Download: The Great Nostalgic – County Line [MP3]

You can catch this band Friday (3/6) at Club Deville as part of the Cacophony Records party.

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