Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Two years ago Jonathan Meiburg released Rook under his project, Shearwater; it was an operatic endeavor, which came across forceful in moments, while resting quietly in others.  His band returns with The Golden Archipelago, along with an abbreviated dossier, unless you opt to shell out the bucks for the completed dossier.  An album such as this is not something to take lightly; it’s full of depth and precision, all of which successfully push the listener into the realm of masterpiece as created by Meiburg and associates.

“Meridian” is a tricky album opener, especially for those mindful of the band’s past releases, Rook in particular.  Slowly the song builds upon the quietest strum of guitar matched perfectly with Jonathan’s falsetto.  The tone is somewhat ominous, especially with echoing vocals in the background and the orchestral touches.  You expect a crash of some sort, similar to that exhibited on the first track of Rook, but instead, the song sort of fizzles to an end suddenly.  It pushes you into “Black Eyes,” which is perhaps the loudest of the tracks on this collection.

Once you arrive at “Landscape at Speed” you begin to arrive at core of the album.  Consistent rim shots provide a hollow percussive element to barely audible strumming.  Instead of focusing this number on the guitar work, Shearwater fills out the space with various snippets of noise.  It’s the sort of restraint demonstrated in the work of fellow Austinites, Spoon; these sorts of approaches tend to keep listeners in a holding pattern of sorts, asking you to indulge yourself in the cinematic quality of the record.

However, songs like “God Made Me” are precisely what make everything Meiburg does relevant to the broader spectrum of music listeners.  His strong vocal performance in front of string instruments begs you to hold onto every emotion within, only to release it during the semi-chorus that leaves his vocals feeling somewhat scratchy like his one-time bandmate from Okkervil River, Will Sheff.  The barrage of banging pianos only heightens such a release, yet he manages to let you rest quietly as the song fades into thin air. Finally, he seems to have taken his songwriting as seriously as he’s taken the orchestration of his previous albums.

Those looking for an album constructed of singles and hits might not find such numbers here, at least not apparent to the naked ear, so to speak. “Castaways” has a pounding drum beat that illustrates that Shearwater is more than just a project of Meiburg.  But, his vocals cresting and crashing warrant the song one of the most accessible on the album, though time spent with The Golden Archipelago finds all these songs as such.

Perhaps the best summation of this album is the second to last song, “Uniforms,” existing in a dense world brought on relative noise before kicking in with powerful vocals.  Just as the vocals signal for bombast, they’re immediately pulled back in favor of a more gentle confrontation with the listener.  At  2.5 minutes into the song, you’re greeted with the complete ensemble of the band smashing everything into a raucous moment, all before the song peters out.  With that, you find yourself at the end of an album that seems to revel in the contrasting experiences of quite and loud; it’s a trick used by many in the past, yet never done in such an operatic manner as we find here on The Golden Archipelago.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/08-Castaways-1.mp3]

Download: Shearwater – Castaways [MP3]

Spoon – Transference

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Rating: ★★★★ ·

A few years back, Spoon created a pop masterpiece when they put out Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (is that enough Gas?).  They return here with Transference, a record that may not be as easily accessible as their previous effort, but one that seemingly feels more rewarding than its predecessor.  Where Ga Ga Ga hit you in the face quick, Transference takes time to unfold before you, often upon repeated listens.

As the hazy organ work grinds over the opening moments of the album, you can tell that the tendency to rely upon hooks is gone.  Still, when you hear the audio switch from having Britt in another room, to having him right in your ear, you can tell that hooks aren’t required to reveal the power in this record.  It’s a dense tune, but it feels more like the reworking of tracks off Kill the Moonlight.

A lot of listeners will wonder where the catchy numbers have gone, as this record feels striped down and dirty by the time you get through the first three songs.  Then you come across “Who Makes Your Money.”  Initially, I couldn’t understand this song in the spectrum of the Spoon catalogue, but the more I listened to the record, the playfulness with which Britt approaches the vocals is so rewarding in time that it’s hard not to see this as one of the album’s stronger moments, which says a lot considering how simple it feels.

Oddly, the slow burner that is Transference is just picking up the pace.  “Written in Reverse” makes waves as it did upon its release as the single months back.  You combine that with the grittiness of “I Saw the Light,” and you can’t help but feel as if Spoon are finally hitting full stride midway through the album, preparing to carry you into bliss.  Such is the moment when you arrive at the brightest moments on the record, with “Terrible” and “Goodnight Laura.”

“Terrible” has the lo-fi appeal that everyone seems to crave in their musical coffee, yet it maintains the clever layering that Spoon has always held on to in their songwriting.  As the song barrels along, you can feel the classic moments of the band’s history come back into the present.  Then you stumble upon “Goodnight Laura,” which has to be my hand’s down favorite song on the album.  It reminds me of “Black Like Me” of Ga Ga Ga in its ability to evoke the utmost emotion from the listener, except it utilizes a piano as opposed to the use of guitar. Yet the hits don’t stop coming right here.

Transference fades into its closing moments filled with tunes like “Got Nuffin,” a song you already should have heard by the group, and “Nobody Gets Me But You.”  Neither of these songs feels completely polished, unlike the last album, so it maintains the quality that was established at the beginning. It has that sense of trial and error, though they clearly care less about the errors, choosing to leave them as part of the complete portrait they intended to create.

In closing, a lot of people just don’t get Spoon. They’ll claim that the band lack some sort of killer instinct, or that they chose to produced the album themselves, but let’s not forget they have Jim Eno and Britt Daniels, both who have produced records of brilliance in their own right (White Rabbits anyone?).  At the end of the day, the more you listen to this album the more you will get out of it, as it unravels bit by bit, leaving you with such a wonderful record that you’ll have to look hard to find faults.  It reaffirms that Spoon is one of (if not the only) the most consistent bands around, and Transference just adds to their list of quality records.

Stream the new Spoon @ NPR

Sorry I didn’t throw in a picture, but you know what Spoon looks like by now, right?  Anyways, their new album Transferrence, which hits stores next week is now being streamed over at NPR.  I suggest getting a good listen there because word on the streets is that those leaks you’re stealing from the net are poor quality, and who wants to listen to that? So check it here.

New Music From Spoon

spoon_gaA new Spoon track has been floating around the interwebs and we wanted to share it with you.  It’s called “The Mystery Zone” and is now the 3rd track that we’ve heard from the new album.  Gotta say, this track and the other two aren’t really making me too excited for the new release.  I guess we’ll see eh?  Spoon’s new LP Transference will be available January 26th via Merge.

Song removed by request of record label.  Sorry kids.

Tim Williams – Careful Love

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

Tim Williams has a slew of releases under his belt, and the acclaim he earned off the last album left many lying in wait to get their hands on Careful Love. It’s hard to classify the man and his tunes, but press releases lean towards the description of coffehouse pop meets classic singer/songwriter. This is a fairly solid description, but you can see flourishes of musicianship that push beyond those stereotypical boundaries.

When you listen to the first track, it seems at first as if the vocal inflection of Tim is leading you towards a stronger identity.  “I Hit the Wall” lies somewhere in the vein of Telekinesis or Spoon, catching you with a bobbing hook.  This all leads you into “Ozone Street,” which sounds an awful lot like a cleaner version of Tim Kasher’s early work with The Good Life.  By this point, one thing that is disappointing is the lack of realism that stems from the recording of the drums.  Sure, programmable drums are easy to do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go get some solid work from somebody in a studio.

Still, if you can step aside from that factor, you’ll find some songs on here that definitely grab your ears, due mostly to the gentle voice of Tim Williams.  Sure, it sounds awfully clean and polished, but with the rest of the musical accompaniment, that works to great effect here. Songs like “Oceans”or “8 x 10” have infectious grooves and tonality that find a way to lodge them inside your head.  The latter track is probably one of the most exceptional on the album, but you’ll find me yearning for a stronger drum track to back this.  A crashing cymbal here or there could have made this song brilliant; instead, it’s just pretty damn good.

Listening to Tim Williams new album, you find something for almost every taste.  Slow moving songs with touches of piano and female backing vocals are abundant, as are the pop gems that most people associate with Tim’s work.  This is just another solid example of a man who is crafting his own path, and what a bright path that proves to be when listening to Careful Love.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/ihitanotherwall.mp3]

Download: Tim Williams – I Hit Another Wall [MP3]

Sondre Lerche – Heartbeat Radio

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Rating: ★ · · · ·

Long ago, upon the heels of Faces Down, Sondre Lerche was quite the boy-wonder many fans of simple pop had been looking for all their lives.  His lyrics weren’t to abstract, and his handle over melody made his innocence resonate with every listener.  Here we are now, 2009, and he’s releasing Heartbeat Radio to great anticipation.  How has he grown up, and where does it leave him now?

First track, “Good Luck,” is something of a statement song, as grandiose symphonic arrangements are placed throughout the tune.  Here is Sondre, sounding as hypnotic as ever, yet something seems a bit off from it all.  Guitars are really low in the mix, placing the emphasis more on the orchestral arrangements instead of his own songwriting.  But this backs into “Heartbeat Radio,” which comes off with the sensible delivery Lerche has always carried with him.  It’s as close to the proximity of his earlier work as you are likely to get on this album.  And that is the problem that lies at the heart of this album overall; Sondre seems to have indulged his fancy one too many times, forgetting that the quality of his tunes lived in the simplicity of his arrangements.

Songs like “I Cannot You Go” or “Pioneer” are pleasant enough songs, but they don’t seem to have the passion in the vocals and the lyrics that used to make Sondre so appealing to the masses that followed him.  More so, he’s placed some unforgivable moments in here, such as “If Only,” which seems like a half-assed Jack Johnson impression. At the middle of the album listeners will possibly start to lose interest, as the creativity seems to have stalled around this mark.

Diehard fans should not be discouraged by all this, as there are definite moments in the album when you can see the maturity of Sondre Lerche has led to some new elements that you might find pleasing. “Words & Music” seems as if it was penned in the bouncing fashion of a classic Spoon song. The chorus, of course, brings back that memorable croon, but the overall bounce of the song is somewhat of a trip into new territory for Sondre. “Almight Moon” is similar in the fact that it seems radio to be an instant radio hit, not to see it doesn’t have that trademark touch of Lerche, but this is probably one of the more commercial tunes he’s written.

But, for all the decent moments, the most lasting impression of this album is that there isn’t really an impression left for you by the completion of the album.  In the past, he’s made some missteps, but he’s always had certain songs with a “wow” factor that have kept you salivating for more tunes, but this time around, the album seems devoid of genius.  Overall, Heartbeat Radio is a boring effort that lacks a lot of the panache of previous efforts by Sondre Lerche.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/05-heartbeat-radio.mp3]

Download: Sondre Lerche – Heartbeat Radio [MP3]

FT50: Albums of the ’00s

0828top5coverWhat?   You still listen to THAT album?  That record is so 2004!  Well, that’s okay, because we really like that one too, which is why we decided to come up with a list of our favorite albums of the last decade (2000-2009).  Sure, these might not be YOUR favorite records, or the most critically acclaimed, but we sat down and really thought out every record from the past ten years that we keep coming back to in our collections.  You’re likely to disagree with some of these, and we won’t tell you we’re absolutely right we just know that these happen to be OUR favorites.  If you think we totally blew it here, feel free to tell us so, but be nice, as our egos are kind of fragile.  Follow the jump for more.

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Austin A2W: The Black

theblackWe’ve  been following Austin band The Black after fellow Ausinites Trail of Dead recommended them to us so we thought they’d be perfect for our artist to watch this week.  The band has been in and around Austin for quite some time now and have been playing everywhere in town that will have them.  Their sound mixes some old school rockabilly with a bit more modern pop sounds and fits in well with dive bars in small town Texas.  Expect a proper full length from the boys sometime in the next few months but for now check out this jam “Little Hits” from The Black’s last 45 single.  If you want to see what they’re all about live, head to the Stubbs indoor stage on Saturday evening shortly after Spoon finishes their 3rd show outside.  That one’s free if you have a Spoon ticket and $8 if not.

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

Download: The Black – Little Hits [MP3]

Spoon – Got Nuffin EP

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Rating: ★★½ · ·

It’s been awhile since Spoon threw Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga our way, but unexpectedly the band has released the new Got Nuffin EP.  It’s a three song excursion, but will mostly be known as a single to tide you over while the band works on their newest album.

“Got Nuffin” is hands down the best track on this EP.  It’s brooding bass line meets guitar hook beats the song into your brain.  Britt’s vocals sound solid, and you find him with a bit of an edge, as his voice occasionally reached the realms of a guttural growl.  It’s a lot less like the Van Morrison stylings of Ga Ga Ga… and it reminds you of the work that came about on Gimme Fiction.

“Tweakers” is a track you can skip as soon as you get your hands on it.  Not trying to be rude or judgmental, but it sounds like someone just decided to go into the studio and see how far they could get with tampering with a drum sample.  Unfortunately, they tampered away for 3 minutes and 39 seconds, which is only good for those listeners who are actually tweakers.

“Stroke Their Brains” is something that might just grow on you.  It begins with guitar work that sounds like Daniels is just flexing his musicianship before it bounds into the song with a steady drum beat.  Once again, you find his vocals straining a bit, which might be disconcerting for some.  The song fills out the empty space much better than you initially suspect, but it doesn’t go much further than that.  Still, it’s not a bad piece of work.

In the end, this seems to taunt the listener a bit.  “Got Nuffin” reminds you of how incredible Spoon can be when they want to do so, but other pieces such as “Tweakers” are things that band might want to ask forgiveness for when they head into church.  Surely it’s worth the $5 you’ll spend on it.

New Music From Spoon

spoonAustin giants Spoon just announced that they will be dropping a new EP our way and we’ve got a little taste of it here for you.  This new track “Got Nuffin” will appear on the EP of same name which hits stores tomorrow.  You’ll be able to pick it up as an MP3 download, CD, or in the old school vinyl version.  Anybody want to offer up opinions on Spoon’s first new material since the incredible 2007 album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga?

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/01-got-nuffin.mp3]

Download: Spoon – Got Nuffin [MP3]

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