Dark Wave from So Sexual

2756197706-1I’m really enjoying this new track from So Sexual, a Liverpool act who seem to have more in common with the sound of rival city, Manchester.  You can’t take away the nod to Joy Division, or perhaps even a darker version of the Killers.  I think the vocals have a higher tonal quality than they might lead on, so you can see that it’s more than just an average knock-off.  The band just released a single with Bleeding Gold Records, and you can grab that for cheap if you’re interested in the sounds. I dig it, if that counts.

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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Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper

jplenti

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Julian Plenti isn’t really a new band, rather it’s the sidecar for Interpol frontman Paul Banks.  His latest release on Matador, Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper, attempts to re-up the ante for his career, and honestly, that of his band.   After a brief departure into a more mainstream approach Banks is seen hear , expectedly, treading the ground he’s walked upon for so long now.

Opening track “Only if You Run” demonstrates that despite going it alone, his heart is never too far away from his mainstay. However, the trickling guitar lines show a touch of brightness, which also seems to collide with the lyrical content.  He does however bring back that recognizable throaty vocal when he shouts “surprise” near the end of the track.

“Skyscraper” begins with a great deal of promise for new direction, as punctuated guitar strumming is accompanied by symphonic flourishes.  It’s a brooding number, one that might benefit greatly for some strong vocals, and just as you think there won’t be any, Banks enters the picture.  Haunting as he can be, it would have been nice to see him go a bit further in this direction on the entire record.

“Games for Days” probably sounds exactly like what you would expect from this album had you heard nothing else other than the involvement of Banks.  It’s as close as you get here to an Interpol cover song, although his work in the chorus does seem as if he tried to push himself a bit into new space, especially with the guitar work that crashes at the end, coming off a bit like a heavier version of The Killers. Of course, this song backs up to “Madrid Song” which is about as minimal of a song as you can carry on with.  It’s all piano and soundbytes; it would have been nice to see the album here.

But the thing is, you could see this train coming from miles away with the blogosphere telling you of the arrival of new work from Paul Banks.  Those of you who were die-hard fans of Interpol were salivating, and there are definitely moments here that shine, or rather give off a faint sparkle.  Still, aside from interesting moments such as “Unwind” with the blasting horns and marching vocals, the album is fairly predictable in regards as to the direction that you would expect it to venture.  This isn’t entirely a bad thing, after all, the last record was sub-par.  Julian Plenti is a solid reminder that the forces of Interpol are still something to be excited about as we head into the future.

The Sounds – Crossing the Rubicon

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Rating: ★★ · · ·

When The Sounds first crossed the Atlantic, everyone was abuzz with the rehashing of eighties synthesizers and guitars.  Glittery punk-pop took the hipsters (and hipspanics) by storm; you all liked The Killers at first, and you probably liked The Sounds too.  Now on their third album, Crossing the Rubicon, the question remains as to where the band can possibly go musically without treading water in the same spot they’ve lived in for years.

From the moment the first single “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake” crashes into your speakers, it’s clear that the band have stepped up their game, at least with regards to their approach.  Long gone are the sexy days in the tiny clubs, as this song represents a louder, more brash, band destined to carry out their shows in larger arenas.  Songs like these are perfect for radio play; they’re everything a good pop song should be: catchy melody and singable elements.

However, the band still maintains a firm grip on their club attitude. The presence of songs like “Beatbox” and “My Lover” show that the band is very much still enthralled with creating a club hit with that punk attitude.  Maja always seemed like the heir to Debbie Harry, and perhaps crossover songs such as these will provide the platform from which she can finally jump into mainstream stardom.  But, it is precisely this element where the band has lost what made them so ferocious and dangerous when they first hit took to the stage.  Releasing such songs has also led to forays into other musical genres, some which are not quite as forgivable as creating a club hit.

Let’s take “Midnight Sun” and use this as our point of discussion.  Guitar work is drowned out for the most part, despite the cheesy solo in the middle that does nothing more than mimic a number of solos on Guitar Hero.  You combine that with the vocals and you have the band doing their first take on what we will refer to as Kelly Clarkson pop.  Everything about this song feels contrived and heartless.

Unfortunately, that is where you find The Sounds at the end of the day on this album.  Those killer guitar parts that led you to believe you were still listening to a band with some sort of punk sensibility have been exchanged on the market for more polished sounds.  Polished is the perfect word for this album.  What once made the group come off as edgy and exciting has been dumbed down to reach a new audience entirely.  They created Crossing the Rubicon and threw everything out the window entirely.  We expected them to change, just not into this.

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

Download: The Sounds – Underground [MP3]

New Tunes from Nightmare of You

nightmareA few years back Nightmare of You seemed just like another one of the bands emulating The Killers. But, in the years since, they’ve fleshed out their sound quite a bit, evolving beyond the basics and into a group all their own. “I Think I’m Getting Older” from the band’s forthcoming album, which hits the streets on July 28th, has a hint of Koufax, especially in the delivery of the lyrics, but as previously mentioned, the band are going further then they have before; this is all to their benefit.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/i-think-im-getting-older.mp3]

Download: Nightmare of You – I Think I’m Getting Older [MP3]

The Horrors – Primary Colours

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

The Horrors hail from the U.K., a land where hype and image go a long way to establishing a band, or at least estbalishing a fan base.  Luckily for the band, their 2006 debut had the licks to back up the gothic persona of the band; it played like a noisier and longer version of early Misfits records with the fuel of modern contemporaries.  This time around, they’ve gone a little bit more indulgent, expanding their palette and their affinity for noise.

While the band toyed with noise throughout their debut, it has a strong focus all over Primary Colours.  Opener “Mirror’s Image” is a prelude that deals with creating a brooding sensation for listeners a la Bauhaus before the wall of noise and the Ian Curtis imitations come crashing upon your ears.  Okay, so maybe its more Brandon Flowers than Ian Curtis, but since they’re from the U.K., you’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt.

This is where the whole entire album goes.  It’s wave of noise and feedback crashing upon wave upon wave upon wave, but if you listen closely, you’ll find something even more sinister than the band’s gothic attire; you will find a pop band masquerading as noise rock.  Peel away the layers, and you will find a band not unlike the Killers pogoing about. Now, this isn’t an entirely ominous thing, as some might suppose; clearly the band is full of bubbling bass and other hooks to draw you into their world. Take the closer “Sea Within a Sea,” which is probably one of the strongest tracks on the album.  It bobs along for a minutes before the vocals come in to play; the echo behind the vocal once again brings in the darker side of life that one associates with Joy Division records.

Now, the noise is all well and fine, but it occasionally seems to get in the way of what the band does so well, which is create infectious melodies that will attract listeners across spectrums.  “Scarlet Fields” is the perfect example of this, as the bass line is everything about pop structure in song-writing.  Stir that up with a killer keyboard element during the chorus and you’ll find a hit lurking here.  And yes, this song still stirs souls, but it could do even more if they just removed a little bit of the noise and echo that always seems present here.

You’ll find that for those looking for that noisier element in your rock catalogue that The Horrors will definitely be a fitting addition with Primary Colours, but those of you looking for pop gems might find it a little too loud for your ears.  All in all, it’s another solid addition to the groups on-going catalogue.

The Von Bondies – Love, Hate and Then There’s You

vonbondie

Rating: ★★★ · ·

The Von Bondies crept out of the massive Detroit scene on the heels of The White Stripes.  They were well versed in the garage stylings known to their locale.  But, then they flipped the switch on us.  They followed up their debut with a more straightforward album, and now they completely leave it all behind as they present us with Love, Hate and Then There’s You.

From the minute this album takes off with “Shut Your Mouth” you can tell that the entire group has begun pushing towards new ground.  Sure, this opening track still revels in the garage-infused sound of old, but something new exists here, something that could lose fans while gaining scores of new ones.  It’s the pop element.

Singer Jason Stollsteimer definitely has a brooding crooner quality, which recalls the vocal quality of a certain Mr. Flowers.  It’s not entirely surprising when listening to the rest of this album, as the mood of the songs easily matches the aesthetic quality of Jason’s voice.

In a sense, the band comes off like a hard-edged version of The Killers. This isn’t too say that the band has entirely left behind their past in favor of a more commercial appeal to the masses.  “Only to Haunt You” has the feeling of dark swirling pop melodies that garnered acclaim for the aforementioned band.  Still, the band holds on to the darker element of this genre, fueled by the precise rhythm section. This batch of songs is clearly the most accessible set of tunes they’ve created up to this point, and the culmination of this point may be welcomed by many.

All the songs are short, and they hit your ears quickly.  Occasionally, the vocals are matched with feuding vocal elements from Jason’s female counterpart, which give the band a bit of grit, though they never stray to far from the middle of the road. Therein lies one of the problems with this record: nothing here sounds entirely new to the listener.  This isn’t mean to knock on the band entirely, as its quite difficult to produce purely original sounds nowadays, but this just seems a bit to easy for the band.  At times the songs seem a bit uninspired, almost as if the band were just throwing about demos inside their studio.

Strong moments do exist throughout the entirety of this record, such as on “Accidents Will Happen.” Here you find the and bouncing along appropriately, as guitars jangle.  But, you’ll also find a certain rawness to the vocals, which show that Von Bondies still like to stay close to home.  They can’t seem to move on from their own history.

In the end, you find a band wavering on a middle ground, stuck between a poppier quality that is bubbling beneath the surface and their classic garage sound.  Many will find that the pop elements warrant approval, while others will relish in the fact that the band could definitely hit it a lot harder.  You decide.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/04-only-to-haunt-you.mp3]

Download:  Von Bondies – Only to Haunt You [MP3]

ATH Interviews: Broken Social Scene

bss_coverPrior to Broken Social Scene taking the stage at Bass Concert Hall we were able to grab a few minutes with Brendan Canning and Charles Spearin. They talk about the current state of the band, their most recent tour, and details about their solo albums. Thanks to Robin and Brendan for all of the arrangements and preparations.

Read the Brendan Canning Interview

Read the Charles Spearin Interview