Chad VanGaalen – Diaper Island

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Without a lot of prior  knowledge in regards to Chad VanGaalen, I pressed play on this album with the notion I would be hearing cheeky punk beats. When an album is named Diaper Island, I can’t help but feel like there is supposed to be edgy and not-so-dramatic tunes to be listened to. I was shocked upon listening to hear the beautifully meditative craft that has been spun for us. Perhaps I’m jumping on this man’s bandwagon a little late; he does have other album releases dating back to 200, but still, this Shins, yet darker, sound is really enticing.

Despite the first two songs being all right, the one that got me hooked was “Burning Photographs,” the third track. It starts out with some cloudy ambience, and then jumps right into that catchy guitar and soft percussion that has me classifying it as jangly pop/rock and will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet. VanGaalen’s voice is perfectly sharp and produced to fill the space not already taken by the groovy beat. At this point, I started to listen with extra-keen ears, hoping that more songs like this would grace Diaper Island. Luckily, I was right.

“Heavy Stones” follows, slowing down the album after the last song. While “Burning Photographs” was explosive and sharp, “Heavy Stones” is contained and meditative. On this one, the vocals remind me of those of Tony Dekker from Great Lake Swimmers, but that may just be due to their shared Canadian origins. Regardless, it is a song that presents its calm-sounding self to listeners, luring us into the peaceful sounds, only so it can break our hearts when VanGaalen croons, “I can’t remember your name” during the height of the song. “Sara” continues this calm spin on things, but the vocals have taken more of front spot for this number, becoming the main aspect.

After being introduced to two very different styles this early on the album, you can’t help but wonder if it is going to be a continuation of variety, or if the artist will pick a side in their styling’s. This man is different in that he does not; Diaper Island becomes a culmination of jangle and soothing, with “No Panic / No Heat” serving as the song that ties both sides together into one. The rest of the album continues in this fashion, and at the end, I was quite impressed; there are a lot of stunning qualities that I was missing out on in Mr. VanGaalen.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Chad_VanGaalen_-_Sara.mp3]

Download: Chad VanGaalen – Sara [MP3]

Avi Buffalo – s/t

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Eventually you run across something unexpected and bewildering.  Such is the case for Avi Buffalo, who have released their self-titled album on Sub Pop.  The band originated with a kid in Long Beach named Avi who gathered his friends together, creating one of those albums you vaguely remember hearing about, but are bound to come across again and again in the next few years.

You have to wait almost an entire minute before you get to meet the band on opener “Truth Sets In,” but the warm gang vocals, and the odd harmonic guitar picking create a respectable opener; it’s not entirely overbearing, just an assuming number serving as a brief introduction to the band before they kick your teeth in with elation.  And you’ll soon be blown away by “What’s In It For,” the following song.  Something about Avi’s falsetto resembles the early Shins recordings (also on Sub Pop), and as you listen, you sort of get the feeling that Avi Buffalo will be one of those albums just like Oh, Inverted World that grows and grows until you have to listen to it once a week for the rest of your life.

You can feel all sorts of influences on this record, which is not a big surprise from a young artist such as Avi. “Five Little Sluts” begins with a bit of homage to Belle and Sebastian before it ambles down its own path.  “Jessica” pulls out some vocals reminiscent of David Vandervelde.  Even with the allusions to other artists, these songs take on a life all their own, making the entirety of the album familiar, all the while establishing the band with an original sound to which only they can lay claim.

“One Last” mixes up the game, using a female vocal to add a different texture to Avi Buffalo. It’s a playful folk song utilizing a bar-room piano sound to give the song a little pace.  It’s not the only number here that shows the range of the group, as the bedroom quiet of “Can’t I Know” adds yet another approach for the group. But, just as you thought they’d get all quiet on you, the band brings out “Remember Last Time.”  This pop gem has great vocal performances and clanging guitars that will ring in your ears for hours, and that’s really all you can ask for, right?  It might drag on a bit too long in lieu of a slight jam, but you can’t take that away from the opening moments of the track.   Then it all closes again with the dual vocal approach of “Where’s Your Dirty Mind.”  Gently strummed guitars and piano create the skeletal backbone of this one, but the vocals are the most endearing element of it all.  Rebecca Coleman has an angelic voice that will stay with you even when the song (and album) end.

It’s interesting listening to this album.  It has flourishes of great beauty, as well as moments of sprawling pop, yet it all sounds like a concisely constructed album geared to let the songwriting speak for itself.  While at times Avi Buffalo seem a bit unfocused, as if they’re unsure of their identity, what you do get is a young band who have an extremely bright future ahead of them.  If this album is anything, its a breath of fresh air in a lo-fi world, and one that just might make the long haul in your record collection.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/02-Whats-In-It-For_-1.mp3]

Download: Avi Buffalo – What’s In It For [MP3]

Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Rating: ★★★★½

If you’ve been living in a cave for the past 10 years or so, here’s a music tip: There’s an indie rock band from New Mexico called the Shins and there’s a music producer from New York named Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton). They are both good at their respective positions and have enjoyed very lucrative careers. Well the romantic tale begins in 2004 in Denmark when Shins front-man James Mercer met with Burton and they discovered a mutual respect and fandom.  After years of playful collaboration in a secret, bunker-type studio, the result is virtually seamless.

The resources of Mercer and Mouse blend together in a way that is well thought out and intriguing as first, but it’s not life changing music. (For me, Chutes too Narrow changed my life) It is, at the least, very enjoyable. The record is no doubt a candidate for best album released so far; however just ask me about it at year’s end.  If you listen to the radio, chances are, you’ve heard the first single, ‘The High Road’.  The group also just began their tour with a stop at the Late Show with David Letterman (AKA How can anybody stand him?) performing the single live for the first time to great success. The group isn’t going to blow you away with their live performances, but no one should find that surprising.

The track ‘Your Head is on Fire’, pulls a page from Animal Collective with very Panda Bear-esque vocals and samples mixed in. This simple but effective layering technique falls away displaying some of the best of Mercer’s lyrics on the album and I find myself going back to this track in particular for repeated listens. ‘The Ghost inside’ sounds like the next Gnarls Barkley single/ Gorillaz until Mercer’s lyrics come back in about half way through. (How ironic that the Gorillaz new album was also released the same day?)

‘October’ and ‘Citizen’ are about as vintage Shins as we find on the new record, circa 2007. On both tracks we find intriguing lyrics of which Mercer is well known, though the latter, it is the only track that feels over-produced.  It’s really the only track that feels significantly different from the rest, though the final third contains wonderful musical dénouement.

‘Mongrel Heart’ with a good hearty bass line that drives the track and ‘The Mall and the Misery’ finish off the record strongly, but fall to make any real lasting impression for me. It is a smart record that holds a good tempo throughout, with each track holding an infectious beat which is becoming something of a Danger Mouse calling card. So at your next party,  if you were wondering  how to make the Broken Bells ‘cocktail’: Take one part Shins, one part Gnarls Barkley, and one part Gorrilaz, mix with ice and strain (for a smooth consistency), garnish with a little Panda Bear and serve in a high-ball glass (Nothing too classy). Repeat as needed.  Your buzz may not last as long as you’d like.

Austin gets 2 chances to catch the group at SXSW:

Wednesday March 17th @ Stubbs – NPR’s Official Showcase

Friday March 19th @ Lustre Pearl – Dickie’s/Filter Party

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/01-The-High-Road-1.mp3]

Download: Broken Bells – The High Road [MP3]

Surfer Blood – Astrocoast

surfer blood

Rating: ★★★★½

Over the last year, people have been suggesting that Surfer Blood might be the biggest band we hadn’t come across, leaving the band in the spot for breakthrough artist of 2010.  On Astrocoast, they live up to the hype, and in most cases, they far surpass what expectations we all had, creating one of the most colorful, yet playful, debuts we’ve come across in quite some time.

One would be hard pressed to pigeonhole this band at all, as they seemingly bounce from one spot to another throughout this 10 song debut.  For this listener, it sounds as if someone is channeling a Floridian soulmate of James Mercer of Shins fame.  There is something in the pitch in songs like “Floating Vibes” or especially in “Twin Peaks.” It’s not just the delivery of the lyrics, or the way the melody is approached, but it really feels as if the spirit of Mercer lies in there somewhere. “Twin Peaks,” by the way, is one ridiculously good song; you can listen to it on repeat, as I did, and never grow tired of it.

“Swim,” the album’s second track is such a bright moment that you can’t help but be won over by the fervent approach to bringing about swelling guitar waves and vocals that seem to echo through the room of your favorite local venue.  It’s this feeling of rawness that doesn’t seem forced, or steeped in some historical infatuation with bands of days gone by, though undoubtedly it does come from such moments.

“Take It Easy” comes like a close cousin to many of the songs of New York new wonders The Drums. Both bands have a club appeal that still seems rooted in the hallowed grounds of surf rock.  Like those New Yorkers, there is a certain vibrance to the writing itself, which moves it beyond pastiche, bringing a refreshing approach.  At this point, three songs in, the band should have completely won you over.

Near the end of the record, the boys slow it town just a hint, but the jangling of their guitars brings to mind a great deal of the work that came out of the Flying Nun label of New Zealand.  Perhaps the band is unaware of this, but that’s a sure-fire way to get straight into my heart, which allows me to look beyond the fact that the two 6 minute jams at the end, “Slow Jabroni” and “Anchorage” lag a little bit as far as pace goes.  Using time, these songs unfold into powerful pieces all their own.

All in all, this a sparkling debut from a band we know little about.  It’s full of playful tunes, whimsical lyrics, and load upon load of melodic hooks driving straight for your ears, and your heart. It’s refreshing to hear such a solid album arise beyond the hype, and fulfill on all the promise, which is precisely what Astrocoast does.  Based on this, Surfer Blood surely will be the breakout band we all heard they would be, and its deservedly so.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/02-Swim.mp3]

Download: Surfer Blood – Swim [MP3]

New Music From Broken Bells

broken-bellsA new song called “High Road” from the new Danger Mouse & James Mercer (Shins) project has been spreading over the internet today.  The duo recently announced that they were teaming up as Broken Bells and plan to release their debut self-titled LP on March 9th via Columbia Records.  Pre-order options are available on the new Broken Bells website.  This new jam sounds a lot like…. well a lot like what you would expect to hear if Danger Mouse#mce_temp_url# produced a Shins album.  Duh.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/01-The-High-Road-1.mp3]

Download: Broken Bells – The High Road [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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Merge Score Covers Pre-Order!

coversOne of our favorite labels, Merge Records, has compiled a great set of covers as part of their subscription series SCORE! Unlike the rest of the series, Merge will be offering up this series of covers to the masses, but only a limited amount will be released. Not to mention, all proceeds will go to the charity of the curators choice! Good tunes and humanitarianism? Count us in. Head over to pre-order the album now. And in the meantime, check out this new Shins cover of Tenement Halls. 

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/the-shins-plenty-is-never-enough.mp3]

Download: The Shins (Tenement Halls Cover) – Plenty if Never Enough [MP3]

FT5: Egregious Indie Rock Sell Outs

Some poor kid is listening to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” for the first time today and he wants to like the song, he really does. The problem being that each time he hears Iggy say “I got a lust for Life”  he pictures some nine year old cracker with a goofy smile running down the deck of a cruise liner. Thanks to the marketing gurus at Carnival Cruise Lines that song is most likely ruined for a generation. I know nowadays the kids like to fall all over themselves defending their decision to sell out, and I’m not saying that I wouldn’t punch my grandmother for a little extra bread, but it’s never a pretty sight when you see an artist you respect making a sales pitch for some crappy chain restaurant. Like it or not, when an artist lends their music to a commercial it then loses its creative and artistic merit and is relegated to the status of jingle. So here it is; after the jump is a list of five of the more heinous indie rock sellouts.

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