Mozes and The Firstborn Have Skills

artworks-000046961608-2br5ga-t500x500Just this last week the folks over at Burger Records released a cassette from Dutch band Mozes and the Firstborn.  I like how the group opens up this lead single by jumping right into the chorus, than going backwards by offering up the verses.  The vocals remind me of Austin’s The Strange Boys, those there’s a different folk spin on the group’s approach.  A relaxed pace and a catchy chorus make this song worthy of repeat listens throughout your day, which will hold true for the band’s self-titled cassette.  It’s available now, so do what’s good for you and pick it up.

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The Strange Boys – Be Brave

Rating: ★★★½☆

It’s been a little over a year since the release of their last album, but already The Strange Boys are returning with another album.  Here we find the local Austin heroes doing their twangy R&B meets country on Be Brave.  This time, however, the boys don’t seem nearly as rambunctious, instead they’ve chosen to slow it all down, spending a lot more time with swinging numbers that might just have you wrapping your arms around your favorite pal (or lover) as you swing them to and fro.

There’s an elephant standing in the corner of the room, and it’s best to get that fella out in the open right away.  Singer Ryan Sambol doesn’t have the most pristine vocal styling, and some might even call it grating at times. But, despite the fact that he never seems too polished, there is an underlying bit of charm behind such an approach.  It seems rooted in the tradition of singers who had very little traditional training, but put every ounce of emotion into their performances.  That being said, it is not a vocal style for everyone.

The first song to really put the listener on notice has to be “A Walk on the Beach.”  At first, the song seems to stumble through the first two minutes, as Sambol does his warble croon over  a light guitar track.  But, once that two minute mark hits (1:32 actually) you get a quickened pace, almost as if a train’s coming for you.  Just as soon as you get there, you get a switch, as the boys turn into a twangy swing band.  The music isn’t really swing, but you can feel the band twisting and turning you with each guitar chord, and after all, there is a blaring horn.

One of the things about Be Brave that shows a bit of a shift in musical strategy, as alluded to earlier, is that the slow burners here have a lot more of an emotional appeal this time around.  Take “Between Us” and play it on your back porch while you’re drinking with your pals, and you’re guaranteed to have your arms around each other laughing at old tales of glory.  It just has a sort of swing that gets you into cherishing times past.

The Strange Boys clearly have discovered that they can continue along the lines of their self-created genre while still pushing their sound, and their career for that matter.  “Dare I Say” is a wonderful tune, and it’s probably one of the simplest numbers on the record.  There’s a touch of barroom piano, but mostly it’s just guitar and vocal; it remains one of the more “mainstream” tunes they’ve tossed out. It’s also the song that kicks off a steady string of slow, yet solid, songs.  From this point until the end, you’ll find mellow numbers that seem more like solo affairs than anything else.  Funnily, “All You Can Hide Inside” sounds like The Strange Boys covering Jeff Buckley, yet you’ll still find it enjoyable.

Be Brave comes to you with little press, at least in contrast to …And Girls Club, yet for those who listen closely, it’s the most complete recording The Strange Boys have managed to put together.  Aesthetically, it remains the same, but it’s their ability to find the groove from simple guitars and vocals that manages to make this album more successful than the last. Cheers boys, you’re doing us Austinites proud.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/08-Dare-I-Say.mp3]

Download: The Strange Boys – Dare I Say [MP3]

SXSW Watchlist: Fergus and Geronimo

f&gWe all know what a great music scene Austin has, but SXSW gives us all a chance to support our Texas brethren, and we’re here to do our part by highlighting Denton’s Fergus and Geronimo.  Primarily the work of Andrew Savage and Jason Kelly, the group expands to a raucous foursome for live purposes.  You might find them in the same line as The Strange Boys, though I’ll definitely have to give it to this group for their vocal qualities over our Austin compatriots.  If you want to get a head start on the band, you will be happy to know that they currently have three 7 inches up for grabs, all of which feature the band’s traditional American garage sound.  After seeing them open for The Dutchess and the Duke earlier this year, I found that they are the sort of band you can get behind every single night.  Fergus and Geronimo have several shows during SXSW, one being at the Woodsist showcase, so be sure to catch hold of them now, as they’ll be a hot ticket for the rest of the year.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/01-Tell-It-In-My-Ear.mp3]

Download: Fergus and Geronimo – Tell It In My Ear [MP3]

A2W: Yellow Fever

yellowAt the end of the year, we had a hard time keeping our heads above water, trying to grasp our end of the year lists and what not.  In doing so, we missed the chance to alert you to the duo that is Yellow Fever.  Sure, they’ve been running around Austin for several years, but recently, they’ve seen their star rising in their musical horoscope.  Vivian Girls opted to release the groups self-titled debut album on their label Wild World.  It’s an album full of simple ditty’s a la early K Records groups such as the Beat Happening, but instead of Calvin as the front man, you have the wonderful Jennifer Moore.  It’s got enough hooks to grab the casual listener, and enough depth to instill true adoration from Austin fans. You’ll want to keep an eye on this group in 2010, especially on February 19th when they take the stage with Chain and the Gang and The Strange Boys.  Sounds like a line-up of classic indie rock, and by that, I mean the stuff pre-Pitchfork. Do yourself a favor and head on out to grab a copy of Yellow Fever so you’ll know all the songs in time for the show.

Thomas Function – In the Valley of Sickness

Thomas _F_Cover_StickerMockupRating: ★★★★☆

When I fell across the Alabama outfit Thomas Function last year at SXSW, I absolutely loved what they brought to the live performance.  Their vibrant energy and jangling guitars brought so much force that it was hard to ignore them.  So when Fat Possum sent me their new album, In the Valley of Sickness, I was eager to see if their live stage presence would carry over the recorded material.  Surprisingly, sort of, they do live up to my expectations, if not exceed them.

As soon as you hear the vocals, you’ll recognize them, at least if you’ve been hanging out in the Austin area for the last few years.  The voice sounds exactly like The Strange Boys, with a whole lot of Southern influence, but just a touch more clarity than the Austin kids. Sure, they sound a bit off-kilter, but the energy hiding behind the vocals is enough to push the music along.

As you go track by track through this album, you can tell that these boys are all about having a little it of fun, which is great to see, as this is the least arty record to come out this year.  “Day in the Shade” comes at you full force, and it almost seems as if these boys are going so fast that they are bound to run off the tracks at any moment.  Still, they hold back just enough to finish the song.  You also can’t deny the humor from this album, which shows once again, that Thomas Function is just out there enjoying their rock n’ roll lifestyle.  On “Picking Scabs” the call of “are you going to buy a record or not” seems to show that these boys know their place in the music world, and if you help support them, you’ll keep them out on the road to rock for years to come.

For me, I can’t really go on with this review without mentioning “Belly of the Beast.”  It’s like mellow power-pop with a twist from the Deep South.  Backing vocals are used to perfection, and touches of organ don’t ever seem to hurt a song with jangling guitars.  Similarly, “Two Pigs” is another such tune that shows the band’s abilities, even when they aren’t going full force in your face. Holding back seems to suit the group, if not only to show their diversity as songwriters.  These two songs fit perfectly into the album, and by filling out the sound, it shows Thomas Function knows no bounds.

For all those kids who loved the early Kings of Leon albums, or just enjoy a touch of Southern rock in their punk, you’ll want to find your way to a record store to get your hands on In the Valley of Sickness.  This group is far and above one of the more enjoyable listens for this year, and you’ll treasure all the foot-stomping moments Thomas Function gives you for the rest of your days.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/06-Belly-Of-The-Beast-1.mp3]

Download: Thomas Function – Belly Of The Beast [MP3]

Constantines @ Emos – 6/6

iwasakingOut of all the shows this week, this is definitely the one I have been looking forward to the most. Whether it be the post-punk of Constantines, the crazy antics of Crystal Antlers or the tunes of my favorite new band I Was a King (pictured at left), it’s destined to be a night that my ears won’t soon forget. Sure, there are other greats gracing Austin this Saturday like The Strange Boys, Oh No Oh My or Au Revoir Simone, but this is the show you definitely need to be at. Buy your tickets.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/09-you-are-a-conductor.mp3]

Download: Constantines – You are A Conductor [MP3]

Strange Boys – and Girls Club

strangeRating: ★★★★☆

Austin’s very own The Strange Boys finally have an album for everyone to share with their friends, though we suggest doing so in a legal manner.  After all the waiting, we finally get to see what these young gents have to offer us all; it’s precisely what we all expected, and this is meant in an endearing fashion.

One of the first things most listeners will come across is that the album sounds a bit muddy, as if the boys dragged these songs from beneath a rock on the patio of your favorite dive bar. It’s a taste that most listeners will have to endure, but many more will find rewarding.

Similarly, listeners will likely complain that singer Ryan Sambol’s vocals are a little bit shattering.  At times his lyrics are downright hard to decipher, drowned in a Southern sort of drawl, and drawn out until the very last possible syllable.  Still, if you give it a bit of love and devotion, it’s bound to worm its way into your heart.

Where precisely would one place the music on this record?  Besides Austin?  Well, step back into the storied history of a struggling middle class during the sixties.  Turn right just past the nearest alley, and walk into the dingy bar filling with smoke as we speak.  Here you will find the band and their album and Girls Club. It’s a dense sound, filled with frustration, fear and a destiny all of its own; a destiny soaked, more often than not, in debauchery.

Similarities abound, especially when one focuses on some of the melodic moments, such as the guitar during “No Way for a Slave to Behave,” which resembles the last era of the great American sock-hop.  It swings you left and right, as you grab the girl nearest you.  If it didn’t have that raw emotion and production, one might find such a song on American Bandstand.

Blues and R&B elements are also in abundance, making one reminisce for the legendary days where teenagers snuck off to cozy up to their romantic interest such as on the song “This Girls Taught Me a Dance.”  Even with such elements, they band pull out little rays of sunlight with the guitar work, creating moving songs intended for masses motivated for the subversive culture.

Combine this all with various other classic rock n’ roll elements, and by that we reference Chuck Berry, not your local station that plays everything by the Eagles.  It’s a fusion of everything dirty about the story of rock n’ roll, and even the lyrics seem to draw from a day when causing a ruckus was more of just a good time as opposed to a violent act.  Stories of stealing girls from their man along with serving time don’t seem to revel in senseless crimes, rather the need for diversion in the sterile world.  Use hit song “Heard You Want to Beat Me Up” as an example for such lyrical meanderings.

And the story is written.  You find yourself slowly warming up to a band intent upon returning to the day when music not only had artistic elements, but moments devoted purely to the enjoyment to those on stage and in an audience.  Every twist and turn, every influence, and every word will make you yearn for precisely the same thing, and you’ll want to share it with the band.