Things get dark and heavy on the Gary’s second EP, El Camino. With these six songs, recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in mid 2010, it sounds like the weight of the world is pressing down on the band. Coming hot on the heals of their criminally overlooked debut full length, Logan, El Camino burns slowly with most songs feeling more like “Hurricane Sunrise” than “QSB” (both Logan standouts). And make no mistake; sounding like the product of a long haul Austin-to-Chicago roadtrip is not a bad thing. The Gary have consistently excelled at making songs for the darkest hour of the night, when the last drops of beer have run dry and it’s time to go home and face our realities. El Camino is no exception.
Nineteen, Frank Smith’s eighth overall album, is less boot-scooting music and more-boots-on-the-bar music. For a lot of their new album, the band doesn’t seem like it’s quite in the mood to do much other than drown their memories, so dancing seems a bit much to expect. Originally hailing from Boston – and not Nashville or Austin as one might surmise upon first spin – the foursome released a series of folky country-rock albums before relocating to Austin in 2007 and subsequently dropping 2009’s Big Strike in Silver City. On Nineteen’s ten songs, Frank Smith – not a solitary man, but a quartet featuring Aaron Sinclair, Kevin Bybee, Kyle Robarge, Steve Malone – half shuffle, half drunkenly shamble through their tuneful tales sounding like old students of the dusty bar band circuit. And, for the most part, it works.
My favorite part of Blue Water White Death’s self-titled debut album is definitely – without a doubt – exactly three minutes and fourteen seconds into “Song For The Greater Jihad”. At that moment, in a song that features some gentle acoustic guitar work, some slightly off kilter crooning, and a few well placed bombs of noise, there is such a weird howl that I rewound (or the equivalent in this digital era) back fourteen times just to hear it again and again – before I then finished listening to the song. It’s like if those creatures in The Descent (an awful movie starring girls being killed and chased in a cave) screamed for a split second in the darkness. Like a perfect guitar solo, this jarring noise made the hair on my neck stand up with excitement. For some reason unexplainable by me, that sound defines the entire album: a juxtaposition of gentle and terrifying; or perhaps meticulous and primal.
That Hard Proof – formerly and/or still alternately known as Hardproof Afrobeat – exists, much less released an album, is simply amazing. Consider it: in Austin, most bands with just three or four members probably average single digit gigs for the duration of their careers (if you will). Schedules, lives, outside interests, personal and musical differences — all common and valid reasons for promising bands to splinter. So, what were the odds of a band of nine (credited!) musicians sticking around long enough to record an album of fifteen original funky afrobeat tunes? These guys play in bands as wide ranging as The Calm Blue Sea, the Bruce James Soultet and 100 Flowers and as well traveled as Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, yet they somehow found time for Hard Proof. Beyond amazing.
The Black’s second album, Sun In The Day Moon At Night, breathes cool. It exudes it. Blasts it like a runaway air conditioner. Their debut – 2005’s Tanglewood – was a solid romping album that showed glimpses of this seminal coolness, but never came even close to what this long awaited followup accomplishes. Ten songs that sound like Bob Dylan and Jimmy Reed via Carl Perkins and The Stones. A band photo showing four unassuming guys, slouching like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in black suits. The vintage Ampeg. It’s all there; Cool.
Distortionist, the Murdocks’ first full-length album in half a decade, is a testament to the perseverance of frontman Franklin Morris and his cohorts. Labels (and label offers) came and went, bandmates came, went and stayed, songs and shows changed like the seasons - but Morris never got tired of sharpening his razored songwriter chops or buzzing guitar riffs. As a result, the Murdocks wound up creating an album that justified the overlong gestation and that many fans of mid 90s rock and roll will absolutely love.
Distortionist might actually be two separate albums disguised as one; or, at least it seems like two separate listening experiences and the band appears to have recognized this. Released on a single CD with a Side A and a Side B clearly labeled, the sixteen tracks are neatly split into two eight song halves – and those halves, while sharing a relative continuity – are definitely different beasts.
Through The Trees’ debut, Dig It Up, is a startlingly audacious ten-song career-opening salvo fired right across the bow. After taking stock of their influences and history – Ben McCormack (vocals/guitars/piano/etc) and Will Tanner (bass/percussion) played together in The Stags, McCormack in a variety of bands ranging from jam to garage band, Rob Jasinski drummed for the long departed garage and hip shaking The Good Looks – Dig It Up is even more disarming. Given where the trio came from, the resulting alt rock as played by late 70s classic rock fans isn’t completely surprising, but it seems refreshingly welcome. Pile on the fact that the band was practically born in the stale beer afternoons at the Hole in the Wall – Tanner owns it, McCormack books it, and Jasinski owns Cream Vintage next door – and one might expect an album of shambling, sloppy burners. Instead, Through The Trees wind up generally soaring through some fifty minutes of majestic rock and roll.
Like so many first albums before it, Smashed, The Blind Pets’ self released debut, is an admirable stab at rock immortality that comes up short while providing a quite a few glimpses at a promising future. Like the image inside the gatefold and printed directly on the disc, Smashed is a fractured record; at times, the band riffs, solos, and shreds its way out of the mundane and slices a mighty groove. Other times, the band freaks out into metallic spasms, seemingly intended to flip their audiences’ ears into a completely different direction. Just because a young band hasn’t quite put it all together yet on their first try doesn’t mean The Blind Pets should be dismissed. On the contrary, it just means listeners will have to work a little harder to find the hidden gems on the record.
For most people, there’s maybe a five point completely non-descriptive spectrum for rating an album “Awesome, Good, Ok, Not-So-Good, Turd”. With Indian Jewelry’s Totaled, there probably should be a sixth super descriptive option: “What the hell” (followed either by a series of exclamation points, possibly exclamation points and question marks, just question marks, or perhaps a single solitary period).
The new full-length album by the Houston noise gang is somewhere between completely confounding, disturbing, and unlistenable yet listenable. At first listen, Totaled comes across as the loose watery beer bowel movement of a bunch of Reznor-cum-Curtis fans, particularly on “Oceans” and “Look Alive”: just industrial and clanky enough for the former, just morose and despondent for the latter.
Consumed/Hot Buttered Anomie, the new split 12” release from Austin’s Beautiful Supermachines and The Distant Seconds, is an excellent example of how sometimes less is more. With about ten minutes of music for each band, the EP proves to be a nice coda for both bands after their well-received debuts. Any more than the three songs per band and things might have gotten too heavy; instead, listeners are left waiting and wanting more.
“Hot Buttered Anomie,” The Distant Seconds’ half of the record, picks up right where their red-hot debut Spectral Evidence left off in late 2008. “Between The Brackets” continues the taut and tense interplay between Matt Baab’s guitar playing and Brandon Bunch’s synthesizers that made much of Spectral Evidence so great. For fans of their debut, “Between The Brackets” will be the clear favorite on “Hot Buttered Anomie.”