November 30, 2007
Pinback sheds a few layers of sound but doesn’t sacrifice any tightness on the follow up to 2004′s “Summer in Abaddon,” “Autumn of the Seraphs.” The songs still play like clockwork, as the band hits every note in perfect time.
With the exception of the hard-driving opener “From Nothing to Nowhere,” Pinback stays true to the formula that has brought them success on past albums — clean guitars, technical beats, rhythmic singing, and a touch of electronica.
Usually when a band changes so little, I grow weary of their sound. But I guess the finely tuned machine that is Pinback isn’t broke, so why fix it?
November 29, 2007
I’ve biked by the back entrance to Penn Field across from St. Edward’s University countless times this semester, and every time I see the Austin Playhouse logo I think it’s some sort of fitness center.
So I was surprised when all of us Hilltop Views journalists gathered there to see a play tonight. Following a delicious dinner, we sat down to enjoy “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” an over the top comedy that made light of extramarital affairs.
The plotline centered around a British husband’s failed plans to enjoy a weekend with his mistress, and the chaos that ensued when his wife decided to stay in town was disasastrous. Each of the characters that took the stage had to assume pseudo-roles in order to maintain faithful appearances to their significant others and their other adulterous counterparts.
The delivery of the actors was incredible. I was continually impressed by their ability to recite increasingly complex, fabricated explanations to their official partners concerning the presence of forbidden lovers.
My only problem with the play was the plot itself. There was plenty of hilarious parallel dialogue, but eventually it became so intertwined and complex that I could barely keep up.
To be fair, that was obviously the point of the story. But there’s a point when enough is enough. I would have left completely satisfied if the story had ended at intermission.
Nevertheless, my first Austin Playhouse experience was an enjoyable one, and since it’s so close to St. Edward’s and so many of its alumni work and perform there, I’m sure we at the Hilltop Views will be on the scene next semester to keep the student body updated on the plays.
November 28, 2007
Originally published in the 21 November 2007 edition of the Hilltop Views.
Austinite-turned-nomad Red Hunter, the man behind the folk project Peter and the Wolf, is one of our city’s more subversive musicians. Besides his extensive repertoire of intimate lo-fi recordings in an age of digitally manipulated music, Hunter is notorious for performing in the oddest of makeshift venues — graveyards, trains, and once an island only accessible by canoe.
The latest Peter and the Wolf release, “The Ivori Palms,” is a folk gem straight out of a dream. While living and recording in a condemned warehouse in Canada during the summer of this year, Hunter fell asleep amid plaguing doubts about his musical ambitions and living arrangements. He shared these anxieties with his hero, the late journalist Dan Eldon, in a dream.
“You’re not living in a condemned warehouse,” Eldon assured him. “This is the Ivori Palms.” Just then, a neon motel sign bearing the same name lit up outside the window of the warehouse. When Hunter awoke, he had the name for his new album.
The music is as impressive as its story. Hunter’s rumbly baritone vocals swim atop sparse finger-picked acoustic arrangements, conveying a traveler’s tale of nature’s beauty. “You don’t have to say a word/Every traveler knows/Like the wise migrating bird/We go where summer goes,” he sings on the album opener “Where Summer Goes.”
But the most stunning aspect of “The Ivori Palms” is the soulful backing vocals. Both the haunting “Ghost Sandals” and the nostalgic “Southern Moon” feature choirs of layered harmonies so rich that they could almost pass for a capella arrangements, save a few softly strummed guitar chords. The former finds Hunter whistling eerily between a ghost story in verse, and in the latter he dreams of summer nights filled with close friends. “Warm wind blowing cutoffs and sandals/Long nights drinking with the boys/Not much to do for the rest of the evening/These are the things we enjoy,” he sings.
Virtually the only misstep of the 14-track album is the piercing “Bike of Jonas.” In it, Hunter pounds on steel drums while rhythmically singing in a muffled tone, giving the song a jarring tribal sound that will leave your ears ringing.
But with the rest of the album filled with moving minimalist tunes, “The Ivori Palms” is a promising addition to Peter and the Wolf’s growing catalog of innovative folk.
November 27, 2007
One of our most beloved holidays has been hijacked by money-hungry corporations, and they’re exploiting its most memorable melodies for financial gain. We shop Macy’s amidst dreams of a “White Christmas.” “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” assures us that Pennzoil ensures premium automobile performance. And you can bet that “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” with a Coca-Cola in hand.
By mid-December, the blatant commercialization of it all is too much to handle, and tolerating – much less enjoying – Christmas music through the New Year is inconceivable.
So in the holiday spirit of generosity and the practical interest of preserving sanity, here are 5 albums that aren’t holiday themed but complement the winter season perfectly.
Matt Pond PA – “The Green Fury”
The Brooklyn-based indie pop outfit Matt Pond PA has yet to change its name despite moving from Philadelphia, and 2002’s “The Green Fury” is less of a portrait of the vibrant greens of spring than it is a stroll through the sparkling whites of winter. But odd nomenclature aside, from the fluid reverse tracking on opener “Canadians” to the rhythmic shuffling on closer “Copper Mine,” this album plays like snowflakes dancing upon a sparsely wooded plain. Gentle acoustic arrangements are accompanied by eclectic instrumentation, including lush strings and fluttering percussion. And frontman Matt Pond’s vocals often mirror those of indie icon James Mercer, likening the band’s performance to an orchestral version of the Shins in a winter wonderland. But even if the seasonal sound doesn’t sell you, the consistent imagery of snow, ice and winter play surely will.
Sufjan Stevens – “Illinois”
Stevens is well-versed in holiday music, as is evidenced by his ambitious 5-year endeavor that culminated in 2006’s “Songs for Christmas,” a 5-disc collection of Christmas themed originals alongside his interpretations of traditional carols and hymns. But when you arrive at your holiday music breaking point, 2005’s rock and jazz infused folk release “Illinois,” an exploration of spirituality and love through the history and folklore of the state, will deliver the season without overselling its holiday. “Concerning the UFO Sighting…” opens the album with somber, reverberating piano chords that drift beneath starry imagery and into the still blackness of a frigid winter night. Other tracks such as “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” feature piano riffs reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” while “The Predatory Wasp…” floats around choir arrangements fit for any Christmas Eve candlelight service. The rejoicing voices proclaim, “Oh great sights upon this state/Wonders bright and rivers, lake/Trail of Tears and Horseshoe lake/Trusting things beyond mistake/Hallelujah!”
John Coltrane – “Dear Old Stockholm”
For the sophisticated who prefer syncopated rhythms and whimsical variations on melody, there is “Dear Old Stockholm.” Recorded in 1963 and 1965, this 5 track collection features John Coltrane Quartet sessions that range from feverishly energetic to peacefully resolved. The title track is a jazzy take on a Swedish folk song set to a swinging rhythm perfect for a chilly night under city lights. Coltrane’s sax lines weave seamlessly through the first half of the number, while pianist Elvin McCoy’s staccato chords and improvisations glide gracefully through the second. But “After the Rain” is easily the album’s highlight. Cymbals gently simmer beneath mournful sax lines, while rolling piano chords guide the piece back and forth between hardly restrained tension and barely liberated movement. A dreamlike number that rests just between lucidity and a sleepy haze, it’s best experienced with a glass of fine wine.
Peter and the Wolf – “Lightness”
From the coffee colored cover art to the intimately homemade recordings and rich baritone vocals, “Lightness” by Austinite Peter and the Wolf (aka Red Hunter) is the perfect soundtrack for chilly days and nights by the fire. It’s an exercise in pure, minimal folk. Rarely will you hear anything more than a single vocal track, finger-picked acoustic guitar lines and the occasional egg shaker, but the music will captivate you from start to finish. Hunter’s vocals rumble with richness and the words behind them are warm and soothing like a steaming sip of spicy apple cider. “Did you ever hear the owl of the sea/Singing in a black pine tree/When all the world’s asleep/About a bird he used to know?” he sings on “The Owl.” On this track and others, soft female vocal harmonies also add a hauntingly entrancing quality to the music.
November 26, 2007
There is only one downside to going home for Thanksgiving: Becoming accustomed to eating well. All week I’ve been able to indulge in delicious turkey, ham, and casserole alongside fine wines and pies galore.
Now I am back in Austin, and my cupboards are lined with a limited stock of beans, ramen, and unseasoned cous cous…
And my stomach is begging for plentiful portions of so much more.
The lifestyle and diet of the poor college student is a peculiarly humorous one indeed.
November 25, 2007
I’ve only seen parts of the movie adaptation of Johnathan Safran Foer’s “Everything Is Illuminated,” but the few segments I did see were humorous, moving, and intelligent.
The actual novel is just as brilliant. The story is told on three levels. There is the family history/mythology of the protagonist’s Jewish ancestry, which is recounted with rich, mystical, and often hilariously flippant language. There is also the story of the protagonist’s journey to locate a Ukranian woman who helped his grandfather escape the nazis in World War II, which is told by the protagonist’s tour guide. And finally, there are letters between the protagonist and his tour guide concerning the complex and layered story they are weaving together.
The protagonist also happens to have the exact same name as the author of the novel, which makes me wonder how much of the story is based on actual events and whether the letters throughout the book are actual documents of correspondence. But there is no co-author listed, which leads me to believe that the storyline is mostly (if not fully) a product of Foer’s innovative storytelling ability.
I’m only halfway through the book, so the three layers still seem unconnected to an extent, but based on what I’ve heard from friends and the parallels I’ve drawn thus far, I’m certain that all the elements of the story are going to intersect and overlap seamlessly.
November 24, 2007
After 10 years, a lawsuit, and the end of the TV series that gave rise to the first movie, the second X-Files movie is about to start filming.
Both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are on board to play their respective roles as Mulder and Scully.
It’s not that often that one of my favorite shows gets cancelled only to release a film years later, so this is a treat.
Now if only those rumors surrounding the Arrested Development movie would come to fruition.
November 23, 2007
This blog isn’t completely fair, because Austinites don’t have access to the margarita I am about to name.
But after trying a few different margaritas in Austin and then returning to the DFW area for Thanksgiving, I can confidently say that the Snufferita served at Snuffer’s in Southlake Town Center (and at other locations in the DFW area) is the best I have ever tasted.
The sweet and sour in this beverage is balanced perfectly, so it’s easy to fall in love with.
But if you ever make your way to Southlake, Texas, be sure to heed the Snufferita warning: It’s extremely strong, so USE CAUTION.
November 19, 2007
Though Maritime’s studio albums are practically flawless, I discovered last semester that their live performance isn’t so spectacular.
Songs like “No One Will Remember You Tonight” and “Pastor James” are tastefully restrained in every sense — the acoustic guitars floast just above feathery drumbeats while bright and simple lead lines add an additional melodic aspect to singer Davey Von Bohlen’s characteristically soft and scratchy vocals.
But live, it’s like they’ve declared war on their instruments. And I thought that the new, heavier material off of October’s “Heresy and the Hotel Choir” would fit well with this aggressive approach, but Maritime’s performance at Mohawk last night proved me wrong.
To be fair, I did enjoy the show. Mohawk is a small venue with a small stage and Maritime didn’t draw a huge crowd, so I was able to stand right by the band as they played. I was bobbing my head and tapping my feet all throughout the set.
But a few songs in, I stepped back and thought to myself, “What would a listener less familiar with the band’s material think of this performance?” And to be honest, the blaring volume of the music combined with the band’s insistence on banging the life out of their instruments probably would have made it impossible for anyone not familiar with Maritime to distinguish between songs or even walk away from the show with a genuine interest in the band.
So, to the fine fellows in Maritime: I know you were in acclaimed pop-punk/emo outfits such as the Promise Ring and Cap’n Jazz as youngsters, so I know you like to have a good time on stage by ripping through every song as fast and loud as possible. But please consider the initial motivation behind Maritime – was it not intended to be a step beyond those youthful and often thematically immature former incarnations?
Your fans love your albums. Please do those fans and yourselves a favor by staying true to that sound and thus the soul of Maritime.
November 18, 2007
My girlfriend has been excited about “Into the Wild” for months. For one, Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is among our favorite films, so we’re both Emile Hirsch fans.
But she also read the book over the summer and loved it, and knowing my fondness for outdoor adventure and my fascination with the natural lifestyle advocated by Thoreau in “Walden,” she insisted that we go see the film this weekend.
What I love about the story of Chris McCandless (the man upon whom the film is based) is his willingness and drive to renounce society and travel the country. I, like many, am guilty of participating in one of those “down with the system” 4AM conversations in the dorm room, talking about government corruption and the desire for a simpler, more sincere life.
But McCandless actually went through with it. The scene where Hirsch (who plays McCandless) burns his social security card and gives away his $24,000 in savings sent chills down my spine.
And of course, his ensuing adventures are incredible. Whether he’s kayaking down raging rapids or running alongside a herd of moose in the Alaskan plain, he’s always pushing the boundaries of his environment and moving beyond the experiences with which he is familiar. And it’s all portrayed in the film alongside a surprisingly complementary soundtrack composed by Eddie Vedder.
But of course, McCandless’s philosophy of life had its flaws, and it’s heartbreaking to see how his journey ends. But “Into the Wild” is an incredible glimpse into the life of a radically minimalist individual with a passion for new experience and a drive to defy the overindulgent conventional wisdom of today.