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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ten Thousand Orchestras

Despite the traffic on I-35 through downtown, the packed-in feeling living in and around downtown and the excessive heat, Austin is still a great town. When it comes to music, there's plenty, but for some odd reason, I don't hear about many newer bands from there, even though I live three hours away.

How I was introduced to the awesome twang-less country rock of Moonlight Towers was by pure fluke: they were opening for the mighty Red Animal War at the Double Wide a few months ago. I heard about Voxtrot first from Jason and have proceeded to really enjoy both of their EPs. Now, thanks to the good people at AAM, I have a couple of other Austin bands to enjoy: Golden Bear and the Channel.

I can't help but think of Mass Romantic-era New Pornographers and Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb-era Tripping Daisy when I hear Golden Bear. I can't stress this enough though: they don't sound exactly like those bands, but characteristics of Golden Bear's sound remind me of what I've heard before. What I think is really in favor of their self-titled album is this is fuzzy pop with the right amount of sugar. The songs have tons of great hooks on top of multiple layers of sound, but they don't come across as whimsical children songs. Also, Golden Bear doesn't sound like a knock-off Dave Fridmann/Flaming Lips record (as in, super-boomy drums, screeching guitars) and that's a major plus in my book.

What helps Golden Bear's case is that despite the layers of sound, this doesn't sound messy, to my ears at least. Horns show up in spots while keyboards, pianos and vocal oohs and aahs are all over the place. The core of the songs are simple but really special; the extras on top just make this better.

Reading through the liner notes of Golden Bear, the members of Golden Bear also pop up in the Channel. In other words, the two bands go hand-in-hand, but they don't sound that much alike. Golden Bear is more or less singer/guitarist Chris Gregory's project while the Channel is Colby Pennington's project. They share so many members that it's like one big band.

The Channel (not to be confused with the awesome, J. Robbins-led trio, Channels) has a new album - a double-album no less - called Tales from the Two Hill Heart/Sibyllinne Machine. 23 songs may be a little too much for me to handle, but at least the songs are worthwhile. Decidedly stripped-down and more low-key than Golden Bear, the Channel brings some tuneful stuff with a nice use of pedal steel. Thankfully, this isn't sad-eyed, hokey country twang.

I don't know what the deal is, despite the fact that a number of Austin bands play in Dallas, but since I don't get out that much, I tend to miss bands right after they play here. Voxtrot has played Dallas plenty of times before, but the only show I've seen so far was the now-legendary (in my mind) Voxtrot Karaoke show (my review here and Chris's here). Golden Bear and the Channel are coming to Dallas the same night we're having another one of our wine-tasting parties, so it looks like I'll have to skip out on that one. I'm thankful that the drive isn't too bad for bands to drive back and forth, but hey, at least this isn't as spread out as a place like Iowa.

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