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Please, allow me to gush about Ha Ha Tonka a little more. I’ll be the first to admit that I go through music extremely quickly, usually on a weekly basis. When a band holds my attention longer than that given week it means there is (in my view) something special about said band.

One such group has been Ha Ha Tonka. When I found “Caney Mountain” I was absorbed by the Midwestern vocals, rocking guitars, and four-part harmony. I immediately bought there debut album, Buckle in the Bible Belt, from the venerable eMusic, and quickly burned the CD in order to listen to it in the car. BitBB is a rollicking good time, full of said strong guitars, Midwestern twang, and sweet, sweet harmony.

The opener, “Up Nights”, gets Bible Belt off to an excellent start. Absent from the previously featured tracks was the piano, which it utilized here to an appealing end. This mellows out the gruff sound of “Caney Mountain” and makes Ha Ha Tonka much more radio-friendly.

Ha Ha Tonka – “Up Nights

“Gusto” revels in off-beat heavy guitar and pushy percussion, matched with a much calmer chorus.

Ha Ha Tonka – “Gusto

Finally, “Hangman” is an exercise in expert four-part harmony and soaring vocals. A wrenching scene of a man sentenced to hang… short but amazing.

Ha Ha Tonka – “Hangman” [Ministry recommended]

BitBB rarely slips and loses your attention. As tends to happen with debut albums (really, albums in general), the less well-crafted songs are left for last and bring the LP to a slower ending that I expected, but the pure power and energy of the first 8 tracks (give or take a few moments and “Falling In”) more than make up for it. Highly recommended!

(Buy Ha Ha Tonka’s Buckle in the Bible Belt at Amazon or eMusic)

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Rubik

I stumbled upon an “old” favorite of mine (in my book, old begins at a month) today: Rubik’s Bad Conscience Patrol. I originally found Rubik through the trustworthy Hits in the Car. Stytzer’s comparisons are apt: both Radiohead and (most obviously in my mind) Mew are readily apparent in Rubik’s sound (you could fit Muse in there is well).

After falling in love with “Haiku Motorik” I immediately sought out Rubik’s initial release, People Go Missing. Unfortunately this debut EP had sold out in their native Finland and I couldn’t get my hands on it anywhere else. Thanks to a very helpful Last.fm friend, I found out that they were due to reissue People Go Missing with an extra disc of remakes, called Jesus. The reissue, titled Jesus vs. People ended up being slightly disappointing, especially given the lengths I had gone through to obtain the disc. “Haiku Motorik” was an obvious standout, with a catchy piano lick, bouncy bass line and swanky chorus – the first true song from a young band. The other tracks (even the re-works) left much to be desired.

Rubik – “Haiku Motorik” [Ministry recommended]

But all was not lost, friends! Before I had actually received Jesus vs. People I had discovered (from the same lovely Last.fm-dweller) that Rubik was set to release their first LP, Bad Conscience Patrol, which I quickly obtained and immediately fell in love with. Though uneven, BCP was nowhere near as inconsistent as J vs. P. Rubik had clearly matured since their first release and found a consistent sound that could hardly disappoint.

BCP has gravitas – distinct, prog guitars; melodious, dramatic vocals; complex song structures; shifting time signatures; and (of course) choruses with staying power. My initial (and continuing) reaction is that Rubik is Mew’s little brother, emulating, but ultimately falling short of, the older brother. But don’t discount Rubik because of this; when they get it right they can be unforgettable.

Take the first single, “City & the Streets”. Interestingly, this is one of the more low-key efforts on the album, and the only one on the first half of the disc. Underlying guitars counterpoint the soft vocal melody, as the song slowly builds to the first chorus, with sweet, synthesized backing vox giving it a heavenly feeling. After downbeat chorus, Rubik launches into a synthesized vocal bridge that launches into a swinging finale of guitar and synthesizers.

Rubik – “City & the Streets

Though a little light on melody, “Buildings” captures Rubik’s loud, stomping, time-shifting guitars and a nice slice of melody in the chorus, a song that strongly recalls Mew. Meanwhile, Rubik’s handle on complex song structure manifests in “Why Don’t You Let It Happen”. This track begins in the form a prog ballad, with eerie synths and vocals, and a vocal performance that gets more and more strained as it progresses. This then shifts into a march (no kidding), that sets us up for a transcendent climax and transition back into a more upbeat (and much less eerie) prog ballad, that finishes of with an energetic surge in the guitar department.

Rubik – “Buildings
Rubik – “Why Don’t You Let It Happen” [Ministry recommended]

Rubik’s BCP may be an inconsistent effort, but come year’s end I’m sure they will be among my top finds of ’07.

More on Rubik: [MySpace] [Last.fm] [Buy]

Broken String [CD]
Image via BishopAllen.com

Ah, Bishop Allen… You make me so happy with your upbeat, shimmering delight. I’ve been meaning to blog about these guys for a while, but it has taken me longer than I expected to get into the whole blogging thing.

After spending an entire year releasing and EP a month, Bishop Allen has released “The Broken String” (buy the EPs and the new LP here), a compilation of some of the best racks from their EPs. Some of the tracks have been re-recorded, accompanying 3 new tracks, including the first single, “Rain”:

Bishop Allen – “Rain” [mp3] [Last.fm] [Buy]

“Rain” is a glorious slice of indie pop. It is a relentlessly upbeat and sunny, showcasing the huge improvement Christian Rudder’s songcraft has made over the course of 12 EPs. Rudder is confidant and precise in his delivery, and the backing vocals and harmonies are deliberately and skillfully placed, creating a beautiful, catchy and enjoyable song. The icing on the cake is the conga drums the consistently shine through, serving to keep the track light-hearted and fun.

The LP, on the other hand, stumbles right out of the blocks. “The Monitor”, originally from the March EP, is one of the re-recorded tracks, and has been rearranged and the orchestration expanded. The spare and slowly building beginning doesn’t grab my attention until nearly 2 minutes into the song. The diffusion of counterpoint during the chorus also dispels much of the charm the original recording contained.

The same fate belies “Corazon”, the centerpiece of the the January EP. Originally a tightly wound head-bobbing classic, Rudder again stripped the song and rearranged it. Though the beginning, artistically speaking, parallels the lyrics much more effectively by expressing the beating “heart” of the piano the song is focused on, like “The Monitor”, it fails to keep my attention until the drums enter 45 second into the track. Even after that point the many attempts to make the orchestration in “Corazon” only serve to reduce its impact.

But all is not lost, friends! Most of the other tracks included from the EPs retain their original brilliance, including “Click, Click, Click, Click” and “Butterfly Nets”. A new song, “Middle Management”, is a raucous hark back to their first LP, “Charm School”, with loose, punchy, distorted guitar propelling the song to its end. Overall, the disc is a solid attempt to forge an identity for a band from its previous EPs (much like Voxtrot’s debut LP), though often the attempts to increase the complexity of older songs result in diminishing returns.

Bishop Allen – “Click, Click, Click, Click” [mp3] [Last.fm] [Buy]

(mp3s via BishopAllen.com)