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The Strange Boys - Live Music (Matador Records)

25 January 2012

Album number three for this Austin garage-rock combo, and it’s a stunning leap forward for The Strange Boys. Gone are the goofy, lo-fi garage rockers; instead, a steady set of rough piano-led songs that eschews the Nuggets style of their former label, In The Red. In its place, a mellower style that recall the early works of Randy Newman, or perhaps a drunken recording session with Harry Nilsson. Oh, there’s humor, but it’s humor that’s been injected with earnestness. But as raw as it still is, there’s a richness to the proceedings, likely caused by the addition of piano as a regular member of the cast. Or perhaps it’s the production of Spoon‘s Jim Eno. But in listening back to their previous album, Night Might, I get the feeling that the band hasn’t really changed direction, instead, they’ve spent more time honing down their songs, polishing ‘em up and working hard to make ‘em better. Oh, and they’ve added piano into the mix—a nice touch. The ballads range from the folky “You and Me,” to the barroom pop “Saddest,” and the rockers? Well, they’re full-tilt boogie of the finest calibre, though don’t expect the garage crunch of Strange Boys’ previous records. The only time the album falters, though, is on “Hidden Meanings, Soul Graffiti,” which is the only time the band takes on a more modern indie-rock sound. Still, one bad song and a baker’s dozen of gems? I’m satisfied. Live Music is exactly that: a gem of a record.