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Vinyl Cave: Catching up with Ha Ha Tonka, Nobunny, Conspiracy of Owls

There are a few new and/or reissued releases out by artists I've covered before, so it's time for some quick updates -- particularly since these all hit my desk in the past week and I haven't had time to absorb any of them enough for a full-length review! I had hoped to also include the new Quintron disc reportedly out this week, but haven't seen it yet.

Ha Ha Tonka: Death of a Decade
As seen on TV! -- on No Reservations, that is. I almost fell off the couch when I saw a commercial featuring Ha Ha Tonka grilling out with Anthony Bourdain. In more serious business, the Missouri natives have a new album out, and it's another set of elegiac, complexly-constructed roots rockers. Unlike the group's previous album Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, there's not an overarching historical theme, though there are again a few songs with topics that sound as if they were pulled from long-ago headlines. However, there is a coming-of-age theme running through much of Death of a Decade. There is also more mandolin playing than on previous discs and an increased emphasis on the group's impeccable harmony vocals, both bonus points.

More experimentally, some songs are also frosted with electronic effects. It's an idea that often falls flat when employed by a rock band, but on Death these inroads are cautious (and tasteful) enough that they won't offend traditionalists. The addition is still enough of a sonic twist that it could attract more indie rock fans -- and I support any development that brings listeners to the party.

Ha Ha Tonka's unique blending of country, prog rock structures and gospel-quartet vocalizing continues to develop, and they've grown into one of the best bands going. There's not a dud song on the whole album. Really, my only bone to pick is the muddy, flat sonics on parts of the LP; according to a press release it was recorded in a barn, so that could have something to do with it. Either way, it's not that much different sounding than the digital version, so the way it sounds is likely a choice rather than an accident.

Ha Ha Tonka will be showing off some of their new songs when they play the Frequency on Wednesday, April 20. That show gets underway with openers Laarks and The Spring Standards at 9 p.m.; earlier in the evening, at 7 p.m., Ha Ha Tonka will also play a free in-store set at Strictly Discs. (Bloodshot Records, 2011)

Nobunny: Raw Romance
This is a welcome vinyl reissue of a previously cassette-only release compiling demos or alternate versions of otherwise issued songs, along with a few new ones and a stray single-only track -- the essential "Hippy Witch," from a World's Lousy with Ideas comp 7-inch. For something that wasn't intended as an official album, this conceptually holds together extremely well under the title's umbrella, due to Nobunny's uniquely frank vignettes on the search for love (or, at least a real good time). There's also a couple covers and a song previously released as by The Golden Boots. The LP version is already in its second pressing, so grab one before they're gone again. (Burger Records, 2010)

Conspiracy of Owls: Conspiracy of Owls
Right now, dedicated Vinyl Cave followers may be saying "You haven't reviewed this band before." That is technically true; however, Conspiracy of Owls is a project including the remaining three members of the semi-missing-in-action Detroiters known as The Go, who have been covered here.

The first time I saw Conspiracy mentioned, it was described as something along the lines of an electronica side project, which left me with reservations about picking up any music which eventually emerged -- and there is indeed one song here which sounds like The Go was kidnapped by ELO's synthesizers ("The Lesson"). But for the most part the album just sounds as if singers/songwriters Robert Harlow and John Krautner decided to move their base of operations from '60s pop-psych to a more mellow, dreamy-'70s version (or, maybe just absorbed a lot of Moody Blues albums before writing these songs).

This LP sneaked out last summer and went out of print before I even knew it existed, but a second limited run just emerged; a new dub of the cassette version even includes two bonus tracks. Conspiracy of Owls is well worth checking out for fans of The Go's more recent work, and should also appeal to both fans of '70s classic rock and the '90s indie rock bands who recycled the '70s. (Burger, 2010)

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