Infinite Shuffle

April 25, 2010

25 – Grand Archives

Filed under: G, Seattle — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Considering the pedigree of its various members, it’s no surprise how strong and polished The Grand Archives’ sound is. Led by Mat Brooke, former guitarist and vocalist for Carissa’s Wierd and former guitarist for Band of Horses, this collection of Seattle musicians channels all the great indie-folk-pop harmonies that have been coming out of the Emerald City for years.

The quartet (formerly a five-piece) conjures up thoughts of such bands as Fleet Foxes, New Pornographers, Band of Horses, The Low Anthem, Son Volt and pretty much any band that relies on strong vocal harmonies and understated instrumentation.

The band’s self-titled debut, which dropped in 2008, opens strong with “Torn Blue Foam Couch”. Despite being comprised solely of men, the band gets plenty of vocal support from the ladies, including this first track, which sounds at times like something from the New Pornographers or Mates of State.

(Then again, I suppose any song with male/female harmonies probably shares that trait; but I digress.)

The whistling intro to the second track “Miniature Bird” totally reminded me of this year’s Simpsons-themed Super Bowl commercial, which had a whistling portion toward the end. And the sometimes-haunting vocals on the next track, “Swan Matches”, kinda reminded of The Low Anthem’s recent hitCharlie Darwin“.

But the song that really stood out to me was the album’s penultimate track, “The Crime Window”. Admittedly, it’s the one song on the album that sounds nothing like the rest, but it’s also the most fun track and probably the most radio-friendly.

Grand Archives – The Crime Window

The following year saw the departure of band member Ron Lewis (he joined The Shins) and also the release of the follow-up, Keep in Mind Frankenstein.

To the untrained ear, such as my own, the sophomore effort didn’t seem too different from its predecessor. But according to Brooke, it was “a little darker than the first album.”

The only thing that stood out to me was that things seemed a little more folky — closer to the sound of the Great Lake Swimmers.

The best track on the album was easily “Oslo Novelist”.

You can hear five songs on their MySpace page — which is how the band got noticed in the first place — or even download some free tracks at their record label page.

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April 22, 2010

PROJECT RADIOHEAD: Pablo Honey (1993)

Filed under: Radiohead — assman41 @ 12:01 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: While putting together my best-of-the-decade lists, I noticed there was nary a Radiohead song or album in sight. I realized that’s because I’d never really given them much attention and probably had only listened to one album in its entirety. I decided to rectify that by listening to their entire catalog, so I could finally have an informed opinion on what many consider to be the greatest band of my generation.

Four of the seven original tracks from their first two EPs made it onto Radiohead’s debut full-length album. They include “I Can’t”, “Thinking About You”, “You” and “Prove Yourself”, all of which I enjoyed in their original form.

The album opens with three-time champ “You”, which continues to sound more polished with each go-around.

The next track, “Creep”, is the one that put Radiohead on the map. The band really put everything together for the first time on this song. And, much to the dismay of a lot of diehards, this still has to be considered among the band’s top two most popular songs — along with “Karma Police”.

Radiohead quickly follows the slow introspection of “Creep” with the distorted, rocking “How Do You?”, which sounds like it came right out of The Replacements’ catalog.

On “Stop Whispering”, the first thing I thought of was the mumbling, whiny vocals of Kurt Cobain. But rather than turn into a grunge song, the fourth track becomes a more melodic, shoegazer pop song. This was eventually released as a single.

The biggest surprise came on “Thinking About You”, which went from a distorted, punkish track on each of the EPs to a suddenly toned-down acoustic track. The band also extended it about 20 seconds here. I’m not sure which version I prefer.

On “Anyone Can Play Guitar” — which was released as the band’s second single after “Creep” — it sounds like something of a mash-up between Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. I don’t really think it’s single-worthy.

The album’s seventh track, “Ripcord”, is probably the first shitty song I’ve heard by Radiohead. It just sounds like a bunch of filler and has nothing going for it besides repetitive lyrics and boring instrumentation.

I’m not sure why, but the sometimes-slow-sometimes-fast guitar work on “Vegetable” reminds me of a precursor to Foo Fighters. I don’t know if anyone else would agree with that thought, but I also have heard it a couple other times on this album. Either way, I’m a fan of this slow-fast track.

The biggest difference between “Prove Yourself” here and on the Drill EP is that there is now less of a stark contrast between the soft and hard parts, making things a little more even keel — perhaps to the song’s degradation.

Even though it was the first track on the first EP, “I Can’t” doesn’t seem to have changed much in the two years since its first release. I suppose it sounds a little sharper here, but, then again, nothing on that first disc was very crisp.

If I were in charge, I definitely would’ve released the penultimate track, “Lurgee”, as a single. It’s a great, pseudo-psychadelic track that I could totally see myself just trancing out to.

With the constant cymbal grazing, the album’s closer “Blow Out” started off as something of a jazz lounge song. But then came the Radiohead-friendly chorus, followed by some distortion. Personally, I could’ve done without this song and would’ve preferred the album ended a track earlier.

I guess that’s what happens when you finally release a full-length album — you’re bound to have a few misses.

Radiohead – Lurgee

April 18, 2010

24 – Vampire Weekend

Filed under: NYC, V — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I realize most, if not all, of you are well aware of Vampire Weekend, but I’ve been kinda busy this week and am up against a deadline, so I don’t have time to discover a lesser-known artist.

Vampire Weekend broke onto the indie scene in 2007 with a self-titled EP and had already become a hipster’s wet dream before releasing their first full-length album (also self-titled) in January 2008. With their Peter Gabriel-like mix of rock, folk and African beats, the New York City quartet was unlike anything being played at the time.

Their sound might’ve been something of an acquired taste, but that didn’t stop them from putting out numerous catchy songs, including “Oxford Comma”, “A-Punk”, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”.

The initial success led to immense hype as they prepared to release their follow-up, Contra, in January of this year. Despite everyone clamoring for its arrival, it took me awhile to finally listen to it. Mostly, all the hype inevitably soured me on wanting to like it, and the first track I heard, “Horchata”, rubbed me the wrong way.

I was also delayed by the fact that I couldn’t find it anywhere online to illegally download and was eventually forced to — gulp! — actually purchase the hard copy.

I probably would’ve waited longer until I could get it for free, but I had agreed to see them in concert and needed to actually hear the album beforehand. I was a little concerned with seeing them live, because I didn’t think their sound would translate well to the stage. But I was dead wrong. They totally rocked my socks off.

Their latest album has definitely grown on me, with such strong tracks as “Cousins”, “Diplomat’s Son” and “Giving Up the Gun”. Who knows, I might even end up being one of those bloggers who are foaming at the mouth in anticipation of their third album.

Now, following a suggestion from one of my loyal readers, I thought I’d embed some videos instead of just songs.

Here’s one from each of their albums. Enjoy the cameos in the latter.

April 11, 2010

23 – Frightened Rabbit

Filed under: F, Scotland — assman41 @ 12:01 am

My first two memories of the band Frightened Rabbit both occurred while sitting at my desk at work a couple years ago. The first came while I was listening to my old, portable XM player and the song “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” came on. I immediately liked it and took note of the band who sang it.

Then, within a day or two — it might’ve actually been later that night — a friend called and mentioned wanting to see the band in concert. Even though I’d only heard the one song, I figured it was all a sign that I needed to go to the show.

I saw them at Double Door in Chicago — my friend actually had to miss the show, but I was accompanied by a couple lady friends, so it was his loss. They opened for French Kicks, but in my mind, Frightened Rabbit was the best band on the bill. I ended up picking up a signed copy of the group’s debut album, Sing the Greys, to go along with my then-recently burned copy of their follow-up, The Midnight Organ Fight.

Frightened Rabbit released its third album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, last month, and it’s a continuation of their signature fast-slow, soul-baring Scottish rock.

I recently began listening to Pandora.com, and a common song element I’ve seen is “repetitive melodic phrasing.” That’s a pretty apt description of Frightened Rabbit’s tunes. Their entire catalog is full of songs that seem to have been written with the soul purpose of getting the choruses stuck in your head.

According to Pandora, similar artists include Band of Horses, The Decemberists, The Shins and Modest Mouse — so you can see why I like them so much. But, personally, I think they sound most like one of their Scottish brethren, Twilight Sad.

Here’s how Heather Phares of All Music Guide describes the band on Pandora:

With each release, Frightened Rabbit’’s music grows by leaps and bounds: they offered humble, moody folk-pop on Sing the Greys, which they expanded into searching rock on Midnight Organ Fight. On Winter of Mixed Drinks, they focus and polish Organ Fight‘’s epics — and add a healthy dose of optimism.

It’s clear that I don’t have that polished of an ear. My critique of Frightened Rabbit is that it seems like they only have about two or three songs in their repertoire, and they’ve just kept repeating them over three albums now. But it’s tough to hate on the band, because any time I play their music, any contempt I may have quickly melts away.

Head over to their MySpace page and listen to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”, their catchy first single off Mixed Drinks. They have a few other songs there for your perusal.

As for me, the song that first introduced me to the band is still my favorite …

Frightened Rabbit – Good Arms vs. Bad Arms

April 8, 2010

PROJECT RADIOHEAD: Drill EP (1992)

Filed under: Radiohead — assman41 @ 12:01 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: While putting together my best-of-the-decade lists, I noticed there was nary a Radiohead song or album in sight. I realized that’s because I’d never really given them much attention and probably had only listened to one album in its entirety. I decided to rectify that by listening to their entire catalog, so I could finally have an informed opinion on what many consider to be the greatest band of my generation. This is the second entry in the series.

On their second short-play disc, Drill, Radiohead continues to experiment with different influences but also starts to show a more refined sound.

After a soft intro, the opening song, “Prove Yourself”, jumps into a hard, distorted arena normally occupied by bands such as Nirvana. The only difference from their grunge counterparts is the melody Radiohead brings to this tune.

The next track, “Stupid Car”, is the first real slow song the band put out and the first that displays the Radiohead that I know. It’s also my favorite song of theirs so far.

The last two tracks are repeats from their Manic Hedgehog EP. This time around, “You” sounds cleaner with little to no distortion, while “Thinking About You” sounds faster and crisper than the first go-around.

So, through two EPs, I’ve heard seven different songs, and there’s been nary a bad one in the bunch. I look forward to hearing their first LP.

April 4, 2010

22 – The xx

Filed under: England, X — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I first started hearing about The xx in the fall of 2009. NPR was hyping the London-based trio as it was preparing to make its Stateside debut during the CMJ Music Marathon in New York.

Naturally, as more and more critics began singing their praises, the more and more I didn’t want to give them a listen. I had heard one or two of their songs here and there and wasn’t sure what I thought. They just didn’t seem like a band that deserved so much hype so early in their career.

But I finally gave a listen to their debut album, XX, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The first song, aptly titled “Intro”, is a pretty solid instrumental track that sets the mood nicely.

From there, the rest of the album is chock full of great ambience and nice vocal interplay between singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. It reminds me of the Moldy Peaches’ stuff from the Juno soundtrack — but way more soothing and in a non-annoying tone. (That description really doesn’t do The xx justice, but it’s the best I’ve got.)

“Vcr”, one of my favorite tracks on the album, gives the listener a pretty good idea of what you can expect from the band. In it, Croft and Sim do something of a sing-speak back-and-forth with each other. It’s a theme that pops up often on the album.

You can hear the recently released single on their MySpace page, where they’ve got seven songs posted, including a couple bonus tracks.

One song not found on the site is “Shelter”, my personal favorite. The great, eerie guitar that flows throughout the album complements Croft’s vocals really well on this track.

Hear it for yourself …

The xx – Shelter

April 1, 2010

PROJECT RADIOHEAD: Manic Hedgehog EP (1991)

Filed under: Radiohead — assman41 @ 12:01 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: While putting together my best-of-the-decade lists, I noticed there was nary a Radiohead song or album in sight. I realized that’s because I’d never really given them much attention and probably had only listened to one album in its entirety. I decided to rectify that by listening to their entire catalog, so I could finally have an informed opinion on what many consider to be the greatest band of my generation. This is the first entry in the series.

I was told by a friend to skip Radiohead’s early stuff and just start with The Bends. But for me to truly appreciate the band, I need to know where it started. If it’s as bad as people think, then maybe that’ll just make the later stuff sound that much better.

As it turns out, Radiohead’s first offering wasn’t bad at all. The Manic Hedgehog EP is only five tracks, but each seems to stand out as having its own vibe and influences.

From the outset, I could tell this was definitely made in the early ’90s. The opening track “I Can’t” reminded me of something you might’ve heard from The Sundays or Deep Blue Something or even the Gin Blossoms.

The next song, “Nothing Touches Me” started with a Bush “Machinehead” opening, but eventually it settled into a something that U2 might’ve put out during the Achtung Baby era.

The album’s middle track, “Thinking About You”, had a definite punk vibe, complete with fast, distorted guitars. Something about the song reminded me of Rancid’s “Story of My Life”, but that might’ve been a stretch.

The penultimate track, the oddly titled “Phillipa Chicken”, definitely came from the early ’90s, but the elements that really stood out are the Beatles-like vocal harmonies and the psychadelic guitars.

The album’s closer, “You”, is the first time we hear that signature, slow, pained Thom Yorke voice. Coupled with some medium-fast, rocking distortion, it’s like a mix between The Cranberries and Pearl Jam maybe.

I bet I could play this album for a Radiohead novice and tell them the five songs are played by five different bands, and they wouldn’t doubt me for a second.

Manic Hedgehog is a really interesting starting point for the band, and I look forward to seeing how it progresses from here.

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