Infinite Shuffle

May 30, 2011

71 – The Airborne Toxic Event

Filed under: A, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 2:01 am

For as long as there’s been pop music, there have always been “it” bands. They pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, get showered with a bunch of critical praise, make a bunch of money, then, more often than not, fade from the public consciousness as quickly as they arrived.

As blogs have become more prevalent, this cycling of flavor-of-the-week bands has not only accelerated but also increased in breadth.

The first time I really took note of this latest phenomenon was in the latter part of 2008 when the indie scene was being inundated with bands destined to flame out before they were able to make any real impression on fans.

Some of the biggest names I recall from that period were The Airborne Toxic Event, Pains of Being Pure At Heart and, to a lesser extent, Late of the Pier. While I knew that all of these bands had put out some good songs, I was so turned off by their overhyping that I didn’t give their music much of a chance and just pushed them to the periphery of my musical landscape.

Now that I’ve had some time for my bias to dissipate, I can finally give the bands a more proper accounting. And the timing worked out well since a couple of them just released their sophomore albums within the last few months.

I’m looking forward to delving into Pains of Being …, but, for now, I’ll just focus on The Airborne Toxic Event, which released its self-titled debut in August 2008 and followed it up with All At Once this past April.

The hype machine for TATE was working overtime in 2008, as the band received praise in nearly every music magazine out there. The media assault reached its nadir in May 2009 when Carson Daly devoted an entire episode of “Last Call” to the band.

Their popularity was not entirely surprising, considering they’re from Los Angeles and were doing the kind of not-so-soft indie rock that everyone eats up. As far as their sound, the best comparison I can come up with is a harder version of Okkervil River.

I remember listening to the album at least once, but the bulk of the songs just failed to grab me. There were exceptions, such as the big singles, “Gasoline” and “Sometime Around Midnight”. But, for the most part, the disc seemed like way more of a miss than a hit.

Now, after having listened to it a few more times this weekend, I can still detect several misses, but I’ve also discovered a few more solid tracks. The album opens and closes strong with “Wishing Well” and “Innocence” and also hits high notes on “Happiness Is Overrated”, “Something New” and “Missy”.

The Airborne Toxic Event – Wishing Well

Because of my newfound interest in the first album, I had high hopes for the latest release. Unfortunately, it was a little more miss than hit again.

The band seemed to be doing a lot of experimenting during its hiatus and it negatively affects the overall flow on this disc. All At Once opens with the title track, which sounds like it could have been a B-side to Neil Diamond’s “Coming To America”.

I did give stars to a few tracks, such as “Numb”, “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing”, “Welcome To Your Wedding Day” and “Strange Girl”, but overall it was rather lackluster.

And the disc closes on “The Graveyard Near the House”, which sounded like a total rip-off of “Hey There, Delilah” by Plain White T’s. So much so that I often found myself singing the lyrics of the latter at different points in the song without missing a beat.

The Airborne Toxic Event – The Graveyard Near the House

I realize my sentiments weren’t exactly positive, but what can I say? Some bands put out great albums, while others just have great singles (e.g. Ladyhawke). You should at least give Airborne Toxic Event a chance — or perhaps a second chance — before you totally write them off.

You can check out a whole mess of videos — including every track on the new album — at their official website.

And look for my post on The Pains of Being Pure At Heart in the coming weeks.


May 27, 2011

70 – Low

Filed under: Duluth Minn., L — assman41 @ 7:11 pm

After weeks of off-and-on warm temperatures and seemingly endless amounts of rain, the weather finally cooperated long enough this week to allow me to ride my bicycle to work.

The afternoon ride was incredibly pleasant, biking along the St. Joseph river while listening to my old standby, Cease To Begin by Band of Horses.

For the late-night ride home, I thought I’d switch things up and try an album I recently obtained, C’mon by Low. It turned out to be a perfect accompaniment to the moonlit and slightly misty trek.

As I rode along the side streets of South Bend, I felt like my life was being soundtracked by the vocal harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.

Low – Try To Sleep

I knew I’d heard of Low before, but I never realized how long they’d been around. The trio, based in Duluth, Minn., first formed in 1993 and has churned out nine full-length studio albums — not to mention numerous EPs, singles and compilations.

The group is among the forefathers of the slowcore movement — even though the members of Low hate that label — which is accented by slow, quieter-than-usual indie pop/rock.

When they first arrived on the scene in the early ’90s, they were pretty much the complete opposite of what was big at that time — grungy, fuzzy, distorted, loud rock.

While not a huge commercial presence, Low have found a niche audience and have slowly expanded their sound.

Part of their longevity can be attributed to the simplicity of their music and the cohesiveness of the band members. Sparhawk and Parker, who have been married to each other throughout the band’s tenure, have established a strong foundation, even as the group has gone through several bassists.

C’mon is the third album Low has put out on Sub Pop Records, and it appears to finally be giving the band some well-deserved acclaim.

Low – Nothing But Heart

P.S. … Sorry it took so long for this week’s post to go up. I usually strive to get something up every Sunday morning, but I guess, after 100 official posts, I was bound to get stuck in a bit of a rut. I’ll try to get back on track during the holiday weekend.

P.P.S. … Look for some upcoming posts on Bonnaroo, which I will be attending for the first time this year.

May 15, 2011

69 – Pomegranates

Filed under: Cincinnati, P — assman41 @ 11:42 pm

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a band’s sound evolve as quickly as the Pomegranates. While the change has occurred over the course of three albums, they all came out within a 30-month span.

From the release of Everything Is Alive in May 2008, through Everybody, Come Outside! in April 2009 to One of Us in October of last year, the Pomegranates have steadily progressed from a pseudo-Modest Mouse knock-off to a much tighter band that churns out dreamy, ethereal pop.

While I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to Modest Mouse, their influence is unmistakable on the Pomegranates’ debut album. Several reviewers on Amazon noted that Everything Is Alive sounded especially like early Modest Mouse. Except that it’s stripped of all the annoyances and glitchy effects, which makes it far more digestible than most of the music the Mouseketeers usually put out.

Pomegranates – Appreciations

The follow-up album is noticeably smoother than its predecessor. It has more going on sonically, and, judging from some of the electro tinges, it’s no surprise that the producer of the album has also worked with MGMT.

It still has some of that Modest Mouse vibe interspersed throughout — especially on “Jerusalem Had a Bad Day”, which sounds like a lost single from the quirky Seattleites, and “This Used To Be My Land, But Now I Hate This Land”.

But the overall tone starts to head toward the dreamier end of the spectrum on songs such as “384 BC”. The highlight of the album is the opening title track.

Pomegranates – Everybody, Come Outside!

By the time they released One of Us in 2010, the band had almost completely made the transition to ambient pop. On many of the songs, especially “Prouncer”, the band calls to mind such contemporaries as Wild Nothing, Beach House, Lower Dens and The XX.

They also produced more single-worthy tracks, such as “50’s” and “Skull Cakin'”.

Pomegranates – 50\’s

According to their Wikipedia page, the Pomegranates are set to release another album later this year. That certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for this Cincinnati crew. But whenever their next album does drop, I can’t wait to hear the next step in the evolution of their sound.

May 8, 2011

68 – Rival Schools

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

For as long as I’ve been paying attention to music, I’ve always felt that, for the vast majority of bands, there are only a couple of possible career trajectories.

There’s the “bell curve” — where the band has a pretty similarly paced rise to and fall from popularity. Or there’s the “shooting star” path — where a band gets big after its first or second album and then basically falls off the grid.

Sure, some bands can string out their decline a lot longer — like Pearl Jam, U2 and R.E.M. — but the one constant that generally holds true is that the longer a band is active, the further it is from the peak of its greatness.

As far as I was concerned, that was just a fact of life. That is, until I discovered Rival Schools.

— — —

During my recent trip to Indy, I made sure to hit up Luna Music on my way out of town. The first time I visited a year ago, I found out about Two Door Cinema Club. Needless to say, I was eager to see what new band I would discover on this trip.

Bouncing from one listening station to another, I heard some good music, but nothing really caught my ear until I put on a disc by Rival Schools called Pedals. I’d never heard of the band, but I liked the name and figured I’d give it a spin. I was immediately welcomed by catchy rock-pop that sounded both new and familiar at the same time.

Since purchasing it, I’d listened to Pedals about five or six times but still couldn’t put into words what I thought of it or why I liked it. So I headed over to Amazon to see what other fans were saying about the album.

And that’s when I found out about the band’s past.

— — —

Apparently, Rival Schools was something of a hardcore supergroup when it formed in 1999. The band, based out of New York City, consisted of Walter Schreifels on vocals and guitar, Ian Love on guitar, Cache Tolman on bass and Sam Siegler on drums. According to Wikipedia, the various members had come from such ’80s and ’90s hardcore bands as Gorilla Biscuits (Schreifels), CIV (Siegler), Youth of Today (Schreifels and Siegler) and Iceburn (Tolman).

The band’s awesome name — as well as the title of its first album — came from a video game called Rival Schools: United By Fate. After releasing an EP, the group put out its debut, United By Fate, in 2001.

The band dissolved within a couple of years, but, despite only releasing the one album, Rival Schools eventually became regarded as an influential force in the post-hardcore scene.

The various members all went on to do their own thing for much of the Aughts before eventually coming together again in 2008. They performed at a handful of festivals overseas and in the States and eventually headed into the studio to work on a new album.

Finally, after nearly 10 years of waiting, fans were treated to new music when the band released the single “Shot After Shot” in November 2010. Then came Pedals in March of this year.

And this is where my previously held philosophy on career arcs is shattered. The album the band put out in 2011 is way better than what it released a decade earlier. In fact, it’s almost like listening to two different bands.

I suppose that’s to be somewhat expected. With most bands that stay together for the long haul, you’re able to hear the gradual progression of their evolving sound. Since Rival Schools don’t have anything to bridge the gap, their transition seems much more abrupt.

It’s a good thing I didn’t hear United By Fate when it originally came out, as the post-hardcore sound rubs me the wrong way and I probably would’ve written off the band and never cared about any subsequent releases.

But as it were, I’m definitely digging their current alt-rock sound that I’m going to dub “post-emo.”

The funny thing is that the music the band is making today reminds me a lot of the stuff I listened to around the turn of the century. The one group that seems most comparable is Jimmy Eat World. You can hear their sound on such tracks as “Racing To Red Lights”, “A Parts For B Actors”, “Big Waves” and “The Ghost Is Out There”.

Rivals Schools – A Parts For B Actors

Most, if not all, of the tracks here conjure up memories of the best parts of the early ’00s — those that never got old or dated. I can definitely imagine listening to “Wring It Out” or “69 Guns” or “Small Doses” while hanging out in my dorm room.

Rivals Schools – Small Doses

The group is doing some touring now and will even be at Lollapalooza this year.

And here’s to hoping that fans don’t have to wait another 10 years for the band to put out new music.

May 1, 2011

67 – Alberta Cross

Filed under: A, Brooklyn, England — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I’ve never been able to properly celebrate Record Store Day since it started in 2008, mostly because I live in a musically boring area and couldn’t make it to the big city to take part in the festivities.

But this year, I found myself observing the “holiday” a week later during a trip to Indianapolis. Just before the New Pornographers show, I hit up a record store in Broad Ripple called Indy CD & Vinyl and ended up walking out with a copy of Alberta Cross’ debut full-length release, Broken Side of Time.

(I also patronized another establishment a couple of days later, but I’ll save that story for next week’s post.)

I’m always a fan of any record store that has listening stations. The first disc I listened to was Alberta Cross. I knew I’d heard of the band before, but I always used to get it confused with similarly named The Rural Alberta Advantage and Cross Canadian Ragweed. And that confusion simply led to me not listen to any of them until very recently.

Anyways, upon hearing “Songs 3Three Blues”, the first track on the Alberta Cross album, I knew I’d be listening to several more. And by the time I got to “Old Man Chicago”, I was totally sold on that disc.

Alberta Cross – Old Man Chicago

That song is my favorite on the album, but there’s really no rejects among the 10 tracks. While that ditty just makes you want to sing along to The Band and Wilco influences, it’s something of an exception on this disc.

The bulk of the songs are slow, heavy rockers that give a nod to bands such as My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon and Band of Horses.

The opening track has a Neil Young feel to it, but it’s quickly followed by the album’s most rocking tune, “ATX”. I couldn’t put my finger on it before reading some reviews on Amazon, but this song sounds a lot like ’90s alt-rockers Bush — but don’t take that as a diss.

Alberta Cross – ATX

On the next track, “Taking Control”, Petter Ericson Stakee’s vocals turn echoey like those of Band of Horses.

The title track evokes thoughts of Kings of Leon and even Led Zeppelin. But it’s followed by “Rise From the Shadows”, which is a long, slow one with heavy, echoing, alt-country vocals. After that is “City Walls”, which is another slow one, but the vocals sorta reminded me of the British band The Music.

The next two songs are actually repeats from the band’s catalogue. “The Thief and the Heartbreaker” was the title track of a seven-song “mini-album” the band released in April 2007 that also included “Old Man Chicago”. And “Leave Us or Forgive Us” is the title track of an EP that was released in October of that year that also included “The Thief and the Heartbreaker” again.

The interesting thing about those first two shorter releases is that they were done during the band’s first incarnation in London.  Ericson Stakee, as you may be able to tell by his name, was born in Sweden but eventually moved to England, where he met bassist Terry Wolfers. The two recruited Ericson Stakee’s brother to play keyboards and they put out the first two discs.

Bored with the scene in London, the duo moved to Brooklyn and fleshed out the band with Sam Kearney (lead guitar), Alec Higgins (keyboard) and Austin Beede (drums, percussion).

With the infusion of new blood, the band took a huge leap forward with the 2009 release of Broken Side of Time, moving from a mostly alt-country sound to much heavier, guitar-driven fare.

Alberta Cross – Broken Side of Time

The group is said to be working on their sophomore release, which I’m definitely looking forward to.

After checking out Alberta Cross’ upcoming tour schedule, I was delighted to see they’ll be at Bonnaroo, which I’m tentatively planning to attend.

Visit their MySpace page for tour information or to hear a few more songs.

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