Infinite Shuffle

October 30, 2011

88 – British Sea Power

Filed under: B, England — assman41 @ 4:13 pm

After recently hearing one of their songs randomly on my iPod, it dawned upon me that I had totally neglected the band British Sea Power.

They first entered my consciousness in 2008, when a friend burned me a copy of Do You Like Rock Music? At the time, I had assumed it was their debut, but I now know it was actually the third full-length release from the five-piece indie group based in Brighton, England.

The band has actually been around for more than a decade, forming in 2000, and has put out five albums, including 2009’s Man of Aran (an instrumental soundtrack to a documentary) and Valhalla Dancehall earlier this year.

When I decided I needed to re-acquaint myself with the group, my first stop was its Wikipedia page. According to that venerable site, critics have likened the band to such seminal groups as The Cure, Joy Division, the Pixies and Arcade Fire.

However, immediately after I started listening to their 2003 debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, the one band whose influence seemed unmistakable was Pyschedelic Furs.

(Well, after the album’s first three tracks, which are totally punk-infused and sound nothing like the rest of the band’s catalog.)

On their mostly slow, shoegazing tracks, lead singer Yan (Scott Wilkinson) does his best impression of Furs leader Richard Butler. At times, while listening to the debut and the follow-up, 2005’s Open Season, I thought I was actually listening to a compilation of Furs B-sides.

During one of my listens, I wanted to liken Yan’s vocals to a mixture of Butler and famed singer Jarvis Cocker (Pulp and solo). But I’ve since dropped the Cocker comparisons.

And, admittedly, the reference to The Cure isn’t totally off-base. It can be heard in several songs, especially the xylophone opening to the track “Blackout”. But, even on that track, the Furs influence is hard to ignore.

British Sea Power – Blackout

British Sea Power started to branch out musically on Do You Like Rock Music? creeping away from their post-punk roots and dabbling in more straightforward indie rock.

This is probably still their best album to date, with such strong tunes as “Waving Flags”, “Atom” and “Open the Door”.

British Sea Power – Waving Flags

Perhaps based on the strength of that album, this year’s much-anticipated follow-up doesn’t stack up quite as well. That being said, it’s still a strong record, with such solid songs as “Observe the Skies”, “We Are Sound”, “Who’s In Control?” and “Georgie Ray”.

British Sea Power – We Are Sound

In addition to putting out some quality music, British Sea Power are probably best known for their live shows — most notably their off-the-beaten-path venues.

They have played in a seaside cafe, on a ferry, in some caverns, at the highest inn in the United Kingdom, in a famous English church and at an indoor festival that included vaudeville acts.

Needless to say, it’s a band that should be seen live — something I hope to do one day.

October 23, 2011

87 – The War On Drugs

Filed under: Philadelphia, W — assman41 @ 5:11 pm

So many bands and artists try to channel Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen that a lot of the music just ends up sounding formulaic.

You want to sound like the Bard of Minnesota? Just layer some jangly, folk-pop with mumbling lyrics and you’re good to go.

Looking to bring forth your inner Boss? Throw together some blue-collar lyrics, add some guttural vocals and sprinkle in some harmonica tracks and you can call yourself an honorary New Jersey resident.

Or, you could follow the tact of Philadelphia quartet The War On Drugs, who take their obvious Dylan and Springsteen influences and infuse them with new life while adding a modern alt-country allure.

One of the better songs in their catalog, “Brothers” — from 2010’s Future Weather EP and this year’s full-length Slave Ambient  — is a solid head-bobber that includes both main influences.

The War On Drugs – Brothers

The group formed in 2003, with the soon-to-be-well-known solo artist Kurt Vile as one of its two founding members, along with Adam Granduciel. After dropping a pair of EPs in 2005 and 2007, the first full-length release, Wagonwheel Blues, arrived in 2008. (Doesn’t that title just sound totally like the name of some Dylan album?)

My favorite ditty from this disc is the second track, “Taking the Farm”, which has a bit of Springsteen in it, including his trademark “Hoo hoooo” bellowing.

The War On Drugs – Taking the Farm

But for the most part, this album was all about Dylan. And it can be heard throughout on such tracks as “Arms Like Boulders”, “Buenos Aires Beach”, “Show Me the Coast” and “There Is No Urgency”. That last one had a real Band of Horses feel to it as well.

Next came Future Weather, which, in addition to three instrumental tracks and a pair that would be on the ensuing LP, included the more-than-solid “Comin’ Through”.

The War On Drugs – Comin\’ Through

The band has outdone itself on Slave Ambient. There are a lot of different styles incorporated on the various songs, which helps mix things up and never allows the sound to go stale.

In addition to “Brothers”, other standout tracks include “I Was There”, “Your Love Is Calling My Name” and the closer, “Blackwater”. But my favorite song in the band’s entire arsenal is track 10, “Baby Missiles”, which is one of the album’s more upbeat tunes and seems to borrow its structure directly from Springsteen. There’s also a harmonica and more of the ole “Hoo hooo.”

Before you click the following link, be aware that this song has been stuck in my head for much of the last week.

The War On Drugs – Baby Missiles

The War On Drugs have had a lot of turnover since its inception, but providing it with stability all along has been Granduciel. In addition to being the lead singer, the Massachusetts native also plays guitar, harmonica, keyboards and samplers.

While the band has not reached the popularity of the since-departed Vile, it is certainly not because the music is undeserving.

After checking out their website, I see that they’ll be in Chicago on Wed., Dec. 7 at Lincoln Hall — easily my favorite venue in the Windy City. I can’t see any reason why I won’t be attending that show.

October 15, 2011

86 – Foals

Filed under: England, F — assman41 @ 3:03 am

If there is one sub-genre of indie music that is hit-or-miss with me, it’s electro. I’m not a huge fan of it, but if a band does it just right, then I can be reeled in.

There are several such bands that remain on the fringe of my musical universe — such as The Presets, Cut Copy, Golden Filter and Hot Chip, to name a few.

One band that seems to have found itself just inside of my orbit is Foals. The five-piece from Oxford has put out a pair of full-length albums since forming in 2005.

The debut in 2008, Antidotes, is reminiscent of Hot Chip and VHS or Beta, with a little Bloc Party thrown in. The pace of the album is breakneck, filled with the clamor of guitars, cymbals and vocals all delivered in a staccato manner.

It’s something of an acquired taste, but there are some decent songs on there, including “Big Big Love (Fig. 2)”, “Two Steps, Twice” and “Red Sock Pugie”.

Foals – Red Sock Pugie

The disc actually debuted at No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and eventually went Gold there. As did their 2010 follow-up, Total Life Forever. That collection of songs is a little slower and deeper, but not by much.

The most noticeable aspect of the sophomore offering is that the songs are a little more complex and less similar to one another. It seems like more time and effort was put into crafting them, which is a clear positive for this album.

Some of the better tracks include “Miami”, “Black Gold”, “2 Trees” and “Blue Blood”.

Foals – Blue Blood

October 9, 2011

CONCERT REVIEW: Rise Against and Flogging Molly

Filed under: Concert, F, R — assman41 @ 4:00 pm

When: October 4, 2011

Where: Thunder Bay (Ont.) Community Auditorium

Headliner: Rise Against

Opening act: Flogging Molly

It has become something of a tradition. Every time emo-punk band Rise Against put out a new album, my friend, Sean, and I invariably make our way to one of their shows.

It started in 2007 while the Chicago-based crew was still touring on the heels of their album, The Sufferer & The Witness. Sean and I were working at a newspaper in Central Virginia at the time, and we decided to make the trek to Norfolk to see the  group. It was definitely a solid outing.

A couple of years later, just days before Thanksgiving 2009, Sean and I met in Detroit to see the band play new stuff from Appeal To Reason. Rise Against headlined a show that included The Gaslight Anthem, Alkaline Trio and Thrice, and it absolutely rocked. For a while, that was my favorite concert-going experience.

Fast-forward to last week. Sean just returned to the States after a six-month stint in Jamaica. The last time I had seen him was when we went on our epic SXSW trip. The way the timing worked out, Rise Against was just wrapping up their tour for the album, Endgame, and the only date that worked out logistically was their show in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

I’d picked up my first passport earlier this year, so I was more than happy to break it in. Sean set out from NYC on Sunday and made the 12-plus-hour trip to South Bend. Then we embarked on our jaunt early Monday morning. The plan was to hang out with a friend in Milwaukee and crash in Duluth that night, head to Canada on Tuesday for the show, then make our way back to Milwaukee on Wednesday night.

I’ll skip all the minutiae, and just mention the highlights of  the trip before delving into the concert itself:

  • Meeting our friend, Audrey, for lunch in The Kee and walking around the grounds of UW-Milwaukee.
  • Stopping off in Osseo, Wis., at Norske Nook Kaffe Hus and sharing four of the most amazing slices of pie I’ve ever had.
  • Enjoying a tasty Oktoberfest meal (complete with proper brews) at Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth.
  • Hiking along the shore and taking some amazing photos at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park near Two Harbors, Minn.
  • Eating some awesome Havian BBQ Chicken pizza at Sven & Ole’s in Grand Marais, Minn.
  • Walking around the quaint and bucolic downtown of Grand Marais.
  • Driving through the Canadian countryside before sunset, marveling at the foliage and mountains.
  • Realizing Ontario is on Eastern time and racing to find the concert venue.
  • Rocking out to Flogging Molly and Rise Against.
  • Stopping at a convenience store in Thunder Bay and smirking at all the subtle Canadian differences.
  • Being detained at the border because the officers couldn’t understand why we traveled to Canada for a rock show.
  • Stopping at a beef jerky factory outlet store in Minong, Wis., for several packages of jerky and a few packs of tasty Madison-brewed beverages.
  • A return trip to Norske Nook for four more amazing slices of pie.
  • A frenzied search for a cooler large enough to keep a banana cream pie cold for a few hours.
  • A home-cooked dinner at Audrey’s followed by some bluegrass music and tasty brews at a neighborhood bar in The Kee.
  • Skipping breakfast and holding out until we reached Portillo’s for lunch Thursday before returning to South Bend.

Now, back to the concert itself.

As I mentioned above, we were running late for the show and had no idea where the venue was located. My smart phone turned pretty dumb after crossing the border and I was unable to look up anything on a map.

Thankfully, we didn’t care at all about the opening act — Black Pacific — because we eventually found the place and walked in at about 8 p.m., just as the second act, Flogging Molly was taking the stage. They immediately tore into their most popular tune, “Drunken Lullabies”, as Sean and I found our seats.

Yes, I said seats. The show was taking place at Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, which had nothing but seats and a small orchestra pit. Much to Sean’s chagrin, we were not allowed access to the pit and were forced to thrash about in the small space between the rows of seats.

It was not ideal, but we made do.

I had never seen Flogging Molly before, but they absolutely killed it. There was just something totally badass about seeing six seasoned musicians lined up across the stage in front of the drummer, rocking out on their instruments. The way the were dressed to the nines and how expertly they played, they just looked like some sort of all-star team whose sole purpose was to rock my socks off.

Mission accomplished.

To be honest, even though I only recognized a few of their songs, I think I might have had more fun watching Flogging Molly than I did the headliners. That’s nothing against Rise Against, but I’d already seen them a couple of times, so I guess the novelty has worn off a bit.

That being said, Rise Against still definitely brought it. I was jumping up and down within minutes and zeroed in on the band for the entire show. I will admit that I have a few critiques with the setlist.

They played 16 songs, followed by a three-song encore. After they set the place on fire with “Prayer of the Refugee”, they slowed things down with “Swing Life Away” and “Hero of War”.

During the latter, frontman Tim McIlrath had a string break on his acoustic guitar, which took a few minutes to fix.

So, after that extended period of tameness, they followed it with a medium-paced song, “Audience of One”, which ended up creating this long lull in the show. They only had one song, “Architects” before closing out the set with “Ready To Fall”. Normally, the place would be shaking at that point, but because of that lull — not to mention the confining seats — the crowd wasn’t as lively as it could have been.

The encore was average. They did play “Give It All”, which is one of Sean’s favorites, but they played it second and closed with “Savior”. I would’ve closed with a hit to send the crowd out on as high a note as possible.

But these are minor nitpicks. I still enjoyed the show immensely and can’t wait for the next album — and, of course, the ensuing tour.

October 2, 2011

85 – The Dodos

Filed under: D, San Francisco — assman41 @ 5:12 pm

The Dodos are one of a long list of bands that I’ve known about for a while but had not given a proper listen to.

I got my first real taste of their stuff earlier this year at SXSW, but, even then, I wasn’t really paying attention to their set.

But, after writing about Wye Oak last week, I was reminded about The Dodos and figured it was high time to give them a spin. And, not surprisingly, it was well worth the effort.

The Dodos – Fables

Originally named Dodo Bird, the San Francisco duo of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber changed their name after fans kept referring to them as The Dodos. I first heard about them in 2008, when I saw an ad and review for their sophomore album, Visiter, in a copy of Under the Radar magazine.

Besides putting out some pretty solid indie music, the band is most notably known for its interesting instrumental arrangements.

According to Wikipedia

“Logan Kroeber plays on a drum kit without a bass drum, playing often on the rims of the drums, and also uses a tambourine taped to his shoe. During live performances they have a third member playing a vibraphone, a drum, and two cymbals placed on each other (like a hihat). Meric Long plays mainly acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars during performances. … Long has been known to favor using his fingernails instead of a guitar pick.”

I do seem to recall seeing something funky going on with their drum kit during the SXSW performance.

Anyways, I couldn’t necessarily detect anything too out of the ordinary while listening to the albums. I will note that some of the genre descriptions I saw — such as “psych folk” and “freak folk” — would be apt. But what might sound like a negative label really doesn’t detract from their sound.

The Dodos – Walking

That ditty is the opening track from Visiter. They have since put out two more albums — Time To Die in 2009 and No Color earlier this year. While Visiter is probably my favorite, the others — including 2006’s Beware of the Maniacs — aren’t too shabby either.

The Dodos – Trades & Tariffs

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