Infinite Shuffle

June 29, 2012

119 – Band of Skulls

Filed under: B, England — assman41 @ 1:41 am

A lot of times, a band’s first big single stands as a beacon of things to come. Fans can latch on to that catchy song and expect to hear a similar sound on the rest of the album.

But it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes, a band’s big hit sounds nothing like the rest of the album.

Imagine if someone had first discovered Green Day by hearing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”. Said person would be rather surprised, and possibly displeased, after listening to the rest of Nimrod.

That’s kinda the situation with Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, the 2009 debut from English alt-rock trio Band of Skulls. Its most recognizable song is “Light of the Morning”, which was not released as a single, but has been featured in commercials and movies.

While the song is pretty solid, it doesn’t mesh with many other tracks on the album — except maybe “Death By Diamonds and Pearls” and “I Know What I Am”. If you had only listened to that, you’d think Band of Skulls was nothing more than a derivative of the White Stripes.

But delve deeper and you’ll discover a band that has a lot more going on. In addition to their killer riffs, Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson do a great job backing up each other on vocals. And Matt Hayward’s drumming ties everything together.

Other strong songs on the debut disc include “Fires”, “Honest” and “Patterns”.

The group takes its melodic, blues rock to a slightly higher level on its latest release, Sweet Sour, which came out in February of this year. Rather than just churning out straight-forward rock, the Skulls soften it, in a similar manner that Silversun Pickups have mastered.

The top songs here are “Bruises” and “Lay My Head Down”, the latter of which is slowed down considerably and becomes something of a heavy ballad.

Other solid entries include the title track, “Wanderluster”, “Hometowns” and “Lies”.

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June 27, 2012

118 – Alt-J

Filed under: A, England — assman41 @ 2:04 am

When I received the text message a few weeks ago, I was excited, but also a little nervous. My friend, Scott, who is one of the few people I respect when it comes to their taste in music, sent me word that I needed to immediately check out the group Alt-J and that their debut album, An Awesome Wave, was easily one of the best of the year.

Naturally, I was intrigued. Usually, before checking out a band, I’ve at least heard a minor mention of it once or twice via various sources. But when I downloaded and first listened to Alt-J, I was flying completely blind.

Upon the first listen, I immediately classified it as “an acquired taste.” It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was gonna take a few more listens before anything grew on me. And, as I suspected, after a handful of spins, I’ve grown — not exactly fond, but — accustomed to the mixture of influences. From Junip to modern Radiohead to some other hard-to-pinpoint elements, Alt-J churn out some tunes that are at times funky, at times electro, but always chill.

As described on their Last.fm page, the music is …

… alt-pop that draws on poignant folk verses, crushing synths, smart hip-hop syncopations and tight vocal harmonies.

The quartet formed in 2007 while the four members were all students at Leeds University in England. Known first as Daljit Dhaliwal then FILMS, the band eventually took on the moniker ∆, which is the symbol that results from hitting Alt + J on a Mac computer. I’m on the fence as to whether that’s incredibly awesome or totally pretentious.

Nevertheless, they worked on their sound for several years and eventually gained a local following. After a four-track demo, they put out a pair of 7″ records and eventually released the full-length debut this May.

While Alt-J almost certainly will not be making an appearance on my best-of-the-year post, I wouldn’t kick them out of bed for eating crackers.

(I apologize if that last clause was confusing. It’s something one of my college roommates used to always say, and it occasionally pops into my head.)

June 20, 2012

Updates: Some good, some not so much

Filed under: B, G, L — assman41 @ 3:28 pm

One of the great things about maintaining this blog is that it forces me to listen to discover new bands. But, when my time is a premium and I’m only listening to new stuff, that means I have to delay listening to new releases from bands I already know and love.

Recently, I addressed that issue by downloading a slew of new releases from already-established artists.

Here are my thoughts on a handful of them.

Best Coast – The Only Place

Considering how lo-fi their debut album was, the craftsmanship on this sophomore release was totally unexpected. Easily one of the top five releases so far this year.

The band takes its surf-rock sound and adds more of a twang. Bethany Cosentino’s vocals are reminiscent to those of Neko Case — but obviously not as amazing, since that’d be impossible.

The standout songs here include the title track, “The Only Place” and “Up All Night”, respectively, and “Let’s Go Home”.

Beach House – Bloom

You’d think after four albums, this band’s sound would get old. On the contrary, these Baltimore-based shoegazers just keep bringin’ it. Not necessarily one of the year’s best, but still a great listen.

Some of the better tracks were “Other People” and “New Year”.

Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere

It feels like it’s been forever since this Toronto group put out a new album. In actuality, it was only 2009 when they released Lost Channels. The new album picks up right where the last one left off. Lots of good, slow indie-folk.

There aren’t any major standouts such as “Pulling On a Line”, but “The Great Exhale” was pretty solid.

Ladyhawke – Anxiety

While I wasn’t a very big fan of Ladyhawke’s self-titled debut as a whole, it did at least have a few really great songs. The same cannot be said for their follow-up, which is pretty much unremarkable from start to finish. I gave 1 star to the track, “Cellophane”, but that might’ve been out of pity more than anything.

(Sorry about the sped-up video. It’s the best I could find.)

June 6, 2012

117 – The Vaccines

Filed under: England, V — assman41 @ 3:16 pm

I’d love to be one of the first people to suggest The Vaccines’ full-length debut is the perfect album for the summer. Alas, it actually came out in May 2011, so I’m a year late on that one.

But for anyone who hasn’t heard What Did You Expect From the Vaccines, then it’s the perfect album for Summer 2012.

Channeling contemporaries such as Surfer Blood and Interpol, this London four-piece churns out songs that are as poppy as they are droning.

Coming in just under 36 minutes, there isn’t any sort of slow build-up on any of these tracks. It’s just straight-ahead indie-pop/rock with a sometimes sunny hue. (Well, except for the closing track, which is 8:30.)

The above song, “If You Wanna”, is the second track on the album. And it establishes early on the band’s tendency to just repeat a word or phrase for much of a song. That’s another reason the short length of the songs is pretty key.

While the album has been out for more than a year, I’ve only heard about The Vaccines sporadically. And I didn’t decide to finally give their album a spin until I heard the opening track — “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” — played during the closing credits of the most recent episode of “Girls”.

Yeah, I watch “Girls.” What’s it to ya?

Did you notice the Ramones influence on that one?

Anyway, this album would be a great complement to any sunny day. And, hopefully, the band will continue to mature and put out some more complex tunes in the near future.

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