Infinite Shuffle

September 23, 2012

131 – Team Me

Filed under: Norway, T — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Anyone who pays attention to the indie music scene knows that Scandinavia is a hotbed for up-and-coming acts. It seems like every time you turn around, there’s a heavily hyped band whose members’ names are full of funny-looking letters.

For a region so small in terms of population, it turns out a disproportionate amount of great music. Sweden gets most of attention, and rightfully so, with a slew of talent that includes First Aid Kit, Lykke Li, Shout Out Louds, The Radio Dept., Junip, Fine Arts Showcase and Marching Band — just to name a few.

But just to the west lies another incubator of indie talent — Norway. And the latest Norwegian export that is trying to gain a foothold in America is Team Me, a six-piece from the city of Elverum.

Falling somewhere on the indie spectrum between The Polyphonic Spree and New Pornographers, Team Me churn out electro-tinged pop anthems that beg to be sung along to.

In case you didn’t catch the title, that was “With My Hands Covering Both of My Eyes I Am Too Scared To Have a Look at You Now”, easily the most fun and catchy track on the band’s debut full-length, To the Treetops!, which was released in the United States in March.

The group was thrown together somewhat haphazardly in early January 2010 to perform at a Norwegian music competition. It didn’t win, but it did start receiving some critical praise. Eventually, as the buzz grew, Team Me toured, signed with a label and put out an EP.

By the time To the Treetops! came out in Norway last October, the native bloggers were racing to proclaim the band the best thing to ever come out of their country.

Besides a cameo appearance at SXSW in March, Team Me have pretty much sequestered themselves in Europe. But, as their popularity grows, it’ll be hard for them not to tour worldwide.

September 20, 2012

Riot Fest 2012: The Good, the Bad and the Iggy

Filed under: Chicago, Riot Fest — assman41 @ 2:40 pm

I’m not gonna lie. I was a little apprehensive prior to attending to Riot Fest last weekend. The punk/hard rock festival, which took place at Humboldt Park in Chicago’s West Side, had a lineup filled with familiar names but not necessarily acts that I was dying to see.

The predictable highlight for me would be Rise Against, who closed out Saturday night’s bill. But all of the other bands I expected to see didn’t exactly excite me.

As it turned out, I actually enjoyed myself for the most part and came away with a newfound respect for a couple of acts.

Here are highlights and lowlights from my weekend:

Biggest milestone

As a fan of the band for the past eight years, and after seeing them in person thrice already, I finally got to see Rise Against play in their hometown. The closest I had come before was seeing them in Detroit about four years ago, but I knew that seeing them just a few miles from where they got their start would be special.

Here’s the opener, “Help Is On the Way”:

It was clear from the onset, as the sides of the stage overflowed with friends and family, that this show would be special for the band members as well. Lead singer Tim McIlrath noted as much several times throughout the set. And the songs also reflected the setting.

In addition to dedicating the second song, “Re-Education Through Labor”, to all of Chicago’s striking teachers, the band played a number of songs from its earlier days. Bypassing their more recent hits that protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the setlist leaned more toward the members’ activist roots.

During the first song of the encore, McIlrath invoked his heritage again by paying tribute to a punk legend, Tony Sly. The former lead singer of No Use For a Name died on July 31, and McIlrath honored him by playing an acoustic version of the NUFAN song, “For Fiona”.

For the next song, they continued to pay homage to their heroes when they brought up a couple of dudes from The Descendents — Bill Stevenson and Milo Aukerman — to sing “Jealous Again”, a Black Flag cover.

On a sidenote, this was also the first show that I went all-out in the circle pits. Usually content to remain on the fringe, I decided to get in there with all of the young’ins and see how close I could get to the stage. By the end of the night, I’d managed to get a few feet away from reaching the security dudes. Pretty memorable accomplishment, if I do say so myself.

Best table-setter

Before Rise Against took to the Riot Stage, they were preceded by Dropkick Murphys, a great appetizer to the main course.

While I admittedly didn’t know any of their songs, they did a great job of pumping up the crowd with their patented brand of faux-Irish punk.

Of course, everyone went apeshit when they closed it out with “Shipping Up to Boston” and a cover of AC/DC’s “TNT”.

Best banter

The second time I saw Rise Against, it was in Detroit as the headliner of a four-act bill. The opener that night was The Gaslight Anthem. They were only on stage for about a half-hour, and I don’t really remember much about the set.

So I was excited to get to see them again at Riot Fest, with a longer set and a couple more albums under their belt.

They lived up to expectations, bouncing around among their three albums, including the biggest hits from their debut.

But the one thing that stood out the most to me was lead singer Brian Fallon’s humorous asides between songs. He mentioned how the previous weekend’s shows at Riot Fest Brooklyn were canceled due to inclement weather. Then he proceeded to describe how a tornado is formed: “When a high-pressure system and a low-pressure system …”

After playing another song, he briefly mentioned tornadoes again, and punctuated his explanation with, “It’s science!”

He almost mentioned how Frank Turner, another act on the bill, would’ve been doomed in a tornado, making fun of his small stature and talking about how the two of them were gonna get messed up on Advil later.

Biggest surprise

You know how bands, toward the end of their sets, will kick up the intensity a notch and the excitement in the crowd becomes palpable? Well, Gogol Bordello doesn’t differentiate between songs. They perform every one as if it was a closing number.

That opening song was actually one of the tamer performances. And don’t worry if you couldn’t understand any words there. The lead singer, Eugene Hutz, is Ukranian and sings in gibberish. I think I managed to decipher no more than 10 words during the entire set. A few of them were “purple”, “crime” and “alcohol”.

I should note that I will never voluntarily purchase or listen to this band’s music. It’s just not my cup of tea. But in that setting and on that night, it was just a great and incredibly entertaining show.

If they’re at a festival you’re attending, and you don’t have anything else to do at the time, go ahead and check them out.

Biggest disappointment

When I saw that Elvis Costello & The Imposters were in the lineup, I figured that could be a fun little distraction. It turned out to be more of an annoyance than anything.

I thought I knew several of their songs, but it only seemed that way. In actuality, I only know a handful. And, unfortunately for me, the other 45 minutes of his set were filled with music I neither knew nor cared for.

I know that seems harsh, but I just don’t dig their sound that much. Sue me!

Although, they did redeem themselves a bit at the end when they played “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” Also, I noticed the guy in front of me tweeting that they were the best act of the festival, by far. So, what do I know?

  • An honorable mention goes to Iggy & The Stooges. They closed out the entire festival Sunday night, and I deemed this a positive as I could get a jump on everyone else by leaving early. My friends forced me to stay for a few songs, and that was more than enough. I’m sure Iggy Pop’s antics were groundbreaking and influential 40 years ago. But today, he just seems like a pathetic old man trying to hold on to something that has long since passed him by.

Most chill performances

At a festival full of circle pits and fake blood-covered Gwar fans, it was nice to have a few palate cleansers. The first act we saw upon arriving Sunday was Built To Spill. There was no need to get really close to the stage, so we just hung out on some bleachers, well away from the band, and just chilled out to the tunes.

A little while later, I ventured off by myself and ended up checking out The Jesus and Mary Chain, closer to the stage this time. They were a huge influence on a lot of contemporary bands I like, so I felt it my duty to check them out. I only recognized a few of their songs, but overall I dug their set and really need to give their catalog a proper listen one of these days.

Biggest regrets

One act that I was particularly looking forward to seeing was Frank Turner. Unfortunately, he went on in the middle of the afternoon Saturday. And during his set, my friends and I were attempting to navigate the Chicago public transit system.

We were delayed by some repairs on the L, then a bus took forever to show up, then it turned out that Humboldt Park was farther west than I realized. And, lastly, we showed up at the wrong end of the park. So, by the time we finally arrived, Turner’s set was long over.

I also wished I could’ve seen The Offspring perform. My first “favorite band” as a teenager, they played the opening night show at Congress Theater on Friday. Alas, my friends and I didn’t get into town until Saturday. I’ve seen them twice, but not in the last eight years or so. Perhaps I’ll get to see them once more before they inevitably dissolve.

Best food and drink

After showing up later than we would’ve preferred, we had some time to kill before any other interesting acts took the stage. So we headed to the food vendors to see what they were hocking. I settled on The Aberdeen Tap‘s Gator Sausage sandwich. It was out of this world. A gator-filled sausage, covered in a Cajun-smoked, bacon etouffee. I made sure to scrape out any of the sauce that had spilled into my container.

And to wash it down, I discovered Wishbone‘s Watermelon Lemonade. It’s a very simple premise — fill a cup full of watermelon slices, then pour in some lemonade. But it was so refreshing that I ended up having three cups during the weekend.

Final thoughts

While I was apprehensive going in, I’m glad it attended Riot Fest. Whether I would ever do it again depends solely on the lineup. I don’t know if there are any other bands out there in my wheelhouse — besides Rise Against — that would headline a festival like this.

September 16, 2012

130 – Deep Sea Arcade

Filed under: Australia, D — assman41 @ 12:01 am

(Hey, it’s a band with “Sea” in its name for the second week in a row. Too bad I already wrote about British Sea Power awhile ago.)

As it so happens, none of the Sea bands sound similar. BSP is all post-punk and shoegazey. Last week’s featured artist, Sea of Bees, was a haunting/indie-country songstress.

And then there’s Deep Sea Arcade. The five-piece from Sydney released its debut full-length, Outlands, in March and it instantly filled the catchy, indie-pop void that didn’t actually need to be filled.

The above song is the big single off that album and has been out for about a year now. It’s also the high point of the opening half of the disc. The first half-dozen tracks all sound like a homogenization of several good, solid indie bands.

But then the next six songs take on a totally different feel. I was racking my brain trying to figure out who I was hearing. I even replayed the first few seconds of “Lonely In Your Arms” (Track 7) several times before it finally hit me.

Peter Bjorn & John! Or, at least mid-catalog PB&J.

After that realization, it’s difficult not to hear PB&J, at least to some degree, in every track on the back half of the album — particularly No. 10, “The Devil Won’t Take You”.

Even on “Don’t Be Sorry”, which sounds like PB&J covering ’60s pop group.

While I’ve often found those lovable Swedes to be something of an acquired taste and generally can’t stand to listen to them for more than a few songs, it doesn’t bother me with Deep Sea Arcade.

After making this connection, I went back and listened to the first six songs again, but it’s really not noticeable there — unless you’re actively trying to detect it.

So, I don’t know why they chose to make such an abrupt change mid-album, but it’s all good. It certainly makes for a more eclectic listen.

September 10, 2012

129 – Sea of Bees

Filed under: S, Sacramento Calif. — assman41 @ 12:47 am

It seems like forever ago when Sharon Van Etten released her album, Tramp, but when it came out in February, a lot of critics predicted that it would land on numerous best-of-the-year lists.

And rightfully so, as it’s a pretty great album.

Unfortunately, another very similar album, released about three months later to much less fanfare, will likely fly under the radar come honors time.

Orangefarben, the second full-length release from Sea of Bees that came out May 1, bears a noticeable resemblance to Tramp, right down to its vocals.

Actually, Sea of Bees’ debut disc, 2010’s Songs For the Ravens, sounds much more like Ms. Van Etten. On Orangefarben, singer Julie Baenziger drops the dial on the haunting quality and replaces it with more of a country twang. So much so that, on several songs, it sounds like one of the Soderberg sisters from First Aid Kit came into the studio to harmonize with Julie Ann Bee (that would be Baenziger’s stage name).

All of the album’s 11 tracks have one-word titles. Some of the other notable songs include “Teeth”, “Give”, “Alien” and “Leaving”, which is a worthy cover of John Denver’s “Leaving On a Jet Plane” with one added line.

September 4, 2012

128 – Sleepy Vikings

Filed under: S, Tampa Fla. — assman41 @ 6:17 pm

As summer slowly creeps into autumn, it just feels right to turn your music from breezy, poppy tunes to something a little slower and darker.

And to fill that void is They Will Find You Here, the 2011 debut album from Tampa, Fla., sextet Sleepy Vikings.

At times jangly, at times somber and always shoegazey, the Sleepy V’s — as one of my friends took to calling them — create a perfect soundtrack to a warm September afternoon when you’ve got the fan at Medium and a glass of water creating a pool of condensation on your coffee table.

The band members jokingly made up a new genre for their sound — Southern shoegaze — and the label has stuck. They’ve also given themselves a broader, slash-filled descriptor of “we’re an indie/shoegaze/country band.

With Julian Conner and Tessa McKenna melding their vocals beautifully, the group sounds like a cross between Yuck and Kopecky Family Band.

(That video doesn’t do the song justice. “These Days” is the band’s best track to date.)

There is no filler on the debut disc, as all nine songs are keepers. In addition to the two above standouts, other notable tracks include “White Wolves”, “Twin Peaks”, “Dear Long Distance” and “Flashlight Tag”.

Sleepy Vikings have played at SXSW the past few years and have toured some, but it looks like they’re just chillin’ in Tampa right now, gearing up for their sophomore release.

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