Infinite Shuffle

October 31, 2012

134 – Sarah Jaffe

Filed under: Denton Texas, J — assman41 @ 1:44 am

I don’t recall if I’ve ever broached this topic here before, but I have a strange aversion to solo artists. And not for any real logical reason — or at least none that turns out to be accurate.

Whenever I see that an act is just one person, I immediately picture some dude or dudette strumming an acoustic guitar and singing in a sparsely populated coffeehouse somewhere.

And when I see that someone is a singer/songwriter, I often lump them in with all the rest of the dime-a-dozen lot and move on to the next act. Part of that is that I assume a solo artist’s sound is very limited and not nearly as expansive as that of a band.

Now, obviously, I realize that perspective is very ignorant and more than a little naive. But I can’t help it. And because of it, I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of great artists.

But one that managed to make it through my “rigorous” filter is Sarah Jaffe. The 26-year-old songstress from Denton, Texas blends a mostly folk-pop sound with the occasional electro or rock influences — particularly as of late — into an enchanting mix of sounds that’s more powerful than anything at your local coffeehouse.

The above track is the standout from her debut full-length, 2010’s Suburban Nature. It displays how well Jaffe is able to add depth and complexity to all of her songs. Other solid tracks from the album are “Before You Go”, “Better Than Nothing”, “Summer Begs”, “Pretender” and “Watch Me Apart”.

An alternate version of “Clementine” — one that’s piano-based and much more soulful — can be found on the 2011 EP, The Way Sounds Leaves a Room. Also included among the eight tracks are a great cover of Cold War Kids’ “Louder Than Ever” and one of Drake’s “Shut It Down”.

Toward the end of that release, Jaffe starts to show signs of a transition to a more electro sound. And she brings that home on her sophomore full-length, The Body Wins, which came out this past April.

That’s the first single, and, in addition to a great video, it shows a much edgier side to the one-time folkster. Admittedly, I’m not as big a fan of this new sound. But it’s not necessarily bad. In addition to the above song, another solid track on here is “Talk”.

Jaffe played SXSW this year and has toured with some decent acts. With any luck, she’ll be able to cultivate a larger audience over time.


October 15, 2012

133 – Rah Rah

Filed under: R, Regina Saskatchewan — assman41 @ 12:39 am

At some point a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon the website Noisetrade. It’s main purpose for existing is to help under-the-radar bands get their music out to the masses.

The site provides free downloads of albums or samplers. (Of course, it gives listeners the opportunity to donate a few bucks when they download the music — but how many people out there actually cave to the pressure?)

After my first download, I started getting several emails a week trumpeting various bands who had music available on the site. Generally, I’ll skim through the emails, see the descriptions of the bands and decide it’s not worth the time or effort to download the music.

But, on occasion, I’ll see a description that piques my interest. And that’s how I came to recently discover the band Rah Rah.

In this particular email, at the end of a brief, boastful band bio, there was this:

“For fans of: Wilco, Built To Spill, Best Coast, Arcade Fire, Neil Young and Crazy Horse”


While the comparisons were enticing, they were also false. There’s the occasional hint of Built To Spill and maybe some Arcade Fire and Wilco. But Rah Rah’s real contemporaries would be bands such as fellow Canadians Broken Social Scene and New Pornographers and British acts Los Campesinos! and Noah and the Whale.

The above link provides a download that includes a mix of songs from all three of Rah Rah’s three albums, including The Poet’s Dead, which officially hits record stores next week and is already out in digital form.

On the three albums, which include 2008’s Going Steady and 2010’s Breaking Hearts, listeners will discover a band full of solid musicianship, energetic male-female harmonies, enduring lyrics and catchy indie-pop/rock tunes.

The above song comes from the debut album and is a great example of everything Rah Rah bring to the table. The album is mostly upbeat and makes the band’s name seem very apt. There are some slower/darker points on the album, but even those moments are delivered in a way that still seems upbeat.

Other strong tracks include “Betrayal Pt. 1”, “Duet For Emmylou and the Grievous Angel”, “Our Hearts Don’t Match Up” and “Cuba/Peru”, which will likely be stuck in your head after the first listen.

Breaking Hearts is similarly upbeat, but the band displays a tighter sound throughout. It also takes things to a slightly heavier level. All of the songs are solid, but the only real standout is the opener, “Arrows”.

The Poet’s Dead is clearly Rah Rah‘s strongest effort to date. They’re still energetic, but gone are the constant six-piece harmonies. More often, the vocals are focused on one or two singers. But since everyone in the band can sing, it results in a more eclectic mix of songs.

The standout is “Prairie Girl”, which sounds like something that belongs on one of Feist’s albums.

Other songs of note include “Dead Men”, “Run” and the title track.

Rah Rah will be in New York this week for the CMJ Festival, then head west for a quick tour through the States before heading to the Great White North for several shows.

They’ll be an opening act when they stop in Chicago at the Double Door next week. Alas, I won’t be able to attend the show. My guess is, by the time they return to the Windy City, they’ll be the top band on the marquee.

October 9, 2012

132 – Snowmine

Filed under: Brooklyn, S — assman41 @ 12:54 am

“If ‘Jurassic Park’ had a house band, it would sound like Snowmine.”

That was the amusing — if rather misguided — description given by a blogger at Pop Wreckoning after seeing the band Snowmine in person early last year.

Admittedly, said show came a few months before the release of the Brooklyn five-piece’s debut album, Laminate Pet Animal, and its sound was still probably a little rough. But I can’t imagine hearing this band live and thinking it was best suited for some prehistoric jungle abomination. Sure, the first song they played, “Danger in the Snow!”, opens with some ground-rumbling effects and is filled with tribal beats, but other than that, the band is a pretty laid-back indie-pop outfit.

The above song is actually a non-album single — and possibly the best track the band has produced to date. It has a little bit of a Death Cab For Cutie feel to it.

On the actual album, the band bounces between catchy indie-pop and the occasional psych-pop ditty. The latter can be found on such tracks as “The Hill”, “Piece of Your Pie” and “This One”.

Led by new-classical composer and vocalist Grayson Sanders, Snowmine are really at their best when they’re exuding a more bubbly sound. In addition to Death Cab, there are hints of many other popular indie bands, such as Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket and The Walkmen, just to name a few.

The second track on Laminate Pet Animal, “Penny”, opens with a guitar riff that sounds like it came straight out of early ’80s Manchester, but then it quickly transitions into a more standard indie-pop song.

Other solid tracks on the album include “Beast in Air, Beast in Water”, “Let Me In” and “Hologram”.

Since playing at SXSW in March, the band has released a new single, “Saucer Eyes”. With any luck, it’ll continue to churn out an eclectic mix of sounds and maybe even release another album sometime next year.

In the meantime, here’s another video to tide you over.

October 2, 2012

Updates — All good, none great

Filed under: B, G, H, T, X — assman41 @ 2:16 pm

Many well-known bands released highly anticipated albums in the past month or so, and the theme seemed to be about toning things down.

Now, depending upon the band, that could mean veering toward a calmer sound (Band of Horses, The Gaslight Anthem), softening an electro vibe (The Helio Sequence, Two Door Cinema Club), or nothing at all, since you can’t really get any more toned down than The XX already were.

Band of Horses

I might as well start with the album I had been anticipating the most. After a substantial ascension on their first two albums, Band of Horses took a bit of a dip on 2010’s Infinite Arms.

As it turns out, that was just a sign of things to come. Their latest, Mirage Rock, is aptly titled as it’s less an indie-rock album and something closer to alt-country.

That’s not entirely true, but on several tracks you can hear the band’s slow progression toward a more folk/country sound.

The Gaslight Anthem

Possibly the best album among the five here is the latest from The Gaslight Anthem. Maybe it’s just because I had seen them in person recently, but there’s really no filler on Handwritten.

Continuing the shift away from their punkier roots, these Jersey boys churn out more solid indie-rock, highlighted by such songs as “Keepsake” and “’45′”.

One noticeable difference here is that they throw in a few change-ups along the way with some slower, softer songs. So much so, that you almost think you’re listening to a different band.

The Helio Sequence

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever hear a new Helio Sequence album again. Not because I thought they were breaking up. It had been awhile since their last release and I’d mostly stopped caring about them. But when I saw that Negotiations was out, I figured I’d add it to the rotation.

The band, which is known for having an evolving sound, continued that trend since its last full-length album dropped in 2008.

The last time we saw The Helio Sequence, they were churning out indie electro-pop that was incredibly catchy. Now, they’ve slowed things down considerably and added some more complex layers.

They’re starting to sound like a retro version of Band of Horses. Actually, they’ve kinda leapfrogged peak-era BoH and are heading toward the contemporary version.

Two Door Cinema Club

I’ll always have an interesting story of how I first discovered Two Door Cinema Club. And their first album will always be a favorite. But I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to recapture that lightning in a bottle.

Their latest, Beacon, definitely has some good stuff on it — including “Sleep Alone”, “Next Year” and “Handshake” — but it’s not the same start-to-finish gem.

On this one, you won’t find the catchy electro beats on every track like the previous offering. But they’re there in spurts.

The XX

I was not an early adopter of The XX. I avoided them for the first several months of their highly buzzed infancy. But I eventually came around and fell in love with their debut album. So much so, that I was both eager and nervous about the eventual follow-up.

Thankfully, like all of the above albums, Coexist, is in no ways a bad recording. But it’s admittedly not as good as the original.

There aren’t any obvious hits, but there is still plenty of good music to relax to.

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