Infinite Shuffle

January 30, 2013

144 – Black Prairie

Filed under: B, Portland — assman41 @ 7:21 pm

Chances are, if you’ve ever heard of the band, Black Prairie, you know that it consists of several members of The Decemberists. And that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Anyone seeking out Black Prairie and expecting to hear a slightly skewed version of the Portland indie gods that begat them are in for a rude awakening.

That’s not to say you won’t hear the occasional accordion or guitar line and be reminded of Colin Meloy’s crew. The problem is, those are the only sounds that the two bands share.

With Meloy absent from this project, Black Prairie is sorely lacking in the vocals department. Their debut album, 2010’s Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, was almost completely bereft of vocals.

In their place, the five-piece band churns out a form of bluegrass music that has a strong Appalachian feel, but also includes several other influences.

Last year’s follow-up, A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart, was more accessible, as only six of the 16 tracks were instrumental. On the rest of the album, the vocals were provided by Annalisa Tornfelt of Bearfoot and The Woolwines.

The strongest track, and the one that first introduced me to the band, is “Rock of Ages”.

I worried that it might be the only decent song on the disc, but there are a few more, such as “Nowhere, Massachusetts”, “Richard Manuel” and “Lay Me Down in Tennessee”.

Considering the progress the group has made between its first two albums, I’m not yet ready to write off Black Prairie. Hopefully, they continue to enhance their music vocally and build on their potential on albums to come.

January 21, 2013

143 – Family of the Year

Filed under: F, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 8:22 pm

It’s been almost two years since I saw them live at SXSW, but now seems like as good a time as any to talk about Family of the Year.

The indie-pop group from Los Angeles has roots in several different locales, particularly Massachusetts. Brothers Joseph and Sebastian Keefe were born in Wales and eventually moved to Martha’s Vineyard. They were part of a couple of regionally well-known bands in the Boston area. Eventually, they and some bandmates moved to L.A., where they met Christina Schroefer, thus completing the core group that would become Family of the Year.

While occasionally dabbling in some different musical genres, the vast majority of Family of the Year’s sound centers around beautiful male-female harmonies and pop-folk instrumentation.

That is the first track on the band’s debut EP, 2009’s Where’s the Sun. It was originally titled “Down to the River” but was changed when it was included on Songbook, the debut full-length that was released later that year.

While the album was a nice starting spot for the band, it only had one other real notable track, “Let’s Be Honest”.

During the next two-plus years, the group put out a trip of EPs — Through the Trees, St. Croix and Diversity. The most notable track from these that wouldn’t eventually make its way on a full-length in the States was “Chugjug”, which was included in a 2010 Advil commercial.

Finally, in July 2012, the band put out its sophomore full-length, Loma Vista. With its tighter compositions, stronger harmonies and catchier tracks, the album stands as a notable step forward for the band.

Some of the better tracks are “The Stairs”, “Diversity”, “Hero”, Everytime” and “Find It”. But the best track here, and arguably the band’s best to date, is “St. Croix”.

Family of the Year were actually just in Chicago on Sunday for the final day of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival. Unfortunately, the show was sold out by the time I became interested in it.

With any luck, it won’t be too long before they return to the Windy City.

January 16, 2013

Way-back Wednesdays II

Filed under: Uncategorized — assman41 @ 4:32 pm

Here’s the latest installment of ’80s videos I’ve thrown together. Enjoy.

Here’s the playlist in alphabetical order:

  • Bananarama – “Cruel Summer”
  • Beach Boys – “Kokomo”
  • The Cars – “Drive”
  • Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”
  • Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “Come On Eileen”
  • Echo and The Bunnymen – “Lips Like Sugar”
  • Eddy Grant – “Electric Avenue”
  • Billy Joel – “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
  • M – “Pop Muzik”
  • Men At Work – “Overkill”
  • Midnight Oil – “Beds Are Burning”
  • Night Ranger – “Sister Christian”
  • Gary Numan – “Cars”
  • Peter Schilling – “Major Tom (Coming Home)”
  • Bruce Springsteen – “I’m On Fire”
  • Billy Squier – “The Stroke”
  • Bonnie Tyler – “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
  • The Vapours – “Turning Japanese”
  • Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again”
  • Kim Wilde – “Kids In America”

January 14, 2013

142 – The Wombats

Filed under: England, W — assman41 @ 2:30 am

I still can’t figure it out, but for some reason I’ve heard multiple references to The Wombats in the past couple of months. It’s especially odd since they haven’t released an album since April 2011 and don’t appear to be anywhere close to putting out another one.

Nevertheless, those mentions led to me listening to the Liverpool trio’s two full-length releases, so I figured I’d write a little something about them.

I was first introduced to the band several years ago through the song “Kill the Director”, which was the third single off A Guide To Love, Loss & Desperation, the band’s debut album that was released in November 2007.

As you can quickly discern, The Wombats sound like any number of indie-pop/rock bands that were coming out of the UK about 5-8 years ago. Bands such as Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks and The Fratellis, to name a few.

That’s not necessarily the band’s fault, but it does make it sound less original. Also, that whole scene doesn’t really hold up as well nearly a decade later.

That being said, all of the bands put out some good songs, The Wombats included. Other strong tunes on that first album include “Let’s Dance To Joy Division” and “Moving To New York”.

The 2011 follow-up album, This Modern Glitch, added an extra electro vibe and also produced a few good songs, such as “Jump Into the Fog”, “Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)” and “1996”.

The band still appears to be active, and it’ll be interesting to see if/how its sound has evolved — if it ever releases another album, that is.

January 9, 2013

2012 threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, D, England, P, Seattle, T — assman41 @ 10:16 pm

Since I spent much of my last few weeks focusing on the best stuff I’d heard during the past year, I wasn’t able to listen to too much new music.

But as I often do in January, I checked out several of the albums that I’d seen on others’ end-of-the-year lists but were totally foreign to me.

Here are three more bands who put out an above-average disc last year.

DIIV

DIIV is the brainchild of Zachary Cole Smith, a member of Beach Fossils who decided to try his hand at the whole solo thing.

Originally named Dive, this Brooklyn-based outfit takes very dream-pop sound of Beach Fossils and covers it in a heavy, dark shade of gloss. The songs on the 2012 debut, Oshin, are shoegaze with an electro twinge.

TOY

I’ve only listened to the self-titled album once, so I’m not totally sold on TOY. This London-based quintet fills its songs with distortion, but it doesn’t drown out the solid vocals or instrumentation.

Combining the best of shoegaze and psychedelia, TOY churns out some very droning, hypnotic tunes that are likely to put you to sleep.

Perfume Genius

The alter ego of Seattle resident Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius is basically, at its core, just a dude and his piano. But Hadreas’ voice is so beautiful and he adds enough other layers that the music never gets boring.

Hadreas started recording songs after moving from New York to Washington, and he posted his work on MySpace. He was soon discovered by the British band Los Campesinos! and signed to their label.

Since then, Perfume Genius has released two albums — 2010’s Learning and last year’s Put Your Back N 2 It, the latter receiving plenty of critical praise.

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