Infinite Shuffle

August 24, 2013

171 – Ivan & Alyosha

Filed under: I, Seattle — assman41 @ 7:02 pm

After listening to their debut full-length album several times in the last few days, it almost seems criminal that no one has ever heard of Ivan & Alyosha.

Maybe listeners are turned off by their rather ho-hum name. Fans of Russian literature — and who isn’t, right? — may recognize the names of two characters from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

If anything, that adds to the band’s allure. But really, it doesn’t need any other selling points besides its songs.

That is “Running For Cover”, the big single and most radio-friendly song on All the Times We Had, the Seattle group’s first LP and fourth release overall. But it’s far from the only notable song here. In fact, the disc is so loaded with catchy tracks that it will deserve consideration once the end-of-the-year lists are being compiled.

Some of the other top tunes include “Fathers Be Kind”, “Easy To Love”, “Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” and “Who Are You”. Also worth noting are “Be Your Man”, “The Fold”, “On My Way” and “God Or Man”.

Listen to this album and it’s easy to compare the group to contemporaries such as Dawes and The Head and the Heart. But Ivan & Alyosha are a little less folky and slightly closer to the rock-pop end of the spectrum, occasionally conjuring up thoughts of Wilco.

On a few songs, particularly “The Fold”, lead singer Tim Wilson almost seems to be channeling Brandon Flowers of The Killers. And often throughout the album, there is a pretty clear Beatles influence. Then again, what rock or pop band out there doesn’t get compared to the Fab Four at some point.

On their 2011 EP, Fathers Be Kind, the Beatles vibe was even more prominent. That disc also marked a clear transition for Ivan & Alyosha from a pop-folk band to a folk-pop group — if that makes any sense.

Their debut release, the 2009 EP, The Verse, the Chorus, was kinda reminiscent to Coldplay and maybe a little Snow Patrol.

While these EPs are strong in their own right, it’s their latest release that should finally help Ivan & Alyosha reach a larger audience.

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August 18, 2013

So-so threeplay

Filed under: B, Brooklyn, El Paso Texas, Los Angeles, N — assman41 @ 10:05 pm

The past week, I spent much of my time listening to a trio of bands that, for the most part, didn’t do much for me. But they weren’t irredeemable, and they all had their moments. So, I figured I’d just throw them together in one post.

BOSNIAN RAINBOWS

Besides an interestingly random name, this group has some star power behind it, led by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez — best known as the founder and driving force behind heavy act The Mars Volta — and Teri Gender Bender, the lead singer of Le Butcherettes.

The group was formed in 2012 when Rodriguez-Lopez returned to his hometown of El Paso, Texas, after basically dissolving his main band and began looking for a new project.

With Teri Gender Bender’s vocals leading the way, Bosnian Rainbows deliver a sound that is definitely an acquired taste. Some of the labels associated with the group include experimental rock, electro-rock, art rock and art punk.

A better description might be, “a less accessible version of Warpaint.”

That’s probably the best song on the band’s self-titled debut, which came out this past June. Other decent tracks are “Torn Maps” and “The Eye Fell In Love”.

NO AGE

Weirdo Rippers, the 2007 debut by No Age, is pretty much worthless and does not need to be heard by anyone ever again. But that’s OK, because it provides an origin point for the Los Angeles duo’s interesting progression.

Playing together since 2005, Dean Allen Spunt (drums, vocals) and Randy Randall (guitar) have gradually transitioned from annoying noise rockers to something closer to Dinosaur Jr. with an edge.

The band’s 2008 follow-up, Nouns, is, at its best, like something that could have been on the soundtrack to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

It’s as close to straight-up indie-rock as the band has come during its career. The group’s next release, 2010’s Everything In Between, gives off more of a lazy-slacker vibe. Things are definitely toned down, a little garbled, with a lo-fi feel.

In terms of accessibility, it falls somewhere between the band’s previous two releases. A little further down the spectrum is No Age’s latest release, An Object, which comes out later this month.

The album has a real post-punk vibe, kinda like Joy Division at their most raw. There are some decent songs, such as “I Won’t Be Your Generator”, but there is plenty of less-than-stellar filler.

THE BABIES

Look at it on paper, and it totally makes sense. A man from a relatively well-known indie band is at a party and he runs into a woman from an equally popular band. They hit it off, and, eventually, they decide they should make music together.

In theory, that sounds like the makings of a decent band. Unfortunately, that formula doesn’t always pan out.

Such is the case of The Babies, the combination of Vivian Girls guitarist Cassie Ramone and Woods bassist Kevin Morby. What should have been a lo-fi fan’s wet dream turned into something closer to the musical version of mumblecore.

Most of the songs on the Brooklyn band’s 2011 self-titled debut are dominated by male-female harmonies, with Ramone’s voice often taking the lead.

On the follow-up, 2012’s Our House On the Hill, Morby takes on a larger singing role, providing the main vocals on several tracks.

While the first album sounded like a poor man’s version of Best Coast, the second offering is admittedly more palatable and more fleshed out. And it’s probably the best album referenced in this post.

August 15, 2013

170 – Mikal Cronin

Filed under: C, San Francisco — assman41 @ 1:10 am

One of the tidbits that often comes up in stories on Jack White is the number of various bands and side projects he’s a part of. It’s true that White is a busy man, but he looks like a sloth in comparison to Mikal Cronin.

Dating back to 2005 — and probably much further back — the San Francisco-based garage rocker has been actively providing his guitar skills and occasional vocals to a number of bands, such as Epsilons, Moonhearts, Okie Dokie and Party Fowl, a few of which also included high school pal Ty Segall. Cronin is also a mainstay in Segall’s live band and has collaborated on an album — 2009’s Reverse Shark Attack — with him.

But Cronin’s best work has come most recently in the form of his solo releases — 2011’s self-titled “debut” and this year’s MCII, which found its way on to several mid-year best-of lists.

Where most of his early work consisted of him adding a fuzzed-out guitar to throwaway garage-rock compositions, the 27-year-old has shown himself to be a formidable force through his solo releases.

His self-titled disc opens with a harmony straight out of a Beach Boys recording studio, and it lingers throughout the album.

The second track, “Apathy” — which, cleverly, is about how he doesn’t want apathy, has a subtle nod to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. And as the album progresses, it feels as if the Beach Boys and Beatles hung out together in a garage all day playing pop-rock music.

Jump to this year’s release, and there is still some of that residual ’60s vibe, but Cronin adds some more modern influences. Well, modern as in ’90s alt-rock. Several songs on MCII — such as “Am I Wrong”, “See It My Way” and “I’m Done Running From You” — give the impression that Cronin listened to a lot of Weezer and Guided By Voices during his formative years.

The album starts strong with “Weight”, which establishes that Cronin has kicked things up a notch from his previous release. That transitions into the best song on the album, “Shout It Out”, a ditty that will get stuck in your head immediately.

In fact, many of the songs on this album are liable to bounce around in your head for a while. It’s front-loaded with several strong cuts, but after the fifth track, “Peace of Mind”, which calls to mind Wilco, the disc starts to peter out.

Even so, this album is one of the strongest to drop this year and should help Cronin continue to prove himself a strong solo artist.

August 10, 2013

169 – Pickwick

Filed under: P, Seattle — assman41 @ 3:16 am

Do you have a chore around the house that you’ve been putting off for a while? Just put Pickwick on your stereo and marvel at how easily and quickly you finish said task.

The Seattle-based band’s 2013 debut full-length, Can’t Take Medicine, is the perfect soundtrack to an evening at home. Whether you’re preparing dinner, eating by candlelight, doing the dishes or relaxing with a glass of wine, this a fine accompaniment.

Filled with soulful indie-rock, this album sounds like the Black Keys decided to triple the size of their roster and take their music from the garage into the bedroom. In fact, the album was recorded in the band’s living room to an 8-track in order to maintain a raw sound.

Listening to the disc conjures up other acts, such as Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr.

Pickwick has become a well-known commodity in the Northwest, playing to sold-out venues all over Washington and Oregon. But they have yet to make a name for themselves nationally.

A recent stand-out set at the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle should help expand their fanbase, but Pickwick will probably have to rely on word-of-mouth for the time being.

One way to spread the word is to hook up with and established indie darling, which is what they did when they joined forces with Sharon Van Etten on “Lady Luck”, a Richard Swift cover.

August 2, 2013

168 – British India

Filed under: Australia, B — assman41 @ 3:15 am

I fell in love with The Offspring when I was a junior in high school. Up to that point, my radio dial rarely strayed from the local oldies station. But then Dexter and the boys put out Americana, and I couldn’t help but get hooked by such songs as “Pretty Fly For a White Guy”, “The Kids Aren’t Alright” and “Get a Job”.

By the time I was in college, that CD was a staple in my rotation, and, needless to say, I was really looking forward to the release of Conspiracy of One, their 2000 follow-up. Alas, it was nowhere near as good as its predecessor.

But after going back and listening to the band’s older stuff, I realized that the latest album was just following a pattern that had plagued the group since its start. It could never put out two solid albums in a row.

The self-titled debut? A great start. Ignition? A sophomore slump. Smash? Arguably the greatest entry in their catalog. Ixnay On the Hombre? Pass.

So, why am I bringing this up now, 15 years after that SoCal crew peaked? To illustrate a point. Sometimes, bands don’t follow a curve. Instead, it’s more of a sine wave.

And that brings me to British India, four chaps who have been playing indie-rock together since they were high schoolers in the underground music scene of Melbourne, Australia.

The group’s recent release, 2013’s Controller, is its fourth album to date and easily its best. It also continues the band’s hit-or-miss trend.

British India’s debut, 2007’s Guillotine, proved that they had potential, but only a bit. The boys clearly wanted to rock and show off their punkish influences, but, besides the single “Run the Red Light”, there was nothing too impressive.

The following year, they came back with Thieves, which dominated its predecessor right out of the gate with the catchy opener, “God Is Dead (Meet the Kids”. What follows is a collection of songs that wavers between decent and radio-friendly.

Some of the better tracks are “Put It Right Down”, which has a little Fall Out Boy to it, “Mona Lisa Overdrive”, “I Said I’m Sorry”, “Funeral For a Trend” and “Airport Tags”

Unfortunately, the band could not capitalize on its momentum when it released Avalanche in 2010. It was a complete dud, with nary a song worth mentioning.

Maybe they just needed a little more time off. After three years, they regrouped and put out Controller, which is chock full of catchy tunes and recasts the group as a force to be reckoned with in the Land of Oz.

The group veers closer to the pop realm compared to previous offerings. There’s the perfect table-setter of the opening “Plastic Souvenirs”, the ’90s punk-pop tinge of “Blinded” and vocals that call to mind The Music on “Summer Forgive Me”, as well as equally catchy tunes such as “We Don’t Need Anyone” and “Your Brand New Life”.

But easily the best track on the album — and their best to date, for that matter — is “I Can Make You Love Me”.

This album has the makings of a best-of-the-year contender. It’s hard to believe British India is practically unknown outside their native land. I only discovered them when they popped up during a random MOG session. Hopefully, they catch the ear of the right person pretty soon and break through in the States.

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