Infinite Shuffle

December 24, 2013

189 – Husky

Filed under: Australia, H — assman41 @ 3:17 pm

Since this is my final regular post of the year, it seems like a good time to mention a band that released its debut full-length album in July — of 2012.

I first heard of the band, Husky, this past May when I went to an eatery in suburban Indianapolis and struck up a conversation with a waiter about the music he had playing over the sound system. It led to a lengthy discussion about indie music and various bands we each liked and concluded with each of us jotting down a few suggestions for the other one.

I’d held on to the list since then but didn’t actually look into any of the bands until the past few days. One of the items written on the Post-It note was “Husky – ‘History’s Door'”.

Husky’s Forever So, comes closer to resurrecting Simon & Garfunkel than any album I’ve heard this decade — aside from Fleet Foxes’ acclaimed Helplessness Blues.

Husky is a four-piece indie-folk group from Melbourne, Australia, fronted by lead vocalist and guitarist Husky Gawenda. In 2011, after receiving some critical praise in its homeland, it became the first Aussie band signed to Seattle-based Sub Pop Records.

Husky’s sound is powerful yet subdued. At times on this album, it sounds like a song is about to break and the band is going to kick it up a notch, but things just remain as chill as always.

Fans of Junip — and really any other indie-folk group — would be pleased with this band. And this would be a great album to listen to this holiday season, perhaps as a palate cleanser after trying to catch up on all the 2013 music you missed.

December 19, 2013

188 – Lucius

Filed under: Brooklyn, L — assman41 @ 1:17 pm

If you’ve read many of the end-of-the-year blog posts that have been rolling in, you may have heard that 2013 has been the Year of the Indie Woman. From Lorde and Haim to Savages and Kacey Musgraves, the last 12 months have been dominated by female voices shaking things up on the indie scene.

One band that also has received mention — but not as much as it deserves — is Lucius, a five-piece outfit from Brooklyn fronted by the harmonies of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig.

That is probably the catchiest song on the band’s 2013 debut, Wildewoman, but it’s far from the only standout. The disc opens with the title track, a tune that is kinda repetitive but is also a nice table-setter that gives you an idea of the group’s sound.

Things quickly kick up a notch on “Turn It Around”, which sounds like something that might have come off of a Lykke Li album. Just as quickly, the band slows things down on “Go Home”, an incredibly enthralling slow-burner that is reminiscent of the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album from a few years ago — only this is two women harmonizing with nary a classic rock god in sight.

Following “Hey, Doreen”, is another possible radio hit, “Tempest”. Besides the perfect harmonies, it has moments that conjure images of another amazing pair of women, First Aid Kit.

Then comes the wildest track on the album, “Nothing Ordinary”. It has another of those Lykke Li-type intros and gets a little crazy at times, but it shows that Lucius are not just some one-trick pony.

“Two of Us On the Run”, another slow-builder, is far from filler, but it almost seems to get lost in the shuffle and would be a standout on a lesser album. “Until We Get There” runs into the same issue, just not to the same degree.

And to make sure things don’t ebb too much on the back half of the album, “Don’t Just Sit There” gets the juices flowing once more.

After the filler track, “Monsters”, the album closes nicely with “How Loud Your Heart Gets”.

Overall, it’s a great debut by a band that seems destined to have a noteworthy career. The group has been touring seemingly non-stop and has already passed through Chicago four times since October 2012.

But that didn’t stop Wolfe and Laessig from lending their voices to another highly touted project from the past year, the self-titled debut from San Fermin. The baroque pop outfit formed by composer/songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone churned out an album that should be deemed an acquired taste at best. But it did produce one of the year’s best singles, “Sonsick”, on which Wolfe and Laessig stand out.

December 16, 2013

187 – Ha Ha Tonka

Filed under: H, West Plains Mo. — assman41 @ 1:14 am

At first listen, it would be easy to instinctively lump Ha Ha Tonka in with the slew of other folk-tinged rock bands that have burst on the scene the past few years. It’s certainly a fair comparison, and they could definitely hold their own on a bill with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, Lone Bellow and even Mumford & Sons.

However, there’s just something different about Ha Ha Tonka. They stand out from the pack because of their rawness. Their sound seems more pure, more natural. Rather than folk-rock, their wheelhouse is in roots-rock Americana – a la The Drive-By Truckers, Old 97’s and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Hailing from the Ozarks, this four-piece gets its name from a state park located a couple of hours away from its hometown of West Plains, Mo. While the group has since signed on with Bloodshot Records in Chicago, it’s clear from their music that the boys never truly left the Ozarks.

That said, their lyrics can be very profound, commenting on such things as socio-economic strife, drug abuse and the nation’s health care system while also dropping references to Thoreau and Dostoyevsky.

Lead singer Brian Roberts’ voice would best be described as a toned-down version of Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon.

Admittedly, all of this talk of purity and whatnot is referring mostly to the band’s earlier work, such as the 2007 debut, Buckle in the Bible Belt, and 2009’s Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South. Both albums are solid and were well-received, but it wasn’t until 2011’s Death of a Decade, that Ha Ha Tonka entered a new stratum.

Some of the bigger tastemakers on the indie scene took notice of the band’s more polished sound. The track “Rewrite Our Lives” even popped up during the telecast of that year’s NLCS.

With its latest release, Lessons, which came out this past September, the band seems to have found a comfort zone between its earliest work and the more-rocking Death of a Decade.

Whereas the songs on each of its prior efforts had something of a uniform feel, Lessons is much more eclectic. For example, there’s a little Black Keys, some Dawes, a touch of Spoon and even a dose of Vampire Weekend for good measure.

Just listen to what is arguably the best song in the band’s catalog, “Colorful Kids”.

The group will be doing a very brief tour through the Midwest next month — including a stop in Chicago on Jan. 11 — before turning their attention to SXSW in mid-March. With any luck, the showcase in Austin will help propel the band to an even higher level.

December 12, 2013

186 – Bastille

Filed under: B, England — assman41 @ 3:30 pm

I’ve mentioned before that I rarely ever listen to pop radio anymore. On rare occasions, when I’m in someone else’s car or abode, I don’t have a lot of say over the music — although, I certainly try to enforce my will.

Well, a few weeks ago, while riding with some friends along the back roads of Michigan, the discussion turned to music — as it often does with me. About that time, Lorde popped on the radio and I was informed that they’d heard of the Kiwi songstress well before I ever wrote about her.

While coming to grips with this news, another song came on, and I begrudgingly admitted to liking it but having never heard it.

“Oh, that’s Bastille,” I was told.

And now it’s my duty to pass this on to you, my loyal reader. Although, I get the feeling more than a few of you probably had heard of this band well before it reached my ears.

The pop quartet from London produces the kind of music that seems tailor-made for today’s mainstream radio — catchy tunes filled with pop bombast, a little folk and enough electronics to not be overbearing.

One reviewer in the band’s native England aptly described its sound as “not unlike a mildly clubby Coldplay.”

Bastille was formed in 2010 by lead singer Dan Smith, owner of a signature bouffant coiffure. The group quickly created a buzz with its uplifting tunes that belie darker, melancholic lyrics.

After releasing an early EP, the band signed with EMI and Virgin and set forth releasing the debut full-length, Bad Blood, which came out in the States this past September.

Prior to that, the group had put out a number of singles, which created enough hype at home that the album debuted at No. 1 on the UK charts upon its March release.

In the midst of a worldwide tour, Bastille is currently making their way through the Midwest before heading back to Europe. They’ll return to the States in the spring — including a stop in Chicago on March 31 — before jetting to Australia.

December 6, 2013

185 – The Love Language

Filed under: L, Raleigh NC — assman41 @ 3:24 am

A lot of times when I’m reviewing a band, I not only make a point of listening to as much of its output as I can find, but I also tend to do so in chronological order.

While some of my friends have let me know that such a strategy is foolish, I’ve found that it gives me a better understanding of an artist’s early sound and how far it has come.

Of course, that route inherently provides some obstacles with a lot of bands, particularly ones that have changed their sound a great deal and/or weren’t very good at first.

The Love Language would fall into the former category. And I thought the latter might be apt as well after starting to listen to their 2009 self-titled debut. The album opener, “Two Rabbits”, was jarring and just plain bad. It’s lo-fi at its worst.

But if you’re able to make it past that first bit of whiplash, things actually improve as the album progresses. The second track, “Lalita” provides a solid gauge of the group’s early potential.

The origin of the group, which hails from Raleigh, N.C., is an indie cliché. It started as a bedroom project from Stuart McLamb, who, after breaking up with his girlfriend, retreated to his parents’ house and started pouring his heart out on paper.

Those songs eventually turned into the eponymous debut, and McLamb recruited some more musicians, including his brother, to join him on the road.

The band’s follow-up, 2010’s Libraries, sounds far more professional, having been recorded in a proper studio under the watchful eye of producer BJ Burton and backed by the band’s new label, Merge Records.

From the opening two tracks — “Pedals” and “Brittany’s Back” — it’s clear that listeners are in for a more exciting experience. While the DIY, lo-fi ethos permeates throughout the album, it’s often overshadowed by a Wall of Sound pop attack that will elicit head-bobs and toe-taps from even the most stoic soul.

Nearly three years later, and after several pauses and restarts, McLamb and crew released their latest effort, Ruby Red, this past July.

The early potential on the debut, followed by the major step forward on the second album has led to this, the band’s most well-rounded and fleshed-out offering to date.

There are a number of indie contemporaries that likely influenced the production, but one that stands out is Arcade Fire. It might take multiple listens to hear it, but imagine a less-grandiose version of the Montreal all-stars’ early work. On such tracks as “First Shot” and “Pilot Light”, it’s as if Win Butler & Co. were brought in to lend a hand.

Another group that deserves a mention is Fanfarlo. It’s been a long time since they’ve been on my radar, but the comparison seems apt. Just listen to “Knots”.

And there are even stronger tracks here, including the opening “Calm Down”, “Hi Life” and “On Our Heels”, which sounds like it could have come from the ’80s underground scene.

I’m not sure if this album deserves to be considered among the year’s absolute best, but it’s worthy of at least the second tier.

December 3, 2013

184 – The Soft White Sixties

Filed under: S, San Francisco — assman41 @ 3:23 pm

When I first heard The Soft White Sixties on MOG, I thought I’d found a great new up-and-coming band. One that channels the best of the Black Keys, Wilco and Spoon and melds it into a rather catchy blues-rock act.

But upon looking into the group, it turns out the members aren’t exactly hopeful rookies on the music scene. At least a couple of them have been tearing up the Bay Area for a couple of decades now. Additionally, the self-titled EP I’d heard was released a full two years ago.

None of that is really important. What is key are the “deep grooves and fuzzed-out hooks” that the quartet churns out.

That is track 3 from the EP, and it’s some full-on Wilco patronage. The crew channels Jeff Tweedy’s outfit several times throughout the five-track release, including on opener “When It All Started” and the closer, “Live In the Evening”, both of which include some solid ’60s rock stylings.

The second track, “Queen of the Press Club”, is a solid mix of Queens of the Stone Age and Black Keys.

The remaining track, “Better Way”, conjures to mind Spoon.

It’s an interesting compilation of influences considering that two of the band members — Joey Bustos (drums) and Ryan Noble (bass) — played in a ska-punk band, Link 80, for most of the ’90s.

According to the band’s website, it was set to release its debut LP, Get Right, this past June. There are even a couple of tracks on its Facebook page and a video for the single, “City Lights”. But other than that, it seems as if the album hasn’t actually dropped.

No matter. The group is still touring and it should be just a matter of time before the album sees the light of day.

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