Infinite Shuffle

March 19, 2014

199 – Evening Hymns

Filed under: E, Toronto — assman41 @ 2:09 pm

Evening Hymns is the perfect band to help put this seemingly endless winter to rest once and for all. Singing dirges that are both mournful and hopeful at the same time, Jonas Bonnetta — the main driving force behind the Ontario collective — uses music to help cope with all that life has to offer.

That is the group’s 2012 album, Spectral Dusk. The songs were written by Bonnetta while he was dealing with the death of his father. His pain can be felt throughout, particularly on “Spirit in the Sky”, “Song To Sleep To” and the title track.

But, just like any baseball lineup worth its salt, the strongest songs here are tracks 3-5 — “Family Tree”, “You and Jake” and “Cabin in the Burn”.

It’s the third album Bonnetta has released, including 2007’s Farewell To Harmony under his own name and 2009’s Spirit Guides under the Evening Hymns moniker. The “band” consists of a rotating cast of characters, including members of such groups as Ohbijou, The Wooden Sky, The Burning Hell, The D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers.

Spirit Guides has a more uplifting tone, with a richer, more complex sound than the latest release. It includes the opening 1-2 punch of “Lanterns” and “Dead Deer” that should make any indie fan take notice.

March 17, 2014

198 – Wild Cub

Filed under: Nashville, W — assman41 @ 12:19 am

Since I couldn’t make it to Austin for SXSW, I figured I’d seek out some bands playing one of the more trustworthy showcases — the Paste magazine party. That’s how I happened upon Thumpers, and it’s also why I finally decided to give Wild Cub a try.

I’d heard of the band once or twice, but I hadn’t listened to it — or so I thought. While jamming out to the 2013 debut album, Youth, I was searching for something that sounded similar in my iTunes library and discovered that I had previously downloaded it several months ago for my brother. Then I recalled him suggesting the band and telling me it was right up my alley.

Turns out he was correct.

Hopefully, I’m not the only person who immediately hears TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe when listening to Wild Cub front man Keegan DeWitt do his thing. The music is obviously different, but the voices are strikingly similar.

So, with that in mind, the best description for Wild Cub would be a synth-heavy indie-pop band fronted by a toned-down version of Adebimpe.

Throughout Youth, the band oscillates between an homage to ’80s synth-pop and something with a funkier, island-tinged sound. Besides the standout tracks that open the disc — “Shapeless”, “Colour” and the above hit “Thunder Clatter” — the other most notable point on the album is the coupling of tracks 6 and 7.

It starts with “The Water”, which sounds like a mash-up of TVOTR and The Cure. And that vibe continues on “Drive”, which is like a cover of a song that The XX wishes it had recorded.

The band formed after DeWitt, tired of Brooklyn’s high cost of living, relocated to Nashville in 2008 to focus on his music. He met multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Bulluck, and they, along with Dabney Morris, Harry West and Eric Wilson, founded Wild Cub.

They have already performed at several prominent festivals, including SXSW, Bonnaroo and CMJ, as well as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon earlier this year. So, with any luck, that is a sign of bigger things to come.

March 13, 2014

197 – Thumpers

Filed under: England, T — assman41 @ 1:09 pm

I’ve always considered myself a very apathetic person. I’m generally proud of the trait — one might even say I’ve often touted it — but I’ve occasionally been called out on it as well. Friends tell me that there’s got to be something I care about, otherwise, what’s the point of living?

It was during one such conversation several years ago that a friend asked me point-blank whether there was anything I was passionate about. I had to think about it, but after a while I landed on music as a real passion. Certainly not playing it, but listening to it, discovering it and sharing it.

Ever since then, I’ve said that my ideal job would involve sitting around all day, listening to music and writing about it — as well as attending countless concerts, of course.

But whenever I read a review on Pitchfork, I question whether I’d be happy doing that for a living, or if it’s better kept as a hobby.

While searching for information on the band Thumpers, I came across a Pitchfork review that made me think the writer must be so jaded and cynical. And it’s certainly not the first time I’ve had that impression while on the site.

My assumption is that, after listening to so much music by so many bands of varying degrees of quality, the novelty eventually wears off and it’s difficult to ever be truly impressed.

I’m not saying Thumpers are amazing by any means, but they’re far from bad. Their debut release, Galore, which came out last month, is filled with the kind of hopeful indie-pop you might expect on a Passion Pit or Friendly Fires album, but with a far less electro-heavy delivery.

The London-based duo of Marcus Pepperell and John Hamson Jr. layer their vocals over a slew of instruments that skirt the edge of being too overpowering. Lyrically, their songs’ winsome emanations belie a forlorn longing for the lost innocence of youth.

This is an album that definitely grows stronger with repeated listens. There are a number of solid tracks, including “Marvel”, “Sound of Screams” and “Unkinder (A Tougher Love)”. Even the filler stuff is relatively catchy — most notably “Come On Strong”, “Now We Are Sixteen” and “Tame”.

The group is currently in Austin for SXSW, then has a brief tour of the West Coast before heading back to Europe. Considering that the album won’t be dropping in their native England until mid-May, Thumpers is at the precipice of what could be a breakout year.

Do yourself a favor and hop on the bandwagon before all the hipsters claim the best seats.

March 7, 2014

196 – Fitz and The Tantrums

Filed under: F, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 2:45 pm

I love Shazam. When it was first introduced several years ago, I thought mankind had reached the zenith of innovation.

“You can just point your phone in the direction of a song playing on the radio and it’ll tell you the name and artist? What is this, Hill Valley, Calif., circa 2015?”

It was several years before I ever had a phone actually capable of downloading the app, but you can be assured that it was the first one I grabbed. Since then, I’ve used it in bars, restaurants, department stores, while driving in the car and even at a concert or two.

The best is when I discover a new band through it. But more often it’s a song I’ve heard before but can’t quite place. And sometimes, it turns out to be a band I do know but have deemed unworthy of my ears.

That was the case recently when, on two different occasions, I heard two catchy new songs on the radio and immediately headed to Shazam. Both times, it came back saying — much to my surprise — that the band was Fitz & The Tantrums.

That was one of the songs, “Out of My League”, which is the lead single off their sophomore album, More Than Just a Dream, that came out last spring. It’s a much more modern take on the neo-soul sound the group has been developing since bursting on the scene a few years ago.

If you listen to enough of the Los Angeles-based six-piece’s music, you may notice something missing — guitars. That is by design. Founder and lead singer, Michael Fitzpatrick, expressly set out to create music without the ubiquitous instrument.

In an interview with Waster.com, he said:

“I wanted to see if we could create something that felt like it was full and rich and felt like it could be heard on the radio, without those guitars. … All of a sudden, it becomes more about the rhythm section, the bass and the drums and what the organ’s doing. And it creates this really cool pocket for the vocals to sing in.”

Fitz & The Tantrums’ style has been described as “soul-influenced indie pop,” which would be accurate nowadays. But when they put out their debut, Picking Up the Pieces, in August 2010, it was strictly soul, straight out of Motown.

That song, along with the single “MoneyGrabber”, helped catapult the album out of obscurity and to the top of the Billboard Heatseekers chart in 2011.

The album isn’t bad, but it’s a bit of overkill, and the group starts to sound like a one-trick pony after a while.

The new stuff isn’t that much of a departure from the original sound, but there’s been enough of a makeover to make it much more palatable for a modern audience. So much so that Ellen DeGeneres was recently dancing to “The Walker” during a pre-Oscars commercial.

I suspect this group puts on a raucous live show. And it looks like they’re still out on tour, with several stops in college towns and various festivals planned for the spring and summer.

March 2, 2014

195 – KONGOS

Filed under: K, South Africa — assman41 @ 5:50 pm

Do you remember when Alt-J and Django Django hit the indie scene in the summer of 2012? They each had such a unique sound that it was difficult to describe them and even harder to find apt comparisons.

I’m having the same issue now as I try to write about KONGOS, the band of four brothers from South Africa that has put out a pair of albums filled with all sorts of influences — some foreign, some domestic.

As much as I hate referencing Rolling Stone, it’s where I was introduced to KONGOS. In a story about how Shazam has become a great predictor for hit songs, the brothers were mentioned as a band about to break in America.

And, since I can’t think of a better way to describe the group, here is how Rolling Stone characterized it online: “a Balkan accordionist, a Burundi drummer, an American slide guitarist and a British rock star walk into a bar; high-octane folk-pop ensues.”

The Brothers Kongos were born in South Africa and spent their childhood there and in London before eventually picking up sticks and heading to the States, settling in the Phoenix area.

Since 2003, the group has been playing live sets all over Arizona and California, with the occasional jaunt to South Africa. Despite releasing a self-titled debut album in 2007, the band didn’t set out on a proper nationwide tour until September 2012, following the release of their sophomore album, Lunatic.

It’s taken almost two years, but that album is finally starting to gain some traction. The above single is the second track on the disc. Seemingly three songs in one, it gives listeners a good idea of KONGOS’ array of influences.

The two things that stand out the most in KONGOS’ music are the accordion and the heavy, tribal drum beat. The latter is particularly prominent on “I’m Only Joking”, the opening track from Lunatic. (If you’re the impatient type, just skip to the 0:40 mark to hear the song start.)

If Shazam is correct, then KONGOS are primed to blow up this summer. They just passed through the Midwest last month, including a stop at The Cubby Bear in Chicago. They have a few dates booked around the country in the spring before hitting the festival scene this summer.

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