Infinite Shuffle

April 28, 2014

204 – Fear of Men

Filed under: England, F — assman41 @ 11:48 am

When you hear Loom, the debut full-length release from Fear of Men, your first thought may be, “Oh, I’d always wondered what Dolores O’Riordan was up to nowadays.”

As it turns out, she’s still busy in her second stint fronting The Cranberries. But you’d be excused if you thought maybe she had started an indie-rock band on the side.

Actually, that’s Jessica Weiss who’s Lingering around like a Zombie. (I’m not proud of that last sentence.) Weiss’ vocals bear a striking resemblance to those of O’Riordan — minus the Irish lilt — and mixed with a little bit of Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura.

The above track, “Luna”, perfectly encapsulates what this band is all about — shoegazey instrumentation backing dreamy vocals that belie a melancholic tone.

Based out of Brighton, England, Fear of Men are officially a trio, with Weiss, Daniel Falvey (guitar) and Michael Miles (drums). Bassist Becky Wilkie joins the fray for live sets.

The group first pinged the indie radar in February 2013 with the release of Early Fragments, the aptly titled compilation of singles and B-sides. Only two songs — “Seer” and “Green Sea” found their way onto Loom. Among the other six tracks, there are several — “Doldrums”, “Born” and “Spirit House” — that complement the recent release nicely. There are also a couple that never need to be played again — “Your Side” and “Ritual Confession”. Then there’s “Mosaic”, which would be solid if they’d taken out the annoying sample recording that pops up a couple of times.

Loom came out in the U.S. last week, and the band is currently touring with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They’re actually in Chicago tonight at The Empty Bottle, which has the makings of a great show.


April 27, 2014

203 – Mr. Little Jeans

Filed under: Los Angeles, M, Norway — assman41 @ 3:00 am

When I first heard Lykke Li back in 2008, I never would’ve guessed that six years later, I’d be using her as a reference point for so many new artists. It seems like a new woman or female-fronted band pops up every month that owes a debt of gratitude to Li for paving the way for the recent surge of soulful electro-pop.

It was only a few weeks ago that Highasakite was dominating my airwaves, and now one of their Norwegian brethren has taken their place in the form of Mr. Little Jeans. The name — which is an awesome reference to a bit character from the movie, Rushmore — is the moniker for Monica Birkenes, who left Scandinavia for Los Angeles, after an extended layover in London.

Last month, she dropped her debut full-length, Pocketknife, which is filled with catchy hooks and enough beats to get hips shakin’ and heads bobbin’.

That’s “Runaway”, probably the best song on the album. Just listen to that chorus, and you’ll immediately want to put it on repeat.

There is very little filler among the 12 tracks here, with each song conjuring up a different influence.

The solid opener, “Rescue Song” is reminiscent of Feist and Ingrid Michelson and others of that ilk. It’s followed by one of several sleeper hits on the album, “Mercy”, which is so sneaky that it isn’t until the song is over that you realize how great it was. And then you’re forced to play it again.

Then comes the aforementioned “Runaway”, which could easily hold its own against any of HAIM‘s recent hits.

That is followed by “Oh Sailor”, featuring the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Youth Chorale. If it brings to mind Dead Man’s Bones’ debut album, that’s because the entire thing was a collaboration with the same youth choir. Also, both albums were produced by Tim Anderson.

“Don’t Run” calls to mind both Li and Zola Jesus, but by the end it suffers from Anderson’s reliance on computer effects.

“Good Mistake”, which was the title track of an EP released in February, rounds out a strong first half to the album.

The back half of the disc is notably lacking in flair, but it never sinks too far. Track 9 is a cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”, which helped Mr. Little Jeans earn some internet buzz a few years ago. It’s followed by another sleeper track, “Heaven Sent”, which seems like it should be higher up in the pecking order.

“Far From Home” is one of several songs in which Birkenes sounds like she could be related to Imogen Heap — or at least have the same auto-tune program as the former Frou Frou singer.

April 24, 2014

Extended threEPlay

Filed under: Australia, B, Lawrence Kan., Southern California, V, Y — assman41 @ 3:19 pm

Having grown up in the post-vinyl era, I never understood why EPs and LPs basically had the same name but meant different things. I mean, “extended play” and “long play” sound pretty similar to me.

Even though I grasp the backstory behind the names, I still wish someone would come up a better, more sensible label for shorter releases.

Now, as I step down from my soap box, this seems like a good time to pay homage to Rob Gordon and The Beta Band by selling you on three EPs that recently piqued this blogger’s interest.

Bad Suns

It’s only fitting that I first heard this band on a college radio station. These four SoCal dudes range in age from 19-22 and look like they just stepped off of a Warped Tour stage.

Thankfully, their music is advanced beyond their ages and destined to take both indie and mainstream radio by storm.

It’s a full-on blast of electro-tinged indie-pop that will excite fans of Foster the People, The 1975, Young the Giant, Grouplove and that ilk.

Bad Suns dropped Transpose in January, and, with only four tracks, it’s hard not to keep hitting repeat every 14 minutes or so.

The song that’s gonna get the most airplay is “Cardiac Arrest”, but “20 Years” and “Transpose” are both almost at that same level. Meanwhile, “Salt”, pales in comparison, but that may just be because of how great the other tracks are. It’s a decent song and was actually released as a single.

You can check out all of the tunes on their Tumblr. And, thankfully, there’s more on the way as Bad Suns are expected to release a full-length album later this year.

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Vancouver Sleep Clinic

Fans of “old school” Bon Iver rejoice! There’s a new male falsetto on the block ready to fill the void that Justin Vernon left behind when he decided to put together a real band and take his music in a different direction.

Rather than retire to a cabin in the woods, 17-year-old Aussie Tim Bettinson found his bedroom at home to be sufficient while recording the songs that would become the Winter EP, which was released last month.

The six tracks here owe their existence to both Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and Sigur Ros’ Valtari.

More than just a plaintive voice, Bettinson manages to add enough instrumentation to give his songs some depth.

Really, that’s about all there is to say. If you liked Bon Iver’s first album, you’re sure to love Vancouver Sleep Clinic.

Your Friend

In a similar vein as Vancouver Sleep Clinic comes Your Friend, the musical alter-ego of Taryn Blake Miller. The recent University of Kansas graduate isn’t doing anything fancy on her debut Jekyll/Hyde EP.

Originally released by cassette tape label 808 New York Tapes out of Lawrence, Kan., the six tracks here are about as bare bones as you’ll find on the indie scene.

The most complex song is “Tame One”, which was my entry point to Your Friend after reading about her on SPIN’s website.

Miller captivated the Lawrence music scene during her time there and originally put out the EP herself last August. But it got a more commercial release earlier this month through Domino Records.

April 10, 2014

202 – TOY

Filed under: England, T — assman41 @ 11:55 am

Invariably, the first thing I do when I hear a new band is start trying to figure out who it sounds like. It’s like second nature — What older groups influenced this one? What newer groups would be considered contemporaries? What is the list of bands that would give the clearest idea of what to expect from this new group?

And, as one might expect, this process revolves almost solely around sound — the aural aesthetic.

But when I first heard the latest offering from the band, TOY, my mind wandered not to who they sounded like but more who they felt like. And quickly it turned into, “When I listen to this group, what other bands do I want to listen to next?”

The immediate answer to that question was Guided By Voices, but a couple of other bands I tossed around were Yuck and Elf Power. Looked at individually, these bands don’t necessarily have a lot in common. But for me, personally, there’s some indescribable link — I find myself drifting into the same mindspace whenever I listen to one of these groups. And now I’ve found another conduit in TOY.

It’s difficult to find any obvious similarities between TOY and the other aforementioned bands. Really, there aren’t many. And whatever those may be are quickly twisted into an elongated psychedelic haze.

I wrote briefly about this up-and-coming five piece from Brighton, England, more than a year ago after seeing it on a bunch of Best of 2012 lists. My description then still holds up:

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

As it just so happens, the last couple of times I listened to their second album, Join the Dots, it really did put me to sleep. But that’s not a bad thing. The music is just very soothing and great to have on in the background, ready to be focused upon whenever your ears are ready and willing. (Also, I was listening to it around 2 a.m., so I was just asking to be lulled into a dream state.)

I’m not usually a big fan of psychedelia, but this band manages just enough flourishes to keep me interested. As one Amazon reviewer aptly put it, TOY are basically a palatable version of Tame Impala.

And despite its lazy sound, it turns out the group is rather ambitious, intending to release an album every calendar year. It barely made its 2013 deadline, dropping Join the Dots in early December. But TOY are already planning to put out a live album and EP at some point this year.

They’re currently touring in Europe but do have a few dates in late April-early May planned for the States. However, unless you’ll be on the West Coast or in Austin or New York at the time, you’re out of luck.

So, I guess you’re stuck checking them out via the interwebs. Here’s the entire album in one hourlong clip.

April 4, 2014

201 – Jamestown Revival

Filed under: Austin, J, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 1:54 pm

Reading official band bios can be an eye roll-inducing experience. They are often filled with grandiose language and questionable turns of phrase that would make any English professor weep. And judging by the yarns many of these groups weave, it’s as if being a failed creative writing major is a prerequisite for joining a band.

That being said, sometimes perusing a group’s backstory can help paint a picture that’s almost as powerful as the music. Take Jamestown Revival for instance. Try reading their bio while listening to their debut album, Utah. It’s like some sort of synergistic multimedia project.

If you read the whole thing, then you won’t have trouble figuring out this band. A couple of Texas boys move to California and make indie-folk music with equal parts South and West.

The above track, “California (Cast Iron Soul)”, is the second single off the album, which dropped this past February. It sounds a lot like another member of the L.A. indie-folk rock scene — Dawes. But as you listen to the entire disc, it’s clear that Jamestown Revival has a much more raw sound. Of course, that may just be because all of the songs were recorded in a log cabin in the mountains.

These fellas aren’t going to blow anyone away with a fresh, new sound or any kind of innovative approach to crafting songs. But they do make some great music for sitting on a porch or balcony and just chilling out.

April 3, 2014

200 – Highasakite

Filed under: H, Norway — assman41 @ 2:07 pm

I am pleased that my 200th “official” band post is on a group that has the potential to be a favorite of mine for years to come.

I first heard about Highasakite during All Songs Considered‘s post-SXSW podcast. Of all the bands the music enthusiasts touted, this Norwegian quintet was the one that really stood out to me.

The group consists of Ingrid Helene Håvik (vocals), Trond Bersu (drums), Øystein Skar (synths), Marte Eberson (synths) and Kristoffer Lo (guitar, percussion and flugabone). Håvik, who writes most of the lyrics and music, has a voice and cadence that sounds like a mix of Lykke Li and the Söderberg sisters in First Aid Kit.

That’s the first single off the band’s sophomore album, Silent Treatment, which is set to be released April 8. While “Since Last Wednesday” is a great song, it’s not the best on the disc. That distinction belongs to “Leaving No Traces”, the track that was played on All Songs Considered.

Since I couldn’t find a good video of the song, you’ll just have to go here to check out the song on NPR.

Besides the above two tracks, the album is filled with solid tunes, including “Lover Where Do You Live?”, “I the Hand Grenade”, “Darth Vader” and “Hiroshima”.

The group began as a two-piece when Håvik met Bersu at Trondheim Jazz Conservatory and the pair started writing, recording and performing together. It doesn’t appear as though their jazz studies influenced their current sound too much.

Highasakite dropped its debut album, All That Floats Will Rain, in Norway in February 2012. Later, they took that disc’s best tracks and released them as a five-song EP, In and Out of Weeks, worldwide in March 2013. Everything on the EP is solid, but the standouts are the title track and “Winners Don’t Come Easy”.

You can check out several tracks from both albums on their SoundCloud page.

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