Infinite Shuffle

February 23, 2015

212 – Alvvays

Filed under: A, Toronto — assman41 @ 4:27 pm

For a lot of indie music fans, Best Coast would be considered the progenitor of the recent trend of mixing female lead vocals, lo-fi instrumentation and breezy tunes that belie darker tones. Of course, with pretty much any musical genre, there’s always someone who did it earlier.

One band that could probably lay claim to at least planting the seeds from which Best Coast sprouted is Camera Obscura, the Scottish group that started in the mid-‘90s.

But this post isn’t about who got there first. Instead, it’s about who is there now. Particularly, a band that combines the best of both of the aforementioned groups and puts its own spin on things to create something new.

Alvvays is a five-piece indie-pop group from Toronto that plays songs that would be perfect for chilling out at the beach like Best Coast — as long as said beach is located somewhere colder, like the coast of Scotland.

Alvvays’ self-titled debut was released last July and, within a month, topped the college radio charts.

The group is helmed by childhood friends Molly Rankin (vocals) and Kerri MacLellan (keyboards), who began playing music with Alec O’Hanley. Eventually, they were joined by Brian Murphy and Phil MacIsaac to form the internet search-friendly Alvvays.

Their best-known track, and possibly the most energetic on the album, is “Archie, Marry Me”, a tune that seems like an incredibly bare-bones cover a My Bloody Valentine song. (Not really, but for some reason, that description always pops in my head when I hear it.)

Other strong entries include “Next of Kin”, “The Agency Group”, “Atop a Cake” and my personal favorite, “Party Police”.

The group has been touring all over, including a recent stop in Madison that I was unable to attend. They’ll be in Austin next month for SXSW, which, sadly, I will once again be missing. But enough with my melancholy; just go listen to this band.

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August 7, 2012

My new favorite website: Plixid.com

Filed under: A, B, F, H, T, W — assman41 @ 4:26 am

The last few months, it’s been difficult to find reliable websites to download music for free. The old standbys, such as MegaUpload, MediaFire and FileTube, have either been shut down by the government or simply don’t return any worthwhile results.

Rather than download RAR and ZIP files, I’d been forced go the torrent route and hope that Vuze would have the albums I was looking for. But that’s generally hit or miss.

But a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon my savior — Plixid.com. Not only does this site provide reliable links to albums, it’s also become an invaluable source for discovering new music.

The site adds one album every 15 minutes. They cover numerous genres and include a lot of new stuff — but there’s also plenty of old albums.

Instead of sifting through everything, I stick to the Indie/Post-Rock/Post-Punk feed and have already found numerous gems. The highlight so far was The Darlingtons, who I featured in last week’s post. But there’s been enough good stuff to keep me busy.

Here are the standouts from the past few weeks:

Air Traffic Controller

Immediately at the start of “Hurry Hurry”, the opening track the album, Nordo, I figured Air Traffic Controller had to be a side project for one of the dudes from They Might Be Giants. You cannot listen to that song and think of TMBG’s “Birdhouse In Your Soul”.

But as the album plays on, the similarities die down and are replaced with some rather catchy tunes. But in the way that one fan’s “catchy” is another fan’s “annoying.”

With some quirky songs about “Field of Dreams” and “Star Wars”, this group keeps things light while still churning out some solid tunes.

Heavenly Beat

When he decided to try his hand at the whole solo thing, John Pena decided not to stray too far from his bread and butter.

Pena has taken the electro-dream pop he helped create as the bassist for Beach Fossils and jazzed it up, infusing it with a new level of complexity.

The songs on the recently released Talent are the kind of dream pop catnip that could lull someone to sleep. But there is also a whole other layer of electro-pop that makes the music more engaging. It’s this dichotomy that makes every track so enjoyable.

Factories

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be humming “It’ll Be Alright” for at least a couple of days after your first hear it via Factories’ debut album, Together.

The second track on the disc, this song is a perfect example of the heights this band can reach when its lyrics live up to the standard set forth by the sonic electro beats that permeate throughout.

The rest of the album is pretty solid, with such notable songs as “Canada”, “Calypso”, “Kamikaze”, “Pressure”, “No One Noticed Me But You” and the title track.

Brainstorm

Here’s one reason you may feel a little apprehensive using Plixid.com. Apparently, Heat Waves, the debut full-length release from Brainstorm, isn’t officially out until Oct. 2. Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying it for the past couple of weeks.

Oh well. I’m glad I was able to hear it early. The album is definitely solid, filled with catchy indie rock-pop ditties. But that description does not do these songs justice.

This Portland trio has an intoxicating mix of influences that work so well together — kinda like Vampire Weekend, except the two bands really don’t sound anything alike.

Check out a few of their videos here. 

Westkust

If you prefer your shoegaze with plenty of fuzzy instrumentation, check out Westkust. Their EP, Junk, is so entrancing.

Trespassers William

The indie gods giveth, and the indie gods taketh away.

Shortly after downloading a few tracks by the group, Trespassers William, I’ve come to find out that they are disbanding. The September release of Cast, a collection of B-sides and rarities, will be the final output of the Seattle group.

After three full-length albums and two EPs, the group’s two main members — Anna-Lynne Williams and Matt Brown — have decided to focus on their solo projects.

From what little I’ve heard of the group’s music, I know that it will surely be missed.

July 3, 2012

120 – Alabama Shakes

Filed under: A, Athens Ala. — assman41 @ 3:44 am

It never fails. Every year, the indie tastemakers find one new act to hype the hell out of — often before it even releases its first full-length album.

And usually, because of the excessive hype, I end up steering clear of said band for several months, no matter whether I think I might like it or not.

Some of the notable “it” bands have included Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend and The XX.

This year, the band is Alabama Shakes, the roots rock quartet hailing from Athens, Ala., that has become the darlings of the indie scene.

Formed in 2009 by lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard and high school classmate Zac Cockrell (bass), along with Heath Fogg (guitar) and Steve Johnson (drums), Alabama Shakes put out a self-titled EP last fall and went viral seemingly overnight.

One listen to their first single, “Hold On”, and it’s clear that they have the chops to live up to the critical praise.

And while their debut LP — Boys & Girls, which came out in April — is solid, the sound is one that could get old fast. For the most part, Brittany and the boys do their best impression of Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Howard’s similarity to Janis Joplin is unmistakable and perhaps even better than the original.

Alabama Shakes put out the kind of music that a lot of people can agree upon. But there are plenty of music fans that will probably be turned off by them — either because they’re turned off by the lack of depth or because they’re too pretentious to enjoy this style of music.

It’ll be interesting — after all the hoopla dies down — to see where the Shakes go from here. They could easily churn out more of the same tunes to a public that will eat it up. Or, they could try to develop as a band and add some nuance to their sound.

Either way, it’s doubtful they’ll be falling off the map any time soon.

June 27, 2012

118 – Alt-J

Filed under: A, England — assman41 @ 2:04 am

When I received the text message a few weeks ago, I was excited, but also a little nervous. My friend, Scott, who is one of the few people I respect when it comes to their taste in music, sent me word that I needed to immediately check out the group Alt-J and that their debut album, An Awesome Wave, was easily one of the best of the year.

Naturally, I was intrigued. Usually, before checking out a band, I’ve at least heard a minor mention of it once or twice via various sources. But when I downloaded and first listened to Alt-J, I was flying completely blind.

Upon the first listen, I immediately classified it as “an acquired taste.” It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was gonna take a few more listens before anything grew on me. And, as I suspected, after a handful of spins, I’ve grown — not exactly fond, but — accustomed to the mixture of influences. From Junip to modern Radiohead to some other hard-to-pinpoint elements, Alt-J churn out some tunes that are at times funky, at times electro, but always chill.

As described on their Last.fm page, the music is …

… alt-pop that draws on poignant folk verses, crushing synths, smart hip-hop syncopations and tight vocal harmonies.

The quartet formed in 2007 while the four members were all students at Leeds University in England. Known first as Daljit Dhaliwal then FILMS, the band eventually took on the moniker ∆, which is the symbol that results from hitting Alt + J on a Mac computer. I’m on the fence as to whether that’s incredibly awesome or totally pretentious.

Nevertheless, they worked on their sound for several years and eventually gained a local following. After a four-track demo, they put out a pair of 7″ records and eventually released the full-length debut this May.

While Alt-J almost certainly will not be making an appearance on my best-of-the-year post, I wouldn’t kick them out of bed for eating crackers.

(I apologize if that last clause was confusing. It’s something one of my college roommates used to always say, and it occasionally pops into my head.)

December 18, 2011

95 – An Horse

Filed under: A, Australia, H — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I had high hopes when I downloaded Walls, this year’s sophomore release from the Australian boy-girl duo An Horse. I’d had a positive reaction to their 2008 debut, Rearrange Beds, and expected for more of the same.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I got. The two albums sound nearly identical. Then I went back and listened to the original and realized that, despite having a really great sound, every song was pretty much a continuation of the last.

Judging by their looks, the Australian duo seems like a blonder version of Matt & Kim. And, at times, the music channels their Brooklyn contemporaries — just on a softer, more toned-down level.

Vocally, Kate Cooper sounds like a relaxed version of Shirley Manson. Paired with Damon Cox, they’re somewhat reminiscent of Tegan & Sara, the group that “discovered” them.

This is why it’s difficult to rag on them. Each song, taken on its own merit, is pretty catchy indie-pop. But when you string together 10-12 of them on an album, it can seem pretty repetitive.

Maybe I’m being too superficial. Perhaps someone with a more refined ear can detect nuance in their tunes.

Feel free to check out their website or MySpace page and decide for yourself. Just don’t be surprised if you start to get the feeling that you’re listening to the same song on repeat.

P.S. When you see a picture of them, just remember that the short one really is a woman.

May 30, 2011

71 – The Airborne Toxic Event

Filed under: A, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 2:01 am

For as long as there’s been pop music, there have always been “it” bands. They pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, get showered with a bunch of critical praise, make a bunch of money, then, more often than not, fade from the public consciousness as quickly as they arrived.

As blogs have become more prevalent, this cycling of flavor-of-the-week bands has not only accelerated but also increased in breadth.

The first time I really took note of this latest phenomenon was in the latter part of 2008 when the indie scene was being inundated with bands destined to flame out before they were able to make any real impression on fans.

Some of the biggest names I recall from that period were The Airborne Toxic Event, Pains of Being Pure At Heart and, to a lesser extent, Late of the Pier. While I knew that all of these bands had put out some good songs, I was so turned off by their overhyping that I didn’t give their music much of a chance and just pushed them to the periphery of my musical landscape.

Now that I’ve had some time for my bias to dissipate, I can finally give the bands a more proper accounting. And the timing worked out well since a couple of them just released their sophomore albums within the last few months.

I’m looking forward to delving into Pains of Being …, but, for now, I’ll just focus on The Airborne Toxic Event, which released its self-titled debut in August 2008 and followed it up with All At Once this past April.

The hype machine for TATE was working overtime in 2008, as the band received praise in nearly every music magazine out there. The media assault reached its nadir in May 2009 when Carson Daly devoted an entire episode of “Last Call” to the band.

Their popularity was not entirely surprising, considering they’re from Los Angeles and were doing the kind of not-so-soft indie rock that everyone eats up. As far as their sound, the best comparison I can come up with is a harder version of Okkervil River.

I remember listening to the album at least once, but the bulk of the songs just failed to grab me. There were exceptions, such as the big singles, “Gasoline” and “Sometime Around Midnight”. But, for the most part, the disc seemed like way more of a miss than a hit.

Now, after having listened to it a few more times this weekend, I can still detect several misses, but I’ve also discovered a few more solid tracks. The album opens and closes strong with “Wishing Well” and “Innocence” and also hits high notes on “Happiness Is Overrated”, “Something New” and “Missy”.

The Airborne Toxic Event – Wishing Well

Because of my newfound interest in the first album, I had high hopes for the latest release. Unfortunately, it was a little more miss than hit again.

The band seemed to be doing a lot of experimenting during its hiatus and it negatively affects the overall flow on this disc. All At Once opens with the title track, which sounds like it could have been a B-side to Neil Diamond’s “Coming To America”.

I did give stars to a few tracks, such as “Numb”, “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing”, “Welcome To Your Wedding Day” and “Strange Girl”, but overall it was rather lackluster.

And the disc closes on “The Graveyard Near the House”, which sounded like a total rip-off of “Hey There, Delilah” by Plain White T’s. So much so that I often found myself singing the lyrics of the latter at different points in the song without missing a beat.

The Airborne Toxic Event – The Graveyard Near the House

I realize my sentiments weren’t exactly positive, but what can I say? Some bands put out great albums, while others just have great singles (e.g. Ladyhawke). You should at least give Airborne Toxic Event a chance — or perhaps a second chance — before you totally write them off.

You can check out a whole mess of videos — including every track on the new album — at their official website.

And look for my post on The Pains of Being Pure At Heart in the coming weeks.

May 1, 2011

67 – Alberta Cross

Filed under: A, Brooklyn, England — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I’ve never been able to properly celebrate Record Store Day since it started in 2008, mostly because I live in a musically boring area and couldn’t make it to the big city to take part in the festivities.

But this year, I found myself observing the “holiday” a week later during a trip to Indianapolis. Just before the New Pornographers show, I hit up a record store in Broad Ripple called Indy CD & Vinyl and ended up walking out with a copy of Alberta Cross’ debut full-length release, Broken Side of Time.

(I also patronized another establishment a couple of days later, but I’ll save that story for next week’s post.)

I’m always a fan of any record store that has listening stations. The first disc I listened to was Alberta Cross. I knew I’d heard of the band before, but I always used to get it confused with similarly named The Rural Alberta Advantage and Cross Canadian Ragweed. And that confusion simply led to me not listen to any of them until very recently.

Anyways, upon hearing “Songs 3Three Blues”, the first track on the Alberta Cross album, I knew I’d be listening to several more. And by the time I got to “Old Man Chicago”, I was totally sold on that disc.

Alberta Cross – Old Man Chicago

That song is my favorite on the album, but there’s really no rejects among the 10 tracks. While that ditty just makes you want to sing along to The Band and Wilco influences, it’s something of an exception on this disc.

The bulk of the songs are slow, heavy rockers that give a nod to bands such as My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon and Band of Horses.

The opening track has a Neil Young feel to it, but it’s quickly followed by the album’s most rocking tune, “ATX”. I couldn’t put my finger on it before reading some reviews on Amazon, but this song sounds a lot like ’90s alt-rockers Bush — but don’t take that as a diss.

Alberta Cross – ATX

On the next track, “Taking Control”, Petter Ericson Stakee’s vocals turn echoey like those of Band of Horses.

The title track evokes thoughts of Kings of Leon and even Led Zeppelin. But it’s followed by “Rise From the Shadows”, which is a long, slow one with heavy, echoing, alt-country vocals. After that is “City Walls”, which is another slow one, but the vocals sorta reminded me of the British band The Music.

The next two songs are actually repeats from the band’s catalogue. “The Thief and the Heartbreaker” was the title track of a seven-song “mini-album” the band released in April 2007 that also included “Old Man Chicago”. And “Leave Us or Forgive Us” is the title track of an EP that was released in October of that year that also included “The Thief and the Heartbreaker” again.

The interesting thing about those first two shorter releases is that they were done during the band’s first incarnation in London.  Ericson Stakee, as you may be able to tell by his name, was born in Sweden but eventually moved to England, where he met bassist Terry Wolfers. The two recruited Ericson Stakee’s brother to play keyboards and they put out the first two discs.

Bored with the scene in London, the duo moved to Brooklyn and fleshed out the band with Sam Kearney (lead guitar), Alec Higgins (keyboard) and Austin Beede (drums, percussion).

With the infusion of new blood, the band took a huge leap forward with the 2009 release of Broken Side of Time, moving from a mostly alt-country sound to much heavier, guitar-driven fare.

Alberta Cross – Broken Side of Time

The group is said to be working on their sophomore release, which I’m definitely looking forward to.

After checking out Alberta Cross’ upcoming tour schedule, I was delighted to see they’ll be at Bonnaroo, which I’m tentatively planning to attend.

Visit their MySpace page for tour information or to hear a few more songs.

February 20, 2011

NPR threeplay

Filed under: A, Austin, Chicago, O, Pasadena Calif., S — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I was all set to resume writing my usual full-length band posts this week, but then I started listening to a bunch of stuff I’d found through NPR’s various outlets, and I decided I just had to share the wealth.

I have relayed, many a time on this blog, my affinity for NPR’s music feeds — whether it be the All Songs Considered podcast or the Song of the Day e-mail — and both of those contributed to my discovering the about-to-be-discussed bands. In fact, NPR was directly responsible for the creation of one of these groups.

Oh No Oh My

I originally set out to do a full post exclusively on this four-piece from Austin. But then I decided I didn’t have enough to say about them to warrant a lengthy review.

That’s not to say Oh No Oh My isn’t any good. Just the opposite in fact. These guys have been around since 2004, and in that time have honed their sound into some solid indie/pop/folk that is quite pleasing to the ears.

According to their Wikipedia page, all the members can play at least three instruments, and, in most cases, many more.

Despite being around for a while, they just released their second full-length album, People Problems, last month. It’s full of songs that were made for chilling out and occasionally bobbing your head to.

Several of the songs conjure up memories of Ben Folds Five, especially “There Will Be Bones”, “So I Took You” and “Brains”, which is the song that I first heard via NPR’s Song of the Day.

But my favorite track, “You Were Right”, doesn’t really provide a good comparison. It’s just a really tune.

Oh No Oh My – You Were Right

Apex Manor

If it wasn’t for a post by Carrie Brownstein on NPR’s Monitor Mix blog, then Apex Manor may have never come into existence.

In a post on a random Friday in late 2009, Brownstein called on musicians to write and record a song over the weekend.

One artist who answered that call to arms was Ross Flournoy, former frontman of since-disbanded The Broken West. He recorded the song “Under the Gun” and sent it in. Suddenly inspired, Flournoy wrote two dozen more songs.

Fast-forward to just a few weeks ago when Flournoy and thee new bandmates, under the moniker Apex Manor, released the 10-track disc, The Year of Magical Drinking — the title being an overt allusion to the Joan Didion book The Year of Magical Thinking.

I just heard the whole backstory on a recent All Songs Considered podcast, which included the album’s opening track, “Southern Decline”, my favorite on the disc.

Not knowing much of anything about The Broken West, I can’t really compare or contrast the two bands. What I can say is that the Pasadena-based Apex Manor put out solid, vocals-driven indie-folk/pop.

Besides the opener, my other favorite track is “Burn Me Alive”. Half of the instrumentation reminds me of The XX, but with a whole other layer added.

Apex Manor – Burn Me Alive

Other songs that stood out were “The Party Line”, “Teenage Blood”, “Holy Roller”, and “Coming To”.

Here’s the song that got the whole ball rolling.

Apex Manor – Under the Gun

Smith Westerns

Unlike the above two bands, Smith Westerns’ musical roots don’t run quite as deep. The quartet of college-aged kids from Chicago started making music together as high schoolers in 2007. And like a lot of high school bands, their music was pretty awful.

Eventually, they put out their self-titled debut in June 2009. It was heavily influenced by Nuggets-style garage and psychedelia. When I heard the album, I was immediately turned off.

But then I heard a track from their recently released follow-up album, Dye It Blonde, on another All Songs Considered podcast.

Listening to the album, it’s clear that they’re still stuck in the ’60s and ’70s, but they’ve moved on to a different set of influences. Practically every one of the 10 tracks on the disc sound like a mix between The Beatles and ’70s radio rock.

Smith Westerns – All Die Young

It was as if, after splitting up, the Fab Four had secretly joined forces with Nazareth and put out an album together. In fact, the whole time I was listening to it, I kept thinking these songs would’ve been great on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack.

There weren’t necessarily a lot of standout tracks — just a lot of pretty good ones. Here’s my personal favorite.

Smith Westerns – Only One

February 6, 2011

62 – Annuals

Filed under: A, Raleigh NC — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Of all the different ways I’ve discovered new music, the most bittersweet is when I find a band on my iPod that I either didn’t know was there or simply forgot existed.

It’s great to find good music to listen to, but it’s kinda disappointing to think I easily could’ve been listening to it for the past couple of years.

I recently went to iTunes and, not having anything specific I wanted to listen to, just sorted the songs by “Play Count” and found something that had zero listens.

And that is the story of how I became reacquainted with the band Annuals.

I listened to the group’s debut album, 2006’s Be He Me, and immediately downloaded its next two discs.

It’s hard to really pinpoint the band’s sound. It’s as if the six-piece from Raleigh, N.C., compiled all the best elements from a bunch of popular indie groups, yet it never seems derivative. It melds everything together into a rich, smooth cacophony that is pleasurable to the ear.

Annuals – Complete or Completing

Some of the bands the music conjured up include Modest Mouse, Mutemath, Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, Pinback and Death Cab for Cutie.

Reading the customer reviews on Amazon of Annuals’ various albums, there are a lot of wide-ranging influences listed, including: Beach Boys, The Cure, U2, Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, Broken Social Scene, Neutral Milk Hotel and Badly Drawn Boy.

When listening to Annuals’ three full-length releases consecutively, you do notice a transition between each album. On 2008’s Such Fun, they take their folk-pop sound and infuse it with some electronica. Then on 2010’s Count the Rings, they speed things up and add more layers to make things even more radio-friendly.

The latest album is probably their best. They really seem to be putting things together and coming into their own on these 11 tracks. While the first two releases didn’t really have any standout songs, Count the Rings has several worthy of the repeat button.

In fact, it looks like the band hit the ole repeat button a few times itself, as three songs on the most recent album — “Hot Night Hounds”, “Springtime” and “Hardwood Floor” — all appeared on Such Fun originally.

Annuals – Hot Night Hounds

It’s difficult to find out any new information on the band since its second release. In fact, I only knew about the latest album because it was mentioned on the group’s Wikipedia page. Count the Rings is listed as an import on Amazon, and iTunes doesn’t even offer it.

The band’s official URL redirects you to its MySpace page. There’s no current tour information, but you can listen to a few songs there.

March 7, 2010

18 – The Antlers

Filed under: A, Brooklyn — assman41 @ 12:01 am

My brother went to an Editors concert a couple weeks ago in Chicago and caught the last couple songs by the opening act, The Antlers. In addition to raving about the headliners, he said he thought I’d like their predecessor.

I’d apparently heard about The Antlers at some point last year because I had their latest album on my iTunes, and I also remember one of NPR’s critics hailing it as one of his favorites of 2009.

I figured both of those sources are generally reliable when it comes to music, so I’d give it a listen.

Then again, I guess no one’s perfect.

Last week, I complained about Beach House’s first two albums being too simple and not having enough going on. Well, if I thought they were too one-dimensional, then I guess Hospice by The Antlers must not have any dimensions at all.

The album is like one long dirge, with just the occasional uptick. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the album’s overarching storyline — that of a hospice nurse assigned to take care of a young girl who is terminally ill with bone cancer. The fact that the life and writings of Syliva Plath are a huge influence just adds to the somber tone.

Musically, the trio from Brooklyn is in the same ilk as Beach House and Bon Iver. The Antlers share more than that with the latter artist, who, as the now popular backstory goes, holed up in a secluded cabin in Wisconsin to record his breakout hit album, For Emma, Forever Ago.

Front man, Peter Silberman, started The Antlers as a solo project, recording several albums in his New York City apartment, including one in his bathtub. But, judging from this overview, I’m not too sure it’s worth it to listen to those earlier efforts …

… self-recording a handful of albums in a kamikaze fashion — Uprooted (recorded just before and after moving in 2007), The February Tape (recorded in a bathtub in an hour), In the Attic of the Universe (a single ambient song stretched into an album), and Cold War (an album with only acoustic guitar and vocals, recorded in a week) …

As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of The Antlers. But if there’s one thing you should take from my experience it’s that you can’t always rely on what someone else thinks.

I’m not gonna waste the time, effort or server space uploading a track. Just check out their MySpace page. The single “Two” isn’t bad.

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