Infinite Shuffle

January 16, 2015

210 – Courtney Barnett

Filed under: Australia, B — assman41 @ 12:27 pm

If 2013 was the year that Kacey Musgraves became a breakout star, then 2014 was when music fans started to see the full effect of her success as the next wave of young, independent, female singer/songwriters followed her arrow and made a name for themselves on the national — and international — level.

The artist who may have benefitted the most from the exposure was Courtney Barnett. The 26-year-old badass from Melbourne, Australia, had been putting out her own music since 2012, but it wasn’t until last year that she finally saw the fruits of her labor.

“Avant Gardener” is the pinnacle track on her pseudo-full-length debut, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, which came out in October 2013. It combines a pair of EPs — I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose — to give listeners a full picture of what Barnett is trying to convey.

Clever lyrics are the strongest element of her music. Making them all the more decipherable is a slacker vibe throughout, from Barnett’s deadpan delivery to the purposely bumbling mix to the overall lo-fi nature of the recordings.

At times, Barnett’s songs sound like Lily Allen — that is, if the latter were a guitar-playing Aussie instead of a wannabe rapper with an annoying Cockney accent.

The album is ideal for doing chores around the house as the pacing never really ventures from the medium range. The above two tracks are the rowdiest on the disc, while most of the others are coated in a thick haze of apathy.

The tune, “Lance Jr.” is probably the closest thing to middle ground in this collection, with its tongue-in-cheek lyrics and melody that always seems ready to bust out but never quite does.

The darkhorse is “Anonymous Club,” a slow-but-stirring track in the middle of the album that catches you off guard until the end, when you’re suddenly tempted to hit repeat.

Barnett began her career playing in a grunge band, Rapid Transit, in 2010-11. She moved on to the psych/country band, Immigrant Union (2011-13), which was founded by Brent DeBoer of The Dandy Warhols.

During that time, she started her own label, Milk! Records, in 2012 and released her first EP.

By October 2013, after dropping another short disc and the combined double EP, she took things to the next level with a breakout performance at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York.

According to Wikipedia, she recorded a full-length album last April, but a release date is still unknown.

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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.

February 4, 2014

192 – High Highs

Filed under: Australia, H — assman41 @ 3:04 pm

Combining two of your favorite things can often lead to unexpected results. For every Reese’s peanut butter cup or strawberry banana smoothie, there’s chili beer and strip club buffets.

The same can be said for musical influences. Nobody wants to hear a heavy metal Enya cover band. (Actually, that sounds awesome.) The point is, mixing things can be hit or miss.

Thankfully, the boys in High Highs hit pay dirt when they created a sound that is equal parts Beach House and Fleet Foxes, with a little dash of The XX for good measure.

That is the title track off the group’s debut full-length that came out in January 2013. You might recognize it from a Kindle commercial or possibly from the movie, “Pitch Perfect”.

On the album, Jack Milas and Oli Chang manage to combine the ethereal quality of Beach House with the soul-folk of Fleet Foxes, circa Helplessness Blues, into something that seems so obvious that it’s surprising no one had brought it to prominence before.

The duo, which is based in Sydney, Australia, and formed in 2010, released a self-titled EP in 2011. Since putting out the LP, High Highs have toured extensively, including a stretch in the United States opening for Vampire Weekend.

Besides popping up on the big and small screens already, their tune, “Flowers Bloom”, was sampled by will.i.am for his song, “Good Morning”.

The group is currently splitting its time between Sydney and New York while working on a follow-up album. You can follow the progress here via Tumblr.

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.

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.

September 16, 2012

130 – Deep Sea Arcade

Filed under: Australia, D — assman41 @ 12:01 am

(Hey, it’s a band with “Sea” in its name for the second week in a row. Too bad I already wrote about British Sea Power awhile ago.)

As it so happens, none of the Sea bands sound similar. BSP is all post-punk and shoegazey. Last week’s featured artist, Sea of Bees, was a haunting/indie-country songstress.

And then there’s Deep Sea Arcade. The five-piece from Sydney released its debut full-length, Outlands, in March and it instantly filled the catchy, indie-pop void that didn’t actually need to be filled.

The above song is the big single off that album and has been out for about a year now. It’s also the high point of the opening half of the disc. The first half-dozen tracks all sound like a homogenization of several good, solid indie bands.

But then the next six songs take on a totally different feel. I was racking my brain trying to figure out who I was hearing. I even replayed the first few seconds of “Lonely In Your Arms” (Track 7) several times before it finally hit me.

Peter Bjorn & John! Or, at least mid-catalog PB&J.

After that realization, it’s difficult not to hear PB&J, at least to some degree, in every track on the back half of the album — particularly No. 10, “The Devil Won’t Take You”.

Even on “Don’t Be Sorry”, which sounds like PB&J covering ’60s pop group.

While I’ve often found those lovable Swedes to be something of an acquired taste and generally can’t stand to listen to them for more than a few songs, it doesn’t bother me with Deep Sea Arcade.

After making this connection, I went back and listened to the first six songs again, but it’s really not noticeable there — unless you’re actively trying to detect it.

So, I don’t know why they chose to make such an abrupt change mid-album, but it’s all good. It certainly makes for a more eclectic listen.

February 28, 2012

104 – Gotye

Filed under: Australia, G — assman41 @ 3:11 am

With a recent surge in popularity following the success of the hit single “Somebody That I Used To Know”, the artist known as Gotye has seemingly come out of nowhere as an overnight sensation in the indie music scene.

But, in actuality, Gotye, aka Wouter “Wally” De Backer, has been around for more than a decade. The Belgian-born, Australian-bred De Backer has released four albums and several EPS with his band The Basics and another three full-length albums under the Gotye moniker.

By the way, according to Wikipedia, the name “Gotye” is derived from “Gaultier” (or “Gautier” or “Gauthier”), the French equivalent of “Wouter” (“Walter” in English).

De Backer has been nominated for a slew of awards in Australia for both his solo and collaborative work, and, as Gotye, he has won five Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards — the Down Under version of the Grammys.

He had released two Gotye albums — 2003’s Boardface and 2006’s Like Drawing Blood — but didn’t start receiving international acclaim until the 2011 release of Making Mirrors.

Besides the above two tracks, the album includes an eclectic mix of pop, rock, soul and electro sounds with varying vocals that trace their roots to such forebears as Sting and Peter Gabriel. The disc as a whole is something of an acquired taste, with several throwaway tracks mixed among the better stuff.

Some of the stronger tunes include “Save Me” (electro-pop that calls to mind Owl City), “Giving Me a Chance”, “Bronte”, “In Your Light” (a very poppy tune that’s reminiscent of Steve Winwood) and “I Feel Better” (a very soulful pop song that might conjure images of Cee-Lo Green or Bruno Mars).

He’ll be touring the United States starting in March; unfortunately, many of the shows are already sold out. Check out more songs on his MySpace page.

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.

November 8, 2011

Threeplay from Down Under

Filed under: Australia, B, S — assman41 @ 2:54 am

I recently had a couple of consecutive days off and nothing planned, so I decided to devote my time to devouring a bunch of new music. I sifted through various blogs I had bookmarked and came across one that is run by a person in Australia. At And Pluck Your Strings, I found a “Best of 2011 So Far” post from July, so I figured I’d check it out.

Turns out, there was a lot of great stuff included there, including a number of quality bands from Down Under that I probably would never have heard of otherwise. Here are three that I found worthy of downloading, plus a bonus track from another Aussie group.

Big Scary

Of all the bands I listened to on the blog, the one I’m most excited about is Big Scary.

The duo of Tom Iansek and Jo Syme came together in 2006 and has put out several EPs, including a four-pack last year named after each of the seasons. Those were compiled into a release, appropriately named The Big Scary Four Seasons.

Last month, the group released its first proper full-length album, Vacation. It starts off very strong with such solid tracks as “Gladiator”, “Leaving Home” and “Mix Tape”.

Big Scary – Mix Tape

Other than “Falling Away”, the eighth of the 10 tracks, everything else is filler, but it’s at least above-average filler.

Judging by this release, Big Scary should be making some noise on the international scene very soon.

Also, I noted on their website that they are set to place at SXSW next year. One more reason — as if I actually required any more — to make a return trip to Austin in March.

Boy & Bear

Speaking of SXSW, unbeknownst to me, the band Boy & Bear were part of the festivities last year. I did not see them, but I did apparently listen to, and like, one of their songs during my preparation for the festival.

Vocally, the group sounds a lot like The Fray, with a little bit of The Avett Brothers mixed in. There’s also some Rural Alberta Advantage in there, but to a lesser extent.

Boy & Bear – Golden Jubilee

That tune is my favorite on the band’s debut full-length release, Moonfire, which came out in August. Other decent tracks include “Feeding Line”, “Milk & Sticks”, My Only One”, “House & Farm” and “Beach”.

Seeker Lover Keeper

One of the more pleasant discoveries on the blog was the Australian supergroup Seeker Lover Keeper. It consists of a trio of female singer-songwriters — Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby — all of whom have made a name for themselves in a variety of bands and, more prominently, as solo artists.

It would be as if Regina Spektor, Feist and Natasha Bedingfield all got together and put out an album. (I realize none of these women is from the same country, but you get the idea.)

Sidenote: Seltmann co-wrote Feist’s big hit, “1234” several years ago.

As you can imagine, the indie-folk/pop group has amazing harmonies, with each singer getting her share of time behind the mic.

The best song on their self-titled debut album is probably “Even Though I’m a Woman”. Another great track is the closer, “Rest Your Head On My Shoulder”, which does a great job at highlighting each individual voice as well as the three-part harmonies.

Seeker Lover Keeper – Rest Your Head On My Shoulder

YesYou

Another group I discovered on the blog was YesYou, which is the Brisbane-based duo of Jono Kirkham and Gav Parry. So far, they have only put out one easily downloadable song, “Half of It”. Here is said song, as well as a link to a remix.

YesYou – Half of It

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