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 14, 2014

193 – Bad Things

Filed under: B, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 3:31 pm

Before I sat down to write this post, I was really looking forward to sharing my thoughts on this great new band I’d discovered, Bad Things. They released their self-titled debut last month, and it’s filled with a lot of great, catchy indie rock songs.

Unfortunately, when I began to do some research on the group, I quickly discovered some unsettling news.

If you’ve watched even the slightest bit of Olympics coverage or any of the stuff leading up to the Games, you’ve likely been reminded of the existence of Shaun White. He’s been everywhere for the last few months. So much so that I’d begun to get burnt out on the Flying Tomato and definitely experienced some Schadenfreude when he failed to win a medal earlier this week.

Alas, even though his Games are officially over, I’m still being inundated by all things White. This time, with his music. One of the storylines leading up to the Olympics was the fact that he’d begun to branch out from sports and was in a new band, one that would be performing in Sochi.

I never paid attention to any of that. Whenever his music career was mentioned, I immediately tuned out. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention, since the name of his band is Bad Things.

Yep, the band that I’ve been listening to for the past few weeks and really getting into just happens to be Shaun White’s band.

I guess it’s a good thing I fell in love with the group before I knew anything about White’s involvement. As is the case with a lot of famous people who try their hand at another profession, it would have been hard for me to take the group seriously.

While trying to reconcile my feeling over the group, I read this article, and it helped ease the process.

And it doesn’t hurt that the music is really good. With Davis DeLuke on lead vocals and former Augustana member Jared Palomar on bass, Bad Things have some heavy hitters up front. Rounding out the Los Angeles-based band are some of White’s friends from childhood — guitarist Anthony Sanudo and drummer-vocalist Lena Zawaideh.

There’s no obvious band to compare Bad Things to, as they’re something of a conglomeration of a lot of solid indie bands.

And despite my bittersweet feelings on the band’s personnel, I can’t deny the fact that this is a great debut disc. With little to no filler on this album, it’s officially the first nominee for my Best of 2014 list.

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.

November 20, 2013

183 – Blouse

Filed under: B, Portland — assman41 @ 3:43 pm

Well, I tried to get out of my airy-fairy/haunting female vocalist rut, but then I went and listened to Blouse. And lead singer Charlie Hilton just reeled me in with her enchantingly shoegazey voice.

Starting on the decidedly post-punk self-titled debut in 2011, and into this year’s Imperium, Blouse have put out two albums worthy of all the same love bestowed upon such similar acts as Wild Nothing, The XX, Wye Oak, Youth Lagoon and Craft Spells.

The above song is from Blouse and includes a great riff that is very reminiscent of The XX before becoming more complex in the second half. Other solid tracks here include the intro, “Firestarter”, “They Always Fly Away” and “Time Travel”, which appears be jetting back to the mid-’80s and ripping off “Metro” or some other song by Berlin. The rest of the album is filled with a bunch of average to above-average songs that continue to harken back to the ’80s.

Fast forward to this year’s release, and the band has taken on a more sultry persona. Gone, for the most part, are the post-punk guitars and replaced with a mellow, psychedelic — sometimes lo-fi — vibe.

The opening title track sets the tone immediately. But the best song here is “1,000 Years”.

After that, the album relaxes even more and starts to tread on Belle and Sebastian — maybe even Stereolab — territory on such songs as “In a Glass” and “Capote”.

Things pick up again on the back half of the album, which is highlighted by “In a Feeling Like This”. Other notable tracks include “Arrested”, “Trust Me” and “Happy Days”.

While this album fails to reach the precedent set by Blouse, it doesn’t fall too short of the bar and shows that the Portland-based trio has the potential to have a some longevity.

September 10, 2013

172 – Bass Drum of Death

Filed under: B, Oxford Miss. — assman41 @ 3:34 pm

Last week, while at work, I was completing some tasks after deadline. Since there was only one other person in the office, I decided to turn on some music.

The volume was loud enough that she could hear it, and, after a while, she said it sounded familiar and asked what I was listening to.

I semi-pretentiously told her she hadn’t heard of Bass Drum of Death, but I did agree that it sounded familiar. That’s because the garage rock outfit from Oxford, Miss., isn’t exactly charting new territory. John Barrett and his crew are following the sure-fire formula of guitar and drums, simple lyrics and short songs.

But despite its heavily trafficked status, rock music at its most bare bones will always appeal to the masses.

The above tune is the first single off the group’s second full-length release, the self-titled album that came out this past June. Clocking in at just under 35 minutes, the 11 tracks here are reminiscent of Cloud Nothings — and pretty much every other garage band that likes distortion.

It’s a slight progression for the debut full-length, 2011’s Gb City. That album was not only bare bones, but it was only about half as skeletal as its successor.

You can hear the simplicity on the title track.

The act has been around since 2008, when, as a solo project, it was known as John Barrett’s Bass Drum of Death. But it wasn’t until Barrett enlisted the help of others that the group really started to take off.

It has had songs featured in movies (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), video games (MLB 2K12 and Grand Theft Auto V) and commercials (for H&M clothing and NASCAR). I suppose that’s where my co-worker could have heard of them, since she’s a big NASCAR fan.

Anyway, if you’re just looking to kill some time or tired of listening to your iPod on shuffle, feel free to check out this band. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but it’s a good palate cleanser.

August 18, 2013

So-so threeplay

Filed under: B, Brooklyn, El Paso Texas, Los Angeles, N — assman41 @ 10:05 pm

The past week, I spent much of my time listening to a trio of bands that, for the most part, didn’t do much for me. But they weren’t irredeemable, and they all had their moments. So, I figured I’d just throw them together in one post.

BOSNIAN RAINBOWS

Besides an interestingly random name, this group has some star power behind it, led by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez — best known as the founder and driving force behind heavy act The Mars Volta — and Teri Gender Bender, the lead singer of Le Butcherettes.

The group was formed in 2012 when Rodriguez-Lopez returned to his hometown of El Paso, Texas, after basically dissolving his main band and began looking for a new project.

With Teri Gender Bender’s vocals leading the way, Bosnian Rainbows deliver a sound that is definitely an acquired taste. Some of the labels associated with the group include experimental rock, electro-rock, art rock and art punk.

A better description might be, “a less accessible version of Warpaint.”

That’s probably the best song on the band’s self-titled debut, which came out this past June. Other decent tracks are “Torn Maps” and “The Eye Fell In Love”.

NO AGE

Weirdo Rippers, the 2007 debut by No Age, is pretty much worthless and does not need to be heard by anyone ever again. But that’s OK, because it provides an origin point for the Los Angeles duo’s interesting progression.

Playing together since 2005, Dean Allen Spunt (drums, vocals) and Randy Randall (guitar) have gradually transitioned from annoying noise rockers to something closer to Dinosaur Jr. with an edge.

The band’s 2008 follow-up, Nouns, is, at its best, like something that could have been on the soundtrack to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

It’s as close to straight-up indie-rock as the band has come during its career. The group’s next release, 2010’s Everything In Between, gives off more of a lazy-slacker vibe. Things are definitely toned down, a little garbled, with a lo-fi feel.

In terms of accessibility, it falls somewhere between the band’s previous two releases. A little further down the spectrum is No Age’s latest release, An Object, which comes out later this month.

The album has a real post-punk vibe, kinda like Joy Division at their most raw. There are some decent songs, such as “I Won’t Be Your Generator”, but there is plenty of less-than-stellar filler.

THE BABIES

Look at it on paper, and it totally makes sense. A man from a relatively well-known indie band is at a party and he runs into a woman from an equally popular band. They hit it off, and, eventually, they decide they should make music together.

In theory, that sounds like the makings of a decent band. Unfortunately, that formula doesn’t always pan out.

Such is the case of The Babies, the combination of Vivian Girls guitarist Cassie Ramone and Woods bassist Kevin Morby. What should have been a lo-fi fan’s wet dream turned into something closer to the musical version of mumblecore.

Most of the songs on the Brooklyn band’s 2011 self-titled debut are dominated by male-female harmonies, with Ramone’s voice often taking the lead.

On the follow-up, 2012’s Our House On the Hill, Morby takes on a larger singing role, providing the main vocals on several tracks.

While the first album sounded like a poor man’s version of Best Coast, the second offering is admittedly more palatable and more fleshed out. And it’s probably the best album referenced in this post.

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.

June 20, 2013

164 – Bronze Radio Return

Filed under: B, Hartford Conn. — assman41 @ 1:16 pm

I was first introduced to the Bronze Radio Return a few days ago via an email from Noisetrade. It was offering a compilation of top songs from the band’s three albums, including one that’s to be released next week.

In its write-up, Noisetrade compared the indie-pop/folk outfit from Hartford, Conn., to a number of popular indie-folk groups, such as Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers and The Head and the Heart and the poppier Imagine Dragons.

Checking them out on MOG, and that site lists as contemporaries bands such as Young the Giant, Grouplove, Walk the Moon and Motopony.

But listen to any song in their catalog, and the first bands that should pop into your head are Gomez and The Fray. Actually. lead singer Chris Henderson’s vocals probably fall somewhere in between those two bands.

That is the title track from the group’s second full-length album, 2011’s SHAKE!SHAKE!SHAKE!. That disc had a more upbeat vibe than their 2009 debut, Old Time Speaker. It showed a transition from slower folk to more of a pop-folk sound.

Besides that track, other strong ones are “Down There” and “Wonder No More”.

And on the upcoming release, Up, On & Over, which comes out June 25, they kick it up another notch to something closer to indie-rock/folk. Some of the more solid entries on the new disc include “Further On”, “World Spin, Home Spun” and the title track.

Considering its long list of accolades and the number of times it’s popped up in TV shows and commercials, it’s a surprise the band has not blown up yet.

They’ve got some upcoming shows in a few major Northeast cities before making their way to the Midwest, including a stop in Evanston, Ill., on July 6.

June 8, 2013

162 – Blondfire

Filed under: B, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 2:54 am

When I first discovered Blondfire via the SXSW 2012 torrent, I thought for sure I’d found my next favorite band. But after eventually listening to some more of their songs, it appeared as though they were nothing but a one-hit wonder.

Fast-forward more than a year, when my favorite local radio station, 91.1 FM WGCS, started playing another song off the band’s 2012 EP, Where the Kids Are, and it became clear that I should give the group a second shot.

As it turns out, Blondfire’s early work was just as mundane as I’d originally thought. Little more than a Shiny Toy Guns knock-off, the Los Angeles-based brother-sister duo of Bruce and Erica Driscoll stuck to a simple formula of pretty vocals over an electro-pop beat on their 2008 debut full-length My Someday.

The result was a lot of sub-par tunes, with the occasional notable track, such as “Pretty Young Thing”, “All In My Mind” and “L-L-Love”.

But other than those — and interesting backstory — the band had little going for it and was destined for the dustbins of music history.

That is, until they released the single, “Where the Kids Are”, in November 2011. The song received a lot of critical acclaim, and it even made its way into a car commercial, which is still being aired today.

It’s unclear what’s next for Blondfire — besides wrapping up its current tour and playing at Lollapalooza in August — but, with any luck, it will trend closer to their more recent offerings as opposed to their old stuff.

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