Infinite Shuffle

April 26, 2015

214 – Radical Dads

Filed under: Brooklyn, R — assman41 @ 3:21 pm

It wasn’t until about a month ago that I first heard of Radical Dads. And that was only somewhat in passing when they were mentioned in a Paste article about creative album cover artwork.

Shortly after, a friend mentioned listening to them, so I figured I’d give them a try. And, thankfully, I persevered through the first couple of irredeemable tracks and found something more inviting on the other end.

Universal Coolers, which came out Feb. 25, is the third album by the Brooklyn-based trio. It’s also the best offering thus far as they’ve taken the best qualities of their first two discs — 2011’s Mega Rama and 2013’s Rapid Reality — and synthesized it into something more palatable.

That’s not to say the earlier offerings were hard to listen to. They were just inconsistent with more filler than standouts. “Walking Wires”, off Mega Rama, was probably the best example of their overall sound on that album. Other notable tracks are “New Age Dinosaur” and “No New Faces”, the latter of which is reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky — but with vocals.

The group took a half-step back on the follow-up, cramming it with too much filler and unnecessary distortion. The few worthwhile tunes include the title track and “Stampede”.

Which brings us to the latest disc. The only possible reason I could see wanting to listen to the first two tracks is to make the rest of the album sound that much better. Radical Dads put the best stuff in the heart of the order in tracks 3-5 — there are 10 tracks, so we’re obviously likening this to a slow-pitch softball team not an MLB squad.

“Slammer” and “In the Water” are the first signs that this could be a band worth paying attention to in the future. Then along comes “Don’t Go”, and you start thinking, “Man, this might be an album I come back to sporadically for years to come.” It’s probably not accurate at all, but it feels like this is the band’s first song with a normal verse-chorus-verse structure. It won’t be topping any best-of-the-year lists, but it may be worthy of an honorable mention.

Next up is the title track, which is another strong entry before things start to wane a bit. Thankfully, the album closes on a high note with “Cassette Brain”, a previously released single.

March 9, 2015

213 – Little Racer

Filed under: Brooklyn, L — assman41 @ 1:05 am

When I started this blog several years ago, many of the bands I was writing about fell into the indie-folk category. Not only was I posting about groups such as Mumford & Sons, Dawes and The Head and The Heart, I was often referencing them while drawing comparisons to a slew of up-and-coming bands.

Eventually, my tastes shifted toward a more airy-fairy, lo-fi beach pop sound. Bands such as Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing and The Drums were prominent in that ilk and often earning shout-outs in future posts.

I figured that wave would slowly die off and be replaced by another sub-genre. To a certain degree it has, but it always seems to be simmering on the back burner, just waiting to boil over with another slew of similar-sounding bands.

The latest is Little Racer, a four-piece outfit from Brooklyn that combines all that is great about those aforementioned groups. With its 2014 EP Modern Accent, the band took that catchy, indie-beach vibe and took it somewhere new by adding a clear punk attitude.

That is “Vanessa”, one of the standouts among the six songs on the nearly year-old release. The intro sounds reminiscent of The Vaccines’ “Post-Breakup Sex”.

The disc opens with “Fake French”, a mid-tempo ditty that sounds like a slightly punk version of The Drums. The group beats The Drums drum again on “Ghosty”, a song that also sounds like the closest link to Little Racer’s raw 2011 debut offering, a two-track EP.

In case they hadn’t shown how punk they are, Little Racer close out the recent EP with “Punk Life”, which gives off a weird, “we don’t care if you like this, but we secretly hope you do” vibe throughout the song.

The catchiest song here is the second track, “Dancing”. It sounds like something you might hear on an episode of “The Inbetweeners” — the original British version, that is — or more likely in an Expedia commercial. (That gives me a great idea for a future post.)

Thus far, the crew’s catalog is still in the single digits, so it’ll be interesting to see where they take things from here.

June 22, 2014

MOG threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, T, V, W — assman41 @ 12:10 pm

MOG is dead. Long live MOG.

What began as a hub for music bloggers and morphed into a music-streaming site officially went kaput at the end of May, replaced by Beats Music.

I have yet to decide if I want to subscribe to Beats or choose a different source to stream my music. That’s one reason I haven’t posted in nearly a month.

Anyway, before MOG said goodbye, I had been working on a compilation post of three bands I’d discovered through the site. It took several weeks for me to finally finish, but perhaps it’s fitting, considering how often MOG would cause my web browser to freeze whenever I tried to close it.

Vanaprasta

I don’t recall which band I was listening to at the time, but eventually, after that particular album finished, MOG turned to its radio play, which usually included related artists. That’s how I first discovered Vanaprasta and its catchy single “Nine Equals Nine”.

Aside from a handful of songs, the unsigned quintet from Los Angeles seems to be trying its hardest to channel Kings of Leon. Lead singer Steven Wilkin is just the latest in a long line of Caleb Followill wannabes.

That’s not to say this group is horrible, just derivative. Formed in 2009, Vanaprasta released a three-track EP, Forming the Shapes, in March 2010. It included a decent opener, “Color of Sin”, and a couple of skippable tunes.

The following November saw the release of a proper full-length, Healthy Geometry, which opened with the above-mentioned “Nine Equals Nine”. Other than a few songs — such as “Come On”, “Supernumerary” and their best Radiohead impression, “Crushing Ants” — the album is mostly dreck.

I’m not even sure how the group landed on MOG, but maybe it should consider following a similar path and just fade into obscurity.

Wildlife Control

Apparently, the group Wildlife Control had a viral hit on YouTube with the February 2012 release of the video for “Analog or Digital”. (The 8-bit version. Not the stop-motion inset.)

That track was released as a single in December 2011, led off the EP Spin in March 2012 and was the only above-average song on the band’s self-titled full-length debut, which landed that July.

Other than a few blips on some “notable” blogs and radio stations, the band has yet to create much of a stir. Formed in 2011 by brothers Neil and Sumul Shah, Wildlife Control call both Brooklyn and the Bay Area home. To that point, their album includes tracks titled “Brooklyn” and “Oakland”.

Other than their single and the track “People Change” — which randomly calls to mind Phoenix — the group sounds like a hybrid of a lot of other indie bands. And when Neil starts tickling the ivory, Wildlife Control morphs into a poor man’s Ben Folds Five.

They did release a couple of singles in 2013 — “Different” and “Ages Places” — that show they may be starting to develop a more interesting sound. But we’ll have to wait until they put out another album before that theory is proven.

Tycho

Probably the most interesting band on this list is also the most surprising for me. If you’re a loyal reader of this blog, you’ll know that I have a hard time getting into instrumental music. Apparently, if I don’t have some lyrics to sing along to, it’s not worth my time.

The only vocal-free music I’ve taken to in the past few years is some of the stuff on The XX’s debut and the opening theme to the show Friday NIght Lights, which was done by Explosions in the Sky.

But I guess it shouldn’t be too shocking that I’d become enamored with an artist that is basically a mix of those two groups. Also known by the moniker ISO50, Scott Hansen has been putting out ambient, post-rock music as Tycho since 2002.

Also known for his photography and design work, Hansen paints vivid pictures with his lush sounds. After releasing a couple of full-length albums in the mid-Aughts — Sunrise Projector and Past is Prologue — his musical output was restricted to singles for several years before he returned with Dive in 2011 and followed with Awake this past March.

Where Dive had a faster pacing, Awake slows things down, resulting in an even more pleasant listen. The album starts strong with the title track and “Montana” — both of which would be perfect entry points for fans of The XX. As the album progresses, Hansen mixes in the Explosions influence while maintaining a chill vibe throughout.

Started in Sacramento and now based in San Francisco, Hansen does take his Tycho act on tour and includes a live band. (One can only imagine how many concert-goers inevitably fall victim to slumber during a set.) After spending July in Europe, Tycho will make a quick sweep of North America, including a rather random stop in Urbana, Ill., in September.

December 19, 2013

188 – Lucius

Filed under: Brooklyn, L — assman41 @ 1:17 pm

If you’ve read many of the end-of-the-year blog posts that have been rolling in, you may have heard that 2013 has been the Year of the Indie Woman. From Lorde and Haim to Savages and Kacey Musgraves, the last 12 months have been dominated by female voices shaking things up on the indie scene.

One band that also has received mention — but not as much as it deserves — is Lucius, a five-piece outfit from Brooklyn fronted by the harmonies of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig.

That is probably the catchiest song on the band’s 2013 debut, Wildewoman, but it’s far from the only standout. The disc opens with the title track, a tune that is kinda repetitive but is also a nice table-setter that gives you an idea of the group’s sound.

Things quickly kick up a notch on “Turn It Around”, which sounds like something that might have come off of a Lykke Li album. Just as quickly, the band slows things down on “Go Home”, an incredibly enthralling slow-burner that is reminiscent of the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album from a few years ago — only this is two women harmonizing with nary a classic rock god in sight.

Following “Hey, Doreen”, is another possible radio hit, “Tempest”. Besides the perfect harmonies, it has moments that conjure images of another amazing pair of women, First Aid Kit.

Then comes the wildest track on the album, “Nothing Ordinary”. It has another of those Lykke Li-type intros and gets a little crazy at times, but it shows that Lucius are not just some one-trick pony.

“Two of Us On the Run”, another slow-builder, is far from filler, but it almost seems to get lost in the shuffle and would be a standout on a lesser album. “Until We Get There” runs into the same issue, just not to the same degree.

And to make sure things don’t ebb too much on the back half of the album, “Don’t Just Sit There” gets the juices flowing once more.

After the filler track, “Monsters”, the album closes nicely with “How Loud Your Heart Gets”.

Overall, it’s a great debut by a band that seems destined to have a noteworthy career. The group has been touring seemingly non-stop and has already passed through Chicago four times since October 2012.

But that didn’t stop Wolfe and Laessig from lending their voices to another highly touted project from the past year, the self-titled debut from San Fermin. The baroque pop outfit formed by composer/songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone churned out an album that should be deemed an acquired taste at best. But it did produce one of the year’s best singles, “Sonsick”, on which Wolfe and Laessig stand out.

November 14, 2013

182 – HAERTS

Filed under: Brooklyn, H — assman41 @ 3:34 pm

I’ll just start out by saying I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post. I’ve had a dearth of motivation lately, and it’s affected all aspects of my life. Particularly in the last week, I have done very little of substance.

But today feels like I may finally be getting out of my rut. I went to the gym and had a solid workout, I cooked a quality meal for lunch, and, perhaps most importantly, I found a band worth sharing with my loyal reader.

HAERTS is a five-piece indie-pop band based in Brooklyn and composed of members from England, Germany and the U.S. Their sound is similar to recent “it” acts such as CHVRCHES and Lorde with their predilection for haunting female vocals.

Where HAERTS differs is that, although all the songs on their debut EP, Hemiplegia, sound similar, there’s enough variation to infer that this group has the chops to make some really interesting music.

By the way, the name of that album is a medical condition that is defined as “total or partial paralysis of one side of the body that results from disease of or injury to the motor centers of the brain.”

This is where, by blog law, I’m supposed to tie that definition into some description of the band. But I’d rather just link to another video.

October 20, 2013

180 – The Lone Bellow

Filed under: Brooklyn, L — assman41 @ 3:10 am

It’s a good time to be an indie folk band. Whether it’s Mumford & Sons and The Civil Wars taking home Grammys or bands such as Decemberists, Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Of Monsters and Men, The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers, First Aid Kit and Dawes selling millions of records, this genre has reached an apex.

And just like every scene before it, whenever a band’s buzz starts to fade, there’s always another one ready to take its place.

One group that seems primed to take over the mantel of indie folk darling is The Lone Bellow, a trio from Brooklyn churning out twangy tunes that are simultaneously heartfelt and catchy.

Best described as a cross between Dawes and Milo Greene, the group also evokes comparisons to several of the established bands mentioned above, as well as recent newcomer Little Green Cars.

The group was born out of tragedy, when the wife of guitarist and lead vocalist Zach Williams suffered temporary paralysis following a horse riding accident. While sitting by her hospital bed in Atlanta, the Georgia-born Williams had little else to do than write in his journal. Eventually, a friend suggested he learn to play the guitar and turn his journal entries into songs.

After his wife recovered, they moved to Brooklyn, where Williams crossed paths with an old friend, Brian Elmquist (guitar and vocals), and formed The Lone Bellow. Rounding out the band is Kanene Donehey Pipkin (mandolin), who provides the female vocal accompaniment.

While slowly building a buzz, The Lone Bellow are still very much under the radar. So, now is the time to latch on before they break out big time. They are currently touring throughout the U.S. for the next couple of months.

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.

July 24, 2013

Overrated threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, England, I, Las Vegas, P, S — assman41 @ 2:26 am

A number of bands have hit the scene in the last year or so that have gained a great deal of hype — some of them perhaps undeservedly so.

Here’s a look at three groups that are better on paper than they are on record.

Savages

An all-girl quartet from London that mixes the sass of Siouxsie and the Banshees with the post-punk ethos of Joy Division.

It sounds like a can’t-miss formula. Unfortunately, Savages missed the mark on their debut release, Silence Yourself, which came out in May of this year.

Instead of an awesome hybrid of two seminal bands, Savages come across as something of a collection of art-rock posers.

There will definitely be a swath of people who fall head over heels for this group, but there will be a lot more that are turned off by lead singer Jehnny Beth’s poor attempt at mimicking Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Parquet Courts

I had never heard of Parquet Courts before reading a blurb in Rolling Stone, which is not necessarily a good thing in my book. And after listening to their debut full-length, 2012’s Light Up Gold, it seems clear why that rag would be all about the group.

Based in Brooklyn, the indie-punk quartet finds its influence in the DIY punk bands of the early ’80s. Unfortunately, rather than using those bands as muses, Parquet Courts seem content to simply mimic them. The result is an album full of derivative tunes.

The music isn’t horrible, but the time you waste listening to it would be better spent looking into Husker Du or The Replacements or any of a number of their counterparts.

By the way, when the album finished playing on MOG, it went directly to a Nickelback song. If that’s not a warning sign, I don’t know what is.

Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons have always rubbed me the wrong way ever since they started gaining buzz last year with the release of their full-length debut, Night Visions. Part of it was probably the fact that I was constantly being besieged with their ads on Facebook.

But their music is just generic electro-pop/rock. They’re lumped in with similar groups such as Grouplove, Young The Giant, Walk the Moon and Neon Trees. But they clearly belong on the less-talented end of that spectrum.

Granted, they have one really good song in “It’s Time” and another decent one in “Hear Me”, but other than that, Imagine Dragons aren’t really worth the time or effort.

After reading that several band members hail from Utah and attended Brigham Young University and that the group won a battle of the bands at BYU, it makes more sense as to why the music seems so vanilla.

Despite transplanting to Las Vegas, they still lack much flair.

March 24, 2013

152 – Widowspeak

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

Falling somewhere between the sweet, soulful sonnets of Mazzy Star and the darker, heavier dirges of Warpaint comes the Brooklyn two-piece Widowspeak.

The band, which originally began as a trio, is powered by the hauntingly soothing vocals of Molly Hamilton and propelled by the guitar of Robert Earl Thomas.

The above tune is a single from the band’s 2011 self-titled debut. I first discovered the band around this time when a friend tipped me off to them. At the time, I could only find a few songs on their MySpace page, including an even more brooding cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

They have since put out a second album, Almanac, which came out in November 2012. Little has changed from the band’s sound. Despite the departure of one of the founding members, the music seems a little more complex, with a greater focus on instrumentation and perhaps a slight uptick in the mood of the vocals.

Widowspeak‘s music is the perfect mix of light and dark, soft and heavy. And they’re a great band to fall asleep to — or anything else you may do whilst in bed.

February 3, 2013

145 – The Depreciation Guild

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

Born nine years apart, my brother and I were never very close growing up. We had nothing in common — I was into sports and he was into music.

I’d often go into his room and stare at his posters of Culture Club and Pet Shop Boys and always be confused and curious. Growing up within earshot of his room was something of a blessing and a curse since it was impossible to escape the noise. But it also left me with a lifelong appreciation for ’80s music.

I didn’t really start to find my musical footing until after college. As I was starting to discover the indie scene, my brother was still heavy into his electronic music. But eventually, the two scenes started to overlap a bit and my brother started getting into bands such as Editors and MGMT.

So, finally, within the last decade, we actually had something that connected the two of us — a love of music. And, as the little brother, I was always trying to earn points by finding new bands for him. As it turns out, I was pretty good at it and have led him to a slew of great groups. But try as he might, he has not been able to reciprocate very often. He tends to overestimate my interest in electro-heavy bands because I may have liked one song by The Presets or Cut Copy.

But there have been those rare occasions when he’s been integral in me falling in love with a band. One such group is The Depreciation Guild.

I’d heard them for the first time in the summer of 2010 via the KEXP Song of the Day podcast. I thought it sounded like something he’d enjoy and played it for him. Then I noticed the band was coming through Chicago and suggested the show to him. He ended up listening to their music and said it sounded like something more to my liking. But I never delved any further.

Fast-forward about 2.5 years, when I unearthed our email correspondence regarding the Guild, and I finally got around to listening to the band’s entire catalog for the first time. And I immediately knew my brother was right — this was definitely a band I could get behind.

Too bad they broke up a couple of years ago.

The above song is actually the one that first turned me and my brother on to The Depreciation Guild. It comes from the band’s second and final full-length release, 2010’s Spirit Youth.

The song captures the band’s overwhelming shoegaze vibe, which permeates through all of the tracks in its catalog.

After listening to the album — as well as the band’s 2007 debut, In Her Gentle Jaws — it’s no surprise that front man Kurt Feldman is also the drummer for The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. Both groups share that notable shoegaze, dream-pop, post-rock niche. Other acts that come to mind include Wild Nothing, The Radio Dept. and M83.

While The Depreciation Guild will not be making any new music for the foreseeable future, you can still enjoy the small collection of tunes they left behind.

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