Infinite Shuffle

January 9, 2013

2012 threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, D, England, P, Seattle, T — assman41 @ 10:16 pm

Since I spent much of my last few weeks focusing on the best stuff I’d heard during the past year, I wasn’t able to listen to too much new music.

But as I often do in January, I checked out several of the albums that I’d seen on others’ end-of-the-year lists but were totally foreign to me.

Here are three more bands who put out an above-average disc last year.

DIIV

DIIV is the brainchild of Zachary Cole Smith, a member of Beach Fossils who decided to try his hand at the whole solo thing.

Originally named Dive, this Brooklyn-based outfit takes very dream-pop sound of Beach Fossils and covers it in a heavy, dark shade of gloss. The songs on the 2012 debut, Oshin, are shoegaze with an electro twinge.

TOY

I’ve only listened to the self-titled album once, so I’m not totally sold on TOY. This London-based quintet fills its songs with distortion, but it doesn’t drown out the solid vocals or instrumentation.

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

Perfume Genius

The alter ego of Seattle resident Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius is basically, at its core, just a dude and his piano. But Hadreas’ voice is so beautiful and he adds enough other layers that the music never gets boring.

Hadreas started recording songs after moving from New York to Washington, and he posted his work on MySpace. He was soon discovered by the British band Los Campesinos! and signed to their label.

Since then, Perfume Genius has released two albums — 2010’s Learning and last year’s Put Your Back N 2 It, the latter receiving plenty of critical praise.

December 17, 2012

140 – Sharon Van Etten

Filed under: Brooklyn, V — assman41 @ 6:20 pm

Since hitting the scene in 2009, singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten has been grabbing listeners with her beautifully haunting vocals and heartfelt lyrics.

With her debut, Because I Was In Love, the New Jersey-born, Tennessee-educated Brooklyn transplant began her ascent from timid folk singer to confident balladeer.

The songs on that first album were all sung in a very somber, melancholic tone and reflected on destructive past relationships.

The following year, she released, epic, which showcased a new, brave voice and bolder lyrics. The vocals were still haunting, but the sorrowful tone started to give way to empowerment.

The standout tracks include “Don’t Do It”, “Save Yourself” and “One Day”.

It was around this time that Van Etten developed a connection with boroughmates The National, touring with them in Europe and opening some shows in the U.S. They also collaborated on an original song — “Think You Can Wait” — for the soundtrack for the film, Win Win.

She began recording her next album in the garage studio of The National’s Aaron Dessner. And after several months, she released Tramp in February of this year to much critical acclaim.

Sonically, it’s the next step in Van Etten’s evolution. She continues to grow more confident with her voice and lyrics, and the songs themselves are more layered.

Adding to the complexity of the album were the contributions she received from such friends as Matt Barrick (Walkmen), Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), Zach Condon (Beirut), Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), Julianna Barwick and Dessner himself.

The album is her best to date, with such strong tracks as “Serpents”, “Leonard”, “We Are Fine” and “Magic Chords”. It’ll be interesting to see how Van Etten continues to develop from here.

October 9, 2012

132 – Snowmine

Filed under: Brooklyn, S — assman41 @ 12:54 am

“If ‘Jurassic Park’ had a house band, it would sound like Snowmine.”

That was the amusing — if rather misguided — description given by a blogger at Pop Wreckoning after seeing the band Snowmine in person early last year.

Admittedly, said show came a few months before the release of the Brooklyn five-piece’s debut album, Laminate Pet Animal, and its sound was still probably a little rough. But I can’t imagine hearing this band live and thinking it was best suited for some prehistoric jungle abomination. Sure, the first song they played, “Danger in the Snow!”, opens with some ground-rumbling effects and is filled with tribal beats, but other than that, the band is a pretty laid-back indie-pop outfit.

The above song is actually a non-album single — and possibly the best track the band has produced to date. It has a little bit of a Death Cab For Cutie feel to it.

On the actual album, the band bounces between catchy indie-pop and the occasional psych-pop ditty. The latter can be found on such tracks as “The Hill”, “Piece of Your Pie” and “This One”.

Led by new-classical composer and vocalist Grayson Sanders, Snowmine are really at their best when they’re exuding a more bubbly sound. In addition to Death Cab, there are hints of many other popular indie bands, such as Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket and The Walkmen, just to name a few.

The second track on Laminate Pet Animal, “Penny”, opens with a guitar riff that sounds like it came straight out of early ’80s Manchester, but then it quickly transitions into a more standard indie-pop song.

Other solid tracks on the album include “Beast in Air, Beast in Water”, “Let Me In” and “Hologram”.

Since playing at SXSW in March, the band has released a new single, “Saucer Eyes”. With any luck, it’ll continue to churn out an eclectic mix of sounds and maybe even release another album sometime next year.

In the meantime, here’s another video to tide you over.

August 19, 2012

126 – Suckers

Filed under: Brooklyn, S — assman41 @ 4:11 pm

As many great stories do, this one begins in a bar.

Shortly after seeing a Destroyer show in Chicago in late June, I was sitting with my friend at The Dark Horse in Wrigleyville, when the bartender started playing a mix of indie songs on Spotify.

As we all discussed various bands and concerts we’d enjoyed, one of the songs caught my ear. After plugging it into Shazam, I discovered it was “Figure It Out” by Suckers. I’d never heard of the band, but the bartender noted that they were pretty good, so I stuck that in the back of my mind for future use.

Fast-forward a bit, and, after listening to the band’s new album, Candy Salad, more than a handful of times, I’m confident that it will be among my favorites at the end of the year.

The first thing you notice when listening to the Brooklyn band’s two-LP catalog is how much its sound varies from track to track and album to album. While the 2010 debut full-length, Wild Smile, was something of a mishmash of influences — including most prominently Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire — the follow-up is much tighter and melodic.

On several tracks, lead singer Quinn Walker’s voice conjures up thoughts of Gruff Rhys, frontman for Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon. On a few other tracks, it almost sounds like the band employed the services of TV On the Radio vocalist and fellow Brooklynite Tunde Adebimpe.

The bulk of the songs on Candy Salad are rather catchy, as the other two band members join the fray vocally while also churning out some “psychotropic hooks.”

In addition to the above two songs, other standout tracks include “Bricks To the Bones”, “Leave the Light On”, “Going Nowhere”, “Charmaine”, “Lydia” and “Roses”.

Sidenote: It was actually while searching for Candy Salad that I discovered Plixid.com. So, bonus points for that.

July 8, 2012

121 – Kishi Bashi

Filed under: Brooklyn, K, Seattle — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Last week, I wrote about Alabama Shakes and mentioned other bands who’d ridden a wave of hype at the start of their careers.

Another artist who’s been receiving a lot of early buzz — albeit on a much smaller scale — is Kishi Bashi. The gang over at NPR’s All Songs Considered have been singing the praises of the singer/songwriter/violinist ever since discovering him at SXSW.

The project name is actually a pseudonym for K Ishibashi, who was born in Seattle, grew up on the East Coast, helped found the Brooklyn-based band, Jupiter One, and is now a member of Of Montreal.

It’s a good thing he’s made it possible to embed all the tracks from his debut album, 151a, because it’s difficult to pinpoint his sound.

The best I can come up with is a cross between MGMT and Jonsi/Sigur Ros, with several other influences sprinkled in. And Ishibashi’s stirring violin adds an incredible dimension to all of it.

The track that first introduced him to NPR listeners was “Bright Whites”, definitely a catchy tune and probably the best on the album. But “Manchester” is certainly a worthy contender for that title.

While there is no real filler here, a few other standouts include “It All Began With a Burst”, “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons” and “Atticus, in the Desert”.


May 28, 2012

116 – Car On the Moon

Filed under: Brooklyn, C — assman41 @ 9:06 pm

About two weeks ago, I made my maiden voyage to New York City. I’ll admit that I was a touch intimidated leading up to the trip, but it ended up exceeding my expectations in terms of awesomeness.

In addition to all the great food and drink I consumed and the various interesting sites I checked out, the highlight of my trip was probably discovering a new, great band.

There weren’t too many scheduled events on my itinerary for the week, so my host and I often just came up with things to do on the fly. One night, we figured we’d try to find some live music, which, pleasantly, is not at all difficult to do in NYC.

We ended up finding a cheap show in Park Slope at a great little venue called Union Hall. The main floor is a quaint bar with great seating, nice ambience and a couple of bocce courts. Downstairs is where they put on shows.

Basically the size of someone’s basement, with a stage on end and a bar at the other, Union Hall is the perfect place to discover up-and-coming bands before they get their big break.

While all of the acts were solid in their own right, it was the first group we saw that turned out to be the best.

Car on the Moon is a four-piece band from Brooklyn that comfortably straddles the area between folk and indie-pop. Most of their songs are of the slow, quiet variety and are occasionally accented by louder, more raucous choruses.

At the core of the band is Elias Orling, the lead singer and lyricist, who seems ready-made to front an indie-folk band. Providing some female backing vocals is multi-instrumentalist Sylvia Chen. Along with bassist Steve Ferrara and drummer Danny Festa, the group put out its self-titled, full-length debut in September of last year.

Some of the standout tracks include “Sea of Indians”, “Doctor”, “Love You More”, “The Bridge” and “My Only Drum”.

(Unfortunately, there are no videos online to link to, and I can no longer upload songs.)

To check out all 11 songs from the album, head over to the band’s website.

I got a chance to chat with Orling for a few minutes after his band’s set. He said they’d just finished a stretch in the recording studio, which hopefully means there will be more to come soon. As for touring, he said they’ll try to canvass the greater New York area on weekends, but it’ll probably be a long time before they ever make it to the Midwest.

March 11, 2012

106 – The Hundred In the Hands

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

There’s always a sense of excitement when a band puts out a strong debut EP. You end up listening to the 5-7 songs so many times that you have them memorized, and, all the while, you’re eagerly awaiting the release of the first full-length album.

If you’re lucky, that first LP will meet or exceed your expectations. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, bands can’t replicate whatever it was that made those first few songs so great. Then you’re left with nothing but disappointment.

Admittedly, that’s not quite the case with The Hundred In the Hands. But their self-titled LP that they put out last year struggles to reach the same levels as their initial EP from 2010.

The six tracks on This Desert only amount to about 23 minutes, but in that short span, the Brooklyn male-female duo managed to show off a great deal of potential.

Songs such as “Tom Tom”, “In To It” and “It’s Only Everything” capture everything that’s great about the recent indie-electro/shoegaze trend.

But much of that is lost on the long play. While This Desert has a full, rich and textured sound, the follow-up just falls flat. Somewhere in between the two releases, Eleanore Everdell’s vocals went from dreamy — and a touch haunting — to bland and, at times, talk-singing. Like a less-talented Suzanne Vega.

That’s not to say the album doesn’t have its positive notes. The electro guitar that plays throughout conjures memories of The Rapture and, to a degree, VHS or Beta. And there are a few catchy tracks, such as “Killing It”, “Commotion”, “Dressed in Dresden” and the big single, “Pigeons” (just try getting the line “Saturday comes, Sunday comes, we go” out of your head).

The Hundred in the Hands are not a lost cause. They’ve shown that they have the potential to be great;  but they have simply taken things in the wrong direction. Now it’s just a matter of whether they realize it and are willing to make a U-turn.

November 28, 2011

91 – Real Estate

Filed under: Brooklyn, R — assman41 @ 7:52 pm

There is nothing I like more than finding new music to add to my Trance Mix playlist. It can get a little stale falling asleep to the same 40-50 songs all the time.

That’s why I was so pleased to hear Real Estate‘s new album, Days. It’s tailor-made for relaxation — just like fellow Trance Mixers Beach Fossils, Lower Dens and Wild Nothing.

The band really doesn’t stand out from those aforementioned groups. But no bother; the tunes are still great.

That little ditty was the big hit from Real Estate‘s 2009 self-titled debut. The five-piece band from Brooklyn — by way of Ridgewood, N.J. — made some waves on the indie scene with that release but then seemed to fade away just as quickly.

Since then, they have been doing their thing, touring with acts such as Girls, Kurt Vile and Woods, and even played at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2010.

The new album dropped last month and has been getting a lot of positive reviews. The first single, “It’s Real”, should hopefully draw in some new fans like it did me.

July 17, 2011

76 – Beach Fossils

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

A band’s name can sometimes be just as important as the music it makes. A name gives a band an identity and can often give the uninformed an idea of what to expect before pressing Play.

A lot of bands pick names that sound cool or are funny or have some inside meaning. Others just lay it all out on the line.

When you see names such as Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, you know what’s in store for you.

While nowhere near those aforementioned bands on the musical spectrum, the group Beach Fossils do share the trait of owning a pseudo-onomatopoeic name.

As their moniker would imply, Beach Fossils harken back to the golden age of surfer rock. But it’s stripped down to its most lo-fi form, leaving nothing but a guitar, a drum machine and some moderately haunting vocals.

Beach Fossils – Vacation

Putting out their self-titled debut LP in September of last year, Beach Fossils are the latest in of a wave — pardon the pun — of bands going extremely minimal in sound and instrumentation, resulting in an incredibly relaxing, almost trance-inducing sound.

Bands such as Lower Dens, Wild Nothing and The XX have all put their own personal stamp on this genre. What Beach Fossils bring to the mix is an unmistakable sun-and-sand-filled beach vibe, reminiscent of The Drums.

Beach Fossils – Daydream

About a year ago, I found myself listening to Wild Nothing’s album numerous times in a row — often falling asleep to the dulcimer tones. I’ve had a very similar experience listening to Beach Fossils.

So, it’s no surprise that the two Captured Tracks labelmates have combined forces on a release for Record Store Day this year — Gruesome Flowers: A Tribute To The Wake. I had never heard of the Scottish band, but it’s apparently well-known enough to deserve a tribute. On the 7″ release, Wild Nothing covered “Gruesome Castle”, while Beach Fossils put their own spin on “Plastic Flowers”.

Check out both tracks here.

In addition to the LP and split single, the Brooklyn four-piece put out an EP in March of this year, What a Pleasure, which, at eight tracks, should really be considered an abbreviated full-length release.

It’s just as strong as the first album and features Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum on the track “Out In the Way”. It also includes my favorite song so far by the group, “Face It”.

Beach Fossils – Face It

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.

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