Infinite Shuffle

February 24, 2013

148 – Geographer

Filed under: G, San Francisco — assman41 @ 12:01 am

When a band drastically changes its sound from one album to the next, it runs the risk of abandoning fans along the way. But Geographer may have found the key to overcoming this problem.

They’re basically two completely different bands on their two full-length releases. And, while there’s sure to be some upheaval from the early loyalists, there’s also bound to be listeners like myself who are entranced by both stages of the metamorphosis.

In the beginning, there was Innocent Ghosts, the 2008 debut from the San Francisco trio. It’s filled with great indie-pop songs that are as catchy as they are melodious. Lead singer Michael Deni mixes his vocals beautifully throughout the record with a mysterious female singer. And it all melds well with the instrumentation of Deni (guitars, synthesizers), Nathan Biaz (cello, synths) and Brian Ostreicher (drums).

The standout tracks include “Can’t You Wait”, “Each Other’s Ghosts”, “Atmosphere”, “Wonderful” and “The Morning”.

Then, two years later, came the EP, Animal Shapes, which totally shifted the soundscape. Gone were the female harmonies, and in their stead was a huge influx of electronic flavor.

Suddenly, Geographer had gone from a really catchy indie-pop band to one of those indie-electro outfits that are more of an acquired taste. They’d basically become Yeasayer Lite.

But it turns out their songs are still accessible and not nearly as annoying as their Brooklyn counterparts. All six tracks on Animal Shapes are solid, with “Night Winds” taking top honors.

Geographer continued on this electronica course with the release of their second full-length album, 2012’s Myth. It’s not as strong top-to-bottom as the EP, but it definitely has some standout tracks, including “Shell Beach”, “Life of Crime” and a longer, better version of “Kites” than the one on the EP.

Geographer was recently in Chicago as the headliner for Family of the Year. I would’ve loved to have gone, but, alas, it was sold out by the time I became interested in it. Maybe next time.

The good news is they’re already back in the studio working on new songs.

October 2, 2012

Updates — All good, none great

Filed under: B, G, H, T, X — assman41 @ 2:16 pm

Many well-known bands released highly anticipated albums in the past month or so, and the theme seemed to be about toning things down.

Now, depending upon the band, that could mean veering toward a calmer sound (Band of Horses, The Gaslight Anthem), softening an electro vibe (The Helio Sequence, Two Door Cinema Club), or nothing at all, since you can’t really get any more toned down than The XX already were.

Band of Horses

I might as well start with the album I had been anticipating the most. After a substantial ascension on their first two albums, Band of Horses took a bit of a dip on 2010’s Infinite Arms.

As it turns out, that was just a sign of things to come. Their latest, Mirage Rock, is aptly titled as it’s less an indie-rock album and something closer to alt-country.

That’s not entirely true, but on several tracks you can hear the band’s slow progression toward a more folk/country sound.

The Gaslight Anthem

Possibly the best album among the five here is the latest from The Gaslight Anthem. Maybe it’s just because I had seen them in person recently, but there’s really no filler on Handwritten.

Continuing the shift away from their punkier roots, these Jersey boys churn out more solid indie-rock, highlighted by such songs as “Keepsake” and “’45′”.

One noticeable difference here is that they throw in a few change-ups along the way with some slower, softer songs. So much so, that you almost think you’re listening to a different band.

The Helio Sequence

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever hear a new Helio Sequence album again. Not because I thought they were breaking up. It had been awhile since their last release and I’d mostly stopped caring about them. But when I saw that Negotiations was out, I figured I’d add it to the rotation.

The band, which is known for having an evolving sound, continued that trend since its last full-length album dropped in 2008.

The last time we saw The Helio Sequence, they were churning out indie electro-pop that was incredibly catchy. Now, they’ve slowed things down considerably and added some more complex layers.

They’re starting to sound like a retro version of Band of Horses. Actually, they’ve kinda leapfrogged peak-era BoH and are heading toward the contemporary version.

Two Door Cinema Club

I’ll always have an interesting story of how I first discovered Two Door Cinema Club. And their first album will always be a favorite. But I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to recapture that lightning in a bottle.

Their latest, Beacon, definitely has some good stuff on it — including “Sleep Alone”, “Next Year” and “Handshake” — but it’s not the same start-to-finish gem.

On this one, you won’t find the catchy electro beats on every track like the previous offering. But they’re there in spurts.

The XX

I was not an early adopter of The XX. I avoided them for the first several months of their highly buzzed infancy. But I eventually came around and fell in love with their debut album. So much so, that I was both eager and nervous about the eventual follow-up.

Thankfully, like all of the above albums, Coexist, is in no ways a bad recording. But it’s admittedly not as good as the original.

There aren’t any obvious hits, but there is still plenty of good music to relax to.

June 20, 2012

Updates: Some good, some not so much

Filed under: B, G, L — assman41 @ 3:28 pm

One of the great things about maintaining this blog is that it forces me to listen to discover new bands. But, when my time is a premium and I’m only listening to new stuff, that means I have to delay listening to new releases from bands I already know and love.

Recently, I addressed that issue by downloading a slew of new releases from already-established artists.

Here are my thoughts on a handful of them.

Best Coast – The Only Place

Considering how lo-fi their debut album was, the craftsmanship on this sophomore release was totally unexpected. Easily one of the top five releases so far this year.

The band takes its surf-rock sound and adds more of a twang. Bethany Cosentino’s vocals are reminiscent to those of Neko Case — but obviously not as amazing, since that’d be impossible.

The standout songs here include the title track, “The Only Place” and “Up All Night”, respectively, and “Let’s Go Home”.

Beach House – Bloom

You’d think after four albums, this band’s sound would get old. On the contrary, these Baltimore-based shoegazers just keep bringin’ it. Not necessarily one of the year’s best, but still a great listen.

Some of the better tracks were “Other People” and “New Year”.

Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere

It feels like it’s been forever since this Toronto group put out a new album. In actuality, it was only 2009 when they released Lost Channels. The new album picks up right where the last one left off. Lots of good, slow indie-folk.

There aren’t any major standouts such as “Pulling On a Line”, but “The Great Exhale” was pretty solid.

Ladyhawke – Anxiety

While I wasn’t a very big fan of Ladyhawke’s self-titled debut as a whole, it did at least have a few really great songs. The same cannot be said for their follow-up, which is pretty much unremarkable from start to finish. I gave 1 star to the track, “Cellophane”, but that might’ve been out of pity more than anything.

(Sorry about the sped-up video. It’s the best I could find.)

May 24, 2012

115 – Gashcat

Filed under: Austin, G — assman41 @ 1:05 pm

Jeff Mangum has slowly come out of seclusion during the past couple of years. There’s no telling what spurred his re-emergence. A sudden urge to share more of his music with the world? Maybe his finances took a nosedive. Or perhaps he’s noticed the recent wave of singers who share his unique vocal stylings and wanted to remind everyone who does it best.

Alas, his appearances are still relatively sporadic. So, if you’re interested in hearing that voice — and not lucky enough to see him — you could always turn to one of those aforementioned poseurs.

The latest one to show up on the indie scene is Gashcat, a crew of folk-rockers from Austin, Texas.

As you can tell by lead singer Kyle Craft’s vocals, it’d be hard to get away from the Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons. Some of the best representations of this are on such standout tracks as “The Morning Sun”, “Every Summer, Every Spring” and “Ghost of a Ghost”.

However, Gashcat do take their sound in a slightly different direction. As the album progresses, the band starts to move down a path toward pop. Craft’s voice occasionally attains a Lindsey Buckingham inflection.

For now, Gashcat are still very much under the radar. But a solid showing at SXSW this year should help it build some momentum. With any luck, they’ll continue carving out their own niche on their next release.

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.

January 30, 2012

100 – Good Old War

Filed under: G, Philadelphia — assman41 @ 12:09 am

I will readily admit that my indie music knowledge barely scratches the surface of what is out there. Sure, I can talk endlessly about different bands I’ve heard and upcoming albums I’m looking forward to, but I’m constantly being reminded I’m just at the tip of the iceberg with this stuff.

One such instance came a couple of weeks ago while I was perusing local concert listings. I saw that two solid bands — The Belle Brigade and Family of the Year — would be coming to Chicago soon. But they were just the openers for another band, Good Old War.

I had no clue who these guys were, which surprised the hell out of me. I can’t remember a time when I recognized multiple opening acts but knew not even an inkling about the headliner.

Apparently, Good Old War is a three-piece folk/roots-rock band hailing from Philadelphia, home to other solid acts such as Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs and Dr. Dog.

Good Old War was born out of the ashes of two well-liked indie rock groups from Philly — Days Away and Unlikely Cowboy. Moving from their rocker roots to a more folk sound, and taking advantage of some great harmonies, the band is reminiscent to such contemporaries as Dawes, The Head and the Heart, Fleet Foxes and Lord Huron.

They released their debut album, Only Way To Be Alone, in 2008, and followed it with a self-titled disc in 2010. Their third release, Come Back As Rain, is set to drop in a few weeks on March 6.

They’ll be making their way to Lincoln Hall — my favorite venue in Chicago — on April 14. I’m very hopeful that I’ll be in attendance.

In the meantime, here are a couple more great tracks from the band.

P.S. I’d hoped to do something special for my 100th proper band post, but I’ve been pretty busy so far in 2012. Maybe I’ll do something for No. 150. Fingers crossed.

November 18, 2011

90 – Grouplove

Filed under: G, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 2:53 am

I’ve heard a lot of great music this year, but my biggest qualm has been that there have been very few albums that have stood out to me.

In fact, there’s only been about a handful that I’m even currently considering among the best of the year. But after hearing the debut release from Grouplove, I may have to add another one to the list.

The Los Angeles quintet — by way of Brooklyn and Crete (yep, that Crete) — has churned out a rather infectious collection of indie-pop/rock ditties that should help propel the group onto the radar of all the top music blogs and publications.

The rookie effort, titled Never Trust a Happy Song, came out Oct. 4 and was preceded by a self-titled EP last year.

I first discovered the band via the above track, which I heard on NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast. The show’s hosts, Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, immediately fell in love with the group — and with good reason.

Grouplove have a pretty familiar sound. Think Pixies, but poppier. Or maybe Los Campesinos!, but less annoying, more catchy and not British.

I found a short review from earlier this year that describes their sound better than I ever could.

They are quintessentially indie, with a whiny-voiced male frontman, a female singer who does alt-girl insouciance so faithfully Kim Deal could sue, and a bunch of sloppy-catchy guitar tunes that go, as per the old rule book, either quiet-loud-quiet-loud (the fast ones), or quiet … loud (the slow-build ones).

In addition to the above two songs, other strong tracks include “Colours”, “Lovely Cup”, “Naked Kids”, “Spun”, “Betty’s Bomb Shell”, “Chloe” and “Cruel and Beautiful World”.

The group is coming to Chicago in mid-January, but I almost definitely won’t be able to attend. So, with any luck, they’ll return quickly. Or, perhaps we’ll meet up in Austin for SXSW in a few months.

February 27, 2011

63 – Gospel Claws

Filed under: G, Tempe Ariz. — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Following last week’s NPR-themed post, I bring you another band I discovered through the All Songs Considered podcast.

Gospel Claws is a five-piece indie rock group from Tempe, Ariz., formed by Joel Marquard, the founder of the equally impressive Dear and the Headlights.

He left that band in 2007 due to its heavy touring schedule, but it didn’t take long for Marquard to find a new musical outlet. Gospel Claws formed later that year and they released a self-titled EP in 2008, followed by their first full-length album, C-L-A-W-S, late last year.

From the opening track, the sizzling single “Walk Me Down”, Gospel Claws channel The Walkmen and Cold War Kids into some solid indie rockin’ goodness.

Other than Marquard’s vocals, which call to mind those of Cold War Kids singer Nathan Willett, the 11 tracks on this album all have their own feel. From a retro-fitted ’50s-style love song (“Stars In My Heart”) to an incredibly lo-fi tune that channels Appalachia (“Somebody Stole My Heart”) to a really slowed-down surfer-rock ditty (“Need For Speed”), the band keeps you guessing at every turn.

Gospel Claws – Need For Speed

In addition to the noted Cold War Kids and Walkmen comparisons, you can also hear something reminiscent of Okkervil River on tracks such as “Baby, I’ll Take You Home” and “La Pequeca”.

Gospel Claws – La Pequeca

Gospel Claws has opened for such bands as Wild Nothing, Abe Vigoda, Cotton Jones, No Age, Plants and Animals and Portugal. The Man. They’ll be hitting the festival circuit this year, including stops at Coachella and SXSW, where I hope to catch them in a few weeks.

For your listening pleasure, you can find 11 tracks — including some older stuff — on their MySpace page. And over on their official website, you’ll be greeted by tons of news updates, plenty of videos and other assorted goodies

June 27, 2010

33 – The Gaslight Anthem

Filed under: G, New Jersey — assman41 @ 12:01 am

When talking about The Gaslight Anthem, I suppose the first thing I should do is address the obvious comparison to Bruce Springsteen. Fans of The Boss would just disregard Gaslight lead singer Brian Fallon as a Bruce wannabe.

There’s certainly some validity to that argument. A native of New Jersey, Fallon grew up idolizing Springsteen and has said often that he is a huge influence on his music. The Gaslight Anthem have even toured with Bruce and his band and played some songs together on stage.

Now, that all being said, The GA is more than just a copycat. Really, the best way to describe them is to call them “a punk version of Springsteen.” The vocals and lyrics are pure Bruce, but the rest of what comes through the speakers is faster and more rockin’ than anything the E Street Band has put out in decades.

The Gaslight Anthem formed in 2005 and released their debut album, Sink or Swim, two years later. It received some solid reviews, but the band didn’t hit the mainstream until 2008 when, after putting out a four-track EP, it dropped its second full-length, The ’59 Sound.

This is the point that I discovered them. A friend burned me a copy of the album and it sounded pretty good. Then, after realizing that they would be one of the opening acts for the Rise Against show I was to attend in November 2008, I started listening to the album more frequently.

By the time that show rolled around, I was looking forward to seeing The Gaslight Anthem as much as the headliner. In addition to the title track, the album is loaded with great songs, such as “Great Expectations” and “Old White Lincoln”.

I’ve been listening to that album off and on for the past two years, but was finally rewarded with a new disc, American Slang, which came out June 15.

I’ve listened to it twice so far, and I haven’t really heard any standout tracks. Musically, the band hasn’t changed much over the course of their three releases — each album has pretty much been a continuation of the one before it.

But when you sound as good as The Gaslight Anthem, I guess there’s no need to change anything.

Here’s the first single off the latest album. It’s the title track.

The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

April 25, 2010

25 – Grand Archives

Filed under: G, Seattle — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Considering the pedigree of its various members, it’s no surprise how strong and polished The Grand Archives’ sound is. Led by Mat Brooke, former guitarist and vocalist for Carissa’s Wierd and former guitarist for Band of Horses, this collection of Seattle musicians channels all the great indie-folk-pop harmonies that have been coming out of the Emerald City for years.

The quartet (formerly a five-piece) conjures up thoughts of such bands as Fleet Foxes, New Pornographers, Band of Horses, The Low Anthem, Son Volt and pretty much any band that relies on strong vocal harmonies and understated instrumentation.

The band’s self-titled debut, which dropped in 2008, opens strong with “Torn Blue Foam Couch”. Despite being comprised solely of men, the band gets plenty of vocal support from the ladies, including this first track, which sounds at times like something from the New Pornographers or Mates of State.

(Then again, I suppose any song with male/female harmonies probably shares that trait; but I digress.)

The whistling intro to the second track “Miniature Bird” totally reminded me of this year’s Simpsons-themed Super Bowl commercial, which had a whistling portion toward the end. And the sometimes-haunting vocals on the next track, “Swan Matches”, kinda reminded of The Low Anthem’s recent hitCharlie Darwin“.

But the song that really stood out to me was the album’s penultimate track, “The Crime Window”. Admittedly, it’s the one song on the album that sounds nothing like the rest, but it’s also the most fun track and probably the most radio-friendly.

Grand Archives – The Crime Window

The following year saw the departure of band member Ron Lewis (he joined The Shins) and also the release of the follow-up, Keep in Mind Frankenstein.

To the untrained ear, such as my own, the sophomore effort didn’t seem too different from its predecessor. But according to Brooke, it was “a little darker than the first album.”

The only thing that stood out to me was that things seemed a little more folky — closer to the sound of the Great Lake Swimmers.

The best track on the album was easily “Oslo Novelist”.

You can hear five songs on their MySpace page — which is how the band got noticed in the first place — or even download some free tracks at their record label page.

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