Infinite Shuffle

April 3, 2014

200 – Highasakite

Filed under: H, Norway — assman41 @ 2:07 pm

I am pleased that my 200th “official” band post is on a group that has the potential to be a favorite of mine for years to come.

I first heard about Highasakite during All Songs Considered‘s post-SXSW podcast. Of all the bands the music enthusiasts touted, this Norwegian quintet was the one that really stood out to me.

The group consists of Ingrid Helene Håvik (vocals), Trond Bersu (drums), Øystein Skar (synths), Marte Eberson (synths) and Kristoffer Lo (guitar, percussion and flugabone). Håvik, who writes most of the lyrics and music, has a voice and cadence that sounds like a mix of Lykke Li and the Söderberg sisters in First Aid Kit.

That’s the first single off the band’s sophomore album, Silent Treatment, which is set to be released April 8. While “Since Last Wednesday” is a great song, it’s not the best on the disc. That distinction belongs to “Leaving No Traces”, the track that was played on All Songs Considered.

Since I couldn’t find a good video of the song, you’ll just have to go here to check out the song on NPR.

Besides the above two tracks, the album is filled with solid tunes, including “Lover Where Do You Live?”, “I the Hand Grenade”, “Darth Vader” and “Hiroshima”.

The group began as a two-piece when Håvik met Bersu at Trondheim Jazz Conservatory and the pair started writing, recording and performing together. It doesn’t appear as though their jazz studies influenced their current sound too much.

Highasakite dropped its debut album, All That Floats Will Rain, in Norway in February 2012. Later, they took that disc’s best tracks and released them as a five-song EP, In and Out of Weeks, worldwide in March 2013. Everything on the EP is solid, but the standouts are the title track and “Winners Don’t Come Easy”.

You can check out several tracks from both albums on their SoundCloud page.

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.

December 16, 2013

187 – Ha Ha Tonka

Filed under: H, West Plains Mo. — assman41 @ 1:14 am

At first listen, it would be easy to instinctively lump Ha Ha Tonka in with the slew of other folk-tinged rock bands that have burst on the scene the past few years. It’s certainly a fair comparison, and they could definitely hold their own on a bill with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Blitzen Trapper, Lone Bellow and even Mumford & Sons.

However, there’s just something different about Ha Ha Tonka. They stand out from the pack because of their rawness. Their sound seems more pure, more natural. Rather than folk-rock, their wheelhouse is in roots-rock Americana – a la The Drive-By Truckers, Old 97’s and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Hailing from the Ozarks, this four-piece gets its name from a state park located a couple of hours away from its hometown of West Plains, Mo. While the group has since signed on with Bloodshot Records in Chicago, it’s clear from their music that the boys never truly left the Ozarks.

That said, their lyrics can be very profound, commenting on such things as socio-economic strife, drug abuse and the nation’s health care system while also dropping references to Thoreau and Dostoyevsky.

Lead singer Brian Roberts’ voice would best be described as a toned-down version of Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon.

Admittedly, all of this talk of purity and whatnot is referring mostly to the band’s earlier work, such as the 2007 debut, Buckle in the Bible Belt, and 2009’s Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South. Both albums are solid and were well-received, but it wasn’t until 2011’s Death of a Decade, that Ha Ha Tonka entered a new stratum.

Some of the bigger tastemakers on the indie scene took notice of the band’s more polished sound. The track “Rewrite Our Lives” even popped up during the telecast of that year’s NLCS.

With its latest release, Lessons, which came out this past September, the band seems to have found a comfort zone between its earliest work and the more-rocking Death of a Decade.

Whereas the songs on each of its prior efforts had something of a uniform feel, Lessons is much more eclectic. For example, there’s a little Black Keys, some Dawes, a touch of Spoon and even a dose of Vampire Weekend for good measure.

Just listen to what is arguably the best song in the band’s catalog, “Colorful Kids”.

The group will be doing a very brief tour through the Midwest next month — including a stop in Chicago on Jan. 11 — before turning their attention to SXSW in mid-March. With any luck, the showcase in Austin will help propel the band to an even higher level.

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 7, 2013

178 – HAIM

Filed under: H, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 12:57 am

When I wrote the other day about bands who string along fans waiting on a debut full-length, I actually had a particular group in mind. HAIM, a trio of sisters from Los Angeles, have been putting out singles and EPs for more than a year to much hype and acclaim. But it wasn’t until last week that they finally dropped Days Are Gone, an 11-track effort that includes several previously released tunes.

If their Wikipedia page is to be trusted, HAIM, which rhymes with “rhyme,” is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, and their sound is some sort of combination of folk, pop and R&B.

In actuality, the girls are straight-up electro-pop, sounding more like a trio of Annie Lennox clones than Stevie Nicks. Although, they could probably be mistaken for Christine McVie at times.

The sisters — their names are Este, Danielle and Alana and they range in age from 21 to 27 — have been singing in various groups since they were children, when their parents enlisted them to play covers at local charity fairs under the moniker Rockinhaim. Este and Danielle were members of the Valli Girls, which scored some minor acclaim among the tween set in 2005.

Danielle, the middle sister, played guitar and drums in backing bands for such artists as Jenny Lewis, Julian Casablancas and Cee-Lo Green. But, eventually, she and her sisters decided to focus on putting out music together.

Their first release was a three-song EP, Forever, in early 2012. Besides the title track, it included “Don’t Save Me”. When that song was released as a single, its B-side was “Send Me Down”, which did not make the full-length album but has one of my favorite choruses of the last few years.

Having already toured with such acts as Mumford & Sons, Ke$ha, Florence and the Machine and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the band’s star is definitely on the rise. And now that it’s finally released a full album, it’s probably just a matter of time before the sisters hit the road for a major headlining tour of their own.

June 18, 2013

163 – Hooded Fang

Filed under: H, Toronto — assman41 @ 6:37 pm

I’ve written often on this blog about bands whose sounds have changed over the course of their careers. Whether it be due to members leaving, record labels requesting something different or the desire to simply change things up, bands often find themselves going down new paths.

In the case of Hooded Fang, they seemed ready to make a switch before they even finished their first full-length album.

On their earliest releases — 2008’s EP and 2010’s Album — the Toronto-based septet sounded like any number of other indie-pop groups. The omnipresence of the glockenspiel was reminiscent of Noah and the Whale. There was also some hints of Great Lake Swimmers, if the latter were less folky and more poppy.

Some of the more notable tracks on the full-length are “Straight Up the Dial”, “Laughing” and “Ghosts”.

But the band was clearly ready for a change and didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as just another twee pop outfit.

On the follow-up, 2011’s Tosta Mista, Hooded Fang takes things in a notably different direction. Gone are all the playful indieisms, and in there place is a full-fledged homage to ’60s garage rock.

Also, it was at this point that Daniel Lee took over sole singing duties, as glock player Lorna Wright receded into the background.

Following the release of that album, Wright and two other members left the group to pursue various endeavors — including acting and journalism. It was at this point that the now-fourpiece really started to explore new sounds.

And their findings can be heard on the latest release, Gravez, which came out in April of this year. The band continues with the garage rock, but adds in a healthy dose of surfer punk.

The end result is something that would best be classified as an acquired taste. Hooded Fang takes listeners to some interesting places, such as on “Genes”, where Lee and the gang do their best Edwyn Collins impersonation.

None of the songs really stand out, except perhaps “Thrasher”, but taken as a whole, it’s a solid album to play in the background while completing chores or just relaxing.

The band is currently wrapping up a U.S. tour and will be heading to Europe in September. But, considering how much it likes to travel, another swing through the States in the near future seems likely.

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.

August 7, 2012

My new favorite website: Plixid.com

Filed under: A, B, F, H, T, W — assman41 @ 4:26 am

The last few months, it’s been difficult to find reliable websites to download music for free. The old standbys, such as MegaUpload, MediaFire and FileTube, have either been shut down by the government or simply don’t return any worthwhile results.

Rather than download RAR and ZIP files, I’d been forced go the torrent route and hope that Vuze would have the albums I was looking for. But that’s generally hit or miss.

But a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon my savior — Plixid.com. Not only does this site provide reliable links to albums, it’s also become an invaluable source for discovering new music.

The site adds one album every 15 minutes. They cover numerous genres and include a lot of new stuff — but there’s also plenty of old albums.

Instead of sifting through everything, I stick to the Indie/Post-Rock/Post-Punk feed and have already found numerous gems. The highlight so far was The Darlingtons, who I featured in last week’s post. But there’s been enough good stuff to keep me busy.

Here are the standouts from the past few weeks:

Air Traffic Controller

Immediately at the start of “Hurry Hurry”, the opening track the album, Nordo, I figured Air Traffic Controller had to be a side project for one of the dudes from They Might Be Giants. You cannot listen to that song and think of TMBG’s “Birdhouse In Your Soul”.

But as the album plays on, the similarities die down and are replaced with some rather catchy tunes. But in the way that one fan’s “catchy” is another fan’s “annoying.”

With some quirky songs about “Field of Dreams” and “Star Wars”, this group keeps things light while still churning out some solid tunes.

Heavenly Beat

When he decided to try his hand at the whole solo thing, John Pena decided not to stray too far from his bread and butter.

Pena has taken the electro-dream pop he helped create as the bassist for Beach Fossils and jazzed it up, infusing it with a new level of complexity.

The songs on the recently released Talent are the kind of dream pop catnip that could lull someone to sleep. But there is also a whole other layer of electro-pop that makes the music more engaging. It’s this dichotomy that makes every track so enjoyable.

Factories

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be humming “It’ll Be Alright” for at least a couple of days after your first hear it via Factories’ debut album, Together.

The second track on the disc, this song is a perfect example of the heights this band can reach when its lyrics live up to the standard set forth by the sonic electro beats that permeate throughout.

The rest of the album is pretty solid, with such notable songs as “Canada”, “Calypso”, “Kamikaze”, “Pressure”, “No One Noticed Me But You” and the title track.

Brainstorm

Here’s one reason you may feel a little apprehensive using Plixid.com. Apparently, Heat Waves, the debut full-length release from Brainstorm, isn’t officially out until Oct. 2. Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying it for the past couple of weeks.

Oh well. I’m glad I was able to hear it early. The album is definitely solid, filled with catchy indie rock-pop ditties. But that description does not do these songs justice.

This Portland trio has an intoxicating mix of influences that work so well together — kinda like Vampire Weekend, except the two bands really don’t sound anything alike.

Check out a few of their videos here. 

Westkust

If you prefer your shoegaze with plenty of fuzzy instrumentation, check out Westkust. Their EP, Junk, is so entrancing.

Trespassers William

The indie gods giveth, and the indie gods taketh away.

Shortly after downloading a few tracks by the group, Trespassers William, I’ve come to find out that they are disbanding. The September release of Cast, a collection of B-sides and rarities, will be the final output of the Seattle group.

After three full-length albums and two EPs, the group’s two main members — Anna-Lynne Williams and Matt Brown — have decided to focus on their solo projects.

From what little I’ve heard of the group’s music, I know that it will surely be missed.

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.

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