Infinite Shuffle

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.

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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.

December 6, 2013

185 – The Love Language

Filed under: L, Raleigh NC — assman41 @ 3:24 am

A lot of times when I’m reviewing a band, I not only make a point of listening to as much of its output as I can find, but I also tend to do so in chronological order.

While some of my friends have let me know that such a strategy is foolish, I’ve found that it gives me a better understanding of an artist’s early sound and how far it has come.

Of course, that route inherently provides some obstacles with a lot of bands, particularly ones that have changed their sound a great deal and/or weren’t very good at first.

The Love Language would fall into the former category. And I thought the latter might be apt as well after starting to listen to their 2009 self-titled debut. The album opener, “Two Rabbits”, was jarring and just plain bad. It’s lo-fi at its worst.

But if you’re able to make it past that first bit of whiplash, things actually improve as the album progresses. The second track, “Lalita” provides a solid gauge of the group’s early potential.

The origin of the group, which hails from Raleigh, N.C., is an indie cliché. It started as a bedroom project from Stuart McLamb, who, after breaking up with his girlfriend, retreated to his parents’ house and started pouring his heart out on paper.

Those songs eventually turned into the eponymous debut, and McLamb recruited some more musicians, including his brother, to join him on the road.

The band’s follow-up, 2010’s Libraries, sounds far more professional, having been recorded in a proper studio under the watchful eye of producer BJ Burton and backed by the band’s new label, Merge Records.

From the opening two tracks — “Pedals” and “Brittany’s Back” — it’s clear that listeners are in for a more exciting experience. While the DIY, lo-fi ethos permeates throughout the album, it’s often overshadowed by a Wall of Sound pop attack that will elicit head-bobs and toe-taps from even the most stoic soul.

Nearly three years later, and after several pauses and restarts, McLamb and crew released their latest effort, Ruby Red, this past July.

The early potential on the debut, followed by the major step forward on the second album has led to this, the band’s most well-rounded and fleshed-out offering to date.

There are a number of indie contemporaries that likely influenced the production, but one that stands out is Arcade Fire. It might take multiple listens to hear it, but imagine a less-grandiose version of the Montreal all-stars’ early work. On such tracks as “First Shot” and “Pilot Light”, it’s as if Win Butler & Co. were brought in to lend a hand.

Another group that deserves a mention is Fanfarlo. It’s been a long time since they’ve been on my radar, but the comparison seems apt. Just listen to “Knots”.

And there are even stronger tracks here, including the opening “Calm Down”, “Hi Life” and “On Our Heels”, which sounds like it could have come from the ’80s underground scene.

I’m not sure if this album deserves to be considered among the year’s absolute best, but it’s worthy of at least the second tier.

November 6, 2013

181 – Lorde

Filed under: L, New Zealand — assman41 @ 12:14 am

181 – Lorde

It’s tough to decide which is more impressive about Lorde’s full-length debut, Pure Heroine — the music itself or the fact that the singer-songwriter behind Lorde is only 16 years old!

The New Zealand native, whose actual name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, had record labels in a bidding war not long after she entered her teens. At 13, she signed with Universal and a year later she was working with the label’s songwriters.

She put out The Love Club EP in November 2012 and followed that with the single, “Royals,” which hit the top of the charts in New Zealand and also became the first female solo artist to reach No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Songs chart.

The song is definitely the peak of Pure Heroine, but it’s far from the only standout track. Throughout the album, Yelich-O’Connor mixes in a variety of influences. The opener, “Tennis Court”, calls to mind a little bit of M.I.A. But she also invokes artists such as Zola Jesus — with a far less haunting tone — on “400 Lux”, “Ribs”, “Team” and “Buzzcut Season”.

Still in high school — or whatever the Kiwis call it over there — Yelich-O’Connor is a rising star and has only begun to tap her seemingly endless potential. It’ll be fun to see what she can accomplish once she’s able to focus full time on her music.

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.

May 14, 2013

159 – LEAGUES

Filed under: L, Nashville — assman41 @ 4:09 pm

I’m not exactly sure when I first heard the band, LEAGUES, or what song of theirs was being played at the time. (More than likely, it was on a random mix via MOG.) But whatever the source and track, one thing is certain, it was enough to prompt me to jot down the band’s name so I could listen to more in the future.

That time finally came this past weekend as I spun through the Nashville trio’s debut album, You Belong Here, a handful of times and grew to love it a little more with each listen.

The first thing that stands out about this album is the lack of filler. There are several notable tracks, but nothing on here should be considered a throwaway. The above song, “Walking Backwards”, is the standout, but there are several others hot on its heels, including the title track, “Haunted”, “Pass My Way”, “Lost It All” and “Mind Games”.

In trying to conjure bands that might accurately be called contemporaries, the first that comes to mind is Vampire Weekend. But that’s mostly based on the way lead singer Thad Cockrell spits out his vocals. Otherwise, LEAGUES’ music is far more accessible than their Brooklyn counterparts.

Another similar band is Two Door Cinema Club and specifically their 2010 debut disc, Tourist History, which was filled with loads of catchy electro/indie-rock songs and lacked any real filler. In fact, LEAGUES’ first big single, “Spotlight”, is probably only my seventh favorite song here.

The vibe of this album is perfect for the summer. And, hopefully, the band can capitalize on that as it is currently touring the country. It has several stops in my general area, but I doubt I’ll have a chance to make it to one. It’s too bad because I have a feeling this band will be blowing up pretty soon.

April 7, 2013

154 – Little Green Cars

Filed under: Dublin, L — assman41 @ 2:03 am

Finally! An actual new band to listen to. After months of listening to bands that have been around for years — and even decades — I’ve got a truly new band to rave about.

Little Green Cars are a quintet of 20-year-olds from Dublin that just released their debut album, Absolute Zero, and are already receiving loads of praise from all of the various indie tastemakers.

The group, which first formed in 2008, churns out catchy indie-pop/rock in a similar vein to both Milo Greene and the Magic Numbers. That may seem like an odd pairing, but that’s because Little Green Cars‘ sound varies greatly over the course of the album.

The one aspect that holds strong throughout are the amazing harmonies, anchored by the band’s lone female member, Faye O’Rourke, and paired nicely with lead singer Stevie Appleby, who often sounds like the little brother of the Magic Numbers’ Romeo Stodart.

Somehow, the band lucked out and got Markus Dravs to produce its debut disc. Dravs is the man who helped create both Mumford & Sons albums, the last two releases from Arcade Fire as well as music by Coldplay and Bjork.

The album is loaded with solid tracks, especially the above “Harper Lee” and “The John Wayne”. Other notable songs include “Angel Owl”, “My Love Took Me Down To the River To Silence Me”, “Big Red Dragon”, “Please” and “Them”.

Even the lesser tracks grab your attention, such as the seemingly misplaced “Red and Blue”, which auto-tunes Appleby’s vocals to the point of sounding like Imogen Heap.

While touring the States, they have been receiving plenty of buzz from sets at CMJ and SXSW, as well as every stop along the way. They recently came through Chicago, which is where a friend of mine saw them and relayed their awesomeness to me.

Judging from the various write-ups Little Green Cars have already received, it looks like their star is only going to continue to rise.

February 19, 2013

147 – Longwave

Filed under: L, Manhattan — assman41 @ 2:09 am

The priciest and most important purchase I’ve made so far in my life — besides a couple of vehicles — is my laptop. When I broke down a few years ago and decided to get a new one, I went all out and chose a MacBook, which cost me about $1,600.

I generally am not the type of person whose life revolves around material goods. But I have to admit, ever since I obtained this little guy in November 2008, it’s added a little bit of joy to each of my days.

And, while there are several reasons I love having it, the biggest change has been my improved music experience — in regards to listening, downloading, storing and any other facet you can think of.

I’m not going to continue rambling on about my computer. I only brought it up because I was recently reminded of the period when it first came into my possession. One of the first things I did was start searching for music and trying to build my iTunes library.

And one of the first songs that I ever put on there turned out to be a KEXP Song of the Day podcast that I could only listen to on the laptop. It was “No Direction” by Longwave. I hadn’t listened to said song in several years, but I recently saw the band listed among related artists to Film School, and my memories of the song and the laptop came rushing back.

So, more than four years since I first heard that song, I finally got around to listening to the rest of the band’s catalog. And, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

The band was formed in New York City in 1999 by guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Steve Schiltz. The quartet got its big break while playing at the Luna Lounge in the Lower East Side. It signed to the club owner’s record label and put out its debut, Endsongs, in 2000.

Despite there being no real standout tracks, the album was solid and eventually helped land the band an opening spot for such acts as The Strokes and The Vines. That in turn led to a record deal with RCA.

And in 2003 came Longwave’s major-label debut, The Strangest Things. This album was a notable step forward for the group as it continued to hone its sound. Several sources label the Longwave as a shoegaze or post-punk band. But their sound is more reminiscent of such alt-rock contemporaries as Jimmy Eat World and Nada Surf — and maybe even Filter at their poppiest.

The above video is one of the best tracks from the album, the opener, “Wake Me When It’s Over”. “Everywhere You Turn” is a close second, while “I Know It’s Coming Someday” is another solid entry.

Prior to heading to the recording studio for their next album, Longwave lost half of their roster with the departure of the bassist and drummer. They made do and, in 2005, put out There’s a Fire. The lineup change didn’t seem to have a huge impact, other than maybe adding a little more edge to the album.

The standout is the closing track, “Underneath You Know the Names”. Also strong are the title track, “Tell Me I’m Wrong” and “Fall On Every Whim”.

Not long after the album’s release, Sony (RCA’s parent company) merged with BMG, which resulted in Longwave leaving the label. That led the members to go on hiatus and try some side projects. Eventually, they got back together, signed with an indie label and released Secrets Are Sinister in 2008.

Once again, there are several strong tracks, including “Sirens In the Deep Sea”, “Satellites”, “The Devil and the Liar” and the aforementioned “No Direction”.

Considering the band’s loose footing at the time and the four-year span since its last release, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that was Longwave’s last hurrah. At least it was a good one.

July 22, 2012

123 – The Lumineers

Filed under: Denver, L — assman41 @ 12:01 am

If there was any doubt in your mind whether you should invest some time — and maybe money — in The Lumineers, just check out some of the many reviews of their self-titled debut full-length release on Amazon.com.

One fella from Minneapolis was so enthralled by the release and certain that you would be too that he offered a free sandwich as a guarantee.

“… if you buy this album and you don’t like it I will meet you exactly halfway between my house in Minneapolis and your house wherever that is and I will buy you a sandwich.”

Another, who wasn’t quite as enamored with the album but still liked it plenty, gave a rather pragmatic response.

“While I would not say that it is unlike anything I have ever heard, I would be comfortable saying that I thoroughly enjoyed it the whole way through and it is only growing on me with each listen (as most good music does..IMO).”

The Lumineers have been around since 2002 (or maybe 2005, depending upon which part of Wikipedia you believe), and they’ve been a trio since Wesley Schultz (lead vocals) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums) moved from New York City to Denver and found Neyla Pekarek after posting an ad on Craigslist for a cellist.

They finally released their first album this past April and have been gaining a lot of attention since their single, “Ho Hey”, appeared in an episode of Hart of Dixie in the winter and later in a Bing commercial last month.

As you can tell from the above song, the Lumineers’ sound is pretty straight-forward folk rock/Americana. As far as comparisons, all of the usual suspects should come to mind, but the most prevalent is probably The Head and the Heart.

There really isn’t any filler among the 11 songs on this initial offering. Some of the standouts are “Submarines”, “Slow It Down” and “Dead Sea”.

It looks like the bulk of their upcoming tour stops are in the East and Southeast before heading overseas. After some strong showings on various Billboard charts, this band’s star is definitely on the rise, and there’s no telling how big it will be by the time it returns Stateside.

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.)

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