Infinite Shuffle

June 24, 2014

208 – Run River North

Filed under: Los Angeles, M, R — assman41 @ 2:12 am

In the fall of 2011, Of Monsters and Men quietly released their debut album, My Head Is an Animal in Iceland, and it slowly made its way around the globe. Arguably one of the best albums of 2012, it went platinum and eventually peaked at No. 1 in Australia, No. 3 in the UK and No. 6 in the United States.

Since then, fans have been clamoring for more, and, according to a recent interview, a new album is on the way, but a release date has yet to be announced.

In the meantime, there have been plenty of bands vying to usurp their indie-folk/pop thrones, but few have managed to ascend to the top. But there’s one that is just starting to gain steam — barely a blip on the radar now but destined to become the next new “it” band on the indie scene. And, coincidentally, before a name change, it even had “Monsters” in its moniker.

The group, Run River North, shares many musical similarities with their Scandinavian brethren, right down to their quiet-loud-quiet song structure, beautiful blend of male and female vocals and the communal vibe they give off.

Of course, it’s the differences that make them stand out. There is nary a horn to be heard on the group’s self-titled debut that came out in February. Oh, and then there’s the fact that Run River North is made up of six Korean-American 20-somethings from the San Fernando Valley.

That is the original video for “Fight To Keep”, which, as you can see, was recorded exclusively in the band members’ Hondas. The video went viral and caught the eye of Honda executives, who decided to surprise the group — then known as Monsters Calling Home — by lining up a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live in September 2012.

(If you can’t get enough of that song, check out the professionally shot video starring Diedrich Bader — from The Drew Carey Show and Office Space fame — that is rather dark and may have been influenced by the movie, Surviving the Game.)

The group formed in 2011 when singer/songwriter was hiking with friend and future bandmate Joe Chun and they talked about their shared experiences of growing up in an immigrant family. That discussion stirred a lot of emotions in Hwang and eventually spewed forth in the form of the song “Monsters Calling Home”. (Yes, the band’s original name. It gets kinda confusing.) He then recruited friends from church to fill out the roster.

The band members discussed their upbringing and how it affected their music during recent interviews on Acoustic Cafe and Here & Now. (One interesting tidbit you’ll glean is that two members are classically trained violinists and the drummer came up in the punk and heavy metal scene.)

After gaining some much-needed exposure, Run River North signed with a label and set forth recording an album. Influenced by such bands as Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and The Shins, the group was fortunate enough to work with Phil Ek, who produced albums for all of those well-established acts.

Ek’s magic touch can be heard throughout the album, including on the third track, “Lying Beast”, a slow-burning tune in which Hwang does his best Conor Oberst impersonation.

There’s a dearth of filler here as just about every track has the ability to get stuck in your head. Some of the other more notable songs include “Run River Run”, “Somewhere”, “Excuses” and “Foxbeard”.

Run River North are crisscrossing the country this summer and fall, including a stop at Schubas Tavern in Chicago on July 21. Now is your chance to check them out before all of the hipsters catch on.

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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.

April 27, 2014

203 – Mr. Little Jeans

Filed under: Los Angeles, M, Norway — assman41 @ 3:00 am

When I first heard Lykke Li back in 2008, I never would’ve guessed that six years later, I’d be using her as a reference point for so many new artists. It seems like a new woman or female-fronted band pops up every month that owes a debt of gratitude to Li for paving the way for the recent surge of soulful electro-pop.

It was only a few weeks ago that Highasakite was dominating my airwaves, and now one of their Norwegian brethren has taken their place in the form of Mr. Little Jeans. The name — which is an awesome reference to a bit character from the movie, Rushmore — is the moniker for Monica Birkenes, who left Scandinavia for Los Angeles, after an extended layover in London.

Last month, she dropped her debut full-length, Pocketknife, which is filled with catchy hooks and enough beats to get hips shakin’ and heads bobbin’.

That’s “Runaway”, probably the best song on the album. Just listen to that chorus, and you’ll immediately want to put it on repeat.

There is very little filler among the 12 tracks here, with each song conjuring up a different influence.

The solid opener, “Rescue Song” is reminiscent of Feist and Ingrid Michelson and others of that ilk. It’s followed by one of several sleeper hits on the album, “Mercy”, which is so sneaky that it isn’t until the song is over that you realize how great it was. And then you’re forced to play it again.

Then comes the aforementioned “Runaway”, which could easily hold its own against any of HAIM‘s recent hits.

That is followed by “Oh Sailor”, featuring the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Youth Chorale. If it brings to mind Dead Man’s Bones’ debut album, that’s because the entire thing was a collaboration with the same youth choir. Also, both albums were produced by Tim Anderson.

“Don’t Run” calls to mind both Li and Zola Jesus, but by the end it suffers from Anderson’s reliance on computer effects.

“Good Mistake”, which was the title track of an EP released in February, rounds out a strong first half to the album.

The back half of the disc is notably lacking in flair, but it never sinks too far. Track 9 is a cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”, which helped Mr. Little Jeans earn some internet buzz a few years ago. It’s followed by another sleeper track, “Heaven Sent”, which seems like it should be higher up in the pecking order.

“Far From Home” is one of several songs in which Birkenes sounds like she could be related to Imogen Heap — or at least have the same auto-tune program as the former Frou Frou singer.

April 4, 2014

201 – Jamestown Revival

Filed under: Austin, J, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 1:54 pm

Reading official band bios can be an eye roll-inducing experience. They are often filled with grandiose language and questionable turns of phrase that would make any English professor weep. And judging by the yarns many of these groups weave, it’s as if being a failed creative writing major is a prerequisite for joining a band.

That being said, sometimes perusing a group’s backstory can help paint a picture that’s almost as powerful as the music. Take Jamestown Revival for instance. Try reading their bio while listening to their debut album, Utah. It’s like some sort of synergistic multimedia project.

If you read the whole thing, then you won’t have trouble figuring out this band. A couple of Texas boys move to California and make indie-folk music with equal parts South and West.

The above track, “California (Cast Iron Soul)”, is the second single off the album, which dropped this past February. It sounds a lot like another member of the L.A. indie-folk rock scene — Dawes. But as you listen to the entire disc, it’s clear that Jamestown Revival has a much more raw sound. Of course, that may just be because all of the songs were recorded in a log cabin in the mountains.

These fellas aren’t going to blow anyone away with a fresh, new sound or any kind of innovative approach to crafting songs. But they do make some great music for sitting on a porch or balcony and just chilling out.

March 7, 2014

196 – Fitz and The Tantrums

Filed under: F, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 2:45 pm

I love Shazam. When it was first introduced several years ago, I thought mankind had reached the zenith of innovation.

“You can just point your phone in the direction of a song playing on the radio and it’ll tell you the name and artist? What is this, Hill Valley, Calif., circa 2015?”

It was several years before I ever had a phone actually capable of downloading the app, but you can be assured that it was the first one I grabbed. Since then, I’ve used it in bars, restaurants, department stores, while driving in the car and even at a concert or two.

The best is when I discover a new band through it. But more often it’s a song I’ve heard before but can’t quite place. And sometimes, it turns out to be a band I do know but have deemed unworthy of my ears.

That was the case recently when, on two different occasions, I heard two catchy new songs on the radio and immediately headed to Shazam. Both times, it came back saying — much to my surprise — that the band was Fitz & The Tantrums.

That was one of the songs, “Out of My League”, which is the lead single off their sophomore album, More Than Just a Dream, that came out last spring. It’s a much more modern take on the neo-soul sound the group has been developing since bursting on the scene a few years ago.

If you listen to enough of the Los Angeles-based six-piece’s music, you may notice something missing — guitars. That is by design. Founder and lead singer, Michael Fitzpatrick, expressly set out to create music without the ubiquitous instrument.

In an interview with Waster.com, he said:

“I wanted to see if we could create something that felt like it was full and rich and felt like it could be heard on the radio, without those guitars. … All of a sudden, it becomes more about the rhythm section, the bass and the drums and what the organ’s doing. And it creates this really cool pocket for the vocals to sing in.”

Fitz & The Tantrums’ style has been described as “soul-influenced indie pop,” which would be accurate nowadays. But when they put out their debut, Picking Up the Pieces, in August 2010, it was strictly soul, straight out of Motown.

That song, along with the single “MoneyGrabber”, helped catapult the album out of obscurity and to the top of the Billboard Heatseekers chart in 2011.

The album isn’t bad, but it’s a bit of overkill, and the group starts to sound like a one-trick pony after a while.

The new stuff isn’t that much of a departure from the original sound, but there’s been enough of a makeover to make it much more palatable for a modern audience. So much so that Ellen DeGeneres was recently dancing to “The Walker” during a pre-Oscars commercial.

I suspect this group puts on a raucous live show. And it looks like they’re still out on tour, with several stops in college towns and various festivals planned for the spring and summer.

February 14, 2014

193 – Bad Things

Filed under: B, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 3:31 pm

Before I sat down to write this post, I was really looking forward to sharing my thoughts on this great new band I’d discovered, Bad Things. They released their self-titled debut last month, and it’s filled with a lot of great, catchy indie rock songs.

Unfortunately, when I began to do some research on the group, I quickly discovered some unsettling news.

If you’ve watched even the slightest bit of Olympics coverage or any of the stuff leading up to the Games, you’ve likely been reminded of the existence of Shaun White. He’s been everywhere for the last few months. So much so that I’d begun to get burnt out on the Flying Tomato and definitely experienced some Schadenfreude when he failed to win a medal earlier this week.

Alas, even though his Games are officially over, I’m still being inundated by all things White. This time, with his music. One of the storylines leading up to the Olympics was the fact that he’d begun to branch out from sports and was in a new band, one that would be performing in Sochi.

I never paid attention to any of that. Whenever his music career was mentioned, I immediately tuned out. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention, since the name of his band is Bad Things.

Yep, the band that I’ve been listening to for the past few weeks and really getting into just happens to be Shaun White’s band.

I guess it’s a good thing I fell in love with the group before I knew anything about White’s involvement. As is the case with a lot of famous people who try their hand at another profession, it would have been hard for me to take the group seriously.

While trying to reconcile my feeling over the group, I read this article, and it helped ease the process.

And it doesn’t hurt that the music is really good. With Davis DeLuke on lead vocals and former Augustana member Jared Palomar on bass, Bad Things have some heavy hitters up front. Rounding out the Los Angeles-based band are some of White’s friends from childhood — guitarist Anthony Sanudo and drummer-vocalist Lena Zawaideh.

There’s no obvious band to compare Bad Things to, as they’re something of a conglomeration of a lot of solid indie bands.

And despite my bittersweet feelings on the band’s personnel, I can’t deny the fact that this is a great debut disc. With little to no filler on this album, it’s officially the first nominee for my Best of 2014 list.

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.

October 6, 2013

177 – Wildcat! Wildcat!

Filed under: Los Angeles, W — assman41 @ 1:37 pm

Generally, I don’t like to write about a band until it has put out at least one proper full-length album. That way, you get a better feel for its sound, rather than just hearing a few choice tracks on an early EP.

However, that’s becoming a little more difficult as more and more bands choose to drop an EP — or several, in the case of The 1975 — before the inevitable LP. I realize bands have been doing this forever, but I’m referring specifically to groups that clearly have a load of solid songs at the ready but choose instead to slow-play listeners.

Rather than twiddle my thumbs in anticipation, I figured I’d just break my own rule and let you know about Wildcat! Wildcat! An electro-pop trio from Los Angeles, the group put out a self-titled four-track release last month and is tentatively scheduled to drop a full-length by the end of the year.

Judging by the first few songs, the LP has the makings of being top-notch.

Despite the band’s in-your-face name, it’s actually relatively laid back. Friends since middle school, Jesse Taylor (vocals, bass), Michael Wilson (vocals, keyboard) and Jesse Carmichael (vocals, drums) have a sound that would best be described as a toned-down version of MGMT or Passion Pit.

The group, which has only been a proper band for less than two years, has recently opened for such acts as Alt-J and Portugal. The Man — if that gives you another hint at its sound.

And with that, I resume twiddling my thumbs as I wait patiently for the full-length release.

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.

June 8, 2013

162 – Blondfire

Filed under: B, Los Angeles — assman41 @ 2:54 am

When I first discovered Blondfire via the SXSW 2012 torrent, I thought for sure I’d found my next favorite band. But after eventually listening to some more of their songs, it appeared as though they were nothing but a one-hit wonder.

Fast-forward more than a year, when my favorite local radio station, 91.1 FM WGCS, started playing another song off the band’s 2012 EP, Where the Kids Are, and it became clear that I should give the group a second shot.

As it turns out, Blondfire’s early work was just as mundane as I’d originally thought. Little more than a Shiny Toy Guns knock-off, the Los Angeles-based brother-sister duo of Bruce and Erica Driscoll stuck to a simple formula of pretty vocals over an electro-pop beat on their 2008 debut full-length My Someday.

The result was a lot of sub-par tunes, with the occasional notable track, such as “Pretty Young Thing”, “All In My Mind” and “L-L-Love”.

But other than those — and interesting backstory — the band had little going for it and was destined for the dustbins of music history.

That is, until they released the single, “Where the Kids Are”, in November 2011. The song received a lot of critical acclaim, and it even made its way into a car commercial, which is still being aired today.

It’s unclear what’s next for Blondfire — besides wrapping up its current tour and playing at Lollapalooza in August — but, with any luck, it will trend closer to their more recent offerings as opposed to their old stuff.

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