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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May 4, 2014

205 – Magic Man

Filed under: Boston, M — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I have visited New York City a few times the last couple of years, and I’ve managed to go to at least one indie rock show each time. My favorite was definitely Memorial Day weekend last year when my host and I attended a show that was so “Brooklyn” that it could have been a scene from Girls.

It being New York, there was no shortage of things to do on this particular night. After narrowing it down to two possible shows, we finally picked one not too far from his place in Prospect Lefferts Gardens at The Red Lotus Room.

To give you an idea of how hipster this affair was, the show was a fundraiser for an upcoming solar-powered music and arts festival. As for the venue, it looked like some abandoned warehouse or something similar. There was a dude standing outside the nondescript entrance, and I thought for sure he was gonna ask for the secret password.

Once inside, we found a sparsely decorated space with some mismatched and eclectic furniture and a stage in the corner. I didn’t feel like paying for alcohol, so I chose a carbonated coffee drink that I immediately fell in love with. And after a couple of opening acts — Christina Courtin was good, the other was not memorable — we were treated to a surprisingly solid show from headliner Magic Man.

The Boston-based band hadn’t officially put out any music at the time, so I held off writing about it. Since then, I’ve seen Magic Man pop up from time to time, and it appears that they released an EP, You Are Here, in September.

The indie-synth band definitely has been influenced by The Killers and their brethren. You can hear it on two of their best songs, “Texas” and “Nova Scotia”. Another track, “Waves”, takes that modern electro vibe and makes it sound nostalgic, like something straight out of 1985.

“Every Day” is a relatively catchy tune that, at times, sounds like a male version of HAIM‘s “Forever”.

The one less-than-stellar track here, “Paris”, isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. It’s basically just filler that sounds off compared to the rest of the songs on the release.

Magic Man is heading out on tour this month, supporting Panic! At the Disco. They’ll be traversing the country, so you should consider checking them out. And feel free to leave before the headliner takes the stage.

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.

July 8, 2013

166 – Kacey Musgraves

Filed under: East Texas, M — assman41 @ 3:20 am

The thing about country music is that, for the longest time, it’s been saddled with several stereotypes that tend to turn off the more pretentious of us music fans.

You know what I mean. It’s too conservative or uber-patriotic or influenced by religion. Every song is about guns or trucks or beer. Or it’s about a guy drinking away his sorrows after losing his woman or his dog — or both.

I realize stereotypes are usually nothing more than gross generalizations and that there’s some solid music to be found in the country genre. But at the same time, I’ve already got my hands full in the indie realm and don’t have any desire to stray too far.

But every so often there comes along a twangy act that catches my ear. A few years ago, it was The Band Perry, and before them there was Those Darlins.

And today it’s Kacey Musgraves, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter from East Texas. When I first heard her mentioned on NPR’s “All Songs Considered” podcast late last year, I figured I was getting in on the ground floor with Ms. Musgraves.

Turns out, she’s been doing this whole music thing for more than a decade, having self-released three albums since 2002 when she put out her debut a month shy of her 14th birthday.

But she didn’t land on anyone’s radar until 2007 when she placed seventh on the reality show, Nashville Star. And this past spring she released her fourth full-length album and her first with the support of a record label.

On Same Trailer Different Park, Musgraves shows off the lyrical chops and crooning vocals that landed her several country music award nominations earlier this year.

I couldn’t help but post back-to-back videos. Both songs are so good and filled with clever wordplay and lyrics that seem practically foreign in a country song. From the opening line of “Merry Go ‘Round” — “If you ain’t got two kids by 21, you’re probably gonna die alone.” — to the main theme of “Follow Your Arrow” — “Damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, so might as well just do whatever you want.” — Musgraves takes all the adages and life lessons she learned while growing up and turns them on their head.

There are plenty more great lines scattered throughout the albums on songs such as “Silver Lining” (“If you’re ever gonna find a silver lining, it’s gotta be a cloudy day.”), “My House” and “Step Off”.

There are also some tracks that have a more traditional vibe — such as “Blowin’ Smoke”, “Back On the Map” and “It Is What It Is”. And then there’s “Keep It To Yourself”, which could probably be a hit on every country and pop chart out there if it was ever actually released as a single.

In addition to her own work, Musgraves has helped pen songs for such singers as Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert and Gretchen Wilson and also wrote a song for the Nashville TV soundtrack.

She’s currently on a tour that will take her to the West, Southeast and Northeast before jetting off to Europe in the fall.

From there, her next destination appears to be superstardom.

May 7, 2013

158 – The Mowgli’s

Filed under: Los Angeles, M — assman41 @ 11:31 am

For some of you, it might be difficult to get past the glaringly horrible grammar error in The Mowgli’s name. But if you’re able to quell your inner high school English teacher long enough to listen to the band’s debut EP, then you’ll find a group loaded with endless energy and potential.

The Los Angeles eight-piece doesn’t hold anything back on Love’s Not Dead, which came out in October 2012. On the opening track, “San Francisco”, the group channels The Polyphonic Spree while churning out an instant classic.

They continue their Up With People thing on “The Great Divide”, but with slightly lesser returns.

Then comes the album’s sleeper track, “Time”, which is just as great as “San Francisco”, but for totally different reasons. On this track, The Mowgli’s switch gears, drop all the harmonies — save for one notable line — and become something closer to the Plain White T’s or Okkervil River.

On “Slowly, Slowly”, the band changes gears again with a faster-paced indie-rock tune that wouldn’t sound too out-of-place on a Switchfoot album. But don’t let that comparison twist your stomach into knots. If this is what the band considers filler, it could do worse.

The closer, “Carry Your Will”, is a slow-builder that sounds almost like an indie-Christian rock song, with the band incorporating its signature harmonies throughout.

Overall, the disc is an interesting mix and shows some versatility from the band. And at just under 18 minutes, it’s an easy one to get through. The Mowgli’s hit the road next month and will make their way around the country, including stops at such festivals as Bunbury (Cincinnati), Lollapalooza (Chicago), Bumbershoot (Seattle) and LouFest (St. Louis).

March 19, 2013

151 – My Bloody Valentine

Filed under: Ireland, M — assman41 @ 2:47 pm

During the nearly 3.5 years that I’ve been maintaining this blog, I have written about all sorts of bands. But it has become clear that there are a few genres that tend to stand out. They include airy-fairy dream pop and lo-fi, slightly distorted shoegaze.

And in much of my writing, I’ve often mentioned a few bands as obvious influences to these modern acts. They include Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine and, to a lesser extent, The Jesus and Mary Chain. Alas, my knowledge of these seminal bands is extremely limited, but I know enough to be able to spot their influence.

With My Bloody Valentine ending their 22-year hiatus and releasing the sorta self-titled m b v last month, it seemed like the perfect time to finally delve into their catalog. Thankfully, it wasn’t too extensive, since they’d only put out two albums before disappearing.

Upon listening to the group’s 1988 debut, Isn’t Anything, it was understandable why most fans seem to overlook that album. It was necessarily bad, but it was clear that the band was still honing its craft.

Having a solid appreciation for ’80s music, I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear MBV for the first time back then. They’re so different from anything on the radio then, and I’m sure it was just the kind of off-the-wall sound that a lot of people were searching for at the time.

As far as I’m concerned, hearing it for the first time 25 years after it was birthed, it’s not doing a whole lot for me. There are a few noteworthy songs — “I Can See It (But I Can’t Feel It)”, “Sueisfine” and “(When You Wake) You’re Still In a Dream” — but for the most part, it’s just a bunch of distortion and unintelligible lyrics.

That brings us to 1991 and the release of Loveless, which is considered by many indie music taste-makers to be one of the most important albums ever released. Maybe if I’d heard it when it originally came out I’d have similar feelings. But hearing it in its entirety now for the first time, it’s not that much different from the band’s debut album.

MBV had clearly tightened their sound during the three years between albums and had become more accessible, but, besides a few strong tracks — “Only Shallow” and “When You Sleep” — it sounds like mostly filler.

Even though their music wasn’t for everyone, MBV had clearly opened a new world on the music landscape and basically invented the shoegaze genre. And they helped influence a slew of bands that have come out since — including more modern ones, such as Yuck, A Place To Bury Strangers, The Radio Dept. and The Helio Sequence.

The band’s recent release is said to include several tracks that were recorded in the early ’90s. And you can certainly hear some of that classic MBV sound throughout the album. But interestingly enough, a lot of the new songs sound as if they’ve been influenced by band’s modern descendants.

Gone, for the most part, is the annoying distortion, and in its place is a much more accessible, melodic sound. It’s particularly noticeable on the aptly titled “New You”.

With any luck, fans won’t have to wait another two decades for the Irish quartet to put out another album.

March 8, 2013

149 – Mind Spiders

Filed under: Denton Texas, M — assman41 @ 7:06 am

After listening to Mind Spiders’ catalog a few times, I’ve come to a pretty succinct way to describe them.

“This is the kind of band I want Cloud Nothings to be.”

Now, I’m not totally sure if that makes sense, but I feel it’s at least close to comprehensible.

Cloud Nothings started out as a single dude making music on a computer in his parents’ house and has since blossomed into a full-fledged “garage rock” band. But they seem to operate by just throwing a bunch of stuff together and hoping it sticks. Occasionally, they hit gold, but more often it’s just average at best.

Mind Spiders, on the other hand, seem to set out with a plan of pairing halfway intelligible lyrics with catchy hooks in an effort to create 2-3-minute garage rock gems.

On their sophomore album, 2012’s Meltdown, the Denton, Texas, group manages to pull off this feat more often than not. There is some filler here, but most of the songs will keep listeners from hitting the Skip button.

Among the standouts are “You Are Dead”, “Beat”, “On the Radio”, “More Than You” and “Wait For Us”.

The group had similar beginnings to Cloud Nothings, with Mark Ryan composing the band’s 2011 self-titled first album mostly by himself during a hiatus from a pair of other bands. Once he started receiving requests to play live, he enlisted the help of several other talented musicians, including another guitarist, a bassist, an organist and a pair of drummers who play at the same time.

The debut album was more sporadic in its influences and led to a sloppier sound. But the group has tightened up things on the latest release. While some of the lo-fi qualities have been cleaned up, this music still clearly belongs in someone’s garage.

November 5, 2012

136 – Milo Greene

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

One of the most underrated figures among all of the late-night talk show hosts has to be Carson Daly. Part of that is attributed to his time slot, but more of it is probably due to his formerly douchey public persona. However, since he rejiggered the format of his show several years ago, it’s easily become the hippest, most refreshing thing on late-night television.

The best element of “Last Call With Carson Daly” is the expertly shot concert videos that anchor each show. And it was on a recent episode that I got my first look at the band Milo Greene, whose performance of the song, “1957”, was featured. I had heard the song before on the All Songs Considered podcast and took note of it. But seeing a live version took my appreciation to a whole new level.

The song calls to mind Of Monsters and Men — but only in the male-female harmonies. It is nowhere near as bombastic as their Icelandic counterparts. That being said, the song is probably the fastest-paced track on the album.

For the most part, the group sticks to softer, more heartfelt tunes, filled with swaying harmonies and crescendoing percussion. For comparison’s sake, imagine how Wye Oak might sound if they had twice as many band members.

Speaking of the band’s makeup, it’s a five-piece that hails from Los Angeles — oh, and nobody is named Milo Greene. Besides the drummer, everyone else plays various instruments and shares vocal duties. That not only results in the great harmonies, but it also reduces the chances that any of the songs will sound too similar.

In addition to the aforementioned Icelanders, Milo Greene would fit nicely on a playlist that included Mumford & Sons, The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers and Fleet Foxes.

On the band’s self-titled debut, which dropped in July, there are 13 tracks, but four of those run in the 30-90-second range — and a couple of those are more instrumental in nature. Of the more conventional tracks, there is no real filler. Besides the above two videos, other strong entries include “Take a Step”, “What’s the Matter” and the instrumental “Polaroid”.

June 26, 2011

73 – Motopony

Filed under: M, Seattle — assman41 @ 10:30 pm

It took three listens to their self-titled debut album before I realized who Motopony sounded like. From the soft, airy vocals of Daniel Blue to the light, melodic instrumentation, this Seattle quartet is very reminiscent of Junip.

It’s almost as if Jose Gonzalez and crew had tweaked their sound a little bit then put out a new album. On songs such as “June”, “Seer”, “King of Diamonds”, “God Damn Girl”, “Wake Up” and “27”, Motopony conjure up thoughts of the Swedish geniuses while still managing to retain their own identity.

One reviewer on Amazon.com referred to the band’s sound as “alterna-folk” — a label I will be stealing for future use. On their bio, Motopony lists their sound as “hard-soul/glitch-folk.” They take the Junip sound and amp it up with doses of pop and funk.

The manner in which I discovered the band — via a Facebook ad — is just the latest addition to the long list of ways I’ve found new music. I randomly saw the ad on the side of the page, kinda liked the band’s name and decided to click on it — I assumed I wouldn’t like it at all and it would only be a waste of a few minutes.

The ad took me to a video on YouTube for their big single, “King of Diamonds”.

Needless to say, the video piqued my interest, so I watched a couple more videos then downloaded the album. I think it would be a worthwhile purchase for anyone who likes Junip (duh), Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver or any of the many other folk-pop outfits dotting the indie scene these days.

 

December 25, 2010

57 – Mumford & Sons

Filed under: England, M — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I’m not sure why it took me so long to discuss Mumford & Sons. I first heard about them in early 2009 via the Outroversion blog. I’d heard a couple of songs and liked them, but, for some reason, I never put forth the effort to listen to their full arsenal until about a year later. And, by that time, I felt like my window for “breaking” them had closed.

But, as it turns out, while they’ve been receiving a lot of critical praise following the United States release of their debut album, Sigh No More, there is still a lot of people who’ve never heard of the London indie-folk quartet.

The album dropped in the United Kingdom in October 2009 and landed in the U.S. in February of this year, so some might deem it out of the running for “album of the year” praise. But you know what? Those people are stupid.

There is nary a bad song on this 12-track disc — all are good, some are really good and a few are great — which is why I would deem it the best album of 2010.

According to Wikipedia, the band formed in late 2007, rising out of London’s folk scene with other artists such as Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn and Noah and the Whale — all solid acts, I might add.

Mumford & Sons, which is led vocally by Marcus Mumford, enlists a slew of folksy instruments, including mandolin, banjo, dobro, string bass and accordion. And the members of the band are very versatile, often switching instruments throughout live shows.

While the band can do the slow, swaying folk thing with the best of them, it’s the spurts of rollicking, rocking fire that make their songs so great. Every song in their repertoire is a sine curve of awesomeness … (that one goes out to all of you math nerds).

In addition to the two gems embedded above, other standout songs include “Awake My Soul”, “Roll Away Your Stone”, “After the Storm” and the title track.

Mumford & Sons make a bevy of literary references in their work. The album title and corresponding song include allusions to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the songs “Timeshel” and “Dust Bowl Dance” draw heavily from the John Steinbeck novels East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath.

After tearing up England in 2009, the band has conquered the world this past year, from topping the charts in Australia to selling out a horde of shows in the United States in the fall.

Earlier this month, the boys picked up a pair of Grammy nominations for Best New Artist (aka The Kiss of Death) and Best Rock Song for “Little Lion Man”.

I unfortunately missed them when they came through Chicago a few months ago, so I’m eagerly awaiting their return.

Join me in keeping tabs on the band via its MySpace page and official website.

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