Infinite Shuffle

June 12, 2011

72 – The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

Filed under: NYC, P — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Let’s face it, 99.99 percent of music that’s out there at any given time is just a rip-off of some piece of music that came before it.

The key for bands to stand out is to mix their influences enough to sound fresh and not too derivative.

That’s what makes The Pains of Being Pure At Heart so pleasurable to listen to. Their music is dripping with nostalgic sounds of the ’80s and ’90s, but it still sounds new and exciting. Just ask this Amazon review.

Co-opting the best of The Cure and other post-punk/pop bands and combining it with the goodness of shoegaze and fuzz rock, The Pains have created a sound that would make any angsty teenager’s heart skip a beat.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Young Adult Friction

That song was the big single off their 2009 self-titled debut LP that put them on the map as one of the “it” bands of late 2008/early ’09. It included a slew of strong tracks, such as “Hey Paul”, “This Love Is Fucking Right”, “Contender”, “Come Saturday”, “The Tenure Itch” and “A Teenager In Love”, which totally rips off a David Bowie song from the ’80s that I can’t think of.

The album was preceded by a self-titled EP in 2007, which, despite having no real standout tracks, introduced the New York City quartet to the music world as a lo-fi alternative for indie rock fans.

In September 2009, The Pains put out a four-track EP, Higher Than the Stars, which showed the band’s move to a more complex, fine-tuned sound. The disc was highlighted by “Twins” and a very Cure-like title track.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Twins

While the first full-length album had the band’s best singles, the 2011 follow-up, Belong, is the better disc from beginning to end. The songs are tighter, the lo-fi stuff is gone from the production and the band just seems more sure of itself.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Heart In Your Heartbreak

I hope to groove out to the band on the final day of Lollapalooza this year.

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May 8, 2011

68 – Rival Schools

Filed under: NYC, R — assman41 @ 12:01 am

For as long as I’ve been paying attention to music, I’ve always felt that, for the vast majority of bands, there are only a couple of possible career trajectories.

There’s the “bell curve” — where the band has a pretty similarly paced rise to and fall from popularity. Or there’s the “shooting star” path — where a band gets big after its first or second album and then basically falls off the grid.

Sure, some bands can string out their decline a lot longer — like Pearl Jam, U2 and R.E.M. — but the one constant that generally holds true is that the longer a band is active, the further it is from the peak of its greatness.

As far as I was concerned, that was just a fact of life. That is, until I discovered Rival Schools.

— — —

During my recent trip to Indy, I made sure to hit up Luna Music on my way out of town. The first time I visited a year ago, I found out about Two Door Cinema Club. Needless to say, I was eager to see what new band I would discover on this trip.

Bouncing from one listening station to another, I heard some good music, but nothing really caught my ear until I put on a disc by Rival Schools called Pedals. I’d never heard of the band, but I liked the name and figured I’d give it a spin. I was immediately welcomed by catchy rock-pop that sounded both new and familiar at the same time.

Since purchasing it, I’d listened to Pedals about five or six times but still couldn’t put into words what I thought of it or why I liked it. So I headed over to Amazon to see what other fans were saying about the album.

And that’s when I found out about the band’s past.

— — —

Apparently, Rival Schools was something of a hardcore supergroup when it formed in 1999. The band, based out of New York City, consisted of Walter Schreifels on vocals and guitar, Ian Love on guitar, Cache Tolman on bass and Sam Siegler on drums. According to Wikipedia, the various members had come from such ’80s and ’90s hardcore bands as Gorilla Biscuits (Schreifels), CIV (Siegler), Youth of Today (Schreifels and Siegler) and Iceburn (Tolman).

The band’s awesome name — as well as the title of its first album — came from a video game called Rival Schools: United By Fate. After releasing an EP, the group put out its debut, United By Fate, in 2001.

The band dissolved within a couple of years, but, despite only releasing the one album, Rival Schools eventually became regarded as an influential force in the post-hardcore scene.

The various members all went on to do their own thing for much of the Aughts before eventually coming together again in 2008. They performed at a handful of festivals overseas and in the States and eventually headed into the studio to work on a new album.

Finally, after nearly 10 years of waiting, fans were treated to new music when the band released the single “Shot After Shot” in November 2010. Then came Pedals in March of this year.

And this is where my previously held philosophy on career arcs is shattered. The album the band put out in 2011 is way better than what it released a decade earlier. In fact, it’s almost like listening to two different bands.

I suppose that’s to be somewhat expected. With most bands that stay together for the long haul, you’re able to hear the gradual progression of their evolving sound. Since Rival Schools don’t have anything to bridge the gap, their transition seems much more abrupt.

It’s a good thing I didn’t hear United By Fate when it originally came out, as the post-hardcore sound rubs me the wrong way and I probably would’ve written off the band and never cared about any subsequent releases.

But as it were, I’m definitely digging their current alt-rock sound that I’m going to dub “post-emo.”

The funny thing is that the music the band is making today reminds me a lot of the stuff I listened to around the turn of the century. The one group that seems most comparable is Jimmy Eat World. You can hear their sound on such tracks as “Racing To Red Lights”, “A Parts For B Actors”, “Big Waves” and “The Ghost Is Out There”.

Rivals Schools – A Parts For B Actors

Most, if not all, of the tracks here conjure up memories of the best parts of the early ’00s — those that never got old or dated. I can definitely imagine listening to “Wring It Out” or “69 Guns” or “Small Doses” while hanging out in my dorm room.

Rivals Schools – Small Doses

The group is doing some touring now and will even be at Lollapalooza this year.

And here’s to hoping that fans don’t have to wait another 10 years for the band to put out new music.

August 22, 2010

39 – School of Seven Bells

Filed under: NYC, S — assman41 @ 12:01 am

On the way to work one recent afternoon, I heard a song during David Dye’s “World Cafe” program that got me very intrigued. I kept trying to pick out one or two lines so I could memorize them and do a search online once I got in the office.

Thankfully, Mr. Dye came to my rescue and let me know the song was “Windstorm”, the first single off School of Seven Bells’ second album, Disconnect From Desire.

SVIIB (that’s their preferred acronym) will always hold a special place in my mind because their song, “Iamundernodisguise”, was one of the first tracks I downloaded upon purchasing my new laptop a couple of years ago.

Listening to their debut album, Alpinisms, the best description of their sound that I could come up with was, “it’s as if Imogen Heap and Thom Yorke had a baby.” Every song is loaded with ethereal, dreamy pop that takes the listener to a higher plane of existence.

While the band itself sounds like it might be a party of one, it’s actually a trio — made up of Benjamin Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines, and identical twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. While the Deheza gals let their voices soar, Curtis sticks to lead guitar and manipulating various electronic devices.

Although the vocals can often be hard to make out, they’re the most important part of the song. According to their Wikipedia page, the group comes up with the lyrics first, and everything else is secondary.

On SVIIB’s latest album, which came out July 13, the vocals are still prominent, but the band turns up the electronica on just about every track.

If you’re interested in seeing them live, the group will be touring throughout September and October all over the U.S.

School of Seven Bells – Half Asleep

June 13, 2010

31 – MGMT

Filed under: M, NYC — assman41 @ 8:01 pm

I’m really not sure what to think of MGMT. They put out some very catchy songs on their 2008 debut album, Oracular Spectacular. But overall, I feel like they are an acquired taste — somewhere in the vein of The Flaming Lips, but less experimental-sounding.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you probably have very indie leanings when it comes to your musical leanings and have probably already heard of the New York City duo.

I was hooked when I heard the opening strains of “Electric Feel” — as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t like the opening and closing melody on that song, you’re not human.

Their first single, “Time To Pretend”, was a solid hit as well, but it wasn’t until “Kids” hit the airwaves that they really started to get a following.

Those three songs helped propel Oracular Spectacular onto many a “Best of 2008” list, including my own.

The album itself had a lot of psychedelic influences — as you could probably have guessed by the title — but it was countered by a healthy dose of electronica and pop that made it easier to digest.

The band’s second album, Congratulations, which came out last month, has a whole slew of different sounds emanating from it. Early on the disc, MGMT seems to be channeling more of a ’60s-style psychedelia, something that sounds like a mixture of The Flaming Lips and The Polyphonic Spree.

But then, about halfway through, things take a much more mellow tone. So much so, that the sixth track, “Siberian Breaks”, literally lulled me to sleep — hence the tardiness of this week’s post. That opus, which clocks in at a robust 12 minutes, 10 seconds, is really like four or five vastly different songs rolled into one.

It’s followed by “Brian Eno”, which I would consider my favorite track on the album.

Overall, Congratulations has a lot going on, and the casual MGMT fan might not even realize they’re listening to the same band that put out Oracular Spectacular. But fear not, it’s a quality album — and like its predecessor, it takes a little time to get used to.

P.S. I’ll be seeing MGMT live in Chicago on Friday. Hopefully I get my concert review completed in a more timely manner than this review.

May 9, 2010

Outroversion threeplay #2

Filed under: F, NYC, Outroversion, Sweden, U — assman41 @ 6:01 am

Despite having not checked out the website as much lately, the Outroversion blog is still a gold mine for great new music. Here are three more bands I discovered through the site, including one I probably would rather not have.

UUVVWWZ

This band has pretentious written all over it. The first time I heard UUVVWWZ (pronounced “Double U … Double V … Double W … Z”), I thought it sounded like Belle & Sebastian or Stereolab fronted by a riot grrl. On second listen, it’s probably closer to Deerhoof, which, as far as I’m concerned, is not a good thing.

On its self-titled debut album that came out in July 2009, the band alternates between misguided and annoying. Lead singer Teal Gardner keeps getting in her own way. She and the band have the potential to make some decent music, but instead, she sings grating, bratty vocals over instruments that seem to have no clear path.

But to prove that listening to this album more than once wasn’t a total waste of time, I did sorta like the opening track.

UUVVWWZ – Berry Can

Fine Arts Showcase

One of many bands fronted by Gustaf Kjellvander, this Swedish outfit is unabashedly a post-punk band, through and through.

With Kjellvander channeling the vocal stylings of Ian Curtis and Peter Murphy, The Fine Arts Showcase encapsulate all the best qualities of the early goth sound — including the deep, haunting vocals and the heavy synth beats.

Formed in 2003, the band has churned out four full-length albums, most recently of which was last year’s Dolophine Smile.

Their whole catalog is pretty strong, but these are the first two songs I heard through the Outroversion blog, and they’re still my favorites, by far.

The Fine Arts Showcase – Chemical Girl

Freelance Whales

Of the three bands reviewed in this post, Freelance Whales is the only one I’ve seen mentioned by other sources. The New York City group experimented with a hodgepodge of instruments on this year’s debut album, Weathervanes, and in the end, produced a sound that conjured up Postal Service and Owl City.

What those two acts have in common is that one is a Ben Gibbard side project and the other just sounds like one. Freelance Whales falls into the latter category, creating an alternate universe in which Mr. Gibbard has taken up new instruments, such as the banjo, xylophone and tambourine.

This group is a definite must for anybody who’s still waiting on that never-gonna-happen Postal Service follow-up.

Freelance Whales – Starring

April 18, 2010

24 – Vampire Weekend

Filed under: NYC, V — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I realize most, if not all, of you are well aware of Vampire Weekend, but I’ve been kinda busy this week and am up against a deadline, so I don’t have time to discover a lesser-known artist.

Vampire Weekend broke onto the indie scene in 2007 with a self-titled EP and had already become a hipster’s wet dream before releasing their first full-length album (also self-titled) in January 2008. With their Peter Gabriel-like mix of rock, folk and African beats, the New York City quartet was unlike anything being played at the time.

Their sound might’ve been something of an acquired taste, but that didn’t stop them from putting out numerous catchy songs, including “Oxford Comma”, “A-Punk”, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”.

The initial success led to immense hype as they prepared to release their follow-up, Contra, in January of this year. Despite everyone clamoring for its arrival, it took me awhile to finally listen to it. Mostly, all the hype inevitably soured me on wanting to like it, and the first track I heard, “Horchata”, rubbed me the wrong way.

I was also delayed by the fact that I couldn’t find it anywhere online to illegally download and was eventually forced to — gulp! — actually purchase the hard copy.

I probably would’ve waited longer until I could get it for free, but I had agreed to see them in concert and needed to actually hear the album beforehand. I was a little concerned with seeing them live, because I didn’t think their sound would translate well to the stage. But I was dead wrong. They totally rocked my socks off.

Their latest album has definitely grown on me, with such strong tracks as “Cousins”, “Diplomat’s Son” and “Giving Up the Gun”. Who knows, I might even end up being one of those bloggers who are foaming at the mouth in anticipation of their third album.

Now, following a suggestion from one of my loyal readers, I thought I’d embed some videos instead of just songs.

Here’s one from each of their albums. Enjoy the cameos in the latter.

February 7, 2010

Outroversion threeplay #1

Filed under: England, F, NYC, Outroversion, Sweden, T — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Shortly after beginning this blog, I stumbled upon Outroversion, and it quickly became my go-to music blog — especially for stuff from across the pond.

I have since downloaded many an album and track from the site, most of which I haven’t even listened to yet. But during a recent trip home, I had plenty of time to finally delve into my iPod, and here are three solid acts that I probably never would’ve discovered if it weren’t for Simon’s offerings.

Frank Turner

I wasn’t sure of the best way to describe Turner. But then I saw on his Wikipedia page that his music falls into the “folk/punk” category. While those two genres seem pretty disparate, that’s actually a perfect description of the sound on his third and most recent album, Poetry of the Deed.

The first couple songs, he’s sort of introducing himself before he seems to find his rhythm. From Track 3 on, I was reminded of Dexter Holland’s vocals from The Offspring’s single a few years ago, “Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?” It’s fitting since Turner considers The Offspring a huge influence and toured with them throughout Europe in 2009.

His songs have a lot of Irish trad/punk/rock vibes, so it’s no surprise he also recently toured with Flogging Molly.

Here’s one of his least punkish songs …

Frank Turner – Sunday Nights

First Aid Kit

The only comparison that really came to mind while listening to this Swedish duo’s Drunken Trees EP was Joanna Newsom fronting the Fleet Foxes. Coincidentally, one of the singers is named Johanna and they cover a Fleet Foxes song on the disc.

Considering my annoyance with Ms. Newsom, that might sound like something of an insult, but it actually works here. Sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg don’t go off into a bunch of crazy-sound-filled vocal solos. They stick to the music and we’re all the better for it.

They just released their first full-length album, The Big Black & The Blue, in late January.

Here’s the song that first got them noticed by Swedish radio stations …

First Aid Kit – Tangerine

fun.

Of the three bands listed here, fun. is the only one I’ve actually seen other music bloggers mention as well.

The trio from New York City has a solid pedigree and is something of a supergroup. fun. formed when Nate Ruess’s band The Format split up and he joined forces with Andrew Dost (Anathallo) and Jack Antonoff (Steel Train) in early 2008.

After listening to the band’s debut album, Aim and Ignite, the only thing I could think of was Mika — for those of you not familiar with him, imagine Freddie Mercury at his most flamboyant.

But upon listening to the disc again, I realized fun. has a pretty full, robust sound, with all three members making notable contributions.

They seem to be at their strongest and most theatrical on this single …

fun. – All the Pretty Girls

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