Infinite Shuffle

February 6, 2015

211 – PHOX

Filed under: Baraboo Wis., Madtown Musings, P — assman41 @ 4:05 pm

I’ve always dreamed of living in a city with a burgeoning music scene. Going somewhere thriving such as Portland, Austin, Seattle or Nashville would be great, but even better is the possibility of landing in a city where the indie scene is either in its infancy or adolescence.

It appears as though my wish may have finally been granted. Just a few months before I arrived in my new home of Madison, Wis., the city’s first breakout act, PHOX, released its self-titled debut album in June.

The group received plenty of buzz from top tastemakers and earned some best-of-the-year nods. And deservedly so.

The group, which is actually based an hour north of here in Baraboo — just outside of tourist trap Wisconsin Dells — officially formed in the spring of 2011 when singer Monica Martin joined a collection of musicians for what was supposed to be a one-off performance at a local show.

Fast-forward nearly four years, and the group has released a pair of EPs, opened for such bands as Blitzen Trapper and The Lumineers and recorded its LP in Justin Vernon’s home studio in Eau Claire, Wis.

The music itself revolves around Martin’s stirring lyrics and voice, backed by solid instrumentation from Davey Roberts (drums), Matt Roberts (keyboard), Jason Krunnfusz (bass), Matthew Holmen and Zach Johnston.

Martin’s voice bares strong similarity to Imogen Heap, but there are also traces of Leslie Feist, Zola Jesus (another Wisconsin native) and the Haim sisters.

PHOX are currently touring the eastern half of the country before hitting the festival scene this spring and summer, where they’re sure to see their fan base grow exponentially.

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June 28, 2014

209 – Ponychase

Filed under: Nashville, P — assman41 @ 12:24 pm

While looking for a new, permanent site to stream music following the demise of MOG, I decided to use Bandcamp during the interim. It’s a site that has been paying big dividends for me, but one that I’d never taken full advantage of.

Rather than just include a couple of videos for a band, it allows me the ability to embed an entire album stream in my posts. Besides that, I’d used it often to easily listen to full catalogs from bands.

But recently I tried something new on Bandcamp — searching for new acts. After bouncing around the site a bit, I stumbled across the “Fan Spotlight” section and saw this review by Abby Holmes regarding the band Ponychase and its debut album, Parade of Youth:

“Friends” is like a song that plays at the end of an ’80s romantic comedy/drama when the leads rush to each other and do a spin-kiss. And that feeling you get when you see those two characters is exactly the feeling you get while playing this album.

She’s right. But that description would be apt for the whole album, not just its second track.

The vibe is there from the beginning on the opening title track all the way through to closer “Melissa”. It’s like the soundtrack to the teenage years for anyone who had a Brat Pack poster on his or her wall.

Photo credit: Patrick Rodgers (http://instagram.com/p/N5Lxk4Ij0Q/)

Photo credit: Patrick Rodgers (http://instagram.com/p/N5Lxk4Ij0Q/)

And just the like the album, the band itself is jam-packed full of awesome. The Nashville-based quartet is something of a Music City supergroup. It all starts with singer/songwriter Jordan Caress, who honed her skills as a multi-instrumentalist in backing bands for Caitlin Rose, Tristen and others.

Joining Caress are her brother, Alex (Little Bandit), who churns out spot-on nostalgia via the synthesizers, Beth “EG” Cameron (Forget Cassettes) on guitar and Brian Siskind (Fognode, Good Rester) on drums.

On “Resurrected”, another strong track, the opening notes almost mimic those of David Lee Roth’s take on “California Girls”. But it quickly turns in to a slow, shoegazey tune that would fit well on a Lykke Li album.

The sugary sweet sounds belie the melancholic tone of the lyrics that describe the struggle of growing up as an LGBT teenager. Like in “House in the Valley”, where Jordan yearns “to live in a house in the valley, where my parents and my teachers can’t find me” and trying to “heal” her “disease.”

The full-length album came out this past March, and was preceded by a self-titled EP in November 2012 that acts as a great appetizer to the main course.

Besides Bandcamp, Facebook and Twitter, Ponychase don’t seem to have an official website. And it doesn’t appear that they are touring at the moment. But you probably have a decent chance of catching them if you happen to be spending some time in Nashville.

May 18, 2014

206 – Protomartyr

Filed under: Detroit, P — assman41 @ 11:17 am

The hardest part about describing a band such as Protomartyr is that it channels so many different influences into its music at any given time.

At their most catchy, the four dudes from Detroit create an enviable mix of lo-fi, shoegaze and post-punk — imagine Cloud Nothings meet Lower Dens.

That is “Come & See”, a track off Protomartyr’s sophomore album, Under Color of Official Right, which dropped in early April. The disc is 14 songs strong and touches on all the best elements of indie rock. (Here’s a link to “Maidenhead“, the album’s opening track. Click it; it’s worth the effort.)

Lead singer Joe Casey occasionally channels his inner Ian Curtis, particularly on “Ain’t So Simple”. At other times throughout the album — such as on “Trust Me Billy” and “What the Wall Said” — Casey’s vocal delivery conjures memories of Julian Casablancas during the early days of The Strokes.

Other comparable bands that are often mentioned in reviews of Protomartyr include Pere Ubu, The Fall, Wire, Editors and Interpol. But while they clearly sound similar to many of these bands, they’re also distinct enough to stand out on their own with a style that could only have been created here and now.

Originally a duo named Butt Babies, the band eventually morphed into a quartet with a new moniker before releasing its debut, No Passion All Technique, in 2012. The songs here are definitely more raw than the newer offerings, but there is still enough nuance and craftsmanship to hint at the potential of the band.

The album opens with several pure punk tracks before eventually making its way to “Three Swallows”, a slower tune focused on drinking. But fear not, the rest of the disc is filled with Casey’s old-school, sing-songy punk sneering.

Protomartyr are currently on the West Coast and will make their way across the country this summer.

August 10, 2013

169 – Pickwick

Filed under: P, Seattle — assman41 @ 3:16 am

Do you have a chore around the house that you’ve been putting off for a while? Just put Pickwick on your stereo and marvel at how easily and quickly you finish said task.

The Seattle-based band’s 2013 debut full-length, Can’t Take Medicine, is the perfect soundtrack to an evening at home. Whether you’re preparing dinner, eating by candlelight, doing the dishes or relaxing with a glass of wine, this a fine accompaniment.

Filled with soulful indie-rock, this album sounds like the Black Keys decided to triple the size of their roster and take their music from the garage into the bedroom. In fact, the album was recorded in the band’s living room to an 8-track in order to maintain a raw sound.

Listening to the disc conjures up other acts, such as Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr.

Pickwick has become a well-known commodity in the Northwest, playing to sold-out venues all over Washington and Oregon. But they have yet to make a name for themselves nationally.

A recent stand-out set at the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle should help expand their fanbase, but Pickwick will probably have to rely on word-of-mouth for the time being.

One way to spread the word is to hook up with and established indie darling, which is what they did when they joined forces with Sharon Van Etten on “Lady Luck”, a Richard Swift cover.

July 24, 2013

Overrated threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, England, I, Las Vegas, P, S — assman41 @ 2:26 am

A number of bands have hit the scene in the last year or so that have gained a great deal of hype — some of them perhaps undeservedly so.

Here’s a look at three groups that are better on paper than they are on record.

Savages

An all-girl quartet from London that mixes the sass of Siouxsie and the Banshees with the post-punk ethos of Joy Division.

It sounds like a can’t-miss formula. Unfortunately, Savages missed the mark on their debut release, Silence Yourself, which came out in May of this year.

Instead of an awesome hybrid of two seminal bands, Savages come across as something of a collection of art-rock posers.

There will definitely be a swath of people who fall head over heels for this group, but there will be a lot more that are turned off by lead singer Jehnny Beth’s poor attempt at mimicking Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Parquet Courts

I had never heard of Parquet Courts before reading a blurb in Rolling Stone, which is not necessarily a good thing in my book. And after listening to their debut full-length, 2012’s Light Up Gold, it seems clear why that rag would be all about the group.

Based in Brooklyn, the indie-punk quartet finds its influence in the DIY punk bands of the early ’80s. Unfortunately, rather than using those bands as muses, Parquet Courts seem content to simply mimic them. The result is an album full of derivative tunes.

The music isn’t horrible, but the time you waste listening to it would be better spent looking into Husker Du or The Replacements or any of a number of their counterparts.

By the way, when the album finished playing on MOG, it went directly to a Nickelback song. If that’s not a warning sign, I don’t know what is.

Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons have always rubbed me the wrong way ever since they started gaining buzz last year with the release of their full-length debut, Night Visions. Part of it was probably the fact that I was constantly being besieged with their ads on Facebook.

But their music is just generic electro-pop/rock. They’re lumped in with similar groups such as Grouplove, Young The Giant, Walk the Moon and Neon Trees. But they clearly belong on the less-talented end of that spectrum.

Granted, they have one really good song in “It’s Time” and another decent one in “Hear Me”, but other than that, Imagine Dragons aren’t really worth the time or effort.

After reading that several band members hail from Utah and attended Brigham Young University and that the group won a battle of the bands at BYU, it makes more sense as to why the music seems so vanilla.

Despite transplanting to Las Vegas, they still lack much flair.

January 9, 2013

2012 threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, D, England, P, Seattle, T — assman41 @ 10:16 pm

Since I spent much of my last few weeks focusing on the best stuff I’d heard during the past year, I wasn’t able to listen to too much new music.

But as I often do in January, I checked out several of the albums that I’d seen on others’ end-of-the-year lists but were totally foreign to me.

Here are three more bands who put out an above-average disc last year.

DIIV

DIIV is the brainchild of Zachary Cole Smith, a member of Beach Fossils who decided to try his hand at the whole solo thing.

Originally named Dive, this Brooklyn-based outfit takes very dream-pop sound of Beach Fossils and covers it in a heavy, dark shade of gloss. The songs on the 2012 debut, Oshin, are shoegaze with an electro twinge.

TOY

I’ve only listened to the self-titled album once, so I’m not totally sold on TOY. This London-based quintet fills its songs with distortion, but it doesn’t drown out the solid vocals or instrumentation.

Combining the best of shoegaze and psychedelia, TOY churns out some very droning, hypnotic tunes that are likely to put you to sleep.

Perfume Genius

The alter ego of Seattle resident Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius is basically, at its core, just a dude and his piano. But Hadreas’ voice is so beautiful and he adds enough other layers that the music never gets boring.

Hadreas started recording songs after moving from New York to Washington, and he posted his work on MySpace. He was soon discovered by the British band Los Campesinos! and signed to their label.

Since then, Perfume Genius has released two albums — 2010’s Learning and last year’s Put Your Back N 2 It, the latter receiving plenty of critical praise.

September 8, 2011

82 – Portugal. The Man

Filed under: P, Portland — assman41 @ 4:08 pm

Usually, by the time I sit down to write about a band, I’ve formed some sort of opinion about it, one way or another.

But after multiple listens to several albums by Portugal. The Man, I’m still not sure where I stand on the group. The four-piece from Portland puts out some quality music, but it doesn’t exactly grab me like I wish it would.

The difficulty in embracing the group’s sound is that it fluctuates through different genres while being rooted in progressive, psychedelic rock.

As I typed those words, I was listening to a song that perfectly encapsulated that ethos — “My Mind”, from the 2007 album, Church Mouth.

Portugal. The Man – My Mind

Portugal. The Man formed in 2002 in Wasilla, Alaska. They moved to Portland to be a part of the burgeoning music scene there — and presumably to get far away from the Palin family.

They put out their debut full-length disc, Waiter: “You Vultures!”, in 2006 and have released at least one album each year since.

“Ever since we first started, this is exactly what we wanted to do,” said lead singer John Baldwin Gourley, according to the band bio on Amazon. “An album a year, tour, and always challenge ourselves by pushing in different directions and trying to do things we haven’t done before.”

In 2009, they had a pair of releases on the same day — The Satanic Satanist and The Majestic Majesty. The former includes the single, “People Say”, which I heard for the first time earlier this year. The first couple of listens, I thought maybe Oasis had reunited.

Portugal. The Man – People Say

This past July, the group put out its seventh full-length disc, In the Mountain in the Cloud. I picked it up at a record store during a recent trip to St. Louis, and, having listened to four of the band’s albums, I can say it’s definitely the best and most accessible to date.

Judging by the band’s name and album artwork, it’s clear the members are a little off the beaten path. And that shows up in the rather lengthy titles given to many of the tracks on the latest album.

The strongest songs include “Everything You See (Kids Count Hallelujahs)”, “Floating (Time Isn’t Working My Side)”, “Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now)” and “Share With Me the Sun”.

But it’s the opening track that grabbed my attention immediately while hearing it at a listening station. “So American” sounds like something straight out of ’70s prog-rock — maybe similar to Rush, but probably more like some other band I can’t think of.

Portugal. The Man – So American

August 26, 2011

81 – The Phoenix Foundation

Filed under: New Zealand, P — assman41 @ 2:42 pm

With a name like The Phoenix Foundation, it doesn’t matter how good or bad your music is, you’re assured of maintaining at least a moderate level of indie cred.

As it turns out, this four-piece from Wellington, New Zealand, just happens to make some pretty catchy progressive indie-rock.

Formed in 1997 while the core members were still in high school, The Phoenix Foundation take their name from cult-favorite TV show, “MacGyver” – it’s the name of the mysterious organization that employs the title character.

Starting with three members and doubling in size a few years later, the band put out its first full-length album, Horsepower, in 2003. It included such singles as “This Charming Van” and “Let Me Die a Woman”.

Two years later came Pegasus, which went gold in New Zealand. By 2007, with their popularity growing, The Phoenix Foundation had signed with a U.S. label and released Happy Ending. Its big single is “Bright Grey” — which is a very solid song — but my favorite is, by far, “40 Years”.

The Phoenix Foundation – 40 Years

This paved the way for what is easily the band’s best album to date, 2010’s Buffalo. It’s loaded with great songs from all sorts of influences. Some of the top tracks are “Pot” and “Bitte Bitte”. But they pale in comparison to the title track.

The Phoenix Foundation – Buffalo

Another great song on the disc is “Orange & Mango”, which displays a totally different version of the band’s sound that can be heard on a few of its songs. It harkens back to the days of ’70s AM radio.

The Phoenix Foundation – Orange & Mango

In addition to the albums and three EP releases, The Phoenix Foundation have provided original soundtracks to two different New Zealand-based movies — 2007’s Eagle Vs. Shark and 2010’s Boy.

It doesn’t seem as if they have ever toured the United States. But if they ever do make their way over here, I’ll be sure to snatch up some tickets.

August 17, 2011

80 – Pete and The Pirates

Filed under: England, P — assman41 @ 6:33 pm

80 – Pete and the Pirates

Sounding like any number of indie-rock/pop bands from across the pond, Pete & The Pirates aren’t necessarily going to be winning any awards for originality. But that doesn’t make their music any less enjoyable.

The five-piece from Reading formed in 2006, releasing their first single the next year and their first album, Little Death, in February 2008. The disc is full of decent tracks, as well as a few standouts, including “Knots” and “Mr. Understanding” — the latter can be heard prominently during the first few seasons of the hilarious British comedy, The Inbetweeners.

Pete & The Pirates – Mr. Understanding

While most bands today seem to put out a new album every couple of years, P&TP waited a little longer, not releasing their follow-up until May of this year. During its hiatus, the band, apparently, did some experimenting with its sound.

The new album, One Thousand Pictures, ventures into several different genres. The opening track, “Can’t Fish”, has a psychedelic feel, and, vocally, it’s one of several songs on the disc that has a slight She Wants Revenge vibe.

A lot of the songs are slower than the first album, including “Cold Black Kitty”, “Washing Powder”, “Blood Gets Thin” and “Shotgun”.

While this disc is a little harder to get into, a lot of the songs are decent, including “Come To the Bar” — which has a bit of a Devo quality to it but is mildly catchy — and the closing track, “Half Moon Street” — easily the tightest song on the album, it almost sounds like it’s performed by a totally different band.

Pete & The Pirates – Come To the Bar

Pete & The Pirates – Half Moon Street

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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