Infinite Shuffle

February 20, 2011

NPR threeplay

Filed under: A, Austin, Chicago, O, Pasadena Calif., S — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I was all set to resume writing my usual full-length band posts this week, but then I started listening to a bunch of stuff I’d found through NPR’s various outlets, and I decided I just had to share the wealth.

I have relayed, many a time on this blog, my affinity for NPR’s music feeds — whether it be the All Songs Considered podcast or the Song of the Day e-mail — and both of those contributed to my discovering the about-to-be-discussed bands. In fact, NPR was directly responsible for the creation of one of these groups.

Oh No Oh My

I originally set out to do a full post exclusively on this four-piece from Austin. But then I decided I didn’t have enough to say about them to warrant a lengthy review.

That’s not to say Oh No Oh My isn’t any good. Just the opposite in fact. These guys have been around since 2004, and in that time have honed their sound into some solid indie/pop/folk that is quite pleasing to the ears.

According to their Wikipedia page, all the members can play at least three instruments, and, in most cases, many more.

Despite being around for a while, they just released their second full-length album, People Problems, last month. It’s full of songs that were made for chilling out and occasionally bobbing your head to.

Several of the songs conjure up memories of Ben Folds Five, especially “There Will Be Bones”, “So I Took You” and “Brains”, which is the song that I first heard via NPR’s Song of the Day.

But my favorite track, “You Were Right”, doesn’t really provide a good comparison. It’s just a really tune.

Oh No Oh My – You Were Right

Apex Manor

If it wasn’t for a post by Carrie Brownstein on NPR’s Monitor Mix blog, then Apex Manor may have never come into existence.

In a post on a random Friday in late 2009, Brownstein called on musicians to write and record a song over the weekend.

One artist who answered that call to arms was Ross Flournoy, former frontman of since-disbanded The Broken West. He recorded the song “Under the Gun” and sent it in. Suddenly inspired, Flournoy wrote two dozen more songs.

Fast-forward to just a few weeks ago when Flournoy and thee new bandmates, under the moniker Apex Manor, released the 10-track disc, The Year of Magical Drinking — the title being an overt allusion to the Joan Didion book The Year of Magical Thinking.

I just heard the whole backstory on a recent All Songs Considered podcast, which included the album’s opening track, “Southern Decline”, my favorite on the disc.

Not knowing much of anything about The Broken West, I can’t really compare or contrast the two bands. What I can say is that the Pasadena-based Apex Manor put out solid, vocals-driven indie-folk/pop.

Besides the opener, my other favorite track is “Burn Me Alive”. Half of the instrumentation reminds me of The XX, but with a whole other layer added.

Apex Manor – Burn Me Alive

Other songs that stood out were “The Party Line”, “Teenage Blood”, “Holy Roller”, and “Coming To”.

Here’s the song that got the whole ball rolling.

Apex Manor – Under the Gun

Smith Westerns

Unlike the above two bands, Smith Westerns’ musical roots don’t run quite as deep. The quartet of college-aged kids from Chicago started making music together as high schoolers in 2007. And like a lot of high school bands, their music was pretty awful.

Eventually, they put out their self-titled debut in June 2009. It was heavily influenced by Nuggets-style garage and psychedelia. When I heard the album, I was immediately turned off.

But then I heard a track from their recently released follow-up album, Dye It Blonde, on another All Songs Considered podcast.

Listening to the album, it’s clear that they’re still stuck in the ’60s and ’70s, but they’ve moved on to a different set of influences. Practically every one of the 10 tracks on the disc sound like a mix between The Beatles and ’70s radio rock.

Smith Westerns – All Die Young

It was as if, after splitting up, the Fab Four had secretly joined forces with Nazareth and put out an album together. In fact, the whole time I was listening to it, I kept thinking these songs would’ve been great on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack.

There weren’t necessarily a lot of standout tracks — just a lot of pretty good ones. Here’s my personal favorite.

Smith Westerns – Only One

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