Infinite Shuffle

May 13, 2014

iTunes threeplay

Filed under: C, England, Portland — assman41 @ 2:48 pm

Ever since my iPod went kaput in November, I’ve been listening to music almost exclusively via MOG. While that’s all well and good, I miss being able to pull up all the random stuff I’ve downloaded over the years that is nowhere to be found on that particular site.

That, coupled with the fact that my laptop is running dangerously low on available disk space, has led me to revisit my iTunes library for the first time in months. Among the 15,500 songs, there’s a lot of junk. And a lot of stuff I’ve never even listened to.

So, in the interest of finding “new” music and unclogging my computer, I figured I’d check out some of the mystery bands and see if they’re worth keeping. The results were mixed.

Canterbury

I’m not sure how I came to have Canterbury’s 2009 debut album, Thank You, on my computer, but I’m guessing it had something to do with Simon over at Outroversion.

At various times throughout the album, the five lads from Surrey, England, conjure memories of such bands as Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, All-American Rejects and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. The music is neither horrible nor great but is rather disposable.

Formed in 2005 by several boarding school classmates, the group waited until it had a proper fan base before releasing its first album. Since then, Canterbury have lost a founding member, replaced a drummer and released two more albums — 2012’s Heavy in the Day and Dark Days, which came out this past January and hit No. 1 on the U.K. rock chart.

Whether their sound has improved in that time is up to anyone who deems them worthy of further listens. I do not.

Chew Lips

Unlike Canterbury, I actually remember the name Chew Lips. Alas, that’s all I knew — the name. Apparently, I’d listened to about the first half of their 2010 debut, Unicorn, but I certainly didn’t recall any of it.

That’s probably because of how boring it is. Filled with derivative, electro indie-pop, the album sounds like a slew of others from the genre, with nothing setting it apart.

Formed in 2008 in East London, the duo of singer Alicia “Tigs” Huertas and multi-instrumentalist James Watkins have only released the one full-length album. The group received its share of hype at the time and rode that buzz through a relentless tour schedule.

They’ve put out a number of singles and EPs, remixed some other artists’ songs and had several of their songs remixed. But other than that, it looks like their momentum has officially petered out.

Chromatics

Apparently, Chromatics had an interesting run before landing in my laptop. That includes sizable lineup changes after the release of each of their first two albums, which resulted in a notable shift in sound by the time they released Night Drive in 2007.

No longer a noise-rock group, the band from Portland transformed into a electro-pop foursome.

Then came 2012’s Kill For Love, which took the band even farther from its roots and into a post-punk, post-rock arena.

That title track sounds like something straight out of 1980s Manchester, mixed with a modern ambience. It’s the second song on the album and is preceded by “Into the Black”, an impressive take on the classic Neil Young tune, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black”.

The third track, “Back From the Grave”, is more of the same Joy Division-meets-M83 goodness. But, from there, things start to lose steam.

And by the time the auto-tune kicks in on “These Street Will Never Look the Same” — the sixth of the 17 tracks — there’s no going back. It’s too bad considering the promising start to the album.

  • P.S. Considering I never made it past the letter C, you can bet I’ll be doing several more of these iTunes spring/summer cleaning posts.

January 21, 2014

190 – Wampire

Filed under: Portland, W — assman41 @ 2:44 pm

It’s no secret that I would love to move to Chicago. I’ve been “hinting” at it for years, and the yearning increases every time I make the not-quite-two-hour trek westward.

While there are countless reasons why I wish to reside there — or really any major metropolis for that matter — the overriding factor is the quantity and quality of live music available on any given night.

When I was in my peak concert-going mode a few years ago, I was attending 1-2 shows a month — many of them in the Windy City. Nowadays, I only see a few a year, so I’m much more selective when it comes to the shows I choose to see.

One of my good friends, however, doesn’t have that issue. Living in the city, he can go to a show pretty much any time he wants. And rather than only honing in on a specific band or show to see, he’s been able to put his faith in the booking agent at some of his favorite clubs and see bands he has little or no previous knowledge of.

Just last year, he discovered Little Green Cars when one of his friends suggested they go together. And more recently, he went to a Smith Westerns show and saw Wampire as the opener. Both groups were among his biggest finds of 2013.

As for me, I didn’t catch on to Wampire until the last few weeks when I heard them on a college radio station. And having since listened to more of their music, I have become a believer.

Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps have been making music together since 2001, but they officially formed Wampire in 2007. Having been known for enlivening house parties around Portland with their EDM-tinged sounds, the duo changed direction. And the end result was Curiosity, their debut album that came out in May 2013.

The above song, “The Hearse”, is the opening track, and it gives listeners a pretty good idea of what’s in store — a surprisingly tight mixture of lo-fi electronica, garage psychedelia and jazzy surf-rock.

Some contemporaries that come to mind include MGMT, Of Montreal and Peter Bjorn & John.

November 20, 2013

183 – Blouse

Filed under: B, Portland — assman41 @ 3:43 pm

Well, I tried to get out of my airy-fairy/haunting female vocalist rut, but then I went and listened to Blouse. And lead singer Charlie Hilton just reeled me in with her enchantingly shoegazey voice.

Starting on the decidedly post-punk self-titled debut in 2011, and into this year’s Imperium, Blouse have put out two albums worthy of all the same love bestowed upon such similar acts as Wild Nothing, The XX, Wye Oak, Youth Lagoon and Craft Spells.

The above song is from Blouse and includes a great riff that is very reminiscent of The XX before becoming more complex in the second half. Other solid tracks here include the intro, “Firestarter”, “They Always Fly Away” and “Time Travel”, which appears be jetting back to the mid-’80s and ripping off “Metro” or some other song by Berlin. The rest of the album is filled with a bunch of average to above-average songs that continue to harken back to the ’80s.

Fast forward to this year’s release, and the band has taken on a more sultry persona. Gone, for the most part, are the post-punk guitars and replaced with a mellow, psychedelic — sometimes lo-fi — vibe.

The opening title track sets the tone immediately. But the best song here is “1,000 Years”.

After that, the album relaxes even more and starts to tread on Belle and Sebastian — maybe even Stereolab — territory on such songs as “In a Glass” and “Capote”.

Things pick up again on the back half of the album, which is highlighted by “In a Feeling Like This”. Other notable tracks include “Arrested”, “Trust Me” and “Happy Days”.

While this album fails to reach the precedent set by Blouse, it doesn’t fall too short of the bar and shows that the Portland-based trio has the potential to have a some longevity.

April 2, 2013

153 – The Shins

Filed under: Albuquerque N.M., Portland, S — assman41 @ 3:03 pm

Has another band ever been so positively affected by a movie than The Shins? A couple that come to mind are Simon & Garfunkel with The Graduate and The Bee Gees with Saturday Nigh Fever, but both of those bands were already popular before the movie soundtracks took them to new heights.

As for The Shins, outside of the most in-touch indie kids, nobody had ever heard of the Portland — via Albuquerque, N.M. — group before they had a couple of songs included on the Garden State soundtrack in 2004.

The band’s frontman, James Mercer, must have been pinching himself when Natalie Portman handed Zach Braff a pair of headphones playing “New Slang” and told him the song would change his life.

By the time the movie was released and the band started to acquire a horde of new fans, it had already released a second album, 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow.

Within these first two albums, The Shins’ sound had already become signature — catchy indie rock/pop, with sometimes sad lyrics but always with James Mercer’s high-pitched, almost falsetto voice.

Besides the above clip, other songs from the first album that may have an effect on your life include “Caring Is Creepy”, “Know Your Onion!”, “One By One All Day” and “Weird Divide”. Another track of note is “Pressed In a Book”, simply because of how much Mercer’s voice sounds like Carl “A.C.” Newman’s.

The second album doesn’t have any real standout tracks, but there are some notable ones, such as “Mine’s Not a High Horse”, “Young Pilgrims”, “Pink Bullets” and “Gone For Good”. The album opener, “Kissing the Lipless”, is also strong, but it stands out because of how much the band suddenly sounds like some emo group — like Dashboard Confessional or something.

By the time they released their next album, The Shins were worried about being pigeonholed as “that band from Garden State.” When Wincing the Night Away came out in 2007, the group had taken their sound and added a little more airiness to it. And with it came some of the best music they’ve put out to date.

“Phantom Limb” is probably the best song in their catalog, but “Australia” is a close second. Other strong entries are “Sleeping Lessons” and “Sea Legs”.

In the ensuing years, Mercer ventured into various other avenues, including a rather successful side gig with Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) in the band Broken Bells, which released its critically acclaimed self-titled debut in 2010.

But Mercer eventually returned to the band that put him on the map, except that three-fifths of the roster had been overhauled since the last album. Despite that, in 2012, they put out their fourth album, Port of Morrow, buoyed by the single, “Simple Song”. Other notable tracks include “September” and “No Way Down”.

Besides appearing in a recent episode of “Portlandia”, it’s unclear what Mercer is up to nowadays. But, considering all of his side projects, it certainly must have something to do with music.

January 30, 2013

144 – Black Prairie

Filed under: B, Portland — assman41 @ 7:21 pm

Chances are, if you’ve ever heard of the band, Black Prairie, you know that it consists of several members of The Decemberists. And that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Anyone seeking out Black Prairie and expecting to hear a slightly skewed version of the Portland indie gods that begat them are in for a rude awakening.

That’s not to say you won’t hear the occasional accordion or guitar line and be reminded of Colin Meloy’s crew. The problem is, those are the only sounds that the two bands share.

With Meloy absent from this project, Black Prairie is sorely lacking in the vocals department. Their debut album, 2010’s Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, was almost completely bereft of vocals.

In their place, the five-piece band churns out a form of bluegrass music that has a strong Appalachian feel, but also includes several other influences.

Last year’s follow-up, A Tear in the Eye is a Wound in the Heart, was more accessible, as only six of the 16 tracks were instrumental. On the rest of the album, the vocals were provided by Annalisa Tornfelt of Bearfoot and The Woolwines.

The strongest track, and the one that first introduced me to the band, is “Rock of Ages”.

I worried that it might be the only decent song on the disc, but there are a few more, such as “Nowhere, Massachusetts”, “Richard Manuel” and “Lay Me Down in Tennessee”.

Considering the progress the group has made between its first two albums, I’m not yet ready to write off Black Prairie. Hopefully, they continue to enhance their music vocally and build on their potential on albums to come.

April 29, 2012

112 – Tired Pony

Filed under: Northern Ireland, Portland, T — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Have you ever wondered what Snow Patrol would sound like if they had more of a country tinge?

Of course you haven’t. But now you are. (Ha! I’m totally in your head.)

To extinguish that now-burning question, you need look no further than Tired Pony, the pseudo-supergroup formed in 2009 by Snow Patrol lead singer Gary Lightbody.

While touring with his main band, the native of Northern Ireland expressed his yearning to record a country album. Since it was not in step with Snow Patrol’s ethos, he enlisted the services of various collaborators — including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Belle & Sebastian drummer Richard Colburn — and set up shop in Portland in January 2010.

Out of the weeklong recording session came 10 tracks that would comprise the album, The Place We Ran From, which was released in the United States in September of that year.

The album starts strong with such solid tracks as “Northwestern Skies”, “Point Me at Lost Islands” and “Dead American Writers”. The best song at the front end of the album is “Get On the Road”, which features backup vocals from Zooey Deschanel.

While Lightbody’s very distinct vocals are plastered throughout, the most notable songs at the end of the disc are those where he is absent. On the penultimate track, “The Good Book”, Editors lead singer Tom Smith lends his vocals. And the album’s best track, “I Am a Landslide”, was both written and sung by Iain Archer, a one-time member of Snow Patrol and a solo artist in his own right.

While a follow-up album would be highly anticipated, this is likely just a one-off project for Lightbody, who has said that he just needed to get this stuff out of his system.

If that’s the case, it’d be interesting to see what else he’s got building up inside of him.

March 5, 2012

105 – Nurses

Filed under: N, Portland — assman41 @ 2:19 am

I’ll give this to Nurses, they’re a difficult band to pigeonhole. They’re a mix of several different genres, including pop, soul, folk, electronica and psychedelia.

The best description I found for the group was “psychedelic bubblegum pop.”

Their music is an acquired taste, and I’m not sure I’ve latched on to it just yet.

The above track comes from the Portland trio’s sophomore album — 2009’s Apple’s Acre. Those whiny vocals you hear come from Aaron Chapman and can be found throughout the band’s entire catalog. And they’re the fulcrum between loving and hating this group.

In Pitchfork’s review of the album, the writer describes Nurses’ sound as “the shaggy younger sibling of Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear on a tight budget.” That’s certainly better than anything I could’ve come up with.

The group’s most recent release — 2011’s Dracula — is definitely the most well-rounded thus far. While the songs on Apple’s Acre all kinda run together and sound the same, the tracks on Dracula stand out better and have more nuance.

As I alluded to earlier, I’m not so sure Nurses are my cup of tea. But their sound is not too far from my comfort zone, and I’m confident that at least one person reading this post will fall in love with the band.

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

January 23, 2011

60 – The Helio Sequence

Filed under: H, Portland — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Bands alter their sound all the time, whether it be to gain a bigger audience, because of personnel changes or simply the natural evolution of their music.

The Helio Sequence didn’t really have any say in the matter. The need to make a transition was thrust upon them when lead singer Brandon Summers lost his voice and was forced to learn how to sing again.

Following the 2004 release of their third full-length album, Love and Distance, the band embarked on a six-month tour of the United States and Europe during which Summers’ vocal chords became severely shredded, forcing him into long stretches of silence.

Upon returning to Portland, Summers’ doctor forbade him from singing for almost two months. The result was a person newly dedicated to his health and an artist more intensely focused on his craft.

That passion came out in the band’s next release, 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead. Where the group’s arsenal had previously been filled with long, trippy songs coated in equal parts pop, psychedelia and electronica, a new sound emerged with tighter, more radio-friendly tracks.

The Helio Sequence – Can’t Say No

The Helio Sequence is one of those bands that are hard to pigeon-hole, but the best label currently for their ever-evolving sound might be indie electro-pop with a slight tinge of folk.

The band’s shift actually began on Love and Distance. On its first two albums, Com Plex (2000) and Young Effectuals (2001), the duo relied more on shoegaze and twee pop and some of the fuzz rock of My Bloody Valentine.

But on the third album, the boys from Beaverton (it’s a suburb of Portland), started to rein things in and even incorporated a harmonica on several tracks, including the aptly titled opener, “Harmonica Song”. With that song, and a few others, they add a new bluesy dimension to their sound that is reminiscent of My Morning Jacket.

The Helio Sequence – Harmonica Song

On the latest album, they crank up the beats and take everything to the next level. The disc opens strong with “Lately”, followed by their best track to date, the above-posted “Can’t Say No”.

Other solid offerings include the title track, “Hallelujah” and “You Can Come To Me”.

The Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead

The Helio Sequence channels several influences into this album, including Bob Dylan (on “Shed Your Love” and “Broken Afternoon”) and Modest Mouse (on “Back To This” and “The Captive Mind”). The latter is not surprising considering Weikel did double duty a few years ago, playing drums and keyboards for Modest Mouse for a brief stint in 2003-2004.

For a band that is composed of just two guys and their laptop, they can really bring it in a live setting. I was lucky enough to see them open the five-day “Tomorrow Never Knows” festival at Lincoln Hall in Chicago earlier this month.

They actually opened the set with their biggest hit, “Can’t Say No”, which I thought was quite uncommon. But it definitely helped invigorate those in attendance — many of whom had been there for several hours and were forced to sit/stand through a couple of dreamy bands that were doing their darndest to lull us to sleep (that excludes the awesome first opener California Wives).

From the opening song all the way until the end, I don’t think my toe ever stopped tapping. Much of that can be attributed to Weikel, who certainly was into the music himself.

Plenty of drummers do some weird things while behind their kits, but Weikel’s facial contortions might’ve been the most jarring I’ve ever witnessed. An apt comparison I read online was to that of Animal from Muppet Babies.

A couple other things I noted from their concert was that they had just a one-song encore, which is rare in my experience — it seems like two songs is the agreed-upon minimum.

Also, the festival was called “Tomorrow Never Knows” and The Helio Sequence have a song on its first album with the same title. However, I don’t remember them ever actually acknowledging that fact. Then again, they may have played it and I never would’ve noticed.

But I digress.

It’s been nearly three years since the group’s last full-length release, and judging from their track record, it could still be another year before we get anything more substantive than the split 7-inch it put out with Menomena for Record Store Day last year.

In the meantime, check out The Helio Sequence on MySpace or on their page at Sub Pup Records.

September 12, 2010

42 – Light For Fire

Filed under: L, Portland — assman41 @ 12:01 am

I recently returned from a vacation that included stops in St. Louis, Portland and Seattle. Any indie fan worth his or her salt knows that those last two cities have some of the biggest music scenes going right now. And I made sure to absorb a little of that mojo during my stay.

It was actually my second trip to the Pacific Northwest. During my first jaunt, I discovered one of my all-time favorite albums — Elf Power’s Back To the Web. I picked up several new CDs on this trip, but toward the end of my stay in Portland, I realized I’d never seen any live music in the PacNW.

I decided to rectify that, and chose the Doug Fir Lounge as the venue for my Rose City baptism.

The night I was there, the headlining act was Pete International Airport, a side project of one of the members of Portland’s very own Dandy Warhols.

The group sounded solid on MySpace, but I have no idea how it sounds live, because I was too tired to stick around for the final act. But that was OK, because I’d already seen a band worthy of the price of admission.

When I walked down the stairs to the faux mountain lodge-looking joint, I was immediately greeted by a band that sounded like it could’ve easily been the main draw.

That group was Light For Fire, an indie act based out of Portland. On stage, they’re a five-piece, but at their heart, they comprise two main members — vocalist J. Nicholas Allard and Jeremy Sherrer on drums — and three other backing members.

Allard and Sherrer were previously in more of an indie-rock/pop group, The Village Green, which took its name from a Kinks album.

Their current incarnation is very much an indie-rock/folk venture. Vocally, nearly every song on their self-titled debut conjures up memories of Conor Oberst. Some that stand out in this regard are “Where I Was Born”, “NY (By the Hand)” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

But there are a few tracks that take a lot of influence from Spoon — such as “The Letters” and “Green Life”.

I was gonna list a song of each variety, but WordPress is being a bitch, so you’ll have to head to their MySpace page, where you can hear six different songs, including an unreleased track, plus a demo.

Judging from their blog, the band is still in its infancy. It’s unsigned and self-produced the album, of which I apparently received a very early copy.

The group supposedly will be touring soon, so you should check it out. Even if you sleep through the headliner, at least you know the opening act will be solid.

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