Infinite Shuffle

December 6, 2013

185 – The Love Language

Filed under: L, Raleigh NC — assman41 @ 3:24 am

A lot of times when I’m reviewing a band, I not only make a point of listening to as much of its output as I can find, but I also tend to do so in chronological order.

While some of my friends have let me know that such a strategy is foolish, I’ve found that it gives me a better understanding of an artist’s early sound and how far it has come.

Of course, that route inherently provides some obstacles with a lot of bands, particularly ones that have changed their sound a great deal and/or weren’t very good at first.

The Love Language would fall into the former category. And I thought the latter might be apt as well after starting to listen to their 2009 self-titled debut. The album opener, “Two Rabbits”, was jarring and just plain bad. It’s lo-fi at its worst.

But if you’re able to make it past that first bit of whiplash, things actually improve as the album progresses. The second track, “Lalita” provides a solid gauge of the group’s early potential.

The origin of the group, which hails from Raleigh, N.C., is an indie cliché. It started as a bedroom project from Stuart McLamb, who, after breaking up with his girlfriend, retreated to his parents’ house and started pouring his heart out on paper.

Those songs eventually turned into the eponymous debut, and McLamb recruited some more musicians, including his brother, to join him on the road.

The band’s follow-up, 2010’s Libraries, sounds far more professional, having been recorded in a proper studio under the watchful eye of producer BJ Burton and backed by the band’s new label, Merge Records.

From the opening two tracks — “Pedals” and “Brittany’s Back” — it’s clear that listeners are in for a more exciting experience. While the DIY, lo-fi ethos permeates throughout the album, it’s often overshadowed by a Wall of Sound pop attack that will elicit head-bobs and toe-taps from even the most stoic soul.

Nearly three years later, and after several pauses and restarts, McLamb and crew released their latest effort, Ruby Red, this past July.

The early potential on the debut, followed by the major step forward on the second album has led to this, the band’s most well-rounded and fleshed-out offering to date.

There are a number of indie contemporaries that likely influenced the production, but one that stands out is Arcade Fire. It might take multiple listens to hear it, but imagine a less-grandiose version of the Montreal all-stars’ early work. On such tracks as “First Shot” and “Pilot Light”, it’s as if Win Butler & Co. were brought in to lend a hand.

Another group that deserves a mention is Fanfarlo. It’s been a long time since they’ve been on my radar, but the comparison seems apt. Just listen to “Knots”.

And there are even stronger tracks here, including the opening “Calm Down”, “Hi Life” and “On Our Heels”, which sounds like it could have come from the ’80s underground scene.

I’m not sure if this album deserves to be considered among the year’s absolute best, but it’s worthy of at least the second tier.

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February 6, 2011

62 – Annuals

Filed under: A, Raleigh NC — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Of all the different ways I’ve discovered new music, the most bittersweet is when I find a band on my iPod that I either didn’t know was there or simply forgot existed.

It’s great to find good music to listen to, but it’s kinda disappointing to think I easily could’ve been listening to it for the past couple of years.

I recently went to iTunes and, not having anything specific I wanted to listen to, just sorted the songs by “Play Count” and found something that had zero listens.

And that is the story of how I became reacquainted with the band Annuals.

I listened to the group’s debut album, 2006’s Be He Me, and immediately downloaded its next two discs.

It’s hard to really pinpoint the band’s sound. It’s as if the six-piece from Raleigh, N.C., compiled all the best elements from a bunch of popular indie groups, yet it never seems derivative. It melds everything together into a rich, smooth cacophony that is pleasurable to the ear.

Annuals – Complete or Completing

Some of the bands the music conjured up include Modest Mouse, Mutemath, Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, Pinback and Death Cab for Cutie.

Reading the customer reviews on Amazon of Annuals’ various albums, there are a lot of wide-ranging influences listed, including: Beach Boys, The Cure, U2, Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, Broken Social Scene, Neutral Milk Hotel and Badly Drawn Boy.

When listening to Annuals’ three full-length releases consecutively, you do notice a transition between each album. On 2008’s Such Fun, they take their folk-pop sound and infuse it with some electronica. Then on 2010’s Count the Rings, they speed things up and add more layers to make things even more radio-friendly.

The latest album is probably their best. They really seem to be putting things together and coming into their own on these 11 tracks. While the first two releases didn’t really have any standout songs, Count the Rings has several worthy of the repeat button.

In fact, it looks like the band hit the ole repeat button a few times itself, as three songs on the most recent album — “Hot Night Hounds”, “Springtime” and “Hardwood Floor” — all appeared on Such Fun originally.

Annuals – Hot Night Hounds

It’s difficult to find out any new information on the band since its second release. In fact, I only knew about the latest album because it was mentioned on the group’s Wikipedia page. Count the Rings is listed as an import on Amazon, and iTunes doesn’t even offer it.

The band’s official URL redirects you to its MySpace page. There’s no current tour information, but you can listen to a few songs there.

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