Infinite Shuffle

January 4, 2016

217 – Squarehead

Filed under: Ireland, S — assman41 @ 8:58 pm

A little more than a decade ago, if an under-the-radar indie band wanted to gain national exposure, it had to hope that some hip music director for a TV show or movie would happen across its music and use a song in the soundtrack.

You know what I’m talking about. Like back in 2004 when Adam Brody was raving about Death Cab for Cutie on The O.C. and Natalie Portman and Zach Braff were having their lives changed by The Shins.

Eventually, musicians took matters into their own hands via social media, such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. But they still know how powerful an endorsement can be when it comes from the right music site or blog.

The next iteration of that is podcasts, where anyone can gush to listeners about their new favorite bands in a way that can’t be replicated simply by the written word.

And that’s how I came to discover the band Squarehead, while listening to Domhnall Gleeson’s recent chat with the boys at Nerdist. The actor plugged a few favorite bands from his native Ireland, including FIDL and Delorentos. (Go here to listen to the interview, or just skip to the 37:20 mark.)

Regarding Squarehead, Gleeson said they were “like a mixture between Weezer and Nirvana and the Beach Boys or something.”

Personally, I don’t hear much grunge influence, unless he’s referring to the lo-fi quality that pretty much every indie band has these days. But there’s definitely plenty of Rivers Cuomo’s crew in there; nowhere more so than on “What’s Wrong”, the opening track from their 2013 album, RESPECT.

As for the “Beach Boys or something” line, he’s referring to the surf-pop vibe that a lot of popular indie bands have latched on to the last few years, best typified by The Drums. It can be heard throughout Squarehead’s album, especially on some of their catchiest tunes, such as “Swing” and “2025”.

(The above video was actually made by Gleeson, along with brother Brian, to help benefit his hospice charity, Immaturity for Charity.)

Just about every song from this Dublin trio is catchy to some degree. Some of the more notable tunes include “Two Miles”, “2025”, “Pulse”, “Magic Darts”, “Knives” and “John Of God”.

According to Wikipedia, the group began in January 2010 as a solo, acoustic project by lead singer and guitarist Roy Duffy. Along with Ian McFarlane (bass) and Ruan Van Vliet (drums), they released a couple of singles — “Fake Blood” and “Midnight Enchilada” — to critical praise before putting out their debut album, Yeah Nothing, in August 2011.

These songs are more homogenous but still catchy, and that surf vibe is even more prevalent. Besides the two singles, another standout is “Confident Girls”.

February 19, 2014

194 – The Strumbellas

Filed under: S, Toronto — assman41 @ 5:15 pm

The biggest wave to overtake the indie scene the past few years has been the folk-rock music perfected by such groups as Fleet Foxes, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Dawes, The Lumineers, The Head and The Heart, The Lone Bellow, Ivan & Alyosha and many others.

While these bands share a lot of qualities, they’re all unique enough that it’s hard to corral them into too specific of a genre. The first label was alt-country, but that one has been obsolete for at least a decade. The more common term lately is indie-folk, which is accurate but also very broad.

Another new portmanteau that has sprouted up is “folk popgrass,” which would certainly be an apt description for many of the aforementioned bands. The latest group to fall under that category is The Strumbellas, a critically praised six-piece outfit from Toronto.

It won’t take long listening to their 2012 debut full-length, My Father and the Hunter, to realize that The Strumbellas are every bit as talented as their more well-known folk brethren.

That’s the disc’s opener and lead single, “Sheriff”. Here is the full album:

The group didn’t wait long for a follow-up, releasing We Still Move on Dance Floors in October 2013. The first two tracks — “Sailing” and “Did I Die?” — have been receiving some radio airplay, particularly on WGCS, but the album as a whole is worth a spin.

This band seems like it would be great to see live. Alas, other than a few shows in Canada this spring, it does not have any upcoming tour plans on which to report.

December 3, 2013

184 – The Soft White Sixties

Filed under: S, San Francisco — assman41 @ 3:23 pm

When I first heard The Soft White Sixties on MOG, I thought I’d found a great new up-and-coming band. One that channels the best of the Black Keys, Wilco and Spoon and melds it into a rather catchy blues-rock act.

But upon looking into the group, it turns out the members aren’t exactly hopeful rookies on the music scene. At least a couple of them have been tearing up the Bay Area for a couple of decades now. Additionally, the self-titled EP I’d heard was released a full two years ago.

None of that is really important. What is key are the “deep grooves and fuzzed-out hooks” that the quartet churns out.

That is track 3 from the EP, and it’s some full-on Wilco patronage. The crew channels Jeff Tweedy’s outfit several times throughout the five-track release, including on opener “When It All Started” and the closer, “Live In the Evening”, both of which include some solid ’60s rock stylings.

The second track, “Queen of the Press Club”, is a solid mix of Queens of the Stone Age and Black Keys.

The remaining track, “Better Way”, conjures to mind Spoon.

It’s an interesting compilation of influences considering that two of the band members — Joey Bustos (drums) and Ryan Noble (bass) — played in a ska-punk band, Link 80, for most of the ’90s.

According to the band’s website, it was set to release its debut LP, Get Right, this past June. There are even a couple of tracks on its Facebook page and a video for the single, “City Lights”. But other than that, it seems as if the album hasn’t actually dropped.

No matter. The group is still touring and it should be just a matter of time before the album sees the light of day.

September 11, 2013

173 – Speedy Ortiz

Filed under: Northampton Mass., S — assman41 @ 11:45 am

Fret not, riot grrl fans, there are still plenty of new acts out there to feed your need. But nowadays they often come with a twist.

The latest entrant in the race for your affections is Speedy Ortiz, a four-piece outfit from Northampton, Mass.

Started in 2011 as a solo project by former guitarist Sadie Dupuis, it had expanded into a full-fledged indie band by 2012 and churned out an EP and a couple of singles before dropping a proper full-length, Major Arcana, this past July.

If the music doesn’t scream it, that video should have tipped you off — this band is heavily influenced by the ’90s. There’s the halting guitars and lyrics, the lo-fi quality and the ever-present slacker vibe emanating from every track.

So, it’s not exactly riot grrl, but it’s definitely from that era.

If you want to see the entire 12-minute performance on KEXP, go here.

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.

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.

November 25, 2012

138 – The Sun Parade

Filed under: Northampton Mass., S — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Everyone wants to discover the next ground-breaking band that totally changes the music landscape for years to come. Unfortunately, those acts don’t pop up very often.

Instead, you usually come across bands that are putting out music that sounds a lot like the rest of your iTunes library. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As long as said band brings a slightly different vibe to the table, it has a shot at making it into your rotation.

So, if you’re a fan of indie-rock/folk/pop — and you probably are if you’re reading this blog — one such band that might pique your interest is The Sun Parade.

Treading on ground already covered by bands such as The Lumineers, Wilco and Rural Alberta Advantage, this duo/quartet from Northampton, Mass., still manages to grab listeners with an eclectic mix of tunes.

On Yossis, their debut full-length release from earlier this year, the tandem of Chris Jennings and Jefferson Lewis — they’re often joined by bassist Jacob Rosazza and drummer Colin Jalbert — use a range of instruments to produce plenty of catchy beats, but it’s the vocals that reel you in.

The song, “Nothing Lasts Forever” sounds like Wilco attempting to channel The Beatles. Another track, “Chicago”, calls to mind Jeff Tweedy’s crew, but that might be because of the title more than anything.

“Pickin My Pockets” and “Lies” both sound like they could have been found on The Lumineers’ recent album. Other strong tracks include  “Need You By My Side”, “Bottom of the Sea” and “Oh No”.

October 9, 2012

132 – Snowmine

Filed under: Brooklyn, S — assman41 @ 12:54 am

“If ‘Jurassic Park’ had a house band, it would sound like Snowmine.”

That was the amusing — if rather misguided — description given by a blogger at Pop Wreckoning after seeing the band Snowmine in person early last year.

Admittedly, said show came a few months before the release of the Brooklyn five-piece’s debut album, Laminate Pet Animal, and its sound was still probably a little rough. But I can’t imagine hearing this band live and thinking it was best suited for some prehistoric jungle abomination. Sure, the first song they played, “Danger in the Snow!”, opens with some ground-rumbling effects and is filled with tribal beats, but other than that, the band is a pretty laid-back indie-pop outfit.

The above song is actually a non-album single — and possibly the best track the band has produced to date. It has a little bit of a Death Cab For Cutie feel to it.

On the actual album, the band bounces between catchy indie-pop and the occasional psych-pop ditty. The latter can be found on such tracks as “The Hill”, “Piece of Your Pie” and “This One”.

Led by new-classical composer and vocalist Grayson Sanders, Snowmine are really at their best when they’re exuding a more bubbly sound. In addition to Death Cab, there are hints of many other popular indie bands, such as Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket and The Walkmen, just to name a few.

The second track on Laminate Pet Animal, “Penny”, opens with a guitar riff that sounds like it came straight out of early ’80s Manchester, but then it quickly transitions into a more standard indie-pop song.

Other solid tracks on the album include “Beast in Air, Beast in Water”, “Let Me In” and “Hologram”.

Since playing at SXSW in March, the band has released a new single, “Saucer Eyes”. With any luck, it’ll continue to churn out an eclectic mix of sounds and maybe even release another album sometime next year.

In the meantime, here’s another video to tide you over.

September 10, 2012

129 – Sea of Bees

Filed under: S, Sacramento Calif. — assman41 @ 12:47 am

It seems like forever ago when Sharon Van Etten released her album, Tramp, but when it came out in February, a lot of critics predicted that it would land on numerous best-of-the-year lists.

And rightfully so, as it’s a pretty great album.

Unfortunately, another very similar album, released about three months later to much less fanfare, will likely fly under the radar come honors time.

Orangefarben, the second full-length release from Sea of Bees that came out May 1, bears a noticeable resemblance to Tramp, right down to its vocals.

Actually, Sea of Bees’ debut disc, 2010’s Songs For the Ravens, sounds much more like Ms. Van Etten. On Orangefarben, singer Julie Baenziger drops the dial on the haunting quality and replaces it with more of a country twang. So much so that, on several songs, it sounds like one of the Soderberg sisters from First Aid Kit came into the studio to harmonize with Julie Ann Bee (that would be Baenziger’s stage name).

All of the album’s 11 tracks have one-word titles. Some of the other notable songs include “Teeth”, “Give”, “Alien” and “Leaving”, which is a worthy cover of John Denver’s “Leaving On a Jet Plane” with one added line.

September 4, 2012

128 – Sleepy Vikings

Filed under: S, Tampa Fla. — assman41 @ 6:17 pm

As summer slowly creeps into autumn, it just feels right to turn your music from breezy, poppy tunes to something a little slower and darker.

And to fill that void is They Will Find You Here, the 2011 debut album from Tampa, Fla., sextet Sleepy Vikings.

At times jangly, at times somber and always shoegazey, the Sleepy V’s — as one of my friends took to calling them — create a perfect soundtrack to a warm September afternoon when you’ve got the fan at Medium and a glass of water creating a pool of condensation on your coffee table.

The band members jokingly made up a new genre for their sound — Southern shoegaze — and the label has stuck. They’ve also given themselves a broader, slash-filled descriptor of “we’re an indie/shoegaze/country band.

With Julian Conner and Tessa McKenna melding their vocals beautifully, the group sounds like a cross between Yuck and Kopecky Family Band.

(That video doesn’t do the song justice. “These Days” is the band’s best track to date.)

There is no filler on the debut disc, as all nine songs are keepers. In addition to the two above standouts, other notable tracks include “White Wolves”, “Twin Peaks”, “Dear Long Distance” and “Flashlight Tag”.

Sleepy Vikings have played at SXSW the past few years and have toured some, but it looks like they’re just chillin’ in Tampa right now, gearing up for their sophomore release.

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