Infinite Shuffle

June 22, 2014

MOG threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, T, V, W — assman41 @ 12:10 pm

MOG is dead. Long live MOG.

What began as a hub for music bloggers and morphed into a music-streaming site officially went kaput at the end of May, replaced by Beats Music.

I have yet to decide if I want to subscribe to Beats or choose a different source to stream my music. That’s one reason I haven’t posted in nearly a month.

Anyway, before MOG said goodbye, I had been working on a compilation post of three bands I’d discovered through the site. It took several weeks for me to finally finish, but perhaps it’s fitting, considering how often MOG would cause my web browser to freeze whenever I tried to close it.

Vanaprasta

I don’t recall which band I was listening to at the time, but eventually, after that particular album finished, MOG turned to its radio play, which usually included related artists. That’s how I first discovered Vanaprasta and its catchy single “Nine Equals Nine”.

Aside from a handful of songs, the unsigned quintet from Los Angeles seems to be trying its hardest to channel Kings of Leon. Lead singer Steven Wilkin is just the latest in a long line of Caleb Followill wannabes.

That’s not to say this group is horrible, just derivative. Formed in 2009, Vanaprasta released a three-track EP, Forming the Shapes, in March 2010. It included a decent opener, “Color of Sin”, and a couple of skippable tunes.

The following November saw the release of a proper full-length, Healthy Geometry, which opened with the above-mentioned “Nine Equals Nine”. Other than a few songs — such as “Come On”, “Supernumerary” and their best Radiohead impression, “Crushing Ants” — the album is mostly dreck.

I’m not even sure how the group landed on MOG, but maybe it should consider following a similar path and just fade into obscurity.

Wildlife Control

Apparently, the group Wildlife Control had a viral hit on YouTube with the February 2012 release of the video for “Analog or Digital”. (The 8-bit version. Not the stop-motion inset.)

That track was released as a single in December 2011, led off the EP Spin in March 2012 and was the only above-average song on the band’s self-titled full-length debut, which landed that July.

Other than a few blips on some “notable” blogs and radio stations, the band has yet to create much of a stir. Formed in 2011 by brothers Neil and Sumul Shah, Wildlife Control call both Brooklyn and the Bay Area home. To that point, their album includes tracks titled “Brooklyn” and “Oakland”.

Other than their single and the track “People Change” — which randomly calls to mind Phoenix — the group sounds like a hybrid of a lot of other indie bands. And when Neil starts tickling the ivory, Wildlife Control morphs into a poor man’s Ben Folds Five.

They did release a couple of singles in 2013 — “Different” and “Ages Places” — that show they may be starting to develop a more interesting sound. But we’ll have to wait until they put out another album before that theory is proven.

Tycho

Probably the most interesting band on this list is also the most surprising for me. If you’re a loyal reader of this blog, you’ll know that I have a hard time getting into instrumental music. Apparently, if I don’t have some lyrics to sing along to, it’s not worth my time.

The only vocal-free music I’ve taken to in the past few years is some of the stuff on The XX’s debut and the opening theme to the show Friday NIght Lights, which was done by Explosions in the Sky.

But I guess it shouldn’t be too shocking that I’d become enamored with an artist that is basically a mix of those two groups. Also known by the moniker ISO50, Scott Hansen has been putting out ambient, post-rock music as Tycho since 2002.

Also known for his photography and design work, Hansen paints vivid pictures with his lush sounds. After releasing a couple of full-length albums in the mid-Aughts — Sunrise Projector and Past is Prologue — his musical output was restricted to singles for several years before he returned with Dive in 2011 and followed with Awake this past March.

Where Dive had a faster pacing, Awake slows things down, resulting in an even more pleasant listen. The album starts strong with the title track and “Montana” — both of which would be perfect entry points for fans of The XX. As the album progresses, Hansen mixes in the Explosions influence while maintaining a chill vibe throughout.

Started in Sacramento and now based in San Francisco, Hansen does take his Tycho act on tour and includes a live band. (One can only imagine how many concert-goers inevitably fall victim to slumber during a set.) After spending July in Europe, Tycho will make a quick sweep of North America, including a rather random stop in Urbana, Ill., in September.

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.

August 15, 2013

170 – Mikal Cronin

Filed under: C, San Francisco — assman41 @ 1:10 am

One of the tidbits that often comes up in stories on Jack White is the number of various bands and side projects he’s a part of. It’s true that White is a busy man, but he looks like a sloth in comparison to Mikal Cronin.

Dating back to 2005 — and probably much further back — the San Francisco-based garage rocker has been actively providing his guitar skills and occasional vocals to a number of bands, such as Epsilons, Moonhearts, Okie Dokie and Party Fowl, a few of which also included high school pal Ty Segall. Cronin is also a mainstay in Segall’s live band and has collaborated on an album — 2009’s Reverse Shark Attack — with him.

But Cronin’s best work has come most recently in the form of his solo releases — 2011’s self-titled “debut” and this year’s MCII, which found its way on to several mid-year best-of lists.

Where most of his early work consisted of him adding a fuzzed-out guitar to throwaway garage-rock compositions, the 27-year-old has shown himself to be a formidable force through his solo releases.

His self-titled disc opens with a harmony straight out of a Beach Boys recording studio, and it lingers throughout the album.

The second track, “Apathy” — which, cleverly, is about how he doesn’t want apathy, has a subtle nod to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. And as the album progresses, it feels as if the Beach Boys and Beatles hung out together in a garage all day playing pop-rock music.

Jump to this year’s release, and there is still some of that residual ’60s vibe, but Cronin adds some more modern influences. Well, modern as in ’90s alt-rock. Several songs on MCII — such as “Am I Wrong”, “See It My Way” and “I’m Done Running From You” — give the impression that Cronin listened to a lot of Weezer and Guided By Voices during his formative years.

The album starts strong with “Weight”, which establishes that Cronin has kicked things up a notch from his previous release. That transitions into the best song on the album, “Shout It Out”, a ditty that will get stuck in your head immediately.

In fact, many of the songs on this album are liable to bounce around in your head for a while. It’s front-loaded with several strong cuts, but after the fifth track, “Peace of Mind”, which calls to mind Wilco, the disc starts to peter out.

Even so, this album is one of the strongest to drop this year and should help Cronin continue to prove himself a strong solo artist.

July 17, 2013

167 – Tidelands

Filed under: San Francisco, T — assman41 @ 4:17 pm

Finding a band with a totally original sound is a bittersweet experience for a blogger like myself. There’s the obvious joy of discovering something new and perhaps exotic. Unfortunately, on the flip side, there’s often no comparable bands to use as a jumping-off point.

So it is with Tidelands, the relatively new indie-pop duo from San Francisco. “Pop” might not be the most apt description, as the group has veered more closely to classical, folk and prog on its first two albums.

That is the mesmerizing video for “Holy Grail” off Tidelands’ 2011 debut, If … It consists of more than 1,000 watercolor paintings done by one of the band’s artist friends over the course of four months.

It gives you an idea of the plane of thinking and introspection where band members Gabriel Leis (vocals, guitar and flugelhorn) and Mie Araki (drums and keyboards) generally reside.

The band gets plenty of help from friends on the album, including Magik*Magik Orchestra, which lent a chamber-pop feel to several tracks.

The sound is fleshed out by violins, cellos, rich guitars, a flugelhorn, trumpets and many other instruments left to the imagination.

On their 2012 follow-up, We’ve Got a Map, Tidelands build on their sound and move a little closer to true pop.

Leis’ voice occasionally drifts into Pink Floyd territory — nowhere more so than on “Toaster”.

With several songs in their catalog surpassing the 6-minute barrier, Tidelands could be a harder taste to acquire among today’s ADHD-addled youth. But if you have the time to relax and listen, it’ll be worth your while.

February 24, 2013

148 – Geographer

Filed under: G, San Francisco — assman41 @ 12:01 am

When a band drastically changes its sound from one album to the next, it runs the risk of abandoning fans along the way. But Geographer may have found the key to overcoming this problem.

They’re basically two completely different bands on their two full-length releases. And, while there’s sure to be some upheaval from the early loyalists, there’s also bound to be listeners like myself who are entranced by both stages of the metamorphosis.

In the beginning, there was Innocent Ghosts, the 2008 debut from the San Francisco trio. It’s filled with great indie-pop songs that are as catchy as they are melodious. Lead singer Michael Deni mixes his vocals beautifully throughout the record with a mysterious female singer. And it all melds well with the instrumentation of Deni (guitars, synthesizers), Nathan Biaz (cello, synths) and Brian Ostreicher (drums).

The standout tracks include “Can’t You Wait”, “Each Other’s Ghosts”, “Atmosphere”, “Wonderful” and “The Morning”.

Then, two years later, came the EP, Animal Shapes, which totally shifted the soundscape. Gone were the female harmonies, and in their stead was a huge influx of electronic flavor.

Suddenly, Geographer had gone from a really catchy indie-pop band to one of those indie-electro outfits that are more of an acquired taste. They’d basically become Yeasayer Lite.

But it turns out their songs are still accessible and not nearly as annoying as their Brooklyn counterparts. All six tracks on Animal Shapes are solid, with “Night Winds” taking top honors.

Geographer continued on this electronica course with the release of their second full-length album, 2012’s Myth. It’s not as strong top-to-bottom as the EP, but it definitely has some standout tracks, including “Shell Beach”, “Life of Crime” and a longer, better version of “Kites” than the one on the EP.

Geographer was recently in Chicago as the headliner for Family of the Year. I would’ve loved to have gone, but, alas, it was sold out by the time I became interested in it. Maybe next time.

The good news is they’re already back in the studio working on new songs.

February 11, 2013

146 – Film School

Filed under: F, San Francisco — assman41 @ 3:23 am

The most obvious element of the shoegaze scene is the fuzzy, distorted lo-fi feel that covers just about every song in the genre. But an aspect that is just as important, if not often overlooked, is the poppiness.

According to spell-check, that’s not even a word. But it’s definitely a key ingredient to any good shoegazer song. Because without it, you’d just be left with something closer to metal or punk.

One band that seems to value that pop element more than most is Film School. The San Francisco-based quintet can certainly stare at its Chuck Taylors with the best of them, but it also knows how to churn out a catchy hook.

Lead singer Greg Bertens (aka Krayg Burton) formed the band in the late ’90s and has been its only constant ever since. With the help of members of the bands Fuck and Pavement, he put out Film School’s debut, Brilliant Career in 2001.

Bertens had an entirely new cast of characters alongside him by the time the band put out a self-titled release in 2006. The album is full of great, indie rock songs with slow pacing, some dreaminess to them and definite shoegaze and post-punk elements. Besides the above-linked “Breet”, other notable tracks are “Like You Know” and “11:11”.

It wasn’t until the release of Hideout the following year that Film School really turned the corner musically. And it’s no coincidence that this transition occurred after great upheaval in the band’s roster, when three members were replaced. The most notable addition was the band’s first female member, bassist Lorelei (Plotczyk) Meetze, whose vocal presence helped give the band a totally different dimension.

On Hideout, the musicianship seems much crisper than earlier offerings, and it translates into several more standout tracks. The opener, “Dear Me”, sets the stage for a livelier experience. It’s followed by such other strong entries as “Sick Hipster Nursed By Suicide Girl”, “Two Kinds”, “Go Down Together” and “Plots and Plans”.

Film School continued to build on their sound and, in 2010, produced their best album to date with Fission. There is no filler among the 12 tracks, and things once again start off strong with the opener, “Heart Full of Pentagons”. Other notable ditties are “Meet Around 10”, “Distant Life” and “Find You Out”.

It’s been 2.5 years since that release, and fans are psyched for some more music. But, judging from the band’s website, there will be nothing new any time soon.

October 2, 2011

85 – The Dodos

Filed under: D, San Francisco — assman41 @ 5:12 pm

The Dodos are one of a long list of bands that I’ve known about for a while but had not given a proper listen to.

I got my first real taste of their stuff earlier this year at SXSW, but, even then, I wasn’t really paying attention to their set.

But, after writing about Wye Oak last week, I was reminded about The Dodos and figured it was high time to give them a spin. And, not surprisingly, it was well worth the effort.

The Dodos – Fables

Originally named Dodo Bird, the San Francisco duo of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber changed their name after fans kept referring to them as The Dodos. I first heard about them in 2008, when I saw an ad and review for their sophomore album, Visiter, in a copy of Under the Radar magazine.

Besides putting out some pretty solid indie music, the band is most notably known for its interesting instrumental arrangements.

According to Wikipedia

“Logan Kroeber plays on a drum kit without a bass drum, playing often on the rims of the drums, and also uses a tambourine taped to his shoe. During live performances they have a third member playing a vibraphone, a drum, and two cymbals placed on each other (like a hihat). Meric Long plays mainly acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars during performances. … Long has been known to favor using his fingernails instead of a guitar pick.”

I do seem to recall seeing something funky going on with their drum kit during the SXSW performance.

Anyways, I couldn’t necessarily detect anything too out of the ordinary while listening to the albums. I will note that some of the genre descriptions I saw — such as “psych folk” and “freak folk” — would be apt. But what might sound like a negative label really doesn’t detract from their sound.

The Dodos – Walking

That ditty is the opening track from Visiter. They have since put out two more albums — Time To Die in 2009 and No Color earlier this year. While Visiter is probably my favorite, the others — including 2006’s Beware of the Maniacs — aren’t too shabby either.

The Dodos – Trades & Tariffs

Blog at WordPress.com.