Infinite Shuffle

September 18, 2013

175 – Telekinesis

Filed under: Seattle, T — assman41 @ 4:36 pm

I’m always a little leery when I see that a musical act is being promoted as just one person. Whether it be an artist going by his actual name (e.g. M. Ward or Conor Oberst) or a pseudonym (e.g. Phosporescent or early Bright Eyes).

I realize that most of these solo artists have some help on a record and in live performances, but, generally, I assume their music is going to be too boring or not have enough going on.

I’ve often been proven wrong in this regard, but never more than when I listened to Telekinesis. While it’s often referred to as a band, according to most sources, its sole member is Michael Benjamin Lerner.

Considering the number of instruments that can be heard on his/their albums — guitars, bass, keyboard, drums — one is left to wonder if he just moves from station to station, recording each instrument and piecing it all together in the end. More than likely, he’s got a bunch of studio musicians helping him out, but they just don’t get prominent credit.

All of this is really irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that Telekinesis has put out three albums since “forming” in 2008, and all of them are above average.

That is the big single from the band’s 2009 debut, Telekinesis! It’s a pretty good representation of what Lerner has been doing ever since. Just straight-forward indie rock that’s catchy and filled with fun, clever lyrics.

Other strong tracks from that disc are “Imaginary Friend”, “Tokyo”, “Look To the East”, “All of a Sudden” and “Calling All Doctors”.

Lerner’s vocals are reminiscent of fellow Seattle resident and doppelgänger Ben Gibbard, whose Death Cab For Cutie bandmate, Chris Walla, does a little bit of everything, including production, on Telekinesis’ first two records.

The 2011 follow-up, 12 Desperate Straight Lines, isn’t much different from its predecessor. Lerner and crew do sprinkle in a few different rock styles throughout. There’s a little bit of grunge on “50 Ways” and something harder on “Fever Chill”. The best is when they throw in a post-punk guitar riff on “Country Lane” and “Please Ask For Help”.

Other notable entries here are “Gotta Get It Right Now”, “Palm of Your Hand” and “Car Crash”.

For the latest release, Dormarion, which came out this past April, Lerner traveled to Austin, Texas, to record in the studio of Spoon drummer Jim Eno. The album is named after the studio’s location, on Dormarion Lane.

I don’t know if the switch is what caused it, but this record isn’t as strong as the previous two. It does have a very strong single in “Ghosts and Creatures”, but the rest is hit or miss. The few other songs worth mentioning are “Wires”, “You Take It Slowly” and “Ever True”. A lot of people have praised album opener “Power Lines”, but it’s only so-so.

It would appear as though I’ve already missed Telekinesis’ latest swing through the Midwest. Perhaps I’ll catch him/them when they pass through again.

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August 24, 2013

171 – Ivan & Alyosha

Filed under: I, Seattle — assman41 @ 7:02 pm

After listening to their debut full-length album several times in the last few days, it almost seems criminal that no one has ever heard of Ivan & Alyosha.

Maybe listeners are turned off by their rather ho-hum name. Fans of Russian literature — and who isn’t, right? — may recognize the names of two characters from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

If anything, that adds to the band’s allure. But really, it doesn’t need any other selling points besides its songs.

That is “Running For Cover”, the big single and most radio-friendly song on All the Times We Had, the Seattle group’s first LP and fourth release overall. But it’s far from the only notable song here. In fact, the disc is so loaded with catchy tracks that it will deserve consideration once the end-of-the-year lists are being compiled.

Some of the other top tunes include “Fathers Be Kind”, “Easy To Love”, “Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” and “Who Are You”. Also worth noting are “Be Your Man”, “The Fold”, “On My Way” and “God Or Man”.

Listen to this album and it’s easy to compare the group to contemporaries such as Dawes and The Head and the Heart. But Ivan & Alyosha are a little less folky and slightly closer to the rock-pop end of the spectrum, occasionally conjuring up thoughts of Wilco.

On a few songs, particularly “The Fold”, lead singer Tim Wilson almost seems to be channeling Brandon Flowers of The Killers. And often throughout the album, there is a pretty clear Beatles influence. Then again, what rock or pop band out there doesn’t get compared to the Fab Four at some point.

On their 2011 EP, Fathers Be Kind, the Beatles vibe was even more prominent. That disc also marked a clear transition for Ivan & Alyosha from a pop-folk band to a folk-pop group — if that makes any sense.

Their debut release, the 2009 EP, The Verse, the Chorus, was kinda reminiscent to Coldplay and maybe a little Snow Patrol.

While these EPs are strong in their own right, it’s their latest release that should finally help Ivan & Alyosha reach a larger audience.

August 10, 2013

169 – Pickwick

Filed under: P, Seattle — assman41 @ 3:16 am

Do you have a chore around the house that you’ve been putting off for a while? Just put Pickwick on your stereo and marvel at how easily and quickly you finish said task.

The Seattle-based band’s 2013 debut full-length, Can’t Take Medicine, is the perfect soundtrack to an evening at home. Whether you’re preparing dinner, eating by candlelight, doing the dishes or relaxing with a glass of wine, this a fine accompaniment.

Filled with soulful indie-rock, this album sounds like the Black Keys decided to triple the size of their roster and take their music from the garage into the bedroom. In fact, the album was recorded in the band’s living room to an 8-track in order to maintain a raw sound.

Listening to the disc conjures up other acts, such as Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr.

Pickwick has become a well-known commodity in the Northwest, playing to sold-out venues all over Washington and Oregon. But they have yet to make a name for themselves nationally.

A recent stand-out set at the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle should help expand their fanbase, but Pickwick will probably have to rely on word-of-mouth for the time being.

One way to spread the word is to hook up with and established indie darling, which is what they did when they joined forces with Sharon Van Etten on “Lady Luck”, a Richard Swift cover.

January 9, 2013

2012 threeplay

Filed under: Brooklyn, D, England, P, Seattle, T — assman41 @ 10:16 pm

Since I spent much of my last few weeks focusing on the best stuff I’d heard during the past year, I wasn’t able to listen to too much new music.

But as I often do in January, I checked out several of the albums that I’d seen on others’ end-of-the-year lists but were totally foreign to me.

Here are three more bands who put out an above-average disc last year.

DIIV

DIIV is the brainchild of Zachary Cole Smith, a member of Beach Fossils who decided to try his hand at the whole solo thing.

Originally named Dive, this Brooklyn-based outfit takes very dream-pop sound of Beach Fossils and covers it in a heavy, dark shade of gloss. The songs on the 2012 debut, Oshin, are shoegaze with an electro twinge.

TOY

I’ve only listened to the self-titled album once, so I’m not totally sold on TOY. This London-based quintet fills its songs with distortion, but it doesn’t drown out the solid vocals or instrumentation.

Combining the best of shoegaze and psychedelia, TOY churns out some very droning, hypnotic tunes that are likely to put you to sleep.

Perfume Genius

The alter ego of Seattle resident Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius is basically, at its core, just a dude and his piano. But Hadreas’ voice is so beautiful and he adds enough other layers that the music never gets boring.

Hadreas started recording songs after moving from New York to Washington, and he posted his work on MySpace. He was soon discovered by the British band Los Campesinos! and signed to their label.

Since then, Perfume Genius has released two albums — 2010’s Learning and last year’s Put Your Back N 2 It, the latter receiving plenty of critical praise.

July 8, 2012

121 – Kishi Bashi

Filed under: Brooklyn, K, Seattle — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Last week, I wrote about Alabama Shakes and mentioned other bands who’d ridden a wave of hype at the start of their careers.

Another artist who’s been receiving a lot of early buzz — albeit on a much smaller scale — is Kishi Bashi. The gang over at NPR’s All Songs Considered have been singing the praises of the singer/songwriter/violinist ever since discovering him at SXSW.

The project name is actually a pseudonym for K Ishibashi, who was born in Seattle, grew up on the East Coast, helped found the Brooklyn-based band, Jupiter One, and is now a member of Of Montreal.

It’s a good thing he’s made it possible to embed all the tracks from his debut album, 151a, because it’s difficult to pinpoint his sound.

The best I can come up with is a cross between MGMT and Jonsi/Sigur Ros, with several other influences sprinkled in. And Ishibashi’s stirring violin adds an incredible dimension to all of it.

The track that first introduced him to NPR listeners was “Bright Whites”, definitely a catchy tune and probably the best on the album. But “Manchester” is certainly a worthy contender for that title.

While there is no real filler here, a few other standouts include “It All Began With a Burst”, “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons” and “Atticus, in the Desert”.


September 20, 2011

83 – The Cave Singers

Filed under: C, Seattle — assman41 @ 5:49 pm

Considering the long odds, most musicians would consider themselves extremely lucky if they ever reach a national level of acclaim.

More rare is the artist who can build an audience with multiple bands. That’s what makes the career of Derek Fudesco so impressive.

Beginning in the mid-’90s with Murder City Devils, then with Pretty Girls Make Graves and now with The Cave Singers, the Seattle-based musician has helped put three separate and disparate bands on the map.

While Devils (garage rock) and Pretty Girls (art rock) are/were solid in their own right, The Cave Singers are the group that most tickles my fancy. I’d heard of them before, but didn’t give them a second thought until a friend recently suggested I listen to them.

From the first song, “Seeds of Night”, the opener on 2007’s Invitation Songs, I knew I was gonna like these guys.

The Cave Singers – Seeds of Night

In addition to Fudesco, the indie folk-rock trio includes Pete Quirk and Marty Lund. Forming in 2007, they’ve put out three albums — including 2009’s Welcome Joy and this year’s No Witch.

The Cave Singers – Hen of the Wounds

While everyone in the group sings, Quirk is the main vocalist. His influences are hard to pinpoint, but at times he sounds like Billy Corgan trying to sing folk-rock.

The Cave Singers – Gifts and the Raft

According to their record label website, the band will be in Chicago on Oct. 1 — at a pretty sweet-looking free festival, no less. Alas, I’ll be working that day. Perhaps next time.

August 5, 2011

78 – The Head and The Heart

Filed under: H, Seattle — assman41 @ 3:26 pm

From time to time, I will attend a concert in which I’m looking forward to the opening act more than the headliner.

In fact, it just happened a few months ago when I saw Yuck precede Tame Impala at Lincoln Hall in Chicago. I only made it through a couple of songs before I walked out on the headliner.

But no matter how much I liked the “smaller” band, I can, at the very least, always remember the main act.

That wasn’t the case when I saw The Head and The Heart last year. During a free show under the Space Needle in their hometown of Seattle, THATH so overshadowed the other groups, that I had no recollection who they were opening for. (As it turns out, the headliner was Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band.)

The Head and The Heart – Down In the Valley

The six-piece has drawn a lot of comparisons to bands such as Fleet Foxes, The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. But I think their most similar contemporary might be Dawes.

THATH released their self-produced, self-titled debut in 2010. Then, after a heated battle for their services, they signed with Sub Pop Records, which remastered and re-released the album in April of this year.

The Head and The Heart – Lost In My Mind

One of the notable things about THATH’s best songs is the way they slowly unfold. About halfway through the 5-minute-long “Down In the Valley”, the song changes course, picks up the pace and gets really good.  (Sidenote: Considering my current profession in the newspaper business, I particularly like the line “… wish I was a slave to an age-old trade.”)

“Lost In My Mind” doesn’t pick up until the 1:30 mark. And in another strong ditty, “Sounds Like Hallelujah”, it isn’t until the 1:40 mark that the song alters course and becomes more enjoyable.

The Head and The Heart – Sounds Like Hallelujah

They’ve been in Chicago a couple of times this summer, and I just missed seeing them when they opened for The Decemberists. But they’ll be back in town in October, so I may have to make a special trip over to the Windy City.

June 26, 2011

73 – Motopony

Filed under: M, Seattle — assman41 @ 10:30 pm

It took three listens to their self-titled debut album before I realized who Motopony sounded like. From the soft, airy vocals of Daniel Blue to the light, melodic instrumentation, this Seattle quartet is very reminiscent of Junip.

It’s almost as if Jose Gonzalez and crew had tweaked their sound a little bit then put out a new album. On songs such as “June”, “Seer”, “King of Diamonds”, “God Damn Girl”, “Wake Up” and “27”, Motopony conjure up thoughts of the Swedish geniuses while still managing to retain their own identity.

One reviewer on Amazon.com referred to the band’s sound as “alterna-folk” — a label I will be stealing for future use. On their bio, Motopony lists their sound as “hard-soul/glitch-folk.” They take the Junip sound and amp it up with doses of pop and funk.

The manner in which I discovered the band — via a Facebook ad — is just the latest addition to the long list of ways I’ve found new music. I randomly saw the ad on the side of the page, kinda liked the band’s name and decided to click on it — I assumed I wouldn’t like it at all and it would only be a waste of a few minutes.

The ad took me to a video on YouTube for their big single, “King of Diamonds”.

Needless to say, the video piqued my interest, so I watched a couple more videos then downloaded the album. I think it would be a worthwhile purchase for anyone who likes Junip (duh), Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver or any of the many other folk-pop outfits dotting the indie scene these days.

 

September 5, 2010

41 – Hey Marseilles

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

Upon my first listen of Hey Marseilles’ debut album, To Travels & Trunks, my initial thought was that it sounded like an Irish band covering The Decemberists.

As it turns out, the band is from Seattle. So, basically, they’re a Seattle band with a French-sounding name pretending to be an Irish band pretending to be a Portland band pretending to be a group of turn-of-the-century sea-faring knaves.

OK, so maybe that’s not the most accurate interpretation. But, to me, they do seem to have two very distinct influences — The Decemberists and Irish music.

The band started slowly in 2006 when Nick Ward and Matt Bishop played together as students at the University of Washington. Eventually, they grew to seven members and released their aforementioned debut album in 2008.

While a huge hit in the Northwest, it’s taken awhile for Hey Marseilles to gain a wider audience. But eventually, the band earned enough praise to have the album re-released this year.

The disc starts and ends with instrumental tracks. So, the first real song, is the title track, which starts out immediately sounding like some Irish dirge before quickly transitioning into the indie folk that persists throughout the entire album.

The next track, “Cannonballs”, reminded me a little bit of The Avett Brothers’ “I And Love And You” — but just a little.

That was followed by the album’s catchiest song, “Rio”, which was my initial conduit into the band, via NPR’s Song of the Day. NPR’s Stephen Thompson described the song as “a worldly chamber-pop gem marked by a full-to-bursting, jauntily percussive sound in which seven people politely clamor to be heard.”

After the mostly instrumental “Cities” comes another string of solid songs, including “Someone To Love”, “Hold the Morning” and “You Will Do For Now”. Also in that mix is my other favorite from the album, “Calabasas”, which reminded me of something Great Lake Swimmers might’ve done.

Hey Marseilles – Calabasas

With any luck, Hey Marseilles will continue to develop a wider audience. In the meantime, check out their official website and MySpace page.

Interesting sidenote … I first heard about Hey Marseilles shortly before leaving on a vacation to Portland and Seattle last month. I didn’t see them out there, but I did discover several other new bands that I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks. So, stay tuned.

April 25, 2010

25 – Grand Archives

Filed under: G, Seattle — assman41 @ 12:01 am

Considering the pedigree of its various members, it’s no surprise how strong and polished The Grand Archives’ sound is. Led by Mat Brooke, former guitarist and vocalist for Carissa’s Wierd and former guitarist for Band of Horses, this collection of Seattle musicians channels all the great indie-folk-pop harmonies that have been coming out of the Emerald City for years.

The quartet (formerly a five-piece) conjures up thoughts of such bands as Fleet Foxes, New Pornographers, Band of Horses, The Low Anthem, Son Volt and pretty much any band that relies on strong vocal harmonies and understated instrumentation.

The band’s self-titled debut, which dropped in 2008, opens strong with “Torn Blue Foam Couch”. Despite being comprised solely of men, the band gets plenty of vocal support from the ladies, including this first track, which sounds at times like something from the New Pornographers or Mates of State.

(Then again, I suppose any song with male/female harmonies probably shares that trait; but I digress.)

The whistling intro to the second track “Miniature Bird” totally reminded me of this year’s Simpsons-themed Super Bowl commercial, which had a whistling portion toward the end. And the sometimes-haunting vocals on the next track, “Swan Matches”, kinda reminded of The Low Anthem’s recent hitCharlie Darwin“.

But the song that really stood out to me was the album’s penultimate track, “The Crime Window”. Admittedly, it’s the one song on the album that sounds nothing like the rest, but it’s also the most fun track and probably the most radio-friendly.

Grand Archives – The Crime Window

The following year saw the departure of band member Ron Lewis (he joined The Shins) and also the release of the follow-up, Keep in Mind Frankenstein.

To the untrained ear, such as my own, the sophomore effort didn’t seem too different from its predecessor. But according to Brooke, it was “a little darker than the first album.”

The only thing that stood out to me was that things seemed a little more folky — closer to the sound of the Great Lake Swimmers.

The best track on the album was easily “Oslo Novelist”.

You can hear five songs on their MySpace page — which is how the band got noticed in the first place — or even download some free tracks at their record label page.

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