Infinite Shuffle

February 23, 2015

212 – Alvvays

Filed under: A, Toronto — assman41 @ 4:27 pm

For a lot of indie music fans, Best Coast would be considered the progenitor of the recent trend of mixing female lead vocals, lo-fi instrumentation and breezy tunes that belie darker tones. Of course, with pretty much any musical genre, there’s always someone who did it earlier.

One band that could probably lay claim to at least planting the seeds from which Best Coast sprouted is Camera Obscura, the Scottish group that started in the mid-‘90s.

But this post isn’t about who got there first. Instead, it’s about who is there now. Particularly, a band that combines the best of both of the aforementioned groups and puts its own spin on things to create something new.

Alvvays is a five-piece indie-pop group from Toronto that plays songs that would be perfect for chilling out at the beach like Best Coast — as long as said beach is located somewhere colder, like the coast of Scotland.

Alvvays’ self-titled debut was released last July and, within a month, topped the college radio charts.

The group is helmed by childhood friends Molly Rankin (vocals) and Kerri MacLellan (keyboards), who began playing music with Alec O’Hanley. Eventually, they were joined by Brian Murphy and Phil MacIsaac to form the internet search-friendly Alvvays.

Their best-known track, and possibly the most energetic on the album, is “Archie, Marry Me”, a tune that seems like an incredibly bare-bones cover a My Bloody Valentine song. (Not really, but for some reason, that description always pops in my head when I hear it.)

Other strong entries include “Next of Kin”, “The Agency Group”, “Atop a Cake” and my personal favorite, “Party Police”.

The group has been touring all over, including a recent stop in Madison that I was unable to attend. They’ll be in Austin next month for SXSW, which, sadly, I will once again be missing. But enough with my melancholy; just go listen to this band.

March 19, 2014

199 – Evening Hymns

Filed under: E, Toronto — assman41 @ 2:09 pm

Evening Hymns is the perfect band to help put this seemingly endless winter to rest once and for all. Singing dirges that are both mournful and hopeful at the same time, Jonas Bonnetta — the main driving force behind the Ontario collective — uses music to help cope with all that life has to offer.

That is the group’s 2012 album, Spectral Dusk. The songs were written by Bonnetta while he was dealing with the death of his father. His pain can be felt throughout, particularly on “Spirit in the Sky”, “Song To Sleep To” and the title track.

But, just like any baseball lineup worth its salt, the strongest songs here are tracks 3-5 — “Family Tree”, “You and Jake” and “Cabin in the Burn”.

It’s the third album Bonnetta has released, including 2007’s Farewell To Harmony under his own name and 2009’s Spirit Guides under the Evening Hymns moniker. The “band” consists of a rotating cast of characters, including members of such groups as Ohbijou, The Wooden Sky, The Burning Hell, The D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers.

Spirit Guides has a more uplifting tone, with a richer, more complex sound than the latest release. It includes the opening 1-2 punch of “Lanterns” and “Dead Deer” that should make any indie fan take notice.

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.

June 18, 2013

163 – Hooded Fang

Filed under: H, Toronto — assman41 @ 6:37 pm

I’ve written often on this blog about bands whose sounds have changed over the course of their careers. Whether it be due to members leaving, record labels requesting something different or the desire to simply change things up, bands often find themselves going down new paths.

In the case of Hooded Fang, they seemed ready to make a switch before they even finished their first full-length album.

On their earliest releases — 2008’s EP and 2010’s Album — the Toronto-based septet sounded like any number of other indie-pop groups. The omnipresence of the glockenspiel was reminiscent of Noah and the Whale. There was also some hints of Great Lake Swimmers, if the latter were less folky and more poppy.

Some of the more notable tracks on the full-length are “Straight Up the Dial”, “Laughing” and “Ghosts”.

But the band was clearly ready for a change and didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as just another twee pop outfit.

On the follow-up, 2011’s Tosta Mista, Hooded Fang takes things in a notably different direction. Gone are all the playful indieisms, and in there place is a full-fledged homage to ’60s garage rock.

Also, it was at this point that Daniel Lee took over sole singing duties, as glock player Lorna Wright receded into the background.

Following the release of that album, Wright and two other members left the group to pursue various endeavors — including acting and journalism. It was at this point that the now-fourpiece really started to explore new sounds.

And their findings can be heard on the latest release, Gravez, which came out in April of this year. The band continues with the garage rock, but adds in a healthy dose of surfer punk.

The end result is something that would best be classified as an acquired taste. Hooded Fang takes listeners to some interesting places, such as on “Genes”, where Lee and the gang do their best Edwyn Collins impersonation.

None of the songs really stand out, except perhaps “Thrasher”, but taken as a whole, it’s a solid album to play in the background while completing chores or just relaxing.

The band is currently wrapping up a U.S. tour and will be heading to Europe in September. But, considering how much it likes to travel, another swing through the States in the near future seems likely.

April 17, 2011

66 – The Rural Alberta Advantage

Filed under: R, Toronto — assman41 @ 12:01 am

As I settled into my usual spot on the couch, preparing to finally give a proper listen to the music of The Rural Alberta Advantage, I quickly checked them out on Amazon.com. Scanning through the recommendations of similar albums, I took note of the inclusion of, among several newer discs, Neutral Milk Hotel’s magnum opus, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Immediately as soon as I heard “The Ballad of The RAA”, the first track on their 2008 debut, Hometowns, I could see that the NMH comparison was apt. Lead singer Nils Edenloff’s raw, emotional vocals sound hauntingly similar to those of former NMH frontman Jeff Mangum.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Ballad of The RAA

The first time listening to that album, as well as the band’s follow-up, Departing, which came out this past March, it’s hard not to focus on the similarities to NMH. But upon further listens, a much more complex and nuanced sound begins to emerge.

Based in Toronto (nope, not in Alberta) and made up of only three members — Edenloff on guitar, Amy Cole on backing vocals and keyboards and Paul Banwatt on drums — their sound is simple but surprisingly varied.

The RAA are at their best when they pump up the vocal harmonies and add layers of instrumentation. “Don’t Haunt This Place” is part mumbly shoegaze, part soft indie-pop. And on “Four Night Rider”, the vocal exchanges between Edenloff and Cole call to mind the best of The New Pornographers.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Don\’t Haunt This Place

While they are indie through and through, The RAA evoke thoughts of more mainstream bands, such as The Walkmen, The Hold Steady and The Strokes.

They’re also similar to The Avett Brothers in that they mix their sound and pace well throughout the album. They can go from rocking (“The Dethbridge to Lethbridge”) to folky (“The Air”) to slow and soft (“Sleep All Day”)

The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Dethbridge in Lethbridge

Often on Hometowns, as Edenloff’s voice becomes more strained, he starts to sound like something of a reined-in version of Billy Corgan. You can hear it on tracks such as “Luciana”, “Frank AB” and “Edmonton”.

On their latest release, they smooth out some of the rough edges but continue to explore varied influences. The piano plays a more prominent role on this album, with several tracks calling to mind — for lack of a better phrase — a “VH1 sound.” The songs have hints of acts such as The Fray or Mat Kearney or some other group that is tailor-made for VH1 that I just can’t put my finger on.

Thankfully, that vibe isn’t too overbearing.

Lest you forget about that Neutral Milk Hotel influence, the opening track, “Two Lovers” thrusts it right back into your consciousness. Other standout tracks include “Muscle Relaxants”, which doesn’t quite sound like anything else on the album, “Tornado ’87”, which reminded me of Billy Corgan trying to front an alt-country band, and “Barnes’ Yard”, possibly the catchiest track on here.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Barnes\’ Yard

The album has been out less than two months, and I’m already clamoring for more from the band.

I just bought tickets to see them next weekend in Indianapolis. So that should quench my thirst for a little while.

Meanwhile, check out some more tracks from The RAA on their MySpace page.

November 29, 2009

5 – Great Lake Swimmers

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

I can’t remember a time in which I’ve went back and repeated a song while listening to my iPod on shuffle. Except for this one time while I was returning home from Chicago on the train and the song “Pulling on a Line” by Great Lake Swimmers came on. I think I listened to it about four or five times consecutively.

Last month, I saw Great Lake Swimmers perform live a local church. And for this devout atheist, they almost made that house of worship seem spiritual to me.

They are similar to Marching Band — in that they combine elements of a band such as Snow Patrol with those of folkier groups, such as Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper. The difference, however, is that while Marching Band’s sound leans closer to Snow Patrol, Great Lake Swimmers tends toward their folkier brethren.

Listening to the instrumentation, I’m reminded of Elf Power, but not quite as bold or dynamic.

On an instrument-related sidenote, I would occasionally hear a banjo standout at various times throughout the album, and it kept reminding of two things — the banjo on Okkervil River’s song “Lost Coastlines” and the theme song to the show Scrubs.

Great Lake Swimmers is a band that generally keeps things simple, and that’s not a bad thing.

Since forming in 2001, the Toronto quartet has grown into a national favorite in their native Canada. With the release of Lost Channels, the band’s fourth album, it has been lauded by a lot of critics, magazines and other media outlets and is gaining a bigger worldwide audience.

The band’s front man and main lyricist, Tony Dekker, has already been dubbed by one national publication as one of Canada’s best singer/songwriters — in the company of legends Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot.

By the way, I eventually realized that the reason I even had them on my iPod in the first place was because I’d heard them through NPR’s Song of the Day way back in March.

There is plenty of free music to listen at their official website, where they have seven songs posted, and their MySpace page, where there are 12 tracks.

Even though my aforementioned favorite song can easily be found at both of those sites, I’m still going to post it here. I just love it too much.

Great Lake Swimmers – Pulling On a Line

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