Infinite Shuffle

August 27, 2012

127 – U.S. Royalty

Filed under: U, Washington D.C. — assman41 @ 12:39 am

It’s interesting how much track sequencing can influence one’s appreciation of individual songs on an album.

Organizing tracks is a lot like setting a lineup in baseball. You really want a good song at the beginning to set the table and get a listener pumped up for what’s to come. Then you eventually move into the heart of the album where all the best songs are. And then, if there’s any filler, it’s thrown in toward the end.

And just like a baseball team, the strength of some songs can have a positive impact on the ones that follow.

Case in point, Mirrors, the 2011 debut from U.S. Royalty. While the D.C.-based quartet didn’t necessarily start its album off strong, tracks 3-6 sustain the disc and make the whole thing a worthwhile listen.

The opener, “The Mirror”, is just a short intro track that’s not bad but not anything special. It’s followed by possibly the worst track, “Hollywood Hollows”, a bluesy rock number that falls short of whatever pinnacle it’s trying to reach.

Then come the heavy hitters. “Monte Carlo” sounds like VHS or Beta or some other indie-electro band trying to cover Fleetwood Mac. It could be the standout track on a lot of albums, just not this one.

That honor belongs to track 4, the cleanup hitter, “Equestrian”. I can’t place who it sounds like, and maybe that’s because it’s similar to several bands, but this song is the big single on this album for good reason. It’s the type of song that should be getting loads of radio play, but sadly isn’t.

Next up is “Vacation Vacation”, which is definitely a solid song in its own right. But its value is bumped up a notch because the listener is already on a higher level after hearing the previous two songs.

Also riding the wave of momentum is “Old Flames”, another slower song that is pretty good, but sounds even better because, by this point, you’ve already been sold on the band.

The rest of the album is solid filler — not great, not horrible — with a slight uptick at the end in the form of “Voice Memo”.

But five noteworthy songs out of 10 isn’t too shabby for a band that few people have ever heard of.

And the boys are already working on a follow-up disc.

July 7, 2010

PROJECT WILCO: The Uncle Tupelo years

Filed under: U, Wilco — assman41 @ 12:01 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: While putting together my best-of-the-decade lists, I noticed there was nary a Wilco song or album in sight. I realized that’s because I’d never really given them much attention and probably had only listened to one album in its entirety. I decided to rectify that by listening to their entire catalog, so I could finally have an informed opinion on what many consider to be the greatest band of my generation. This is the first entry in the series.

Before you can start to delve into what makes Wilco tick, you have to go back to the band’s roots. And they’re planted firmly in Belleville, Ill., where, after a few early incarnations, Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn formed Uncle Tupelo in 1987.

From the release of their first album in 1990 to their breakup in 1994, Uncle Tupelo were one of the most influential acts during the infancy of the alt-country movement. Playing country music with a punk ethos, Uncle Tupelo helped usher in the “No Depression” era — a term taken from the title of their debut album and used as a byword for the new genre.

When Farrar left the band — after his relationship with Tweedy had become too tumultuous — he would go on to form Son Volt, while the rest of the band would stay together and become Wilco.

I didn’t discover any of these bands until a co-worker included some of their songs on a mix CD that he gave me in 2005 or ’06. I was immediately taken with both the Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo sounds. It was clear that Farrar’s vocals were the focal point in the earlier project, despite his sharing singing and writing duties with Tweedy.

But after listening to the group’s Anthology, I realized how important Tweedy’s contributions were and could detect some of the style that would come out in the eventual Wilco recordings.

Here’s Uncle Tupelo’s biggest hit, which showcases Farrar’s vocals …

Uncle Tupelo – No Depression

… and here’s one that has Tweedy in the lead spot …

Uncle Tupelo – Screen Door

May 9, 2010

Outroversion threeplay #2

Filed under: F, NYC, Outroversion, Sweden, U — assman41 @ 6:01 am

Despite having not checked out the website as much lately, the Outroversion blog is still a gold mine for great new music. Here are three more bands I discovered through the site, including one I probably would rather not have.

UUVVWWZ

This band has pretentious written all over it. The first time I heard UUVVWWZ (pronounced “Double U … Double V … Double W … Z”), I thought it sounded like Belle & Sebastian or Stereolab fronted by a riot grrl. On second listen, it’s probably closer to Deerhoof, which, as far as I’m concerned, is not a good thing.

On its self-titled debut album that came out in July 2009, the band alternates between misguided and annoying. Lead singer Teal Gardner keeps getting in her own way. She and the band have the potential to make some decent music, but instead, she sings grating, bratty vocals over instruments that seem to have no clear path.

But to prove that listening to this album more than once wasn’t a total waste of time, I did sorta like the opening track.

UUVVWWZ – Berry Can

Fine Arts Showcase

One of many bands fronted by Gustaf Kjellvander, this Swedish outfit is unabashedly a post-punk band, through and through.

With Kjellvander channeling the vocal stylings of Ian Curtis and Peter Murphy, The Fine Arts Showcase encapsulate all the best qualities of the early goth sound — including the deep, haunting vocals and the heavy synth beats.

Formed in 2003, the band has churned out four full-length albums, most recently of which was last year’s Dolophine Smile.

Their whole catalog is pretty strong, but these are the first two songs I heard through the Outroversion blog, and they’re still my favorites, by far.

The Fine Arts Showcase – Chemical Girl

Freelance Whales

Of the three bands reviewed in this post, Freelance Whales is the only one I’ve seen mentioned by other sources. The New York City group experimented with a hodgepodge of instruments on this year’s debut album, Weathervanes, and in the end, produced a sound that conjured up Postal Service and Owl City.

What those two acts have in common is that one is a Ben Gibbard side project and the other just sounds like one. Freelance Whales falls into the latter category, creating an alternate universe in which Mr. Gibbard has taken up new instruments, such as the banjo, xylophone and tambourine.

This group is a definite must for anybody who’s still waiting on that never-gonna-happen Postal Service follow-up.

Freelance Whales – Starring

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