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Black Kids - Wizard Of Ahhhs

I know I’m a little late to the game on this one, but allow me to just add my two cents.

“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” is a gorgeous slice of indie pie. Playful synths right up front, echoing vocals, boy/girl singalongs,, call and response, bouncy bass, not to mention a simple song structure. In fact, the repetition and the lack of extrapolation are really the band’s weakest point. Definitely an infectious song worth putting on repeat.

Black Kids – “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” [via Last.fm]

Likewise, “Hit the Heartbrakes” has that catchy-as-hell quality in the chorus, with the same types of vocals as their single. It is a much more guitar-focus song than “…Dance With You”, “Hit the Heartbrakes” and thus avoids the repetitious trap, utilizing a guitar solo and a half-assed synth “bridge” to shake up the structure. Nonetheless, it’s still an exceptional track.

Black Kids – “Hit the Heartbrakes

Black Kids – “I Underestimated My Charm (Again)“[via Last.fm]

[MySpace] [Last.fm]

Please, allow me to gush about Ha Ha Tonka a little more. I’ll be the first to admit that I go through music extremely quickly, usually on a weekly basis. When a band holds my attention longer than that given week it means there is (in my view) something special about said band.

One such group has been Ha Ha Tonka. When I found “Caney Mountain” I was absorbed by the Midwestern vocals, rocking guitars, and four-part harmony. I immediately bought there debut album, Buckle in the Bible Belt, from the venerable eMusic, and quickly burned the CD in order to listen to it in the car. BitBB is a rollicking good time, full of said strong guitars, Midwestern twang, and sweet, sweet harmony.

The opener, “Up Nights”, gets Bible Belt off to an excellent start. Absent from the previously featured tracks was the piano, which it utilized here to an appealing end. This mellows out the gruff sound of “Caney Mountain” and makes Ha Ha Tonka much more radio-friendly.

Ha Ha Tonka – “Up Nights

“Gusto” revels in off-beat heavy guitar and pushy percussion, matched with a much calmer chorus.

Ha Ha Tonka – “Gusto

Finally, “Hangman” is an exercise in expert four-part harmony and soaring vocals. A wrenching scene of a man sentenced to hang… short but amazing.

Ha Ha Tonka – “Hangman” [Ministry recommended]

BitBB rarely slips and loses your attention. As tends to happen with debut albums (really, albums in general), the less well-crafted songs are left for last and bring the LP to a slower ending that I expected, but the pure power and energy of the first 8 tracks (give or take a few moments and “Falling In”) more than make up for it. Highly recommended!

(Buy Ha Ha Tonka’s Buckle in the Bible Belt at Amazon or eMusic)

A few songs from around the interwebs this past week:

[Head of FemurLeader and the Falcon] My initial reaction was Matt Pond PA: similar vocals, uncomplicated guitar, a violin, harmony, yadda yadda.

[Sick of SarahBittersweet] This song could be a top 40 hit if Kelly Clarkson was singing it. Tight structure, strong hook and a passionate female behind the reigns. The guitar is a little lacking, but this is made up for in the vocals. [Ministry recommended]

[Deer TickThese Old Shoes] I love this man’s voice. A song of the “I tried so hard to get to your side but my plane crashed, car hijacked, etc” variety, it isn’t one of my favorites from Deer Tick, but it is still memorable.

[The FormsBones] Time shifts, shifty vocals, smart harmonies. Slightly gritty indie = stuck on repeat. [Ministry recommended]

[Bishop AllenYou Ain’t No Picasso] No explanation necessary.

(via The Bomb Shelter, Largehearted Boy, Shake Your Fist, Stereogum, and You Ain’t No Picasso, respectively)

Rubik

I stumbled upon an “old” favorite of mine (in my book, old begins at a month) today: Rubik’s Bad Conscience Patrol. I originally found Rubik through the trustworthy Hits in the Car. Stytzer’s comparisons are apt: both Radiohead and (most obviously in my mind) Mew are readily apparent in Rubik’s sound (you could fit Muse in there is well).

After falling in love with “Haiku Motorik” I immediately sought out Rubik’s initial release, People Go Missing. Unfortunately this debut EP had sold out in their native Finland and I couldn’t get my hands on it anywhere else. Thanks to a very helpful Last.fm friend, I found out that they were due to reissue People Go Missing with an extra disc of remakes, called Jesus. The reissue, titled Jesus vs. People ended up being slightly disappointing, especially given the lengths I had gone through to obtain the disc. “Haiku Motorik” was an obvious standout, with a catchy piano lick, bouncy bass line and swanky chorus – the first true song from a young band. The other tracks (even the re-works) left much to be desired.

Rubik – “Haiku Motorik” [Ministry recommended]

But all was not lost, friends! Before I had actually received Jesus vs. People I had discovered (from the same lovely Last.fm-dweller) that Rubik was set to release their first LP, Bad Conscience Patrol, which I quickly obtained and immediately fell in love with. Though uneven, BCP was nowhere near as inconsistent as J vs. P. Rubik had clearly matured since their first release and found a consistent sound that could hardly disappoint.

BCP has gravitas – distinct, prog guitars; melodious, dramatic vocals; complex song structures; shifting time signatures; and (of course) choruses with staying power. My initial (and continuing) reaction is that Rubik is Mew’s little brother, emulating, but ultimately falling short of, the older brother. But don’t discount Rubik because of this; when they get it right they can be unforgettable.

Take the first single, “City & the Streets”. Interestingly, this is one of the more low-key efforts on the album, and the only one on the first half of the disc. Underlying guitars counterpoint the soft vocal melody, as the song slowly builds to the first chorus, with sweet, synthesized backing vox giving it a heavenly feeling. After downbeat chorus, Rubik launches into a synthesized vocal bridge that launches into a swinging finale of guitar and synthesizers.

Rubik – “City & the Streets

Though a little light on melody, “Buildings” captures Rubik’s loud, stomping, time-shifting guitars and a nice slice of melody in the chorus, a song that strongly recalls Mew. Meanwhile, Rubik’s handle on complex song structure manifests in “Why Don’t You Let It Happen”. This track begins in the form a prog ballad, with eerie synths and vocals, and a vocal performance that gets more and more strained as it progresses. This then shifts into a march (no kidding), that sets us up for a transcendent climax and transition back into a more upbeat (and much less eerie) prog ballad, that finishes of with an energetic surge in the guitar department.

Rubik – “Buildings
Rubik – “Why Don’t You Let It Happen” [Ministry recommended]

Rubik’s BCP may be an inconsistent effort, but come year’s end I’m sure they will be among my top finds of ’07.

More on Rubik: [MySpace] [Last.fm] [Buy]

hahatonka

I originally put off listening to Ha Ha Tonka because of their name. It screamed scene!!! and reeked of dance beats, jarring guitar and atonal vocals. After a trusted blog posted about them, I finally gave in and fed the track “Caney Mountain” through my headphones.

Apparently, rather than referencing the famous yellow metal Tonka truck toys of my youth and the many “ha ha”s that resulted from their use, the band name actually refers to a state park in the the Ozarks of Missouri, and you can hear this influence on their music right away. Far from hipster, Ha Ha Tonka alludes to a much less urban sound than scenes tend to perpetuate. Rough, oft-unenunciated vocals, rocking guitars and and gorgeous four-part harmonies all point to their Midwestern roots. “Caney Mountain” is a rollicking foot-stomper, while “St. Nick On the Fourth in a Fervor”is more dynamic, featuring some awesome four-part harmony climaxes.

Ha Ha Tonka – “Caney Mountain
Ha Ha Tonka – “St. Nick On the Fourth in a Fervor

[MySpace] [ eMusic] [Amazon]

Yoav is a one man band, made up of singer/songwriter… Yoav. Born in Israel, raised in South Africa, having lived in Montreal and New York, Yoav now calls London his home, where he is set to release is debut album, Charmed and Strange, through Verve/Universal. His sound, although allegedly solely based in acoustic guitar, evokes minimalist electronica on “Club Thing”, with a brooding atmosphere and understated guitar, with a persistent backing beat. His voice pairs nicely with these artistic choices, ending in a beautifully rendered track.

Yoav – “Club Thing” [MySpace] [Buy]

“Beautiful Lie”, on the other hand, traverses the more standard aspects of the singer/songwriter genre, but manages to keep plenty of “Club Thing”‘s minimalist vibe to remain fresh. Halfway through the song, Yoav leaves behind the usual emotional verses and chorus, choosing instead to ride a slowly building wave of energy to the finish line by placing an echoing guitar over an (eventually) pushy baseline, and finally tying the knot with a faded background vocal melody. Not a bad way to end what started off as an unremarkable song.

Yoav – “Beautiful Lie (Radio Version)
Yoav – “Beautiufl Lie (Tronik Youth Remix)

[MySpace] [Buy]

[via Hits in the Car]

WFANFC

A year ago I fell in love with Working For a Nuclear Free City. It was the beginning of the school year and I was still using iTunes to find new music. WFANFC is one of the few bright spots in my much-wasted iTunes career that was filled with many, many (now useless) DRM’d AAC tracks. Back in those days, the “Just For You” feature in the iTMS worked beautifully: it would take all the albums you’d purchased from the store and recommend similar well- and lesser-known bands. WFANFC is one of the bands that popped up in this system and my life will never be the same.

WFANFC is by far my favorite band in the admittedly uneven post-rock genre. Falling more on the rock side of post-rock, they combine atmospheric instrumentals with gorgeous melodies and sparse, ethereal vocals. In order to avoid the transient and sometimes unengaging aspects of orchestral and instrumental music, WFANFC utilizes tight song structures and looped hooks to keep the listener consistently entertained.

Take “Asleep at the Wheel”, for example. This is a new track of their forthcoming US-debut, Businessmen and Ghosts (out October 16th on Deaf Dumb + Blind), and it is almost entirely based on one guitar riff. Despite the electronica-esque repetition of said riff, WFANFC takes it to soaring heights throughout various melodic shifts and underlying chord changes, and yet manages a dynamic shift (with the same riff) to bring the song to a soft landing.

Needless to say, I am excited for Businessmen and Ghosts. The released will combine their self-titled debut with the Rocket EP and some unreleased tracks (of which “Asleep at the Wheel” is one). It’s track listing is as follows:

CD 1 Businessmen

224th day
Troubled Son
Dead Fingers Talking
Rocket
Kingdom
Sarah Dreams Of Summer
Apron Strings
All American Taste
Quiet Place
So
England part 2
Over
Fallout
Forever
Stone Cold

CD 2 Ghosts

Eighty Eight
Donkey
Get A Fucking Haircut
Innocence
The Tree
The Tape
Asleep at the wheel
England
Soft Touch
Pixalated Birds
Je suis le vent
Nancy Adam Susan (Shatter)
Home

Interestingly, B&G will mix up the original track listing of the self-titled album with the EP and unreleased tracks, rather than keeping original order for the first disc and reserving the second disc for the EP and new additions. Regardless, I am eagerly anticipating October.

WFANFC – “Asleep at the Wheel” [Last.fm] [Buy]
WFANFC – “Troubled Son” [Last.fm] [Buy] [via KEXP]

The Dodos

It’s hard to say what my favorite part of this song is: the finger picked guitar, artful percusion, or beautiful, melodic vocals. Whichever you choose you’ve got a great song on your hands. The Dodos are a two man band out of San Francisco, playing experimental, rythmic folk. Every time through the track I get caught by the sublime transitions from intro to verse, verse to chorus, beauty only folk and post-rock can achieve.

The Dodos – Horny Hippies [Last.fm] [Buy]
The Dodos – The Ball [Last.fm] [Buy]

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

There are some days when I am in just the right mood for new music. During such a period, I discovered Isabel at Sunset, an Italian indie rock outfit out on the brand new Kettle Records. The most stiking aspect of the band is the loose vocal delivery – be it the english-as-a-second-language factor or what have you – but the effect is slurred, unenunciated bliss. When this lack of enunciation is placed on top of catchy guitars, the track “Meet the Gang!” just kills.

Isabel At SunsetMeet The Gang! [Last.fm] [Buy]
Isabel At SunsetThe Coming Back Guy [Last.fm] [Buy]

[via the Runout Groove]

Broken String [CD]
Image via BishopAllen.com

Ah, Bishop Allen… You make me so happy with your upbeat, shimmering delight. I’ve been meaning to blog about these guys for a while, but it has taken me longer than I expected to get into the whole blogging thing.

After spending an entire year releasing and EP a month, Bishop Allen has released “The Broken String” (buy the EPs and the new LP here), a compilation of some of the best racks from their EPs. Some of the tracks have been re-recorded, accompanying 3 new tracks, including the first single, “Rain”:

Bishop Allen – “Rain” [mp3] [Last.fm] [Buy]

“Rain” is a glorious slice of indie pop. It is a relentlessly upbeat and sunny, showcasing the huge improvement Christian Rudder’s songcraft has made over the course of 12 EPs. Rudder is confidant and precise in his delivery, and the backing vocals and harmonies are deliberately and skillfully placed, creating a beautiful, catchy and enjoyable song. The icing on the cake is the conga drums the consistently shine through, serving to keep the track light-hearted and fun.

The LP, on the other hand, stumbles right out of the blocks. “The Monitor”, originally from the March EP, is one of the re-recorded tracks, and has been rearranged and the orchestration expanded. The spare and slowly building beginning doesn’t grab my attention until nearly 2 minutes into the song. The diffusion of counterpoint during the chorus also dispels much of the charm the original recording contained.

The same fate belies “Corazon”, the centerpiece of the the January EP. Originally a tightly wound head-bobbing classic, Rudder again stripped the song and rearranged it. Though the beginning, artistically speaking, parallels the lyrics much more effectively by expressing the beating “heart” of the piano the song is focused on, like “The Monitor”, it fails to keep my attention until the drums enter 45 second into the track. Even after that point the many attempts to make the orchestration in “Corazon” only serve to reduce its impact.

But all is not lost, friends! Most of the other tracks included from the EPs retain their original brilliance, including “Click, Click, Click, Click” and “Butterfly Nets”. A new song, “Middle Management”, is a raucous hark back to their first LP, “Charm School”, with loose, punchy, distorted guitar propelling the song to its end. Overall, the disc is a solid attempt to forge an identity for a band from its previous EPs (much like Voxtrot’s debut LP), though often the attempts to increase the complexity of older songs result in diminishing returns.

Bishop Allen – “Click, Click, Click, Click” [mp3] [Last.fm] [Buy]

(mp3s via BishopAllen.com)