People sometimes believe that the only good music out there is the music being played on the radio or the latest stream of videos on television. Some might be surprised to find with a little digging, there are bands waiting to be heard.
I had the opportunity to see Shoegaze duo, School of Seven Bells. Though they hardly drew a large crowd at Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh, their sound is just as big as any other artist out there.
Even bands some might be familiar with are making their returns, including garage rock group, The Strokes, and the critically and fan adored Radiohead. All three bands are worth giving a listen.
With summer almost here, bands like these will be turning to the festival circuit and even to local venues near you. Take the opportunity this summer to check out a band you might not have heard of previously.
Shoegaze duo School of Seven Bells (SVIIB), took to the stage at Mr. Smalls. Following a trio of lackluster local opening acts, the band’s dreamy sound was welcomed to the sparsely populated Smalls.
The band, named for the mythical South American pickpocket training academy, was formed in 2006. This year saw the release of their critically hailed sophomore album, Disconnect from Desire, and the departure of twin sister, Claudia Deheza, from the band. Remaining sister Alejandra handles vocals, while Benjamin Curtis from the now defunct band Secret Machines takes lead guitar. Live performances, including this one, see the addition of a drummer, Zach Saginaw.
Deheza took center stage for the performance with her lofty vocals that reached barely above a whisper. The absence of Claudia’s complementing vocals can be noted on some tracks from their earlier releases, but Curtis more than steps up with his role as backing vocalist. Deheza is able to engage the audience with her powerful voice, mixed with her mysterious moves and frequent head bopping.
Taking their atmospheric dream pop to a live setting can present a challenge. Often, a band’s sound can become washed out or see the overuse of reverb. SVIIB benefited from a performance venue like this. Effects and reverb were paired naturally from one song to the next courtesy of Curtis. The ethereal and dreampop nature of their recorded sound was just as beautiful in a live setting.
The Strokes have ended their nearly five year hiatus with the release of Angles. With a hiatus that long, you’d expect the band to come back stronger than ever, bringing with them a record worthy of the wait. Angles is not that record.
The band is known for being at the forefront of the garage rock movement in the ‘90s. With a back catalog of significant releases including, “Is this It” and “Room on Fire,” the band’s sound is recognized and revered. Unfortunately, their style took a hit with the release of 2005’s “First Impressions of Earth,” the band’s worst received album. After the release, they announced their break, and the band did not release another group effort until now.
Angles had all the makings of a group Strokes album. The first single released “Under Cover of Darkness,” recalled upon their signature sound and methods of success; Casablancas taking a lead on vocals backed by guitar solos and basic rock and roll.
The band talked of Angles sounding similar to “Is This It,” but the record as a whole is in no way like its predecessors. Coming in at just around 34 minutes with ten songs, Angles seems like a disjointed effort of mixing old and new. The record’s length is barely long enough for listeners to scratch the surface of the band’s return.
Tracks on the album take two extremes, a sound like that of Julian’s solo work and ‘80s rock like that of the Cars, along with tracks that remind listeners of earlier material.
Tracks like opener Machu Picchu and Games, are that of ‘80s rock, while “Taken for a Fool” is a perfect example of “Is This It” material morphed for 2011.
It’s not that the album is a complete disappointment. But after this long of a hiatus, the band should be expected to return with a sound bigger and better than ever. Angles should be a comeback album, and unfortunately, it’s not.
Radiohead is my favorite band without question. I will admit that they could release an album of Thom Yorke singing names from the telephone book and I would love it.
With every release the band reinvents itself both in sound and the way the album is released. Take 2008’s In Rainbows, released for a pay what you want price. In an era where most turn to leaked illegal downloads as opposed to the traditional physical copy, Radiohead challenged fans to be excited about an upcoming release date again.
Radiohead gets fans, including myself, excited about the experience of both live and recorded music again. Unlike current pop stars, the band doesn’t need shocking costumes or gimmicks. They’re able to engage fans just with their music, which is something that’s lacking nowadays.
Radiohead’s latest effort, The King of Limbs, is good, but certainly not one of the band’s strongest releases to date. First time listeners, or even casual fans will not be blown away by this release and may in fact find it boring.
Coming in at just under 40 minutes and containing eight tracks, The King of Limbs is one of Radiohead’s shorter releases. The tracks are heavily layered and may take many listens before sinking in.
Those familiar with Thom Yorke’s solo work may find that the sound is more reminiscent of Yorke’s Eraser. The familiar Jonny Greenwood guitar solos are noticeably absent, replaced instead with electronic, experimental beats reminiscent of Kid A or Flying Lotus’s 2010 release, Cosmogramma. Performance wise, it will be interesting to see these tracks performed live as it seems less will be required of the other band members.
On The King of Limbs, Radiohead dives into two different territories. There are electronic, warped tracks such as “Bloom” and “Feral,” and then there are tracks like “Morning Mr Magpie” and “Lotus Flower” that feature strings and Thom Yorke’s distinct warble. Highlights include “Codex” and “Give Up the Ghost,” understated anthems that utilize pianos and acoustic guitars.
The release feels like an introduction to another shift in direction for Radiohead. If The King of Limbs is any indication, the band continues its longevity and ability to evolve with each release.