Monthly Archives: March 2013

If you like Arcade Fire, then you’ll like Beach House

Arcade Fire formed in Canada in 2003. The group is a unique blend of indie-rock and orchestral music. They garnered major attention in 2004 with the release of their debut album, “Funeral”, and have continued to gain popularity ever since. In addition, they are the only band to have won their first and only Grammy in the “Album of the Year” category.

Arcade Fire -

Arcade Fire –

With seven members, Arcade Fire is a large group. Their genius blend of instruments results in a very full, diverse sound. Violin, cello, and accordion are just some of the instruments featured alongside the traditional blend of guitar, bass, and drums. The band also has both female and male vocalists.

While Arcade Fire is certainly a unique venture, their sound has clearly inspired several groups. One of these groups is called Beach House. Beach House formed in 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike Arcade Fire, Beach House is composed of just two members, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. They have a style that is quite similar to that of Arcade Fire and has been characterized as “dream pop“.

Beach House -

Beach House –

The band attracted attention with its third album, “Teen Dream”. The album was released in 2010 and received great reviews. Stars such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé were even seen at one of the band’s shows. Like Arcade Fire, Beach House has both a female and male vocalist, although Victoria sings lead on most of their tracks. She also plays the organ, which gives the group a vaguely orchestral feel akin to that of Arcade Fire. The vocal style of both groups is echoing and almost haunting – the singers have a far-off feel to their voices that perfectly complements the full, smooth instrumental backing.

“Bloom”, Beach House’s latest album, was released in May 2012. Since then, the band has performed on various late night talk shows and at several music festivals.

Check out “Myth”, by Beach House:

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If you like Sufjan Stevens, then you’ll like Local Natives

Sufjan Stevens -

Sufjan Stevens –

Sufjan Stevens is an indie folk/rock artist from Michigan. He has been recording since 2000 and has released 11 albums thus far, including two Christmas albums. He often writes lyrics centered on his faith and beliefs, as well as traditional values such as family.

All of Sufjan’s albums have been released on Asthmatic Kitty, a label he cofounded with his stepfather. He wrote and recorded his first album, “A Sun Came”, while he was in college. Prior to this, Sufjan played in a band called Marzuki. He can play several instruments, including guitar, banjo, bass, and piano.

Akin to Sufjan’s full, mystic, sometimes instrument-heavy sound are the stylings of indie folk/rock band Local Natives. The Local Natives add unique elements of percussion to Sufjan’s signature sound, often relying on clapping and stomping. In addition, their vocal style is similar to that of Sufjan’s, though the Local Natives incorporate a distinctive howling in many of their songs.

Local Natives -

Local Natives –

The Los Angeles-based Local Natives released their first album, “Gorilla Manor”, in 2010. The album was named after the house the group shared in Orange County. Interestingly enough, everything the band releases to the public is a collaboration between its members; music, artwork, etc.

The band’s latest album, “Hummingbird”, was released in January of this year. It is a noticeably darker album – the songs are less wild and more somber, the instrumental parts have been thinned. However, it highlights another side of the band without compromising the success achieved with their first album.

This is my favorite Local Natives song:

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David Ramirez

David Ramirez is a singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas. He played a CAB-sponsored show at Iowa City’s The Mill last Thursday and I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with him.

Unlike many musicians, Ramirez did not discover his musical talents at a young age. He was an avid baseball player throughout his youth. However, when his family moved at the start of his senior year of high school, he decided he did not want to continue playing baseball at his new school. It was at this time that his new acquaintances convinced him to join the school choir and theater programs.

Ramirez picked up both guitar and songwriting that same year. He then went on to form several “awful bands”, as he calls them. While he has been touring full-time for only five or six years, Ramirez says he began to perform at various open mic nights at age 19.

As far as his goals go, David Ramirez says they have changed significantly over the course of his musical career. When he was first starting out as a performer he set concrete goals, such as making a certain amount of money, getting signed to a label, or winning a Grammy Award. Ramirez felt the quality of his music suffered because of these goals – he was too focused on getting recognized. His current goals are to continue writing things that he believes in, putting out great records, and playing great shows. “If those [other] things happen as a result, then that’s great,” Ramirez said. He continued, “I believe art has a big influence on people, and I want to be a part of that.”

At age 21, Ramirez was given a Ryan Adams album. Adams became his main source of inspiration; he “changed it all” for Ramirez. The influential Adams has played a large role in what Ramirez writes and why he writes it. Ramirez is compared to Adams quite often. “People compare me to him, and I think that’s probably inevitable,” Ramirez said. “I looked up to him a lot for several years and I still do. It’s kinda hard not to mimic some of his stuff.”

This was David Ramirez’s first time playing in Iowa City. Kudos to CAB for bringing him out! He is playing at the SXSW festival in his hometown of Austin, Texas this week.

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If you like The Black Keys, then you’ll like Alabama Shakes

The Black Keys is a rock duo comprised of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. They formed the band in 2001 in Ohio and have risen to international fame in the past three years. Their breakthrough album was “Brothers”, released in 2010. The album and its accompanying single, “Tighten Up”, won a combined three Grammy Awards. The band’s latest album, “El Camino”, won this year’s Grammy for “Best Rock Album”.

The Black Keys -

The Black Keys –

Fame came a little more quickly to Alabama Shakes, a rock band formed in Alabama in 2009. Alabama Shakes was nominated for the 2013 Grammy Award for “Best New Artist”. In 2012, the band played at the Newport Folk Festival as well as Bonnaroo. Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys have a similar sound, both vocally and instrumentally.

Alabama Shakes -

Alabama Shakes –

Both bands have a distinct and traditional rock sound, reminiscent of the many projects of Jack White. Both Auerbach and Brittany Howard, the lead vocalist for Alabama Shakes, have brooding, throaty voices. They both emulate the raspy quality that is so prevalent in the voices of many passionate rock singers. The one major difference between the two? Howard is a woman! Jon Pareles, a New York Times reporter, compared her unique and soulful voice to Janis Joplin’s.

Alabama Shakes and The Black Keys rely heavily on percussion, as many rock bands do. Their screaming electric guitars define each individual song. Since the release of their album “Boys & Girls”, Alabama Shakes has appeared on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Saturday Night Live, and even David Letterman’s birthday version of The Late Show with David Letterman.

Here is Alabama Shakes’ single, “Hold On”:

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If you like Zac Brown Band, then you’ll like Love and Theft

Zac Brown Band has recorded five albums and has had nine number one singles on the Billboard country charts. The band has performed at music festivals such as Bonnaroo and won the Grammy for “Best New Artist” in 2010. There are seven members of Zac Brown Band, including lead vocalist Zac Brown.

Zac Brown of Zac Brown Band -

Zac Brown of Zac Brown Band –

The country group rose to fame in 2008 with the release of their single “Chicken Fried”. Many of their popular songs are characterized by lively rhythms, rock-like guitar, and rich vocals. The most distinct part of their music is the voice of Zac Brown, as well as the harmonies he creates with his band mates. Similarly, Love and Theft is characterized by the smooth vocals of Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson.

Love and Theft -

Love and Theft –

The country duo used to be a trio, but due to creative differences Love and Theft was downsized in 2011. They sprang onto the popular music scene with their single “Runaway” in 2009. In 2011, “Angel Eyes” became Love and Theft’s first number one single.

Love and Theft’s first album, “World Wide Open”, has more of a pop/rock sound with a country aftertaste. Their latest album, “Love and Theft”, has a distinct country feel. While it is relatively different from their first album, Liles and Gunderson say that they feel “Love and Theft” is a more accurate representation of the duo’s artistic and musical goals. Their songs are catchy and easy to get stuck in your head, with prominent guitar and lyrics that reflect the typical “hopeless romantic” style of many contemporary country artists.

Check out “Angel Eyes” below:

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If you like Bon Iver, then you’ll like Ben Howard

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver -

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver –

Bon Iver won the Grammy Award for “Best New Artist” in 2012. The band gained popularity with the release of their album “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” in the summer of 2011. “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” was quite different from the band’s tamer first album, “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Lead singer and creator Justin Vernon brought in multiple guest musicians to help change the album’s sound; the record maintains the same tone as “For Emma, Forever Ago” but the music is more diverse, layered, and full.

Bon Iver’s vocals are extremely distinct and define the band’s character. They have an echoing, melancholy sound that will immerse you. British singer-songwriter Ben Howard has a style that is reminiscent of Bon Iver’s. He won the BRIT Award for “British Breakthrough Act” earlier this year.

Ben Howard -

Ben Howard –

Howard’s voice is soft and full of feeling, just like Vernon’s. His guitar playing is quite unique – intricate plucking characterizes many of his songs. While he is less subdued, his sound can be compared to that of Nick Drake. Howard has cited musicians such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell as his major influences. His parents used to play these artists’ records for him when he was a child, and he began writing songs at age ten.

Both Bon Iver and Ben Howard have a folksy, melodic sound but darker lyrics than those usually associated with their genre. Howard’s latest release, “The Burgh Island EP”, has an even more ominous and menacing tone than his earlier works. In addition, the EP features electric guitar as opposed to Howard’s usual acoustic guitar; a progression that is typical of folk artists.

Here’s my favorite Ben Howard song, “Old Pine”:

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