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Best New Indie Rock Songs & Albums of February 2014, Vol. I – Asgiers, Broken Bells, Augustines, Cymbals, Gardens & Villa

The first full week of February’s best new indie rock songs and albums includes anticipated releases from well-known indie bands we’ve covered extensively over the years, like Xiu Xiu, Broken Bells, Cymbals, and Bombay Bicycle Club. Other bands and artists that we were previously less familiar with, like Water Liars and Juan Wauters, definitely made a lasting impression this time around with their new album singles. And then there were the pleasant surprises from indie artists that we’ve never heard of before, like Asgiers and Mas Ysa.

The top album single from an artist that we’d never heard of before goes to the rumbling pop rocker, “Torrent,” from Icelandic singer and songwriter Asgeir (full name is Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson). The song features sweeping waves of guitars and percussions, melodic hooks and dreamy vocals. It’s almost impossible for such a song not to stand out; it’s absolutely wonderful, and the more we listen to it, and the album, In the Silence, the more we want to keep playing them over and over. “Torrent” is also a great treatment for the winter doldrums, thanks to its celebratory and uplifting exuberance, something that tens of millions of people across the interior states, from the Great Lakes to the Deep South, and most especially throughout the northeast, can relate to probably more than any other winter in recent memory, which makes the opening song of this top singles’ playlist even more applicable.

“Torrent”Ásgeir from In the Silence via One Little Indian

Augustines

Augustines Drop Self-Titled Sophomore Album; Strong New Single

This next song, “Nothing to Lose But Your Head,” by the Augustines, is a perfect follow-up to Asgier’s amazing “Torrent.” The intro of the Augustines’ song has a bit of a U2 feel and sound to it; in fact, it sounds like it could be a U2 song more than any other song we’ve heard in some time; when three different musicheads, and longtime U2 fans, say the same thing, then it must be true, or damn close. We’re not saying the Augustines sound just like U2; but this particular song, it’s construction, tempo, vocals, lyrics, etc. remind us so much of U2. And that’s not automatically a bad thing, especially because it’s a great song that stands on its own merit. The Seattle-via-Brooklyn quartet have been on our radar since their 2001 debut LP, Rise Ye Sunken Ships. The band’s self-titled sophomore album was officially released on February 4th.

“Nothing To Lose But Your Head”Augustines from Augustines via Votiv/Oxcart

Video: Watch the official YouTube video for “Nothing To Lose But Your Head”

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Triple Shot of Beats and Grooves from Broken Bells, Cymbals and Gardens & Villa

The band Broken Bells have sold out, or just about sold out, every where they’ve toured since the release of their self-titled debut album in March of 2010. Fast forward to present day and the band has done it again with the new album, After The Disco, and the single, “Holding On For Life.” For some fans, the new album rates about the same as the band’s album, Meyrin Fields, released in March of 2011, while other fans think it’s even better; but the majority of fans, based on the feedback we’ve heard or read over the past few weeks, still hold up the debut album as the band’s best. But, for critics, according to MetaCritic, Broken Bells’ After The Disco is the band’s best album to date, beating out their debut by one point (a 72 and 71 respectively). It’s interesting to note that music listeners gave the band’s debut a 85 but only a 76 for the latest album.

Just about four years ago, in March of 2010, James Mercer, Danger Mouse, and their new band, Broken Bells, were one of the big buzz bands at South By Southwestin Austin. Just a week earlier, the band had officially dropped their self-titled debut, which only heightened the interest brewing around the band’s SXSW appearances. The only one we could actually get into was a Saturday show at 1pm in a rather small venue (name escapes us right now). The buzz proved to be legit because they sounded excellent live.

“Holding On For Life”Broken Bells from After the Disco via Columbia

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Keeping the beats going off the tail end of the new Broken Bells’ single “Holding On For Life,” is the lead track, “The Natural World,” from Cymbals‘ new album, The Age of Fracture; a perfect follow-up track to “Holding On For Life.” The next single, “Bullet Train,” from Gardens & Villa‘s album, Dune, keeps the beats and the grooves going for a little longer. Altogether, that’s a compelling triple-play of new singles; a three-shot rock bloc; a sonic three-way, triple-decker musical hat-trick.

“The Natural World”Cymbals from The Age Of Fracture via Fat Possum

“Bullet Train”Gardens & Villa from Dunes via Secretly Canadian

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Bombay Bicycle Club’s New LP No. 1 on U.K. and U.S. Alternative Albums Charts

Aside from their catchy name, the indie band Bombay Bicycle Club have been on our radar for at least five years now, and deservingly so. Just in the past few weeks, the band’s newest album, So Long, See You Tomorrow, released during the first week of February, has been on a really big roll, topping both the U.K. and U.S. alternative album charts by the last week of February and into the first week of March. The cover art (above) for the album is spectacular; it’s easily one of the best album covers of 2014 (so far).

A No. 1 album on both sides of the Atlantic is a tremendous accomplishment for any band. On this side of the Atlantic (and across the continent to the edge of the Pacific), we posted Bombay Bicycle Club’s debut single, “Evening/Morning,” and the follow-up song, “Always Like This,” back in the early days of IRC. Since that time, BBC has become one of our favorite U.K. indie bands, especially now that we’ve spun So Long, See You Tomorrow numerous times. In fact, it was the U.S. release of their 2009 debut album, I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, that initially put BBC in IRC’s overseas bands to watch column. Since then, the mates have been on a tear, dropping two EPs, three full-length albums, and touring around the world. Moreover, the band has earned gold album certifications in the U.K. for each of their first three LPs.

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Members of the popular English indie band Bombay Bicycle Club - Photo by UK Independent

While the Bombay Bicycle Club are well on their way to earning another gold album certification in the U.K. for So Long, See You Tomorrow, the band has yet to break on to the U.S. alternative singles chart, with the slight exception of a brief stay at No. 40 in 2011 for the track, “Shuffle,” from the band’s third album, A Different Kind of Fix. It’s hard to understand, considering excellent tracks like “Carry Me” and “Luna,” why BBC have not been able to crack the Top 200, let alone the Top 40, on the U.S. alternative singles charts, especially now that they’ve topped the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Carry Me”Bombay Bicycle Club from So Long, See You Tomorrow via Vagrant
Check out the dazzling “Carry Me” music video via YouTube

Perhaps part of the reason for the success of the band’s newest album is the fact that their label allowed them almost 100% artistic freedom, thereby enabling the band to experiment and test the boundaries. Usually the most revolutionary and positive results in music occur when artists are given a green light to explore and experiment.

The band has demonstrated about as well as any band can their desire, and capability, to expand their musical horizons since the release of their jangle-heavy indie pop debut, which was followed up by the all-acoustic 2010 sophomore release, Flaws, an album that took their popularity, and press adoration, to new heights. In fact, the band received an Ivor Novello nomination and made it on to the BBC’s Radio One playlist. “It just proved that sometimes you have to think outside [of] the box. Labels have such formulas, you know,” states Steadman.

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Xiu Xiu members Jamie Stewart and Caralee McElroy

Bay Area Band Xiu Xiu Release Ninth Album Since 2002 Debut

The San Jose, California avante-garde band Xiu Xiu has had their own buzz factor going for a number of years since their 2002 debut, Knife Play. The lead single, “Stupid in the Dark,” has hard, almost riveting beats and a overall effectively dark sound, and is clearly one of the (if not the) best tracks on Angel Guts: Red Classroom, the band’s ninth album. As the band grows and experiments musically, and naturally loses some of their youthful energy and perspective, there is always the risk of isolating their long-time fans with new styles and a more polished final production that challenge the band’s previous reputation in which their rawness and originality are real aspects that appeal to long-time fans. Note: We didn’t publish the Angel Guts: Red Classroom album cover because it’s terrible and we avoid, at all costs, posting terrible art on IRC. A band like Xiu Xiu, with the backing of Polyvinyl’s resources, should be able to put out a better cover than that.

Obviously not just Xiu Xiu, but at some point bands that have been around for five years or more years will change and sometimes lose some of their earliest and most loyal fans. Look at the Arctic Monkeys. A lot of folks we know, and to some extent, including ourselves, were not wild about the more tamed and polished sound and the absence of the unfettered blazing guitars, bass and drums and the insanely energetic and poignant vocals and lyrics.

When Humbug was released, the band’s original edgy rock sound was largely absent, and the change was a big disappointment for not only fans, but many critics as well. It’s simple – many of their fans wanted that wild, explosive raw energy, along with more tamed, even beautiful, tracks like “When The Sun Goes Down” and “Teddy Picker,” and “The View from the Afternoon” off of the lads’ early albums, most especially their amazing debut LP, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) and the epic follow-up album, Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007). The Arctic Monkey’s recent albums have received mixed reviews from critics and fans, but it’s not the same perfect chemistry that the band’s first two albums produced. Is it possible that the same fate awaits Xiu Xiu? The past few albums from Xiu Xiu, starting with their 2012 release, Always, and including 2013′s Nina, and now, Angel Guts, have not been as strong as the five albums Xiu Xiu dropped between 2003 and 2010, including masterpieces like Fabulous Muscles (2004) and The Air Force (2006).

“Stupid in the Dark”Xiu Xiu from Angel Guts: Red Classroom via Polyvinyl

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New Singles and Albums from Plus Minus, Water Liars, Juan Wauters, Mas Ysa, Snowbird and ceo

The following is another bloc of singles from new albums dropped during the week of February 4th through February 10th. Stream or download new singles from Plus Minus; a rather cheery song by Water Liars, considering the song title; an uptempo pop single, “Wonderland,” from ceo, and the fast-driving dance pop single from Mas Ysa. To finish out the week of Feb. 4th new and original releases, check out Juan Wauters‘ psychedelic-tinged acoustic single, “Escucho Mucho,” from the album, N.A.P. North American Poetry, followed by Bella Union recording artist Snowbird‘s single “Porcelain,” a song with a hauntingly beautiful allure that somehow triggers a vision of a lonely prairie landscape blurred by heavy falling snow and absolute dead silence except for the faint, soft howl of an occasional kick in the wind.

“Exorcising Your Ghost”Plus Minus from Jumping the Tracks via Teenbeat Records

“I Want Blood”Water Liars from Water Liars via Fat Possum

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“Wonderland”ceo from Wonderland via Modular Recordings

“Why”Mas Ysa from Worth EP via Downtown Records

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“Escucho Mucho”Juan Wauters from N.A.P. North American Poetry via Captured Tracks

“Porcelain”Snowbird from Moon via Bella Union
Also view the animation music video for “Porcelain” via YouTube

Coming up: Volumes II (Week of February 11th); III (Week of February 18th) and IV (Week of February 25th, which overlaps through March 3rd)

Review the post and playlist for the best releases for the week of January 28th, featuring singles, albums, bands and artists such as Damien Jurado, Mogwai, Warpaint, The Hidden Cameras, Thee Oh Sees, Wild Cub, Against Me, and Bill Callahan.

The best new releases of January 21st highlights singles and albums from Actress, Pontiak, The Pack A.D., Gem Club, The Gaslight Anthem, Bibio, and The Autumn Defense, the latter of which is a musical side project of John Stirratt of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo.

 

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