Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Estrela

July 26, 2003

Read: www.mp3.com/estrela
Listen: www.mp3.com/estrela
Buy: N/A (full album available at above address)

I feel like being blunt. Estrela is a band of many vocal styles. They have breathy, nearly whispered vocals, which are good for the most part, normal singing, which is grainy, nasal and bad, and screaming, which is pretty good. To open their demo, Estrela uses a dreamy, flowing playing style on “Blurred”. Fast vocals are breathed over the mid-tempo instruments until late in the song, when the other two vocal styles appear. This is easily the best song on the demo. A hooky, bright intro leads us into the harder song “Passive”, which features a good bass line and great solo. The vocals are terrible, probably the worst on the album here. “Rivers of When” starts out with a metal styled riff and screaming, but falls back into singing after a couple seconds. It showcases the guitar style of the first song, but with a harder edge. The background vocals have some promise here. Ending the demo is a song appropriately titled “Closure”. With a great guitar riff, and the best sung vocals on the album, this is a highlight. The bridge is really good as well, with guitar, bass, and drums showing off their chops.

Estrela as an instrumental band would rule. The guitar playing here is inventive and interesting, the bass lines are complicated, and the drums do a great job of complimenting both. On the downside, the vocals need some serious refining, but there is hope for them. Try again next time, as a pop bottle cap would say. 6 out of 10.

Standing On Zero

“Sending Signals” kicks off this CD. The song’s instrumentation creates a stomping, unfaltering drive of a mood. The high, mournful vocals contribute to the general mood of hopelessness by trying to soar above it, but not quite making it. The solo is simply amazing. “Impression is a Target” isn’t as hard as “Sending Signals”, and features a piano in the mix. The vocals, lower but still mournful and haunting, drive this very subdued track. The piano driven breakdown is one of the best moments on the CD. The depressing mood is broken a bit with “Hit The Sky”, a seemingly up-tempo rocker, until the vocals come in. Two well-harmonizing vocalists completely change the mood back to depression. The lyrics evoke this as well: “Hey…It’s alright. It’s ok. I’m going nowhere. Maybe I lied, maybe I’ll hit the sky…”. “Anomie” opens up with an acoustic melody, and all the vocal tricks have been removed for a softer feel, complete with ‘la la’ part. It’s well crafted, adding layers upon layers until the final climax. The hard-hitting depresso-rock of “Sending Signals” is back on “Killing Air”. It’s a catchy, powerful, and passionate song, unequaled by any other on the CD. The second chorus of this song is my favorite section of this song and CD. “Lately Satellite” is an actually uptempo, happy sounding song! On this stripped down guitar and voice ballad, they hook you by repeating the few lyrics to get you singing along. The vocals do well, but comparatively, it is the weakest track vocally.

Overall, this CD is amazingly constructed, using multiple styles of vocals, incorporating piano multiple times, and holding a tough musical mood (depression) throughout without falling into sameness. Even thought they feature vocals quite often, they never compromise their rock roots. The only problem is that when you put the focus on something, people will scrutinize it more. The vocals take some getting used to, and they are a bit off in the last song. Overall, a debut that doesn’t sound like a debut, but a CD from seasoned veterans. 8 out of 10.

Mae – Destination: Beautiful

July 20, 2003

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding this new band Mae. They sport a cryptic band name, cd name, and website name. They have an independent label affiliation, but play all over mtv, mtv2, and mtv.com. Who are they?! Let’s see…

The album kicks off with some distant sounding, haunting, but very beautiful melody. That’s a great indicator of where the album falls on the ears: music that rocks, but is also beautiful, creative, and tightly crafted. The intro flows into the lead single, “Embers and Envelopes”. It always seems that the most annoying on any album becomes the lead single. It’s way too melodic, with not enough crunch in the guitar, strength in the vocals, or coolness in the riff to make it work.

Next, some minor chord hitting on an acoustic guitar opens up the moody, driving rock of ‘This Time Is The Last Time’. This is different, because Mae’s signature style is to put the focus on individual instruments, which means that the band is hardly ever playing with all the pieces together except for choruses and bridges. It flows perfectly though. Where the previous song featured misplaced vocals, a boring riff, and no creativity, this is completely the opposite, delivering the best of all three. It’s one of the rock-ier tracks on the album. “All Deliberate Speed” bridges the gap between the first two songs, with the moody but never dark sound of track 2 with the high vocals and melodic energy of one. It is easily one of the best on “D:B”.

“Runaway” passes, and “Sun”, a bass-driven song, appears. This song contains the actual line “Destination: Beautiful”. It also features a great breakdown, catchy chorus, and beautiful piano outro. “Last Call” is catchy to the max throughout the song, and “Skyline Drive” slows things down in a simple, beautiful, satisfying way. Then, to reverse the energy, “Soundtrack to Our Movie” starts out in true Mae fashion but eventually features three different guitar riffs (seriously, riffs.). You’ll press repeat on this one.

“Summertime” finds us….rocking out! The entire way! The best rock song on this album, it features passionate vocals, catchy melody, driving rhythm, and happiness. It’s the single that has been all over MTV, and with good reason. Slowing things back down on “Giving it Away” is a good touch, and the astutely titled, infectious “Goodbye, Goodnight” ends us on an high note, tempo and mood -wise.

Overall, I love this CD. The lyrics here are great. They actually don’t deal with relationships that much (Thank You!), but with frustrations, insecurities, and overall, hope. Perfect for a mellow day, it’s a beautiful, rocking piece of art. It fits the rock scale somewhere between the Lifehouse and Coldplay, with the intensity of Lifehouse and the beauty and tightness of Coldplay. Mae is the band to watch. Pick up this CD now, cause it will be a classic someday. 9 out of 10.

Holland – Photographs & Tidalwaves

I have been on the Holland bandwagon for a while. I saw them twice before this cd, their debut, came out. They didn’t really seem to rock that hard though, compared to the punk bands they were touring with. As a good groupie, I went out and bought the CD almost as soon as it came out. I popped it in….and enjoyed the noise.

Holland is dark rock with pop leanings, if I had to classify. You can sing along easily, but it’s not really all that major or happy. Even the upbeat songs are about conflict, like the first song, “The Whole World”. It’s an immediately catchy anthem that sounds happy but proclaims: “Hey, can you believe what you hear… We’re not taking this no more…I’m not taking this no more”. The chorus begs to be sung to, and I oblige often, as this is more towards pop than rock.

The repetitive “I’m Not Backing Down” tries to rock but falls into pop cliché’s. Of course, it was the radio single (my opinion on radio singles). A great muted drum riff starts off “Shine Like Stars” which still has the upbeat style but is somehow more satisfying than the first two songs. The depressing lyrics appear again: “We shine like stars oh yeah…Bright as the sun, we’re dead and gone, we shine like stars!” It’s a great twist of a cliché.

The next song “Because of You” showcases their slower side with a beautiful, acoustic driven, orchestra supported piece thanking someone for sticking with them through thick and thin. “One Minute to Zero” rocks harder than anything previous, and features a great guitar riff. As we return to pop rock, “Call It a Day” hits us with a soaring guitar line and lyrics about regrets.  “Bring Back July” features a fantastic set of lyrics, also about regrets.

A single acoustic guitar sets the mood in “Losing Jim”, a sad, slow ballad about losing people. “Goodnight Texas” is a huge, long guitar rock masterpiece about how much they hate their home state. The title track is the last one, a keyboard-tinged mellow rock song about, take a wild guess, regrets! But specifically, it’s about leaving LA.

Holland bares all on this CD. They left Texas, moved to LA, failed in LA, and moved away, and composed these songs as a sort of “Thank You, I’m Sorry, I Love You” to all they left behind in both places. The lyrics address similar themes but never are repetitive, the guitar riffs never monotonous, but the melodies somewhat sound the same by the end. Very emotional, very powerful CD. Not as soft as the Goo Goo Dolls, but not as hard as The Juliana Theory. Great debut. 8 out of 10.

Bleach Ain’t Cheap in Oklahoma

When: Aug. 18

Where: The Edge Building, Grace Fellowship Church, Tulsa, OK

Bleach always puts on a good show. That’s why I have no less than three Bleach shirts- they blow me away every time. This time was no exception. I missed the opener bands, and even the first one or two songs of Bleach’s set. Thankfully, that wasn’t a problem, as they played for over an hour.

The small yet dedicated crowd (how many innocent bystanders are you going to get in a Wednesday night show?) of about 100-150 was in full blast. The boys in Bleach responded by blasting through their usuals, such as “Get Up”, “December”, and “Knocked Out” with amazing energy and presence. I was one of the most active members of the audience, skanking, headbanging, dancing, jumping, and altogether just having a great time. Because of this, I only remember fragments of Bleach’s set- “Jaded Now”, “We are Tomorrow”, and the encore- but those things I did see were completely amazing.

“Jaded Now” is Bleach’s epic song- it builds from a simplistic, basic guitar line by adding in more and more elements until the climactic finale where Dave Baysinger screams out “I’m not scared!” to which the band unleashes a torrent of anguished sound that can only be described as outpour. It was absolutely stunning live, as Dave’s scream took on a whole new passion and the band seemed to feed off of it. That’s the definition of a good live band.

Their last ‘official’ song in the set was the ubiquitous “We Are Tomorrow”. I’ve seen them four times, and three out of the four times they’ve done this song. It’s one of the top crowd-rousing anthems I know of- and it made the crowd go nuts. A mosh started in here, and the security broke it up- but that’s how passionate everyone was. The song was electric, from start to finish. Dave Baysinger crowdsurfed. While singing.

But they couldn’t go away like that. No- they had to come back. The encore was three songs long, and worth every second. They played a song about Oklahoma (if I had lived here longer, I would probably know where it’s from), to which the crowd clapped along and even sang a bit. I thought it was a great kudos to Oklahoma that Bleach likes it here so much as to learn a song about us to play. Good job Oklahoman scene. The second song was “Baseline”- the crowd went berserk again. We didn’t know what they were going to do for the last Bleach song ever performed in Oklahoma, but we knew it had to be big.

So they went for the rarely played “Super Good Feeling”. This is quite possibly my favorite Bleach song, and I’ve never heard them play it live. I don’t think anyone else in the crowd had either- which made that last song special to me. Even better, all throughout the encore, Baysinger was taking phones from people in the audience, putting them right up next to the microphone, and singing into both at once- I think he did this for 4 or 5 cell-phones. How awesome is that?!?

Suffice to say, Bleach blew everyone away. I can’t believe Bleach is gone- it makes me genuinely depressed. But there are rumors that they’ll stick around as an album-only no-tour band….I hope those pull through right, and we can get some new Bleach music out of it. God Bless Bleach.

Anberlin – Blueprints for the Black Market

Anberlin just popped up. I know nothing about them. After listening to the CD through a couple times, I still know virtually nothing about them, cause they didn’t print their lyrics in the CD booklet. That is most definitely a pet peeve of mine.

The cd blasts out of the gate with “Readyfuels” (yes, it’s one word). Heavy but melodic guitars, driving percussion, and great vocals propel this dark track. Then, the gears shift drastically, and the punk melodicness of “Foreign Language” graces the ears. It’s a song by a guy who thinks girls are speaking a foreign language.

“Change The World”, the radio single, is actually an acceptable one, taking the hardness of track one and combining it with the catchiness of two to create a better track. This happens often in the world of indie rock. I call it conglomeration. The guitars are great in this track.

After opening with a heavy riff, “Cold War Transmissions” breaks away from it to deliver a more melodic-based track. Not nearly pop structured, but melodic. “Glass to the Arson” delivers an almost metal riff, while contrasting passionate, nearly screamed vocals and near whispers. One of the most interesting tracks on the album.

“The Undeveloped Story” contains a riff reminiscent of….Readyfuels. The vocals are reminiscent of…Readyfuels. It feels like a remix almost. A spacey sounding keyboard riff opens “Autobahn” which contributes to the whole “sing-along-in-your-car” feel. The only problem is that the chorus stinks. It totally doesn’t fit the song. “We Dreamt In Heist” smacks you in the face with vocals….not even showcasing the lead riff. It has a cool ‘ah’ part, but that’s about it in this song.

A toned down redux of “Cold War Transmissions” ensues, only the name “Love Song” is slapped on it. When the piano kicks in, it’s cool, But only then. “Cadence” feels like a redux of “We Dreamt in Heist”, making a bad song worse. It’s clearly a love song, judging by the chorus, making that two in a row. After a great intro, “Naïve Orleans” pulses back into their clichéd rock vibes. The song isn’t too close to anything, but it just feels overdone by this time in the CD.

In conclusion, the first 5 songs would have made an awesome EP. In tandem with the other 6, it feels long and unexciting, and diminishes the greatness of the first five tracks. It also relays no emotional message….it’s just blah. Less rough than Chevelle with elements of Jimmy Eat World thrown in. 5 out of 10

The Stellas – Music for Umbrellas

July 17, 2003

This cd is titled astutely. You can take this out on a rainy day, and have shelter from the elements (mood-wise). This girl-fronted punk band isn’t your average dime-a-dozen punk run-of-the-mill. They sport no bassist, but there are bass lines, don’t worry. Although males might have a problem with the pink-ness of this album, the gain cancels out the semi-embarassment.

The album starts off with a bang, producing the catchy, upbeat “Better Off” about a relationship gone wrong. The Stellas’ lyrics mostly deal with relationships, for better or worse. This chorus is such a sing-along that they even put some guys singing along in the background on the last chorus.

The aforementioned lyrics become cliché and overwrought on the next song, “When He Says He Loves Me”. The vocals are also bland during the verses, leaving them nothing to stand on. The chorus has a male and female backup voice, which sounds very cool, as the male voice is an interesting style. The bridge is a killer keyboard riff which you will find yourself humming incessantly.  Together they make this song one of the most fun songs on the album.

‘I Am Wrong’ passes without much ado, which leads into the best sounding track on the album: “Girlfriend”. Their radio single, it features a nifty percussion riff, played on two drumsticks. The guitar line, if not creative, sounds fresh with the keyboards added in. A hummed bridge adds to the character of the song. We continue though ‘Fluff My Aura” which spotlights backup vocals (if backups are the most important, are they still backup?), and “The Bulletproof Anthem” which starts off well but drags way too long.

Next is a cover of The Cars classic “You’re Just What I Needed” which lacks the punch of the original but it still worth a listen. Another short song is tacked on the end, presumably another cover, called “Da Da Da”. “I-40″, the most introspective lyrically, introduces an absorbing bass line, before stating “My hypocritical side…is my downfall.” The CD ends on a green day-ish note, with an acoustic song. Actually it’s an every punk band idea now….but it WAS a green day idea.

Overall, there is much room for improvement, such as development of all the little-used talent in the band (male vocals, great bass playing, lyrical content), and overall refining of material. A good debut, worth the cash. 7 out of 10

As Advertised — Soundtrack To Life EP

www.asadvertisedband.com
www.mp3.com/asadvertised

Some bands take a while to get used to, but you enjoy them more with every listen. As Advertised is different. They hook you instantly, sucking you into their charm and diversity, and still get better each time you listen. This CD, a mere 27:34, has more styles than some bands can pull off in an entire career.

The five-piece kicks off with a short intro, which leads into “Heidi”, a medium-tempo punk song. It’s a great opener, leaving you wanting more of this canned adrenaline, while adequately displaying everything AsAd (as the nickname goes) is: tactful, fresh lyrics; clear, emotive vocals, and talent from every member of the band.

They promptly toss a curve, and fade into “The First Time”. With an acoustic guitar and minimal percussion, this song has an almost folk vibe, written as a birthday present for a girlfriend. It moves along well, being pretty without being boring. Those who were waiting for more punk are treated to “I Know, I Know”, a pop punker which begs to be danced to. A keyboard carries the lead riff for “Homecoming”, an electric version of an acoustic ballad off their debut CD “Let’s Just Be Friends”. It is catchy beyond all reason, and features a great bass line as well.

The last printed track (August) ensues, and it’s a slow, immersing, sounds-so-sad-but-is-just-as-beautiful double acoustic emo masterpiece. The hidden track is very humorous, and I’ll let you discover it for yourself. Overall, the frontman, JD Campbell, shines lyrically and vocally, which is a rare thing in the world of punk. Like it has been said, you can teach yourself to play better, but you can’t change your voice.

A jewel in any CD collection, this is worth two or three times the price it goes for. Check them out immediately, you won’t be disappointed. 9 out of 10

Mourning September — 3-song pre-release

Mourning September may or may not be a reference to that infamous day. It really doesn’t matter though, because the music speaks for itself. This three song-prerelease is an excellent taste of what’s to come.

A drum solo is the lead-in to “Running”, a melodic rock song which asks a question no one wants to answer: “What are you running….running from? What is it you escape?” The bridge is by far the most interesting part of the song, after the lyrics. The lead riff from ‘Goodbye’ almost sounds punk until the whole band fills in, pounding out a driving force to accompany the pain-filled vocals. Lyrics could be absent and the point would still be made, as the intonation is expertly done. The breakdown is terrific, a characteristic of MS.

‘Every Dream’ showcases the drummer’s technical ability, and the most haunting vocals on this short EP surface during the chorus. The characteristic breakdown isn’t the best, but a fantastic outro appears, redeeming it.

My qualms with this are length and variation. The three songs all have a mid-tempo vocal style that, while interesting, I would like to see them differ from. Overall, it leaves me wanting so much more. Then again, that’s the point. Well crafted, I’ll be expecting great things from them. 7-10

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