Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Fighting Jacks

November 30, 2003

The Fighting Jacks are on Tooth and Nail. The Fighting Jacks are only about 3 years old. The Fighting Jacks are one freaking lucky band. Barely 3 years old, and on a highly respected label. That’s quite amazing. Therefore, I’m expecting amazing things from them.

Well, they have some amazing moments, and some not-so-amazing moments. The Fighting Jacks play a frenetic, quick paced fusion of pop punk ideals and emo leanings. They play with a pop punk speed and structure, but they have dark riffs, screams, and other hallmarks of an emo band. Despite those commonplace, sellout labels, FJ is decidedly anti-mainstream. Most of their music doesn’t even have a catchy melody or a catchy hook. That’s something to be lauded in this day and age. One negative phenomena FJ suffers from is such: when they hit a vein, they drill it dry, resulting in a rush of short, sound-alike songs that could function as one song (the equally uninspired songs Farewell Senator, Commons and Robbers, and Glass Table). There are some pure gems, don’t get me wrong. The wispy, fading “…Of a Dear Friend”, the punchy “Photobook”, and the purposely dissonant “Chercher” all command inventive intros, emo songwriting substance, fist-raising crunch, and a powerful command of FJ’s trademark sneering, sarcastic vocals. In fact, I like more of this than I dislike.

What we have here is yet another band overshooting their capabilities. They are capable of some amazing rock songs, but instead of starting out small, they busted out of the gate with a full-length. This is only their second release by themselves (another was a split), and they just need to refine their sound some more. If I were to pick the 6 best songs off this 12-song album and put them out as an EP for them, it would be one of the best debuts of the year. It’s just that the other 6 songs all sound the same. If you like emo with a refined edge (Thursday, Finch) this will be a great addition to your collection.

Read: www.fightingjacks.com
Listen: www.mp3.com/fightingjacks
Buy: www.bestbuy.com (sells it for 8 bucks….not bad!)

Castle Oldchair

I could tell Castle Oldchair was going to be a bit odd as soon as I opened the package. The art is drawn a bit oddly, and the liner notes are printed backwards (you need a mirror to read them….I tried it). Also, in the finished copy of this album, there will be a blank CD-R included, encouraging people to burn this and give it to a friend, family member, enemy, etc, etc. It’s grass-roots independent in the highest sense of the word.

Castle Oldchair is completely indie pop. Everything about his sound is laid back, upbeat, mellow, and fun. Led by an acoustic guitar and accompanied by an array of instruments that includes violin, synthesizer, and distorted vocals, this is quite an eclectic piece of work. There are some tracks that are only guitar, bass, and drums, but they are the minority here. Most pieces are layered, harmonic, and surprisingly full-sounding pieces of folk art-pop that are made for the purpose of making music. Because of the down-home feel, all the songs have a homely, not-too-loud feel. The vocals here are clear and consistent, yet a bit held back, creating a warm, endearing feel to the music. The lyrics that are put forth are a bit off-kilter, like the rest of Castle’s sound. They often contemplate deep thoughts, but they wrap the thoughts up in odd stories or surround them with non sequitur statements. This is especially evident on “Joanne Creasy”, a melancholy, stark song with passing references of religious depth. Another standout track is the lush, Cake-like “Speaking of Diamonds”.

This is Sunday afternoon music. Mellow, happy, and simple-sounding, this is an amazing album to just chill to. It has an abundance of artistic and technical merit as well, but this doesn’t deserve to be picked apart. Castle Oldchair should be taken correctly: enjoyed while lazing around, avoiding work on a bright, sunny day.

Read: www.castleoldchair.com
Listen: www.castleoldchair.com
Buy: www.castleoldchair.com

Barton Gill

Don’t ever let Barton Gill hear you say that funk is dead. He’ll bust out a funk song that he just wrote and prove you wrong. This CD is a battle between 70’s funk music and Modern Era rock music. It’s an odd mix, but it provides some good results.

Most of Gill’s work is lead by acoustic with electric accompaniment. This is especially evident on the rock tracks, all of which are veritable epics of songwriting skill. “Farther From”, the rocking centerpiece of this album, features a haunting melody, innovative guitar lines, and an infectious amount of charisma. Those qualities are apparent all over the disc, from the modern rock of “Reach Out” to the moderate tempo closer “Lovely Armageddon”. Even in his funky pieces (the aptly titled “Funky Fresh”, “Believe”, “See You Now”) good songwriting is evident, as none of them are too harsh on the ears. Only one is ‘true funk’ though, the rest are hybrids, which improves things even more. The vocals aren’t too harsh on the ears either, as they are crooning and mellow in some places, pulsing and emotive the next, but always strong and sure. “Farther From” is the most obvious choice for “Best Vocal Performance”, but “Reach Out” isn’t too far off.

Barton Gill has one foot firmly in the past, and one foot firmly in the present. His songwriting skill is top-notch, though, giving these seven songs life where there shouldn’t be life, and interest where no interest is due. A songwriter with a functioning internal editor, a good voice, talent, and variety is definitely something to watch for, and Barton Gill fits all those categories very well.

Read: www.clearchannelnewmusicnetwork.com/artist/bartongill
Listen: http://artists.iuma.com/IUMA/Bands/Barton_Gill/
Buy: N/a

StanXa

November 23, 2003

There have always been not enough emo Christmas songs. Maybe everyone’s too happy on Christmas to write an emo song, which, as we all know, are mostly depressing. Still, emo Christmas songs are cool, and I thank Stanxa for bringing along the best one I’ve ever heard.

“(Caught In The Headlights) On a Christmas Night” is indicative of Stanxa style: A long, drawn out emo masterpiece of complete melodicity and volume.  Their guitars are either flowing or crunching, the bass is thumping, and the singer is either crooning in his overtly British, melodic voice or nearly screaming. In fact, one of the three spine-tingling moments of this album comes when Tom Lennard screams “Your world has gone, cloud eats the sun” during the chorus. Another gut-wrenching moment is the end of “You Bring The Heart, I’ll Bring The Stake” where the two guitars play one of the prettiest duets I’ve heard in a long time. The third and final moment is during the all-around best song: “Wound”. The grunge-fueled masterpiece features a fantastic drum intro (the drumming throughout this album is top-notch) and a massive, heaving grunge breakdown that thrilled me.

This is some good hyper-melodic British emo. It could be better, as one track (Love Bites) is a dud and the rest all seem vaguely familiar, but overall, this is worth it. Highly entertaining, Stanxa is a sure bet.

Read: www.stanxa.co.uk
Listen: www.mp3.com/stanxa

Buy: N/a.

Orizon

These days, it seems that the only place modern rock exists is on the radio. I can hardly find any of it underground. It could be that it doesn’t exist, or I’m just looking in the wrong places. Either way, Orizon is the first independent modern rock group I’ve heard in a long while.

Their songs flaunt modern rock flair without shame. “Black Box” has a distinctly Trapt feel to it which resounds throughout the album, although “Black Box” shows it most. While they are modern rockers, they don’t hesitate to slow down, as “Breathe Deep” has a nice long intro that smacks of sadness and introspective views. Don’t call it emo though. It’s not. The best song here, the quiet yet lithe “One Good Reason”, has a stellar vocal performance, unassisted by the screams they sometimes use. It feels like New-School Juliana Theory (“Love” Era….you know, the non-emo album).

How we rate this depends on what your standards are. The usual standard is: Would this get play on a modern rock station? The answer to that is a resounding yes. They are just rebellious enough to fit in well with the watered-down metal of today’s radio. But my standard has always been “Will you want to listen to this again?” The answer to that is a bit less resounding, but still yes. The funny thing is: The quieter stuff is better. But when all is said and done, Orizon is a modern rock band that’s straddling the line between powerful and beautiful, and both work.

Read: www.orizonmusic.com

Listen: www.orizonmusic.com

Buy: www.orizonmusic.com

Will Rock For Jesus

November 22, 2003

Will Rock For Jesus is a compilation of a bunch of Christian rock bands, if it wasn’t inherently obvious by the title. It hardly warrants an introduction.

This cd was put together by the pop-friendly Word Records, and it shows, completely. If there are three words to describe this, they are: radio-ready, catchy, and upbeat. In fact, even some bands that are normally consistently rock (Denison Marrs, Seventh Day Slumber, and GS Megaphone) have contributed (errr, had songs chosen for them) that are more poppy than average. In fact, the only two hard songs here are the emo-rock stylings of Cool Hand Luke and the nearly metal EastWest (an odd inclusion on this pop-filled disc). That’s not to say that harder is better. Sometimes you just need a good pop song. The best candidates for this are actually near the end of the album. “She” by Radial Angel is a jubilant, shameless pop/rock love song, and it’s infectious as the flu. You just have to feel happy after hearing it. A little more on the melancholy side is GS Megaphone with “Beautiful World”, a rocker that has definite Our Lady Peace vibes. And with a slightly more dark feel is Number One Gun with “On and On”, which, despite having a cliché name, is a nice light emo song.

Well, this hardly lives up to its name. For most people, this just isn’t worth the time. But for some people who like an occasional upbeat song in your White Stripes/Thursday-dominated CD cases, this just might do the trick for ya.

Read: www.wordrecords.com
Listen: www.wordrecords.com
Buy: N/a

Mono Vs Stereo

November 20, 2003

Everyone complains about compilation albums. It’s true that they are sometimes sub-par in their choice of bands. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a perfect comp. All comps have at least one song that must be skipped. This comp is the inaugural release from new label Mono vs. Stereo. The label promises to be an emo/hardcore/art rock label, as those genres are the most highly represented here.

Every comp needs some star power to get people hooked. Mono Vs. Stereo’s ‘lead’ is Matt Thiessen and The Earthquakes. As solid proof that leads work, I will confess that I got this strictly for the beautiful, emotive piano stylings of Thiessen’s side project (His day job is heading up the fantastic punk band Relient K).  This is only Thiessen’s second published track, but with “Poison Ivy” he firmly solidifies the notion in my mind that he is one of the best blokes ever to plunk the keys. His trademark of culture-soaked, emotive, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and beautiful, flowing voice command respect in this song. The song itself is about a rocky breakup, but it’s portrayed so elegantly in both lyric and melody that it is the best break-up song I’ve ever heard.

Even though Thiessen is obviously the hook, he’s the last track. The rest of the album is not that quiet at all. The first three bands (The Evan Anthem, House of Heroes and Embraced) provide the best that emo has to offer. Mono Vs Stereo’s own The Evan Anthem has the first track, entitled “Goodnight, Good Fight”. It’s a highly melodic, catchy brand of rock/emo comparable to Full Collapse-era Thursday. House of Heroes contributes their brand of punk/emo, which is comparable to Brand New. The chorus is completely anthemic, and I can hear the crowds screaming it now. Embraced shows up with “Saratoga” which is a rocker that showcases their trademark screamo. There are 4 other screamo bands here (Boywunder, Colson, Showdown, and Uriah Omen), but Embraced clearly shows the most strength and consistency out of them all. With crunchy, ear-pleasingly dissonant riffs and a clear sense of direction that the others lack, it’s easy to see why. The weirdest song offered here is the poppy guitar rock of The Connotations, who are somewhat akin to Fountains of Wayne except for the fact they scream some of the vocals over their keyboard inflected “We Are Trouble By the Truckloads”. It works surprisingly well. Also worth checking out are the tunes from Marcco (a laid-back tune which echoes the work of Sixpence None the Richer, only in a minor key with a male singer) and Andy Zipf (an art-rocker who could draw comparisons to the work of Kevin Max).

On the whole, this is an average comp. Both the beginning and the end are extremely strong, but the middle is a hit-and-miss affair. It’s definitely worth the money though, as it holds the gem of “Poison Ivy”. Mono vs. Stereo is clearly a label that will grow into something phenomenal over time, as they have their talent meter set to “Stun”. It’s not set on “Kill” yet (Deep Elm and Tooth & Nail are about the only two labels that can boast that), but I feel it definitely will be soon.

Read: www.monovsstereo.com

Listen: www.monovsstereo.com
Buy: www.monovsstereo.com

Murder By Death

November 19, 2003

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Murder by Death/Appleseed Cast/Unwed Sailor/Street to Nowhere

The Conservatory, Oklahoma City, OK

I have looked forward to this concert for a long time- mostly because my favorite song in the world is The Appleseed Cast’s “Fishing the Sky” (which I wrote about last month), Unwed Sailor’s The Faithful Anchor is a fantastic album, and we’ve written about Street to Nowhere in Independent Clauses before (we reviewed their first-ever demo back when we weren’t even monthly). This concert was worth waiting for.

Street to Nowhere kicked off the bands, and while their sound was the least technical, it was cemented by a solid vocal performance. Their moody indie-rock often conformed to the soft/loud/soft/loud pattern of songwriting, but with lead singer Dave’s impeccable two-octave range, whistling, occasional yelling, and miscellaneous vocal noises, the song were never, ever boring. They played a couple songs I recognized, the best one being “Dead Cliché”, which was passionate and gripping. The audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy their set, which is uncommon for an opener band, but when you’re this talented, it’s easy to enjoy. You can catch them on tour for the next month with The Futureheads and the Cold War Kids. They’ve already toured with the Format, too…so they’re going places.

Unwed Sailor brought their brand of highly technical, complicated, intricate, difficult rock to the forefront next. Their songs were so long that they only played 3 or 4, but what they did play was fantastic. Weaving guitar lines, dainty key sections, thundering drum beats that reminded me for a second of the Appleseed Cast’s complex drumming, and a bassist that almost decapitated two guys in the front row with all of his violent thrashing resulted in one of the most engrossing shows I’ve seen in a while. Their sound was fantastic, and even without vocals, the crowd was pretty involved. With exciting guitar riffs and a firm grip on dynamics, it was to be expected.

Appleseed Cast set up a surprisingly small amount of equipment- one small keyboard, two guitars, a bass, and a standard drumset except for one additional small china cymbal. There weren’t a huge amount of pedals, nor was there much other stuff. It is sheer musicianship that makes the Appleseed Cast’s music- not trickery. While they didn’t play “Fishing the Sky” (much to my dismay), they did play extremely well, mixing up material from their new album Peregrine with older material. The highlights of the show were “Sunlit and Ascending” and “Mountain Halo”, though- both off the new album, but both astounding in their overall presentation. Watching the drummer play was like watching a gymnast do a routine- arms and legs were always moving in strange directions, although many of the drumbeats seemed to move around the drum set in a circular fashion. While their movements were pretty static, their lack of activity was made up for in sheer power and musical excitement. They rarely talked to the audience, preferring to play tape-recorded segments in a 50’s radio announcer style about the state of the world and politics and things in general. It was cool, although I would’ve liked to hear them say more. Overall, their confidence and composure was impressive. When a band can stop a song in the middle to fix a broken bass drum beater, then start up without missing a note, you know they’re onto something good.

Finally, Murder by Death attacked the stage. I say attacked, and I mean it. I have never seen anything quite like Murder By Death. The rhythm section looked like it just graduated from a hardcore band- I’m not sure if they always dress in all black or if they whipped it out just for this show, but their tattoed, black-wearing, ear-pierced, intimidating selves looked ready to beat someone’s face in. The guitarist and the cellist dressed in garb more reminiscent of an indie-rock powerhouse, but they still looked ready for a wild throwdown. Their wild sound seems almost impossible to put to paper- sometimes like a wild psychobilly band, sometimes sounding like a hardcore band with a cello, as lead singer Adam Turla yelled the lyrics and the audience yelled back at him. Sometimes they sounded like a straight-up rock band, with crashing drums, throbbing bass, and wild strumming on a guitar in the shape of flames (it didn’t have flames on it- it was carved in the shape of flames. How tight is that?). The best moments came when the cello was featured- I have never seen anyone attack a stringed instrument with as much fervor as cellist Sarah Balliet did. Her arms were frantic, working the bow and fretting with such speed that I didn’t think that anything cohesive could possibly be coming out, notewise. But I was always proved wrong, as the music was always immaculate. I have never seen a band love being a band as much as Murder By Death does- joking between songs, laughing while playing, smiling often, they just seemed to love being who they were. Songs about zombies? Awesome. Songs about brothers? or whiskey? Anything goes, as long as they like it.

Some people at the show had every lyric memorized, and yelled along and sung along and whispered along, making the atmosphere even more intense. It was the most fun I’ve had at a concert in a long, long time. If and when Murder by Death comes back, I will be there. They’ve converted me.

I think it’s the only show I’ve ever been to where I had four extremely positive experiences out of the four bands I heard. Definitely a tour worth catching, if you can. It’s an amazing time.

-Stephen Carradini

independentclauses@hotmail.com

Crew

November 16, 2003

Crew clearly states on their website that their music is marketable. I would have to agree with that statement. Their melodic rock offerings are so contagiously catchy and inventive that I couldn’t think of who to compare them to. It’s just too good to compare to anything on the radio! They also boast that their music is hard to turn off. Is that true? Oh heck yeah it is.

What makes this CD amazing is the nearly flawless vocal delivery. Doug Brown’s clear, seemingly effortless voice breathes much more life into the already fluid rock that is supplied by the guitars. A polished master of the vocal hook, Brown takes over every song on “Day After Yesterday”, making each tune bend to his will. But if he can control them all, why not let him?

The guitars of a rock variety, very melodic and anthemic, invoking a Vertical Horizon feel at times. Don’t be afraid, Crew rocks a lot harder and better than VH ever has. There’s just a small comparison there. The lyrics are great as well, done in a completely non-emo style. And that is a very good thing, because the world is getting tired of those. These lyrics are emotional, but they never try to confuse or sound deep or become ambiguous. They just tell, and they end up being beautiful. Crew stretches their songs really long, with none of the eight tracks being below 4 minutes in length. To some bands that would be death, but to Crew, it just gives them more time to work their magic. “Who You Are” is a perfect example of this, with a driving, moody mentality and a dangerously catchy chorus melody that gets better each time you hear it. Also spectacular is the rest of the album. Specifically though, the piano elegy “Mailbox” gives a complete sense of contentedness that doesn’t come too often.

Crew has some major positive vibes going on here. I didn’t dislike a single track on this album, and I seriously can’t turn it off. It has such passion captured in it that you can’t help but want to hear it again. It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and it’s so smooth. So smooth.

Read: www.crewband.com
listen: www.crewband.com
Buy: pfeffermatthew@hotmail.com

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Paul Wright

November 15, 2003

The Paul Wright EP has two distinctive features. The first is that Paul Wright is a white guy whose EP features pictures of him skating on an old-school skateboard. White guy solo acts are instantly corellated to acoustic guitar. The second is that Mr. Wright’s label is Gotee Records, which has a few rock acts but mostly hip-hop and rap acts. So it wasn’t too weird when I found that Paul Wright is a white guy who raps over an acoustic guitar.

Yes, Paul Wright is a white rapper. Thankfully, he sings just as much, if not more, than he raps. After a short intro track, the opening track “Your Love Never Changes” shows us basically what Mr. Wright is made of. A guitar-heavy mix of acoustic guitar, bass, and drums accompany his hip-hop inflected sung vocals. He sounds like white rapper John Reuben, and he shares Reuben’s talent for writing catchy choruses. The chorus for “Your Love Never Changes” is a killer in the area of catchiness. The rest of the album is a mix of rap, hip-hop, reggae, and acoustic pop. It comes off slick and fresh, accompanied by a multitude of back-up singers, features, bgv’s, and other effects. The raps here are quick and effortless, and since this is Gotee, nothing offensive is featured in any of them. Some of them are heavily Christian, and some of them aren’t. It just depends. The instant favorite on this EP is the breezy, fun “Microphone Check”, which is a mellow freestyle rap about nothing in particular. Another highlight is the sample infused acoustic-only song “Wonderful Creator”, where he clearly displays his great voice.

The acoustic guitar has been stretched lately. With both Full Surrender and Paul Wright on the scene, the acoustic guitar is finally getting the attention it deserves. The Paul Wright EP is really just a teaser his upcoming release, but the laidback, light hip-hop vibe of this EP is well worth the money right now. The mood is infectious, and you just feel a lot happier after it. Thus, Paul Wright is a multi-faceted act that instills an upbeat feeling in whatever he plays.

Read: www.paulwrightmusic.com

Listen: www.paulwrightmusic.com

Buy: www.paulwrightmusic.com

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