Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Damezumari- Coffee Spoons and Knives

March 21, 2004

Damezumari- Coffee Spoons and Knives

I love slow things. I am a mellow person at heart, even though I can get excited easily. I headbang with the best of them. I punk out when I get a chance. I can do the skank, the Mario jump, the ska walk, all of it. I just like slow things when I can hear them.

Damezumari has done me a favor and combined my love of emo with my love of slowcore, because “Coffee Spoons and Knives” is a slow moving train that runs through your stereo. It starts off with a rather slow, but very complex jam between the instruments, with clean guitars. A quick transition occurs, and the jam continues, but with the guitars laying a bed of distortion. The chaotic screams come in with excellence. They sound chaotic without speeding up the sound one bit, and they fit perfectly on top of the music. This continues for a while, until the screaming drops to singing, the guitars drop back to clean, the vocals fade out, and the song ends. All in less than 3 minutes.

I was blown away. This complete control over mood is something that only the most mature of bands can pull off! There isn’t a chorus here! There isn’t a lead riff! There is no repetition in the entire song! It made me stare at my computer screen in utter disbelief. It made me go and listen to their other songs to see if they were like it. They are.
I don’t know what else to do now but say this: Damezumari is building slowcore screamo. I have never, ever seen any band do anything like this. You will be amazed at Damezumari. If you get them now, you will know emo gods before they became who they were. Damezumari is going to be famous.

Number One Defender Calendar

I may not be the best person to review #1 Defender’s latest album, as I have a history with them. #1 Defender was the very first truly independent emo band that I listened to, and therefore hold a special place in my heart, no matter what they release. But I have put my undying support for them aside, and I will look at this with an even hand.

The Defender has never actually released a full album. “The Diary Truthful” EP is actually the third EP from this highly talented ensemble. There is a good reason for this onslaught of EPs: the average #1 Defender song clocks in at 6 minutes of length, with some going up to nine. If they ever released a full album, the length would be enough to crush any reviewer. But enough dispute on song length. Off to the music.

From their heavy inaugural release “The Lana Lang Effect” EP to their hyper-melodic last release “Shattered Dreams Walking in a Red Moonlight” EP, they have run the gamut of emo sub-genres. On this release, they start combine both the intensity of “Lana Lang” with the melodic mindset of “Red Dreams” to start creating a sound all their own. The drastic contrast between sloppy, cathartic explosions of sound and naive, swooping, blissful washes is what propels their sound. Their songs are forever long because they like to contrast as much as possible.

Their epic for this album is entitled “Remember How to Fly”, a nine minute diary entry that shows us melancholy, happiness, anger, depression, and numbness in one cohesive song. It’s hard to describe, because it crams so much into such a small space. Thanks to #1D’s tendency to pile on contrasting emotions, “Remember How to Fly” is fantastically entertaining, because you truly can never what’s going to happen next. There is no verse-chorus-verse structure. This is sporadic to the max.

In fact, all these songs are fantastically entertaining. The guitars are versatile, the bass playing is MUCH improved (it actually contributes to the sound this time around), and the drumming isn’t the most complicated thing ever, but it fits and keeps #1D moving forward. The vocals fit much better than they ever have, matching melodicism with melodic sections, and screamed, biting, barked vocals in the chaotic sections. They’re tighter in the places they need to be tighter, and sloppier in the places that they were too uptight. They still could be looser in their vocal performances, but I’ll be happy with how much they’ve improved.

I still can’t find anything wrong with #1 Defender. They know their instruments, they know how to write a song, and they have emotion to back it up with. There is nothing that you could dislike about the Defender. I will permanently look forward to new music from the Defender, as they are quickly becoming one of the most reliable, dependable, and trustworthy bands in emo.

Novi Split – Keep Moving

The gurus in the Sunset Alliance camp are geniuses. They have gathered together a fantastic roster of bands, and Sunset Alliance itself is quickly becoming one of my favorite labels. It’s just all so good! The latest Sunset Alliance band that I have the pleasure of reviewing is a little band by the name of Novi Split.

When I say little band, I mean ‘little’. This acoustic-driven album doesn’t even credit the players to what instruments they played. The liner notes do state, however, that this album was “recorded in the bedrooms of loved ones over the last three years”. Even though it took so long, over half of these tracks are under two minutes and thirty seconds long. What do these things have in common? They all serve to show that there is virtually no fanfare surrounding this album.

But the music feels like it should on an album with no fanfare: humble, inviting, and not hyped.  Some ‘small’ releases like these suffer from being too small; they only make sense to the people writing them as a labor of love. Not Novi Split. This acoustic driven folk/pop connects subtly but instantly. Songs such as “Glory! Glory!” are so understated that the confessional lyrics and soft-spoken vocal delivery create the illusion that you are actually talking to the lyricist. It’s the epitome of enveloping.

With the exception of three rock songs and one country ballad, every song here is written in a sparse, haunting down-tempo pop/folk style. As a result, this album is one large emotional sock to the gut. “The New Split” incorporates atmospheric synthesizer, beautiful piano, a xylophone, and heartbreaking harmonies into a beautiful piece about healing from a break-up. This song will go on the every emo kid’s ‘Beautiful Depressing” playlist. I know it’s on mine.

The closest thing that Novi Split has to a radio single would be “Tonight! Tonight!”, a nearly 3-minute pop exclamation point that combines catchy melodies with Novi Split’s characteristic honesty and inclusiveness. It reminded me of Sixpence None the Richer, only with male vocals and less annoying bounce to the arrangement.

This album is a spectacular acoustic album. It has the diversity that so many acoustic acts lack, and it gives us the first taste of some spectacular songwriters. I hope their next album doesn’t take 3 years to record, as I may have withdrawals. Elliot Smith is gone, but Novi Split has skillfully taken his place as the new “great acoustic hope”, returning honesty, passion, and skillful songwriting to the acoustic guitar.

Kramers Rule

Sometimes a reviewer starts to wonder why he gets into the reviewing business. You have to review everything that comes through, even if the material is in genres you don’t especially like. Most of the time the music you get in genres you do like isn’t up to par with other bands you like. Sometimes it just feels like you’re doing a service to the world for no apparent reason other than goodwill.

But then, bands like Kramer’s Rule make an album (From the Fall) in a genre that you love (emo) that is as good as every major-label band you’ve been listening to.

Kramer’s Rule plays what I like to call ‘straight emo’, which consists of two guitars, two vocalists, a bassist, and a drummer playing dark music with a anthemic, dramatic bent, and all bearing emotional scars. I’ve said that before, but I just wanted to make sure you all remembered the formula.

Now, forget the formula. Kramer’s Rule takes the formula, breaks it up into little pieces, throws all the pieces in a pile, then reassembles it in weird ways. They play their music with such gusto and energy that as soon as I listened to it, I started playing air guitar to the lead track “From the Fall”. And who wouldn’t to a song which features driving, pulsing riffs under distorted vocals as well as a bridge section that has a massive guitar breakdown and a yelled section that gave me chills. It’s like the dark power of the new Juliana theory meets the artistic ideals of the old Juliana Theory. It blew me away, because I didn’t think anyone could ever harness the creative power that went into “Emotion is Dead” by TJT, but they surpassed it….in one song.

“ThingsFallApartOnTheirOwn” is the next track, which fuses emo bass’n’drums with a new wave keyboard line that builds exponentially until it falls into the chorus, which is catchier than should be legally possible. If you ever hear this song, you WILL be humming the words “And you….you make me SEE!” over and over. They fuse instrumentals into their album as well, such as the short “Repose” and the soaring guitar lines of “Reversing the Circle Part 1″. The center of the album passes well, with occasional excitement, but nothing to yell about. The last real rock song is “Converge”, a slow-burning song that climaxes in a cataclysmic, exploding end worthy of its 5 minute length.  I had my jaw on the floor. The final track is a semi-acoustic closer track that’s a suiting end to this insanely well done album

If you like experimental, artsy, mathy emo, this is for you. Kramer’s Rule plays this album with the skillful mastery that The Juliana Theory used to possess, and they are quite possibly the best example of experimental emo today.  May this powerful album ever unite coke-rimmed glasses and TI-89s in one accord: the “rock-on” fingers.

Before Braille

Before Braille’s “Cattle Punching On a Jack Rabbit” is an amazing album. How amazing? Well, Before Braille has Rajiv Parel in it. If you’ve ever heard Parel’s solo work, you know how amazing this album has the possibility to be. Instead of being mellow, as in his solo work, he rocks out with the help of his bandmates. The results are truly electric.

The vocalist/lyricist here is brilliant. He’s one of the best vocalists in emo today, and that’s a big honor, seeing as there are a million bands in emo today. Every one of these songs presents emotion by the volumes in words that no one has ever used before: “You’ve signed your name and you’re stuck with us, now you’re regretting it?/You’ve got a square where a circle is, is that how your puzzle fits?/You bite the hand that is feeding you? You dumb ungrateful kids!/We’d rather starve if that’s the way it is,” from “We’re Not Paying for Anything Anymore.” As you can see, there are a lot of words there, and that’s because he spits them out at a rapid-fire pace, creating a blazing trail that will leave you raising your fist and screaming along or scratching your head, left in the dust. This is invigorating material. This is the stuff emo kids live for.

Parel’s guitars are as crazy as ever, with note-intensive riffs flying all over the place in mathy, hardcore bursts. These aren’t solos; These are hooks. You can’t even imagine what a Parel solo would be like.

The rest of the band supports in a fantastic way, providing charging rhythms and crushing backdrops. The bassist is powerful and tasteful, and the drums aren’t punk hyperactive like you’d think. They’re fast, but their drummer isn’t a lightning-snare one-trick pony.

As for the songs, they score on various levels. “Proventil” defines the emo anthem: overflowing emotion, pounding riffs with enough math in them to make your old Calculus teacher happy, fantastic yelled/sung vocals, and an energy that makes you want to move. But just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, they sprung “Well as Well” on me, where they take the emo anthem and up the ante by incorporating jazz. Yes, they have a cornet, a saxophone, a piano, and a clarinet in the climactic finale of this gem, stretching emo in ways it has never seen before.

But that’s not even the best song. In fact, it is the shortest song here that is the best: “We’re Not Paying for Anything Anymore”. This anthem is the best emo anthem I have ever heard, upping “Proventil” with better lyrics, more passion (as if anything more were possible), and a lyrical hook that will leave you breathless.

Before Braille is the new school emo. Their passionate lyrics, blazing delivery, intense guitars, and murderous way with a hook will blow your mind. This is one of the best releases I have ever heard, independent or not.

Anthym

I love it when punk bands know what they are doing. So many punk bands these days play pop-punk that whines and isn’t rebellious in the least. They don’t even know the roots of punk. Punk was born of rebellion. Punk is supposed to be angry. Punk is not supposed to be a happy form of music. The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols…they were not happy music. They were rebels. Ok…enough soapboxing.

Anthym understands punk rebellion. They play their punk music, loud, hard, and rebellious. They scream a lot, so they have bruised vocal chords. They play dark, thrashy chords, so the guitarists have blistered fingers from all the chord mashing. The drumming is tough and fast, so their drummer has muscles six inches tall from the speed with which he plays. Yes, Anthym bears all the hallmarks of a good punk band.

And good punk this is, my friend. If you want a punch in the face, pop this in. The opener “Broken Vessel” is a pretty good song, but the following “Open Arms” is a stellar punk blast. One minute and forty four seconds of real punk bliss, as the guitars slowly drip dissonance and anger. This isn’t speedy or bouncy; this is taking the rebellious punk mentality and updating it for the 21st century. If you want some Mach-2 speeds, check out “Second Chance”, which opens up with a brilliant little guitar ditty before rocketing off into punk speeds. You can also look up “Blind”, where the guitars are frenzied, punked, and fantastic. If you like wicked drums, you should check the stellar drum intro to “Tainted Smile”.

This is real punk music for real punks (you know, the type who sport Mohawks and body piercings). There is no watered down pop-punk here…no whiny white-boy complaints. This is the real deal, and you want this album.

True Emotional Hardcore

March 7, 2004

True Emotional Hardcore

I bet you 10 dollars you’ve never heard an emo song that has a synth in it. Well, “Doing Justice to Closure” by Hope’s the Carrot doesn’t just have a synth in it, it’s driven by a synth. This is a nearly 6 minute song, and the first 3 are actually not that great. Other than the synth line, there’s nothing really original here, and the vocals are off-key and somewhere between a wail and yell. It actually meshes with the chorus, oddly enough, but in the verses it’s annoying.

But at 3 minutes, the synth gets a solo, which emphasizes the effect even more. Then there is an explosion of noise augmented by a screamer, and a spoken word interlude. Then, all hell breaks lose. Two screamers virtually destroy their lungs, dark guitars thrash, drums flail wildly, bass thumps, and the wailing vocals return, but now they work, as they are just another piece of the chaos. This section, which is from 4:07 to the end at 5:45, is pure emo. These aren’t brutal metal screams. These are the screams of futility, of emotion that can’t escape, of pain, of true anger. That is true emo. The last section here is brutal in a completely satisfying way. I was in awe of the chaos that was created.

If the first three minutes of this song could be lopped off, this would be one of my favorite emo songs. The last three minutes are a shot to the back of the head, and I love them. Hope’s the Carrot is a band that understands the true meaning of emotional hardcore. If you want to know what real emo sounds like, listen to Hope’s the Carrot. Now.

This piece starts out melancholy and placid. It picks up slowly, adding a droning effect and a riveting drumbeat. The vocals drop in over it, a wail of sorts. The yelling/wailing vocals don’t work very well over the slowbeats, but once the instruments pick up for the chorus, it’s fantastic. They mesh perfectly. They add in a new-wave invoking synthesizer, giving this a fresh feel. Their screamer works even better than their vocalist. I would’ve used him more, cause whenever he screamed, it added the missing piece to this. The synthesizer gets a solo and rightfully so, because that’s what drives this song, the odd inclusion of it. 3:45 spoken word/scream part invigorated me. The screamer bashes in and this becomes awesome. The synthesizer is blaring, the screams are flailing all over the place. These aren’t brutal screams either. These are screams of futility. These are real emo. This is chaos. This is what emo is about.

Earthy, Neko Case-esque vocals

March 6, 2004

Best Element: Earthy, Neko Case-esque vocals.

Genre: Alt Country

Label: Redemption Records
Website: www.slowvein.com

In this musical world, we name genres that are actually a fusion of two different things (i.e. post rock, alt country, pop-punk, noise rock). Invariably, when a band gets slapped with one of those genres, it will lean more to one direction than the other. For example, Good Charlotte leans more to the pop than the punk.

Slowvein is an alt-country band that has a lot more alt than country. They still have the country inflections and some of their musical trends, but this is a rock album first and foremost. Their vocalist Elizabeth Turner has powerful, earthy vocals that sometimes overpower the music and create a pop-like croon over the music, but mostly they stay raw and thick. They are the main draw to this album, and they don’t dissapoint, although fans of Neko Case might find themselves thinking they’ve heard the voice before.

The guitar work here isn’t innovative, but it’s solid work nonetheless. I would quote a specific place that they’re especially good, but they’re not especially good in any one place. They set a standard for themselves, and they meet it every time, not excelling or falling down in any song.

The biggest song on this album is actually the opener “Train Wreck”, where the best mix of everything comes about. The heavy guitars mesh with deft picking, a wailing harmonica, and electric organ to create a sound reminiscent of a tornado barreling down the Midwest. When Taylor’s vocals come in, she just tears everything up with a vocal performance that hits you like a shot in the back: unexpected and powerful.

“What a World” is a solid alt-country album. It reaches out and grabs your attention, then slowly lets go of it as the music winds on. It’s worth a listen, and even if female vocals in alt-country isn’t a new trend, it’s still pretty awesome.

Number 1 Defender

I didn’t know Spiderman existed in Britain. Call me stupid, but I thought he was an American thing. #1 Defender has taught me otherwise, though. All three song titles and the album title are references to Spiderman. That’s pretty cool in my book, as I love Spiderman.

#1 Defender is, at its core, a melodic emo band. They play every riff, every note with a melodic flourish. No foolin, it’s evident just about everywhere. The first song, titled “MJ (The Girl Next Door)”, is completely melodic, mixing swirling single note melodies over a nice drumbeat. The high, clean vocals fit very well over this, making this song into an amazing elegy. The singer has an impressive range, which he uses to full extent on this song. “An Incident At Oscorp” is much more punky than the previous rock offering, and subsequently the vocals aren’t as good. Thankfully, the infectious riffs make up for it completely. The 8-minute “Welcome to Springwood (A Nice Place To Live)” has a bit of everything. It features their hardest moments, their softest moments, and everything in between. I mean, in 8 minutes of straight rock, you’ve gotta change it up somehow. The catch to this song is in the middle, where they pit a melodic section vs. machine gun bursts of hardness. The only problem is that it feels like a lot of songs strung together instead of one cohesive unit.

This brand of melodic emo isn’t being done too much. It’s upbeat and pretty, and it’s quite awesome. #1 Defender surely has the patent on it, cause they do it so well. This album is really quite incredible, with hardly anything to degrade. It just needs to get longer. Not song length (Please don’t make those longer) but in volume. If you live in Britain, listen to the Defender. Or I’ll attack you. Just kidding.

Best feature: It’s unique emo (and you thought that was an oxymoron).
Genre: Melodic Emo.
Label: None

Read: www.thedefenderfightson.co.uk

Jet City Fix

Best Feature: One of the best ‘retro’ garage bands today.

Genre: Rock’n’Roll

Label: Infect Records www.infectrecords.com

Website: www.

The garage rock revival is an interesting thing. Some bands are forging new heights to garage rock (The Raveonettes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes) while some are regurgitating old stuff (The White Stripes, The Darkness, Jet). People who regurgitate old stuff are interesting to me especially, because I would want to forge new areas, not retread what someone else has done. Plaguiarism doesn’t apply in music though.

The Jet City Fix is a band that straddles both retro and current. They play balls-out rock from the seventies, when rock meant huge major chords, wailing guitars, gargantuan choruses, and yelpy singers. They do that very well. But they also infuse their sound with a lot of punk vibes. In fact, I was tempted to call this a punk album that wants to be retro, but that would be doing it injustice. This is just rock’n’roll for the rebelliousness of it.

The best example of their 70′s rock sound would be “Love it or Leave It”, which is complete with huge, pointless guitar solo, and chugs along in a very awesome way. It even has vintage grunts thrown in for good measure. I mean a song doesn’t get more retro. But they make it sound good!

They also do eighties hair metal, as shown on “Fire It Up”, where they parody the genre so viciously that it looks natural. They know their music history, and man, are they putting it to good use.

But just when you were about to claim this as a classic vintage band, they go and pull out a punk song! Yes, “Sick of Drugs” is a true-blue punk song. It’s a pretty awesome one too.

The only problem with this is that it gets a little monotonous at times. Some of these songs just feel languid and useless (It Don’t Matter), but mostly this album satisfies on all levels.

Looking for some retro-rock that’s fast, hard, and rockin out for no apparent reason other than rock’n’roll’s sake? Look no further than Jet City Fix. This is a great album of rock, showcasing that wonderful time in music before we all got angry. Rock’n’roll rules, man. Rock’n’roll rules.

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