Band: The Tokyo Smash
Album: The Scene Queen Reigns Supreme EP
Best Element: The driving hardcore guitar element.
Label: Recorse Records (www.recorserecords.com)
Band E-mail: –
You know that album that everyone tells you is an amazing, must-have album? First off, it takes you forever to get it (inevitably). Then, when you finally get out to the record shop to get it, take it home, and throw it in your stereo, you end up saying “HUH?”
That was my reaction when I put in The Tokyo Smash’s The Scene Queen Reigns Supreme EP. It’s punk-core. It’s fine but nothing special, which was a let-down after I had read and heard so much about the magnificence of this album. It’s kind of like Boy’s Night Out without the experience or the writing ability BNO has.
The EP is basically a decent band with a singer who took his heart-wrenching teenage angst poetry and screamed it with the music. Then he got one of the guys in the band to sing every other line after he screams it. All the lyrics are reminiscent of every song I ever tried to write but gave up on because they sucked. The singer also uses the same breathing patterns in every song. Maybe I’m being picky, but it gives every song the same feel. Maybe the screamer will grow up lyrically, because he does have a good sound- we can only hope.
The instruments on this EP are pretty good; you can tell these guys know how to handle a guitar and bass. All the music is a cross between BNO and Yellowcard, so it’s nothing incredible but its respectable. Track seven, “Crush’s Got Gas Money Too”, is the only track with instrumentals that strongly resemble those of Yellowcard.
Over all it’s a fine album but it’s nothing to jump up and down over. Maybe if the lyricist grows up and starts to write more poignant lyrics the band will be a lot better. I hope they do, because they have a driving sound I like.
-Scott Landis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Now don’t quote me on this but I think that the screamer Aaron J. was the guest vocalist on Thursday’s War All the Time tour. I’m pretty sure the guy’s name was Aaron and he sure as hell looks like him. If you know, email me.
Band: The Felix Culpa
Best element: Being able and willing to play a genre of music and play it well.
Genre: Post-Hardcore / Indie
Label: Common Cloud (www.commoncloud.com)
Band E-mail: email@example.com
Sit back and imagine your ultimate hardcore/ emo/ indie band. Fill it in with your favorite members of your favorite bands. My band would have Geoff Rickley (Thursday, Vox) Francis Mark (From Autumn To Ashes, Drums/ Vox) Derek and Ryan (Poison the Well, Guitar) Nick Torres (Northstar, Guitar/ Piano/ Vox/ random sounds) and Tim Payne (Thursday, Bass). This, in my opinion, is the best band that today’s underground scene could produce. And yet, The Felix Culpa has all the elements of my “ultimate band” and then some. Their full-length debut Commitment has me excited that music may yet live. This album is an ingenious 60-minute piece of non-stop musical art.
The album starts out with “A Benediction”, which is an artsy piece reminiscent of Northstar’s Is This Thing Loaded?. “No. 5 with a Bullet” starts to spice things up with backing screams, but “Aphoristic Instruction” was the first track that really caught my attention. The song sounds like Thursday’s Waiting, which is another genius album. Waiting, released on Eyeball Records in 1999, was Thursday’s first EP released on a label- it also served to open the door for post-hardcore as we know it. I love Waiting and to hear a band playing music reminiscent of it is great.
“Aphoristic Instructions” also features bassist Tristan Hammond taking over lead vocals and does a killer job in the lead role.
“Numbers” is most likely the best track on the album. Adding a little more screaming than in past songs and a killer bass part in the verse, “Numbers” really gives you an idea of what this band is capable of. Bassist Hammond is once again showcased on vocals but this time in a screaming role- and once again he is amazing. Though it is not the most complex song on the album, “Numbers” brings a great harder feel to the album.
I could spend a week talking about the rest of the album, because it only gets better from “Numbers” on, but I won’t. I’m just going to say that these guys deserve attention from everyone. The Felix Culpa is currently on Common Cloud Records, a label that has been bringing some great music above ground, or at least to the level of underground that I hang out at. I really can’t wait to see where this band goes from here. They have the talent to land a deal on Victory or The Militia Group and the sound to get on Deep Elm or Equal Vision; my only concern for these guys is that they are too eclectic for most tastes. The album has a light floating indie track sandwiched in between two post-hardcore tracks. Hopefully this will be looked on as an asset, as I see it.
Hailing from Rockford, IL, The Felix Culpa has the ability to grow into the best underground band since Thursday. I really hope they do. As their press kit says “Rock music was intended to be an audible representation of the chaotic and intangible aspects of being human.” This album and band are this representation.
-Scott Landis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The IC Philosophy
Most groups have a philosophy that ties them together. Whether it be ‘party hard’ or ‘never give up’ or ‘When in the course of human events…’, every group has a central philosophy that everyone in the group works towards.
Here at the IC, our philosophy is simple. At the risk of sounding hypocritical, it also has two parts, but I assure you that not only are both of these points extremely logical, they’re actually easy to understand.
The first point in our creed is directed towards what we publish as a zine. The motto of “Only music, every time” is truly what we aim for as a zine. You won’t find politics here (unless it’s an article about the RIAA). You won’t find culture here (unless it’s about some cultural phenomenon sweeping the indie music world). You won’t find movie reviews or book reviews (unless they specifically have to do with music). Nope, this zine is about music, and music alone.
Some may say a stance that narrow could lead to a boring, repetitive zine- and to those people, we defiantly reply: How many states are there? Yeah, there are 50 states, and thousands of cities. Even if each city ponies up only two bands, that still leaves us with tens of thousands of bands to review. They all deserve reviews.
That brings us to our next bullet point: The IC wants to hear your band. We’ll review your first concert as if it were Bleach’s final concert (which I didn’t get to attend- quite angry about that). We don’t care if it’s the band down the corner, the band in your local venue, the regional stars poised to make it big- all have the same weight in the IC’s book. I’ve heard bands that haven’t ever played a show make more astounding music than bands who have flooded their scene with performances. The best show I’ve ever seen came out of a band who’d been together less than 6 months (The Programme- and what a sight they were to behold). Hype doesn’t equal quality, for one, and after all, the hype has to start somewhere! I’d rather be carrying the torch for the new hype than standing on the streets, waving palms and coats at the already-hyped indie band (Grandaddy, Modest Mouse, Broken Social Scene). Now don’t get me wrong- all three of those bands are pretty spectacular in their own right, and I listen to Grandaddy and Modest Mouse on a regular basis. You just won’t see much of their hype printed here.
The IC isn’t a fan-boy trying to get ins with his favorite bands. The IC isn’t a bunch of indie snobs trying to gratify those bands which are already ‘holier than thou’. The IC is a bunch of people who love music. We want you to know about the music we love, and which music to avoid. And if we start some hype along the way, hey- we never said we were against starting hype….
-Stephen Carradini, Editor-in-chief
Band Name: T
Album Name: Plan A EP
Best element: Unique Americana voice
Genre: Americana (Pop/Rock/Alt-country)
Label name: New Sheriff Creative Enterprises www.newsheriff.net
Band e-mail: Ttheband@newsheriff.net
Listening to T’s Plan A EP is a little bit like listening to Counting Crows’ [u/”>August and Everything After for the first time. A listener knows that he wants to tell someone about this amazing noise that he’s heard, but he doesn’t know how to describe it.
The biggest problem for spreading both T and Counting Crows is that it’s tough to talk about. Is it pop? Well, it sounds like pop sometimes, and it has pop song structures, but it feels like and injustice to call these emotive songs simply “pop”. Is it alt-country? No, definitely not- there’s the occasional steel guitar accents, and some could find the country inflections in the vocals if they listened closely, but this is not Jayhawks territory. Is it rock? By virtue of not being any of the other two, it should be rock, but it really isn’t- it never gets that hard or that loud or that full of attitude. It’s the genre that is a compilation of all these: Americana, a distinctly earthy, distinctly American, and distinctly unique sound.
And T’s excellent at it. The vocals are plaintive, striking, and emotionally charged in a way that no emo band will ever understand (although Adam Duritz does). The soft, jangly guitars and punchy, yet concise drumming come together nicely below these emotive vocals to form a spacious, inviting backdrop. The keys finish off this sound by playing with subtle, non-piano effects instead of overt key noises, which in turn meshes all the parts together. The lyrics are stellar as well- although not printed, one can still catch a pretty deep meaning from the lyrics to these three songs. The comparisons to Counting Crows are undeniable throughout, but somehow, it feels different as well.
Overall, T took a page out of the Counting Crows Americana textbook, rewrote it, and sent it back out as a new product. Just like that’s not plagiarism in English, rewriting the pattern isn’t plagiarism in music, as T has established itself as a unique voice that demands to be heard from this three-song EP.
Band Name: Sophomore
Album Name: Lipstick Fix EP
Best element: Rock like it should be.
Label name: N/a
Band e-mail: email@example.com
-no art available-
Rock is so underprivileged these days. All the ‘hip’ bands are pledging allegiance to genres that only use the word rock as an afterthought: dance-rock, post-rock, indie rock. Well, Sophomore is as hip as any band out there, and they play rock. No, I lied- they play balls-out, fist-raising, guitar worshipping, 80’s-watching, all-out kamikaze rock.
Lipstick Fix EP oozes with attitude from the very beginning of “”Bang! You’re It!”, when it smacks you in the face a bunch of guys yelling in unison to the chorus. The guitars burst out too, and the rock is brought. They pull from the loud drumming and guitar-centric ideals of arena rock in the 80’s for most of their inspiration, and let me tell you: there’s nothing cooler happening in rock right now. Their fusion of current rock ideas (ie screaming for effect, occasional double pedal bass drum, modern vocal melody structure) with vintage arena rock creates a sound rocking harder than any other. Even though arena rock was built on posing, there isn’t anything fake about Sophomore. When those guitars roll and the vocals soar on “The Fade from Gray to White”, you can’t help but feel it. This band knows how to make music that moves you- and they aren’t afraid to do anything: They even slow it down for “The Ones We Bury”, and they’re stellar there too- because the vocalist showcases his extensive melodic talent brilliantly.
Sophomore is rock. All four of these songs strike of inventive song-writing, balls-out rock with a tad of hardcore influence (Sophomore used to be a hardcore/emo band), and pure yell-inducing riffs. There’s not a band out there that personifies the spirit, the sound, the ideals of rock and roll better than Sophomore.
Band Name: Levi Smith
Album Name: The One With Bass and Drums
Best element: Diversity in songwriting.
Genre: Adult Alternative
Label name: N/a
Band e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Levi Smith’s The One with Bass and Drums is a rather stunning upbeat acoustic pop CD. While many will immediately correlate Smith with John Mayer, the differences stop after one gets over the fact that both lead acoustic-fronted bands that play pop music. Levi Smith is much more experimental, versatile, enjoyable, and commendable than his misplaced reference point.
Yes, Levi Smith yells at the end of “Close Enough”, rocks out in “Slowly Walk Away” (which also features an undeniably funky intro), and mellows out for “I’d Like to Think So”- all in addition to his home sound of upbeat pop. And even in upbeat acoustic pop, he beats out Mayer, because Mayer for sure never had this much clarity or smoothness in his voice, and there’s marked evidence that Mayer never had a large choir of men singing in the background (as Smith does in “Bitterness is Sexy”). That’s instant credibility right there: throw in something that cool in one song, and you’re bound to be cool in other places.
Among those other places would definitely be “I’d Like to Think So” and “What are You Waiting For?” The former displays the guitar skills of Smith, which are occasionally lost in the good songwriting of the other songs. With an extremely talented bassist and a jazz-and-caffeine-fueled drummer, these songs take on a life of their own, turning the sum into more than the parts. While this is fantastic, it’s also great to see Smith displaying his guitar skills, as he does on “I’d Like to Think So”.
“What Are You Waiting For?” is the kicker on this album- the track that obviously means the most to the band, and obviously is the most fun to play, and obviously is the best. It features all the good band traits I talked about earlier (recap: vocal clarity, strong bass presence, jazzy drumming, cohesive songwriting) and adds in the final element: piano. There’s no way you can listen to this song without feeling something- and that’s the way a good song should be.
Levi Smith is not just a songwriter- he’s a tunesmith. With the help of his band, he crafts songs that are diverse, rich, and solid. If there were justice in the world, Levi Smith would be the household name instead of John Mayer- because no matter how talented a soloist Mayer is, he can’t hold a candle to the songwriting prowess of Levi Smith.
Band Name: Hotel Lights
Album Name: Hotel Lights
Best element: Relatable, beautiful music.
Label name: n/a
Band e-mail: email@example.com
When I received the debut album from Hotel Lights, Oklahoma was in an unusual weather pattern. When I say unusual, I mean unusual in the sense that it had been the same general mood and temperature for more than two days in a row. That weather pattern was dreary as it gets, too: I dubbed it Tulsa gone Seattle, because for two straight weeks, we fell victim to fog, rain, mist, gloom, and no sun.
I popped the album in my stereo on the second day of this morose weather, and I was greeted with equally forlorn soundscapes. The somber folk/pop that Hotel Lights play sounds like a rainy day- and that’s a really great thing in this case. For instance, the best track (and opener) “You Come and I Go” builds from a creaky vocal line and a simple guitar line by adding the most dejectedly beautiful piano line I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s so hopelessly pretty that I kept rewinding my CD to hear the 11-second clip. It’s mournful, it’s somber, it’s beautiful, and that’s the album in a nutshell. This isn’t a happy CD, but it is an amazing one.
“Stumblin’ Home Winter Blues” evokes Dylan at his poetic, most beautiful best- if Dylan sounded this good when he played a ballad, there would be no dispute as to Rolling Stone’s implied claims that he is the greatest artist ever. “The Mumbling Years” is simply majestic, as Darren Jesse purposefully muddles his way through an excellent piano/bass backdrop and creates a stunning contrast. The reminiscent “Small Town Shit” sounds like the closing scene of an emotional movie- sweeping, humble, and tear-jerking. Most of these tracks have some amazing quality of that nature- each has its own greatness involved.
In fact, the only places where this album falls short are the two attempts at rock. “I Am a Train” and “Marvelous Truth” come off simply as annoying instead of actual contributions to the album. I skip them nearly every time, because they just don’t offer much in the way of substance. “I Am a Train” is better than “Marvelous Truth”- but neither are very good when held up to such gems as “Stumblin’ Home Winter Blues”.
If you like mellow music, this is your album. I’ve listened to this album at least 50 times since I received it- and that’s a lot for anyone, especially a critic. I just cannot get enough of this album, and although it sets me in the doldrums sometimes, it’s a pleasant doldrums. It’s comforting to know someone else feels worn out and tired; it’s comforting to know that there is hope. Hotel Lights offers that in a strange sort of way- and I wouldn’t have it any way else.
Band Name: Grandview
Album Name: Life Under The Sun
Best element: The Thinking man’s Pop Band.
Genre: Complex pop.
Label name: January records
Band e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Grandview is tough to pin down. Some days, I’m really, really into Grandview, and each track on Life Under the Sun feels distinct and great in its own way. Other days, I won’t be so hot on Grandview, and I’ll get bored with the sameness of the album, listen to my three favorite tracks, then turn off the album. There’s a very good reason for it too, and it makes this CD review hard to write.
There’s a very thin line between cohesiveness and homogeneity. Grandview dance over that line with reckless abandon. This band has discovered its pop/rock niche so completely and so carefully that there is not a song on here that doesn’t fit into the Grandview sound. There’s no “Lily” like there was for Mellencollie and the Infinite Sadness– each song fits into the Grandview sound in a new and brilliant way. Those with short attention spans, or short attention ears, will not find much to like in Grandview after the first couple of songs, because you’ll say that “Until the World Dies” sounds like “Fall Down”. They are different, but it’s in subtle ways that this album distinguishes itself. It took me a good 5-10 listens to find (or maybe appreciate) some of the intricate rhythms and patterns that have been funneled into this creation.
Those rhythms and patterns are the soul of Grandview- the drummer is a whizkid, serving up complex syncopations and weird rhythms that propel Grandview’s music into a whole different level of pop songwriting. The guitars are complex, but the complexity is present throughout the entire album- if you listen casually as a first listen, it will sound all the same. You have to listen to the album a couple times closely to hear the different ideas and variants to fully grasp the scope of this album.
And then you can enjoy it for the excellent album that it is. The songs here are truly stellar- complex pieces that make me cringe when I think of the amount of time put into timing and sequencing and arranging and practicing. The melodies here are infectious, especially in the standout “The Light of The Moon”, which is not a cover of a barbershop song. Not at all- it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in 04 (*even though this is in an 05 issue, this review should’ve been in the Dec. issue that got canceled.), as there’s not just one melody, but three that are simply stunning and catchy. They then seal the deal by tracking all three at once- without instruments. That 30-second vocal medley is the moment of the album. And the great part is- it happens twice!
Grandview knows its stuff, and very well, at that. This is an album that, once appreciated, will not lose its place in your collection very easily. It succeeds on much more than just a surface level- instead of having a ‘thinking-optional’ album, Grandview has cultivated a sound that requires thinking about, humming, pondering….it’s just something unavoidable. Grandview is the thinking man’s pop band.
Band Name: Ghosting
Album Name: October 2004 Demos
Best element: Lush, yet still strikingly soft and comforting.
Genre: Acoustic singer/songwriter
Label name: n/a
Band e-mail: email@example.com
I don’t know what attracts me to minimalist songwriters so much- but there is definitely something that draws me in that direction. Maybe I like the fact that there’s nothing for the musicians to hide behind. Perhaps it’s the fact that the vocals are more prominent. It could even be the fact that I like knowing that a good song can be made without layers and layers of junk (Take that, Broken Social Scene). Whatever it is that makes my affection towards minimalism, it is completely manifested in Ghosting.
In short, Ghosting is a two-man band from Britain that makes my day better. Based off acoustic guitar, vocals, and keys, this charming pop duo creates tender music that’s never depressing, yet never exactly happy- a perfect example of melancholy. They don’t just portray emotions- Ghosting gets inside the emotion and fleshes it out perfectly. The best song present is the short “The Devil is Harder to Please than He Thinks”- a stunted, staccato guitar line is met by two vocalists in very close harmony rambling about something. It’s not the lyrics that matter- it’s the fact that the texture of the song is very unique. A piano comes in, then later expands its line into a wistful, elegant melody. I wish this were longer, as the 2:15 it takes to pass is way too short. But still- it puts your repeat button through a workout. And isn’t that the mark of a good song?
“Do What You Have To” is another brilliant song, featuring a ridiculous vocal hook that no one other than the members of Ghosting themselves would have expected. It’s another song that slowly builds in layer upon downtrodden layer of sound. And yet- at the end of the building, it still feels minimalist- still like something you would fall asleep toeasily. That something this lush could still feel soft and barely there is an aspect of their sound that should be lauded long and loud.
Ghosting is truly an anomaly among today’s musical scene- beautiful ruminations sifted through downtrodden eyes. These songs will stick in your head and fill your day. This will never play on your radio, so don’t bother waiting- go to Ghosting’s site (www.ghosting.info) and get these songs. Your life (and your sleep) will be better off for it.
Band Name: Each Day Starts Anew
Album Name: This Night Falls
Best element: Incongruent, almost grungy, music
Label name: GPS Productions (http://www.genevapunkska.com)
Band Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A glance at the cover of Each Day Starts Anew’s CD This Night Falls, complete with typewriter font and art photography, would lead a potential listener to make the assumption that this band’s members are influenced by Sunny Day Real Estate. Upon listening, this assumption would be proven correct, right down to the incongruent, atonal vocal and guitar lines.
What separates E.D.S.A from being a complete clone, however, is their use of intermittent screaming taken from modern day hardcore and crunchy, grungy guitar riffs, almost reminiscent of early lo-fi music (think Pavement). These combined elements create a touch of uniqueness that is needed to give the listener something to grab onto and say “that belongs just to this band”. The strongest track, “Whiskey Me”, is almost radio friendly enough to catapult E.D.S.A into the mainstream, but just grungy enough to keep the trendy kids from latching onto them as the latest trend.
What keeps them from being truly great is that with the exception “Whiskey Me”, the eight tracks don’t really have much to differentiate them from one another. They all sort of blend together with the only apparent change being the lyrics to the song. In this sense, the music is almost formulaic.
What’s great about E.D.S.A is that they are the definitive, original emo band – before emo became trendy, got purchased by corporate-owned record labels, packaged up and watered down. This makes the CD a worthwhile listen. It is refreshing to know that someone out there is still doing it old-school.